Sunday, July 5, 2015

An Ultra Debut - 39.3 Miles of Winning

Oh hi. It's me. I once prided myself in keeping up with my blogging on a regular basis, but well, I got busy. Training (smartly) for an ultra just isn't going to happen on 25 miles a week. And I have to go to that pesky work place 40 hours a week. And I have that little side writing gig. And the summer outside chores eat up an hour and a half once a week.

But I feel like I owe it to myself to write this race report. It was a big accomplishment and I'm super happy that I loved my very first foray into the ultra world.

It's no secret that I have been contemplating running the Woodstock 50 miler in September. After making it through the double marathon weekend barely 2 weeks after Boston, I started thinking that maybe it was a bit silly for me to start with a 50K. I knew my body was really, really capable of 50K. But 50 miles? That was a challenge worthy of accepting.

The trouble with beginning training for an ultra in May in the deep South is the lack of longer races available as training tools. There are 5Ks and 10Ks galore, but anything over 13.1 miles is laughable until October.

However, I started doing some intense research and tried to figure out a way to get some practice before I found myself in the middle of the woods of Michigan crying. There were a few ultras I found that were a possibility, but completely contingent on getting time off work. I value my requested weekends off and decided to just see how the summer went.

Flash forward to the last week of June and a scheduling snafu that led me to have Friday, July 3rd off. I had been creepin' on Merrill's Mile timed races while doing my research and within a few hours, I had convinced myself to dial back the rest of June and go for the 6 hour race. It was taper time!

So, like, normal people probably don't decide to tackle their first ultra 10 days before the event. But we've already established I'm not normal. I fret a bit about what to bring/what not to bring. I have momentary butterflies about the insanity. But I'm actually pretty relaxed all things considering.

I honestly don't have too much time to fret during race week. I worked the 7 days prior to the race, including the day before. Time on my feet? Check. There was no time to really put my legs up and rest and this did concern me a bit when phantom taper pains decided to play their little tricks (spoiler: all madness and fakery).

After a shout out to Loopville for suggestions and conversing with my #1 RB, I ended up with just carry-on luggage. My main concern was staying cool and having plenty of options for calories. I packed a larger cooler with drinks and popsicles and a smaller cooler with more popsicles, fruit, and Uncrustables. I loaded the sides of the cooler with GU, Starbursts (unwrapped minis), peanut butter pretzels, and cooling handkerchiefs.

I ate a boatload of spaghetti the night before. Like 3 healthy servings. Still hungry, I grabbed a Haagan Daaz bar to top of the calories stores. Or something. Whatever, it tasted delicious.

I painted my nails with a prettier-than-pavement theme.
And laid out my flat girl.
We had been having pop-up thunderstorms in the late afternoon for multiple days leading up to the race. I just had been checking the temperatures and was honestly relieved that it was only going to be in the 80's and not in the 90's. Small victories.

Smart runners also check the precipitation.

I woke up and the sky was filled with booming thunder and flashes of lightening. Peeeeeeerfect. At least it's not hot?


I eat my bagel with peanut butter, drink a cup of coffee, and load my bags of junk into the car. Driving in the rain is awful and I can barely see the road. I'm warm and dry in the car. And driving over an hour to run 6 hours around a 1 mile loop in a thunderstorm. And oh yeah, I paid for this!

But as I get closer to the race site, I start getting really excited. I'm pumped to go beyond 26.2 miles. And I'm thrilled to make an attempt at 50K. And if I'm feeling great, I might have a chance to get my 36.7 miles to get halfway to 2015 in 2015!

As I pull into the camp, I find a bunch of runner cars. You know, with distance stickers plastered all over the back and peppy people spilling out into the parking lot? It's just before 8am and the race starts at 9am. I was going to just hang out in the dry car for a bit, but I'm ready to get the show on the road too. So I bumble around with all my bags feeling like a real amateur because everyone else has their smart rolling coolers and dollies.

It's a short walk to the check-in tent and I get my bib, timing wristband, t-shirt, and the offer of a soggy Trail Runner magazine. I grabbed a few safety pins, get my wristband scanned, and head off to find a patch of grass to set my meager bags down. Once beyond a few of the tents, I set up a little spot and lose 3 of my 4 safety pins while trying to organize my stuff under an old heat sheet I found in my car.

I head to the port-a-potty, stop at my car to make sure I brought everything and grab an umbrella, and go back to the check-in tent to get more safety pins. While I'm standing there, the runner in front of me is asking the check-in person if there is a communal tent to put stuff. The check-in person indicates that there really isn't and I jump in and offer up my MacGyver tent. I coerce the runner to come put her stuff with mine and chat up her and her husband for awhile as we wait. Eventually, we make our way down towards the start area and she asks if we can set up under a tent that they had put up. They agree and we haul our stuff back down. A few other stragglers join us and I'm glad to just have random happy strangers that are talking to me like we know each other.

A bunch of us are wearing Maniacs gear and we pose for a picture.
After a safety briefing of basically telling us to not stand on the course, stay to the outside if we are slower, and explaining how the course reverses every 6 hours, we line up behind the start line. With very little fanfare, the clock turns to 9:00 and we begin.

I am aiming for 10ish minute miles unless I feel super comfortable with something faster. I have no idea what to expect after mile 26.2 and don't want to go too fast. So I decide to just keep an eye on things for the first few miles as I warm up.

