Yesterday I completed my first trail ultra-marathon 50km distance. It was a surreal experience and caught me quite by surprise. I’ve had the day to reflect and wanted to jot down some thoughts primarily as reminders for myself if I ever do this again. I finished 28th out of the 59 that attempted the distance in 6 hours 27 minutes. It was a much bigger day than I expected.
I signed up for this race http://njtrailseries.com/watchung about 2 weeks ago, on a whim. Normally these races are around $100 or more. The Watchung Trail race was only $25 so how can you go wrong? This year was a 10km loop course and there were multiple sign-up options, a 10K, Half Marathon, Full Marathon and 50km. I thought about just doing the regular marathon but figured what the heck and signed up for the ultra.
The last time I ran any distance was the Ultra Mega Transect on September 29th which despite the name was only a marathon distance. *Only* a marathon distance is not something I ever thought I’d say. A week later my father passed away in Ireland and since then I’ve run about 3 times, short 6 mile jaunts to the next town over. I figured if I could do the Mega I could at least give this a shot and worst case would finish in the dark.
Going into the race I had again brought along my Goruck Radio Ruck, Camelbak and some food. Not nearly as much as the Mega. There was minimal aide on this run but it turns out I still brought too much. I’m starting to get my nutrition dialed in though.
On the Mega I remember drinking a tonne and took a lot of energy gels and trash. I ended up feeling nauseous. This time I resolved to starve myself a bit and only take on minimal calories. This turned out to be a good choice as I never got nauseous. The Radio Ruck was a bad choice as it’s way too heavy for this kind of activity.
The first loop everyone piled out of the starting line. I showed up a bit later than I wanted to and was actually still pinning on my bib as the starting gun went off. I chatted with the volunteer handing out the bibs as I was pinning it on. He mentioned the course was really icy and that he’d run the race 3 times. Very cool guy. In fact I’ve found universally that trail runners are a cool bunch and very willing to offer advice.
The first loop included all the 10k runners. We started at 8AM and set off into the woods were we immediately got to grips with some really icy hills and terrain. People were wiping out all over the place. I took my time but still went too fast.
It was pretty tough going as the trail was so rocky and icy and completely jam packed with runners. I knew I was over-exerting myself. By the time the first loop ended I was sorta gassed.
The demons were talking to me the whole way around; “4 more (loops) to go, you’ll never make it”, “quit now”, “why’d you sign up? You’re not ready for this” and so on.
Heading out on the 2nd loop my buddy from the starting line spotted me and shouted a few words of encouragement. It definitely gave me a lift.
A mile into loop two I realised that almost 70% of the field had dropped after the 10km. By the end of loop two I was shattered. I’d completely screwed up my pacing. The first few miles I’d tried keeping pace with some dudes in front of me. Turned out they were only doing the half. Then I saw two folks completely wipe out in front of me, really badly. Almost skidding off the trail on the ice into the ravine. Yikes. They were both OK but you can’t zone out for a second.
I also met a veteran on the course. He told me he’d run a lot of 50km races. I told him this was my first. He said “boy you picked a tough one”. According to him this was one of the toughest out there. He told me not to get discouraged and he said this repeatedly. Trying to be nice but it just scared me all the more. I said I really didn’t care about my time, just wanted to finish. I think he thought I was nuts. Then after a little while he glided off ahead into the distance. I was really dying physically. Mentally I was starting to panic.
Third loop. Hump loop. I got myself back together mentally and figured this would be my turning point. I willed it to be my turning point. I took all the pressure I’d been putting on myself and tossed it. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast I figured. I got into a good groove. Started pacing myself better and paying attention to the grade of the trail. Anytime we’d hit over 30 degrees uphill I was hike/walking. This was something I’d seen many veterans doing. It’s counter intuitive but you get a good break, it doesn’t kill your time and you get to use different muscles. I stretched out my stride a bit and it felt good. On the downhill I let loose and allowed gravity to work its magic. After a while I was plodding into home.
Out again for lap 4. This was a crusher. By now I’d ran 18+ miles without stopping and still had 13+ to go. Mentally heading out on this lap was really tough. There’s really no way to describe it but this for me was just pure honey-badger mentality of not caring. I was determined to at least get a marathon out of the day. I stuck my head down and just went into grind-mode. This turned out to be my slowest lap.
Heading out on Lap 5 I was shot. These are the dark times when you just want to lay down. Anywhere. Take your shoes off and have a beer. There was one other person heading out with me. She took off ahead of me and I didn’t have the heart to chase her. I was resigned to running my own race at this point. By some chance I caught up to her a few miles down the trail and followed her for a mile or so. Then I passed her and again went into honey-badger mode. I thought that was it but she came out of nowhere and passed me on the last two miles. “Fair-play” I thought. Beat me fair and square. I was done. But I caught up one final time and ended up finishing two minutes ahead of her. None of this mattered as she’s definitely a much better runner than me but these are the types of things that keep you going through these long runs and I was grateful for the motivation.
As I rounded the last corner and up the hill to the finish line my wife, sister in law and kids cheered me across the line. 31+ miles in 6 hours 27 minutes. It was a great feeling.
Today I’m in reasonably good shape, not too sore but I definitely feel like I did something. Overall a great day.
Results are posted here.