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January 2020
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My first Ultra – 8 hours of awesomeness

I have lots of thoughts about running my first ultra (a race longer than a marathon) today. Here are a few:

I met all my goals and I definitely feel that I vindicated myself from October’s marathon.
1. Finish!
2. Don’t Bonk
2a. Eat.
2b. Stay hydrated.
2c. Learn to pace myself – it’s ok to walk!
2d. Dress for the weather
3. Have fun
4. get a sense of what ultras are about and who runs them

I was really surprised how much fun it was. The course was beautiful. The upside of the rain was the low-hanging clouds over the Green Mountains, which we viewed in spectacular fashion from several points on the trail. People were good humored about the weather because there was nothing to be done about it. Around 4 hours into the race while transiting a particularly wet muddy section, the guy ahead of me said sarcastically AW, NOW MY FEET ARE WET! (of course we’d all had wet feet for at least 2 hours). There were also comment like “nice weather we’re having” and “pleasant day, isn’t it.” Whoops and hollers when the rain poured even harder could be heard in the woods to show the clouds we could handle it. Overall people offered encouragement and were very courteous. Last but certainly not least, the race director and volunteers were supportive, encouraging and helpful. I felt like the race director was my own personal cheering section. At mile 20 he said, “See, piece of cake! You’re almost done!” To which I replied, “A very soggy cake, but yay!” All in all it was a really fun day.

I was very pleased with my pacing. I accepted that everyone walks, and especially on the first lap if someone ahead of me was walking up a steep incline, I walked too. I found some good pacers on the first downhill to keep me from going too hard and burning out my quads. My left shin was still a bit tender on the downhills by the end, but nothing a little stride adjustment and stretching didn’t remedy.

I made myself follow the eating and drinking plan of 20oz water or heed and a bar of gel every 5 miles, plus I grabbed whatever snacks looked good at the aid stations. I got chicken broth when I was cold, some potato chips when my legs felt tight, and trail mix or cookies or graham crackers for good measure. I also made use of the portajohns at the aid stations, which were a welcome luxury for a trail run.

I also felt prepared with my gear. The trail run I did a few weeks ago was the perfect training for today. Not only was it good to test out my shoes and new fuel (honey!) and carrying water (go for the hand-held not the camelback) but also the weather was identical, so I wore basically the same thing + gloves and felt good the whole time. I was warm enough when it was wet and it dried out enough to be pleasant when the rain subsided.

I’ve alluded to the weather – it was really challenging even by veteran ultrarunner standards. It started pouring around 3am, the race started in drizzle at 6am, then it rained harder after an hour, and went back and forth between mist and downpour most of the morning. Think about what a hillside trail would look like after almost 12 hours of raining and 100 people doing 10-mile laps on it. We had some spectacular mud pits and streams. It was definitely an additional challenge on top of the length of the race: mentally to stay positive, physically to stay warm and to keep solid footing without falling or straining a tired muscle on a mud slide. I kinda wish I had a finish photo – I was smiling, I booked it up the last hill to the finish, and I was caked in mud.

Here are my watch splits:
First 5 miles (up) 1:03:30
Next 10 miles (down and up) in 2:18:51, total 3:22:21
Next 10 miles (down and up) in 2:26:34, total 5:48:56
Took a wrong turn and got lost for 51:05, total 6:40:00
Final 5 miles (down) 1:15:55, official finish in 7:55:56
The official results are posted here.

As you can see on website we ran a 10 mile loop, starting mostly climbing with an aid station at about 5 miles (maybe 4.8?), another mile of climb after that, then mostly downhill the second half. I definitely had to slow down later in the race due to footing, but I felt very strong throughout, and definitely felt better on the last 5+ than I did in the middle.

Things I learned:
– My brain doesn’t work as well after 25 miles, even if I’m feeling strong physically. I took a wrong turn coming out on top of the hill which resulted in a 50min loss of time and energy and extra miles. I started feeling a little concerned in the woods when I yelled out for another runner and didn’t get an answer. I did ok, and I recovered a positive outlook once I got going again, but coming up on the 5mile aid station again definitely took a bit out of me at the time.
– Vaseline on my lips and nose prior to the race was a good idea to prevent chapping from the rain and sniffles.
– Tape on my foot calluses wasn’t a bad idea, even though they came off in the mud and wet sometime during the second lap.
– I can see the benefit of having a crew. By the time I used the portajohn, refilled my water, got rid of empty wrappers, ate/drank, refilled my foodstuffs and checked in every 10 miles, it was hard to remember to hit the splits on my watch. It was also a little bit tempting to stay near the fire and chit-chat while “making sure I didn’t forget anything” rather than moving on.
– People *are* Born to Run!

Thinking about what’s next: I don’t have any desire to go 100 miles. I would definitely plan to do another 30miler/50K with Beej, and I would consider a 50 miler at some point. I’m very excited about keeping up my fitness and running the Whites and more of the Green Mountains this summer!


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