I did my 20 mile long run on the Appalachian Trail, starting at Linden. I had found this page from the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club about the route which was extremely informative, even down to the GPS coordinates for the parking lot. I get lost a lot, but I had no problem finding the trailhead. I had been planning to run to Ashby Point, but Sky Meadows was so pretty so I detoured there instead right at the end. There was only one trail marking that confused me, and I took the wrong trail at about mile two following signs pointing to Thompson Lake. The sign was marked fine saying “Appalachian Trail N – S”, I just couldn’t tell exactly which trail it had been pointing to. I had remembered from the maps that there were side trails to the shelters, and so when I also saw signs for Manassas Gap Shelter pointing to the right I figured it was the wrong way. I had even explored both trails briefly and the incorrect trail seemed more worn in. I came to a parking lot after not too long so I was able to backtrack and get on the right trail easy enough.
As you can see from the Run Profile, this was very slow going! My phone was running out of battery so I shut it off at the halfway mark. (Went a little farther than 10 on the way up to account for running up the wrong trail which would make my return a little shorter). The beginning especially was steep and rocky and I was doing a lot more hiking than running. It flattened out later – or at least a low-grade ascent/ descent past mile 3, with an extra smooth trail after mile 6 that I could make pretty good time on. I loved coming out of the woods and finishing at Sky Meadows for an overlook. Beautiful! When I go on hiking trips, the hiking has a purpose and destination and I liked feeling like I got somewhere at the end rather than just running mileage in the woods. The only people I saw were at the first few miles, and the last bit by Sky Meadows. Maybe in October the trail is less popular, but it was a calm Saturday afternoon, about 50 degrees, and I was expecting it to be crowded, but I had the trail to myself for the most part. It was a bit windy at the overlook, and the only time I had to wear my long sleeve shirt. I can see how on windier days this part could get quite cold.
I probably should not have done this as my longest run so far. The terrain was difficult and the elevation slowed things down considerably. I’m guessing with the out and back it was about 4,200 elevation gain. The last 4 miles my knees were killing me, especially on the steep downhill. It took me nearly 45 minutes longer coming back, mostly on these last few miles when I was hobbling down. My knees still hurt. Total time was 5:40 mins. There were a few streams, although not many – but enough for the dog to be able to drink from intermittently. I had packed a lot of extra water for her that I didn’t end up needing, since I wasn’t sure what the stream situation would be. My original plan was to try out one of the nearby wineries on my way home, but by the end of this it was getting pretty late and I was exhausted. Next time.