Saturday, August 13, 2011

My First Ultramarathon

Last Saturday I ran the Grand Ridge 50K trail race; my first ultramarathon. An ultramarathon is any running distance greater than the marathon distance of 26.2 miles or 42 kilometers. This was not something I had really planned on or particularly trained for two weeks ago I found the race listed online and thought I'd give it a go.

I had run the National Marathon in Washington DC back in March, and the weekend prior to signing up for the 50K I ran 22 miles, so I figured I could survive the 50K, but I had no idea how long it would take or how hard it would really be. In the back of my mind I thought it would take me at least 6 hours to complete, but I really didn't know.

Completely not knowing what to expect I showed up at the start of the race about 30 minutes early. I was told there were about 300 people running that day, but at different distances. There was a 5 miles trail run, a 1/2 marathon trail run, and a 50K trail run. Only about 30 or so people were running the 50K trail run which involved doing the 1/2 marathon course twice, then doing the 5 mile course. The 50K runners started 1/2 an hour before anyone else, and about 10 minutes prior to the start the race officials gave us a briefing of what to expect on the course and how the course would be marked so we could find our way. As we got ready to start, I moved myself to the back of the group not wanting to hold up the experienced runners, and found myself with a couple other first time 50K runners: Jerry and Stacy.

The race started and we took a very casual pace of about 11 or 12 minutes, then started up our first hill and dropped the pace to a fast hike. Jerry, Stacy and I stuck together for the first 8 miles, then at a turnaround we all took different paces. As the day progressed I would see Jerry and run with him again several times, and cross paths with Stacy. Through the first 10 miles or so of the race I had dreams of finishing in 6 hours, but as the day progressed 6 hours changed to 6-1/2 hours, then as I was completing my last 5 mile loop I realized it would take me at least 7 hours. In the end it took me 7 hours, 7 minutes, and 56.4 seconds. After the race when I looked at the results for the 50K I noticed there were only 2 people who finished in under 6 hours: the winner 4:39:59 and second place 5:18:17. In the end I was 12th place out of 25 finishers.

Running the race was very different that any other race I had done. There was the fact that this was all on trails, mostly single track, which required me to pay very close attention to the trail 5 to 10 feet ahead of me, so no zoning off listening to headphones. In fact everytime I gazed around I would trip, once even taking a big face plant on the trail. Next big difference was the attitude of the runners; all runs that I've done have a very positive attitude, but in this run you never crossed paths with another 50K runner without getting some kind of verbal encouragement. Many of the 50K runners stuck around at the finish to shout encouragement for people finishing up to an hour after them.

Despite being terribly sore the morning after, I think the event overall was a very positive experience and I look forward to having the opportunity to run another 50K!

The Family Roadtrip

3,300 miles in a car with 2 small children and your wife is not what most people would consider fun, but some strange longing for past childhood memories of summer road trips in the 70s lead me to inflict this on my family. To be honest, my wife was totally on board with the general concept, although I was pretty certain neither of us knew what we were in for. I kept telling friends that this would either be a wonderful trip or the worst trip of my life.

We were going to drive from Seattle to New Mexico and back, camping and visiting family and friends along the way. The plan was to drive 10 hours from Seattle to Bozeman and spend some time with my brother-in-law, then 155 miles down to Yellowstone and camp with my family and my brother-in-law, then 8-1/2 hours down to Steam Boat Lake State Park in Colorado, followed by 8 hours down to New Mexico to spend several days with family in a cabin north of Taos, then 8-1/2 hours East to Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah, followed by 9 hours up to Boise, and finally 8-1/2 hours back home to Seattle.

Sunrise during our early morning start
All of our days on the road (with the exception of our first night in Bozeman and our time spent at the family cabin in New Mexico) would be spent camping. What were we thinking?

The days leading up to the trip were a chaotic mix of trying to get everything necessary done at work and home before the vacation, add to all this trying to make reservations at campsites during the week of Independence Day; one of the busiest camping weekends of the year. After I mentioned my planned trip to a few coworkers, they suggested that I should head out in the wee hours of the morning on the first day, allowing us to reach our first destination with time to enjoy it, and allowing the cars passengers to sleep as we put miles behind us. It seemed like a brilliant idea to me, but my wife wasn’t on board. After a bit of a fight between my wife she very reluctantly agreed to put up with the crazy idea, but was not happy with it at all. We left at 3:30 AM.

