Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Tale of my First Ultra

Like an ultra...this is kind of long.

Before moving to Ohio, I did what every person addicted to running/racing does, I googled races near where I'd be moving. I found a few races. One of the first that I found was Stone Steps 50k. I'd never done a 50k before but for some reason I was interested in this race. It was described at Cincinnati's toughest Ultramarathon. I thought sounds like a challenge, I love challenges. So why not try to run my first ultra that is described as Cincy's toughest.

I signed up for the race and thought what did I just do. I just signed up to run 50 kilometers...31+ miles.  That is a freaking long way. 

The weekend before the race, a friend gives me a tour of the course. It is 4 loops of 5+ miles and 3 loops of about 3 miles. We ran just over 8 miles that day and I was tired and sore after it. I think there is no way am I going to be able to do this for 31+ miles...what was I thinking. Well, I'm signed up so I'm going to try.

A friend with experience at this race tells me I should plan on it taking me about 6 hours. Ok, I spend the week mental trying to prepare myself for 6+ hours of running. How does one do that? I don't know I just kept telling myself I get to run for 6+ hours. I get to spend 6 hours doing something I'm passionate about. I'm so lucky! I gave myself lots of little pep talks. 

Race weekend comes around. I have no idea what to expect. I get up at 5:45. I decided to try something a little different than my normal pre-race breakfast. I made pumpkin pancakes the day before so I ate 2 pancakes, a yogurt, a banana and drank a big glass of water. I jumped in the car at 6:20 and headed down to Cincinnati. It was about a 45 min drive.

I wasn't sure what to wear for the race. It was around 32 degrees at the start and warmed up to about 50 degrees at the finish. 42 degree is my cutoff for wearing shorts usually. I decided on my Oiselle long rogas, knee high sock, my favorite long sleeve shirt (Oiselle's lux layer love it) and my singlet. 

The race started at 8am. I keep telling myself start conservatively, start conservatively, you're going to be running for 6+ hours. The race starts people take off fast. I fall in behind some guys trying not to go too fast. I know there are at least a few women in front of me. The first loop is the 5+ mile loop that includes the stone steps and gummy bear hill. Don't let the name fool you, it is NOT a tasty little treat. I was running behind 2 guys because the trail is only wide enough for 1 person. The guy in front asks if I want to pass. No, I need to start slowly. I follow them for a while the guy in the middle steps to the side so I pass him. I keep following the other guy. I am watching my footing more than paying attention to where we are going. Then all the sudden I am looking around and he is looking around and we realize we got off the course. So I take off back the way we came. He yells an apology. I say no worries but there is no way I'm going to continue following him. I get back on course and pass some of the people that I had recently passed. They say didn't you just pass us. Yep, I took a wrong turn already...3 miles into the race and I'm taking wrong turns. I had a little rush of adrenaline after the wrong turn. I dropped the guy that I'd been following for the last 3 miles pretty quickly. I run by myself for a while then I hear people up ahead. I slowly work my way up to them and realize there is a women in the group and follow them through the end of the 5 mile loop. 

We get to the start/aid station. I have a mostly full water bottle and a Gu in my pocket so I don't grab anything on the first pass. I head out on the 3 mile loop by myself. I am keeping careful watch on the orange flags hanging from the trees. I don't want to get off course anymore. My first pass at the 3 mile loop was pretty uneventful. I took my first Gu. I was trying to listen to the advice of one of my Oiselle teammates, Emily. She's run a ultras before so I asked her for advice the night before. She said enjoy the experience and fuel often and early. I ran by myself most of the loop. Toward the end I started to hear a couple people talking up ahead. I recognized the voice of a women that I had met the weekend before when I was touring the course. I caught up to them at the end of the 3 mile loop. 

At the aid station, I decided to get a refill on my water bottle. This time I filled it with Powerade. Actually, I didn't fill it. When you get to the aid station a very kind volunteer asks if you want your water bottle filled so she filled it for me while I checked out the food options. There were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grapes, pretzels, oranges, banana, granola bars, mini cookies, Hammer gel, plain and peanut butter m&m's, coke, and more. I grab a glass of coke. Mmmm, it was so good. I'm also a sucker for peanut butter m&m's. I wasn't sure what to eat and how my stomach would handle the different foods while running but I ate them and hoped for the best. 

I started the 2nd 5 mile loop with Nancy and Jonathan. Nancy asked if I had done the race before. Nope, this is my first 50k. She says well, you're doing well. I think we are the first women. I freak out a little in my mind. What are you doing Julie, you have no business running with the women in the lead 8 miles into the race. I fall in behind them. I listen to them talk, answer a few questions. Freak out a little bit about running with her. We get to the stone steps and I am much slower at climbing them then they are so I fall behind. I can see and hear them up ahead. I start to feel better about not being right behind her anymore. I start thinking about when I finish my next 3 mile loop I'll be over halfway done. 

I get back to the aid station and grab some food. I head off to start my 2nd 3 mile loop, a spectator tells me to stay on her heels. I think no way man, I want to finish this race. Well, I catch up and follow them through the loop.

At the end of the loop, Nancy stopped at the restrooms. I got to the aid station and thought I really do not want to be leading the women's race. Should I wait and follow her out of the aid station. Then I realized how crazy I was being and headed out as the lead woman for the 3rd 5 mile loop. It was hard for me to be in the lead in my first ultra. I wasn't really sure how my body was going to react to the longer distance. I still had 13+ miles to go so I wanted to try and run conservatively. The course was challenging. Sometime during that loop Nancy and Jonathan caught up to me. From this point on, Nancy and I ran the rest of the race together. We lost Jonathan for a while but he caught up during the last 5 mile loop.

We made it to the aid station and grabbed some food. There are amazing volunteers at this race that fill up your water bottle when you get to the aid station. I love race volunteers! We started off on our 3rd and final 3 mile loop. We ran and chatted. It was nice. I was starting to feel the effects of the hills, the time running and the distance. At this point, I had been running for longer than I had ever run before. My quads were not happy with all the downhills. I really hoped that I could stay with Nancy for a little while longer. It was so awesome to run with someone.

We got back to the aid station at the end of our 3 mile loop and saw that the men's winners had already come in. They were speedy. During our final 5 mile loop, my legs were exhausted. I was afraid during the downhills that they were going to give out. We were running along and I hit a small rock on the ground and was unable to catch myself so I went down. I went down hard. My reaction time was also very slow. I was unable to catch myself at all. I managed to hit both knees, left side, left shoulder, and the left side of my head. I jumped up right away. I know if I looked at the damage it might freak me out. My knees were hurting. We kept going about 3/4 mile from the finish line, it happened again. I hit a root and was too exhausted to catch myself. I went down on my knees this time. Ouch, they were already hurting. I jumped right up. I didn't want to survey the damage. I had made it this far. I was not going to let a fall stop me from finishing.

About 400m from the finnish Nancy asked if I wanted to take the win during my first ultra. Yes, that would be amazing! I took off and won my first 50k! I ran a 5:27:53. I was really hoping to win a platter and I did! It was so amazing! I loved it and can't wait to do more.

The totally awesome platter that I won!
My new running buddy
The results of the multiple falls. It looks like I have an extra knee cap.

I may have already found my first 24 hour race in Minneapolis next summer!