Sunday, June 5, 2011

I'm an ULTRAmarathoner!

32.16 miles
7 hours, 27 minutes, 10 seconds
AKA running the length of an entire work day.

Welcome to the blog post I couldn't wait to write!

Warning - it's long (that's what she said).

Jen, Lily and I left the hotel about 5:25 am with more running supplies than I would have even known to be in existence a year ago. 
I had decided to run with my camelbak, 3 Gus, and my belt, which held 2 Gus, my bib, a pair of extra socks, a headband, and anti – chafing stuff. I held my camera the whole time, and my ipod, bandaids, advil, my inhalor, and the aid station list and menu were in my camelbak. And I took a super classy water bottle filled with Gatorade with a sock around it. Cheapest runner ever, right here.
 I also took like 8 of those Nuuns.

After getting completely lost and turning around several times, we made it to the shuttle parking lot, where we met up with Kara and Mike. 
I think to say the girls were a bundle of nerves would be an understatement – I've never seen four people talk so much and so fast before six am.
 On the shuttle!

The day basically started like any other race – packet pick up, gear check, and hitting the porto-potties multiple times. I was super excited the bibs had our names on them. Which was awesome for all the trees and wildlife that would be spectating.

Here we come!

The race provided sunscreen and bug spray and Kara hooked us up with that – I would have never known to spray my hat. This was the point when things started to deviate a bit from a normal road race.
At the start (it was a small race, which I am learning to LOVE, it was capped at 300 runners but I don't even think it was full), Dean Karnazes spoke to the crowd. He told us to try not to gain too much weight with all the good food out there. I was a lot less nervous than I thought I would have been, and just excited to get started. As we crossed the start line, we got to high five Dean, which was super exciting and got the race off to a great start.
We started by running through a grassy field, which I've never done, and then for a little bit on a paved trail.

 Pretty soon though we were on a super skinny trail through high grass that was brushing your legs the entire time. I took some pictures at the wider parts, but on the narrowest parts it was about the width of my foot, so you were pushing the grass out of the way with your legs while you ran.
After we'd been running a little while, Jen commented how she loved that there were no mile markers. I honestly hadn't even noticed, and I hadn't looked at my Garmin once. I thought that would drive and OCD freak like me crazy, but I actually loved it. We were running single file for awhile in the beginning, and not really talking. I never thought I'd be the type of person to just run through the woods, listening to the birds, and actually enjoying it with no thoughts of “how far have we gone? What's my average pace? How many miles do we have left?” but I was. I also had to concentrate so hard on watching the ground and trying not to fall that it takes the focus away from all the number games we normally play during races. I was honestly just happy to be outdoors, enjoying the beautiful day, and thankful that I had the ability to spend it running. SO cheesy but I swear that's not sarcastic. Sometimes I get like that, in my head.
My mental strategy going into the race was to focus on going from one aid station to another. I'm actually really psycho (which I'm sure is a shock to everyone) about not thinking about the number of miles left, so I apologize to my fellow runners for being a total B!#$% when people try to ask me about it or mention it. The first aid station was about six miles in (according to my guide) and it was like a party. I forgot to get a picture but there was food everywhere. Bananas, oranges, pretzels, chips, PBJs, M&Ms, Skittles, water, Nuun (sports drink), Gu Brew (another sports drink), potatoes, and probably tons of other stuff that I don't even remember. I have no clue how much or how many calories I ate, but I know I took at least a bite of a banana at every aid station, and a full banana with PB at one or two, pretzels, PBJ pieces (it was on this super thick white bread and cut into little sections – heavenly), a nectarine, orange slices, 3 Gus, a little Famous Amos cookie, a few M&Ms and Skittles (at the last station), and, the surprise of the day, boiled potatoes dipped in salt. That was a serious party in my mouth. I thought it sounded good when I saw it on the menu, but it was phenomenal. We all plan to now bring boiled salt potatoes on our training runs this summer. I think people who say they don't like running don't quite realize the delicious running options that are available to them. Eating while you run is basically the best of both worlds.

Not long after the aid station was the stream crossing. For some reason, in my mind this was WAY later in the race. Not so much. I doubt it was more than 7 miles in. So we had 24 miles of wet shoes ahead of us. Plus we got to do it again on the way back.


