Since I'm not on Facebook, I just happened to hear about this free, self supported race. I was heading out to run some local single track late Novemebr and a couple members of the our local tri club had just returned from a run and they told me about it and how to sign up. I promptly signed up that day, since it sounded like fun.
The format sounded perfect for someone who has never run an ultra or a marathon. It was a "last man standing" format where we all ran 4.1 mile loops with each loop starting at the top of the hour. So the sooner you got in from your loop, the longer you had to recover, but also get cold and tighten up. Definitely some strategy there. The loops were nice in that it let people drop when they were ready.
Having not trained or raced at all this year, I wasn't sure how to train for an ultra when signing up just a month and four days before the race. I decided that it was best not to change anything for it since the risk of injury ramping up mileage in such a short time wasn't worth it. Instead, I would rely on my base training which has been a consistent ~25 miles/week and 100+ miles per month for the last six months. Not exactly ultra training levels, but there is no fixing that in a month.
I hadn't practiced nutrition either, so I put some of everything in the back seat of my car hoping something would sound good and I would be able to keep it down. I also put several pairs of socks, shoes and clothes in the trunk so I could switch out of wet clothes when needed. As I was packing my car, I noticed some extra carpet in the garage and cut a couple squares to put on the ground for sock and shoe changes. It worked great!
The night before the race I did nothing different than usual. I had a couple beers and Chinese food with friends. I did drink more water than usual and went to bed early (before 11pm). Race morning I got up at four a.m. and ate some peanut butter toast and had a cup of coffee. With no porta potties at the race, I wanted to get things out of the way before heading to the race. I was able to fall back asleep and even had one of those goofy but stressful race dreams. The alarm woke me up from a dead sleep at 5:45 and I went about getting ready. I turned on the gas fireplace to warm up the family room and the flames came out the fireplace, which they sometimes do for a couple seconds before going up the flu, but this time they stayed out long enough to set off the fire alarm. Not the way you want to start race day. I got that taken care of and set off to pick up SuperKate and head to the race site which is a convenient two miles from my house.
Kate and I were talking about goals on the way to the race. My first goal was to run 5 loops or 20.5 miles which would be my longest run to date. My previous long run was in the same woods at Patrick's 12 hour run and I ran 18 miles in four hours and called it good. My second goal was 8 loops or 32.8 miles. Running 50k is one of those trail running bench marks. Anyway, we arrived at the race site an hour before the race started and visited with ~60 other runners and the race organizer. The race was free, self supported and yet had amazing volunteers and an extremely well stocked aid station that all the runner's contributed to.
At 8 am we all lined up and were off. Pacing is the key and I luckily latched on to a group that wasn't running to fast, but fast enough to get back with about 5 minutes to change and eat. Here is what I remember of the loops.
Loop 1 - Uneventful. The trail was in good shape, temperature was in the low 30's and we kept a nice easy pace. At the end of loop one, I drank a half a bottle of Gatorade which was a bad choice.
Loop 2 - My stomach was sloshing and cramping a little but cleared up after a little while. When I'm cold, my index fingers turn white and go numb, so each loop started with me blowing warm air through my cotton gardening gloves for about the first mile until I warmed back up. After loop 2 I ate half of a banana, drank half a bottle of water and took a salt pill. My stomach was much happier. After loop 2 I also changed my sweaty base layer out (top only, I lubbed the under carraige after every loop using body glide).
Loop 3 - For the most part uneventful but fatigue and soreness started setting in. I was a bit surprised it started so early but I guess if you run the furthest you have in months, it shouldn't be that surprising. I did start worrying that I would not make five loops if the rate of fatigue continued. After loop three, I changed shoes and socks which felt good. I had another half a banana, half bottle of water and a salt pill.
Loop 4 - The soreness and fatigue persisted, but did not increase. Phew! I started evaluating how far I was going to go then kept reminding myself to worry about right now. Keep my footing since by now the temps were in the mid to upper forties and spots on the trail were getting sloppy. At the end of loop four, I changed base layer, ate half a banana, drank half a bottle of water and took a salt tab. I started worrying that a half of a banana wasn't enough calories, but it's all I could stomach.
Loop 5 - I was excited starting loop five knowing I was probably going to hit my prime goal. Concentrated on staying with someone keeping a good pace and staying in the moment. My lower back started barking a bit and I started worrying that this would be my last loop. At the end of that loop, the volunteer recording loop count and times commented that my loop times were the most consistent he had seen. I gave the credit to badass adventure racer Emily (who I met in real life for the first time during loop 2) I'd been in a group she ended up pacing most of the loops. At the end of loop five, I changed shoes and socks, ate half a banana, drank half a bottle of water and took a salt pill. I also laid the two carpet squares on the ground, laid down and stretched my back out. It really worked well.
Loop 6 - I lost a good pace group and started a little too fast. I let some folks pass and tried to pace myself using my Garmin. I definitely need some work there. I was hurting on this lap and thinking I could probably do one, maybe two more loops. At the end of loop six, I changed base layer, ate half a banana, drank half a bottle of water and took a salt tab.
Sporting the Christmas/ultra goatee
Loop 7 - I was hurting when I took off for this loop. I almost turned back and called it quits, but I kept going. There is lots of talking with other runners on a trail run like this. When I hit 26.2 miles, there were three of us running together and I told them that was my first marathon. After some high fives, the guy in front of me said I should go for one more lap to hit 50k. I told him I was hurting and this was my last lap. He said I was running strong enough that I could do it. I didn't catch his name, but I'm sure he (or any of the other experienced racers still going) would have paced me in, but I decided to call it.
Still smiling after 45k :-)
My Garmin read 28.9 miles and I had been at it for just under seven hours. I was happy to exceed my main goal and increase my longest run ever by over 10 miles. I'm proud of that run and really enjoyed running with a bunch of other ultra runners. Everybody was very friendly and encouraging. It really is a great community to be a part of.
Today I'm sore, but in a different way than a road race. Trail running is so much easier on your body than road running that I think I'm less sore after this ultra than I was half after my last half marathon. Probably due to the trails in part and the level of effort. The soreness isn't so much in the quads and back of the calves, it's more in the glutes, and sides of the calves, knees and quads.
I'm pretty proud of that run. Next year I might just half to sign up for (and train for) a 50k :-).