I went to Damascus (VA) and had my second and last on-site training run for the IMTR (Iron Mountain Trail Run), a race I will be doing in a couple week.
This is similar to the trip I took about amont ago in July. Last time, we covered the second half of the course, from Skull Gap to Skull Gap (a loop, shaped like a p) which is from mile 15 to mile 35 on race day.
This time we covered the first half (mile 1-15 and mile 35 to mile 50) from the town of Damacus out to Skull Gap. It is almost an out and back, with the first 5 mile being a loop, and follow by a 10 mile of out-and-back, think of it being a like a lowercase letter d. The full course is like a q and a d stack together, connected by the handle, or think of it as an elongated figure 8, where the middle is stretch out really long.
My expectation was this first half (30 mile in total) is easier than the second half (which is on 20 miles). I don’t think I was wrong, but these 30 miles are just as hard too.
The first half is not a walk in the park as I first thought it would be.
A reason I might have the wrong impression was, we have 5 miles on the Virginia Creeper Trail and this is the easiest portion of the race, for being flat and on a bike trail. We ran this portion with fresh legs and so it felt fast. Then there is a mile of climb using Bleech Trail to get onto the Iron Mountain. This is hard stuff, probably the hardest part of the entire section, or the whole 50 mile course. After that, It is generally a roller coaster ride of ups and downs to Skull Gap, but I believe mostly up. Here my last year memory apparently blocked out all the ups. There were at least half of the 9 miles being climbing. And when it is not climbing, it is slightly on an upward incline. There are some descends too. The trail in this portion is not technical. However, I am probably out of shape as I couldn’t get into a good running stride for a long substainable time. I was exhausted at the turn around at Skull Gap. Of course, on race day, we would have to do the 20 mile loop out to Hurricane Gap (as we did on the first training run), plus a 13 mile back to the start.
About halfway to Skull Gap is FS 90, where on our race day will be one of our aid stations. During training run, this was a life-saver, because we had our water there. On race day, that will determine if I will get cut or not.
I was fortunate to be able to run with Greg (someone I met) on the return portion (about last 13 miles). Greg generally is a much faster runner than I. He was a mile ahead of me by the time I was near halfway. Because it was an out and back, I turned around and ran back to the start when I saw him. He has done the race 5 times and this year would be his 6th. He is well familiar with the trail and the race. He shared some of his race strategies. He said he normally allots 7 hours for the first half and 5 hours for the second half of the course (first half meaning from Damascus to Skull Gap and back to Damascus). Coming back is supposed to be easier than going out.
On our training, it took us 7:18 minutes to do the out and back. Greg considered that was decent for a training run. It might have taken me a bit longer because I skipped a mile. I imagine it should have taken me 7.5 hours, if I had run the full length as Greg.
The second portion took me about 6 hours during the last training run. The combined gives me an expected time finish time on race day of 13.5 hours. Note, the race only allows for 12 hours. I have to run faster meet the cutoff on race day.
I am in a serious trouble of not being able to finish on time on race day. If I must, I can drop down to a 40 mile option. However, I really want to flex that I can run a 50 mile in 12 hours.
I went back out on Sunday, doing the same loop, hoping I could shorten the time. On Sunday, I was actually slower. It took me 4 hours to descend from Skull Gap to Damascus and it took equally as long from Damascus back to Skull Gap, where I parked. It ended up 8 hours.
The time is not indicative of what it will be like on race day. I hope I will get faster. I know I run faster when it is an actual race than on a training run.
Even though I did not reach my target time, I enjoyed my training runs. The weather was generally much cooler. I haven’t been able to have a 70-75F day since the Catoctin Run. It has been 90+ everyday the last few weekends. So this weekend, we were lucky. Sunday, I ran in the rain during the afternoon. The rain felt refreshing. Not just the rain, but the sound of raindrops on leaves and the mist that came as the result was amazing. It was foggy. I like fog.
Originally, I thought I would have trouble with the logistics being that it was an out-and-back run. On the first day, we had a water drop at FS 90 (halfway point) and I ran out of water exactly by halfway (maybe 8 miles in). However, on Sunday, there was no water drop because I was by myself and I did not know the way to FS 90 where the trail crosses to leave myself water ahead of time. I was concern about where to get water for my run. Then the idea came to me to park my car at Skull Gap and run down into town. I could then go to a gas station to get water and then run back up to Skull Gap. I did just that. While I was in Damascus, I got myself lunch at a Subway. It also was a good practice to ser how fast I could get down from the mountain (no fast as I original had expected).
No big conclusion. I am fatter and heavier. I regained much of the weight I lost before the MMT event in May. I have been slacking in my training. It shows. I do want to be better. I have three weeks to get myself in shape. I was out of breath.