Monday, April 13, 2015

Art Loeb in a Day - Bringing Le Sexxxy Back

Is sleeping in the back of your car, long late night caffeinated drives and stumbling into the office Monday morning really worth spending a single day running in the mountains?
Yes. The answer is always yes.
After a late Saturday morning start and a 5hr30min drive from Birmingham, my car came to a halt in a back alley street in Brevard, NC.  I grabbed a pair of shoes, stuffed a duffel bag full of running paraphernalia and hopped into Ali’s car.

Ali is a kindred soul… like my trail twin… like a sister separated at birth. Though we have ran in some of the same races… we have never had the opportunity to simply run and share our passion for the trails together. But the stars finally aligned and presented us with a very short window of about 24hrs for an adventure…  

We set off on the 3 mile trail up to Looking Glass Rock and chatted as we followed the switchbacks up the mountain. Before we knew it… we had reached the top.

We explored the huge granite dome up top and watched 2 climbers head down the side of the rock.

We eventually took a seat to watch the sun set over the distant mountains. Not to toot our own horns… but we started the perfect slow clap to cheer on the sun’s descent!

We climbed back up the rock and stopped to talk with a group of South Carolina guys that had come up to camp for the weekend. The wind soon picked up and goose bumps initiated our return to the trail. The descent down from Looking Glass Rock was a fun and fast! We reached the bottom just as the woods were getting dark.

Note to Self: If you decide to leave your car in a back alley street… especially in a town you’ve never been to before… remember the street name or drop a pin in your maps…

We eventually found my car and started walking the mean streets of Brevard to find some grub. Apparently Brevard is the least crunk town eva. Everything was closed with the exception of a little Mexican place… Ranchero. Ranchero’s food was delish… but their attitudes… well I’ll remain nice and just say they were subpar. After dinner, we swung by and grabbed ice and some local brews before heading to Davidson River campground. After a beer by headlamp… I checked into my room at Hotel Del Andrews, set my alarm and curled up in my sleeping bag.

My alarm went off. UGH! I swear it felt like I literally had just closed my eyes. The stars were still shining bright as we packed our vests with a day’s worth of water and snacks. The game plan to run the entire +30 mile Art Loeb Trail was hatched a few days prior to the trip… and of course we didn’t really start talking logistics until the night before. We finally decided to leave Ali’s car at the Art Loeb trailhead at Davidson River Campground and drive my car out to Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp. From online descriptions the Art Loeb was pretty easy to follow with the exception of the part in the Shining Rock Wilderness area which started at Daniel Boone Camp…

Since it is entirely within Congressionally-designated wilderness, you will find no signs or trail blazes -  be prepared to practice map reading and compass skills.”

Well… we didn't have a map... or a compass... so unfortunately we were not prepared to practice those skills... so we did the only thing we knew to do...
We followed John's advice and went home...
"Going to the mountains is going home..."

A cool morning had us starting off in light jackets, but we quickly shed them as we started ascending. This section of the trail was steep and technical… or a crunker person might say that the trail was “gnar gnar.”

We climbed until we reached what I presumed was Deep Gap… but really it could have been any gap... hell it could've been Thigh Gap for all we knew. We referenced the pixelated map saved on Ali’s phone. Meh. I vaguely remembered reading something about their being a spur trail up to Cold Mountain that was supposed to be at Deep Thigh Gap. The trail leading left fit that bill, so we went right to follow the ridge. We climbed a bit and were rewarded with a few brief breaks in the canopy.

Ali could already tell she wasn’t feeling the entire 30+ mile adventure that we had originally planned. She decided to descend back to Daniel Boone Camp to grab the car. She decided she would crew the rest of the way and maybe run the last section with me. We parted ways and I continued through Shining Rock Wilderness.

I pressed along at a pretty good clip passing a handful of backpackers along the way. Though this section wasn’t blazed or marked with any signs… the trail was well defined and pretty easy to navigate.

This was the only section of the trail that was muddy. Needless to say… my shoes were soaked and muddy after sloshing through this…

I eventually arrived at Ivestor Gap and left Shining Rock Wilderness.

From here the Art Loeb trail was well marked… however I decided to take a side quest up one of the balds before continuing on my journey...

This adventure wasn’t about seeing how fast I could run the Art Loeb. It was more about exploring a new trail and reconnecting with the mountains that I had missed so much. After exploring the area for a bit… I said goodbye to Ivestor Gap and continued onward towards Balsam Knob.


