It's official! Sorry, I took so long to report back. I wasn't out lost,running all week trying to find the finish line, I actually did finish the race last Saturday and I am now an ultramarathoner. Looking back, I think I picked a pretty hard race to be my first 50km. The 10,000 feet of vertical climb was pretty strenuous when combined with the 31 miles of hiking trails. It's been a week since the race but my quads hurt for days. Ouch!
So, for those of you who want to know what it is like to compete in a 9 hour race stick around and I'll try and describe it. If you could care less and think I have gone crazy, then you can just scroll down and browse the pictures and watch the videos. I forewarn you now, it's a long blog.
So, the night before I was up pretty late making sure I had packed everything I could possibly think I would need for the next day, stuffing it into a backpack for Jenni to carry around. I had pages of maps and directions for Jenni, so that she would be able to hike into strategic places throughout the race with a backpack full of this stuff I might need.
I ended up getting to bed a couple hours later than I would have liked and morning came early.
We had to be out of the house by 6am to get to the mountain and be registered before the 7am start. I wanted to wait until the day of the race to register just in case the weather was really bad or if I was still injured. Well, my injuries seemed to be healing just fine, but the weather had been really bad all week long. It had just poured and poured all week long. I swear I even saw some cats and dogs falling from the sky. The weather wasn't supposed to be too bad for Saturday so I decided to go for it knowing that the trails would be a mud bath.
It ended up being a pretty chilling morning around 40 degrees. They had propane heaters that most of the runners were huddled around trying to stay warm. Finally the time came and the race was off. I was surprised by the number of runners that showed up. There must have been about 100 people in the race. I later found out that the trail running legend Tim Twietmeyer was competing in this race as well. He went on to take 2nd place. Not bad for a 50-year old guy.
As you can tell from the picture it was still a bit dark when we started. Headlamps weren't required, but they could have come in handy for that first 30 minutes or so. Also, you can see from the picture that it had been raining. It continued to rain lightly on us all day long, but never huge down pours.
The race started out on a gravel road for about 1/2 mile to help everyone get into their places before jumping into the trail. Once on the trails, it was hard to pass or be passed because there wasn't much room. One runner would have to stand aside while the other past (I guess this is why they call it single track LOL). From everything I had heard and read about starting an ultra. The strategy is to "Start slow, then taper off" LOL. It's so easy to get excited and sprint right out and go fast for 5-10 miles, but you have to remember to pace yourself. You have to stop and think, can I keep this pace up for 8-9 hours? I'm sure it was pretty funny for Jenni to watch us take off, because the gun goes off and we all just slowing start off, no one running or dashing for 1st place, just people shuffling their feet along hoping they can do that all day long.
Yes, take another look at that picture I do have the whitest legs there. LOL and it's not just because I'm closest to the flash. I'm sure that is my legs radiating their whiteness. I would like to say its because of my lack of running the 6 weeks leading up to the race or because I train on the trails where the sun can't penetrate through all the tress, but the real reason is just because I'm white! LOL
So, about my grandpa butt, as you can see, some people were carrying backpacks, or fanny packs filled with liquids, food, accessories. I didn't want to carry all that and was hoping my beautiful crew member Jenni would be able to meet me at designated spots, so I stuffed my cell phone and lots of maps, etc into my back pocket. hence the grandpa butt.
The race was lots of fun for the first 7 miles. It was the 7 easiest miles of the course and everybody was close together as we really couldn't pass very much. You could look in front or behind you and just see a stream of people like a long snake slithering through the forest. People were chatting back and forth and we were all having a great time. About 4 miles into the race we passed by a runner laying on the ground saying over and over, "Boy do I feel stupid". I'm not sure exactly what happened. I'm guessing a sprained ankle, but they didn't seem to be in pain.
After our first aid station at mile 4 it was all down hill for the next 3 miles to the next aid station where as the first 4 miles were fun roller coasters going up and down hills anywhere from 20 feet to 500 feet. At one point a runner in front of me took off on the wrong trail. I decided to be a good Samaritan and chase her down and direct her onto the right trail. This would turn out to be a blessing in disguise later.
I decided the downhills where going to be my chance to gain a little ground on people. With gravity on your side it's faster going down then up. This can be really hard on a runner's legs though and punish a runner later on in the race. I was willing to take this chance.
