What a WHIRLWIND ADVENTURE! I RAN a Trail 50k! And finished! I’m officially an ultramarathoner! Yes, really! Last Saturday, on October 11, the 327th day of my runstreak, I ran my first ultramarathon:The Market to Market Relay 50k. The surrealism was overpowering until running the race. It dissipated a little when I picked up my race packet the day before didn’t sink in until the race began.
The M2M50k as it is called is the only point-to-point ultra in Nebraska. All the others are the loop or out-and-back variety. So the first thing we had to do on Saturday was to ride by bus to the start. Buses picked us up at the Haymarket near the finish location. The race is run in two waves: A (rookies/slower runners) and B (elite/faster runners). Four yellow school busses transported us.
The course winds 31.06 mi (50k) from east to west from Grandpa’s Woods (golf course) in Murdock to Elmwood, through Eagle, Walton, and back through Lincoln all the way to the Haymarket. Rolling hills pop up from time to time but the course did not seem excessively challenging to me as I had done hill repeats as part of my training.
So I hopped on the bus and sat adjacent to my friend Liz, who was also running her first ultra. We talked a little bit about the race and our preparation. But on the way there, we both realized we needed to prepare for this, too. Lots of running chatter on the bus but I tried to ignore it.
The weather was picture perfect for the race!
52 degrees at the start, warmed up to maybe 60-65 or so. Mostly sunny with a slight breeze out of the southwest (the direction we were running most of the time). Not too hot. Not too cold. Zero precipitation. I did get slightly sunburned on the sunny side of my face. I had stick sunscreen with me for reapplication but seemed to only drop it out of my Nathan vest, almost tripping fellow runners on more than one occasion. I did reapply sunscreen once but that wasn’t enough.
We arrived at the start slightly later than we were supposed to but still had time to visit the restrooms, strap on our ankle timing chips and walk to the start. Upon reaching the start, I snapped some photos and suddenly realized I had forgotten to locate the satellite on my Garmin. Oops! So I quickly initiated the locate sequence. I was the last one to pass the starting line on Wave A. No big deal, no rush. Not a stellar start!
Guess which mile of this race was the fastest? The first one! Not really my intention but adrenaline, fresh legs from my taper, and feeling like you are almost “late” (crossing start line last in the wave) created this situation allowing me to run a 9:11 first mile. The second mile was only 8 seconds behind that.
The first 5 miles or so were all on gravel with rolling hills and runners jockeyed for position a little bit. One large uphill here that I remember. I passed some folks and tried to settle into 10 minute mile pace.
My goal for the race was simply to finish. My secret secondary goal was to finish in under 6 hours.
I decided to try something different for this race, I unplugged my headphones for the first 21+ miles, partly for safety and partly to just enjoy the trails. Also, that was to conserve phone battery. I put my iPhone in airplane mode until mile 20.
To pass the time, I prayed a lot, thought about how to handle race strategy, nutrition/hydration, and how to save some energy for the end.
One of the more interesting games I played was “dodging caterpillars”. There were very hairy dark caterpillars all over the trail on this race and I was concentrating to “miss” stepping on them. I had one close call with the first one but did not step on any. Nor squirrels! Or birds!
After the first five miles, we moved on to limestone for 19 or so more miles.
My newer trail shoes I chose (Mizuno Kazan) performed very well. These have a 12 mm drop and gave me a little more cushion than my zero-drop TopoAthletic shoes. A few tiny rocks entered my shoes but nothing too bad. The trail shoes obviously performed much better on the trail portion of the race. The pavement part of the race did not feel quite as good. But the shoes gave me a very smooth ride. I was dodging some rocks, branches, and various assorted animal pie deposits (cow & horse). Leaves weren’t so thick that we couldn’t see under them but I’m always watching for branches under those leaves. Trail runner wisdom.
I also wore KT Tape (kinesiology tape) on my knees and feet. It helped. It also stayed on for the whole race which was impressive. Wore my CEP compression socks for the whole race and they prevented calf cramps until mile 28.
Earlier, I had some anxiety about my left pinky toe which I thought I either broke or sprained a few weeks ago. Just taped it with a bandaid and tried not to land on it. The toe was fine, though, it didn’t bother me at all during the race.
