Trail Training: Sawnee Mountain Preserve

Last weekend we took a trip to a new location: Sawnee Mountain Preserve in Forsyth County. This area has a visitor’s center and two other parking lots with amenities and playgrounds. There’s plenty of parking and really good signage for (and on) the trails. There isn’t any parking fee and the website looks like it has lots of opportunities for fun and educational activities. Unfortunately there are no dogs allowed on any of the trails, but it’s still a great place for a hike or a challenging trail run.

There are essentially two loops in the Preserve. Check out a map of the trails here. The more northern of the loops is about 3.5 miles and leads up to the top of the mountain to a natural rock feature called the Indian Seats. From here you can see the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.

The southern loop is about 5.5 miles, depending on which trails you actually take. This section of the preserve has more climbs (both gentle and severe) and the trails have a bit more loose rock and uneven terrain. If you run clockwise, good luck with the connector part of the Mountain Trail that has a consistent 15-16% grade, or if you run counter-clockwise there’s a section with a 28% grade on the Mountain Trail. TrailRunProject ranks both the northern and southern loops at intermediate running trails, so we knew what we were getting into.

The trails were challenging, but the views and terrain made our 9.5 mile trek absolutely wonderful. Compared to many of the forested trails we normally run, Sawnee has more rock formations, more open tree canopies (especially towards the top of the Indian Seats trail), and bright green palmettos right near the trail to brighten the winter scenery. It was lovely! Highly recommend!

Trail Training: Red Top Mountain State Park

We went up to Red Top Mountain Saturday morning for a nice long run. I always love driving up 75 and seeing the fog from Lake Allatoona as a nice cool welcome for a morning run. We planned to arrive and start running by 8am, as the park gets crowded on nice weekends. We paid the $5 parking fee and used the open and clean restrooms at the Visitor Center on the main road. There is a park office and huge parking lot further toward the lake that connects to the trail system there as well in case there’s no parking at the Visitor Center.

The trails here are well maintained and have a soft padding of pine needles on them at this point in the year. The views of the lake are lovely and there’s not a lot of underbrush, so the views through the valleys of trees are also beautiful (even in the winter). Most of the trails are wide enough for two people to run side by side.

We ran on the Homestead Trail which looks a bit like a lollipop. The non-loop part starts at the Visitor Center which is why we parked here instead of at the park office. We ran the loop part of the trail twice in a counter-clockwise direction and then headed back to the parking lot to round out our 8 mile run. Both directions of the loop are equally hilly, but the counter-clockwise direction gives some time to adjust before the first climb. That being said, the loop part of the trail is rather hilly. There aren’t many long climbs, but there also aren’t many flat sections. No chance of getting bored here.

By 9 am we were starting to see increased traffic on the trails and by 9:30 am we had our masks out to cover up as we were passing people frequently. Again the trails are wide, but better safe than sorry!

It was a lovely morning and well worth the longer drive, although I would recommend checking for highway projects before leaving. There has been a lot of construction on 75 recently (like the last 5 years!) and we ended up taking backroads home because there was a 20 min delay on 75 south. Next time we’ll make sure to bring snacks for immediately after our run in case we run into delays again.

Tough Treads Trail Series – 5K

It was our first event yesterday and everything went swimmingly! We held our 5K at Cochran Shoals, part of the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area. It is a marked 5K course, really flat (remarkably so for Atlanta), with great gravel footing. We started at 8 AM and the parking lot was already crowded. Luckily the trail is really wide all the way throughout and it never felt crowded while running.

It was great seeing how many of our friends decided to show up and spend some time outdoors. Some came out to race, others to test themselves or set PRs, and still others came to enjoy the morning and get some exercise. We had about 14 people show up. It was lovely!

My husband and I decided to make things a bit more interesting. We both set what we figured were realistic goals for the course (both having run here numerous times before) and then I got a time handicap. I started with everyone else and my husband waited several minutes to start. The idea was that if we were both accurate with our estimates, then we would meet at the finish line. It was fun to have someone chasing me and my husband enjoyed having someone to chase. Turns out that my time estimate was better than his because he crushed his estimate by almost a minute and passed me with about 0.1 miles to the finish. I think we will probably try this again for the 10K in a month, but it’ll be a bit harder to get a good estimate because of hilly and less familiar courses. My guess is that it’ll be fun regardless!

