Iron Mountain 50 Mi Race Report-
Sept 1, 2012
The air was thick, oppressive, and as warm as steamy tomato soup. The same moisture that provides such a beautiful and lush mountainscape in the Blue Ridge Mountains surrounding Damascus, Virginia hung in the atmosphere. It clung to our bodies not allowing even copious amounts of sweat to cool us.
Saturday September 1st, 2012 was the 7th running of the Iron Mountain 50; a 50 mile footrace on trails starting and ending in Damascus, Virginia. The race holds well over 8000’ of elevation gain over the 50 mile distance, claiming the most vertical gain of any other 50 miler I race each year. It also offers a 30 mile and 16 mile distance. This was my second running of the race, and I had strong hopes to improve upon my 2nd place finish from last year.
Damascus has always been a place which has served to shape my life; this year it has already done so by being the starting point of The Tour De Virginia in which Eric Grossman, Anne Riddle Lundblad, and I ran from Tennessee to West Virginia, (via the Appalachian Trail in VA), over the course of 14 days. The journey covered 560 miles crossing every white blaze on the AT and was truly a feat of stamina and will. We completed the TDV on July 14th and the Iron Mountain 50 was my first race since finishing the Tour. How appropriate it also took place in Damascus?
Race morning was a social experience. Many friends I’ve made over the last few years were slated to be racing as well, and likewise, this Iron Mountain 50 would be one of the most competitive races I’ve raced this year, but I was feeling great the week prior to the race, mentally and physically, and was ready to battle.
“Why is everyone so quiet?!” I heard behind me as we rumbled down the Virginia Creeper trail in the opening miles. Johnny Clemmons was out front leading the 30 mile race in what was sure to be a new course record. The usual suspects I’d expected to be fighting for the 50 win were right there with me; Brad Hinton, Jon Allen, Shaun Pope, and Brian Pickett. For a group of guys who all knew and liked one another, there was a lot of racing early on and not much talking. We all broke the ice by talking about what a stupid pace we were running in the opening miles, and had a good chuckle about it.
Going into this race I had been training differently than usual, applying the art of mindfulness in my training regime ever since returning from the TDV. When I felt poorly I backed off and waited to run later in the day, and when I felt good I pushed hard. I became better at listening to my body and focused hard on not overtraining but instead tried to always leave a little extra in the tank. I’m a numbers guy, and I try to focus on heart rate, etc. This race however, I felt stronger than ever in the week preceding the event, and I knew I wanted to push the pace from the gun to the finish. I wasn’t concerned about HR or pacing as much as usual. I wanted to truly test myself and lay it ALL out there like never before, and most of all, I wanted the best performance possible regardless of placement. I felt like even though the race was more stacked with high level competition than in previous years, I couldn’t care less about what others were doing or who else showed. I was just focusing on running my own race and staying in my head. It was a great vibe.
Leaving the Straight Branch Aid Station at mile 5 begins the serious climbing as well as real trail finally in the form of singletrack exiting the crushed surface of the Va Creeper Trail. I had pushed the opening pace, but entering the climb Shaun Pope and Brian Pickett surged out in front and I lost sight of them. I pushed harder than usual but still went at my own pace, not concerned in the least at the way in which Shaun and Brian had destroyed the climb. I knew I was running strong on the climb and my pace was furious enough. My legs still felt better than usual even after the quick opening 5 miles and my Plantar Fasciitis was only minimally nagging me which it would do all race.
After climbing a couple thousand feet I came unto the undulating rolling stretch atop the Iron Mountain massif. I was running with Jon Allen and we had the chance to catch up on each other’s lives since we last raced one another at the Umstead 100 in March where he finished a painful 8 minutes ahead of me!
