Friday two friends and I, along with The Dude, arrived in Damascus so we could run the Iron Mountain Trail Run; their first 50 miler and my 3rd attempt. We ate a light dinner of roasted sweet potatoes and cauliflower, fish and salad. While sitting around the table eating, D let us know Sunday’s breakfast would be the exact opposite of that dinner. We all agreed that it better be.
Saturday morning we woke up at varying times – H first, The Dude second, D third and me last. We packed our drop bags, filled our packs, the boys donned jackets as it was a chilly morning, The Dude found his cap with ear flaps and off we went to the start line.
My plan this time, which I had tested at Conquer the Cove, was to keep my bladder filled with only 1L of water, to drink Gatorade at the aide stations and to swallow a salt pill at every other aide station. (It worked beautifully.)
We were greeted at the table where we were to pick up our chip timers by a guy using ‘yuns’ instead of ‘y’all’. We giggled.
I put duct tape on the inside of my left shoe in hopes of staving off a blowout. (Come on Altra, fix this problem already!) The boys stood around jittering with nerves. The Dude took a few pictures, kissed me goodbye and said he’d see us again soon at miles 5, 22 and 32.
At exactly 0700 the race began.
We ran on the Creeper Trail for the first 5 miles then took a sharp left turn, ran across a road, then began the run/walk up Iron Mountain where we ran the ridge line. It was here, before the aide station at mile 10, that a tendon on the inside of my right knee began talking to me. Not whispering; it was the beginning of a long and extensive conversation. The boys caught up to me here, on a climb. I eventually passed on a downhill, letting them know about my knee as I egged them on.
My knee decided for me that climbing would have to be slow and steady, no pushing. This cost me time, yet I knew pushing would be detrimental to my ability to finish healthy.
For almost the entire five miles between checkpoints I followed a young lady who had run IMTR twice before and had met her husband on an Iron Mountain training run. Her husband had run some of the course the day before. She was going a bit slower than was comfortable for my body yet at the same time I was trying to protect my knee. I did eventually pass her only to have her pass me again later when I had to stop for a potty break.
At the aide station at mile 15, the boys caught up to me again. As they left, D said I’d catch them on the downhill anyway. I am pretty damn good at getting downhill fast, the strength training I do 4-5 days a week has had a tremendous impact on my ability to climb and descend with ease.
Leaving that aide station, I began the two mile walk up with a cup of Gatorade in one hand and a cluster of watermelon cubes in the other. A fellow runner picked up a cup that had been discarded on the side of the road then placed both on the hood of the car nearby. I chose to carry mine.
We were on our way to the next checkpoint at mile 22, where I knew The Dude would be waiting for us. I ran over and around those two mountains with similar names, the only one I can remember is Double Top. I had difficulty breathing here and recall having the same issue last year. I’m not sure why, the elevation isn’t any more significant than Iron Mountain or other summits I’ve experienced. When I started to descend, the breathing got better so off I went, catching up to those who had passed me earlier. One guy said it looked like I had fresh legs, I laughed.
Reaching mile 22, The Dude said I had just missed the boys and I told him I was going to need to drop when I got back. Runners got to visit this aide station twice, before and after a 10 mile loop that took us around Mount Rogers complete with a three mile climb from mile 29 to 32.
Mount Rogers is the highest point in Virginia and is not a bald summit, in case anyone is curious.
I caught up to the boys as we made the trip down to the checkpoint at mile 29. I said, “hahaha,” as I passed H, who was peeing off to the side. I walked with H for a bit, he was feeling pretty good. I told him about my knee, how I was going to ask The Dude to talk me out of continuing and that every time I started running, the first mile or two were painful and causing me to limp. But by the fourth the pain is down to at least a 2! We both agreed that was not good and I do have Masochist as my Plan B. Or maybe it’s C.
As we reached mile 29, we were greeted by a friendly border collie and people wearing some sort of costume. The boys snarfed on pizza and I ate more watermelon, stashed grapes in my front pocket and grabbed a banana. I was ready to get moving and they were still eating. D and I set off for the long climb up, his spider legs carrying him faster than my short injured ones.
I caught sight of D again as I turned to head almost straight up the mountain, making friends with two ladies who had caught up to me. D said she was so loud she must have been talking to the whole forest.
I got back to The Dude and sat down in one of the chairs he had set up. D was already there changing his socks. When H got there soon after, we convinced him to do the same thing. As I sat, my knee throbbed and my left foot screamed. Yep, stopping was definitely the right decision. Another 18 miles with still more climbing and rocky descents could mean permanent damage. The risk was far too great; I love running way too much to take myself out of it long term or forever.
So I watched D and H leave, heading to the next aide station, five miles away. It was a steady climb, an easy run/walk combination would get them through it fast. I changed into dry clothes. I sat and watched as other runners came in, one guy getting there at the cutoff with another three runners not so lucky. The lady took off with the sweeper to meet up with her crew; the older gentleman was thankful to be pulled because he was done running for the day; the younger guy was disappointed yet totally cool with being pulled because, as he said, “Hey, I’m still in ultra territory!”
And then it was time to pack up and head back to the start. The Dude and I were joined by the older gentleman who I discovered had run Masochist last year. We bade the guy well upon our return, The Dude and I got something to eat (the finish line food here is always on point), then relaxed as we awaited the boys’ finish.
He convinced me to take a dip in the river, nature’s ice bath. A crayfish kept me company.
When the clock showed 11:15, we began watching for D and H. At 11:38, D crossed. At 11:45, H crossed. The very different reactions upon their finish was entertaining. We immediately launched into action, helping them take off their packs, getting their dry clothes, sending them to the river, getting them something to eat and making sure they didn’t fall over.
And then we went back to the house, met up with my sista from another mista N, showered, and ate a lot of pizza stuffs.
I am only mildly disappointed about a second DNF. I was very confident in my ability to complete this race. I remained positive the entire time.
I loved being in the woods by myself taking in the sights around me, something I didn’t do much of last year.
I decided early on to enjoy the beautiful day outside in the woods and get to mile 32 because it may not be official, but it’s still an ultra! As many said, we couldn’t have asked for better weather, it was absolutely perfect.
I really enjoyed being at the finish line for the boys to welcome them back. Having friends ready to help you celebrate your big accomplishment is what runner love is all about in my opinion.
I remember feeling surrounded by love, acceptance, peace and so much support. Shit happens, this new booboo was out of my control, there was nothing I could do about it but accept the inevitability of the outcome.
I did declare that, for dinner, I was still eating a lot of pizza and drinking a beer. Maybe two.