Friday, September 16, 2011
Iron Mountain 50, errr, 32 Miler
It's a lot more fun to write reports for races that go well but just because things didn't go like I had hoped doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy it.
I made the drive out to Damascus early Friday afternoon, alone on this trip. I took the scenic route enjoying driving over roads that I haven't been on in probably 15 years. I used to make frequent trips through the area in the late 80's into the early 90's with an old job but haven't been this way since then. I found my way to the town gazebo for packet pick-up and talked to Kevin and Anne for awhile before heading to Abingdon for the night.
I was not too happy with the forecast for the race this year. I never perform well in heat, even with a whole summer to acclimate and it was already near 70f and the high was heading to about 90F and humid. Yuck ! This was going to be tough enough without having to deal with that. I lined up with the camera going just a few seconds before the start and then Kevin yelled go and off we ran across the grassy field and onto the old railroad bridge of the Virginia Creeper trail. As soon as I crossed the bridge I stopped to let most of the faster runners go by. This was going to be a long hard day and I didn't won't to get sucked into starting too fast mixed in with the 16 milers.
After about 1.5 miles I caught up with one of my good friends in the sport, Anita Finkle. We would run together for the next several miles on the flat Creeper, enjoying the scenery and catching up on things. By two miles I was already drenched from the humidity and we could all tell it was going to be a sticky , hot day.
After 5 miles we hit the first aid station, then crossed over the road and onto the first single track section. This was a really nice trail, some rocks and roots but overall in good shape as we climbed steadily up the mountain. I said later to Anita and picked up the pace a bit, feeling good and climbing strong. The climb continued for a couple of miles with a nearly level section every now and then so I could do some running. Near the summit the sun was rising over the mountain and it was a beautiful morning. The only bad thing was with the heavy foliage there were no real views to admire so I focused on the trail. It was nice to get in some nice running on the ridge line with gentle ups and downs. Pretty rocky in places but a really sweet section of trail.
The runners had already was spread out quite a bit but there was a small group of us close together. A couple of young ladies in the 16 miler and one in the 30 had been a bit stronger than me on the climbs but I would catch up on the flats and downs but now as the trail turned down toward the aid station on some really sweet , tight single track winding gently downhill we had come together. This continued for about a mile but I finally had to go around as I was running much too slow now when I needed to be making some time. It was hard to pass in this narrow section and the fast 16 milers were coming back already but I finally got a chance to pass and moved quickly ahead. Another mile later and I was into the aid station, FSR 90. Good to see Tammy Gray helping out there. I took over 1.5 hours to get there.
I was really surprised at how long that section took considering some good running over a portion of it. At that rate it was going to be hard to chase the cut-offs all day. I didn't waste anytime and headed out on another bit of climb. The rest of the day would be pretty lonely out there. I passed the one lady that was in the group earlier that was in the 30 miler and then I would not see anyone else for quite a while. The next section was a lot of up and down with some single track and some rally washed out rutted double-track. After a couple of miles I was caught by a guy named Killian with a thick Irish accent and we ran and talked for a mile or so before he pulled ahead. It was really getting warm out there now and I was sweating profusely and trying to drink as much as I could.
This section took about 1.5 hours too and I was thinking I should have carried two bottles for this race, especially on a hot humid day like today. 1.5 hours is just too long for me with just 20 oz. and I think that was the main reason that would lead to my eventual dnf. Anne was working this aid station so I talked to her while getting my bottle refilled and I drank some extra while I was there before heading out again.
The next section started with a climb of course, up a gravel road. After awhile it turned into more of a jeep road and eventually a double track. grassy, weedy undulating trail that reminded me of some of the Promise Land course. It was feeling powerful warm by now and I welcomed every little hint of a breeze but there wasn't too much of that. There had been someone behind me for a long time and a young man finally caught up as we reached a summit. I stopped to drink and let him pass but he stopped too looking just as tired as me and so after a drink I began running down and never saw him again.
I finally made my way into the Hurricane Gap aid station and grabbed some food and some coke and plopped down in a chair for a short breather because by now I was feeling the effects of the weather. I didn't feel bad but I sure didn't feel good either. That section had taken around another 1.5 hours and although I didn't know what the cut-off was I knew I was not very far ahead of that pace. They told me it was 7 miles to the next aid station which would be water only and then 3 miles back to this location so I put a little extra food in a baggie in my pocket and headed out.
