Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Iron Mountain 30 Miler: Burn the Ships

I have been wanting to run Kevin Townsend's Iron Mountain race for the last couple of years, but i just hadn't managed to work it out until this year. I'm really glad I did. Kevin and his merry band of volunteers put on a great race over in Damascus, VA on the Iron Mountain trail. He offers a 16, 30, and 50 mile option. Since I have the Barkley Fall Classic coming up in a couple of weeks (Ouch), I opted for the 30 mile version since I didn't want to burn too many matches so close to a return trip to Frozen Head to dance with the devil (Laz) again this year.

Ginger was doing the 16 miler along with Linda, and fellow Bad Idea Club member Josh was doing the 30 miler with me. Jordan was defending his title in the 50 mile race (He won again! He is a human terminator).

We camped out at Bear Tree Friday night after packet pick up, and then got up Saturday morning to head down to the Start/Finish for check in at 6:45. It was nice morning, and the temps were warm but comfortable. I had taken a couple of days off leading up the race, so my legs felt fresh. I  have been feeling strong since Eastern Divide and have managed a couple of nice, long training runs in the mountains the last few weeks, so I was feeling great about Iron Mtn. My strategy was simple. I was going all in on this one. The mantra for this race: Pack your coffin and burn the ship. For once, I wanted to be as close to the head of a race as I could get. My goal was sub 5 hours and a top 10 finish. I wanted to either get that or explode into a million pieces and at the very least have a very hard effort to prep for the BFC in a couple of weeks.

The race begins with 4ish nice, easy miles on the VA Creeper trail as you head up towards Straight Branch and the access trail to the Iron Mountain trail. Josh and I started at a conservative pace to get warmed up, and then I slowly started ramping it up as we got closer to Straight Branch. Once I got to the top of the Straight Branch climb, I started pushing myself to close the gap as much as I could to the lead group that went out a little faster than Josh and I wanted to go. As I worked my way along the Iron Mtn trail, I moved up through the crowd and managed to catch up with some of the 50 milers who had started 30 minutes before the my race did. (Not Jordan, of course. He was long gone).

I was feeling great, and sticking to my plan of eating a Vespa or gel every 45 minutes and refilling my  hand bottle at each aid station. I went with Tailwind in the hand bottle to get some liquid calories to make sure I stayed topped off. Even though it was warm, I figured one hand bottle would be enough since the longest stretch between aid was 7 miles. I did stash another bottle in my drop bag at the turn around (16 miles) in case this gamble didn't pan out and I was running out of fluid.

I moved quickly through the second aid station, grabbing a couple of PB&J square as the awesome volunteers refilled my bottle for me. I normally try to be self-suffient, but they were so nice that they insisted on filling it for me. Then, I took off toward the turn around. Coming into the last two miles on the out, the leader flew past me on the return trip. He was quickly followed by Leif (one of the amazing vast VT Ultra guys). I kept counting runners who were in front of me. I reached the turn around in 8th place. So far, my strategy was paying off. When I came in, Hannah and Jonathan were at the aid station cheering on all the VT runners and they were such a huge help fixing me up with more tailwind in my hand bottle and getting me back out on the course in less than a minute. It was a fast aid stop, which I was grateful for when I started back towards the Finish line and was able to see that I was only a couple of minutes in front of the 9-11 place runners.

Being content with 8th place was not in the plans. I wanted to push this race as hard as I could, so I kept repeating the mantra and pushing as hard as I could. Truth be told, I was thinking of trying to finish in 4:45 instead of just sub-5. At this point, it was a stretch, but possible, so I kept hammering. Around mile 20, I passed the guy who had been in front of me. As I caught him, I ran with him for a few minutes, chatting and sharing encouragement, and then when I had recovered a bit I started pushing to put some time into him and make sure he couldn't catch me right back up.

I started to flag a bit on the final climb before the aid station around mile 22. I looked at my watch and saw that I was moving too slowly. I started playing the mind games: Is someone coming from behind? Am I going to lose a spot. I knew Joey Turner (another local guy in my age group whose time in his previous races I'd used a gauge to know what would get me top 10) was only a few minutes behind at the turn around. Instead of focusing who was behind, I reminded myself that you can only move up if you focus on who is in front of you-- not who is behind you, so I picked up the pace. When in doubt, pin it. So I did.

The last aid station was another blur as the volunteers (thanks, Tammy and the crew) helped me quickly get though the aid. I slammed a cup of Mtn Dew, a coke, and grabbed a few PB&J squares and a banana and took off again. When I got back to the Straight Branch junction, I grabbed a water jug from the stash there and topped off my hand bottle. Sub 5 was looking possible. Sub 4:45 was slipping away, but I kept racing like it was still a possibility. My strategy with time hacks is to run like they are possible until they actually pass. It seems to work really well.

When I got to the final decent, which is a two mile section that is crazy steep and littered with baby skulls, I just kept pushing as hard as I could. Finally, I got through that section, still feeling strong, and hit the last mile marker that appears when you hit the pavement and leave the woods. 1 mile to go. I had 7 minutes and change to cover that last mile if I wanted to get in under sub 5. At that point, I just decided to run as hard as I possible could. I gave it all I had. I snuck a glance at my watch. The pace: 6:35. But, sub 5 was right there for the taking, so I dug deep and took it.

I came into the finish at 4:59:34. 7th place. I made it. And not without the help my awesome VT Ultra friends and the great volunteers. My aid station time for the race was 3 minutes. I could not have done that without the help, so thank you so much!

Here's a link to the Stava data if you want to see the course. Note: my Garmin consistently reads short on mileage:

It felt great to achieve the goal and have a great race. I owe Ginger a great debt for helping me train and for making sure that we have been eating so healthy lately. Her support is so important to me and I am so grateful.

I also am really grateful to my friends (like Jordan, Brett, Royce, Josh, and the whole BBurg crew) for pushing me to get faster. The VT Ultra crowd has been such an inspiration and has really made me have new love for racing.

Ginger had a great race in the 16 miler and she came in 7th female. She is a beast! She is such a great runner and the worlds most awesome wife. She got me registered for Umstead when she finished!!! She rocks!

It was another fun weekend, and I (as always) feel like the luckiest guy in the world to have such a great family and amazing friends. Now, it's time to get back to work, finish prepping for the BFC over in Frozen Head, and continue enjoying life.

No comments: