ROANOKE, Va. – It’s a cold day in mid-March. The wind is howling through the trees, which are showing the first signs of spring. But the best way to describe the day is bitter.
Roanoke-based runner Adam Shorter zips up his outermost layer of running gear and sets out on the Blue Ridge Parkway. As if the weather doesn’t make the run hard enough, he turns and begins the ascent of Roanoke Mountain, one of three famously difficult climbs that allow the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon to claim the title of America’s Toughest Road Marathon.
He’ll join thousands of runners in Roanoke on the starting line downtown on April 22 before they begin the leg-numbing climbs that both attract and repel runners.
“This right here and as you see it just keeps going and going and going and going,” Shorter says, pointing to the seemingly ever-winding and steep road that leads to the top of the mountain. In actuality, it is only two miles long. But runners are fond of the notion that it goes on forever.
Shorter has completed the full 26.2-mile Blue Ridge Marathon four times.
He’s 60 pounds lighter than when he started his running career about ten years ago. No surprise when you hear how often he works out.
“Literally all seven days a week. It’s all seven days a week thing. It’s important to cross train do other things besides running like riding bikes or swimming or yoga,” Shorter said.
When Roanoke began hosting the Ironman 70.3 Virginia’s Blue Ridge – which means swimming 1.2 miles, cycling 56 miles and then running a half marathon. He decided to do that too.
So when he’s not swimming, or running – he’s riding his bike.
This year he’ll run the Blue Ridge Half Marathon in April – a meager 13.1 miles since he’s also training for the 70.3 miles of Ironman in June.
Metal is his motivation.
But Adam runs to the beat of a different drummer - a very hard-paced, in-your-face kind of drummer.
Since he was 13, he’s listened to the loudest, most irreverent form of Rock and Roll – heavy metal, also called thrash metal, or death metal.
Bands with names many would consider offensive. Names like Toxic Holocaust, Municipal Waste and Dying Fetus Suffocation. Somewhat surprising taste for the otherwise mild-mannered Shorter.
“I don’t know what it is myself. But it’s just it’s an amazing feeling when I just turn on my music and the first thing you hear is that hard-hitting sound and then all of a sudden the vocals hit. Again. I don’t know what it is but just love it. I love that sound that drives me and makes me feel strong makes me feel powerful,” he said.
Powerful enough to run up Roanoke Mountain.
And somewhere in that loud music, is a message – that’s seeped into the core of Shorter’s life. A message so essential to his being – it’s even on his license plate, which reads OBLITR8 or “Obliterate.”
“It’s a kind of a double meaning for me is it reminds me of obliterating obstacles... And I actually got it from (a band called) Hatebreed, on Destroy Everything where he says ‘obliterate what makes us weak and I rise.’
Meeting a challenge head-on.
Feeling pain, that somehow makes him feel …
“Oh, this hurts. So that hurts right now. It just really takes my mind off. But again, the driving point of it. It makes me feel so strong and feel so powerful,” he said.
Shorter says with the music blasting through his earbuds -- he has the strength to put one foot in front of the other until he’s exhausted.
“Especially when you get near the finish line. Everything hurts you you’re suffering but you’re just you’re so alive. I mean you reflect on all the mountains that you just came across and climbed... You feel like - you feel amazing after maybe not immediately once you get to the finish line but you just feel absolutely incredible. You feel like you can do just about anything.”