Somewhere around this time I got introduced to the joys of switchbacks. We were basically going up and down the side of a mountain, and the trail would be too steep going uphill to go straight from the bottom to the top, so you had to go up in zigzags. My legs do not hurt or anything while I am running, and my legs were burning like crazy just walking up these hills. Don't try to think of any steep hills in our neighborhood or roads you have run up, because its nothing like that. As I learned yesterday unless you have done it, there is no comparison. And the downhills were no better, because it was a huge challenge to keep your balance and not fall and bust your ass sliding down.
I made it almost to mile 10 before using the nature's porto-potty. I considered that a victory. At least I knew I was hydrating well!

We were sticking with our game plan of going out slow and walking up all the hills. All the experienced ultra-marathoners we had collectively talked to (and Mike, who was with us) told us the importance of conserving your energy, rather than wasting it saving a minute of time running up a hill. I knew we had a long way to go so even though it was tempting to pick up the pace during the flat portions, I was glad our wise pacer (Mike) kept slowing us down and telling us to walk.

We went through a state park,
hit another aid station, and then did the loop that the 50 mile racers had to do 3 times, but we only had to do once. At this point we were seeing 50 Milers pass us on the way back, which was so inspiring. They kept cheering us on, which we felt weirdly guilty about – save your energy for those 50 miles, crazies!
 Halfway there!

This loop had some gorgeous scenery, and it was the dangerous part of the race. We were climbing over boulders and on the edge of this huge drop off. The pictures of this portion really show why it took us almost 7.5 hours – we weren't exactly running 10 minute miles here!
 My foot is actually on the race course here.


We said goodbye to Mike at one of the aid stations (at this point we've run together a zillion times and know when its time to split up). We had been running for 4 and a half hours and had this crazy idea that we could finish in 6 hours. Little did we know.

My Garmin showed that we were just under 20 miles, but someone at the aid station said we had around 12 miles to go. I was pretty skeptical about completing 12 miles in 90 minutes, since I could never even do that on a flat road, but I love my running buddies' optimism! All four of us girls were feeling good and ready to wrap this up, so we took off!

So at mile 20 of a marathon, you'd be heading into that last stretch of the six tortuous miles, but we still had 12 miles to go, which is pretty freakin far. So it was more like being at mile 14 of a marathon, and when I thought of it that way, I realized we needed to slow the hell down.
At the aid station where we parted ways from Mike, a girl was helping me fill my camelbak, and I thought to myself, I don't think she filled it all the way. But my dumb ass didn't say anything. Oh how that came back to haunt me.

Before long, I was out of water, and I was in such a hurry at the last stop that I wasn't sure I had eaten enough. All I had was Gus, but without water, they were useless, plus I needed to take another salt tablet (we were aiming for one an hour, and I had forgotten).

Jen was a little behind us, and we were concerned when she didn't answer, so we waited for her to catch up. When she did, she was crying, she had fallen again, and apparently the reason she was behind was that she had taken a turn off the trail for a minute and almost gotten lost. Kara was nice enough to feed her some water from her camelbak and we went on.
This was the closest to a “rough patch” that I came to. I was running behind Jen, trying to tell her funny stories to cheer her up, and we were going a bit slower than Kara and Lily. We crossed the stream again, and I could have sworn the aid station was just beyond that. 
Instead, we were running and running and nothing was in sight. At one point, I couldn't even see any other runners (except Jen, in front of me) and we passed the colored ribbons that told us if we were on the right course. There was no blue ribbon, which was the 50K color. 

 Blue is blue is BAD

We soon passed another one with blue, so it must have just fallen off. It was brief, but being alone in the woods, no phone, no water, no food, no sign of civilization whatsoever was scary. They tell you before the race that if you get lost and they have to send out a search party, they are billing you later. So not only are you screwed because you're lost in the forest, you get slapped with a huge bill when they find you. So we NEEDED to stay on course!

