Monday, April 11, 2016

An Ultra Day

I always go out too fast. No matter the situation, on race day, I take off too fast knowing that I won't be able to keep it up. I don't know, blame adrenaline or my over-competitiveness, but for one reason or another I always run too fast too early.

My first ultra was no different.

The Hawkeye 50k.

I really just signed up for this race as a training run for the Booneville Backroads Ultra 100k that's coming on May 28th. After 2 marathons last season, I decided that it was time to sign up for my first ultra marathon. After listening to "Born to Run" and "Eat and Run" via Audible on long runs, I was sold on the idea of running longer and longer. I really want to do a 100 miler but knew I wasn't even close to ready for that. So why not a 100k? Then I saw the Hawkeye 50k and it was a good option to train and see if I could handle an ultra first.

My training had gone pretty well. Though Easter and busyness made it difficult sometimes, I was able to get out and run a lot. Thanks to my friend, Evan, I had the plan in place. Thanks to Katie, I was able to get out and run.

So here I was. Nervous. And cold.

It was 23 degrees when I got to the race. Not the spring weather I was hoping for, but thankfully it was sunny and not too windy. I bundled up with a cold gear jacket from Under Armor, gathered my Ultimate Direction hydration vest and got ready to go. [The rest of my gear were my Epson Runsense SF-810 GPS watch, Plantronics Backbeat Fit bluetooth headphones, Injinji compression socks, Vibram FiveFingers Trek Ascent shoes, and my Royals World Series hat. For nutrition, I used Tailwind Nutrition in my bottles and a few bites of peanut butter and jelly at aid stations.]

As the race started, I found myself right behind a fellow Mount Pleasant runner that I'd met a few weeks earlier. Not sure what pace to start out at, I decided I would just stick behind him for awhile unless I decided it was too fast. Starting out at around a 8:20/minute mile was faster than I thought I should do, but felt comfortable and just kept going.

The race started on crushed limestone trails winding around the lake. Soon it moved further into the woods for a little more technical trails before finding ourselves at the spillway, where wading through cold water on a cold day wasn't ideal. While everyone else sloshed around in their huge shoes, my FiveFingers dried quickly and ran fine no matter how wet. So on I went. The last 3.5 miles of the race are on the road and this was the worst part by far. After soft beautiful trails, I had to finish the lap on hard concrete running against traffic on the highway, against the wind, and up long drawn out hills. Not awesome. It was especially challenging since my trail VFF's have harder soles and aren't great on the roads.

After lap one around the course, I dropped my jacket and thought I may stop for a bit at the aid station or the restroom, but decided instead to just keep running. I felt good.

Then came mile 18. I could feel it. Like I felt at mile 16 of my last marathon, I started to feel tired. My legs hurt, my feet were tired, and I started to wonder if this was going to work. I DID go out too fast. I should have started slower and now I'm going to have to fight to finish. Just. keep. going.

By mile 22, things changed. Though I thought I was in real trouble, I now was starting to get a second wind. After wading through the spillway for the second time, the hills came and I felt stronger. So I took off.

The rest of miles 22-28 were great; nice trails, feeling good. And thanks to the help of some aid station volunteers, I didn't get off on the wrong direction - but I almost did. And then, mile 28 hit. The beginning of the end is the worst part of the run as I hit the 3.5 miles of pavement again, no longer feeling good and strong. I couldn't look ahead because it was too daunting, so I looked down at my feet, continuing to just put one foot in front of the other while the wind blew at me with contempt.

Finally making the turn toward the finish line gave me a new burst of energy as I began sprinting the last quarter mile to the end.

I always find that the end of a race is surreal as I am ecstatic that it's over while also feeling like it couldn't actually be over. But for the first time at the end of a long race, I felt good. I was tired but not nauseous or chilled. I was just finished. (If you're curious, I ended up 9th overall out of 77 50k runners. I was 5th in the 20-39 age range and finished in 4:41:41 hours. I'm okay with that for my first race.)

I am sold on ultras. Even more, I'm sold on trail running. The Hawkeye 50k was a great race, with awesome volunteers, and a fun spirit.

Next up is the Booneville Backroads Ultra 100k on May 28th, and I'm terrified. Not sure how to double this distance. I can't wait to find out.

(Huge thanks to my friend Evan Schmidtke for coaching me, Matt and Jolie Wilkinson for coming to the race, and to Katie for letting me do this stuff.)

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