While we waited for everyone to finish, I was pleasantly reminded about why I originally decided to organize this endeavor. It was really nice to see friends that I hadn’t seen in months except over a Zoom screen. We stood around chatting in a nice big circle with our masks on, just enjoying each others’ company. At that point it didn’t matter how fast we ran, just being with each other was more than worth the effort of organizing. Looking forward to next time!

Trail Training: Sweetwater Creek State Park

Sweetwater Creek State Park is advertised as the most visited state park in GA, and it’s absolutely lovely. Well worth the trip for either hiking or running, camping or fishing. The trails are well maintained, well labeled with colored blazes, and the creek is beautiful with mill ruins and history to learn. We did an 8-ish mile run at Sweetwater this weekend. One of our goals was to scope out a possible 10K course for our Tough Treads Trail Series with our friends.

We always make a point to arrive early at Sweetwater because of the crowds, especially during pandemic times. In our experience, you can generally find a parking spot in the main lot if you arrive before 9 AM (the park opens at 7 AM), otherwise you might be stalking a parking spot or parking in one of the overflow lots. There is a $5 daily parking fee or you can get an annual pass for all of Georgia’s state parks.

The trails at Sweetwater have something for everyone. The Red trail runs along the creek to the mill ruins and has interpretive history signs. The Red trail is relatively flat and wide up to the mill and then it turns into more of a scramble over rocks and the trail narrows considerably. It’s super fun to walk along and explore, but it’s not that great to run over especially when it’s crowded.

The White trail is a 5 mile loop that has a bit of everything in terms of scenery. It has wooded and gently rolling trail portions, switchbacks into and out of canyons, more open grassland areas with wide trails, and a portion along the creek that is much narrower trail that climbs over some rock formations and heads up some stairs. It’s not an easy run, but it is certainly satisfying if you enjoy scenery.

This weekend we also did the entry part of the Yellow trail which is relatively flat after the very beginning and crosses the creek. We didn’t get a chance to check out the rest of the Yellow trail loop which looks pretty hilly, but did meander onto the Blue trail for a bit. It was pretty hilly also, but might have been good at the beginning of a long run instead of the very end.

Well worth the visit, but plan accordingly for potential crowds.

*The pictures below are from a trip to Sweetwater in June, 2020.

Trail Training: Chicopee Woods Trail System

This past weekend we did our long-ish run (8 mi) in the Chicopee Woods Trail System up in Gainesville, GA. This is part of the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve, which also contains the Elachee Nature Center and the Chicopee Woods Mountain Bike Trails. There is a $5 daily fee ($50 annual fee) to get into the area and use the trails and dogs are not allowed anymore. There is also a fee if you want to go through the small natural history displays and museum at the Nature Center when it is open. They have a great native reptile and amphibian collection that is great for kiddos.

The hiking trails are well maintained and the scenery runs from lovely forested hills, to creeks, to bottomland, and then to a large lake on the other side of the property from the nature center. There are trails with options of 3 mi and 5 mi loops, and several shorter trails that wind around the nature center. It’s beautiful and if you get there before 10 am you’re not likely to see many folks in the winter time. In the summer, the trails get a bit more crowded and the Nature Center has summer camp programs that bring people to the area.

This is one of the more difficult sets of trails that we have experienced in the greater Atlanta area (minus the hike to the top of Kennesaw Mountain). The trail parking lot starts at a high point and all trails head downhill toward the lake. Some of the trails follow streams and are relatively flat along stretches and then climb up and down switchbacks as it follows the mountain contours. There are several areas with stairs set into the trail to facilitate uphill climbs. We tend not to run this trail very often right after all the leaves drop in the fall because it makes roots hard to see, but in all other seasons it’s easy to avoid tripping.

Highly recommend a trip up here to hike, run, or mountain bike!

Trail Training – Kennesaw Mountain

Took a trip to Kennesaw Mountain this weekend for our trail running adventure. I would highly recommend this site for anyone interested in trail running or hiking or Civil War history. My husband did a 51-miler here this past summer when his ultra race was cancelled because of the pandemic. It’s still one of his favorite trails, so that’s saying something! There are a total of 17 miles of trails here, divided into three separate sections.

The northern section includes the main parking lot, visitor center, restrooms, and the mountain itself. During the summer there is a tram that will take you to the top of the mountain if you don’t want to walk. The mountain loop has some steep trail headed to the top and some technical trail heading down the backside of the mountain and I haven’t run this section in years.

The middle section looks like one half of a butterfly, with a long straight and wide trail down the middle and then two half loops headed out to the west. The loops are fairly hilly and connect back at a bridge in the middle of the section. It is lovely and picturesque.

