(It’s a lot of words, but it’s also a lot of race!)
Back in March I hung around Susquehanna State Park watching 300+ runners take on the HAT run. 31 Miles, on a cold morning on a pretty hilly course, and it was my first real view into the world of Ultra Running. I walked away that day blown away by how much fun I had and all I did was come cheer on some friends as they ran. From the racers, to the volunteers, to anyone out there everyone was so supportive, like a new club I was joining. Post-race people hung around for hours to share stories of past ultras or just to enjoy the great post-race grub. It’s a totally different type of experience from running a local 5k, 10k where post-race runners are usually gone shortly after the race. I said that day that I was going to do my first Ultra this year and picked the Rosaryville 50k in late July as my race.
When people asked why I choose a mid-July 50k as my first Ultra I said well it’s just one that will fit my schedule nicely and if the weather ends up being pretty hot I can always just not do it. Ha, I knew I’d always do it, and the weather did not let me down as it was HOT. Leading up to this race if you’ve followed my training, I’ve been focusing on mostly 5k stuff the past 2 months, but I sprinkled in a couple 18+ runs and ran a Half in May so I figured that would be good enough to take on a 31 mile race. I didn’t want to derail the work I’ve done with the shorter stuff so this was just going to be a see what you got kind of day. Additionally I joined a co-ed soccer league to feel young again and on the first night sprained my toe really bad(instantly feeling old again). Leading up to this race I had to take 4 days off, and spent the rest of the week being careful. But when everything felt good on Friday I was good to go.
Being that I rarely run on trails and my previous long races, aka Marathons, all came equipped with aid stations every 1-2 miles I have rarely ever had to really plan out nutrition/fluids, just bring a couple Gu’s and that’s it. But a trail ultra is a different story, aid stations on this particular course are only every 5 miles and it’s about 40 minutes in between them that you need to fend for yourself, even more important on a 90 degree day with some humidity. Plus I was going to be running 80 minutes longer than I did at Chicago dealing with slower movement on a trail, and racing at temperatures I rarely ever race at. The key to nutrition and fluids for me was to just not get into a deficit, to take stuff in early and often and to drink whenever I felt thirsty. So waiting every 5 miles to get to an aid station was not going to work, I had to come up with a plan on how I could support myself for 31 miles. So the products I ended up rotating through were Nuun Plus and Active, Salt Stick Caps, and Cliff Bar Shot Blocks. I also planned to have a bag at the second aid station to add more stuff that I could carry around the next loop as it was a 3 loop course. So with plan in hand and no clue what to expect I was ready to go!
Luckily for me I had a friend in Meg to join me for the ride down and save me from worrying too much about everything from how hot it was, to if I planned out my nutrition correctly, to even how my hair looked(it looked great). In fact as she can attest, instead all I did is talk about everything and anything for the entire 1.5 hours until the race started. Which for me, talking is by far the best distraction I could possibly have so it was so appreciated. We got there 45 minutes early, signed up and I put my bag in the pile to be brought to the aid station. After some quick words from the race director we were off at 7am sharp. About 60 seconds into the race Mike rolls up on me and made the next 14 miles about as perfect as they could be for me. If I was worried about anything it was going out too hard and paying for it(Refer to all other previous race recaps I have written). So Mike ended up taking the lead in the trail and just pulling me along at a nice relaxed clip. With tons of checking in to see how I was doing and advice along the way. So we hit the trail and since the 10k/10 mile, 25k and 50k all start at the same time you have absolutely no clue who is running what distance and about 1.5 miles into the race when the GPS watch stopped tracking me(damn trees) I had no clue on pace. So pace was going to be all on feel. The trail itself was exactly how the race described, not very technical but full of turns and about 2 decent climbs. Mike and I took the early strategy of letting everyone else blaze the uphill’s while we’d keep it chill and make up ground on the downhill. About 4 miles in, we found a pack of about 4 runners and just rolled with them to the first water stop.
So being how hot it was my plan was going to be to drink my 20 ounce handheld water bottle in between every aid station, so I could get in about 120 ounces of water on the course. As we got to the first aid station everyone BLAZED through it. I stopped, filled up water bottle and headed out on a 600 meter tack-on loop only for 50kers, Mike was nice enough to wait for me at the aid station, as the 25k runners didn’t have to do the add-on. I noticed while doing the loop 2 of the guys we were running with were 50k runners so I was in 3rd, I was also amazed at just how fast they got through the aid station. So on to the second loop, Mike and I caught the other 2 runners about 1 mile in and just hung with them for the second loop. At this point I was doing great with fluids and alright with calories. I was relying heavily on the shot block chews which are fine but also kind of annoying to chew 6 of these while running just to get 100 calories. I definitely need to bring more GU’s next time or even some Power Bar Harvest bars. I was also rotating between Nuun Plus/Active for the first 5 miles of a loop and a salt cap for the second 5 miles. As we got to 11 miles and the second aid station the 4 of us were still altogether and I felt pretty good so far on fluid/nutrition. I stopped for about 90 seconds to get water and drop in a Nuun Plus tablet and the other 2 runners were long gone. Man if this was NASCAR my pit crew was the worst, I lost so much time at the stops compared to the other 2.
