Thursday, June 16, 2011

5th Annual RAM

This year was the 5th running of the Roan Adventure Marathon (RAM), an annual run hosted by Sultan. With the insane 2nd half climb and views from atop the Round, Jane, Grassy Ridge and Hump Mountain Balds, this 28-29 mile speed hike/ mountain run is fast becoming one my most favorite ultra’s of all time.

Planned around the rhodo blooming season, the pink shrub was in full bloom this year. Beautiful! The view from Roan Bald to Jane’s Bald was especially pink, as the rhodos were in bloom all along the mountain.

The Course/ Beat Down
The run starts at the top of Carvers Gap (5,512 feet) and is run downhill to Hwy 19E all along the AT. Once you reach 19E then you are thoroughly punished by retracing your path back to the start, which means climbing 6,000 feet uphill for 13.7 miles back to Carvers Gap. Try and negative split that one, yo!

The Who’s Who of Who Ran Roan (# of previous finishes):
Brandon Thrower
Hannah Griffith (half)
Stan Austin (1)
Scott Williams (half)
Sultan (4)
John Lewis (2)
Damian Wells
Adam Hill (1)
Michael Rowe (half)
Jeremy Hargroves (1)
Psyche Wimberly (1)
Leopold (half)
Keith Mrocheck
Others? (Seems like several runners showed up at the last minute)

Awesome Volunteer:
Hayley Roper Wells

How It All Unfolded:
Leopold and I celebrated his last day of school by heading up to Carver's Gap late Friday afternoon. We expected a lot more people to turn out for camping, but the majority of people showed up for the run the next day.

We carried our gear up the mountain to pitch our tent, and I was surprised (and dismayed) to discover I was breathing so hard I had to keep taking rest breaks! Good lord, I thought, how am I going to handle that climb tomorrow if I can't even get up Roan Bald? (Later, I would feel a lot better when I watched Stan go through the same process).

Camping that night were Leopold and myself, Jeremy Hargroves, Haley and Damian Roper, Stan Austin, and Scott Williams. As it got dark, we all settled in for the treat that is camping on Roan Bald by enjoying some delicious hopstatic homebrew and good conversation.

As we broke down camp in the morning, Sultan checked in with us to make sure we all knew what to expect and then we had some fun trying to get a "Sultan pose" for us campers.

My plan for the run was to run with Leopold down to 19E, whereby he would be eventually shuttled back to Carver's Gap by Hayley, who was serving as our Aid Station (thank you, Hayley!). I was looking forward to taking it easy on the 1st half and trying to run a little harder on the way back. I hoped to beat my 2nd half time of 4:50 from last year.

Part I: Carver's Gap to 19E
A lost runner, a bear, and an illusive rock.

I have to say it was a blast running with Leopold. It was a freaking hot day (like 80 degrees+) so Leopold and I kept a leisurely pace and traded off leading for the first part of the run.

Our first shot at getting lost came at the Grassy Ridge trail junction. Sure, there's a sign. And sure, the sign has an arrow pointing to the right for Grassy Ridge and to the left for the AT.

But can I just say that this sign is unusually small. This picture does not do its smallness justice. This in itself struck me as strange considering how well marked the AT is. I had just been telling Leopold that I found it strange how many metal posts with reflective lights you come across on the AT. Personally, these ruin a little bit of the trail experience for me. Anyway, I looked right at this sign and thought both of the skinny little arrows pointed to the right.

However, after taking just a few steps down the Grassy Ridge Trailhead, I turned around to double check. I thought, "Why would both arrows be pointing in the same direction? What's to the left, the unknown, unnamed trail?" I'm glad I double checked, as I was about to take us on a detour to Grassy Ridge! We deftly made a course correction (please, no applause) and joined the run back on the AT.

Apparently, I was not alone in the observation of this sign. John Lewis took the Grassy Ridge Express Trail to Bushwacking and ended up, you guessed it, bush wacking his way back to the AT, then eventually hitch hiking back to Carver's Gap! Dude had a major adventure, and part of me is a tiny bit jealous! (But then I saw the welts all over his legs and got over it).

