Monday, June 21, 2010
This weekend was a special week for me as it was my first attempt at an 'ultra' running event. I'm not sure I know the real definition of an ultra except its longer than 26.2 miles and seems to usually happen on trails instead of roads. My particular event was the BigHorn 50m. Months ago when we where still out skiing we set up a race schedule for the summer in preparation for another, more famous ultra. In our great foresight someone decided this would be a good 50m race, being its June we should have been well trained--or maybe we didn't think that we would be skiing into late April. Anyway June 1st roles around and my longest run is like 16 miles, far short of a 50. I start to panic which equals more training. Unfortunately 3 short weeks isn't really enough time for that type of prep.
When we arrive at registration I am surrounded by incredibly fit individuals that make me feel like the fat guy that takes up two seats. After an evening of pasta, a poor nights sleep, and a long drive to 8800ft we are at the 600am start time. Off we go into the mud and snow. Its difficult to explain the apprehension associated with starting out an endurance event like this. Your scared, focused, and alert to a large number of things. Any one of these things could cause you to fail. And as my friend likes to say... There is no sag-wagon on a trail run. So as we start out the race I start thinking about 1.) Keeping my heart rate low and my strides small as to conserve all the energy that I can. 2.) Making sure to have the best footing possible to keep from turning and ankle or anything else 3.) Doing my very best to keep the feet dry. Unfortunately the first 6-10 miles was serious mud and snow. Some people just gave up and filled their shoes with mud and water, others would carefully work through to keep as much water and mud out as possible. I was in this crowd. Looking down at my feet right now, I should have tried even harder.
After about 6 miles I finally got out of the Leming line and had a little space to myself, by mile 12 I was mostly alone. (This combination of solitude and human experience is part of the reason these races are so wonderful) As always, my mental pedometer was counting down the miles based on precieved pace, and time. Unfortunately it was WAY off. When I was feeling at about 18 miles I was really at 14. So after the first 19 miles you cross the river and start up a 2-3000ft climb. Personally, I enjoy climbing and wasn't too worried. I was worried however about how terrible I felt at just 1/3 into the race. At times the pain was so bad, I would double over. Again, its difficult to explain by my lower abdomen felt like it had been in a paint shaker for the last 4 hours. (Really it had, I just didn't realize it). I started to fear the DNF next to my name as I pictured myself being unable to continue at mile 36 (the only place you could bail). Thanks again to the friend I was doing the event with I thought of what he said (At any point in the race, the way you feel isn't permanent, it will change) So I held on to the fact that this wouldn't last forever and just kept going. Slowly the pain softened (it could have been the large quantity of IB Profen) and by mile 36ish it was just a dull ringing in the ears.
The view was incredible and always changing. I still am amazed by how far 50m really is when experienced one step at a time. I can still recall beautiful images of the alpine evergreen forest, the class 5 rapids, to the 5.10 granite hand crack and later into the oak forest, the sage, and the aspen. An amazing experience to cover so much terrain in a day and see so many diverse plants and eco systems. Interestingly, you may wonder how you can stay focused this long, or doesn't the monotony drive you crazy? And the answer is absolutely not! Not once did I wish for my ipod, not even in the 12th hour. The mind was alive and engaged in the surroundings, keeping my feet safely under me, and balancing my nutrition and energy exertion. In fact I would have expected the mind to be dulled by the end of the race, but I felt just as alert and sharp at the end as I did in the beginning! Not to mention, in order to keep the machine running you need to be taking in water, electrolytes, carbs, proteins, a little fat... all in small manageable amounts at the right time so you don't overload the system. If your not doing something every 10-15 minutes, chances are your missing something. Maintaining this balance alone can be very difficult, especially after you stomach refuses to take another gel shot or drink of salty orange flavored water.
My success is due in part to the tricks of the trade shared with my by old man ultra. Had I not gotten these small tidbits, I wound not have finished this race. Thanks Old Man Ultra. Sorry for a lack of photos, but I wasn't about to carry a camera for it.
All in all I'd say this is definitely in the top ten life experiences I've had. Experiencing what the body and mind can do is eye opening. Had you asked me if I could complete this race 2 days before I would have told you no. Not only did I complete it, but I felt good, I finished with a good time, and had one of the better finishing splits. Success like this one is great for the confidence and the mental fortitude in preparation for even large events. I cant wait to see whats next!