Runners traded places a bit. Ran with two ladies in particular and did a little fartlek with them. We didn’t talk, we just ran. I noticed my race splits were faster than expected. I was hoping to run 12 minute miles and my splits were closer to just sub-10. Somehow the softer surface was building my confidence (that and an amazing taper that gave me fresh, strong legs). So when I found my rhythm appeared to be in the vicinity of 10 minute miles, I tried to hold that pace.
Stopped at all water stops. The race volunteers were wonderful, even filling our water bottles for us! WOW! What service! Or one time I asked for Hammer Heed drink and so they poured that instead. I used the 17 ounce water bottle from my Nathan Zelo vest. But I wore the Nathan regular running vest instead. (My iPhone5 wouldn’t fit in the Zelo phone pocket comfortably!)
Nutrition: For this race, I ate mainly Clif ShotBloks, a few ClifShot gels (Razz flavor), pretzels (at aid stations), EnergyBits (4 bags, ate them all) and one Honey Stinger pomegranate energy chews pack. I made a critical mistake of leaving my salt tablets at home (I took one before leaving though) and my drop bag was so overstuffed that it was easier just to eat pretzels whenever I saw them to make sure salt depletion did not occur. I had a lot of other items with me just in case but did not need them.
Finally, I realized the ladies I was running with were unable to hold my pace, so I picked it up slightly.
At 13 miles, in Eagle, I had the good fortune of seeing both of my parents, my wife, and daughter. My parents were on the left and my wife & daughter were on the right. So I was able to high-five them all at once in one stroke. I had intended to talk with them but I was running a blistering pace and decided to stay engaged with this run and try to deepen the running groove.
Around the 13 mile point, I suddenly heard really fast footsteps behind me! I was being chased by…no it wasn’t a BEAR! Faster Wave B runners! The leaders had caught me despite my 45 minute head start. I was trying to run the tangents in this race (running the shortest path to save energy) but I decided I needed to move to the right and let the faster runners pass on the left to preserve their tangents. My tangent running was so poor early in the race there was about a .25 differential between the marked distance and my Garmin showing my over-running. After most of the leaders passed me, I moved back to the left since we were running northeast to southwest most of the race.
The limestone part of the course was my favorite, the running surface was much easier than running on pavement or on gravel (too rocky!).
Between Eagle and Walton, I finally caught up to my friend and made sure she was ok. She told me she was hanging in. I was sad to pass her in one respect because she was depositing very colorful patriotic biodegradable confetti along the race course at random locations/mile markers and made us all smile. So knowing she was doing fine, I pressed on at a slightly faster pace.
We had to follow the yellow signs for our course (M2M relay people followed green ones) but our courses were together for some stretches.
WALTON! WOO-HOO! So glad to see you! 21 miles!
Walton, The DROP BAG site: Pretzels or Quesadillas? My original plan was to stop here and eat quesadillas, which volunteers were grilling for us. But pretzels had carried me this far. And I was worried about tarrying too long and losing my strong running rhythm and pace. So I grabbed my drop bag, dug for my coconut water and drank it. Grabbed a few more gels and Clif ShotBloks just in case. Then I decided to leave. I did pause my watch at the drop bag site knowing Garmin would only give me about 9 minutes max before stopping the watch for good and starting a new run. I laughed at the possibility of changing into my New Balance Minimus shoes that I had in my drop bag. No way! Not after running like this in the Mizuno trail shoes.
Here, I plugged in my headphones and started my Journey running mix of songs to power me to the finish.
I had only one EnergyBits bag (spirulina algae, pure protein) left after the drop stop (ate 3 bags of Bits earlier). Ate it right away after the drop location/drank water with it. Volunteers at the drop bag site refilled my water bottle for me.
Picked up the pace, decided to chase my NYC Marathon time and see if I could smash it. In 2004, I ran NYC in 4:21. Racing my younger self (when I was 36) proved to be powerful motivation. It became clear by the 25-26 mile mark that I was going to break it/be faster than 4:21. This caused some strange powerful emotions (gratitude, surprise, amazement), I was much more emotional than I was at the finish! It was such an unexpected pace! Somehow I just executed in pretty high throttle all the way to 26.2 without running out of gas. There is something to be said for solidly executing your game plan for a race. It pays off when you stick to it! Happy, surprised tears of amazement and gratitude slid down my cheeks! It was a very energetic, salty run so far!
