My last marathon time was 4:55 or thereabouts, so I figured the 50K would take me about 6 hours as it’s only 5 miles farther than a marathon. However, that wasn’t quite the case. The 50K was a trail run and the marathon had been a road race…very different with unique strategies and challenges. I had three goals: to have no injuries, to finish, and to keep smiling.
First of all, let me say that ultramarathon runners are some of the nicest people around. I didn’t catch one competitive vibe, the aid stations and volunteers were amazing, and people seemed to genuinely care about one another.
Much of the 50K was single track, meaning wide enough for a mountain bike and contained rocks, sticks, and these round, greenish fruit-looking things. We started out of the pavilion and down a 0.3 mile stretch of road. Then we hit the single track trail.
Everyone ran right behind the other in a single file. You had to give up your pace and go with the group. It was awesome to see the line of rainbow-colored runners cutting across the pastures and hills. People ran up the first small hill, but when we got to a more challenging hill, everyone started walking. I was excited because it was my race day plan to walk the hills, and that everyone was walking meant I wasn’t blocking the way.
Let me explain. My training was solid, and looking back, I was prepared for the distance. However, my training is geared for the 100-miler in April, which is along the Maryland C&O Canal and is flat. I’ve been doing some hill repeats on roads, but nothing on trails and definitely no technical trail running. I picked this 50K because it was drivable and at the right time in my training plan. I knew I would likely have to walk up the hills to avoid leg burnout that could keep me from finishing and to avoid injury.
So when everyone started walking up the hills (and this continued for the entire race), I felt at peace with my people.
I didn’t run with music because I wanted to be able to interact with people. I decided to pray for someone at the start of each mile; if you’re a close friend, in my small group, part of my family, or in any of my ministries, then you got prayed for out on the course. This kept me distracted thinking, well, I only have 0.4 miles until my next prayer time.
I thought the big hill came later in the race, but it arrived at mile 11. Its nickname is “ski slope.” I became demoralized as I thought, if this is how they all are, I’m going to die. It was like walking 800m straight up. Thankfully, a cheerleader at the top said, “Now you’ve done the biggest one!” Oh, thank God.
The middle ten miles were mentally challenging. The trail running and hill walking made the miles longer time-wise than they would usually be in training, and I had to stay focused on the trail. In road running, I can zone out and head into mental standby mode, where I can run, mentally relax, and think (I frequently write in my head). I started to write in my head during this race and promptly tripped on the course.
I grew to dislike the single track. As my muscles became fatigued, my footfalls were slightly less accurate and perilous. Sometimes the even wider tracks were sloped and I was running on an angle down a steep incline. The persistent mental acuity necessary was taxing for me in a way that I hadn’t trained for. I realized that I needed to work on my mental game.
The last ten miles were hard, but easier than the middle because I was within striking distance of the finish. It’s a wonderful place to be when you can think, even if I walk the rest, I will finish in time. As I passed the 26-mile aid station, I was elated. I ran by a couple and said, “Every step I take is the longest I’ve ever run!”
My highlight of the race was Rhonda and Trish. I kept seeing them at the spectator spots, and I would smile brightly and wave furiously at them. I love cheerleaders. I could hear their voices through the woods for probably 400m before I would see them. It was so nice to have people yelling encouragement at me. At one aid station, Rhonda ran up to me and asked, “What is your name so that we can cheer for you?”
So a couple of things…
Life will throw big struggles your way. If you aren’t going through something now, rest assured at some point you will. And it’s impossible to be ready for everything. But here are a couple of life tips from yesterday…
- Just because you’ve been through something before, doesn’t mean the next trial or struggle will be identical; some have more uphills or downhills than others.
- Run your own race. Don’t compare your life and goals with someone else’s. Don’t get bogged down in “She did this, so I’m not going to do this.” Run your race and work your plan for your life irrespective of others.
- Preparation counts. Whether it’s a job, relationship, or even depression, read, work, and set up boundaries in your life. I met a girl who only trained up to 16 miles for the 50K. We both crossed the finish line, she with tears of pain (literally, from her knees) and me with a smile on my face. It counts.
- Bring God into whatever you are doing. Share it with Him. This time, it was prayer. Next race, I think it will be praise, where I praise God for something in my life every mile.
- Work on your mental game. I need to read my Bible and be in prayer frequently to help me be centered. Now I still get thrown off my game, but it’s less than if I wasn’t prepping my mental, emotional, and spiritual states. Shut off your TV and journal. Get an accountability partner for things you struggle with. Meditate. You can’t think that you will be able to handle the blows when they come if you haven’t been feeding your soul what it needs.
- Celebrate the small wins. No one has been faced with your challenges or has the particular way of “killing it” that you do.
- Look for cheerleaders. They can pop up in the most unlikely places.
- Go for broke. Life your life big. Dream without limits. You can do it.
- Lastly, keep moving forward. Take one small step today towards recovery or a goal in your life, even if it’s your toes just creeping forward a little bit. Keep moving.
All in all, it was an amazing day. I sat with a couple eating after the race. She had on the hoodie we received at the Finish Line. I said, “I wish it was a belt buckle.”
The guy replied, “Well, are you ready to do a 100?” (the trophy at the end of a 100-mile race is a belt buckle).
I said, “I will be.”
Ready, set, go.