Before the Race
At one point in my life I remember saying "I will never be crazy enough to run a marathon!" I guess in a way I was right; I'm not crazy enough to run a marathon, only ultra crazy enough to run almost two in one go.
A marathon, if you don't already know, is a race distance of 26.2 miles with a really cool history in Athens, Greece. Running a marathon is an amazing feat that requires a lot of effort and determination. While 26.2 miles may seem like an impossible distance for some, for others it is just the start to a whole world. An ultramarathon is any race distance longer than 26.2 miles, but official race distances usually begin around 31 miles.
Last summer while I was hanging out at Mountain Laundry in Leadville, Colorado while hiking the CT (Colorado trail in case you forgot), I got into a conversation with a lady waiting to take a shower that had just finished running the Silver Rush 50 mile race. At the time I didn't think anything other than "Wow, 50 miles is a lot! You are a different kind of crazy!" A few months later I found myself signing up for the same race. I figured that if I can hike 30 miles in a day with a backpack then I surely can run 50. Seems like perfect logic right?
I began planning my training out week by week. I signed up sometime in early February which gave me about 20 weeks. I also already had a strong running foundation over the last few years. I planned a long run each week starting with 8 miles and increasing slowly every week. I also incorporated hill workouts and some other shorter distance intervals to keep myself from losing speed. On the remaining days of the week I planned normal training runs to continue building a strong base. My training plan had me peaking out at 60 miles in one week which was much greater than the 25-30 I had been running prior to my training plan. It also included a 20+ mile long run (spoiler alert: I didn't make it to that....ooops lol). I am not a professional coach nor do I have any experience in ultra running (prior to this recap of course). I made my training plan purely off of my typical running schedule, what I thought I could do, and what would work with my daily schedule. I also referred to free training plans that I found online to get an idea of how other people were training. Overall, I had a good grasp on what I needed to do and I definitely learned a few things that will be helpful in future training plans.
The race, being held in Leadville, became a vacation. We headed out to Colorado on the Tuesday before so I could acclimate for a couple days. Thursday morning I ran 20 minutes and was absolutely winded. I was a bit worried that maybe I wasn't as prepared as I should be. I reminded myself that I had just come from 900ft to 10,000ft. Later on Thursday we did a hike to the historic Interlaken Resort near Twin Lakes, Colorado. We then spent the afternoon in Buena Vista.
On Friday we explored the Leadville Fish Hatchery and Camp Hale. We then walked through Leadville in the afternoon before picking up my race information. It was now time to review all the information with my parents so they knew exactly where to go to see me and when they should expect me.
I went to bed Friday night calm and confident. I knew that there was nothing else I could do to prepare. I had to trust what I had already done.
I woke up Saturday morning at 4am. I was freezing for most of the night so getting up and getting my blood flowing honestly felt better than trying to sleep in. I went to the bathroom, changed, brushed my teeth and then tried to work up a poop (maybe that's too much information, but if you have ever been on a run and needed to poop you would understand how important it is to go beforehand). I forced myself to eat half a bagel with peanut butter. I wasn't hungry yet, but I knew I would need the calories. We left camp at 4:45am and headed to the race start. It was already filling with runners from all over the United States. The energy at the starting line was awesome. The race directors gave a motivational speech with one quote I remember being alone the lines of "It's going to hurt really bad" followed by a slightly evil laugh. They counted down the seconds to the start 5...4...3...2...1... and they shot the starting gun and I was off.
The start of the race was up a hill called "Dutch Henry Hill" that looks pretty intimidating, but if you know what is to come you wouldn't think anything of it. Following the starting hill is a nice gradual uphill section on dirt and gravel. I ran the majority of this section and I felt really strong throughout it. I tried to hold back as much as I could and take it easy. I rolled into the first aid station about 10 minuted earlier than I had hoped to. I have never experienced an aid station in a race before, so I was shocked by the kindness of the volunteers that refilled my water and handed me snacks. The next aid station was 7 miles away and would be the first place I would see my parents and Evan since the start. Little did I know I had to basically climb a mountain to get there.
Coming into the second aid station I felt proud considering about a half hour before I wondered if I would even be able to finish while going uphill. I refilled my water once again and had my spirits lifted by my parents and Evan. I headed back onto the course and kept moving forward. The next section was mostly uphill. It wore me out, but I knew I would make it. I found it in me somehow to keep moving, slowly, but I kept moving. At this point the first runners already headed back to the finish were coming through. I finally reached a downhill and had about 5 miles to the halfway point.
Reaching the half way point was rejuvenating. I tried not to think about having to go back up the downhills but rather getting to go down some of those long uphills. When I reached the 30 mile mark I had officially entered a territory that I had never been in before. I had never moved my body on my own two feet that far. When I finally reached the last point that I would see my parents and Evan before the finish, I had hit a bit of a wall. I could still move forward but everything hurt. I also knew I had a 4 mile uphill section and that really had my motivation low.
I reached a point physically where I began to break down. Everything hurt. My hips, shoulders, ankles, knees, quads, hamstrings, neck, feet, butt all hurt with every step. The one thing that didn't hurt physically was my brain. I wanted to sit down and be done for the day so badly. I didn't want to keep going uphill and I didn't want to have to go another 10 miles downhill. But I had to. This was the point in the race that everything became mental.
Running is a mental sport. Your body does the work in the beginning, but when it starts to hurt your mind takes over. Going downhill, which I thought would feel great, now hurt. I don't really know how to explain the pain other than by saying that every muscle felt like it was moments away from ripping apart. I was hoping to run to the finish line and finish feeling strong. Instead I did what I could to alternate between running a few hundred yards and walking. The other runners around me were also moving slower. I had been around mostly the same people the whole time. The same cheerful runners earlier in the day were now somber.
I finally could hear the finish line. There was music and cheering as runners were being announced as they crossed the finish line. Except it was all a mean joke. The course turned uphill and I still had another mile and half. Did I mention it was uphill for another mile and a half?! I finally made it the top and this time it was really all downhill the rest of the way (even though that was like a quarter mile at this point). I began to run as fast as I could. I didn't feel any more pain because I was ready to finish the race. I ran across the finish line ending my first ultramarathon in 12 hours 58 minutes in 55 seconds.
On many of my training runs I found myself getting emotional imaging how I would feel finishing 50 miles. I pictured myself running across the finish line and crying because of how proud of myself I was. Except when I finished, I didn't cry. Don't get me wrong, I was and I am still so proud of myself for finishing my first ultra. I just wanted to sit down because everything hurt.
There is something about not being able to stand up on your own and hobbling like an 80 year old woman after a race that is both a deterrent to ever doing it again and complete motivation to sign up for another one immediately. I'm not sure when I will run another ultra race. For now I am just focusing on getting back into a running routine and figuring out how my muscles work (it turns out that after you run 50 miles and then take some time off your body feels funny trying to run again). I once said that I would never run a marathon and I was wrong. I once thought that someone was crazy for running 50 miles yet here I am. After my race I said I couldn't run 100 miles. One of my mantras while running that keeps me going is "someday you won't be able to". I repeat this to myself often as a reminder that I need to make the most of my life while I can because someday I won't be able to. But I'll probably never run 100 miles... ;)