At mile 7 was the first big aid station. They had all sorts of food and goodies. I grabbed a handful of gummy bears and some more liquids and waited in line for the port-a-potty for about 5 minutes as I watched all those people I had passed come through the aid station and pass me and take back there lead. For some reason I was okay with that. I was competing against myself and achieving my goal of running an ultramarathon. I stood in line with a smile on my face.
After my brief pee break I was back on the trail. We had to cross over a hwy and head into a new park. It was when I started climbing up the next hill that I realized maybe why I was lingering at the aid station. I was now entering the toughest 10 miles of the coarse. We had to climb up 2000 feet and go up and over three different summits on squak mountain.
Up was the only way, I had started on my upward journey not getting more than 1/2 mile and all of a sudden my calf muscles in both of my legs started cramping up on me. This was quite a surprise to me as I have never ever had problems with cramping before. It hurt pretty bad I had to run/walk just a certain way so not to entice my calves to cramp up. I had to stop about every 1/4 mile and stretch my calves to get them to relax on me before I could continue up and over squak mountain. I started analyzing and figured I had not drank very much water all week. I was dehydrated and needed liquids and electrolytes to overcome my cramping, knowing that it would take hours before the cramping would ease up.
Towards the top of the mountain, there wasn't much of a trail and we had to pull ourselves up the hillside by roots and branches. It was quite challenging. We were also now up in the clouds and the fog added to the mysterious squak mountain tales of dwarfs and trolls. From the top it was all down hill to the 12 mile aid station and the first spot I would see Jenni. I was excited, once again gravity was on my side and liquid would be available to start working out my leg cramps. It was full speed down 2000 feet to reach my aid.
Not really speeding through there. Again, I actually took my time at this aid station as well. Probably at least 5 minutes. It was so great to see Jenni there cheering me on. She had to hike 1/2 mile just to meet me here for these brief minutes. She spent so much of the day waiting for me, all bundle up trying to stay warm in the wet weather. THANK YOU JENNI!!!
Here's the video of me coming into the 12 mile aid station
I tried to drink lots. I again used the bathroom. I even changed my wet muddy socks, thanks to Jenni. Again, anyone I had passed on the way down, flew through the aid station and were again ahead of me. It was hard leaving Jenni knowing that I wouldn't see her for another 10 miles and knowing what was ahead; almost 4000 feet of climbing and I was worried about my cramping legs.
I went to the snack bar looking for my gummy bears. They didn't have any and I was sad. Those are my favorite sugar rush during a race. They did have skittles and M&M's though. I must have been somewhat out of it as I couldn't figure out which ones where skittles and which ones were M&M's so I grabbed a hand of both, knowing that I had delicious skittles in one of my hands. I made the mistake of doing this before going to the port-a-potty. As I got to the port-a-potty. I tried to figure out how to do this with both my hands full. Again, probably somewhat out of it, I shoved both handfuls of skittles and M&M's into my mouth so that I could go the bathroom. There is not a worse combination of candy then sugary skittles and chocolaty M&M's to make matters worse I forgot to get another drink to wash these down in my hurry to leave. So I said my goodbye to Jenni and with a mouth full of skittles/M&M's I headed for my journey back up and over squak mountain.
The next 5 miles were the hardest of the race for me. I'm glad they came early on and not later in the race. During a regular marathon everybody hits what is called, "the wall". It's brief, lasts only 1 mile or so. They feel like they can't go on anymore. Their legs are done moving. They just want to stop and be done. Well, I was about to hit my "Wall" mentally and physically.
After the aid station the trail looped around and went straight back over the top of the mountain. There really weren't any switchbacks or easy ways up. The trail just went straight up the side of the mountain. I had hit my wall. This time my quads were the muscles cramping up. It seemed every step that I took up the hill, my quads would try to lock up on me. I was stopping and stretching every few minutes to try and loosen and relax them. I was hoping I had drank enough at the aid station to help rehydrate me. I wasn't feeling the outcome of that yet.
Luckily, I had my cell phone on me. I called Jenni and talked with her until I had finally reached the summit. She helped me get up that mountain. I put her on speaker phone and together we hiked straight up the hillside. This really helped me pass the time and get the focus off of what I was doing.
Every time I stopped to stretch my quads it seemed that people would pass me up. I even remember getting passed up by a guy with a sprained ankle. LOL Anyway, after Jenni got me back on top of Squak Mountain I let her go and started my descent back down the mountain. I was excited to have all the hills of Squak Mountain behind me. It was all downhill to the next aid station at mile 17.
