Sunday, March 27, 2016

Trail Report: Tallulah Gorge

I made my first venture up into north Georgia to check out some of the scenery. I've been making a list of waterfalls I want to see and mountains I want to hike, and I chose Tallulah Gorge for my first trip.

Tallulah Gorge is a 2 mile long, 1000 foot deep canyon in northeast Georgia. There are six waterfalls throughout the canyon, fed by Tallulah Falls Lake. The lake was created by a hydroelectric dam. Like Providence Canyon that I visited last month, Tallulah Gorge is considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia.

Suspension bridge viewed from one of the lookouts

More information: Park page & Atlanta Trails page

I picked Tallulah Gorge because it offered hiking, waterfall viewing, and had a suspension bridge! The park was a little over two hours away from where I live. Visiting requires a $5 fee or the Annual ParkPass for Georgia State Parks. The Interpretive Center was informative and offered park maps.

Bridal Veil Falls

My family and I decided to hike the Hurricane Falls Trail. It's only about 2 miles long and includes the North and South Rim Trails, as well as the suspension bridge. The trail included most of the lookouts around the canyon rim. It was rated as difficult, but that was only because it includes over 1,000 stairs! The rest of the trail was easy.

Tempesta Falls

My favorite parts were the suspension bridge and the section of the trail that went down to the canyon floor and had a view of Hurricane Falls. You can get a permit to hike on the gorge floor, but they only give out 100 permits each day and they run out quickly.

Suspension bridge

Gorge floor

I would love to come back to Tallulah Gorge in the fall. The colors of the leaves would be spectacular! There is also a campground at the gorge, which would make it easy to get pictures of the gorge at sunrise and sunset.

Hurricane Falls
I love the color of the water!

Hurricane Falls

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Trail Report: Ape Caves

I'm no longer living in Washington, but I feel like I don't have enough Georgia content to post on my blog regularly, so I'm still going to feature Washington hikes on the blog. I'm doing something similar with my Instagram account - every Wednesday, I feature a photo I took in Washington. I probably won't blog about a hike every Wednesday, but I'll aim for at least once a month.

This trail report is a little different - the hike took place in a cave! I found out my hiking buddy had never been in a cave, and that's not acceptable, so I looked for a cave within driving distance from Seattle and discovered Ape Caves down near Mount St. Helens. I bought some flashlights and headlamps and we made the drive down to the caves. Visiting the caves requires a Northwest Forest Pass.

Ape Caves is actually one long cave, but there is an upper cave and a lower cave. They were formed by molten lava flowing from Mount St. Helens and are classified as lava tubes. The lower cave is .75 miles long and is the easier of the two. The upper cave is more difficult and is a mile and a half long.

WTA page:
More info:

Smooth walls in the cave

I decided we should do the upper cave because it was longer and the more difficult of the two. It's a good idea to bring multiple sources of light, because there is no light available in the cave. If you turn off your light sources, it is pitch black. It also wasn't very crowded when I went, because most of the time me and my hiking buddy were alone. We occasionally came across other people and at times could hear people in the distance. I would recommend having a headlamp because there are several piles of boulders that require scrambling, and one 8 foot tall "lava fall" that requires pulling yourself up using handholds and footholds.

Lava fall
At the top of a boulder pile

Depending on which end of the cave you decide to enter, you either go down a set of stairs or down a ladder. We started at the main entrance with the stairwell and went uphill through the cave, exiting at the end with the ladder, rather than doing it in reverse and going downhill through the cave. Once we climbed out using the ladder at the other end, we had a relatively short hike back (1.5 miles back on a trail over the cave) to the main entrance.

I'd been in caves before (including Mammoth Caves in Kentucky), but they were all well lit or had tour guides. I loved Ape Caves because you're on your own - it's your own adventure and you're responsible for providing the light and making your way through the cave, but it's not dangerous or too challenging for the average person. I can't wait to go back!

Looking back into the cave

Creepy shot

Skylight in the cave

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Race Recap: LGE Foundation 5k

This past Saturday, I participated in a small, local 5k. It was put on by the LGE Foundation, which is associated with the LGE Community Credit Union and organizes fundraisers for local non-profit organizations.

The race was held at a local business park and only had 75 participants. However, I was impressed by how organized it was. Orion was there to provide chip timing, there was plenty of food and drinks (water, bagels, oranges, and more), and we got a shirt and a goody bag filled with some pretty useful stuff - ibuprofen, Biofreeze gel, bandaids, chapstick with SPF, a small flashlight, and a pen. This is only the second race I've been in with chip timing and I was quite pleased that it was available.

Start and finish line

The course left the parking lot of the business park and circled around the business park. After running races in Washington where the courses were all in wooded parks or near lakes, I'm getting used to races in the suburbs and I appreciate the creativity in setting up a course where I never would have thought to put one. We had to do two laps. This course seemed longer than the last one where I raced on the road around the local mall. I had never been back in this business park before (just driven by it), and every time I thought I had turned the last corner, there was another turn and another stretch. I also didn't know we'd have to go behind the buildings in the parking lot a second time in order to get to the finish.

