Friday, August 14, 2009

Look Homeward, Angel

Asheville, North Carolina is a beautiful place. Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains, it has an eclectic, eccentric, artsy vibe. That, and it has a beautiful natural woody, mountainous setting. Hometown son Thomas Wolfe was captivated by a statue in a cemetery in nearby Hendersonville, NC, and wrote "Look Homeward Angel," an American epic about life and family. This is the angel that captivated Wolfe:

I stopped and saw the angel last year when we were down this way, and honestly, it didn't do much for me. Yes, it is pretty, but there are many, many statues that have grabbed me much more. In fact if it wasn't "Wolfe's angel," I am not sure I would have given it a second look. But it did enrapture Wolfe and inspire him to write an epic.

My Asheville epic was an 18 mile run. In addition to being the home of Thomas Wolfe, Asheville is also where Biltmore is located. Biltmore was built by George Washington Vanderbilt II in the 1880s as a grandiose American palace, and it is beautiful. In 1916, after a ruinous flood, to reduce maintenance and taxes, a large hilly plot of land next to Biltmore was sold to developers and became the town of Biltmore Forest. Biltmore Forest is beautiful, and located in rolling, wooded hills. Grand mansions and estates line Biltmore Forest's winding, hilly streets tucked around a Donald Ross golf course.

It was also where I ran my 18 miles yesterday afternoon. It was a difficult, hard run. In addition to its beauty, Asheville is at 2500 feet above sea level. Not Colorado, but still nearly half a mile higher than Central Park. It was not terribly hot (maybe 70 degrees?), but it was really humid. And, have I mentioned hills yet? Mountains? My Garmin had my run with a total an elevation climb of 6,500 feet. That is probablly way too much, but even if it was half that, wow. Wow. It was always up, down, up, down. So much so that there was basically no flat land. None. And I couldn't enjoy a downhill, because I knew I'd be going right back up shortly. But it was a gorgeous run in a gorgeous place.

And, in contrast to my last post, even the golfers on the course waved at me as I went by.

Ended up going 18.42 at average pace of 8:28. If last week's 20 miler was "easy", this was a hard 18. Super hard. As hard as a run I've had in years.Ii had to stop and walk a couple times, and really, really watch my fluids. The little town has a town hall, and I stopped to use their water fountain when I ran out of water, and I had brought nearly 40 ounces with me. (The town hall people were also super nice to me (even the police) and must have thought I was certifiably insane. I was dripping with sweat when I would stop and pop in their little town hall to use the water fountain, and they saw me running for hours up and down the hills on this bright sunny day.) It was just a difficult run, period. But 5 weeks of training are down, 11 to go until New York. Splits below, with a couple of distortions from water breaks and the like, and the elevation gain and loss really doesn't tell the story because of all the up and down (the gain in the chart is net over the split, so if you climb 100 feet then descend 100 feet in the split, your gain is zero in this chart.).

If you are ever in Asheville, my advice: skip the angel, and get ready to run.

Time Distance Split time Elev. chg. Split pace
0:04:12 0.50 4:12 +128 8:25
0:08:11 1.00 3:59 +33 7:58
0:12:13 1.50 4:02 +81 8:04
0:16:33 2.00 4:19 +4 8:39
0:20:27 2.50 3:54 -78 7:50
0:24:32 3.00 4:04 +34 8:09
0:28:40 3.50 4:08 +64 8:17
0:32:55 4.00 4:14 -33 8:30
0:37:13 4.50 4:17 -32 8:36
0:41:36 5.00 4:23 -30 8:46
0:46:08 5.50 4:32 -50 9:05
0:50:24 6.00 4:15 +126 8:31
0:54:37 6.50 4:13 -48 8:27
0:58:38 7.00 4:01 -157 8:02
1:02:52 7.50 4:14 +73 8:28
1:07:12 8.00 4:19 +63 8:40
1:11:27 8.50 4:14 +58 8:29
1:15:33 9.00 4:06 -63 8:12
1:19:27 9.50 3:54 +21 7:49
1:24:05 10.00 4:37 +12 9:15
1:28:32 10.50 4:26 +54 8:54
1:32:38 11.00 4:05 -56 8:12
1:36:47 11.50 4:08 -76 8:18
1:41:07 12.00 4:20 +123 8:40
1:45:09 12.50 4:02 -58 8:05
1:49:29 13.00 4:20 +75 8:40
1:53:21 13.50 3:51 -78 7:44
1:58:36 14.00 5:14 -54 10:29
2:02:52 14.50 4:16 -34 8:33
2:06:41 15.00 3:48 -47 7:36
2:11:08 15.50 4:27 +92 8:54
2:15:32 16.00 4:24 +89 8:49
2:20:29 16.50 4:56 -47 9:53
2:24:39 17.00 4:10 -17 8:22
2:28:54 17.50 4:14 +16 8:29
2:32:48 18.00 3:54 -119 7:49
2:35:56 18.41 3:07 -93 7:39

In Look Homeward Angel, this is how Wolfe described the angel that stood for years on the porch of his father's tombstone shop.

"No one knew how fond he was of the angel. Publicly he called it his White Elephant. He cursed it and said he had been a fool to order it. For six years it had stood on the porch, weathering, in all the wind and the rain. It was now brown and fly-specked. But it came from Carrara in Italy, and it held a stone lily delicately in one hand. The other hand was lifted in benediction, it was poised clumsily upon the ball of one phthisic foot, and its stupid white face wore the look of some soft stone idiocy." -- Look Homeward, Angel (1929)


  1. Nice work, really hope you can follow it to the end!

    The accumulation of intervals, followed by tempos, followed by long runs did me in. Couldn't keep it up when the distance spiked. Going to have to drop back to a more traditional first timer training plan, get in more easy miles, and hope my knee agrees.

    Good luck!

  2. fantastic effort, hopefully you'll get your payback in future races

  3. Great run Wolve! You certainly can't compare one run to another because there are so many different variables. Heat, humidity, not to mention the condition of your body on that day are just a few things. And then there are the hills....

    Congrats on a great run and a cool experience. BTW, I am actually considering the Charlotte marathon in November as it is just about the only 2nd fall marathon that fits into my schedule.

  4. Awesome run! 8:38 average pace for an 18 miler? You kick ass.

  5. I really think finding a cool place to run makes all the difference. Sounds like you've found a great one.


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