Tuesday, September 4, 2012

2012 Iron Mountain Trail Run Report

Last Saturday I was running the Iron Mountain Trail Run in Damascus VA... and I was hurting.

Some of the pains were old and not surprising: aching knees, tight calf, swollen metatarsals on the left foot. Recent additions were trashed quads that had still not recovered from the Continental Divide 10K last weekend.

But it was the sharp pain in my hip flexors that was shockingly new and getting worse quickly.
I had felt this before at the end of the Uwharrie 40 miler, and I knew that in a few miles I wouldn't be able to lift my feet up. After that, my inevitable destination was sprawled on the trail bleeding profusely.

I looked at my watch. I was only at mile 3

“Well, this isn’t good at all”, I thought. I was still on the flat, easy Virgina Creeper and hadn’t even hit the real trail yet. Severely under-trained going into this, I had dropped from the 30 miler to the 16. But even 16 miles of the mountain was way too much for me that day; I’m not sure I could have even hiked it.

So I stopped and stepped aside, much to the confusion of those running behind me.

“You OK?”
“Twist your ankle?”
“Going the wrong way?”

It was too hard to explain, so I just smiled and waved. I took off my bib, and walked/jogged/limped back to the start. I wished luck to the rest of our crew as they passed, and Heiko gave me a big sympathetic hug. I made it back and let the race director know I was dropping out.

I may have set a course record for futility as the first person to DNF the 16 miler, and the first person to not make it to the first aid station. Here is a quote from the race director’s report:
Unfortunately, the first casualty dropped in those first few miles- a 16 mile competitor realized it wasn’t his day and decided to return to the finish and avoid injuring himself on the trails.
But it actually turned into a good day. At least I got 6 miles in, which capped off my mileage for the week to a robust... 6. I walked back to the rented "Running Down Endurance Flop House" that was just a couple blocks away, showered, ate, and napped.

I woke up and found Debs downstairs.

Debs ran in college and has posted some fast times. But she normally avoids trails, especially after she wrecked her ankle, leaving it filled with bone chips.

Despite the bad ankle, she managed to finish the 16 miler. Even with several bathroom breaks and walking the most technical sections she still placed 11th overall and 4th female. I was jealous.

Jeff declines to pose for a photo

Debs and I had a beer and walked back down to the finish to find Jeff sitting at a picnic table. He had just finished the 30 miler.

Jeff is one of my rivals, and when I had signed up for the race I had secretly hoped to score a win against him. But I probably never had a chance, as he ended up crushing his first ultra, running the tough 30 miles just under 5 hours and taking 8th overall. I was bitter with envy.

Shortly after Jeff,  Heiko also finished the 30 miler, no worse for the wear.

Shannon descends into Skulls Gap aid station
at mile 37
Skulls Gap
After Jeff showered we drove up to the Skulls Gap aid station to see the 50 milers come through at mile 37.   I snapped a few photos (see here) as the runners went by. This race has a pretty tough time limit of 12 hours, and runners had to be past this point before 3:45 pm or they would be pulled from the course.
Jay Spadie, senior member of the Shirtless Douchebag Club
First we saw Spadie come flying by around 2:30pm, smiling and laughing. Despite having 4 pounds of tape around his toes, he was moving pretty well.

I wasn't sure when to expect from Shannon, as she is capable of a having a great race (winning Uwharrie) or a bad one (trying to drop out of Uwharrie). Her plan was try to take it as easy as possible for the first 37 miles, relax, and stop to take photos on the way (see them here). Then if she had anything left, run the final downhill sections hard.

Humidity and steeps climbs are two things she struggles with, so I wasn't optimistic. And if she gave into her competitive streak and tried to keep up with the leaders, it would certainly end badly.

Shannon pausing to snap a pic at mile 5.
-photo by Beth Minnick
We saw Shannon come through Skulls Gap at about 2:45 pm, an hour ahead of the cutoff. She was in good spirits after trying to drop out at mile 22. The volunteer there had told her "You are going to have to wait here a while. Why not run another 10 miles?" Now she was feeling better and ran right through the aid station on a mission.

Kelly Bruno 
Waiting for Kelly and Brandy to come through, we started to worry as the clock ticked closer to the cutoff. Finally Kelly popped out of the trail with 7 minutes to spare.

Kelly's prosthetic blade is designed for running on flat roads, not mountain trails, and she was discovering this at her first mountain ultra. The springiness of it made the steep climbs and drops even more difficult. Further complicating things was that sweat collects in it, giving her horrible chafing and blisters. She to had constantly stop and change the sock to keep it dry. Still she was all smiles coming through.

Right behind her came Brandy.
This was Brandy's 3rd attempt at a 50 miler. On her second attempt at Cheat Mountain, her feet blistered badly, she missed the cutoff , and had to call it quits at mile 49½.
Here at Skulls Gap, she was getting some bad blisters again. She took some time to lube up her feet, and was out of there at just ahead of the cutoff.

Jeff and I drove back to the Flop house, had another beer, and then lazily wandered over to the finish to see the 50 milers come in. Amazingly, Shannon beat us to there, finishing in 10:23. She had speed up the last 13 miles, passing about 15 people and ended up 20th overall, 4th female, and only 18 minutes behind the lead woman. Such a feat of endurance I can only dream of.

Shannon is escorted to the finish line by a pack of feral children
and the sound of  "Chariots of Fire" blasting from a car stereo
- photo by Heiko Rath

Shannon collapses at the finish,
still clutching her camera
-photo by Heiko Rath
Fortunately Heiko was there to get some shots of her finishing.

-photo by Heiko Rath

Next in was Spadie, getting out-kicked to the finish by the newest member to the SBD club.

Kelly was the only one of us to participate in the Iron Mountain Man/Woman competition. This requires as many push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups as you can within 5 minutes of finishing the race. Kelly ran 50 miles and then proceeded to do more push-ups and sit-ups in 5 minutes than I can do in an entire day.
My male ego has never taken such a thorough beating. I need to quit hanging out at these races and go find a chess club or a Scrabble tournament.

The minutes ticked away to 7pm and the 12 hour time limit. Later we learned Brandy was desperately trying to figure out which way to go at some of the final turns into town. Finally we saw her crossing the bridge at the far end of the park.

"One minute and thirty seconds!", the race director called out. Jeff ran down to let her know that time was running out. I didn't think she would make it, it seemed so far away.

But somehow she found the strength for an all out sprint to the wild cheers of the crowd, crossing the finish line in 11:59:15. She finally got that 50 miler, on one hell of a tough course. Behind her 22 of the 72 runners missed the cutoff or DNF'd.

Right behind Brandy was an 18 year old girl who incredibly ran the 50 miler in 12:00:56, just missing the final cutoff by 56 seconds.

Residents of the Running Down Endurance Flophouse
Brandy, Jeff, Kelly, Heiko, Shannon, Me, and Debs
(minus Spadie who drove back after the race)
- photo by Heiko Rath
Despite the somewhat humbling DNF, it was a great weekend. Many thanks to the race crew and volunteers. We may be back!