5k course

I was still dealing with my IT band during this race, and unlike the last 5k, it did start to bother me during the race. Luckily it was manageable and didn't slow me down or cause me to walk. Since there were not many participants and a lot of them didn't seem to want to be near the front, I was one of the first few people to cross the start line. It's the closest I've been to the start in a race and it was fun to be at the front! When my watch beeped at the first mile, I saw that my pace was 8:37 - very fast for me! If I could keep that up, I'd have a shot at beating my PR.

On the second lap around the course, I started to get tired. I was trying to keep up with a few people ahead of me, but they slowly got further away. I stayed within a few feet of one man who seemed to be going the same pace as me. We caught up to and passed the participants that were walking the 5k. I thought that the finish was near and that we'd go straight up into the parking lot towards the finish instead of going behind the buildings again, but the distance left according to my GPS watch didn't match up with that. It was because we did have to go behind the buildings again and then turn and run through the parking lot. This made me feel even more tired knowing I had a lot further to go than I thought, and it crossed my mind that it would be nice to just slow down or stop running. But I pushed on.

As we came out from behind the buildings onto the final stretch through the parking lot, I started sprinting. I could see that the race clock was in the high 26 minute range, so I was definitely going to beat my PR of 27:50. The man I had been near for most of the race sped up too, and a woman behind me did as well. I heard the announcer say that it was a three way race at the moment as he noticed us sprinting towards the finish. The man crossed a couple seconds before me, and I crossed a couple seconds before the woman.

After getting some water and walking around slowly for a couple minutes, feeling like I might die, I noticed that Orion was putting the times up on a screen as people finished. I saw that I was 13th with a time of 27:05! I beat my previous PR by 45 seconds - a huge improvement in just a week's time! My 5k goal time for the year 2016 is to break 27 minutes, and I couldn't believe I'd gotten that close to reaching my goal for the year this early in the year!

Results screen

I then noticed that the other half of the screen was showing where people placed in their age group by gender. The results for the 20-29 year old women came up, and I was in first place in my group! I couldn't believe it initially and it took a couple minutes to process. I'd had a rough couple days before the race and this made everything seem better. I'd never got first in anything before. It didn't matter to me that it was a small race and that there ended up only being 7 people in my age group. I was so happy!

Age group results - what a surprise!

It got even better - they announced that everyone should stick around for the awards. They gave out trophies to the top man and woman, and then they gave out third, second, and first place medals in each age group. So now I have a first place medal - I never thought that would happen!

I'm so proud of this medal!

As I was walking back to the car, I got an email with my time and results. Overall, I was very impressed with the timing. I loved that they put times and results up near the finish so everyone could see how they did and where they stood, and I appreciated being notified about my results so quickly! I thought this race would be fairly low key and we wouldn't get much; that it would be more of a "show up and run and we'll write down your time". With the chip timing, medals, shirts, goody bag, and food, this ended up being one of the best organized races I've been to with the best goodies! I'm definitely doing this again next year.

Email results. Very impressed with Orion! 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Race Recap: 5k in Paradise

This past Sunday, I participated in the 5k in Paradise. It's a tropical themed 5k that was planned around Daylight Savings Time. There were two races: Chasing Moonlight at 1am and Racing Sunlight at 8am. Since I'm a morning person, I went with the 8am race.

The race took place at the local mall, so it was close to my house and had plenty of parking. The course started in the parking lot and then continued on the road that circled the mall. We had to make two laps around the mall before heading back to the finish in the parking lot. I liked this course more than I thought I would. It was convenient, fairly flat, and it didn't feel as long as other 5k courses. This may have been mental, since I grew up going to this mall and have driven on the road around it hundreds of times.

Finishing the first lap. Photo by TrueSpeedPhoto

I was very worried about this race, because the weekend prior I started having issues with my knee. It was bothering me while running, and then it hurt when I hiked as well. I did some research and I'm 90% sure I'm having IT band issues. (The IT band runs from the butt/hip down to the knee. If you have weak hips and glutes - like I do - it can cause the band to pull at the knee, creating pain on the side of the knee.) I took the week off from running, except for when I attempted to run on Wednesday and only made it 1 mile. I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to get through a 3 mile race.

I worked on IT band rehab exercises all week, and the morning of the race I took a couple ibuprofen to hopefully reduce any inflammation and reduce any pain. My goal was just to finish the race. Luckily for me, I got through it with no problems! I almost couldn't believe it.

A few yards before the finish line. Too tired to smile. Photo by TrueSpeedPhoto

It was lightly raining and windy when I arrived at the race. By the time I got out of my car and walked over to the start, the rain had stopped. We all lined up, and then we were off. I tried to take it easy the first half mile to feel out my knee. I started passing people, and when my GPS watch beeped at the end of the first mile, I saw my pace was 8:56. I was quite surprised - I didn't know I was going that fast. Anything under 9 minutes is extremely fast for me. I figured if I could keep this pace up, I may get close to my official PR of 27:50.

