Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pony Express 50 mile ultra marathon

Wow! What an experience. What a fun race. I completed my first official ultra marathon yesterday running the Pony Express 50. This has been a really fun year so far with a lot of fun crazy adventures and this was probably the best one so far. I had to wake up at 3:30 AM and I only got 3 hours of sleep, but when I woke up I was feeling really good. Two of my best friends, Rob and Greg would be crewing me and then met me at 4:00 at my house and we were on our way. On the drive out I went over my expectations for the race and what I thought I would need from them to reach my goals. They both seemed really excited and it was a lot of fun having them both there with me. Greg was at one time a top 10 runner in high school, while Rob has never really been all that interested in sports or athletic pursuits, but both of them were pumped, which was cool.

We arrived at Lookout Pass about 30 minutes before the race started. This gave me a little bit of time to make final preparations, go over all of my food and hydration needs with my crew and check in and get ready. I started to get a little nervous because you just don’t know how your body is going to respond going further than you ever have before. I thought I was ready and had trained well all year, but you just never know. Luckily I was with two of my my best friends and they were able to lighten the moment a lot. Actually, they made me laugh all day long which really helped.

A few minutes before the start Davy had some words for us and then we were off. There was a woman that went out really fast, and then me, and then the rest of the group seemed to be lagging back a bit. I really didn’t get a chance to meet any of the other runners and I had hoped to meet some on the course, but I was quickly pulling away from most of the pack. It didn’t seem like I was running fast at all and when I checked my pace I was at an 8:30 and I felt totally fine, so I went with it. My original plan had been to run about a 9:00 pace for at least the first 25. After the first mile the woman had opened up a lead on me and I couldn’t even see anyone behind. I was running alone in the dark with a smile on my face. The stars were stunning and I saw a few falling stars. The temperature was cold, but it actually felt really good for running and I didn’t need a warm hat or gloves, although I had on a long sleeved shirt. I told my crew to meet me at mile 3 just in case I felt like I wanted something, and at 2.7 I hadn’t seen them pass me yet, so I was getting a little worried that I would miss them, but they soon arrived and I was feeling so good that I told them to go ahead to mile 4 and to have a gel and some water ready for me.

Probably one of the most annoying things that happened the whole day were two cars that passed us very early on going probably 50 miles per hour. One was a large truck that kicked up so much dust I had to cover my mouth and nose for about a minute. I was really angry at the lack of consideration of these drivers and there may or may not have been a few choice words from my end.

At mile 4 I had my first stop at the car. Actually I didn’t really slop, but grabbed a gel and some water and quickly downed them on my way. They told me that the woman was about 3 minutes ahead of me and I have to admit I wanted to catch her. The guys were really fast getting me what I needed and I have to say that they were phenomenal throughout the race. I could not have had a better crew. Not only did they take care of me and do everything that I asked, but they would jump out of the car every time they saw me and run up and ask what I needed before I got to the car. I told them I would meet them at mile 7 and I was off.

The next 3 miles were really fun. I felt solid and I just listened to the music, looked at the stars and ran. Incredible. I still couldn’t see anyone behind me, so I knew that I would probably not see the other runners for a long time if ever. At mile 7 I actually took another gel and had more water and Rob told me that I was exactly 50 seconds behind the girl. I kind of laughed because he was really getting into it and I reminded him that we still had 43 miles to go and I told them to meet me at mile 10.

The sun was now starting to come up and I could now see the woman that I had been chasing. I was slowly gaining on her and my competitive juices were tempted to push and pass her, but I just held back knowing that I needed to save my legs for later in the race. Just before mile 10 I was right on her heels and both of our crew cars were parked very close to each other. We both stopped for a quick break, and as soon as we started running again I caught her. Her name was Nanette and we talked and ran together for the next 6 miles. This was also her first official ultra, so we talked about our training and what we had done over the summer to get ready and she is a really nice person and it was fun to be running with someone. It sure made the time fly by. She was being crewed by her husband and for the rest of the race he would continue to check on me every time he passed. They were amazing people.

Nanette and I chatted until mile 13 where my crew was waiting for me with a gel and some Cytomax, so I walked while I took them and she kept running. It took me about 5 minutes to catch back up, but eventually we were running together all the way to Simpson Springs. Nanette and I passed 3 of the 100 milers that had started an hour earlier than we had and I was sure that they were just holding back to conserve their energy and legs, but it was still cool to be passing runners that started an hour before we did.

There was a pretty good hill leading up to the springs, and I felt strong the whole way and we never had to stop and walk. At the springs they took our number and Nanette stopped to make some gear adjustments, and I wouldn’t see her again for over 15 miles. I was now leading the pack of the 6:00 AM starters, although I never thought I would win the race because Davy told Jun that some really fast experienced runners were starting at 8:00.

