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Up Iron Mtn. (x 1 3/4)

This time around was a different story. I set my sights higher. I had been preparing myself mentally for the last few days in the hopes of yielding enhanced performance. I knew it was going to be a challenge. I knew it was going to be a battle. And I knew I could handle it.

I got on the road a bit too late and arrived at the staging area at 9:00am. My goal was to do Iron Mtn (x2) or do the 7 mile loop twice, one right after the other in less than 3 hours. Roughly, this meant 7 miles of ascent and 7 miles of descent in less than 3 hours.

I began the run at 9:10am and reached the 1.5 mile mark at 9:35am. I was at the top for the 1st time at exactly 10:00am. It was already hot, somewhere in the temperature range of the mid 80’s. I was breaking a pretty good sweat. I paused for a moment, enjoyed some casual conversation with a friendly gentleman and started the descent. I was back at the starting point by 10:40am.

1st time around was 50 minutes to the top and 40 minutes to the bottom. Makes sense I guess. An extra 10 minutes to do the ascent (no rests) in comparison to the descent (no rests).

I knew the mountain temperature now had to be in the 90’s and next ascent was going to be punishing if not grueling. I lathered myself with a ton of sunscreen, stretched, and made sure my hat covered my face as much as it could. By 10:45am I began the next loop. At 11:10 I reached the 1.5 mile mark with one very short rest. I could tell that at that time my heart rate or beats per minute (bpm) was somewhere between 180-200bpm. I took deep breaths paying close attention to my pulse. I was consuming water like crazy; having brought 2.5 liters for the total distance of 14 miles.

I was foolish to not bring Powerade or Gatorade. I still had 2 miles to go to the top and then another 3.5 miles back to the bottom. I felt a little bit of concern wash over me. I didn’t have enough fluids and the heat was starting to feel stifling. I told myself I could bang off another mile of upward ascent and then would have to turn back. And that’s exactly what I did.

The warning signs were there; it was too hot. I was consuming water too rapidly. And my body was sending me little tingling sensations from my toes. Besides I’m not a medical doctor. I don’t know the answers to such questions as;

1. What could happen to me medically if I got heat stroke or collapsed?

2. What kind of irreversible or permanent damage could be done to some of my major bodily systems if I pushed too hard for too long in the heat of the mountains?

3. If I did collapse or became unconscious, how much time would I have until something corrective needed to be done?

All these thoughts were circling in my head as I pushed for that extra mile upward. I knew I had to settle for one mile short of the top the second time around. There was too much risk involved and I was alone. After giving it much thought, one term came to mind – self-preservation.

I got back to the bottom by 11:45am. I had completed 12 out of the 14 miles in less than 3 hours; doing so with a relatively safe modus operandi. In other words, completing 12 out of the 14 miles in 2 hours and 35 minutes without leaving my carcass for the ravenous vultures.

What did I learn from this experience?

1. Doing 2 loops of Iron Mtn. (14 miles) is completely within my reach.

2. I need to immediately change a habit (getting on the road earlier to beat the afternoon heat).

3. I need to pack more fluids; including fluids that contain a strong source of electrolytes.

4. I always need to listen to my body because it is always telling me what I can endure and where and when I need to draw the line for healthy preservation of self.

As an aside, I did receive 2 funny and somewhat encouraging comments from people while on the hike. One was {Wow, I’m impressed! – from a middle-aged woman who was admiring the view with her friend}. And the other one was from a young chap (realizing that I was on my 2nd loop and that I had lapped him) who was walking on the downhill with his girlfriend “You’re my new hero man. I’m going to take a picture of you and blow it up into a poster and put it on my wall. Every morning when I wake up I’m going to stare at the poster of you to find my inspiration for the day”. To that somewhat sarcastic and funny comment I replied “If that’s what turns your crank”. He laughed as his girlfriend muttered something under her breath.

All in all I chalk it up to something as simple as this:

I just ran a half a marathon in the draining heat of the mountains. The double loop will be attained soon and I will aspire to expect more of myself.

You Ain’t Seen Nothin’, Yet…

Matthew Polkinghorne

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