Monday, September 2, 2013

2013 Iron Mountain Trail Run

I want to be an Ultra Runner
I want to spend all night packing my drop bag and then get up early and carefully tape all of my toes.
I want to sit around and discuss prefered fueling strategies; Gu or Perpetuem? Do you prefer S-Caps or Endurolytes? Or maybe just watermelon dipped in salt? Will it be natural, whole foods or Skittles and Twizzlers?
Or maybe I'll be fearless like our friend Brandy who just "wakes up, tosses a couple Gus in a handheld, and goes"
I want to talk about aid stations way up on the mountain with exotic, dangerous sounding names like "Skulls Gap", and wear a belt stocked like a pharmacy.

Road Kill
But I'm not an Ultra Runner. Instead, I'm just another "Runner's World" runner. Someone who stares at the splits on their watch and tries to get to the finish line as fast as possible.
Ultra Runners don't run races, they go on adventures. They don't look for the easiest, fastest 5K around to get their PR. Instead they find the hardest trail up a mountain and see if they can run 50 miles on it.

Yes, I have tried a few Ultra distances. But I attempted them like any other race, running as fast as I possibly could. I should have saved some time and just flung myself in front of a bus, because the result would have been the same. Afterwards, I would lay in bed moaning for days.
Real Ultra Runners run the 50 miles and then stay up till 2:00 am partying, planning to run another Ultra in 2 weeks.

Remi passes Byron 

Iron Mountain
IMTR finisher awards
While I am not an Ultra Runner, my wife Shannon certainly is, as well as most of our friends. So it is hard for me to avoid ultras.Fortunately the Iron Mountain Trail Run offers a 16 mile option for the friends and family of Ultra Runners so that we can at least see what the trail is like.

Our little group of North Carolina runners headed up to Virginia and checked into our 3 little adjacent cabins. Running the 50 was Brandy, Harrold "Galoot" Hill, Shannon "Skittles" Johnstone, and Jay "Carlos Danger" Spadie. Jen "Lawst" Hill was running the 30 miler, while Jeff and I would be attempting the 16 mile kiddie race.

The night before we sat around downing platefuls of pasta while the 50 and 30 milers sat around talking about drop bags and electrolytes. Left out of the conversation, I listened in jealously, as I would be turning around at the second aid station and would only see "Skulls Gap" by car.

In the front is course record holder and living legend Eric Grossman.
Behind him, Jeff and I are sexually assaulted by Carlos Danger. 

With a short walk down the Virginia Creeper trail we lined up at the start while race director Kevin Townsend shouted instructions.
Despite having just run a tough 50K 2 weeks ago, Jeff took off like a rabbit at the start, determined to notch another victory in our rivalry. I tried to hang on, and we were the first two runners onto the Creeper Trail.

Jeff  (right) and I were running the kids race, so we sprinted off to the lead
Last year I only made it 3 miles before I turned around dropped out because my legs were wrecked, possibly the first person to ever DNF the 16 miler. I was thinking of dropping out again when Jeff disappeared from sight and I started getting passed by the 50 and 30 milers. But this year I toughed it out and made it past the first aid station to the single track.

The first few "easy" miles on the Virginia Creeper Trail

Stumbling and Puking
The 1100 foot climb to the Iron Mountain Trail was as brutal as I expected, and I ended up power walking most of it. Still, I was able to catch Jeff, the 16 mile leader, before he pulled his calf muscle and had to drop. However, by mile 9 I was hunched over out of breath. Two 50 milers ran by and gave me some encouragement, "Good job! You can turn around at the aid station ahead".

This I was thankful for. I headed back to the finish, bumbling down the hill, falling once and tripping many times. The last two miles of trail were tortuous, a steep descent down a gully strewn with loose rocks. I could not imagine trying to run this after 47 miles.

The meager 16 miles was my longest, hardest run in many months, so when I hit pavement my legs were wobbly and my calves on the verge of cramping.

Just like last year, I was the first one back to the finish line. But this time I had completed a recognized distance instead of the impromptu 5k. This year it was Jeff who not only won the 5k, but set the course record. He had gotten a ride back to the finish, and we walked back to the cabins.

After scarfing a glass of milk, a handful of chips, and a pickle, I spent the next 30 minutes kneeling in front of the toilet puking my guts out. Seriously. This is how hard I had run just to keep up with the 50 milers during their warm up miles.

Shannon took this photo of the trail that only the 50 milers got to experience.
See the pink course marker in the distance?
And this was before the thunderstorm.
All Smiles
Jeff and I got cleaned up and headed out to Skulls Gap aid station at mile 37 to cheer on the adults.
I snapped some photos on the trail with Shannon's camera, and was shocked to see her come through at 1:45 pm, running strong and smiling. She was not only first female, but on pace for a ~9 hour finish.

Brandy was running her third hard ultra in 5 weeks and was understandably a little tired. She missed the cutoff by 2 minutes and had to drop after 24 miles. But she was also all smiles, happy to be able to relax and drink beer the rest of the afternoon.

We waited for Jay and Harold, but distant thunder rumbled louder and the sky grew very dark. Too dark for photos on the trail. When the thunderstorm hit and it started pouring rain, we retreated back to the finish area.

Post race recovery

Dramatic Finishes
The storm had turned the trail into ankle deep mud and rock filled streams. Despite this, Jen finished the 30 feeling great. She did, however, live up to her trail name "Lawst" by temporarily getting lost in town.

Jay "The Guy Who Wears Nipple Guards With No Shirt" Spadie had the most entertaining finish, as he attempted a forward flip. While he did not land it, we will give him the win anyway:

Harold's was the happiest finish. He kissed the ground and cried, evidence of the huge amount of physical and emotional energy he had spent preparing for and running his first 50 miler. His great race report is here.

Galoot and Lawst

Here are links to the rest of the photos we took. They are almost all just 50 milers.
I took some on the trail and the finish line, and Shannon took some while running:

I Want To Be An Ultra Runner
As for Shannon she once again showed what an amazingly tough and smart little woman she can be.
She came in first woman, in an astounding 9:20, all while carrying her camera and taking photos most of the way. (Though she is starting to run to too fast, and many came out blurry.)

She is not a super-woman, and has as many bad days as good. She isn't particularly fast on the road, but on rugged trails that leave men like me vomiting, she has a gift. I want her to pursue this to see how far it will go.
But I don't want to be left behind, so I am going to try to join her. I want to be an Ultra Runner too.

But I have a feeling I'll be seeing plenty of this...

1st place finishers awards.
Little Man
When we got back to the cabin, Shannon saw the 1st place platter I got for the 16 miler.

"Oh, I love your little plate! It's so cute!"