The next several miles were much harder running alone. I continued to pass the 100 mile runners, but I didn’t usually chat with them long. The road was now really flat with a long straight away. I could now see several of the 100 milers and I made it a goal to pass as many of them as I could. Over the next 10 miles I counted 7 more of them that I had passed. I was still feeling really strong, but the sun was now up and it was getting really hot. I had been taking at least one salt pill every hour and now I increased the amounts of fluid that I was drinking as well. I would alternate between Gatorade and water and taking Cytomax every two hours. I was also taking a gel about every 2-3 miles to make sure I was getting enough energy. So far I was feeling really good.

I hit my marathon in 4:34 just as I passed a bloody dead rabbit on the road. The heat was bothering me a little, so at my next crew stop I changed from my black tank to my white one and Greg also put sunscreen on me while I drank some Gatorade. I ate some potato chips and two cookies and I was feeling pretty good. I was wondering when I would see Jun and I was hoping that we would catch me so we could run together, but I hadn’t seen his crew car, so I knew he was still several miles behind.

Miles 28-35 were pretty tough for me. I was feeling really good, but my joints started to hurt and the heat was making it more difficult to want to push. I kept catching myself falling off of my pace and every time it was more difficult to pick it back up. This part of the race was a real grind and it would have really helped to be running with someone as the miles were dragging on a bit. I did get passed by Davy during this section and he was looking strong. We chatted for a few minutes and I actually picked up my pace, but I couldn’t keep up with him and he quickly moved ahead. About 30 minutes later two other guys that started with Jun passed me and I asked about him. They said that they though he was having some issues, so I started to worry about him, but when I went off into the brush for a bathroom stop a few minutes later I finally saw his crew car for the first time, so I knew he wasn’t far behind.

Heading up to Dugway Pass is by far the most challenging part of the course. It is very steep and I found myself hiking for the first time all day. I could have run it, but I could hike it as fast as I would have been able to run, so I decided to give my legs a little break. While heading up the pass I finally saw Jun making his way up from behind. It was great to see him and we talked and joked the rest of the way up to the pass where we both started running at a really good pace. This might have been the most enjoyable part of the race for me. We were over 37 miles and the extra boost from seeing my friend really helped so much. We were actually running pretty fast and passed several runners on the way down and they all commented on how strong we looked. I kept sending my crew ahead because I didn’t want to break our stride, but at mile 43ish I finally had to stop to get a drink and my legs were getting really tight when I stopped, so I had Greg rub them out and after I got back on the road Jun was too far ahead for me to catch. It was a little demoralizing, but I wouldn’t have wanted him to stop. He was looking strong and I wanted him to keep pushing while he was feeling so good. I was hopeful that I could have kept up with him and pushed all the way to the finish, but I just wasn’t strong enough. It did help me so much having him there for those 5-6 miles. I was definitely running faster and stronger while we ran together.

Miles 43-47 were definitely the most difficult of the entire race. It was now very hot, my legs were screaming and pushing any kind of pace resembling quick was out of the question. My crew was stopping every mile for me and I was taking them. I would wash off my face, drink and take gels as the thought of solid food made me want to throw up. I just remember grinding and thinking that I wanted to finish strong, even though my body was telling me otherwise. At mile 46 I sat down for the first time and Rob and Greg both asked me if I was alright. I was fine, but I just finally got tired. The heat was a beast. I also noticed that someone was gaining on me and I thought it was Nanette. It put a smile on my face because the last time I saw her around mile 33 she was really hurting. I was really pulling for her to push hard, but at the same time it motivated me to push harder too. Her husband pulled up next to me and offered me some grapes and I thought I could get them down so I accepted and they tasted so good! It was a real boost.

At mile 47 I had one of the best surprises of the day. Greg hopped out of the car in full running attire and announced he was going to run in with me. I was really excited and hoped that he would make it with me. He hadn’t exercised at all since our trip to Ibapah Peak that was over a year ago. Ironically, we were now in the shadow of Ibapah and I pointed it out to him, as we could see the peak ahead. I told him to just tell me some funny stories to take my mind off of the pain and it worked. The stories really aren't blog appropriate, but they sure took my mind of of things. My pace picked up and the last 3 were actually much easier than the previous 5 had been. We were now running a sub 10 minute mile pace. It was so fun and helpful to have Greg running in with me.

Even though I knew we had to pass the finish and go a half mile and then turn around, I still wasn’t prepared for the demoralizing feeling. That was by far the most difficult thing for me and I thought about Davy maybe doing that as one last mental hurdle to get over before you get your 50. The last few hundred yards were tough. I was spent and happy I wasn’t doing more miles on this day, although looking back I think I could have pushed it further. When I reached the finish I was elated. I had done it. This was one of my goals for the year and there were certainly times that I doubted myself, but I did it. I hurt everywhere, but it was worth it. I didn’t feel much like eating for a few hours after, so I didn’t get to enjoy the burgers at the finish, but that was ok. Getting the finishers medal was sweet enough. So my first official ultra is in the books and I loved it. I learned so many things about myself on this day and I can’t wait to get back out there and do it again. Also, congrats to Jun and Davy for rocking the 100 and inspiring me for my next big running challenge.

Pony Express 50 pictures