By the second half of the first mile, I was running in the open and trying to find my pace. The next mile would be a gradual ascent, and I fully anticipated being passed by some of those behind me who thrived on hills. Maybe it was just because I was already so far back in the pack, but nobody passed me on this hill; in fact, nobody passed me for the remainder of the run, which may be unprecedented. Coming back down the hill from the turnaround at 1.5 miles, I sought out each of my daughters to offer up some encouragement. I still felt good, and I was running hard (by my standards) as I passed the halfway point.
Before I made it to the end of the third mile, the leader came barreling down the road in the opposite direction, roughly a half-mile from the finish line. He would finish, incredibly, with a time of 26:55. I remained strong, now heading uphill again, to the second and final turnaround. My breathing was under control as I ran pain-free to begin the fifth and final mile. I must have been focused on the task at hand because, though I waved to my oldest daughter as she was pushing uphill to the turnaround, I never even saw my youngest. Nearing the finish line, I was met with some disappointment as the clock came into view. Though I beat my time from last year by 2:11, I was thinking I had run faster than I did. With a chip time of 41:18, I was far down the list, the 9th finisher out of 12 in the men's 40-44 year-old bracket.
Coming in for the finish
Whenever my daughters crossed the line, we could eat. There was no telling how far back my youngest was, so I backtracked to see if I could hurry her along. When I came upon her, she had nearly a mile to go. I was proud of her as she ran all the way back, though the pace was agonizingly glacial. Once we were finally back at the lodge, we helped ourselves to the complimentary post-race spaghetti. Our bellies full, we were now prepared to make the transformation from runners to hikers.
Refueling after the run
The Lake Trail is 4.7 miles long and encircles Kelly Lake. Because the trail passes right by the lodge, we decided to just pick up the trail here, rather than driving to the trailhead parking. We hiked clockwise a short distance on Beach Road, the same road which we had just ran, before the trail veered left into the woods.
Kelly Lake, as seen from Beach Road
Switchbacks quickly led us up into the hills high above the lake. With many of the leaves off the trees, we could see down into the hollows and over onto adjacent hills. The lake remained in sight for much of our hike, as well (duh, it is called Lake Trail). Saturday was the first day of rifle season here in Tennessee, and the hills were alive with the sound of gunfire. There were so many rounds going off at one point, I was afraid the Viet Cong were shooting back. The firing soon subsided, and, after dropping down to share with Beach Road a second time, the trail turned north in the direction of the Fisk House on Standing Stone Park Highway.
Leafless trees provide hikers with a good lay of the land
Wikipedia states that Moses Fisk was an early idealistic pioneer in the area who built the house in front of which we were now standing in the early 1800s. The house, which is badly deteriorating, proved to be a useful rendezvous point for us later in the day when my wife was forced to turn back after knee pain prevented her from descending a steep slope to the dam. While my older daughter headed back with her mom, the younger one and I stayed the course, as we were now about halfway through the loop.
Steep grade to the dam below
Below the Kelly Lake Dam
After checking out the dam, we continued on to pick up the trail on the other side. The only problem was that I picked up the wrong trail. Thinking more about how my wife would make it back to the Fisk House before we could make it back to our vehicle parked at the group lodge, I failed to check my map and inadvertently stepped onto the Tea Room Spur Trail. As we approached the top of the hill and observed the rental cabins, I sensed I had made a mistake. Now with map properly in hand, I pinpointed our location, and we strolled down East Cabin Drive to access the Cabin Spur Trail. This trail gently descended the slope to reunite us with the Lake Trail. A sign at the bottom informed us we were 2.5 miles from the Overton Lodge.
View from the Cabin Spur Trail
On the Lake Trail
We crossed a bridge along the Lake Trail and came to a junction with the Cooper Mountain Trail. This is an 8-mile loop trail, beginning and ending in the park, which I had totally forgotten existed. I filed this away in my memory to hike another day. At this moment, we were on a mission to retrieve the other two members of our party before sundown. Now on the east side of the lake, the trail became quite easy, and we made good time. There is one section along the trail here worth noting where the drop is precipitous, so take extra care. We enjoyed the sunshine and the pretty views of the lake as we winded along the water's edge before closing the loop at the group lodge. The race event now long over, ours was the only vehicle remaining at the site.
Looking south from the east side of Kelly Lake
I drove us back to the Fisk House, where the other half of our party waited. Passing this way on the trail earlier, I had noticed an overlook high above but saw no path leading to it. The map showed access to the overlook was by car only. With the access road just up from the Fisk House, we pulled in shortly before sunset to have a final look at the park. Our day of running and hiking complete, I told the girls we were like the drivers who sometimes compete in both NASCAR and IndyCar races in the same day. I believe at that point they, too, felt like those drivers must at the end of the day.
View from overlook