Thousands of cyclists rode from Durango to Silverton during Saturday’s Iron Horse Bicycle Classic road race and Citizen’s Tour. They all passed Ian Mcpherson.
Mcpherson, a 22-year-old from Boulder who lives in Durango, decided to take a different approach on the 47-mile route along U.S. Highway 550. Instead of riding a bicycle, he ran.
The former Fort Lewis College cyclist departed from his home on East Fourth Avenue around 2 a.m. Saturday and arrived in Silverton shortly before 2 p.m. He made it into Silverton as cars were lining up to head back to Durango when the highway reopened at 1:30 p.m.
“I was pretty close to crying just coming down Molas,” Mcpherson said. “I made it to the top of Molas an hour and a half faster than I thought I would, but I had to walk down Molas because my foot got super swollen. I think I might have gotten a little stress fracture or something.
“I was in the pain cave. I was limping, grabbed a bunch of sticks for support as I was walking down Molas. As soon as I saw the town of Silverton, I got super happy. I could see all my friends. It was pretty crazy.”
Mcpherson competed in cyclocross and road races for FLC and graduated last December. He was a talented, competitive cyclist. He finished third at collegiate cyclocross nationals in 2016 and went on to place fifth that year in the professional national championship. His top road race result at collegiate nationals was a team-best 13th in the criterium in 2016. In his last race for FLC in January, Mcpherson was 14th at collegiate cyclocross nationals.
He had competed in the IHBC men’s professional road race in 2016 and 2017. In 2016, he remembered battling an illness and had a fever of 104 degrees when he got to Silverton. He said he felt worse at the finish that year than he did after running nearly 12 hours this year.
Mcpherson admitted he has never been much of a runner.
“I don’t know, I just wasn’t loving bike racing,” he said. “I figured I’d do something. I still gotta do something to stay in shape. I had been running a little bit. In March, my roommate bet me I couldn’t run a marathon off the couch. I did that. Just kind of a drunken bet one night. I bet him for the whole month of May that I would shave his face however I wanted if I ran the marathon, so I did.”
Mcpherson didn’t enter a marathon. He simply ran 26.2 miles around town. He hoped the Iron Horse run might lead to another bet involving 30 Busch Lights, but none of his six roommates were willing to doubt him again.
That 26.2-mile distance was the farthest Mcpherson had ever run before Saturday. The route included more than 6,700 feet of elevation gain with mountain pass summits of 10,640 feet on Coal Bank and 10,910 feet on Molas.
Mcpherson set out with one head lamp that burned out before sunrise. He departed after his friends had returned from the bars to cheer him on as he left the house. From there, he was largely alone until the cyclists began passing him in the morning.
The sun came up as he was a few miles past Glacier Club, and he had an epic view as the sun rose over the Needles Mountain range. During sunrise, he enjoyed watching a herd of elk. He was passed by the IHBC pro men cycling race leaders Howard Grotts and Keegan Swirbul near the top of Coal Bank Pass. Grotts won the race in 2 hours, 19 minutes, 25.4 seconds, one tenth of a second faster than Swirbul.
“I was kind of in the zone when Howard and Keegan passed me,” Mcpherson said. “Howard yelled and scared the hell out of me. It was super fun, just like sending it on my run and having those guys pass me.”
Durango’s Jenna Emerick, who completed the road race in 3:33:33, passed Mcpherson on the initial climb of Molas Pass. She was a bit in disbelief seeing him not on a bike deep in the mountain climbs.
“I was pretty tired and focused on racing my bike at that point, but when he yelled my name and I saw him, I was completely confused because he’s a road racer,” Emerick said. “I said, ‘Ian, where’s your bike?’ I can’t remember what he said, but I just remember being so surprised to see him running. I didn’t know he liked running.
“He didn’t look to have his head down like he was driving up the hill. He just seemed to be having a good time, flopping around on the shoulder waving at me. Later, after I had crossed the finish line in Silverton, I was told he ran to Silverton and had made it. I was shocked and incredibly impressed.”
Mcpherson said he will consider another cycling season, but he also is interested in more running challenges.
“I definitely might try to do some more big runs like this,” he said. “It was pretty fun just to even get ready for. Maybe I’ll branch out. I kind of want to try an Iron Man. I don’t want to pay to do any of those races, though, because I feel you can just go do it on your own.
“There’s never really been anything I feel like I can’t do. I think that was kind of part of all this. I never thought it was something I couldn’t do.”