The coffee shops opened as we went thought Ellensburg, lunch was in Missoula, and we arrived in Bozeman around 4 PM (even with the change to Mountain Timezone). Bozeman was a great town, and I broke one of my cardinal rules about not having fish more than 300 miles from a coastline and ate dinner at the restaurant my brother-in-law works at, Dave’s Sushi. The next morning we headed out to Yellowstone with my brother-in-law following behind us several hours later. We got to the very busy Yellowstone campsite near Grant Village, and checked in. At check-in we were informed that every couple days a 550 pound grizzly had been wandering through the campsite. The grizzly hadn’t figured out how to get into cars, so it was suggested we store all of our food in our car. After setting up our campsite we headed off to see Old Faithful where we met up with my brother-in-law.

The girls at the entrance to Yellow Stone National Park
The next day we got a late start and headed off to Steamboat Lake State Park in Colorado (just North of Steamboat Springs). Google had routed us South though the Grand Teton National park, though Jackson Wyoming, and eventually meeting up with Interstate 80 for about 50 miles before heading South again into Colorado. Grand Teton National park was filled with a million different views of the same amazing scene of the Tetons. We arrived in Jackson just in time to have a great lunch at the Silver Dollar Bar & Grill. By 4:30 PM it became clear we would not be arriving at our Colorado campsite until fairly late, so we made a stop at the Rock Springs, Wyoming McDonalds to get some quick food for the girls (nothing worse than having hungry AND tired young passengers). Then it was onto I-80 for the only miles of interstate we would drive between Bozeman and Eagle Nest, New Mexico.

Grand Tetons
Unfortunately the desire to really open up our Mazda 5 and see what it could do was too much for Kathy as she got pulled over and ticketed less than 30 minutes before we were to get off the interstate. I think I confused the Wyoming State Patrol officer when I said to him “Oh good, maybe you can help us with some road closures we heard about”. We had seen a sign earlier when getting onto I-80 that said that Wyoming SR-70 was closed indefinitely due to a landslide. I knew our route had us on SR-70 for quite a few miles, but I wasn’t sure if it was before or after our turn off onto the little county road that would take us to Steam Boat Lake. I actually needed to know this, because other alternative plan was continue on I-80 to Laramie or Chyenne and just get a motel room for the night. Unfortunately the officer was no help in this department, but the limited cell service that I had and my iPhone managed to get me enough information to suggest that we would probably be okay. Probably.

view from Steamboat Lake campground
We continued on I-80 for a little longer then onto SR-70. We were listening to the radio and several miles off of I-80 the emergency broadcasting service broke in with a warning of tornadoes in SE Wyoming, “find shelter immediately”. We were in the middle of nowhere, with nothing resembling services anywhere behind or ahead of us. After re-confirming where we were, we decided that the tornadoes where likely quite a ways East of us and we (hopefully) wouldn’t be coming anywhere near them.
We got off or SR-70 in the tiny Wyoming town of Baggs, then proceded to visit increasingly smaller towns of Dixon (population 79) and Savery (population 25). Then the pavement ended. Kathy drove us on the next 2 hours on increasingly rougher dirt roads, up into the mountains, as we continued along the dirt road up into the mountains, we were greeted with views of deer running into the woods as the sun was setting. Eventually we reached the location of our campground, the beautiful Steam Boat Lake.

The next morning we casually prepared breakfast, packed the car back up and headed out. We stopped in Steamboat Springs to get Starbucks and wash the car (unlike 4x4s, Mazda 5s don't look cool when they are totally covered in dirt). As we continued on we decided to stop, for the novelty of it, in Leadville Colorado for lunch. At 10,152 feet Leadville is the highest incorporated municipality in the United States. Then on to Buena Vista Colorado where I was inspired to stop for ice cream by Colorado Twitter legend Steve Garufi.

As we left the mountains of Colorado the drive became increasing more boring was we drove to Questa New Mexico, then to Red River New Mexico, and finally arriving at the family cabin near the tiny town of Eagle Nest New Mexico. We had arrived, and had 3 days to relax, before starting the whole crazy road trip back. But that will have to be another post.