At the second mile, my pace was 8:56. One second faster. My knee was still feeling okay, so I tried to speed up. I started to get tired on the third mile, and it was because my pace for the third mile ended up being 8:32. Sometimes I still can't believe I ran that fast for an entire mile, since I'm short and slow, haha. My overall pace for the 5k was 8:46.

I stopped my watch a few seconds after crossing the finish line. It's also possible the course was slightly over 3.14 miles. 

I do wish I could have pushed a little harder, because my final time was 27:50 - exactly the same as my official PR. It would have been awesome to beat it, but I was amazed I even got through the race without knee problems, let alone reached my PR. I had been so certain before the race that I'd end up walking parts of it due to knee pain.

There were 270 people in the race, and I was the 20th to cross the finish line. Not too bad! I was 10th for women overall and 3rd in the women's 25-29 age group. Results are here.

I'm looking forward to doing this race again next year. It was well organized, had a good course, everyone got a medal (my first one!) and there was a photographer taking free race photos. I love free race photos!

First medal!

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Race Recap: Flatlanders Canyon Crash

When I was in the Seattle airport, waiting to fly to Georgia, I started researching places to hike and explore in Georgia, as well as races to sign up for. I ended up on the site UltraSignup and found a trail race that took place about 1.5 weeks from the day I was arriving in Georgia. That race was the Flatlanders Canyon Crash Trail Run 5k/10k/13.1/50k.

I immediately signed up for it, because the race took place in a canyon! I grew up in Georgia and lived there a little over 20 years, and I had no idea that there was a canyon in Georgia. It seemed like a unique race and a good opportunity to explore a new place during my visit to Georgia.

The race was in Providence Canyon State Park, about 45 minutes south of Columbus, GA. I drove down to Columbus the night before and stayed in a hotel with another one of my friends who runs. The next morning, we drove down to the park for the 10am start. The 50k had started earlier at 7am, and we saw a few of those runners completing a lap of the course while we were waiting for the start of the 5k, 10k, and half marathon.

My friend and I did the 10k, which was one lap of the 6+ mile course. We started off running around the rim of the canyon, and then we descended through the woods until reaching the canyon floor. At that point, we had to run through a 1-3 inch deep stream that flowed over sand and red clay. Our shoes got wet and covered in mud, but we had been told ahead of time that parts of the course involved running through a stream. At times we had to jump over logs or duck under tree branches. It was messy and challenging but it was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it.

After getting out of the stream, the trail continued through the woods and was fairly flat for a while. Later on, there were several steep hills. I don't think I saw anyone running up the hills - everyone was walking. We eventually came out of the canyon and the remainder of the race was along the canyon rim.

I did fine for the first 4 miles or so, but we encountered most of the hills in the last 2 miles and I was starting to get tired. The course ended up being slightly longer than a 10k. Instead of 6.2 miles, it was 6.77, according to my GPS watch. I ended up with a time of 1:18:54. I was happy with that, as I was anticipating something close to 90 minutes due to it being a trail run on a challenging course. For the 10k, I placed 8th overall (out of 25) and 5th out of 19 women. My friend that raced with me placed 3rd overall!

I enjoyed the race and would do it again. It was fairly well organized and we got a t-shirt and a pint glass. The course was marked with red paint and pink streamers and for the most part it was easy to figure out where to go. The only confusing part was in the stream on the bottom of the canyon floor. The course went through the stream, made a small loop, and then took us back through the same stream we had just come from. That meant that you had runners going in opposite directions in the stream, which caused us to doubt that we were going the right way when we first saw people coming back towards us. Other than that, it was a great course.

I'm looking forward to the next race in 2017!

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Trip Report: Providence Canyon & Columbus

My first Georgia adventure - Providence Canyon. I found out about the canyon when I was looking for races on an Ultra running site. Although I grew up in Georgia, I hadn't done too much exploring beyond Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park and Stone Mountain Park. I had no idea that Georgia had a canyon, so I was excited to check it out.

Providence Canyon is sometimes called Georgia's "Little Grand Canyon", and it's considered to be one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia. The canyon has a gorgeous array of colors.

Unlike other canyons around the US, Providence Canyon is not natural. It was created by erosion caused by poor farming practices in the 19th century.

Since I visited the canyon to run in a 10k trail race, I only saw the parts of the canyon that the race course went through. I'd love to go back and hike down into the different canyons and take some photos from the canyon floor.

I highly recommend that anyone who wants to do some exploring in Georgia visit Providence Canyon. It's beautiful and is quite different from the typical Georgia landscapes.

For more information about the canyon: Wikipedia
State Park and visitor information: Providence Canyon State Park

Since the park was a couple hours from my house and I was running the 10k early in the morning, I got a hotel in Columbus, GA. It's right on the border of Georgia and Alabama, and I could see Alabama across the river. Columbus was a cute town with a few shops and restaurants, but the thing I enjoyed most was the Riverwalk.

Chattahoochee River from the Riverwalk in Columbus, GA