Marathon split time: 4:18:03, faster than NYC Marathon. You know that rumor that we get slower as we age? AHEM! Not always true! (We just have to train smarter, sometimes harder than we were young. Or train as if we were young. Or run as if we were younger, right?). I was surprised there wasn’t a 26.2 sign (there was a 26 sign). But there was a 26 sign. Close enough!
Here I noticed my Garmin was showing closer to the marked distance (within less than a tenth of a mile), indicating I was running the tangents more consistently.
Guess which mile was the slowest? 28. The thrill of the fast marathon was wearing off. A slacking 11:58 pace (the closest mile to 12) for mile 28. Cramping quadriceps and calves were giving me fits. Not constantly but periodically. I downed another sleeve of Clif ShotBloks here. The cramps dissipated. I had to dig deep for a while here. My legs were exhausted, felt heavy and dragging, my running form was collapsing.
Fantastic finish! A surprising 5:14 unofficial on the Garmin, average 10:06. 5:18 official from the race folks, 10:14 average. 58th place out of 120. 11th in my age group. Beyond my wildest dreams or expectations. I was hoping for something sub-6 hrs but thought I would be a lot closer to 6 having never run this far.
Asthma trouble? Nope! Nasal breathing during the race helped me in keeping asthma in check. Lungs did get tired but walk breaks helped. I did wear a nasal strip but it peeled off due to sweat at 14-15 mi. I regretted wearing a generic nasal strip instead of a BreatheRight one that might stay on for the whole race. But I didn’t really need it past the point it fell off.
Part of the reason this race was successful was me taking the taper seriously. I don’t taper well but this time I realized I had to because of my runstreak and risk of overtraining.
Walk breaks: It was entertaining to see runners taking strategic walk breaks but making sure they would “run” if I was about to pass them. One runner in a blue shirt would not let me pass him late in the race (27-29 miles or so) but he was determined to walk as much as possible. It was working for him, though. I think I did finally pass him for good late. I took some short walk breaks obviously out of necessity. Usually I walked around 46 steps (one walk step for each year of my age-HA!). Sometime I just shortened it to around 10 steps walking. Just enough to slow the heart rate slightly and allow me to catch my breath/refill my lungs before more serious exertion. I know I took at least a minute walk break at 20 miles.
Late inclines in elevation: Fortunately, an elite ultrarunner warned me about three pedestrian bridges late in the race that were steep if you aren’t expecting them. He was right, I think the first one may have been at 27th Street, then two almost back-to-back at the finish. Normally, these wouldn’t seem steep if you are running short. But in a long race, they felt unnaturally difficult. I tried to shorten my stride on the bridges to run more with less effort and minimize fatigue.
Running Form: Did I overstride? Yes. Average stride length was .94 meters and I try to average closer to .82-.85. My running cadence numbers were not great, either. (170 average, with gusts up to 210 steps her minute).
Awesome 50k, please don’t let them eliminate this race. Runner friends tell me that the 50k solo is endangered but the relay appears to be flourishing. I understand it’s hard to make a commitment to an ultra and true, some people that signed up and paid did not show up but that is the case for every race. Although this did not have a lot of runners, it was a wonderfully surprising amazing race! It gave me a lot of running confidence and binds me with ultra marathoners all over the world. Tenacity made the difference. Holding on and persevering through a rugged 15-week training cycle, running through calf cramps during the race, always seeing the finish line was rapidly moving closer to me. Or so it seemed! The race seemed to almost be over too quickly. Although my body might have disagreed with me.
Afterwords, I reconnected with my family, picked my my free Michelob ULTRA (No IRONY here!) beer, got a free awesome massage (almost falling asleep on the table), and tried to eat a banana but could only eat half. My stomach just wasn’t ready to eat much. Fatigued but fulfilled!
Here’s my cool race results certificate in PDF if you want to see it:
Have you ever dreamed of running an ultramarathon? It’s a lot of work but a LOT of fun! Give it a try, it just might surprise you and be the fiery challenge you needed to get more active and smash through your preconceived limits of how far you think you can run. It was for me! Without a doubt, it was one of the best runs of my life! Maybe only my first two marathons are close (because they were FAST!)
Ciao and best fun and runnin’ wishes to y’all! -Running(deepinthe)GrooveShark