The descents on the Iron Mountain trail are frequent and technical. I found myself running very well on the downhill sections. Coming into Skulls Gap aid station at mile 16 I saw Johnny Clemmons heading back up the climb towards me in the lead of the 30 mile race as expected. (The 30 mile option just turns around at Skulls Gap and the 50 milers continue onward.) I was pleased to actually be so close to the 30 mile leader. Exiting the Skulls Gap Aid Station I had caught up to Shaun Pope, Brad Hinton and Brian Pickett and lead my pace out of the aid station. After another clockwork speedy bottle exchange at Skulls Gap from my incredible race crew, Stephanie, I was now leading the race again at mile 16 and Brad Hinton was in 2nd for the climb out of Skulls Gap. I was quite relieved to have caught Shaun Pope as I knew him to be a formidable runner. He’s won Iron Mountain before and holds the 2nd fastest time run on the course. Shaun has already won 2 Ultras this year and at least 12 others in his impressive career. He’s only 24 years old and he will continue to only get faster through the years. The usual suspects as I refer to the group I pinned to be fighting for the win were all together again momentarily as we entered the mid-stage of the race. I felt comfortable leading the group up the climb from Skulls Gap and I held my pace as no one was challenging to take it at that point.
Hurricane Gap aid station found the top 4 still close together. Brian Pickett had dropped due to knee pain. Jon Allen and Shaun Pope, Brad and I were all swapping places. I had to relinquish my lead to Brad for a very quick bathroom break and Shaun also passed. I managed to finish my business before Jon Allen passed me, and caught back up to Shaun and Brad within minutes for a group entry into Hurricane Gap at mile 22.
Exiting Hurricane Gap runners are blessed with some speed in the form of running down fire road for several miles. Brad Hinton and I found ourselves to be running together in the lead towards Rowland Creek inching ourselves further away from Jon Allen and Shaun Pope. The descent from Hurricane Gap can be a bit challenging mentally because although it’s nice to knock out so many miles descending thousands of feet to Rowland Creek, you can see the top of the mountains getting farther and farther away and you know you have to climb back up them.
I hit mile 25, the halfway point, in 3 hours 45 minutes running downhill towards Rowland Creek running shoulder to shoulder with Brad in 1st and 2nd. Brad was running with authority and wasn’t letting up, but I decided I felt good and wanted to attack at the beginning of the climb back up after Rowland Creek aid station. I knew the climb to be a very technical, steep and challenging one and upon reaching the summit of the climb at mile 32 I knew that I could gain as much as 10 minutes from an inspired climb. Hopefully it wouldn’t blow me so hard I would die in the remaining 18 miles as that is still a long way to go.
I made haste at the Rowland Creek aid station and said a quick hello to Beth who helped crew the Tour De Virginia last month and was manning the Rowland aid station. Brad was filling his bottle and I bolted and treated the climb like the finish of the race was at the top of the mountain only several miles away. Some horses blocked my path and had to hault momentarily until the equestrians allowed my passage and I continued my assault of the climb with fury and purpose. From the first moment I began the climb I couldn’t see any other runners behind me and I knew I was running stronger than I had all race and I could gain a big advantage on the climb as long as I could keep fueling perfectly and maintain pace.
I reached the Hurricane Gap aid station again at mile 32 in first and felt victorious but knew the day would still be long. 18 more miles in first place and I planned on destroying every cell in my body running as hard as possible to protect my first place finish. I didn’t slow at the aid station with the help of Stephanie’s awesome crewing. I swapped bottles on the fly and she tossed me my ipod as I planned on the remainder of the day being a feat that would require some musical distraction from the pain and agony I planned on indulging in! I have actually read clinical studies which show time to fatigue while listening to music can be delayed by as much as 10%!
The climb continues out of Hurricane Gap and I pushed even harder. I wanted to command the race and run with everything in me, and that’s what I did. Leading a race for that long, the miles can drag on trying to protect the placement, but I was running faster than ever for the day from miles 32 to 39. I punished myself and loved every second. I was focused and in the zone. The descents were light and airy, floating over the most technical sections with surefootedness and confidence over ankle trashing rocks and roots and off kilter trail. My plantar fascia, (foot pain…), screamed at me occasionally and I screamed back telling it shut up, and I would let it heal after the race. It abided and didn’t get better or worse.
|Looking like hell! -But feeling better than ever!|
I began to finally lose my focus and all empowering drive entering the stretch of trail after the Skulls Gap aid station at mile 37. Those 6 miles between 37 and 43 were my low point for the race and I was paying for my efforts over the last 10 miles, but I forged on and knew I was in the home stretch. I pushed on regardless and didn’t slow, but it took every effort within me. I would glance at my watch and still be pleased with my heart rate and the power I was able to put down on the trails. I was praying I could maintain and I knew that as strong as I was running with each step it would be hard for anyone to gain on me.