I started the chilly and windy ascent to the ridgeline. As soon as I reached the spine I started getting excited and my stomach started filling with butterflies… I was bringing Le Sexxxy back... and this trail was Le Sexxxy…

I pushed hard up the ridgeline and shot a smile at a group of backpackers who were taking in Le Sexxxiness of the mountains from up top…


I bounded down the other side of the bald and start climbing up through some overgrowth towards the next bald…

I reached the top of the next bald and could see down to Black Balsam Knob parking lot. I didn’t see a bright green Element waiting at the bottom, so I found a quiet spot in the grass. I took off my vest to use as a pillow, sprawled out in the grass and enjoyed the cool breeze and warm mountain sunshine.

A group of hikers passed and their talking snapped me out of my serenity coma. I took my phone off Airplane mode and started the descent down to the Black Balsam Knob parking lot to see if Ali was there yet. She wasn’t. I chatted with a few hikers and briefly contemplated taking a side quest up to Sam’s Knob… but before I fully committed to Sam’s Knob… Ali texted me and said to carry on and she would meet me at Gloucester Gap. I headed back up towards Black Balsam Knob to play at 6000ft…

Because of the beautiful weather, amazing views and easy access… this area was crowded. Still… I hung around a little longer soaking in Le Sexxxiness before descending. There’s just nothing sexier than elevated single track with a view… except maybe my wifey when she’s all dolled up in a Deandri dress... hot damn!

I crossed over the road and fell back into the tree line. The Art Loeb shares the Mountains to Sea trail for a bit… this section brought back wonderful memories of the Pitchell Fun Run I did a few years back.

I passed a small group of backpackers heading towards Black Balsam… but then it was right back to running solitude. I passed through Farlow Gap, said hi to some backpackers in the Deep Gap shelter, and then started the climb up Pilot Mountain.

I spent a good amount of time on the summit of Pilot Mt. Since it was a bit harder to get to than Black Balsam Knob… the summit was all mine for moment. I sat around and enjoyed the beautiful weather over a Cliff Bar.  

After finishing up my snack… I started the fast descent. This section was steep but a lot of fun! I started crossing over dirt roads which I assumed was an indication that Gloucester Gap was drawing near. A few switchbacks later and I could make out my green Element, pink fold out chair, and cooler waiting at the bottom. I popped out of the woods, cracked open a beer and hummed Justin Timberlake’s “I’m bringing sexy back… yep.”

I found Ali taking a nap. She woke up and the Element was immediately transformed into “Ali’s Country Kitchen.”
She whipped me up her famous peanut butter nutella almond chocolate chip with a single coffee bean wrap. I munched on the deliciousness while I changed my socks. I finished off my Le Sexxxy beer while Ali gathered her gear for the final 12 mile section. I closed the hatch and as we started towards the trail it hit me…

“I think I just smashed the rest of my wrap in the tailgate.”

I did but it was too late to turn back. We were already 4 steps towards the trail. The last 12 or so miles consisted of a repeating pattern of ascending then descending ridges and gaps. Though not as scenic as the first 18 miles… good conversation and speedy descents made the section pass quickly. Brevard peeked through a gap in the trees and the sound of vehicles let us know we were closing in on Davidson River Campground. The last section of the trail was a long descent to the river. We popped out off of the single track and strolled down the crushed gravel walking path back to Ali’s car.


We drove back to Gloucester Gap to pick up my car before sitting down at a restaurant to demolish a well deserved bacon cheeseburger.

9hrs of playing in the mountains, traversing some of the most beautiful single track the South has to offer, lying around on grassy balds, and drinking colbeer… yea… adventures don’t get much better than that…

"In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks…"

Ali… I pray you receive far more than you seek during your walk along the PCT this summer! Stay crunk and I'll see you in the Fall! 


Till tomorrow…

Friday, April 10, 2015

Life on the FARM

A year ago I applied for a position on an Alabama FARM.

And somehow I was lucky enough to be hand selected by 2 local FARMers…  

Now I knew FARM life would be hard work and would require lots of long sweaty hours working my butt off outdoors... and would more than likely result in sore muscles and blisters… but I was up for the challenge…

And when I say I took a position I mean ambassadorship…

And when I say on a FARM I mean…

And when I say by 2 FARMers I really mean…

And when I say long sweaty hours outdoors resulting in sore muscles and blisters I mean…

FARM - Functional Athletic Rehabilitation & Medicine
The FARM provides cutting edge chiropractic care, injury rehabilitation and sports performance. One of the things I love and respect about the FARM is Dr. Beau and Dr. Sloan’s approach to their practice. Unlike many other chiropractic practices that want to see you consistently and make an adjustment once or twice a week for the rest of your life… the FARM takes a different approach. They want to treat the issue; get you pain free and healthy but then give you the means and knowledge to take care of yourself outside of the FARM’s office.
When I first hopped on the FARM tractor as one of their athlete ambassadors I had an awful case of plantar fasciitis. The kind of awful plantar fasciitis where you swear to everything under the sun that the pain will NEVER go away and you will NEVER run pain free again. Yea… that type of plantar fasciitis. On my first visit to the FARM Dr. Beau and I discussed our options:
1.       Amputation
2.       Rehabilitation

Of course I went with the obvious choice of amputation but backed out at the last minute when Beau started sharpening his pocket knife… #noknives…  right Sloan?
After a few weeks of consistent rehab I was back frolicking for long hours through the woods. I was simply amazed. I had dealt with this awful foot pain for months and within a matter of weeks it was like nothing had ever happened.  I threw my full faith into the FARM.

