It’s over. And it hurts….
My first ultra marathon is complete and all the training and preparation paid off. Many of you will probably wonder what an ultramarathon is and why someone would compete in one. An ultra marathon is a footrace any distance beyond the typical 26.2mile marathon. The events normally include 50k (31miles), 50 mile, 100k, 100 mile and even up to 500 miles for multi-day events. They are usually run on dirt trails and single-track paths through the woods and mountains around the world. Some are held on roads, but holding races of this length with traffic involved is quite a hindrance.
The answer to WHY someone (me) would attempt such a race is easy but confusing to some. I say “why not” but others have their own reasons. I’ve heard other ultrarunners say that they do them to see how far they can push their bodies. I would guess that is a rational thought in the minds of ultrarunners. This is an account of my running the Bimblers Bluff 50k on October 23rd.
I began training for my first 50k back on August 15th and tracked every single day up until race day. The day before the race, I did everything to keep my mind off the race so as to not psyche myself out (worked on the car for a few hours, did mass amounts of laundry, etc.). Thankfully, it worked, and I went on to prepare my list of medical supplies, food and gear for the race. Once that was done, I felt much better about toeing the line the next day. I also woke up with a pinched nerve in my neck, and I couldn’t look left which put me in the dumps a bit about my condition for the race.
5 am arrived and I popped out of bed like a kid on caffeine. Coffee brewing, eggs boiling, got showered, packed the car and was off! After about an hour drive up to Guilford in the dark, my crew and I got to the school where the start/finish area was. I checked in and began with my pre-race preparations which included gobs of Vaseline, stuffing my packs with Gu’s and fighting with my bib number to put it on my shorts straight.
An hour later, everyone (about 125 people) was corralled into the start area where we all join in on singing the national anthem together, and then with very nonchalant “on your mark, get set, go,” we were off. One guy was singing away some classic rock song (I think) while we looped the school field to break up the runners before hitting the single-track trails.
I was pretty familiar with the 1st part of the race (the stick) as I had run it a few times in sections with the trail running club I found a few months back. The course was in a lollipop shape. We raced north up “the stick” to the single loop and then back south down the “stick.” As the field spread out a bit and we passed by the first aid station 2.5 miles in, I tried to tell myself to slow down so as to not kill myself in the first parts of the race, but the adrenaline was flowing. My ego was trying to fight back as I let runners pass me but I swallowed my pride and knew I could pass them later on. It was going to be a long day out on the trails of Guilford, CT.
The single track turned into a dirt road for about 5-7 miles until we reached the 2nd aid station at Bluff head. This is the infamous uphill climb that usually breaks down many participants. I had Bridget and my sis, Julia, as my crew with my bags of food/materials, and I saw them at the first station cheering me on, but didn’t see them at #2. I shrugged it off, filled up my bottle and continued on. I made the turn back onto the course and all I saw was a 45 degree climb up the side of the mountain. I battled my way halfway up and, to my surprise, the crew girls were waiting for me! I waved them off as they attempted to toss me some food and continued the climb up to the Bluff head summit.
This part of the race, the top of the lollipop, was much more technical than the rest of the course. Walking was a necessity in many parts just so I
didn’t dive-bomb onto a bed of sharp rocks. At this point I met up with a guy from Rhode Island, Kenny, who was doing his second 50k. From that point on, we ran together until the last aid station. The 3rd aid station (the race’s midway point) showed up after a short bit that passed through some horse farms and a quick road section. A small Bichon dog actually followed us at this point for about a quarter mile which provided some entertainment for a while and sparked a few more conversations. About 2 minutes after I left the 3rd aid station, I realized I had lost my iPod which was tracking my mileage. I cursed the trails but accepted that it was gone forever. I didn’t have the energy to turn around, but thankfully it was returned to me by a fellow runner!!!
After some more rocky sections and winding through more thick woods, aid station 4 appeared out of nowhere and my crew had literally just gotten there with my gear. I took another
Gu and Advil from them as my left knee had begun to bother me. At this point, my legs were beginning to cramp intermittently, and I needed to keep moving. Kenny took almost no time here and gained about 100 yards on me. I kept him within view until we reached the stick again, and I caught back up for some less enthralling conversations as both of our energy reserves were currently being used for more important reasons. From aid station 4 to 5 was 8 miles, and it seemed like an eternity. The company of another runner really helped, and as we approached the last station, I had a bit of adrenaline kick in and I created a cushion between Kenny and me. Some of this was due to the 2-3 water crossings where I blasted right through the water while others tried to tip toes on the small rocks to cross. This is how I passed a number of runners during the race.
I arrived at aid 5 with the crowd cheering, cowbells ringing and signs telling us that there were only 2.5 miles left. LONGEST 2.5miles of my LIFE! I powered through the parking lot, crossed the street and back into the single track. By this point, my right leg was stiffening up and I was praying I wouldn’t trip in this last section. I spoke too soon. I had a slight trip but didn’t quite fall, thanks to a very sturdy tree that caught me halfway to the dirt.
As I neared the finish line, I could hear cars passing by on the parallel road, and I saw several hikers on their way out into the woods. As I came into the finish, I took a last look at my watch and realized that I had accomplished my goal of racing under 6 hours with a time of 5 hours 42 minutes. I felt beat up but accomplished. I got 20th place overall and 2nd in my age division!!! I was being fed pretzels, candy corn, apple cider and an assortment of other great foods; however, my stomach was not up for a feast at that moment.
Not until later that day was I able to put down some solids without upsetting my stomach. I felt zombie-like hobbling around the rest of the day.
My first ultra was a great adventure, and I hope to do more in the future. My appreciation for those who do 50 mile and even 100 mile races has increased tenfold, and I aspire to be at that level one day.
I thank the race director, and my crew, Bridget and Julia, for supporting me and cheering me on the whole race. It really meant a lot that they came to keep my spirits up. And now that I’ve had a few days to recover, I’ve set
my sights on my next goal of completing a 50 mile ultra in the spring. Wish me luck!!!