I contemplated walking every climb I was faced with, but ran everything, never slowing once…I knew I had no choice. I wanted to do this for me, not just to hold placement, but I wanted the fastest time I was capable of on that day, and yielding to a desire to slow was not in the cards. I shut my mind off and tried to maintain focus and not tire.
I began to finally pass people who were finishing the 30 mile race after I exited the forest service road 90 aid station at mile 43 and it was fuel to my fire. I was trying to yell encouragement to the runners I passed and it helped me stay upbeat and focused. The heat was getting unbearable and my head felt like it was swelling and I was overheating, but I pressed on. I had been fueling and hydrating better than ever and was not about to slow this late in the game. I finally had some adrenaline surging for the remainder of the short 7 downhill miles to the finish after the hellish 6 miles from 37-43.
Apparently I narrowly averted a bear another runner completing the 30 miler had just passed and I flew onward and down towards the finish. I felt a sharp pain in my foot and knew I had just burst a major blister on my small 5th toe and didn’t care. The magnetic pull of the finish line was pulling me home and nothing could stop me.
I wanted to break Shaun Pope’s 2nd fastest course time if I couldn’t touch Grossman’s course record from last year, and I used this to fuel a furious pace for the last 3 miles. Several people thought me to be a tad insane bombing down the treacherous rocky trail at speeds unknown to me. A lot of people who run the last 3 miles down the technical trail get similar reactions…
After exiting the Iron Mountain Trail there are several miles of pavement/Creeper Trail. I began my pursuit of Shaun’s time and knew it would be close. I pounded the pavement, and then the soft crushed surface of the Creeper Trail as I tore through Damascus. I knew I had first place locked but I wanted to best Shaun’s time and I used this to motivate me to dig deep as I hacked and coughed and pressed on trying to be proud of my finish. It was nice to finish the race with some fire in me. I rounded the corner off of a pedestrian bridge and I was now visible to the crowd at the town park in Damascus and heard the cheers. I had done it. I won the race! (I missed Shaun’s 2010 time by 33 seconds) I was elated. After getting some fluids in me I cooled off in a perfectly placed river next to the finish and waited for 2nd place to arrive. My time was 7 hours and 28 minutes. I was pretty excited to have run a negative split for the race.
I got to meet David Horton at the finish whom helped to create the Ultra community as it exists today. He directs many races and I informed him of my desire to race the Hellgate 100K this year and so fortunately I have a spot now solidified.
Running with so many friends out on the course whom I have met through running is a blast. I love going back to venues which I have run previously because of the community aspect of the sport. Through the Tour De Virginia adventure and running so many other races near Virginia I have gotten to know quite a few great folks and hanging out at the finish isn’t just something to do because I can’t imagine walking back to the car, it’s that there is nowhere else I’d rather be than hanging out than shooting the breeze about racing and running!
Brad Hinton held on strong and finished in 7:52. Jon Allen was 3rd in 8:03 rounding out the men’s podium.
I’ll be racing with Brad in the Ultra Race of Champions 100K, (UROC), in 4 weeks which will be more challenging than ever with the stellar field they have lined up this year. Luckily my gracious wife is the best and had no problems with me racing in UROC which is billed as the penultimate event in the sport with a $20K prize purse. UROC takes place only a week and a half before our first child is due! Next on the docket after baby girl Shellhamer and UROC is my first Montrail Cup race in the Pinhoti 100 miler on November 3.
Here's the top 10 for the day;
|Place||Time||Bib||First Name||Last Name||Gender||Age||City||State|
|My tradition after Iron Mtn! Well deserved waffle cone with a double scoop!|
Special THANKS to these GREAT folks!