So I ran my first ultra, and what a race it was. I'm excrutiatingly sore in my legs right now. My head is full of thoughts about yesterday.
This was a 50K with several inches of snow on the ground, probably over a foot in some places. I didn't know what to wear; I don't have any trail shoes, of course, so I just wore my normal Asics. I did think briefly about wearing hiking boots but didn't. At the start, there were several people wearing pretty normal running shoes so I figured I had made the right choice.
As usual, we got up too late and didn't drink enough. I didn't realize it until I peed - for the first time during the race - at 25 miles. So off we went through the snow, running, sliding, walking in a group of 7 people in the front. A guy I know from previous races, Matt, took the task of breaking the trail. He is a thoroughbred runner but probably didn't realize how much he was working compared to the rest of us. I have run with him in shorter races, including a couple of half marathons; I'm a little faster in those races but I know he has run some really fast marathons. Matt lead for most of the first 8 miles or so with the rest of us just hanging back. It really was not fair to let him do all the work. We got lost twice and probably added a mile to the course that way. I guess that's trail running for you: you run a half mile out and back in deep snow and when you get back, someone else latches on to your group and everyone smiles.
The little detour swelled the lead group to probably ten runners. I always tried to stay in last spot. For some reason, I would get really tired running right behind the pack. Instead, I would walk the deep snow and run faster on the flats or where there wasn't so much snow. I felt much better when I was opening up my stride a little. If there hadn't been snow, I probably would have tried to open up a gap. Of course, there was snow and some of the other runners would have gone faster if they didn't rely on someone breaking trail.
It was, thankfully, an out-and-back course, so the way back was trodden down. At the turn-around, I felt great. I hadn't really run fast yet and the legs felt pretty good. The Bois was being watched all day by mother-in-law; she was waiting there in her car. I walked over to the car while drinking some energy drink and told her, famously, that I thought I was going to win the race; that I felt really good. Let me explain that a little bit and let me reveal the fact that I didn't even get close to winning. Except for Matt and one other guy, the other guys in the front group didn't really look like runners. I consider myself on the beefy end of the runner-spectrum (road-running, at least) but most of these guys were really robust and strong-looking. Compared to this group, I looked like a Kenyan. Usually, at least at road races, you can tell who is going to be a fast runner and I thought my chances were good. My chances probably would have been good in a 1500 with track spikes - but not yesterday. So I swallowed some PBJ sandwiches and drank a little more and started running back. In retrospect, the trail on this section was very flat and the snow was not too deep but I thought it was going to be like that the whole way. I didn't know what place I was in heading out of the aid station. I felt great. After a mile or two, I saw the Girl. She was beaming, looking very spritely. I kissed her quickly and asked her how she was doing. She said she was doing great. Then came a good section where the running resembled, well, running. I put on some good tunes and passed Matt and a guy named Steve from Duluth. I wondered if there was anyone ahead of me.
This is where the story turns sour. The snow got deeper. Looking back, my legs were probably getting a little stiff but I still lived under the illusion I could press on till the finish. There was this little fence, made to keep in some animal I assume, that we had to climb over. I lifted my right leg up and the hip flexor and then the quad started cramping up violently. That was worrisome; now the right leg hurt with every step and threatened with cramping up again. My step became more shuffly and I was going slower. At the 21 mile aid station, the staffers told me that there were two guys ahead of me, two minutes up the trail. I told myself, and them, that I had stopped caring about who was in the front and that I just wanted to finish. I must have looked tired because woman asked me "are you OK?". Someone said that I was smiling so I must be okay.
This was exactly what I didn't want to happen. Standing there, with ten miles to go, crashing and cramping. I tried to drink and eat as much as I could, energy drink, water, PBJs, M and Ms, gummy bears. When I lef the aid station, Matt and a guy named Jim (I think) were coming in, looking strong. They both passed me pretty quickly. I was still munching on gummy bears and got really nauseated. With a belly full of energy drink, I threw up. So I pushed on. I would have dropped if I could but, of course, I couldn't. I walked and ran on and off; sometimes walking hurt more than running. I kept thinking that if I had torn a muscle somewhere my whole season could be shot.
Got passed by a few more people. People who were smarter or stronger than me. Maybe they had better shoes or they knew how to eat better. Or maybe, let's be honest, I am just not cut out for these races. Got in in 11th place and met mother-in-law. Got some dry clothes on and ate chili and cookies.
The Girl came in looking super strong. She had started in the back and, thus, had spent the whole day passing people. She said she could have kept running. I suspect she is, in fact, cut out for these races. We met Meghan, whom the Girl knows from her blog. Meghan won her age group and was third woman. She was definitely in her element yesterday, looking the part of an experienced trail runner. So what are my thoughts at this point? Well, I loved the atmosphere and camaraderie. Ultras usually come without snow so maybe I won't fare so poorly in a "normal" ultra. I do like running on trails. I will certainly do another one later this year but will have to put in some really long runs to prepare for them.