Last year, a few members of our local Galloway group participated in the “Lone Ranger”- a 24 hour endurance run. Many others participated in a relay team. Watching their energy and excitement, I decided I too wanted to do this. And so when registration opened for Back on My Feet’s Urban Ultra, I signed up. Based on my bib number, I was the 21st person to register. Next year, I may be an even lower number. I decided before I got on the course yesterday there would be a 50 mile trail run, this race again and maybe a 50k next year. Keep moving forward.
Training for the race did not go as planned. Back in January I injured my calf. I have lazy butt syndrome, a week core and wretched feet. I spent months in rehab with horribly low mileage (from an ultra perspective). I finally got my calf in a good enough place- thanks to Doctor Zappy- to ramp up my mileage. I had two 32 mile training runs. Nutrition, a typical problem for me in the later stages of a marathon, went very well for these training runs. They were slow but they felt good.
As is usual for me, I over thought the race and brought enough stuff for 50 races. I didn’t know what to expect and we had a ton of room. There were 3 lone rangers, two midnight madness runners and several folks who were pacing or supporting us in various ways. I did not need to skimp on what I brought. So…
I brought a regular chair for folks, an anti-gravity chair that could be used by me, 4 beach towels, two hand towels, 4 changes of clothes, an extra pair of shoes, a lantern, various types of sunscreen, glide and bug spray. I brought electronic chargers, three watches (there really needs to be a garmin with a 24 hour charge) and other odds and ends. For food, I brought animal crackers, raw nuts, licorice, peppermint candy, candied ginger, starbursts, an entire watermelon, 10 oranges quartered, a bunch of bananas, grapes, perpetuum, heed, dates, homemade vegan cherry pie bars, apricot ambrosia bars, protein bars (that I thought were disgusting), oatmeal chia squares, white chocolate macadamia nut cookies, almond butter rice squares, seaweed miso wraps and possibly other food. I wanted to ensure folks visiting us had food options. Jack and Tom also brought a decent amount food and when Kathy came to visit she brought a ton of food as well.
The issue for me is I didn’t really stop at the tent much. But this will go into the lessons learned.
I also had too much energy from nerves and simply didn’t sleep well the several days before- always a plus before attempting to stay up for 24+ hours. Maybe if I was in my 20s, but as a 41 year old woman… I need my sleep! More lessons learned for next year.
I woke up at 4am, we finished packing the car, woke up my son and were in Philadelphia by 6:30. My wonderful husband helped set up camp and then I went to pick up my bib and clear medical. BP was 138 over 60, which is high for me. Darn those nerves.
We bounced around until 10am. This is when a good number of the races I run are finished. The goal was to run 1:1 with a pace of greater than 13 minutes. We wanted to feel good as long as possible. Jack, Tom and I started out together but by around mile 5 I ran ahead. I have noticed that if there are more than two people, especially if it is an odd number, I tend to start to do my own thing. Most courses really can’t support more than 2 across so I just start to groove. Many of my miles were sub 13, to the point where I added a rule that I got an extra walk break if it was. It was just a comfortable pace. My body wasn’t tired. I wasn’t winded. I think 12:30-13:15 was a good pace for me. If I don’t recover my speed over the next few months, this is what I would run next year.
The first loop (8.4 miles) went well. My plan was to give myself 2 hours for each loop. In theory, this would allow me to run 100 miles- if everything held. My first lap was maybe 1:40. My left IT band was a little achy but nothing to grow alarmed about. As we are correcting some of the form and musculature issues that led to this year’s injury, new issues crop up. We’re addressing them but this one cropped up a week or two ago. I am getting knee pain from inflexion of my left food and my left IT band. Bleah. These shouldn’t be an issue for next year though because I see a fantastic chiropractor now, am strengthening my core and doing cross training to increase strength and mobility without adding to the wear and tear. I am finally starting to do things right because no running makes me a very stressed out person.
Second loop was good as well and faster than the first. I did do a bathroom stop. Third loop was also great. I stopped at the med tent looking for ibuprofen and biofreeze. This tent had the first and not the latter. IT band and some left ankle twinges were still present but they weren’t increasing so I didn’t worry about it. I was doing great on nutrition as well. Raisins, Miso Wrap, Almond Butter Squares or Dates about every 1.5 miles (just wasn’t able to do exactly on the mile mentally) and S-Caps every 4-5 miles.
After lap 3, I stopped by our tent to slap some biofreeze on my knee, refuel and head back out. One of our runners, who happens to be a massage therapist, was also there and she offered to tape my knee. I took the extra time to get this done and headed back out. I was ahead of schedule- to the point where I asked my first pacer to come in 40 minutes early. I went back out on the road (about 10-15 minutes after I arrived) and continued to plug away my miles. I cannot remember if I missed a food or water stop but when I took my 7th s-cap for the day, things started to go a bit haywire. My stomach became a boiling pit of acid. I don’t have an acidic stomach and it was a most horrible sensation. I took extra walk breaks and I hit my 50k mark slightly below 7 hours… This includes by stop at our tent.
