Doesn’t that picture just exude excitement and accomplishment? Between 11pm Friday night and 11am Saturday morning I ran 50 miles in my first ultra. It’s unbelievable to me even as I write this. My goals for the Christmas in July 12-hour race were to be able to finish the full 12 hours and to make between 40-50 miles during the event. To know that I achieved my goal on all fronts in my first ultra almost makes me crazy enough to think I could do another. These things are addicting….
I feel like I have been training forever. In May or June of 2016 I started training by heart rate in the AMR’s Train Like a Mother heart rate group for a half marathon, which I completed in September. I took maybe a week or two off and then started the Heart Rate 102 plan to work on speed and train for a 5k in December. Pretty much right after that I jumped into marathon training for the Illinois Marathon in April 2017. Only thing is, somewhere early this year I got it in my head that I wanted to run an ultra, and signed up for the Christmas in July race in March. When I joined AMR’s ultra 50-mile training plan I worked with coach Stephanie Howe Violett to merge marathon and ultra training (jumping into week 7 of the plan). This meant that while I raced my marathon, it was also part of my ultra training miles with a slight rest week but no real break in between. With my 12-hr done now in July, I have been training pretty much for a solid year!
Despite this near constant training cycle, I really feel like all of it led up to me being very strong and prepared for this race. I truly worked my way up, building heart rate training, strength, and mileage to get myself ready over a long period of time. Ultra training is no joke, though it’s not as scary as one might think. You don’t really have to run 50-100 miles a week to get ready. I think my longest week was just shy of 50 miles, but that wasn’t average. You do, however, have to be okay with many weeks of back to back long runs. By the end of the plan it was no big deal to run 20 miles on Saturday and turn around and run another 10 on Sunday.
I am not experienced at all with night running, so I wasn’t sure how tired I would be for the 11:00pm race start. I stayed up just a little later the night before and woke up at 5:00am (this is actually sleeping in for me) as I had the day off of work but still had to drop the kids off at camp. I thought I would take a nice, long nap in the middle of the day so that I would be well-rested. Unfortunately, that’s not how it worked out, and I only got about 1-1.5 hours nap
My husband and kids were coming along to cheer me on/crew so we had all the camping stuff set out the night before and by the time my husband came home from work I pretty much had everything ready to go… except for the fact that I realized 15 minutes into the drive that I forgot my headlamp and Garmin. Yep, we had to turn around. Noted for next time!
The atmosphere of the race was kind of like being at a camp ground. We set up near the port-a-potties and aid station with a tent, canopy, and table. We didn’t bring a generator because we weren’t sure if we could, but during the race I saw a guy that had a whole projection TV set up and several had generators, so now we know! That guy had sweet set up by the way – definitely want to do something like that for the fam if I ever do this again. Quite a bit of people had their tents right along the course and ours was slightly off. I think I also would have us be a little more along the course just to save myself time during the race. If I do this again with the kids being older it won’t such a big deal for us not to be right by the bathrooms.
The 24-hour group started first at 10:00 and our 12-hour group started at 11:00. It was a small field with only 71 in the 12-hour, so not a lot of hoopla during the start like you see at big races. I was taking a picture at the start and almost missed the group starting!
The course was slightly under 1 mile with one pretty steep hill/turn, another slight incline – both of which I walked to save energy – and a really nice decline that I either ran fast or speed-walked to get some time back. There were inflatable Christmas decorations all over the course and lights along the path to help you see. They also had a DJ at the start/finish that you passed each loop.
The food was pretty good at the aid station. I didn’t try everything, but I definitely tried some real food, which was new to me. Most things were cut into bite sizes. I tried: PB&J, bean wrap, donut, pretzels, chips, and pizza, along w/ drinking black coffee (perfect for when I was on a walking break) and a little bit of coke. I loved when the kids were up in the morning and Natalya waited near the finish to hand me Swedish fish and other stuff as I passed by. Most of my nutrition though was GU gels and Stroopwafels along with Nuun Performance and Nuun tabs. I started out the race wearing my pack and had Nuun Performance in the bladder. Whenever I thought I needed plain water I would just grab some from the aid station. After about 5 hours or so I took off the pack and then alternated w/ plain water and water w/ a Nuun tab in my handheld. I haven’t used Nuun Energy in quite a while but it was nice to have that after being up over 24 hours! Overall, I felt hungrier than I normally feel on a run in the AM hours but having some of the real food along w/ coffee really helped and I felt great nutrition-wise the whole race.
In the first few hours, even though I was keeping a great pace, I felt just a little tired and out of sorts. I think it was just because I’m used to early morning running. At first I kept doing math in my head and thought there was no way I was going to make my mileage goal. I told myself that it didn’t matter, I would just do whatever I could. That really helped, because I stopped stressing about it. By the 5-5.5hr mark or so, when I realized how far I was already, it gave me a renewed sense of confidence. I had my longest split (about 30 min!) because I stopped at the tent to do a complete outfit change and clean up with an Action Wipe. Ahhhhh… clean clothes/socks and removal of sweat makes you feel like a new woman! Even with the cool night temps (upper 50s/low 60s) I felt like I sweat buckets.
Around 6:00am(!), one of my Volée teammates came to see me and another Volée (she was finishing at that time for the 6 hour). That was pretty awesome to have someone come out to see us run. Ali did a lap with me, and having someone to chat with took my focus off my pain, so I was able to get my pace back up for a little while. By that point I had started doing 2-3 laps running and 1 lap walking (usually speed walking). Mentally it’s what I needed. In reality, there were points where I told myself that it hurt to walk and it hurt to run, so I might as well just run!
As I was getting closer to 11:00am, I realized that I might actually make my 50-mile goal! I ended up doing 51 laps (about 49.6 miles, which I am rounding to 50) with 10 minutes to spare, which wasn’t enough time for me to try for a 52nd lap. I am beyond excited thought at the fact that I pulled off that mileage for my first try at an ultra! Now I know that I can definitely finish a 50-mile race, because in that situation I could’ve just gone a few minutes over 12 hours. My next one may need to be on trail to go a little easier on my legs, and of course for the views! At the end of the race, when asked if I would do this again – I didn’t rule it out. That’s probably the most positive sign of how things went. It no longer feels impossible!