So Mike and I began the second loop and we started picking it up a bit, we caught 2nd place and put a huge surge on him and then we just got moving, especially during the downhill and caught the first place runner. As we got to the big climb on the course Mike told me to just go, and I started off on the long road on my own, caught 1st place about 2 minutes later and went around him and I started moving. Halfway through the second loop I went to grab a salt capsule and a pack of cliff bar chews and noticed they had fallen out of my pocket. Fantastic, I was about 7 miles from my bag and had no nutrition or electrolytes. I was getting a little worried. I reached the second aid station and chugged some Gatorade and filled up the water bottle full of it and did the tack-on loop and saw I had about 1 minute on second place. The next 5 miles I felt really good, and was pushing it a little but was trying to be careful. At this point I am off nutrition plan and know I am running completely into the red until I get to my bag. I got to the aid station and grabbed a bunch of Salt Caps, filled up the water bottle with more Nuun Plus and grabbed some cliff bar chews. Now at about 21 in, I had taken in about 80 ounces of water but only 250 calories.
The third loop began and it was rough, I immediately started checking to make sure my arms were still sweating, and I got to drinking and forcing down any chews I could at this point. They weren’t really going down though but I knew unlike a Marathon I still had 10 miles to go. Got down 100 calories this loop, and one last salt cap before the aid station but I struggled really hard these 5 miles and was just waiting to get passed. Got to the final aid station and filled up with everything I could, was looking for some flat coke everyone told me about but it wasn’t here! Did the out and back 1 last time and knew it would be the last time to see how far second place was back. And there he was 1 minute back with 5 to go, and I just spent the last 5 miles pretty beat up. At this point I just kind of got a rush of adrenaline, I really didn’t want to lose, so I was going to give it a go as long as I could. I just kept pushing hard and trying not to look over my shoulder, only I could lose this race, I didn’t need to worry about anything else. Well except nutrition which I neglected nutrition for these last 5 which is another mistake I’ll learn from. Everything felt great until 29, when I noticed neither of my arms were sweating anymore really, and I had about a brief 30 second blast of hot air where I just felt like I wasn’t able to cool off. Thought about stopping but instead splashed some Gatorade on my face and it seemed to pass, and I made it to the final aid station, 1 mile to go. Grabbed a drink and was off to the worst mile of the course. The last mile was completely in the 95 degree heat, all uphill and no shade. So basically rough, I wanted to just stop and walk it in, but saw Meg and she ran me in for most of the last 600 which was great. Cross the line in 4:03 on my watch and ended up putting about 4 minutes into second place the last 5 miles.
All things considered I really couldn’t be happier with this result. I made a lot of mistakes in this race, but the only way I will learn is to do more ultra’s. I did not really spend enough time on Long Runs actually trying out different nutrition and I will need to practice that more often. I was really redlining at the end, I doubt I had many more miles left in me. 120 ounces of fluid, 3 Nuun Plus Tablets, 3 Nuun Plus Active Tablets, 2 bags of Shot Block Chews and 1 Honey Stinger Gu, or about 350 calories for 4 hours. I’ll need to get more calories in me for the next ultra. Also as the other runners seemed to waste no time at Aid Stations the 6+ minutes I spent at them cost me sub 4 hours and almost the win. I will need to be more efficient or just figure out how to carry more on my body next time. That all said winning your first ultra is a fun experience, especially when you feel you don’t really know what you are doing. I really enjoyed the new distance, the battle with your mind and body out there on the trails alone. The constant strategy of fueling and making sure to not forget to put something in you almost constantly, and best of all I didn’t go out too hard this time! I negative split a race!??!
Shout out to everyone who sent me kind words before the race to be safe, or offered advice on how to fuel up. Also to everyone who said such nice things to me post-race. It is all so appreciated and knowing that people care makes this entire journey so much more enjoyable. And without all of you as a part of my life, doing things like this would be that much harder. Despite being told if you ask someone to come support you at a 50k you will get made fun of, having Mike and Meg there on race day was so clutch and helpful for me, so huge kudos to them both probably couldn't have done it otherwise. I also wanted to make mention of the really well put on event this was. The course was perfectly marked, the volunteers and crews were amazing standing out in this insane heat to make sure the runners had everything they needed. I will definitely recommend this race to anyone who really wants a Mid-Summer race on some trails. This race caps off a rough June/July where I didn’t quite get to where I wanted, and stupidly hurt my foot and almost didn’t run this race at all. I look forward to August and the rest of the year, and figuring out my Fall. Who knows what’s next but for now I am enjoying the ride.