The nation’s oldest 50 mile ultramarathon. Ultramarathon…Ultramarathon.. I completed an ultramarathon. This must mean that (if my wife’s hashtag is correct) that I am an ultramarathoner. I sit in front of the computer thinking about that fact with mixed emotions promising my wife that I would write this..
The race expo
I am never much for race expos. I get nervous around crowds of large people. This one is small. I feel more at home at this expo then any other expo i have ever been at. I look up my name on the wall, I find my number, and, I pick up my bib. I am done with the race expo. 15 minutes is all it took. No lines. No waiting. I get a coffee mug, sticker, and my bib. This is pretty great. I have never been to an ultramarathon expo before, but, if this is any representation, I may never do another big time marathon again.
I would like to think I put a lot of mental effort into planning this moment. I knew exactly what to bring. I knew that it was going to be on the colder side, so, I knew I needed long sleeves. I have a grey long sleeve quarter zip that, for some reason, makes me happy. Can’t forget my quarter zip. If there is one thing I hate when running, and that is cold hands. I could run naked through -20 degree snowstorm and the only thing I would complain about is how cold my hands were. I knew it was going to be on the colder side, so, I knew I needed gloves. Can’t forget gloves. I knew layering was important because I checked the weather and knew it was going to be a bit chilly and arm sleeves would be a great help if the quarter zip was a little bit too warm. Can’t forget arm sleeves.
*sigh* I forget everything I knew I needed. Quarter zip, gloves, and arm sleeves. At least I remembered my shoes and shorts..
Back to the race expo
Forgetting everything that I couldn’t forget, I went back to the race expo as damage control to regroup and purchase what I forgot. The big positive is they had gloves. I had gloves people, the big source of my panic was over. I suppose.
Back to the night Before
I had everything laid out. Improvised as it was, I was satisfied. I used calf sleeves for arm sleeves because cold arms annoy me more than I needed calf sleeves, I used my backup shirt that I gave to Heather the night before, and I had my gloves. Things were looking pretty great. Honestly, I was just excited to run, so I don’t think anything would have been a deal breaker. I am sure Heather will put a picture below this portion to show my flat Roswell, but it turned out pretty well.
4:00 AM Wake up
It’s 2:00 AM. I am wide awake. I love running. I really do. I am of a firm belief that only the person living the life that they live can make themselves fulfilled, satisfied, and, happy. At this moment, lying awake in bed, I feel empty. I feel empty because what I have been talking about, breathing, eating, and thinking about all year hasn’t happened yet. I don’t even know if it will. Will I break my ankle on the AT portion? Will I bonk like I did in some of my training run? Do I have any business even being on the same starting line as any of the runners out there? I have 2 hours laying in bed, playing toy blast, to obsess over this fact. I am wide awake, It’s morning.
4:00 AM Wake Up (Again)
It is really 4:00 AM this time. I head downstairs for coffee and a bite to eat. Oatmeal for me and a bagel for the Mrs. I struggle to even finish half of my oatmeal. I have bigger things to worry about then food. I am dressed by 4:40. I feel a bit stupid walking around back and forth in full cold and rainy running attire in a hotel at this time, but, what else can I do. With Heather’s help, we do one last gear check. Water, snacks, gels, and of course, my crew chief herself.
The pre race briefing
Didn’t hear a word they said. The gym was packed. I didn’t even make it in. With 800 other people running the race, I didn’t figure it would be that hard so I didn’t stress.
The Starting Line
Here it is. This is the moment. A quick 15 minute walk from the school to the starting line. I couldn’t be more ready. I am not amped, I am not excited, I am not nervous. There is this weird mode that I get in as a human being at the starting line of a race. 5k through (now I guess) ultramarathon. It is comfortably business as usual. The start was at 6:30. We arrived at 6:25 and I kissed heather goodbye. I had a couple seconds to look up to the sky and appreciate where I was in my life. Everything that had brought me to this moment. I am grateful. I am content. I wish I could transpose that level of focus to other aspects in my life. Nothing else matters.
The gunshot cut into all of the thoughts I had in the previous segment. That was seconds. I have never been in a race where the gun was shot, and I was over the start within seconds. There is no huge television screens with waves of people in corrals rushing past the start. There is no gunshot, and 20 minutes later, cross the start line. It is you, the course, and, the road ahead. I am in my happy place.
The First Couple of Miles
Well, I knew I would be walking but not this soon. It was a relief to be honest. I loved how comfortable everyone was with walking up the steep roads in the first couple of miles. Expectations are low and high at the same time. This is so chill.
I am not going to do a mileage breakdown. Only portions as I see fit.
The First Portion (AT)
This is the first portion of the Appalachian Trail (i guess?). I love trail running. If there is anything I love more than running, it’s running on trails. Single track. People are hot dogging it down the trail. I have no business being with them. I can certainly keep up, but at what cost? This is my first ultra and I am not racing anyone around me. I can’t care what they are doing, and for the first time in my life, I let it not emotionally get to me that people were passing me in a race. It wasn’t about them, it was about the distance and the road ahead. It sounds corny, but I couldn’t be any happier.