By now, Leopold and I had fallen enough behind everyone that all the wildlife the other runners had scared off had had time to return. I tell you, slowness pays off in so many ways. Today, we were rewarded with the adventure of scaring a bear off the trail. For real.

OK, it was not a Grizzly. And it certainly did not dive off the trail. But it was still a bear, and as we approached on the trail we heard it snort and run away. It was big. And it was very exciting! I'll never forget the look on Leopold's face.

Before the summit of Big Hump, we saw Keith Mrochek on his way back. He had turned around early, and as he passed by he stopped and chatted for a few minutes. He was leaving early, but he had had a great time and had also avoided most of the heat.

At the summit of Big Hump we took another break. We sat on the fence and listened to the awesomeness that is FOTC's "Too Many Mutha Ucka's". I bet we were a site to behold- sitting there connected by ear buds, singing at the top of our lungs:

Too many mutha uckas
Uckin' with my shi-
My transactional shi-!
There's too many mutha uckas
Uckin' with my shi-
My weekly statement shi-!
My weekly statement shi-!
Too many mutha uckas
Uckin' with my shi-
With my balance shi-!
How many mutha uckas?
Too many to count
Mutha uckas

I told Leopold about this very cool, very big, flat rock in a clearing of trees where Dave Pryor, Dave Petroski and I took a break last year. I made it sound so inviting that he, too, was soon dreaming of laying on the rock's cold smooth surface and staring up at the sky through the leafy canopy. He kept asking if we were almost there. Funny thing about these long runs is that I remember almost everything, but never in the right order!

We were getting pretty close to the turn around and I had not seen the rock yet. Turns out, it's right after Doll Flats, but it's off the trail. And being determined not to get lost, I let the adventure slip away. Sorry, Leopold. If it's any consolation, here's a lovely picture of this magical, yet ilusive, place:

As we made our way closer to 19E, we began to see the other runners who were now on their way back. Jeremy literally flew by us, which is so much more impressive if you knew the rocky, technical section we were on. Soon, we encountered Adam, then Brandon, Damian, Sultan, Doug and Stan. Everyone was looking amazing!

Part II: 19E To Carver's Gap
It's easy- there's only one hill.

With Leopold taken care of (thanks again, Hayley!) I was in a hurry to start back. I felt good and really thought I could make good time on the way back. Considering we took 4:25 to get to 19E, I actually started to believe I could maybe negative split this bitch.

However, I couldn't find the the water bottle I'd given Hayley, so I just drank some extra water and headed back with only one 20 oz. bottle and one 12 oz. bottle of water. That had been enough to get me half way, but it had not been nearly as hot, and there were all those thousands of feet more of climbing to consider...Others must have encountered issues with water, because when I saw Stan (who was about a mile ahead of me at the turn around) he made sure to tell me to get enough water.

The initial climb when you leave 19E and head back is....deceivingly difficult. It was becoming hotter and more humid, and I was out of water before I made it to Big Hump. That just totally sucked- there's no other way to put it.

< I eventually found a small water source at Jane's Bald and drank from it even though I had no way to filter water. Note to self- would it kill you to always carry iodine tablets in your pack? No, I don't think so.

2nd Note To Self: If not feeling well at Chattooga, it may not be just the heat and humidity!

It seemed to me that even though I was suffering from dehydration to the point I had to sit down and recover at the beginning of every switch back, that I was much, much (much!) stronger this year compared to last year (when I lost my shit and had a mental breakdown).

I ended up running 4:50 for the 2nd half, but still feeling very good about it.

This is an incredible (and incredibly tough) adventure run. It's not to be missed, and I may even train for it next year.



  1. I was sorta hoping RAM stood for something like Run Across Montana. Looks like this trail has its tough bits!

  2. Awesome!! Wish I could have been there- great map btw, really shows the amazing work you did in your 10 hours out there!! See you soon:)

  3. Sounds like a great time! That's is one of my very favorite areas. Many, many happy hours spend all around there. Thanks for sharing!! Almost negative splits!

  4. This looks like fun, and beautiful to boot. We just don't have runs like that in South Florida. :(