• Emily Hutchins

Iron Mountain Race Report

Updated: Sep 2, 2019

I departed Friday for Damascus, Virginia to run the Iron Mountain Trail Run (30 mile option) over Labor Day weekend. This was just what I needed ... a weekend away with friends, running trails in a gorgeous part of Virginia.


I had originally signed up for the 50 miler, but had a pretty bad fall on my knee a month prior that sidelined my training. Once the stitches came out, I started building up my mileage again and incorporated other forms of cross training to get ready for Iron Mountain.

For only $5/night, our Blacksburg crew camped next to the Old Mill Inn, right along the banks of the South Fork of the Holston River. Damascus is known as "Trail Town USA" with the Appalachian Trail, Iron Mountain Trail and the Virginia Creeper Trail all accessible from Main street. We spent Friday evening meticulously organizing our race snacks, braiding power piggies, and watching the wildlife, including otters!


The next morning, we woke up early to send off Megan and Josh as they started the 50 miler 30 minutes prior to our 7:30 a.m. start for the 30 miler (actually 28.5 miles).


The first 4.5 miles were along the Virginia Creeper Trail and I did my best to keep my endorphins in check and settle into the run. I maintained under a 10 minute mile before peeling off of the Creeper trail into the first big climb on Beech Grove Trail. I resisted the urge to run uphill to save my legs. I turned onto Iron Mountain Trail at the top of the mountain and really started to settle into a nice flow along Feathercamp Ridge.


My goals throughout the race:

1. Try to maintain 5 miles an hour

2. Don't trip and fall / get hurt in general

3. Walk the steep sections

4. Eat at least 100 calories every 30 minutes

5. Don't spend time at the aid stations

6. Don't let any of my friends catch me ;)


We reached the first major aid station at mile ~9, but I blew right past and began the climb up the "Bushwacker Trail" before jumping on the Iron Mountain Trail again. Every 30 minutes, I alternated between Huma chia energy gels, Honey Stinger waffles, Tailwind and plenty of water. I joined up with two Lynchburg trail runners, one being a woman who was back in her first ultra after having a baby last year. Every 10 mins or so, she'd yell back to me, "way to go girl, you got this!" We discussed our strategies on how we would try to finish in under 6 hours.


I started to see the top 50K runners as I continued ascending down a very steep mountain towards the Skulls Gap aid station at mile 16. I ran into a lot of familiar faces, including Mike D. from Roanoke, who was running the 40 miler.


I reached the 16 mile turnaround, quickly filled up my hydration bladder, grabbed two rice krispee treats, and peeled out in less than 2 mins. As soon as I started climbing back up the trail, I see Harper flying down the trail. She was less than ~10 minutes behind me and doing super well for her very first 50K! I started moving faster, working hard to move as efficiently as possible up the steep, rocky terrain. I decided to eat my peanut butter/fig jam wrap, which ended up being a poor choice. My stomach started to hurt, probably because it's harder to process the peanut butter, so I kept drinking water.


After what seemed like eternity, I finally reached the top of the ridge and started running again. My legs were fatigued, but I made myself run all of the "runnable" sections. At this point, I decided to stop checking my watch and just listen to my body. Gina's advice repeated over and over in my head, "Keep on moving! Drink! Eat!" I spent a lot of time by myself for the last half of the race, which I enjoyed. I thought about how grateful I am to be able to be running wild through the mountains.


I reached the last aid station, did a quick scan of the snackage situation and grabbed a piece of watermelon. A sign in the distance said ~7 miles left to finish! Neil S. from Roanoke blew past me, fresh as a spring chicken. My stomach didn't feel great, so I reached for a gin gin chew, which helped soothe my stomach for the last portion of the race.


The last 3.5 miles of the race are a steep, rocky descent that will put your ankles to the test. I went as cautiously fast as I could, and this section seemed never ending. I passed a guy taking a sink bath in one of the creek crossings and thought to myself, "Nobody's got time for that!" I still hadn't looked at my watch, so I had no idea whether I would finish in less than 6 hours.

I finally started to see the opening in the trees where the trail spills out onto the pavement just above town. Less than a mile to go. I started sprinting as fast as I could down the hill and towards town. I reached the main drag and waited for several cars to pass, worried about the precious seconds ticking away. I ran down the side street and hung a left on the Va. Creeper trail with less than a half mile to go.


Bikers leisurely passed me on the left and excitement started to build as I approached the final bridge in the town park. This is it, my most favorite part of racing ... I heard the cowbells and cheers as I ran as fast as I could towards the finish line.



Harper finished around 10 minutes after and she cried tears of joy as we hugged it out.

Harper crushing her very first 50k and trail race!

This is what dreams are made of

This was the first endurance race that I can remember where I didn't have any aches and pains, besides just general fatigue. I believe it's due to my daily collagen supplement and bosu ball work to strengthen my butt, knees and ankles.


Teresa finished, completing her first ultra in over a year! She also managed to bust out nearly 100 sit ups and over 30 push ups to compete for the Iron Mountain Award.


We relaxed with some brews, lots of food, and showered to make our way back to the park to see Megan and Josh finish.


Megan crossed the line in less than 10.5 hours, strong as ever and she reported feeling good the whole race. She didn't want to sit, but wanted to keep walking about. She didn't want any food until we mentioned popsicles and burgers, so we fed her and listened to her tales of the trail.


We decided to walk to Mojo's Trailside Cafe for our second dinner of the evening, where we enjoyed beer, salads, fish tacos, scallops and shrimp and grits. This gem of a restaurant is a must if you ever find yourself in Damascus.



This weekend was so good for the soul. There is nothing I love more than completing hard goals with a supportive group of friends. I'm purposefully not signing up for any more races this fall and am giddy about not having a training plan. I look forward mountain biking with friends, more yoga, and relaxing. Trail running will always be there for me in whatever form I'm ready to consume at the moment. I'll try to abide by the wisdom of my friend Sabo, "quit making plans and just live in the present."

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