West Virginia’s North Fork Mountain Trail (NFMT) has been on my trail running wish list since January 2020.
My sister sent me a text message with a link to a story about a group of trail runners who established the first ever male and female supported Fastest Known Time on the North Fork Mountain Trail.
“You have to run this trail!” she said.
I clicked on the link.
She was right. I had to run this almost 24-mile, point-to-point trail.
And I wanted to run it solo, unsupported, by myself, with zero assistance.
Before making my way to the North Fork Mountain Trail, I established my first solo, unsupported Fastest Known Time, an official trail running speed record, on the Big Savage Mountain Trail on March 1, 2020, as a training run.
Four weeks later, I had planned to go for the North Fork Mountain Trail FKT.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and life as we knew it changed forever.
Needless to say, I canceled my planned March 2020 North Fork Mountain Trail attempt.
The North Fork Mountain Trail sat in the back of my mind.
Two more postponed trips, and I became more eager.
Finally, at 5 a.m. on May 17, 2021, I woke up in my tent in West Virginia to the call of a whippoorwill.
It was go time.
And it began to rain.
My husband and I left our two young sons back at the campsite with my sister and brother-in-law and drove 40 minutes to the northern terminus.
At the start, it was 46 degrees and still raining.
I was going solo and unsupported, so I kissed my husband goodbye and began running southbound, the uphill way, at 6:45 a.m.
Mile zero to 1.5: Begins on a climb of gradual switchbacks
Miles 1.5 to three: Rocky ridgetop, still climbing, still raining, foggy
Miles three to four: Technical, rocky, very narrow trail slightly sloping downhill to the left with views to the right and surrounded by huckleberry bushes, mountain laurel and evergreens - the majority of the miles can be described this way. Because it is so rocky, the ground itself never formed big puddles or shoe-eating mud pits. About 10 downed trees lay across the trail in this stretch.
Miles four to five: The shrubs, young trees and grasses were heavy with rain and leaning across the trail, creating a low arch through which to run, soaking me even more from head to toe.
Miles five to eight: By this time, my hands were freezing and on the brink of immobility from the tenacious rain. Using my teeth, I peeled off drenched gloves and began alternating from sticking my hands up the front of my shirt, shaking them out overhead and opening and closing them as quickly as possible to improve circulation.
Miles nine to 11.2: Wet and freezing. What if I quit? My family made this special trip for me, for this. No, I could not quit on them.
Suddenly, the rain began to ease, and the temperature increased a few degrees. My left hand dried out. That was enough to keep going.
Miles 11.2 to 13.5: The trail comes out on a dirt road that travels uphill for about two miles to some intersecting pipeline roads, where I had to slow down and carefully look around for the blue diamond blazes.
“What did my friends and all those websites tell me to do here?” I thought and couldn’t recall.
I went straight for a bit, consulted the map on my Garmin fenix 6s, saw that I needed to turn back, then found the correct turn. This is the only place where it might be confusing to navigate back onto the single track, but with a map and slower pace, it’s manageable. My one regret of the run was wasting time here, because it’s a wide open road conducive to fast running, if only you know exactly which path to take.
Miles 13.5 to 18: Heavy rain returned just before dipping back into the woods at mile 13.5 for more climbs, more single track.
The next few miles were a good kind of blur, with one long downhill, and much of the same nice trail. I had a cramp in my right knee around mile 16 and remedied it by running faster. Why not?
Somewhere nearing the 20-mile mark on my watch the trail became a wide double track via private property.
Miles 20 to 23.79: Relentless rain, all the way to the end. I loved the final miles - the trail lent itself to a fun, fast finish. My final splits were 11:48, 10:10 and 9:16.
I began hooting and hollering around mile 23.5, not knowing exactly when or where I would end, but yearning for them to call back. Soon, I saw my family through the trees.
I kicked it up a notch, sped past the guide rail, clicked off my watch, and cried.
I yearned for this for so long, to be in a new, wild, majestic, remote mountain, all alone, running, feeling the pure satisfaction of achieving something my heart so desired.
On the run:
Though this was an unsupported effort, meaning I carried all my own supplies, ran alone and took nothing from anyone along the way, or stashed nothing for myself along the way, the support behind the scenes made this dream come true.
Thank you to the mountain bikers who posted the videos I watched and all the people who shared their trail beta with me, especially a local friend, whom I called the day prior to get a quick rundown of the terrain.
Thank you to my husband, who drove a total of four hours and 45 minutes that day, dropping me off, going back to camp, picking me up and driving us back to camp again. Without him, I would have had to mountain bike my own shuttle, and I’m not sure if I could have run it in five hours if that were the case!
Thank you to my sister, who sparked the flame that led me down the FKT path, and my brother-in-law, a mountain biker, who told me everything he knew about the trail.
Thank you to my sons, who motivate me to complete my goals with passion and a smile. My family all traveled with me to camp for the weekend to make this possible, and their love is what kept me going, making this the longest, wettest, steepest run I have done to date.
Thank you to my all-female trail running group, with whom I ran 6.3-miles the night before we departed for West Virginia. They live tracked me as I ran, and their cheers from afar were heard loud and clear, as always. Runs and dreams are more fun when shared with friends like them.
And as always, thank you to my late father, my race angel, who reaches me through my races when I most need it. This time, his birth digits were in the form of my overall time: 5:02 (his birth year is ‘52), making this the 15th time since his death that his birth digits have appeared in a race or FKT.
Here’s to holding on to your dreams, no matter what setbacks are thrown your way.