The weekend before the Iron Mountain Trail Run I planned on doing back to back long runs. I ended up doing a nice solid 22 mile run on Saturday, although hot and humid I had no issues. On Sunday morning I drove up to Pilot Mountain to do my 4 hour loop but shortly after beginning the run my lower back began to stiffen. I didn't think much of it... figuring it would loosen up and was maybe just stiff from the drive up to Pilot Mtn. It got worse and worse as the run progressed so I ended up turning back early and did an extremely slow walk/shuffle back to car. I still got in over 3 hours but quite slow. For the next 4 days I didn't run a step. It was hard to even walk on Monday. I was lined up for the Iron Mountain Trail Run 30 mile option and really didn't want to miss it but also wanted to be smart about things. The back got a little better each day and by Friday I was able to do a slow 50 min. jog. I figured I'd head up to Damascus and just play it by ear. If it bothered me too much I could always turn back early, DNF and walk/jog back to town.
I arrived at the Damascus Town Park in the pre dawn darkness... legs feeling rested but still not sure what to think. It was hot already and likely to be mid 80's during the day late in the run. Didn't get much visiting done prior to the race but did get to see Rick and Tammy Gray (Tammy volunteering) and Jenny Nichols who was loading up the SUV with supplies for the Rowland Falls Aid Station which I would miss because I was only running 30 miles (I hoped). My back was okay and was just glad to be in the race as I got one of the last available slots.
The race started at 7 a.m. and obviously my legs felt good (4 days of rest will do that to ya) and my back was okay. The first 5 miles are run along the Creeper Trail, so smooth and easy. Some will call me dumb but I really wasn't sure how far I'd be able to run and since I was feeling fine and the terrain was easy I decided to pick it up and catch up to Eric Grossman, the elite ultra runner from Emory, VA and founder of the IMTR race. He was just catching up to Shawn Pope, the younster from Ohio... one of the two of them were very likely going to win the 50 mile race. One of Eric's friends had a Garmin and after catching them he said to Eric "that was a 7:05". Yikes that was probably a sub 7 min mile for me. Still feeling fine I figued what the heck I'm only running 30 miles today.
I was in and out of the 5 mile Aid Station pretty quickly after a hand held bottle fill up by Jenny and a shout out from friend Beth Minnick. There were several runners ahead of me but I wasn't sure who was running the 16 mi race, the 30 mi race and the 50 mi race. I figured out pretty quickly that I could run w/ Eric on the Creeper but heading up the mountain over the steep, single track wasn't going to last very long. I passed a couple of runners and a couple passed me but we settled into the real mountain running portion of the course. Lot's of climbing and technical single track but also many portions that were quite runnable and I tried to make good time when I could. A pattern was set for the next 25 miles. Eric's high school friend, David Lawhorn from Kentucky, would catch up to me on the downhill sections, then I'd pull away from him on the climbing. I always say I'm a good uphill runner but I never knew if that was true or I was just better at uphill as compared to my weak technical downhill running.
Amazing how short a 30 mile race feels when your mind is wrapped around 50 and 100 miles efforts. We went through the FS 90 Aid Station manned by JJ Jessee and Tammy then to the Skulls Gap Aid Station and the 30 mile turnaround. I was informed that I was in second place at the turnaround. I was out ahead of David and was just happy to realize that all was okay physically and I'd be okay heading down the mountain. A couple of miles into the return trip a runner caught me. I joked with the person behind me thinking it was David saying you caught me fast. The response came from a womans voice. OHHHH okay I finally can finish a race as the first 50+ yr old and I still get chicked. We talked a bit and she was on down the trail (both runners ahead of me were over 20 yrs younger so I shouldn't feel so bad right??). There was so much down hill over the last handful of miles I was sure David would beat me into Damascus but coming into the FS 90 AS on the way back David was limping really bad and was muttering something about leg cramps. I almost waited but JJ and Tammy were there to tend to him. Okay now I'll certainly finish before David, dude was barely walking. Well with a couple of miles to go here comes David and this time flew by me on a rocky downhill. He said "I came back to life and that lady up at the last Aid Station is tough! I was saying stuff to her that indicated I might be considering dropping when she gave me a kick in the butt and said you've been here long enough now get moving!" I asked if it was the woman with the long dark hair and he said yea that was her. I think I laughed loudly as I thought Tammy only treated her husband Rick that way. Rick assured me she is "tough" when she needs to be and has been a great help to many an ultra runner that just needed that nudge to keep moving down the trail. I resigned myself to 4th place unless there was an unexpected uphill in the last mile or so. Not so fast David... after David disappeared out of sight for a bit, there he was again walking and limping. He was okay, just kicked a rock/turned an ankle. It gave me enough of a cushion and when we hit the paved road in Damascus I pushed it on in since I'd literally been slightly ahead of him for over 5 hours (except about a 1/2 mi section).
I ended up in 3rd place overall in 5:12. It was really hot and I didn't drink enough but all in all a good day. I used only 1 hand held bottle but in addition to filling it at the Aid Stations I should have downed a bunch before I went back out. Lessons learned. I also did 6 gels but that was pretty much it. I felt a bit nauseous while soaking in the creek and cramped up a bit but all was fine after downing many bottles of water with Nuun tablets to get re-hydrated. I wore my New Balance 101's with Dry Max- Maximum Protection socks. Really love the 101's. Can't wait for the NB 110's to come out in 2012 (unfortunately not in time to wear at Mountain Masochist).
Sara and I headed back home to watch the LSU football game with family but was sorry to rush off and not hang around w/ friends and see Eric Grossman set a new course record in the 50 mile race.