Be thankful, I say. I ran and finished the Iron Mnt Trail Race (IMTR). I did the 40 miles this time. Actually it was my first time though probably won’t be my last. I signed up for the race in 2019, but I got sick that year (caught Lyme Disease) and did not make it to the start – I could barely walk a mile at the time. Last year, the race was canceled due to Covid19 pandemic. Finally, here I was I ran and crossed the finish line in decent time. It was an almost perfect race.
I like races where I struggle and overcome what seems to be unimaginable challenge. I guess readers would like such stories too. This one was not like that
For me the IMTR was too perfect, like a fairy tale. I did not struggle much. It was too easy and I was a bit underwhelmed when I crossed the finish line. It was like that is it? That is the end?
Granted I did not run the 50 mile event but the 40 miler. It might have been different if I had done that. 40 though was a magnitude easier, at least for me.
In the end I have to be thankful. This race has been something I dreaded. It has been on my schedule for so long. I actually wanted to test myself on it. I have been good at marathons. This year I have done a few 50 mile distances. However, when it comes to trail running, I am still a pretty poor runner, meaning I usually finish near last. Placement does not bother me, but I want to do better and I also do not want to be cut from a race. IMTR was to face that fear of doing a race on a technical course in a longer distance event than I am comfortable with.
To tell the truth, I enjoyed the two training runs (hosted by the race director) more than the race itself. Maybe, during the training run, running in the hot sun was much harder (and I did not finish my distance that time but had to cut short the training). Also, I had to keep up with the faster people who came out to the training. Lastly, it was a smaller group, and we were kind of know each other, having been on the trail for 5-6 hours together, whereas at the race, there were couple hundreds and everyone was too intensely focused in their own race.
The race though was like strolling for me. I was not in a hurry. The weather was nice and temperature was like 15-20 degrees cooler. Most people run better in the cold than in the heat.
I ran a fast start since the first portion was flat and on a paved bike trail (the Virginia Creeper Trail). It went rather well. It was probably a little too fast that had me bonking a few miles later when I hit the mountain. I’m not blaming it, it just turned out that way. I did not really come into a race with a strategy except to run and finish before the cutoff. I was pretty sure I would make the cut.
The next 10 ish miles were truly on the mountain – mostly climbing on a single track trail to Iron Mountain (?). There were quite a few climbings. My body became a bit exhausted. I was out of breath, and people then were passing me right and left by then.
One of the runners (E/moon, her trail name) caught up to me. We were on the struggle bus. Mostly she was one telling she was bonking. As a competitor, we (I) shouldn’t share about our weaknesses while on the course. But sometimes, it helps to admit the reality. I told her too I was having trouble with my race, though giving up on a race was out of the question for me, but apparently it was a real possibilty for her. When we reached the Aid Station at mile 15 (Skull Gap), her face was green and she almost turned in her bib. She later credited me for getting her through and back out the station. I didn’t know if I said anything encouraging. I was just waiting on her – like hurry up lady.
We pretty much hang together to the next station. By mile 21, I knew I got the race in the bag. there was no way I would be cut and not finish. We were on pace to finish within 10 hours even though we were not moving that fast (and 1 hour ahead there and I was expecting 2 hrs ahead of the final cut off). We mostly walked all the hills and gently ran all the flats and downhills. E said she would be moving slower in the second half.
She shared about her last 41-mile run she did couple months ago and it took her 14 hours, she thinks this race would be the same as that. She and her friend were attempting the Scar Challenge at The Smoky Natl Park. I told her I was there too that July 4th weekend. I did 65 miles over like 3-4 days. They were attempting 70-ish miles in 24 hours, but she dropped about 41 miles into the event. We got excited sharing our past adventures – at least I did. We might have passed each other at Smokies.
She was very strong in attacking hills. I was more a downhill specialist as a city boy. I love flying downhills. Well, I tried to run as fast as I could – because going downhill is easy for me – you just have to watch where you step. It is like water flowing down the hill.
We pretty much ran the rest of the race together. There were probably only 60 of us on the whole course for the 40/50 mile distance. We did not see anyone else after the start until halfway when we finally were able to pick people off. We were able to pick up speed in the second half and caught up to a few other runners. This was a relief to me because it meant we were not lost or last. This was the kind of racing I like – to catch up to people and passing them as fast as possible. I did not say that to E but she was good at passing runners. I didn’t check, but we might have done a reverse split on this ultra – the runner’s holy grail to run the second half of a race faster than the first half.
For her though, she likes the views. There were not any vistas but she likes the foliage and the moss and the ferns, and the light and shadows on the trail. She pointed those out to me as we passed them and indeed it was a very nice day for running. The course is beautiful if only you know where to look (and appreciate) otherwise it is like any other trails. The weather was much better than when I did my training runs there couple weeks earlier.
The rest of the race was uneventful. E/moon asked me to pass ahead of her a few times. In the end, on the final 8 miles, I did. No longer holding back, and it was downhill. She hinted that she was not going to die and risk her life running down the hardest part of race. I trained there before and by now I was not afraid of the last few of the steep hills. In fact, I love it. I reached the finish line and was about to go back out looking for her but she was only just a bit behind me and finished it under 10 hours too, reaching her goal. Her goal became my goal as well.
One benefit of the race was to prepare me for the next one. I will have a big one in November. I need some technical hard trails to train on. This race was perfect for that. As advice to future runners of IMTR, go to the trainning runs. The race was not hard with some practice, but the weather plays a big part. Finally, there was a cookout at the end. I see myself doing this race year after year.