FD6D33A5-DF93-4BCB-81B0-2B0E2F16E93BThe 2019 Iron Mountain 50K, a Labor Day weekend tradition in the mountains near the Southwest Virginia trail town of Damascus, changed Harper Lovegrove’s life.

It wasn’t just the satisfaction of completing the tough 30+ mile course in just over six hours – but the hours of work and camaraderie that got her to the starting line.

“I’ve never felt so strong and capable,” said the 24-year-old graduate student. “I trained all summer on trails with my girlfriends. I’ve never trail raced before – and I didn’t really run trails at all until I moved here — so having a support system was crucial. Shout out to Emily Hutchins, Teresa Burke, and Megan Dodds for providing endless advice and for crushing their races, too!”

Her favorite memory from the race? “Having a plan and being able to stick to it and then finishing and immediately crying tears of happiness on my mom’s shoulder!”

Training through the summer heat involved plenty of challenges, no doubt, but there were also lighter moments.

“In July I did McAfee’s Knob to Tinker Cliffs and back for a 20-mile training run. I did it solo, so I played music from my phone to keep myself company and help scare away the bears. I was rounding one of the big boulders near the top of Tinker and nearly ran into a thru hiker, all while blaring and singing along to Dancing Queen by Abba! I hope he appreciated the fun song and hilarious off-key singing.”

So, what’s next for Harper? She needs to add to the running tattoo on her left Achilles.

“It’s a wing with “13.1” and “26.2” listed next to it. I need to update it with a “50K”, and I guess I need to pick a new distance to race next,” she said.

But that will have to wait until after she completes another half marathon. She’s headed to Michigan for this Sunday’s Detroit half marathon and marathon – yet another experience she’s sharing with a few of her Blacksburg running buddies.

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Harper Lovegrove (center) takes a break with Emily Hutchins (left) and Megan Dodds.

Harper Lovegrove |Hometown: Fredericksburg, VA | Age: 24

What led you to Blacksburg? I did my undergrad in community health at George Mason University. I came to Tech to get my Master of Public Health degree and my verification statement in dietetics. I plan to become a registered dietitian.

When did you start running? My dad has been a high school cross country coach my whole life, so running was always encouraged. Following in my sister’s footsteps, I joined our high school’s XC team, but I didn’t love it so I quit after sophomore year season. In January of my senior year of high school, I set a New Year’s resolution to run a half-marathon before I graduated (2013). I completed the Marine Corps Historic Half in my hometown and I’ve been hooked ever since!

How did you get connected to the Blacksburg running community? Making friends in grad school is hard, so joining a community group was a top priority when I moved here. I first met Jess Thornton, Ariann Robino, and Corinne Guimont through a Meetup group and they encouraged me to come to RunAbout Sports’ Pub Run. We became close friends and I met other runners through them. Over the past two years I’ve become part of a tight-knit group of ladies (and some dudes) who run together, encourage each other, and just are general badasses. It makes Blacksburg feel like home!

Favorite distance to race? I’ve grown to love trails and trail racing, but my favorite (or at least most-raced) distance is the road half-marathon. It’s short enough that I’d still consider it “fun,” but it requires endurance, determination, and a plan.

Favorite training run or workout? I’m not really a short distance or speed person, but I love my Tuesday morning track workouts with our Blacksburg Runfit group! Any track workout where I can give and take motivation with my girlfriends is a good workout in my book.

8F3DD276-2235-40D0-B50F-283A55606EC6Who inspires and/or motivates you? My dad has always been my biggest running inspiration. I don’t have an official coach, but I consider him mine (especially because he actually is one to his XC team). He helped me plan and train for my first half and full marathon and he comes to as many of my races as he can. He’s over the hill (I won’t say how old😊) and he’s still kicking my butt and winning his age group! I also draw inspiration from the American women elites like Shalane Flanagan, Des Linden, and I especially love Allie Kieffer’s body positivity. And I can’t forget my best friend — my amazing mom who cheers me on at every race and from afar!

Worst injury? I’ve been very blessed with a healthy body and I haven’t had any major injuries (knock on wood). I had hip pain while training for my last road half and for my 50K, but before that it was just a bout of Achilles tendinosis after a road race in 2015. Cheers to more painless miles!

Advice for new runners? Whether you run 1 mile or 100 miles in a week, whether you run 7 days a week or once a month, you are still a runner. I hate this idea that you’re not a runner unless you look or act the part. Running is so personal and there’s no need to compare yourself to anyone else – at the end of the day, it’s just you and your body. Find a group of friends who support your goals and who you could spend hours on the road or trails with & not get tired of them. If you prefer running solo, download some audiobooks or podcasts to take your mind off the monotony (I listened to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild while training for my first full marathon). And lastly, you don’t HAVE to go for a run – you GET to go for a run. Be grateful that you have a healthy body that can take you places.

Trails or roads? This is so tough! I grew to love trails this summer, but there’s something exciting about flying down the road (and knowing the likelihood of tripping is lower).

Any running superstitions or rituals? I have the same breakfast every race morning – a bagel or two slices of toast with peanut butter and a banana. Pretty generic, I know, but it makes me feel prepared. And pinning my bib to my shirt the night before a race.

Favorite place to celebrate with friends in the NRV? Anybody who knows me knows I’m a big cheese fry fan (I may or may not have organized a couple cheese fry tours this summer with my friends in downtown Blacksburg, complete with rating categories and scales). So anywhere that has good cheese fries and cold beer is a win for me, but I particularly love The Cellar, 622 North, and Rising Silo Brewery. Ballast Point in Daleville (RIP) is good for post-McAfee’s and Tinker Cliff drinks.

Training/racing goals? I have a lifetime goal of running a half or full marathon in every state. So far, I’ve completed Virginia, Maryland, DC, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and West Virginia. I’m running the Detroit Free Press International Half on October 20th, and I just signed up for the Kentucky Derby Festival Half in Louisville, KY in April 2020. I’m excited for this goal to take me all over the country!

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