Earlier this year, not sure exactly when, I decided to attempt my first 50k. The idea first formed in my head around this time last year, when I paced my friend and running teammate Russ for 1 loop of the 50k course at the Another Dam 50k in Englewood, Ohio. At the time, it seemed to be the perfect race in which to attempt an ultra for the first time. It wasn’t a terribly difficult course, and the way the course did a figure eight, you were never more than 3 miles from an aid station. Plus, it was only 20 minutes from my house. So, as 2013 ended, and I started to plan out the 2014 race calendar, I decided I would go for it. What’s 5 more miles, right?
I started training for the race in February. Well, sort of. Even though I had a 50k training plan from my friend Jessica, who was also training for her first 50k (hers in DC but coincidentally on the same day as mine), I didn’t do a very good job following the plan. It was one of the worst winters in Ohio in my lifetime, and just running 10 miles in the cold and snow on some of the long run days was all I could muster. Running the Flying Pig full marathon in early May was the only “training” run this year that topped 20 miles.
During the last few weeks, at least I had enough sense to go to Englewood MetroPark and run the course a few times. Looking back, even though I never ran more than 13 miles at Englewood, it helped to know the course. Instead of thinking about the 7.8 miles loops, it was easy to break down each loop into different sections.
The start time for the race yesterday was 8 am. The gates to the park open at 7 so I set my alarm for 5:30, with goal to leave the house by 6:20 (about a 25 min drive from my house). When I arrived at the park, the gates were already open, so I was able to get a premium parking space in the first row right by the trail. I hung out in my car for awhile, drinking my coffee and listening to music, and then one of my teammates arrived next to me. With about an hour to go until race time, surprisingly I wasn’t too nervous. One of the takeaways from an ultra is how laid back it is. Over the last few days, I was just ready to get the race over with, and with the start time approaching, it was no different.
More familiar faces started showing up, in fact 7 out of 97 finishers were Team Grace or Friends of Team Grace (FOTG?) runners. And 3 out of those 7 were doing an ultra for the first time. It was hard to gather everybody for a picture but we did manage to get 4 of us together before the start:
My strategy for the race was pretty simple: start off slow and walk up all the hills. I anticipated that the last loop would be rough, but as long as I could make it through 3 loops, if I needed to I could walk the last loop and still finish under the 9 hour cutoff. And the best part, I wouldn’t be running this alone. All of the Team G runners had their own strategies and plans, but there were several people from the team who offered to show up and run a loop with any of us that needed it. I had 3 people running the first loop with me, Josh, Jennie and Alexis. Here are a few pictures of us during the first loop.
We ended up finishing the first loop in 1:32, which was 13 minutes faster than my conservative estimate. So far so good. After about an 8 minute break at the car, Josh and I took off for loop 2. I am so glad that Josh decided to run the second loop with me, even though he hadn’t run over 15 miles since he was training for his marathon last fall. We made through the 2nd loop in 1:34, and that was 16 minutes faster than my estimate for that loop.
After another short break to refuel at the car, this time I head out back across the dam by myself. I knew that I would have at least 1 maybe 2 people waiting for me at the aid station to run most of the 3rd loop. At this point it was getting close to noon, and it was starting to feel like the weather forecast, which was high of 82. There were no clouds in the sky at all. Back in the trails, it wasn’t an issue, but going across the dam, which was just short of 1 mile, you were in full sun. My mileage was now in the high teens, where I traditionally bonk during my full marathons, but I was still feeling okay. I was doing a good job taking in fluids and food at the aid station. I made it to the aid station and met up with Russ and Jim B. This is the same Russ who I ran a loop with last year, which inspired me to attempt this race. I didn’t expect him to be there, so this was a pleasant surprise. And Jim, well, Jim is a motivational machine who has helped many people achieve PRs and first time distances. Here we are at Martindale Falls in the park:
Russ was with us for a few miles, and Jim continued with me back to the other side of the dam to finish the 3rd loop and start the 4th. While loop 3 was slower than my first 2, I was still well under my estimate, so a couple of people who planned to run the final loop with me weren’t there yet. Jim ran back across the dam with me and by the time we finished the section of the course before I would need to head back across, we were fortunate to run into Lori who was looking for us. I had about 2.6 miles to go to finish my first ultra, and at this point, my goal was to come under 8 hours. I could pretty much walk the rest of the way and finish. (Before we met Lori, Jim and I were passing the time by calculating and recalculating what my per mile pace needed to be to come in under 8.)
The biggest surprise at this point of the adventure was that, although I was sore and tired, I was still able to run longer than I expected. During the last 6 miles of the Pig, I would run for maybe 30 seconds or so, and then decide to just walk. Going back across the dam, I was able to sustain a slow run longer. Finishing was still the ultimate goal, so there were still walk breaks, and there was still one good incline in the final stretch that required walking. Lori and I ran into Melissa on the side, and she ran/walked the last mile with us. Once I saw the parking lot, I picked up the pace and ran to the finish. Even though many of the participants were long gone by now, it was nice to see Jim and Cassie cheering me on towards the finish. Official time for my first 50k: 7 hours, 33 minutes 55 seconds. My first goal was to finish, my second goal was to finish under 8 hours, so I was thrilled.
After getting a couple of pieces of pizza, and responding to many of the texts I had been receiving throughout the day (thanks everybody for your texts and comments on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!!!), I put on some dry clothes and headed home, with a quick trip to Dairy Queen on the way out of Englewood:
I am so appreciative of all the support from my friends, family and teammates. I think the outcome would have been very different had I not had company during the race. I think I will do another 50k, maybe this same race next year, maybe another. I would like to see how I would do if I put in the mileage that a 50k training plan calls for. But that will be down the road. For now, I get to savor this achievement, and take a few weeks off before starting my Chicago Marathon training.