Not just a race, but more of an adventure. The Iron Mountain trail race fit perfectly into my training schedule and since I'm training without step back weeks (that's where you cut your weekly mileage back periodically) I felt like an all-trail week ending with a trail race would be a great way to simulate a step back week. I say this because even though I bumped my weekly mileage up another 2 miles, I decreased the effective impact of each step by running all my miles on trails and foregoing the asphalt.
The adventure began with a longish road trip. Usually I avoid driving more than an hour for a race 1) because I think it encourages the local community to create more races and 2) because races usually happen in the early morning already, so who wants to get up even earlier to travel? I do make exceptions..., such as for Richmond (which is the closest Boston Qualifier) and for, well, today's Iron Mountain since it was the exact right distance for training purposes.
Rather than drive down early Saturday morning and have to fight stiff legs and lack of sleep during the run, I met up with fellow mountain junkie and blogger James Ingrassia and we took to the highway Friday evening to survey the Start/Finish area, figure out a parking strategy, pick up our race numbers and catch a few zzz's at a local establishment so as to accommodate more sleep. I think the strategy worked well in that I reached the start line feeling refreshed and ready to go.
Now my expectations for this race were kinda hazy since I was unfamiliar with the terrain, but I did want to finish with an overall pace in the 8's. I also wanted to make the list of top 10 finishers of all time. I had looked at prior years results and these objectives seemed doable, but not necessarily a sure thing. I had a nagging feeling that I was underestimating the course profile.
Miles 1-4.7: This was the Creeper Trail miles. Easily the best part of the course. After the initial jockeying around, I found myself in 5th place and held it for this portion of the race. Running on the fine crushed gravel proved to be very comfortable, and the Creeper trail scenery was first rate. The 4th place guy had a solid pace going, so I was happy just to keep him in view. If he was going out too strong I'd pass him later, but we was just getting warmed up so no need to start in with aggressive race tactics right off the bat.
Miles 4.7-8: My worst fears was realized as the course took us off the Creeper trail and onto the Appalachian trail. Hard technical climbing for the next 3.3 miles and I was unable to hold my own with it. Roughly 6 people passed me on this section, I lost count. Still motivated for a strong run I did what I could with it and was somewhat content when the passing stopped and I found myself running solo for a few miles.
Miles 8-9.4: I had been running solo for several miles and became concerned I might have taken a wrong turn. Eventually a guy from Richmond caught up to me and confirmed I was on the right path. I asked him which distance he was running (btw...I didn't mention it up to now, but this event had 3 seperate races...a 16 a 30 and a 50 mile option) and he said the 30 miler, but that the course was the same on this section. We chatted for about a half mile about the Richmond Marathon and the Blue Ridge Parkway and then he had to pick his pace up a bit so off he went. Also this section was part of an out and back where runners were running to and from the turn around point. The 1st through 4th place runners passed back by me on this section as I was heading to the aid station.
Aid Station: WHAT THE HECK!!! Here I am at the aid station and only 4 runners had passed back by me! That means all those others who blew by me on the steep climb were running the longer distances. YEE HAA! I'M STILL IN THE TOP 5!!! Grabbed a few grapes, a chug of gatorade and I'm OUTTA HEYA!!
Miles 9.4-12: These was just the return miles from the out and back. I saw James and he confirmed I was 5th by his count too! This part of the run was a little awkward with all the people going in both directions, but everybody was courteous about it and many people stepped aside to yield the trail. I saw the 4th place guy for a minute, but he saw me too and turned on some juice that I wasn't carrying. I looked back once and never could see 6th so I felt it likely that I was holding 5th solidly.
Miles 12-15.5: Eventually got off the out and back section and found myself running solo again. This section was very full of large, loose rocks and opportunities to open up the stride were few and far between. I misjudged one step and put my foot at a painful angle, but I shook it off. (Incidentally, I will shake off death itself to finish a race).
Miles 15.5-Finish: I remained solo all the way to the finish. I know better than to take it for granted that nobody can catch me so I kept my pace as strong as possible. The course took us off the trails and onto some of the streets of Damascus then back to the Creeper trail for the home stretch to the finish.
So I finish in 5th, felt good about my effort, and waited for an opportunity to filter through some of the results. Now my goal of a sub 9 pace may have happened because some folks GPS'd the route to be just over 17 miles, the race director calls it 16.8 and I GPS'd it at 16.67. My finish time of 2:32.30 would mean that only if the route were 17 miles would I have met that goal. It's possible, but I'm gonna use my own data and say I just missed it with a 9:08. No biggie, I did get on the top 10 of all time list at 7th, so thats a great consolation prize. Eventually we got to look at some other data and discovered that the 4th place finisher was under 40, so I picked up the 1st place master spot too! This was a low budget (but well run) race, so no Age Group or Masters awards, I even opted out of the shirt so no swagga for this one, but it was a great race. Glad I did it.
Heres a link to the Garmin data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/111595552