Two days ago, I woke up with the biggest feeling of uncertainty going into a race that I’ve ever experienced. How the hell was I going to survive running 30+ miles, farther than I’ve even run before, through an ultra-trail race, when I had never run a trail race?
Months ago I signed up for the Bimbler’s Bluff wanting to take on my first ultra, so I could push myself to a whole new level. Now the day had come, and while I had spent the past 16 weeks preparing, the feeling that I could actually fail miserably at this left me more nervous inside than I had been for any race previously.
I grabbed a decent sized breakfast before heading out the door on what was a fairly cold morning. I had spent much of the previous day getting everything I would need ready: Music, hydration pack, gels, maps, shoes, clothes….I wanted to make things as easy as possible at 5AM so I could concentrate on the task at hand.
The drive to the race took just about an hour, and I kept eating on the way – a couple bananas, a bagel, some Gatorade. I had read several reports of this race and saw several people had a problem with bonking midrace. I wanted plenty of fuel in the tank to keep me going.
I picked up my bib and bag and saw an awesome shirt inside that I hoped I’d have the opportunity to wear. As I strapped on my hydration pack (another first for me) for the race and headed over to the starting line, I knew that I could do this.
The race kicked off and after a short look around a field we were off an into the woods. We hit a single track path that immediately went uphill and clogged with the 130 or so runners as we fell into line. Everyone slammed to a walk, and I started to wonder if the whole race was going to be like this. I hoped it would clear as the first 2 miles consisted of a lot of very slow jogging/walking through the terrain. It was a good opportunity for me to get a feel for the trails and test out the terrain.
|Thanks to @ManzAmanda for the photo|
The first section only lasted about three miles and once we were through that section, the course opened up and gave us a chance to get some running in. The next section was an six mile section that passed by pretty quickly and put us at the first real aid station. There, the awesome volunteers had all sorts of food and drinks lined up for us – sandwiches, cookies, candy, Gatordae, Heed, soda, water. It was a beautiful sight. I grabbed a couple cups of water before taking the turn back on the course which led smack into a section of non-runable course. The incline was so steep that you had to pretty much climb using your hands to get up through parts of it.
This was the beginning of the Bluff section of the course and it was rough. The course did seem to move quickly though and I came to an opening at what I thought was the top that gave some beautiful views.
I failed to realize I still had more climbing to do. Finally, I did make it to the top, and then the course steeply started to drop down.
In my mind, I could see the course map, but what I didn’t realize that my mind was condensing the course maps down much further than they were. I wound through the trails for what seemed like forever until finally coming across a main road and up to the next aid station. It was on the paved road that I took my first digger. Leave it to me to run a trail race and fall on the smoothest part of the course like a moron.
What made matters worse is that I thought I was coming up on mile 20, but when I got to the aid station, the 15.9 mile mark really deflated me. I seriously was starting to feel really beat up at this point and was wondering if I would ever see the finish line. I contemplated throwing in the towel, but instead grabbed some soda (whoever brought ginger ale, thank you!), declined the grilled cheese sandwiches that the awesome volunteers were grilling fresh there (AWESOME!) and headed back into the woods. A few miles in, I found myself noticing that the orange tags marking the course weren’t visible, and the trail suddenly wasn’t noticeable anymore. Another runner thankfully came up behind me and after a few minutes of searching, we found our way back onto the trail.
I realized that hunger was starting to take over, so I grabbed some of the gummy bears I packed and felt immediately better. This section of the course kept going and I started having immense pain in my foot. When I was 16, I had been shot in the foot with a BB gun and the BB is still in my foot. The sharp rocks that made up this section of the course were driving into that part of my foot, making every step unbearable. To make matters worse, my shoe had started digging into my ankle right on the bone, and it just added to the pain.
I kept pressing through and eventually came to the mile 23 or somewhere close to that aid station. This aid station was packed with soups and sandwiches along with homemade cookies. I opted to stick just with some soda for a quick caffeine and sugar boost and one of the amazing volunteers helped me refill my hydration pack that was getting low.
The next section was a welcome sight as the trails started looking familiar again. I was finally back in the initial part of the course heading back to the finish line. “This is awesome, I recognize that tree!” I thought as a I ran through some familiar territory. Then all of a sudden my GPS started yelling at me to make a U-turn.
What the hell? Suddenly, the course looked a lot less familiar. I looked at the map on my phone and the GPS was right, I had veered off course again. I also noticed that I was 26.1 miles in. I did some quick math on my fingers and toes and deduced that I only had 5 miles to go to the finish. I was homefree! Hell no I wasn’t!
A mile later, a runner was coming back towards me. “Wow, he must love to run, he’s doing this again!” Turns out we both missed the turn. Oh well, at least a sign I saw said half a mile to the parking lot where I knew meant the entrance to the last section would be.
We went on for another three miles before finally coming to the last aid station, which was by far my favorite, right up until they told me there was another three miles to go.
Okay, now, I know I was tired at this point, but I was already 30 miles in. Another 3 miles meant this 50K was a little more than a 50K by at least two miles. Forget that, I didn’t care how bad it hurt, I wanted to be done.
I took off into the last section and ran. Uphill, downhill, over rocks, through trees - I wanted to find that finish line.
I finally saw a road to the right of me (and then promptly tripped over a rock and drop the loudest “F” bomb of the day”) and then saw a golf course to the left of me (and then promptly tripped again, making the previous “F” bomb seem like a whisper in a library). Then suddenly, the course took a sharp turn and went down an incline where I could see the finish line! I just had to dodge getting hit by cars and run those last hundred feet.
And I did it! At six hours and fifty minutes I crossed the finish line happier than I have ever been to see a clock. I took my awesome finisher’s award – a pint glass that I knew that night would see some action – and headed off to the side where I promptly collapsed to the ground.
Following the race, I felt surprisingly good. I thought I'd be totally unable to function, but after a hot shower and some food, my legs were treating me pretty well. I even managed to get a three mile recovery run in yesterday. While I don't think I'll be taking on any more ultra trail runs, I'm already planning on my next ultra in April. The tough choice now is deciding between a 50K or a 50 miler....