Sunday, February 2, 2014

Welcome to Ultrarunning

Suddenly 26.2 miles doesn't seem all that far to run. What a strange thought. Although I shouldn't pretend I didn't think about throwing in the towel yesterday as early as mile 19...

Still looking pretty chipper. This was in the first 10 miles.

My first 50k was just about as hospitable as my first trail marathon a few weeks ago—terrible, that is. We ran on snow-covered trails (with a layer of ice beneath the snow) as more snow yet continued to fall. (Fortunately it was up to 15 degrees... Just a few days prior we had -15 with bitter winds, so I'm grateful I didn't have to run 6 hours in that!) With every step I took my foot slipped a few inches back, and it was easy to get discouraged. Even so, I somehow convinced myself to carry on. (It wasn't easy. Actually, it was probably the hardest thing I've ever done.) The course consisted of five loops, and with each loop we checked in at the aid station/shelter/finish line. It would have been so easy to just stop... especially when it became clear that each loop was going to take longer than the last.

I finally finished in 6 hours and 15 minutes, coming in 31st of 78 finishers. I was glad to finish, if a bit appalled by my time. But if you take into account that the first-place finisher came in at 4:40 or so, I guess it wasn't all that bad. It also turned out that I was the youngest one there. (There were two 25-year-olds, and everyone else was older.)

What did I learn? (a.k.a. rookie mistakes... You'd think this was my first run ever.)

  • Don't do a strenuous back workout two days before a race. My lower back was tired from the start, and I was fantasizing about lying down for pretty much the entire race. (Granted, an easy fantasy to achieve.)
  • Don't eat new things on race day. I thought I'd give this herbal vitamin supplement drink thing a try, and I think it really upset my stomach.
  • Don't eat too much the day before a race. I was still pretty stuffed the morning of (I woke up before 4 a.m.), but I still wanted to eat breakfast so I shoved some more calories down the gullet. This certainly also contributed to some of the stomach upset I was experiencing.
  • Don't eat snow. I was a bit thirsty (or bored?) and there was snow everywhere, so I thought, "Why not?" It was fine the first two or three times, but my gloves quickly froze and my hands got pretty cold. Luckily I had a spare pair in the shelter that I picked up the next time I checked in.
  • Cramps aren't always a death knell. My first marathon was sabotaged by debilitating cramping around mile 15, and I've known the cramps every once in a while since then. My legs started cramping up during the 50k, and I was able to assuage them both physically and mentally so that I could keep running. Nice!

What do I still need to learn?

  • How much should I eat on the run? When I do marathons, I have a pretty good system. I have a Vespa before I start and around the half marathon mark, I typically eat part of a Clif or similar bar somewhere around the half, and I sometimes eat another small thing around mile 20. But with trail marathons I'm out there so much longer because of the slower pace, and I still haven't nailed how much or when I should be eating. This is something I'm going to focus on in training.
  • Mental game. Ultrarunning seems to take an awful long time, and it's clear that I need to work more on the mental aspect. I'm going to start taking more runs without any audio (Typically I listen to podcasts, but I generally do one run a week with nothing. I'm going to do more, longer runs this way.) I'm also going to get back to my daily meditation practice.

All in all, it was so great to once again run farther than I ever had in the past. It's something I hadn't experienced since my first marathon. And I suppose I won't again until the Ice Age 50. It does seem a bit crazy to be planning to run 20 miles more than I just did, especially when I haven't yet recovered and I'm still quite in shambles, but that's just how it goes. A seasoned ultrarunner and new friend who I talked to after the run said it well when he calmly told me, "You're ultra."

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