That downhill section hurt the worse out of the entire race. Now both my quads and calves were cramping up on me and almost continually. It hurt so bad. The trail going down was steep and hard on my legs. At one point as I was stopped on the side of the trail trying to get my calf muscle to relax and quite cramping, a lady I recognized stopped and asked me if I was having trouble with cramping. I mentioned that I was and she pulled out some supplements from her fanny pack and offered me some electrolyte and potassium pills. I thanked her and she was once again back on the trail. This just happened to be the woman that I had chased down earlier in the race when she took off on the wrong trail. Maybe this was her way of repaying the favor.
I was now more excited to get down the hill to the aid station to get more liquids and take these supplements. I painfully worked my way back down the hillside to cross over the highway and re coupe at the 17 mile aid station. When I got to the highway to cross over, they had me wait a few moments because a car crash had just happened. They were having the runners dart across the highway when there weren't any cars. So a car stopped to let runners across and a car behind him plowed into him. Luckily no one was hurt especially the runners.
I was so excited to be at this aid station. It meant that I had conquered Squak Mountain and didn't have to return again. I took my supplements and drank lots and lots of Accelerade. I wanted to make sure I wouldn't be dehydrated. I was so tired of cramping up. It seemed like I spent most of my time stretching instead of running. I drank and drank while chatting to the volunteer staff. Jenni couldn't meet me here because of the highway and no parking lot.
After a few more minutes and liquids I was back on the trail again. This time with a smile on my face. I was climbing my last 1000+ hill. Once I was back up to the top of this hill, then all the other climbs were less than 600 feet and a lot more manageable. I also only had 5 more miles and I would be at my next aid station and I would be able to see Jenni again.
Once again on the climb back up cougar mountain I called Jenni and chatted with her most of the way up to the summit. This made the time pass faster and easier. I also wasn't cramping up as much any more. I only had to stop and stretch a handful of times. When I got to the top of the hill I let Jenni go as she was picking up lunch at McDonald's and needed time to eat and get to the next aid station before I.
The next few miles to the aid station were relatively quiet and peaceful. The trail had leveled off and was more of a roller coaster ride now, twisting and twirling its way through the forest floor, little ups and downs of 50 feet or so made it lots of fun along with lots of log hopping.
It was in this stretch that the inevitable finally happened. I was expecting it, but didn't know when it would happen. I got lapped by the 1st place runner in the 50 MILE race. They started at 5am a few hours before our race and they were doing 2 smaller versions of our 1 big lap. Half an hour later I got passed by the 2nd place guy in that race as well. I was amazed at the speed they still had knowing that they had been running for 2 hours longer than I had and had traveled almost twice as far as me.
Later in the week I googled the 1st place runner to find out that the guy that won had won almost every race he had competed in this past year. He also trains by running 175 miles a week and was won quite a few big time marathons. Needless to say he was fast. Luckily those were the only 50 milers that past me.
Anyways, back to my now what seemed puny, 50 km race. A few minutes after the 2nd place guy passed me another runner came flying up past me and I thought we was the 3rd place runner, but noticed that he was wearing the same color bib as me, so he was in my race. I thought to myself why is someone in my race running this fast and is just now passing me. He asked me if the jugs of water that we had passed half an hour earlier was the aid station. I replied that it wasn't, but that there was a full aid station just one more mile ahead of us. We just had to climb a 600 foot wall and it would be up on top of there. He politely thanked me and took off just as fast as he had sped up on me.
I thought that was odd, but just kept on trucking along. By this time I had gone over 20 miles and had climbed 8,000 of the 10,000 vertical feet. I was starting to get hungry, real hungry. Jenni's McDonald hamburger was starting to sound real yummy. I was secretly hoping that she had bought an extra one and brought it along, but since I hadn't asked her to I'm sure she hadn't. This urge for food pushed me up that last 600 foot wall and into the aid station.
me at the 22 mile aid station drinking and waving
Take notice of the guy sitting behind me trying to warm up by wearing the tin foil blanket while stuffing his face with goodies. That's the guy who came flying by me that I thought was the 3rd place guy of the 50 miler but was actually in my race. He had gotten lost in the forest for quite awhile and had been running the same circle over and over not able to find this aid station. Poor guy. I thought he was done as he had already ran more than me and still had 9 more miles to go. Nope! After warming up and getting food and water into his belly he darted off and Jenni said he finished strong over 15 minutes before me. Wow! What a trooper.
