From the ATRA Archives: Ian Torrence Runs Old Dominion

This article first appeared in our Trail Times newsletter Issue #12 from 1999. We’re tapping into our archives to bring back trail running articles from past issues of Trail Times. As we head into 2019, enjoy this first installment of “From the ATRA Archives presented by Salomon” by Ian Torrence, which he originally submitted for Fishin’ Tales, a trail runner’s story telling program devised by American Trail Running Association advisory board member Danelle Ballengee. Torrence is now also a member of the ATRA advisory board.

Still racing strong 20 years later, the author enjoys a beer after the 2018 SLO Ultra. Photo by Peter Maksimow.

I leaned into the tree, my face buried in my forearm. I thought to myself, “What the heck have you done. You know Ian, you’re going to die up here and no one will ever find your body.”

I was dizzy, light headed, and lifting my feet over rocks and tree roots had become an almost impossible task. I knew it was time to regroup after I fell onto my hands and knees in the middle of the trail.

“Come on Torrence, let’s go. The only way you’ll get out of here is to start walking again.”

I started the ascent again, inching ever closer to the notch in the mountain called Sherman’s Gap.

You see this was what ultrarunners call the rough spot. Every runner has them at one point or another and some runners experience them more than once during a race.

It just so happens that mine occurred at the 76 mile mark of the Old Dominion 100 Mile Endurance Run. It lasted for about six miles. I overcame it at the 82 mile aid station called 613T. Named simply for the road’s route number that the trail I was on emptied into.

I sat on the bumper of a hatchback at that aid station for about ten minutes while the volunteers handed me Coke, PowerAid, and chocolate chip cookies. I downed everything quite greedily. I refilled my water bottle and began the 1.8 mile slow walk to the next aid station. During the next three miles I regained my strength and vigor and began running again. My rough spot was over, but a lot led up to this trying time.

I showed up at the starting area of the race in Woodstock, Virginia the day before the race. I arrived with Keeley Eaton who knew little about what she was venturing into. I on the other hand knew what was going to occur. This would be my fourth hundred miler and twenty-fifth ultra.

We drove some of the course that wound its way through the Massanutten Mountains in George Washington National Forest on the way to the pre-race meeting. I went through the medical weigh-in and then Keeley and I attended the course description, rules and logistic briefing for all participants.

At 4 a.m. the next day the starting gun fired and the 100 miler was underway. I immediately hooked up with two good ultrarunning friends. Ultrarunning has such a small following that most runners know you or have at least heard about you. Frank Probst, a 52-year-old from northern Virginia and Jay Hodde, a 27-year-old from Indiana, would be my running partners for the next 32 miles. Both of these fellows were embarking on an even greater quest than just completing the Old Dominion. These two were in the first stage of the grand slam of ultrarunning, completing four 100 milers in one summer.

I moved along at a conservative pace making sure that I was drinking lots of water, ingesting adequate amounts of energy, and constantly monitoring my body. I met my crew which included Keeley, my mother, and sister at several different aid stations along the course. I would hand them empty water bottles and PowerBar wrappers and in return I’d get a filled water bottle and my favorite ultra snack, a peanut butter and jelly bagel.

Everything was going well until about the 56 mile mark where I developed intestinal distress, stopped eating, and slowed my water intake. By the time I ran into the 75 mile aid station and medical check at Elizabeth Furnace, I was only down four pounds from my pre-race weight of 151 ½. Because of my stomach problems, I took no food or Gatorade at the station and ran off before anyone could convince me otherwise.

At this point in the race I had moved into third place and was concentrating more on who I needed to catch rather than what my body was telling me. Dehydrated and low in blood sugar, I barely made it over the hardest climb on the entire course.

It would have been a much rougher time for me if it weren’t for the fact that ultrarunners are considerate and caring people. Let me explain. After topping out at Sherman’s Gap, I caught the second place runner, 22-year-old Robert Youngren, who was also having a rough time. However, he wasn’t dehydrated and hungry like I was. He had extremely bad blister problems and the down hill was killing his feet. He saw that I was in distress and offered me a whole bottle of extra Gatorade that he had. I accepted, slammed it, and within five minutes I was beginning to feel half-human again. I thanked him and then I made a “pit-stop” in the woods, lost sight of Robert as he continued onward, and was passed by four other runners who were close behind.

The last 13 miles of my run were a huge success story. I passed the runners who ran by me on Sherman’s Gap including Robert. At 9:31 p.m. that night, I ran through the finish line at the Woodstock Fairgrounds as the second place finisher of the 19th annual Old Dominion 100 Miler.

Having finished in under 24 hours (17:31), I was able to accept the coveted silver belt buckle award and finisher shirt at the awards ceremony the next morning. Even while awards were handed out to the 54 finishers, runners (now unofficial) were still working their way toward the finish line.

Very happy with myself and thankful for my crew, I returned to Maryland and nursed my sore body with a hot tub, massage, pizza, and beer.

The 40th annual Old Dominion 100 Mile Endurance Run was held on June 2, 2018 and won by Olivier LeBlond (17:01:45) and Michelle Leduc (20:18:50).