Sunday, March 2, 2014

First Ascent: All 22 miles of the American Tobacco Trail (and more)

New Hill/Apex Launch point - American Tobacco Trail
(all photos via instagram)
The American Tobacco Trail has been a great place to run (and bike) in the Triangle for 10 years now. For the past year or so, I, and many others, have been very anxious about the opening of the bridge over I-40. This was the final piece of the puzzle, which would connect the 22 mile marked stretch from Apex/New Hill to downtown Durham. Once they announced the bridge was complete (on February 21, 2014), I began to plan my journey.

There really wasn't a whole lot to it. The week before, I ran the Black Mountain Marathon with my dad, and despite some knee pain, knew I was fit for the task. So come around 10am on Saturday, March 1, 2014, I was ready. I would run from mile 0 in Apex to mile 22 in downtown Durham, then keep on going another mile to Fullsteam, for a celebratory beer or two.

I drove from my home in Five Points out to the 1309 New Hill-Olive Chapel Road entrance of the ATT and parked on the gravel lot, loaded up my gear (with electronics/toiletries/etc in ziplocks), and began my journey.

The first 5.4 miles were pretty straightforward, with double track crushed gravel trail and some minor undulations. As planned, some friends of mine had left me two 12 ounce Gatorades at the 1205 White Oak Church Road entrance. That would be my first short stop. I chugged one, packed the other, and continued on.

$11 million worth of bridge
I would take my first gel at around 10 miles. Luckily, I had my handheld bottle to take it with, since the water fountain at around mile 9 wasn't working (due to winter). This was the point that I began to cover some ground that I had not been on before.

I passed the USA Baseball complex at around 11-12 miles and then continued on towards Southpoint Mall. This is where it got a little bit tricky. I curled around behind the movie theater and at around mile 14/15, finally passed over the bridge on I-40. I'm not gonna lie, it was shaking a little. I'm not great with heights, so I was happy to get to the other side.

Once I got off said bridge, there were some odd turns. I was happy others were on the trail, because the zig zag by the apartment complex at the shopping center where Bull City Running was would have thrown me for a loop. Luckily, fellow runners led the way, and it was somewhat chalked out with directions as to where to go.

The biggest difference in the Cary/Apex part of the ATT and the Durham section is that the Durham section is paved, whereas the Cary/Apex section is crushed gravel. I've been battling runner's knee for a month, so this took some getting used to.

The ATT is very well marked in the Durham portion, with painted markers every quarter mile. I began to use these as a countdown as my hamstrings began to bark and I could taste that beer at the finish. I popped in a gas station right along the trail to refill my water, and then I hit the homestretch.

The last few miles took me through some of the dicier areas of the trail, but at 6', 185, I don't worry too much about that, especially in broad daylight. Everyone I ran into this day was very nice.

I passed the last small bridge with a quarter mile left and hit the mile 0 in Durham marker. Sweet relief. 22 miles in the can and one more to go.

Mile 0 of the Durham section of the trail is on Blackwell Street, so at this point, I just went straight. I went about 3/4 of a mile before turning right on Hunt Street, and then had just a quick left on Rigsbee Avenue. I had made it to Fullsteam. 23.03 miles from the parking lot in Apex to the front door of one of my favorite breweries.

It was an absolutely beautiful day in Durham and I was able to enjoy a Carver and a Workingman's Lunch, as well as a delicious Reuben from Sympathy for the Deli (and a Coke. Real Coke, not diet).

My fiance was nice enough to pick me up and drive me home as well. A great day on the trails, and quite possibly, the first documented full ascent of the American Tobacco Trail :)

A beer to finish the run!
My Gear:
1. Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest
There is a "2.0" model, but I have the original. Great for carrying everything you need. Very light and fits nice and snug. I do not use the Ultimate Direction bottles supplied. I find the 12 ounce Gatorade bottles fit better in the pouches.

2. Nathan QuickShot Handheld
My favorite handheld, because you don't really notice it. Only holds 10 ounces, but easy to carry and refill.

3. PowerBar Gels
I took two. Probably could have carried one more. I like the Kona Punch, Vanilla and Strawberry flavors. If you're tired, the caffeinated flavors are great too.

4. Hoka One One Stinson Tarmac
With all the injuries I've had in the past 4 years, Hokas are great. Lots of cushioning. Still responsive.

5. Various Electronics/Toiletries
Garmin Forerunner 110, iPhone, iPhone charger, Sony MP3 Player, Body Glide, Ibuprofen, Salon Pas, Paper towel.
Thinking of buying near the ATT? I can help!
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