The mountain had crushed me; my now dead quads made every downhill step an exercise in pain management. Quitting sounded so nice and easy, but I wasn’t ready to give up…
The Iron Mountain Trail 50 is a race I wanted to run a couple years ago, before my long bout with injury. So a couple weeks ago when I saw that some entries opened up, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. The course is beautiful and represents everything to love about east coast mountain/trail running: steep climbs, switchbacks, fire roads, technical descents, and of course lots of rocks. Despite my love for this terrain, it had been years since I spent quality time on technical trail and I was a bit nervous about how it would go. I was in really good running shape, having logged many miles in the Southern heat and humidity on the roads surrounding Nashville, but that hardly properly prepares you for a run in the mountains.
|Start of the 50 Miler|
The race started out conservatively enough, a staggered start this year meant that the 50 milers didn’t have to keep up with the ‘rabbits’ in the shorter 30 and 16 mile races. I went out front with Adam Casseday as we warmed up on a 5-mile stretch of the flat Virginia Creeper trail. This section flew by as we chatted and about 35 minutes later we were making our fist major climb of the day. The climb is long, but not too steep and this early in the race didn’t seem to be that bad. As we approached the second aid station around mile 9, Jordan caught up to us. I let him go ahead and Adam fell back a bit.
The next 13 miles were very pleasant. I was running by myself occasionally catching glimpses of Jordan on the climbs and losing sight of him on the down hills. I passed Doctor Horton who was pushing his bike up a section of washout trail full of rocks that we had to run down, he jokingly said, “there’s a few rocks up ahead.”
As I hit the aid station at Mile 22, Troy caught up to me and we would run together on the next section that consisted mainly of forest service road. Again, this section flew by as we talked about life and various running adventures. However, somewhere in this section my right calf started cramping up a bit; not a big deal at the time, but it did foreshadow the suffering ahead.
At mile 29 there is a long, steep climb up to the next aid station 3ish miles away. On this climb my calf cramps continued to worsen. At the aid station I took some extra salt and continued on to the next section, which was quite rolling. The cramping was still too bad to run any of the climbs, so I hiked all the hills and figured I would make up for it by pushing hard on the down hills – bad choiceL I quickly blew up my quads and now I couldn't even run the down hills.
|Barely holding it together|
The section from mile 37 to 43 was pure suffering as I probably walked 95% of this section. I was cramping on the climbs and the downs were painful even to walk – some of the steep downs I walked backwards to alleviate the pain. A few runners would pass me here including Shaun, who gave me the only meaningful advice “just finish.” The truth was I really wanted to drop. My race was over, I was cramping, my quads were blown and walking it in did not sound fun. But I came here to run 50 miles in the mountains, and there was really no reason I could not finish other than I was having a bad day.
So I came into the last aid station, determined to finish even if I had to walk every step of the final 8ish miles. At the aid station I pitifully explained my plight to the volunteers as I took a couple more S caps and downed several refills of Mountain Dew. After lingering a bit too long, I headed back for the final leg back to Damascus.
My cramping started to subside so I was actually able to run some of the up hills, and as you approach the finish you mentally become stronger and are able to push a little more. So despite the pain I started jogging the down hills as well. After what seemed like forever the trail spits you out back into town to finish the last mile. I crossed the finish line about an hour later than my goal, but the important thing is that I crossed the finish line. I politely declined the opportunity to try for the Iron Man Award (most sit-ups, push-ups and pull-ups within 5 minutes of finishing).
After finishing, I chatted with Troy and some of the other runners for a bit. He had a super consistent run and finished in second just two minutes off the lead. He put 50 minutes on me in the second half of the race, which really made it clear how slow I had been going. The last 13 miles of this race was probably the toughest I ever pushed through, especially in a non-hundred. The good news is that other than the blown quads I wasn’t too beat up. However I did look like a 90-year-old man trying to get downstairs the next day.
I guess the lesson learned is that if you haven’t trained on long, steep hills don’t expect to perform very well in a race that features long, steep hills. It also provided a good reminder that sometimes this sport is just as much about grit and stubbornness as it is about physical fitness. Although I would have liked to finished much better than I did (and I’ll be back to try again), I do feel like I can call myself an ultrarunner againJ