Memories of a Long Run on a Cold Saturday Morning
"The slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake, moving is living." Ryan Bingham a.k.a. George Clooney, "Up in the Air" Paramount Pictures 2009.
OK an unconventional quote not from the usual grab bag of "Runners Inspirational" literature agreed, but one which I thought had a certain ring to it and which I suspect most of us might sympathize with.
Yesterday (Dec. 26th, 2009) I ran my first Ultra. A 50k-er, the Fat Ass 50 at Pinckney Recreation Area, MI.
I appear to be transitioning from marathon road racer to trail runner and now Ultras. Here is my story.
I arrived a few minutes before the 8AM start and already a herd of runners had gathered. A keen bunch eager to head out on the trail. Driving in to the unfamiliar car park I wound down the window to enquire if they were the Running Fit crew? Mark ultra runner and photographer for the day snapped a shot as I slowly drove up answering my question. I had arrived. The adrenalin started to flow which signaled a pit stop to the Porta John, a pre race ritual known to all and ignored at ones peril! I did what needed doing and upon exiting the herd were making their way to the trail head. I quickly made some final adjustments; fuel belt tighten - check, water - check, Gu - check. Being a degree or two below freezing there was lots of ice. A full one minute in to our adventure and ascending our first rise a young lady falls flailing around like a new born deer attempting to get to its feet for the first time but not as gracefully, "Do you need a hand?" I say offering out my outstretched arm that she accepts and I pull her off the "glacier".
I've never run 50k before and this was an early new year's resolution. I'd ran a bunch of Marathons in the fall and a running buddy had e-mailed me in November that he'd registered for the Tecumseh Trail Marathon, Yellowwood State Forest Bloomington IN which inspired me to do likewise. We ran together in early December; cold, wet, hilly. I got round and realized I was hooked! What event should I sign up for next? Remembering that Mark (Running Fit cohort) had completed all four Dances with Dirt 50 milers this year I realized I had my answer. Arriving back home I registered for the DWD Green Swamp 50 miler Dade City, FL. Now how does one train for such an event? "Run Forest, Run!"
Mentioning to Mark that I'd registered for DWD I was put on the Running Fit Ultra mailing list and the details of Fat Ass 50 duly arrived, Oh Yes! I am under no allusions that Ultra trail running is a different beast to pounding tarmac for 26.2. The only way I'll figure out what to do is through trial and error or should that really be "Trail and error?" The Sunday before the Fat Ass 50 I ran 20 with the herd and it was similarly icy. Fritz shared his secret with me of ¼" steel screws he'd fitted to his shoes so that's what I did, "Watch and Learn". Wow, what a difference, I felt like a mountain goat on the glacier; however by mile 12 most had come a drift and I too was slipping and sliding. The first loop was done, 18 miles completed and we're back in the car park. The pros were changing into fresh tops and socks ready for the final 13 mile loop. I drank and ate. After mentioning to Fritz that I'd shed my screws (not a medical condition) he kindly gave me a pair of Yak Trax he'd no use for! Wow, he actually gave these me, free gratis. The solidarity of the Ultra runner in action.
I sensed that Ultra runners were more connected and involved than their 26.2 cousins. Things were less frantic. People would stop to help and encourage others and there was lots of laughing and joking on the trail. For me I felt I was continually waiting for a wheel to fall off, when would it happen mile 15, 20, 25, 30? I've death marched so many times on 26.2 I was in waiting mode but much to my relief good hydration and eating staved off the elephant. I have to mention Bill, a veteran Ultra runner. He kept popping up in his van when the trail crossed a forest road offering up water, food and moral support from the back of his van. I know I would not have felt so good without his support! Thank you Bill.
I was in the company of some hardcore Ultra runners. Jeff having completed three 100 milers and Mark six 50 milers this year alone, and Tony getting ready for the Western States 100 in June. I was in good company, an opportunity to learn from the pros. "You see" says Jeff "What you need to remember is that you have a Piggy Bank from which you draw energy. There is only so much energy the Piggy Bank can hold and you must draw from it wisely." Cue a walk up the hill. Where as for me walking in a 26.2 is a sign of failure in an Ultra it is the smart thing to do, works for me, think Piggy Bank! My plan was to complete the distance, not worry about time, in fact the goal was to spend time on my feet, at the start I considered this 50k was good for 6hrs. As it turned out, including pit stops it was 6:40.
I managed to get momentarily lost three times, missing turns, going straight when I should have turned. The first time this happened was around mile 19. Stopping to adjust my laces the herd got out of ear and eye shot. I reached a fork in the trail, left or right? I went right, which was wrong, the irony. Since a light layer of snow had recently fallen I could make out fresh foot prints, but there were not enough, a clue! I doubled back and seeing a goodly bunch of fresh prints felt confident I was back on track, a posse of one, don't let them get too far ahead. After about 10 minutes I could hear them and the herd was reunited.
At 26.21 Mark took a photo, the furthest I'd ever ran in 28 years of running, I was in new territory. The last 5 went quite fast, I had no real sense of time, it wasn't dragging and I was just pleased to be out in the cold in good company; very damp from my exertions but knowing I'd achieved something new today!
So arriving back home my life morphs back into family guy. My wife asks if I'd take the kids out to KFC. All that fatty greasy chicken, bring it on, just what I craved and "Oh yes, can you please make that a large Dr. Pepper – Thank You!"