As we are rounding the turn on the second lap, I hear a runner say and now for the downhill part. I notice that it starts to feel a little easier in the second half of the lap. When I come around for the 3rd lap, I (stupidly) realize that there is a small incline in the first half. Oops, totally missed that while doing my research. It's not enough to really make too much of a difference, but it is noticeable when the body is in a tired place.
I hadn't really planned any of my nutrition out. I just figured I would at minimum eat something every 45 minutes or so like I do in a marathon and add if necessary. The rain eased the need for massive hydration, so I decided I wouldn't bother carrying a bottle unless the sun came out.

By the 4th lap, I decided that I just wanted to zone out with my iPod so I stopped at my bag and to drop my shirt and grab my tunes. The music instantly made me feel better, but I kept one ear bud out in case someone wanted to get chatty.

Some people were just walking from the get go. Some used timers for a run/walk strategy. And some were just running. All ages, all capabilities. Lots of people were paired up and just chatting about running. Every time I heard glimpses of conversation, it was always about races and running.

The rain let up with the first hour and I found myself dipping below 9's in a very comfortable way. I stopped at some point to use the port-a-potty, but the stop made me feel the need to go fast. I have no idea which mile it was because I made up the time in the lap.

They had Tailwind in a cooler at the aid station so I tried to alternate my drinks any time I stopped. I probably consumed about 40% each Tailwind and the grape Nuun I brought, 10% Mountain Dew, and 10% water.

I had an espresso GU in the first hour. My stomach felt fine and I just was mindlessly moving around the laps.

By the second hour, the runners had completely spread out and I lost track of who might have been ahead of me. The 6-hour Friday day, 12-hour Friday day, 24-hour Friday, and 48-hour racers all begun with my group. There was a lot of passing back and forth between people.

In the second hour, I had a root beer GU. I saw that I would be nearing 13.1 miles near the 2 hour mark which meant that I was in a good place to stay on pace. I enjoyed my brief little stops at the aid stations and started to see the same "spectators" as I was coming around each lap. Some were watching, some were reading, some were talking to each other. It became a little game to kind of watch what each person was doing.

In the third hour, I kind of lost track of laps and time. I had to look at my Garmin to see where I was. Lap 16? Oh, 18... whoops... It was actually really nice to just run and run and run and not really pay too much attention.  I ate some watermelon at the aid station and let it drip all over me as I crammed it into my mouth over a trash can. It was delicious.

Coming into the 4th hour, I was getting excited about crossing the marathon distance and heading out into the great unknown. I knew that hitting those next big miles would be inspiration enough to keep me going. I was happy that I was on track for my 2nd fastest marathon of the year and this was just supposed to be an ultra-experiment-training-run thingy.

I grabbed an Uncrustable somewhere in the low 20's and within minutes, I felt so, so good. I am not really sure if it was placebo effect, but it worked. The next few miles were great and as I neared the 26.2 mark, I was felt nervously excited that I was going to still have 2 hours to lay down some miles!

My Garmin had 26.5 listed as my longest distance prior to this when The Flying Pig course ran long last year. Passing that little mark was another hurrah as I headed into new territory.

Each mile after that was pure joy. Because I was doing something I had never done before. And with each passing, I realized just how strong and capable I felt. Many of the other racers were in run/walk mode and a teeny part of me felt a bit jerky as I went by with a big goober smile on my face. Like a robot cracked out on Uncrustables.

As I inched closer to the 50K mark, I decided to eat my other sandwich. That one made me feel a little jumbled and I decided to just stick to the watermelon and Tailwind after that. It wasn't enough to slow me down much, but I knew I still had over an hour of running left.

Once I crossed the 50K mark, I started gunning for 35 miles and maybe, 36.7 miles? A guy came around taking pictures around mile 32 and I was pretty ecstatic to be still happily running.

I was definitely doing lots of runner math in my head the last hour. 35 seemed doable. 36.7 seemed doable. So I went for it. As I crossed past that magic mark of 36.7, I realized that I was inching near 40. But my legs were definitely starting to tire and I had decided to jump on the run/walk strategy. I would walk for .2 miles and run 1.8. Somewhere near crossing mile 38, I realized that if I made it to 39.3, I would have run a marathon and a half! They only count full laps in the race and a few runners tried to tell me I could stop as I kept going with a few minutes left on the clock. Once I explained I was trying to get to 39.3, they were like, oh okay!

As I headed down the track one last time, I couldn't help but break out into a huge smile. These last .3 were for me. Those 39 (!!!) were in the books. I clicked off my Garmin at 39.3 and peeled off into the grass to walk back to the start.

I turned in my wristband and ask to see my results. The young man explained my miles, average pace, blah, blah, blah. I asked him what that #1 was next to my name? He said, oh, you were the first female. Another guy nearby explained that they wouldn't have the official results until after the other 3 6-hour races were ran over the next 2 days. Results are still pending as I write this.

But, dudes, no matter what the other times were, I won this race! 

Things that made this amazeballs: Winning, overall mileage, hitting my goals, watermelon, Tailwind, Uncrustables, rain, music, Vaseline, smiling, ultrarunners, flattish course, and Smoky Mountains smoking all morning.

Things that might have made it more amazeballs: Loopsters in attendance and a day off work prior to race day (or at least not 7 days straight).

Yup. Completely and utterly hooked. When do I get to do it again!?!?!

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