Well...I finally did it. In the 5 years that I've been consistently running, I've never had a non-race week where I managed to rack up 100 or more miles. Certainly if you include my thru-hikes, then I have...but counting just purely running and/or training, my highest week ever was 92 miles....which I accomplished last year during my Barkley Training. That milestone last February was followed up the next week by a 90-mile total after I did a full-on blitz run of the 42-mile Black Forest Trail.
I've always wondered if I could realistically run 100 miles in a week, while still working on my research full time, and whatever else my grad-student responsibilities call for. Obviously, the running pros often put in 100+ mile training weeks...but in a sense, running is their job. I vividly remember last year how difficult and time-consuming that 92-mile week was, and I remember even considering going out late on Sunday night to run an 8-miler just to break that mythical 100 barrier. In the end, I decided it wasn't worth it. Well some time around Thursday night this week, I started to realize that it might actually be possible to hit 100 miles if I could complete my planned back-to-back long runs over the weekend. My planned runs would have put me at 96 miles, so I decided to simply tack on 4 miles at the end of my hilly-long run Sunday, just to top out at 100. I doubt I will ever shoot for 100 again, and I figured this was probably my one shot at it. What made it so incredible was the Saturday run that made it all possible. Allow me to explain....
THE GAS LINE TRAVERSE:
Ever since first training on steep hills in Rothrock State Forest, I've been curious about the extreme gas-line cut that basically transects the mountains over a rather ridiculous path. If you were to simply look at a terrain or topo map of the State College area, what you'd see is that the Appalachian Mountain chain comes up from the South and gradually makes a turn to the East towards New Jersey. But what makes the area around Rothrock so bizarre, is that the mountain ridges literally fold back on themselves. The geologic history in this area is storied and complicated, but just looking at a screen capture from google maps below you can clearly see what I mean. Follow the ridgelines as they make several S-turns before they eventually head East.
Now imagine that you want to put a gas pipe line in a North-South direction, but Rothrock and all its crazy folds are in the way. The solution, at least to the gas companies apparently, is to simply cut a swath as direct as possible disregarding all sense of topography. It honestly seems that someone picked the worst possible line through Rothrock, and said, "lets run the gas line here!". A satellite image below illustrates this as well as my marked route on the terrain map.
At some point last year while doing hill repeats on one of my favourite gas-line climbs, I got the crazy idea in my head to see if it would be possible to run the entire length of the gas-line cut from end-to-end in Rothrock. I figured that as long as I stayed in Rothrock lands, that it was more-or-less public land....and that no one would really care if I was on them. I never did actually get out to try this crazy scheme, but I certainly made use of two of the climbs for my hill-repeat training.
This past Saturday, I decided it was finally time to give the idea a go. My goal, to do an out-n-back full traverse of the gas-line transect. Start at the Southern Terminus (or at least as close as I could get to it), and head North until I hit the end, or someone's private property. I had no idea how snowy, rocky, or even traversable all the sections would be. For all I knew, I was going to be boulder scrambling up 50% graded nightmares.
The conclusion? Well it was a huge success...but it was brutal. One of the climbs was 48% grade, full of briers and boulders, and a down-right ass-kicker. Right out of the Barkley handbook. At a couple of the low points, I was presented with some tricky stream crossings and a few marshy areas. There were two spots that I had to improvise a little to avoid private property and I was not able to run the last 1/2 mile on the Northern end as it was posted private lands and out of Rothrock State Forest. In total the full out-n-back traverse was about 21 miles and packed a whopping 8500' of elevation gain. Like I said....brutal. To make matters worse, all of the North Facing slopes were still snowy and icy. I brought my trekking poles for this endeavor and I was glad I did. There ended up being a lot of power-hiking due to the technical footing and steep hills.
Total length: 21 Miles
Total Time: 6 1/2 Ass-Kicking Hours
Highest single climb: 1250' in 0.95 miles
Steepest climb: 48%
Stream Crossings: 8
Marsh Navigations: 2
Boulder Scrambles: 4
Longest Truly Runable Stretch: Maybe 2 miles
Trekking Poles: Yep...and they were great to have!
Gear: The usual...nothing special.
Would I ever do it again? Ugh...Likely No.
Here are some pics and a video from the adventure...
After quickly sprinting down to the road at the Southern Terminus,
I started my first climb. Doesn't look so bad....
Still going up after crossing a jeep road
Looking back on the North Facing descent that I just came down.
On one of the crests looking off in the distance to the steepest
of the climbs. This is the same 1250' climb that I've been doing
for hill repeats that goes up "Grass Mountain".
At the Northern end of the cut, I couldn't make the final descent
without encroaching on private lands. I decided to simply turn
around at this point about 1/2 mile from the actual end point.
Another North-facing snowy climb
One of the few "runable" sections