The Second Portion (AT)
Rocky, rocky, rocky, and rocky. I need to work on my stabilizing muscles. I was getting nervous in this portion that I would hurt one of my ankles. It wasn’t a matter of it, but, when I would snap my ankle like a twig (in my mind). I decided to play it even more conservatively. If there was someone in front of me that wasn’t sure footed, I passed them. I couldn’t afford myself to fall on someone else’s accord, and I was comfortable enough in my abilities to know that I was able to pass anyone without much stress. After a few miles, I found a train of people to run and talk with and this was the most forgettable (in terms of distance not quality or scenery) half marathon I have ever run in my entire life. A 9 time veteran of the race was in front of me and he was helpful all along the way with what comes next and before we knew it we were at the switchbacks which for me were the most fun.
Okay, I thought this was an aid station. No joke, I see heather and I think, “cool, I can stop and maybe pick up some stuff here and move along.” This was not a aide station and I feel kind of dumb. No one else was stopping, and I missed the train of people that I was bonding with. This was my own fault. I should have waved to Heather, smiled, and seen her at the real aid station. I never saw those people again, but I was grateful for the time we shared on the AT portion. As you will read later though, this is probably for the best.
C&O canal towpath
Now it’s time to zone out. The fun portion is done, and it is time to focus and let training take over. The first aid station prior to the tow path was amazing. The volunteers at this event are so helpful. Anything you need, they are happy to provide. They fill up and give food. Uncrustables are the most amazing race food ever. Coke is the best race drink ever. I never eat or drink anything like that, so it might as well be a delicacy to me. I love it. I was the last person (or so I was told) that beat the train prior to the path. This is a positive, because I love running next to trains. I don’t know why, but I do.
I make small talk with people along the way. I learn that people had to do qualifying races for this race. I don’t think I did one? Maybe my marathon time qualified me for it?
A Change of Pace
I am a solitary runner. I don’t run with people, nor do I have any friends that I run with. I passed a lot of people (and don’t get me wrong, a lot of people passed me) with their head down, obviously in a bad place. This was about the marathon distance portion where training may have been an issue for some. I passed by black hat guy. I learned to recognize everyone by their pack or their hat, so this was black hat guy. He was not in a good place mentally. His head was down and he looked like he was ready to cash it in and move on with his day. As with most people I had passed (and with people that passed me) I gave words of encouragement and asked if he needed anything. He solemnly answered, “No,” and I continued to run. I heard footsteps behind me where there were none before. Black hat guy was running again, and with me. I hadn’t planned on running with anyone, or at the pace that I was running. It was considerably slower than I had hoped, but it was nice talking to someone. I took all of this as a sign to sit back and just enjoy they race I was running and whatever it had to throw at me. We hit the first crew/aid station. I met with Heather who gave me encouragement and a smile on my face (this means the world and is better than anything she could have brought or bought).
Water to the left, rocks to the right
This seemed annoying to black hat guy. He was ready to get back on the road. I wasn’t, but we had a lot of fun sharing stories about our lives and overall bullshitting. It was nice. Luckily for me, we had 15 more miles of water to the left and rocks to the right. I can tell you right now that even though it wasn’t the pace I wanted, or circumstances my race was going far better than planned. I have to mention with the cold, stopping at aid stations was a bit of a chore. Only because with the cold, starting to run again was fairly painful.
Continuing on with black hat guy, we rolled into the next crew/aid station. I changed my shoes and learned that the reason why my feet hurt wasn’t because of my shoes. It was because I was 37 miles into a 50 mile race. Having dry road shoes was nice though. And, leaving with more smiles than I came in with thanks to my amazing support crew, I set off ready to finish happy. Leaving the aid station, I met up with black hat guy and we continued on.
My Only Goal
My only goal leading up to the race was not to get the “reflective vest of shame” they give to runners who make it to the road with diminishing sunlight. Based on what I had read, all we had to do is make it to mile 42 by 3:00 PM. I told black hat guy this was my ultimate goal and he just wanted the race to be over. It seemed to line up and we were looking really good on time so I wasn’t worried.
IT’S TWO F@#$%ING FORTY, I DON’T WANT YOUR STUPID VEST
This is all I have to say about that. Ultimately, I got the vest even though it was before the time they noted (Heather says it because it was overcast). *SIGH*
The Last Eight
Rolling hills and miles were taking it’s toll. Black hat guy and I were ready to be done. I shared with him my mentality of dealing with counting down the miles and he smiled and nodded. He just wanted it to be done. We ticked down the miles together, stopping at aid stations. Eating pretzels, drinking coke and broth, and avoiding cars. I walked up the hills while black hat guy ran at the same pace. We both did what suited us.
With as little pomp and circumstance as when I started, we were done. I finally learned that black hat guy was named Mike who had told me that if it wasn’t for me he wouldn’t have finished the race. That was very kind of him but I’d like to think that we helped each other equally and benefitted greatly from the experience. We collected our medals and got pictures together and parted ways.
I enjoyed my time with mike and the race in general. I really think this tops the Marine Corps Marathon as far as race day experience. The aid stations were top notch and the volunteers were amazing. I truly am grateful for everyone along the way and my support crew (thanks Heather!). Without her help, not just on race day, but throughout my long training runs and weekends not being around I could not have accomplished this. I look forward to running more ultras, and, hopefully a 100 miler is in my future. I have always wanted a west coast 100 mile belt buckle…