My soaked shirt is pasted, once again, across my torso. I have to flick the sweat off my eyebrows because when I use the shoulder of my shirt I just rub caked on salt into my eyes. Once again, my stomach protests as I try to pour enough fuel and fluid through it. Twice this summer I have been simmered into a soggy lump -- all will to carry on boiled out of me. This time, though, I know exactly what lies ahead. This is MY race. I'm not staring down fifty miles of uncharted territory in the middle of a hundred mile race. I'm on the climb past Rowland Falls, the scenic backdrop for the shirt I designed years ago for the race I started in Damascus, Virginia. This is the first time I have been able to compete on the course I laid out soon after moving here in 2005. I'm on the return trip, and I know I'll make it even if I have to stop eating.
Eventually I do stop eating. I don't take a bite of food after VA 600, 36 miles into the run. Jim Cobb is there and tells me I'm 8 minutes ahead of course record pace. I know it's a lot hotter than last year when the record was set, though, and the cushion feels small. When I reach FS 90, 43 miles into the run, Tammy Redman tells me I am 5 minutes ahead of course record pace. I fill up my handheld with Gatorade and get out of there.
The final 7 miles, like many other parts of the course, triggers multiple memories. I cross FS90 at the top of a hill climb that I used to run along with my buddy Nick. The climb portion alone took upwards of fifteen minutes, so that I equated my time up it with a quality finishing time for 5K. The looping descent took a longer path through Buzzard Den and so also took close to 15 minutes. We typically ran 3 loops, in addition to the warm-up and cool-down.
The next section of the course takes me past Buzzard Den on the Iron Mountain Trail. This marks my return route for a 90 minute loop I do from Widener Valley. I've seen many black bear on the spur the trail follows down the mountain. As I continue on the gradual descent toward the top of the Beech Grove trail, I'm reminded of the run I did with JJ Jessee in 12 inches of fresh snow. I tried out some new snow booties and wore blisters on my heels until I took off the booties and carried them along this same section.
The richest set of memories come at the top of Beech Grove, where I have been many times. The intersection helps to connect loops that the Iron Mountain Trail Runners use in training. One year when I was still directing IMTR I dashed from the finish along the course backwards re-marking the course all along the way because the markings had been removed clear to this intersection. I then turned around and ran back to the start, passing several runners, including Kevin Townsend.
This year Kevin waits at the finish line to greet me. Fortunately for all of us he stepped up to direct the event 3 years ago and together with his wife and volunteers has made the Iron Mountain Trail Run a truly special day for all involved. I finish in 7:16, about 10 minutes ahead of the course record set by Sean Pope last year. For the rest of the afternoon I enjoy just hanging around and watching as other runners create memories for themselves and those who help them. I am grateful to be able to reflect on my day, and on all the experiences that have coalesced for me around Iron Mountain.