There were others that were dropping out at this aid station. It was hard to want to leave that aid station. They had all sorts of goodies and food. I stayed for about 10 minutes eating and drinking and chatting with Jenni. I had lots of sandwiches and cookies. I left with a pretty full belly. It felt good.
Jenni asked me to pose how I really felt instead of smiling. LOL
Team UltraWill LOL
Showing off my Grandpa Bum again. Jenni got a kick out of it.
This is the video from Mile 22 Aid Station
It was time to end the fun and get back to work. With a full belly and hugs and kisses from my crew member Jenni I was once again back on the trail. This next section was pretty hilly but it went pretty quick. I was excited as I had completed 22 miles and only seen Jenni twice, but now I was going to be able to see her in just 3 more miles at mile 25 and again at mile 28 and then at the finish at mile 31, so my spirits were boosted knowing I would be having a cheerleader every 3 miles.
The time was going by quickly, and when I say that I actually mean it in a bad way. The time was really going by too fast. I realized I had to push myself, so that I wouldn't be cutoff at the mile 25 aid station (which was back at the start). The race course was going to shut down after 9 hours and if you hadn't crossed the finish line by then, you would be considered a DNF (did not finish). If you reached an aid station and at your current pace you wouldn't be able to finish in time they would stop you. I really didn't want to have ran 25 miles and climbed 9,000 vertical feet just to be disqualified. So, I pushed myself, not knowing if I was considered too late to keep going.
I got back to the start and ran a few hundred yards with Jenni to the 25 mile aid station. They waived me on, but said I had just made the cut-off. phew! I could now finally stop and regain my composure and focus on the last 6 miles. This was the last cutoff, now I just had to make it to the finish line before the 9 hour time limit. Jenni walked with me for awhile as I calculated out loud trying to figure out if that was possible. It was, but I was going to have to run faster than the pace I had been keeping thoughout the 1st 25 miles.
I really didn't know if that was going to be possible. I was now entering new territory. I had never ran more than a marathon (26.2 miles) plus I had already climbed over 9,000 vertical feet. I had 6 more miles to run and I was determined to finish in time. I left Jenni waiting in a spot I would circle around to in 3 more miles and pushed forward giving it all mentally and physicaly.
(After the race was over I found out that they extended the qualifing time from 9 hours to 11 hours because of the difficulty of the course. If I would have known that, I could have walked the remaining 6 miles and still had plenty of time. I'm glad I didn't know that. It helped push me forward making sure to used all my energy)
This next 3 miles was the same as the first 3 miles of the course. This I was glad of. I now knew what to expect. I hadn't run any of these trails before my race, mainly because I was injured most of that time. It was nice to now be on familar ground. I knew when and were the hills were and how long they were. I used this to my advantage and started running faster than I had most of the day. I was doing it. I was cutting off time and it looked as if I would finish in under 9 hours.
Jenni decided to hike in the trail a couple hundred yards and she was a nice suprise out there in the middle of the forest when I bumped into her. She refueled me with some water and we walked for awhile and then I took off to finish the last 3 miles. I was excited, knowing that if I could keep this pace up I would finish and finally be considered an ultramarathoner. I was also excited to know that next time I saw Jenni I would be finished and not have to run anymore.
My legs were starting to give up on me, but my spirits were high and that kept me going. I really wasn't cramping anymore and I was finally hydrated well. But my leg muscles were just done. They had worked extra hard with all the cramping.
With about 1-1/2 miles left I knew I was going to finish in time. It was such a great feeling. I just hobbled and shuffled along, knowing that my legs were done. My whole body was screaming at me to stop, but the smile on my face kept me going.
I rounded the final corner and saw Jenni and the finish line. It was such a feeling of accomplishment. I had did it. I was now an ultrarunner. I finished in 8 hours 45 minutes. I had ran more than 31 continual miles on steep, rocky, muddy, rooty, log fallen trails. I had climbed almost 10,000 vertical feet. And I couldn't have done it with out Jenni's support and positive attitude.
I was asked the next day, "So are you ever going to do another race like this?" I answered, "Ask me in a week." And then I just chuckled, knowing that I would say "No" in that moment with all the sore, still muscles, but knowing in a week when my body had recovered that I wouldn't be able to resist the temptation and would answer "YES!"
It's now been a week. To answer the question, "I can't wait! Next up, a 50 miler! shh!! don't tell Jenni" hehehe
Me at the finish line
Video of me crossing the finish line. Can you tell I have been running the last 9 hours. LOL
For those of you who actually read all that? You are officially Ultra-Bloggers!