Last weekend Mark and I decided to get away for a couple of days. We had heard that the Highlands area was gorgeous and are always up for exploring a new trail, so we decided to hit the Bartram. We packed the Subaru with running gear and set off after work on Friday. Turns out that one of our friends, Matt Kirk (holder of the South Beyond 6000 and Mountains-to-Sea Trail speed records) was doing the same thing. Our weekends on the trail would turn out to be vastly different, though. While we had planned a relaxing weekend at a B&B with a little bit of running thrown in for good measure, Matt was after yet another FKT, this time attempting to run the entire 110 miles of the Bartram Trail.

The first thing that Mark and I did upon arrival in Highlands was to check into The Inn at Half-Mile Farm. Turns out that we had arrived just in time for evening cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, so we helped ourselves to wine and baked brie and relaxed on the Adirondack chairs by the lake. I’m guessing that Matt must’ve been on the trail by then, enjoying a late afternoon snack of gels and electrolyte drink.

Later that evening, feasting on a dinner of red snapper basted with lemongrass-infused coconut milk and mango-cardamom tofu at Cyprus, we happened to run into a mutual friend who told us of Matt’s epic run on Bartram. We found out that he was expected to be at the trailhead nearest us at 6am and decided that it might be cool to go out to meet him there. Once back at the cozy inn, however, we second-guessed that decision. Waking in the early morning darkness, we reminded ourselves that we hadn’t thought to pack headlamps or cold-weather gear. Firing up the gas logs in our fireplace and pulling up the quilt, we decided that it really made more sense to get a few extra hours of rest. We later learned that Matt had gotten a bit more shut-eye than he’d intended as well, although his respite came in the form of impromptu naps on the cold hard ground rather than in a cushy king-sized bed. I’m guessing that he also missed out on chocolates on his pillow.

Around 9am, when Matt was miles down the trail and had undoubtedly already digested his pre-dawn breakfast of gels and electrolyte drink, we made our way over to the dining room where we chowed on BLT frittatas and fresh-squeezed o.j., thinking all the while how much Matt would have appreciated that meal. Once we got to the trailhead, the sun was bright overhead, the sky was crystal clear, and we enjoyed panoramic views of mountains as far as we could see. It was a glorious day for running, especially exploring a new trail.

For the next five hours, we followed the ridgeline, cranking up hills and coasting down, pausing to soak up the views and snap a few pictures here and there. Occasionally we saw Matt’s footprints in the dirt and wondered how he had been feeling at that spot, over twenty-four hours into his run. Hitting the most heinous steep and rocky stretches on tired legs (we had gone about ten miles at that point), we dared not compare our fatigue to Matt’s, knowing that he had already traveled 80+ miles over the same terrain.

We finished our run mid-afternoon, once again returning to the B&B just in time for afternoon snacks, this time goat cheese-stuffed mushrooms and smoked salmon. Poor Matt, we thought. He’s probably still out there, choking down yet another gel with a Gatorade chaser.

Later that evening we learned that Matt had finished his epic journey at sunset, completing the entire 110 miles in 31 hours, 55 minutes. He’s only the second person to accomplish this, following in the footsteps of Denise Davis, who set the bar back in 2010. After traveling less than a quarter of the distance they covered, I can attest to the impressiveness of this feat.

Now the question remains — if we had it all to do over, which weekend would we choose? Mark and I enjoyed delicious cuisine and definite luxury (did I mention the jetted tub?) with some scenic runs thrown in, while Matt pushed his body and soul to the brink of exhaustion and back in order to achieve a big goal. Just goes to show, there’s more than one way to experience a trail.

Tale of Two Trails

For more details on Matt’s epic run, visit his blog at http://matthewkirk.blogspot.com/