I’ve never done an ultra before. I’ve never done a mountain run before. So when I signed up to run a 50K with 3000 meters of climbing in Killington, Vermont (part of the UA Mountain Running Series), I really didn’t know what I was getting into. And my training was a little haphazard — between our travel out west in July for the clinic we ran + Peter’s Nationals, followed by our week of coaching in Western MA at ENCX Quest, while I had put in a lot of miles (highest mileage week = 68 miles + a ton of hiking) and used our ski hill for some climbing practice, I had no clue what to expect when I lined up at the start this weekend.
(This, by the way, is a mini-race report. But I will have a bunch more service-oriented articles with some practical info for those of you who are intrigued by the ultra/mountain run concept coming out soon! I’m not normally a race report type person, but since this was something so different for me, I wanted to get out some observations… And as I said in my ‘how I trained for my first ultra’ article, race reports are super helpful for people looking to do the same race, so maybe this will help someone signing up for next year’s event!)
Real talk: I’ve mentioned my leg cramp issues before, but marathons have always been my biggest weakness when it comes to cramping. I’ve only done two actual marathons (plus the two in Ironmans), and neither marathon went well. In fact, my Ironman run last summer (I think it was around 3:50) was faster than either straight marathon that I’ve done. I remember my first one involved vicious cramps at mile 14, and I hobbled through the rest of it like a wooden soldier. The other, a trail marathon, was good until the last 6 miles, when the same cramps hit. So even though I felt good on the start line, I didn’t know if I was going to get hit with the same issue halfway through, so my nerves were jangling.
I started out at what I felt was a comfortable pace, which also happened to align nicely with what three other women were running—we were just behind the lead group of guys, in with the chase group. We dodged a few agro dudes with running poles (argh. pro tip, if you use them, be conscientious of people around you! I almost got stabbed a few times!), and we settled into a pretty good groove for the first few miles, chatting on the slight downhills and flats, and just staying quiet and focused on the hills. After a few miles, we splintered, and I settled into being the fourth woman. I was tempted to try to stick with Amy, who had won last year and was sitting in third, about a minute ahead of me but often in sight, but I kept telling myself to run my own race.
With 50 kilometers and a ton of climbing, I knew that my race wasn’t really going to start until after mile 20, really. I had only done an 18 mile flat run as my longest prep run, so anything after mile 18 was totally unknown, and even after mile 10 was pretty different than anything I’d done once you factor in elevation. So, I tried to just stay comfortable, and focused on eating and drinking as much as possible.
Mom and dad drove up for the race, and I admit, my highlight was this photo dad got where mom sprinted across this field to run next to me for a few seconds. It was a huge boost!
At around mile 18, I finally closed the gap to Amy, and we ran together for a bit before she urged me to jump ahead of her on a downhill. I’m pretty decent on non-technical downhills, so I let gravity do its thing, opened a gap, and pushed it on the next 3 mile stretch of gradual uphill as best I could. It was enough. Then, I started to catch up with guys, and an aid station volunteer told me I was 12th. I could *just* see a couple guys ahead of me, so at that point—around mile 22—I started to use them as motivation to move faster and move up.
At the last aid station, I made contact with the guy sitting 10th, and got around him. (He had wicked leg cramps, which made my legs get sympathy pains!) By mile 26, I was a) shocked I’d put in a full marathon, b) realizing I wasn’t feeling too bad, and c) was realizing my hamstrings were starting to get a little pissed.
The final mile and a half is mostly downhill, so I went with gravity and passed a bunch of people finishing out the 25K course, but the final stretch to the finish is a false flat… Later, the second place woman and I were saying that it was the hardest part of the course! You could see the finish but it was just painful to get there.
But when it came into view and I realized that I’d actually made it through the race and done pretty decently, I was so damn happy that I just started grinning like an idiot and picked up the pace. I came across with a huge smile, and when I stopped, I was super winded—but not from the running, just because I was so emotional that I was trying not to burst into tears, mom and dad were basically dog-piling on top of me to hug me, and I was just so damn happy.
I’ve finished marathons, Ironmans, short, fast races, long, hard races, but this one was easily the most emotional one for me—I loved every minute of racing it, even the parts that just freaking hurt. I don’t know what it was about this type of race that brought out so much emotion for me, but I know that I really, really want to do another one soon!
Last photo… My giant novelty check. I was assured by the other two women on the podium that this is not something that I should expect at any ultra again, ever. Which I’m OK with, to be honest. It was pretty rad actually getting some prize $$$, but I was way happier with the finish itself, and actually making it through this race.
It’s three days out, I had a 12 hour drive on Sunday to get home, and yesterday, I was itching to get moving again so did a long walk and did a swim workout. I’m feeling more motivated than I have in years, and I’m loving this feeling. So, more from me later, but I’m going to try to sneak in a tiny run now, just to see how it goes.
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