The southern section is definitely my favorite and the section that we ran this weekend. It has gentle rolling trails that butt up to the back of neighborhoods and travel through densely forested areas. There are a few bridges over creeks. The Illinois monument can be seen along one section of trail. The trail is well maintained and well traveled. Dogs are allowed, as well as horses and the trail can get crowded on beautiful mornings. Most of the trails are fairly wide, allowing for social distancing during the pandemic.

The only restrooms are at the main visitor center, but there are Krogers pretty close to the middle and southern sections that have well-maintained restrooms. There is a $5 parking fee that can be paid online, or you can purchase an annual pass for $40.

View from the Illinois Monument, Southern section – July 2020
Middle section – July 2020
Middle section loop – July 2020

Trail Training – Olde Rope Mill Park, GA

We (my husband and I and whatever friends want to join) head to local trails almost every saturday for a long run. As we get further enmeshed in our Tough Treads Trail Series, I’m sure our workouts will have more purpose than just getting outside for a run, but for now enjoying the outside and discovering new places to run is the primary purpose.

This weekend we met a friend at Rope Mill Park in Woodstock, GA. He is an avid mountain biker and loves the mountain bike trails at this park. Runners and hikers are allowed, but are required to travel the opposite direction of bikes and bikes always have the right of way. We figured an early start time and the cold temperatures would mean not much competition for the trails, and we were highly rewarded!

We ran the Avalanche Trail and a bit of the Explorer Trail were rewarded with a hilly, well-maintained, single track trail leading through the forest. The Little River could be seen in the valley below during the first part of the trail. Running on a mountain bike trail is a bit different than a normal hiking trail in that there are lots of switchbacks and the hills, while copious, are not very long. It was fun running down the trail and seeing my husband and friend headed the opposite direction up the mountain. The signage is great and there’s very little opportunity to get lost.

After the run, I explored the mill ruins on the opposite side of the Little River and the paved walking path along the river’s edge. It would be a great place to have a picnic if the weather was nice. By the time we were done (about 10:30 AM) the parking lot was starting to fill up, but it didn’t feel crowded. There is an additional parking lot across from a Kia dealership up the road, and I imagine during a nice warm summer weekend the trails would be full.

We will definitely be back to run the rest of the trails, but maybe only in the early morning cold!

For more info on the park check out the City of Woodstock Parks Website.

Tough Treads Trail Series By 7 Wonders

Vickery Creek, Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. Photo by Miranda Wilson

This pandemic has taken a huge hit on running with the cancellation of almost all in-person race opportunities. We have been missing our running community horribly and so my husband and I decided to organize a trail race series to do with our friends.

The idea is to hold 5 “races” throughout the year in a pyramid of distances – 5k, 10k, half, 10k, 5k. They will be spaced 4-8 weeks apart and will all be at local trails around Atlanta. We will meet in the parking lot at a specified time (with masks on of course), say hi, and then run. There will be a staggered start to limit contact, and people will time themselves. All the races will be self supported to limit contact as well.

We are going to make shirts for everyone, as we’ve been wanting to do for a while and if people complete the series, I have agreed to make medals. If people want to compete we will keep track of times for everyone and may have extra medals for those.

We already have 12 of our friends that want to come out. I’m really excited to see people and have something to train for. I’ll keep you posted!

Master’s Ultimate National Championships

It was my first time participating at the National Championships, despite being eligible (i.e., old) and playing with a group that sent a team. It was also my first time playing at a national level event with a small squad. Despite more play time than I really wanted, it was a fabulous event!

Located in Aurora Colorado, the altitude also played a significant role in the ease of running around. I haven’t been to Colorado to play ultimate in 12 years. I forgot how hard it feels to run at elevation. It makes sense why runners and cyclists spend time training in Colorado.

Things I enjoy about playing in a masters league:

1. Everyone knows what is going on. If you get the right group together there isn’t any teaching and most ideas discussed about strategy are valid.

2. The names of the teams all have some kind of spin on the fact that we are all old! Some examples: Atlantiques (that’s us), Surly, Cougars, Johnny Encore, I Thought This Was a Wine Tasting, Beyondors.

3. No one rolls their eyes when you say your legs hurt, instead they throw a roller at you, offer you some ibuprofen, and pull out a variety of braces and tapes.

4. Even mug older people can play at a competitive level. The oldest I saw was at 62 in the great grand masters division. Super impressive.

Here’s to next year!