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!

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