The next section started out on a smooth gravel road, mostly a gradual downhill with just a little climbing so I was able to run at a decent pace. After a mile or so we made a turn onto the Barton Gap trail. It was another really nice section of single-track with gentle ups and downs which continued for a 2 miles before dumping me back onto another gravel road. This was predominately downhill and I was happy with that thinking I could make up some time. I caught up to Killian but only because he had slowed thinking maybe he missed a turn but when I assured him we hadn't he ran ahead again.
As I was walking up a short hill I saw four young teenage boys sitting by the ditch, a couple of them had guns . I spoke to them and one asked me if I had seen any squirrels. I told them no, that the squirrels were probably smarter than me and hiding in a cool spot somewhere.
Once the road turned downhill again I began to run and was moving along at a nice pace and actually caught up to and passed a guy. By now I was out of water and really looking forward to getting to the next water stop and getting out of the sun on this road. I caught up to Killian again and by the time on my watch that we had run since hurricane Gap I told him we should be seeing it soon.
And then finally after more than another 1.5 hours it came into view and I was so happy to see that it was not just a water stop but a full service aid station. Even better than that it was being serviced by a beautiful bee and a lovely fairy/butterfly? No it was not a mirage but Jennifer Nichols and Beth Minnick. Robin Grossman was there too and she took the photo of me resting on what seemed to be a very popular rock for weary runners. I really thought I had stumbled into trail heaven when Beth offered me a popsicle. Oh yeah, that hit the spot.
I was hot and tired but had been running well although the last mile I was beginning to drag before coming upon this oasis. With 3 miles to go back to Hurricane Gap I was confident that I had plenty of time to make the cut-off and would finish this thing. I talked a little to a nice young man named John that was sitting on the next rock. He seemed to be having a tough day in his first 50 miler but was training for a 100 miler in a few weeks. This one would certainly toughen him up for that.
Popsicle done and it was time to move on up the Rowlands Falls trail. It started of innocently enough but quickly began to climb and I was surprised at how hard it felt going up. I had been running so well most of the last section but the downhill pounding and dehydration had caught up to me. I was gasping as the trail turned steeper and after about a mile or so I had to find a rock and sit down to let my heart rate go down. This was really the best section of trail on the course that I had seen but it was hard to enjoy it right now. Very gnarly single track , narrow and twisting with steep drop-offs in some places. Very rocky at times and we had to cross the creek probably a dozen times. The water was low so I didn't have to get the feet wet too much but they were already soaked with my sweat anyway.
Anyway, I was feeling like crap and moving at a turtle pace, watching my time cushion tick away. I couldn't believe this was happening to me. I really did want to finish this thing but unless the aid station miraculously appeared in the next few minutes I knew I would miss the cut-off. I passed by the falls and would have loved to get closer to take some pictures but I didn't have the energy to make the short climb down to them and I couldn't afford the time. Shortly after that the trail turned to double track and much easier to negotiate but still a steady climb and I was toast.
Eventually I emerged into the clearing at the top, well past the new cut-off that Kevin had just updated this week but 4 minutes under the old cut-off. Even with this 4 minutes, in the condition I was in I would never had made it to the next one and I really had no desire to punish myself by trying. John was just ahead of me and he dropped out too so I was able to hitch a ride to the finish with him and his crew, the wife of his best friend that was also in the race. It felt sooo good to get into the A/C and relax in the ride back to Damascus.
One I made it back I enjoyed the next several hours sitting in the shade eating hot dogs and cheeseburgers while hanging out with the Finkles. Also enjoyed talking to Melinda while we waited for Mike to finish. It had been a rough day out there with Mike and several of my friends finishing but way slower than usual and a lot of dnf's by some good runners. Amazingly even under these conditions, race founder Eric Grossman set a new course record !
Thanks to Kevin, Anne and all the volunteers for putting on a wonderful low key event with first class aid and post race picnic including ice cream !
here are the pictures I took
Onto the next one.