I finally finished lap 4 and saw Melanie. I don’t think I have ever been so happy to see someone in my life. Mel is a regular running partner of mine and I was thrilled and honored that she offered to pace me three laps to get me over the 50 mile mark. And with the exception of the acid belly, my body still felt good. It was sore but it wasn’t breaking down. I grabbed some tums from medical, some coconut water, several pretzel bites and a cookie. Another lesson learned for next year. I gobbled everything up to try to pad the stomach and headed out. Me, the woman with the sluggishly slow digestive track just did what I had meant to avoid for the ultra: I ate too much in one sitting. Needless to say, lap 5 was pretty slow. I went to the second med tent for more tums but all they had was myltanta. I took it and then was a gassy, bloated, thought I was going to puke mess for several miles. Mel and I kept walking as my tummy settled and were surprised to turn in slightly over 15 minute miles. I am usually a stroller but I was trying to still keep on pace.
Towards the end of lap 5, I decided to get a quick massage to cool down and to help the body recover. I wasn’t horribly sore but walking uses different muscles than running, ones that I don’t generally use for 6 miles in a row. I was also feeling a little discouraged because while I wanted to go slow, I didn’t want to walk multiple miles in a row.
My total break before lap 6 was probably close to 30 minutes. I felt great after the massage and we left for the next loop. And it was a strong one for the first 6 miles. My ultimate direction pack was empty so we grabbed bottles of water at the last water stop. It was like ice and we both took huge, refreshing gulps until our stomachs told us that was dumb. There was a little bit more walking on the last two miles. My nutrition wasn’t great either. I just wasn’t recovering well from the issues that started at mile 33. I was taking salt packets and an occasional s-cap but food and water simply weren’t mixing well in my stomach. While I was still taking both, I wasn’t taking enough.
I decided to take a break from 11 until 12 and go from 84 miles instead of 100. I was hoping to restart my stomach. I didn’t sleep, but I did shower, change my clothes and loosen my shoes. My body was so swollen that everything was incredibly tight on me.
Julius and I went out at 12 and probably only ran 2 miles of the loop. I just couldn’t keep my temperature down. I felt like it was 90 degrees with 100% humidity- it wasn’t. I also was eating poorly. We got the lap done and I knew I only needed two more loops to reach 75. My toes had blisters- evidently what works for a marathon doesn’t necessarily work for more than a 50 miler.
Mike, myself and his co-worker went out at 3am. We were just going to walk it and then I would see Sandra at 6am. I started out feeling well and then… about two miles in knew I needed to stop. My feet hurt pretty bad but it was the stomach, body temperature and mental state that was just wearing down. I was concerned that forcing myself to continue would actually hurt other races. Halfway through the lap I went to medical and got a ride back to the start. I then stopped at that medical tent to check my vitals to figure out if there was a culprit. My temperature, despite feeling like I was in a sauna, was 97 degrees. My blood pressure was 110/78 and then dropped later to 104/68. The lower number was high for me. My pupils were also pretty dilated and I had a slight headache but I hadn’t pushed myself to the point of no return. I know when to back off, even if it means being a little disappointed later.
I sat down at our tent and rested. I still couldn’t really eat and it took a bit to drink water. Many hours later, I am stiff with lots of blisters and only mild chaffing but I am hydrated and alert. I know I did the right thing. I will get 75 or 100 next year.
And I will remember the following:
1. Do not bring enough food for an army.
2. Pack a drop bag with extra food, biofreeze and tums.
3. Do a 50 mile training run and figure out nutrition for post 32 miles, when I started to break down. This is still an improvement over last year’s nutrition issues at 20.
4. Figure out how to prevent massive toe blisters.
5. Figure out how to handle more sodium and in what forms.
6. Do not eat more than 2 bites worth of food in any 15 minute period. I knew this but need to be reminded. Maybe add a 15 minute timer to remind me to eat. The more I eat the more I drink.
7. Book a hotel room for the night before. Come with my gear for the first 2 laps and have Jeff bring and set up stuff later. Waking up at 4am when I am planning to run until 10am the following day is dumb!
And I want to thank everyone who helped me yesterday- my pacers: Melanie, Julius, Mike, Antoinette and Sandra. Jack and Tom for providing so much insight. Kathy for all her support and food. Bobbi for taping me. The entire Galloway group (especially Tim, Jan, Arthur, Kathy again who all came to provide us with support) and my coach Mark who keeps me honest with my running. I couldn’t have done this race (63 miles in total) without their support and encouragement or without the daily love and support from my husband.
I have spent a long time not necessarily showing my emotions, but yesterday was probably one of the most emotional days ever. I never imagined I could run an ultra… But I did it.