I started slowly seeing inefficiencies when I started pushing my body further and harder on the trails. It was the little things like ankle, hip, and core strength… the stuff I always took for granted and assumed was fine. By no means am I a runner geek or even that knowledgeable when it comes to “correct” form, breathing, etc. After doing a biomechanical assessment, Dr. Beau pinpointed my weaknesses and set a plan into motion to help strengthen these areas.

Dr. Beau is ridiculously knowledgeable when it comes to his practice. There have been times where he goes into a spill and I’m just dumbfounded at how simple he makes everything. It all makes perfect sense. He lays out how everything in the body functions and works together in perfect harmony… and when certain parts are in pain or hurting… it may not be that exact part that is causing the issue.  For instance… if I’m having knee/ITB pain… it doesn’t necessarily mean that the focus should be on the knee. It all starts at the core and works its way through the hips and downward to the feet. I suggest taking a look at Dr. Beau’s informational videos that are posted on the FARM's YouTube channel. He discusses a little bit of everything... from core exercises to breathing... to ankle dorsiflexion. He’s even had an article published in Trailrunner Magazine about dynamic breathing!

The FARM has not only helped me remain healthy and relatively injury free… but they have given me the opportunity to represent them by running and pushing my body’s limits all across the country.
One of the most memorable adventures and trips of my entire life was the trip out to Utah last year.

Me, Dr. Sloan and fellow FARM ambassador Vanessa Stroud headed West to run the Bryce 100.

We had so much fun! It was my first 100 mile race and it couldn’t have been a better experience! I’m forever grateful to Sloan for staying up throughout the night crewing us. The memories from that trip will forever be with me.

I also got a chance to head to Virginia to represent the FARM up at the Grindstone 100.

Sometime before or during the race… I thought I had pulled a muscle in my back. Late in the race (mile 70+)… every time I tried to breathe deep, it felt like I had a huge knot in my back.

After I finished the race and got back to Alabama… my wife was massaging my back and paused…  
“Babe… I’m not sure that’s a pulled muscle. It feels hard.” (I know, I know... that's what she said)
She was right. I didn’t realize it but somehow I had managed to dislodge a rib. I immediately made an appointment to see Dr. Beau and he ever so gracefully put that bad boy back in his place.
I finished off the year with a 3rd place finish at the Pine Mountain 40 miler in December. The year ended on a high note right? It did… but not so much. I was hurting. My iliotibial band (ITB) was inflamed and it was painful. I thoroughly enjoy running daily in the woods and this pain prevented me from doing that… so I was more frustrated than anything.
 I’ve always had ITB issues but have always just taken shortcuts to deal with the pain. I wore knee straps every single time I ran to keep the pain at bay. However… these bands constantly chaffed and rubbed. I felt like I HAD to wear them every time I stepped foot out the door. I was a prisoner to these bands.

I was 2yrs old again afraid to let go of my blanket.
The first week of 2015... I tucked those bands in the bottom of a storage bin in my garage and made an appointment with Beau to tackle this devil. I didn’t want to just temporarily fix the pain and problem… I wanted to soak those knee bands in gasoline, light a match and send them to Hell.

Beau took me through his strength and mobility class and showed me what I needed to focus and work on daily.  I took his advice/plan and ran with it. I busted my ass for the next 2 months leading up to my trip out West. Rather than laying down high mileage weeks… I focused on my rehab and working out the kinks in my lower half.
It paid off. I ran like a wild animal out in Colorado.
I completed the Red Hot 55k in Moab… WITHOUT freakin knee straps…
I ran up snow covered mountains… WITHOUT freakin knee straps…

I was finally free.

A few weeks ago, I finished 4th at the Oak Mt 50k with a PR of 5hrs03mins. I feel like without the burden of knee straps… my body is now free to move naturally… in return… allowing me to open up and push harder on the trails.

To say that I’m thankful for what the FARM has done for my running and overall well-being wouldn’t do them justice. It would be one of the biggest understatements of my life.  I’m blessed beyond belief to have been linked up with these wonderful people and to be given the opportunity to represent the FARM. Needless to say... I’m overly excited about continuing to work with the FARM and for the adventures we have planned for the rest of the year!

Till tomorrow…