It felt like we kept going forever, and there was no way of knowing what mile we were or how far the aid station was, and all I could think of was getting water and food. I was starting to freak out running the slower pace so Lily promised to stay with Jen and I sprinted up with Kara desperately trying to get to the aid station as fast as I could.
Finally, I saw it like a dream come true, and I was so happy. But, then I had the difficult decision to make whether to stay with Jen, or head out with Kara, and figure out what Lily wanted to do, and I had about 4 seconds to make it. I honestly felt that mentally the slow pace would drive me insane, and physically it was hurting, whereas regular running was still feeling fine. We thought we only had about five more miles to go, Jen told us to go on over and over, so we headed out, down to three.
I really couldn't believe how good I was feeling. Nothing was really hurting, I still had energy, mentally I was calm now that I had food and water, and I was excited knowing we would finish. We passed the marathon point

Mile 28 and still running strong!

I was so excited when my Garmin hit 30 miles. I told Kara and Lily that I was so happy, I felt so good, and I wanted it on the record that I was saying that 30 miles in! I even took a picture to prove it!
Smiling at mile 30!

We stopped at the last aid station and my Garmin showed 30.59 miles. I knew it was a bit off but we were SHOCKED when the volunteer told us we had 2.5 more miles! Quite the unhappy surprise. Still, Lily and I were feeling strong so we told Kara we'd see her at the finish and headed out. We were telling stories, laughing our heads off, and running under a 10:00/mile pace, like we were just out on a 5 mile easy run or something. Unbelievable. I kept thinking that if this were mile 24 of a marathon, and I had 2 miles to go, I would be miserable, gritting my teeth and gutting it out, and here I was feeling fantastic, even euphoric, which I actually said out loud at the time.

However, we may have been a little delirious. We kept passing people just heading out in the opposite direction, wearing red bibs, a color we hadn't seen yet that day. We asked FOUR different people, only one of whom was wearing headphones, what race it was. All four ran right by us, without so much as a glance in our direction to acknowledge that someone was speaking to them. I suggested that perhaps they were running the asshole race. Or maybe it was the race of silence. I thought Lily was going to die laughing.

After what seemed like forever, except it was NOT 2.5 miles, we saw the finish line. It was unclear which direction we were supposed to go through it (at least to me), whether we were supposed to cross it the same way we started, or come through from the opposite way. As we were less than a tenth of a mile away from it, I screamed out to the spectators “AM I GOING THE RIGHT WAY????”. Deadly seriously. Um, I can only imagine how that seemed from their perspective. Distance running makes you seriously delusional.

We crossed the finish line hand in hand, which was so exciting, because we've run so many training runs and races together but never crossed a finish line together. Kara came through right after us and I think I was grinning demonically, and as usual getting choked up, I was so happy and so proud that we'd done it, and I could call myself an ultramarathoner.

We got our HOT lunch (no banana and granola bar here),
got our race shirts (you get to choose your color and they screen print it with the logo and distance right there!), and hung out for awhile at the finish, eating, walking around, taking pictures and getting our free massages!

 This sort of behavior would have resulted in unbearable pain after a marathon.

When we got back to the hotel, it was time for ice baths, showers, and race stories. We all gathered in the bathroom as we took turns in the ice bath and Casi told us about her half (she PR'd by 9 minutes!!!), and we told her all our crazy stories, including Jen's meltdown, which now had us laughing hysterically (although not at all funny at the time!).

I tried the cherry juice, Roserunner! Not sure if that's what did it but I'm not sore today!
We walked to a nearby plaza to get gigantic burritos at Moe's, and I got every kind of salsa possible. 
Katylin came and hung out in the hotel suite with us in our sweatpants, race shirts, and medals. I finally got to dig in to my wine and my delicious brownies. We were pretty much passed out by 11pm.

Overall, I had a fantastic race. There was honestly no real “low point”. It was stressful when we were waiting to get to the one aid station, but overall I felt strong and positive and HAPPY the entire time. I was never hurting or exhausted like I have been in marathons, and I was walking around the finisher's festival and sitting down cross - legged like it was nothing, which I could never do after a marathon. I was truly shocked that I never took out my ipod, and I never actually wanted to, even though there were long-ish periods where no one was talking. Although it was a huge challenge, I think it was easier than running a marathon. Mentally, not having any time pressure was amazing and so freeing, I felt so relaxed. Physically, I think the breaks from running where we were walking up hills, climbing over rocks, and stopping at aid stations as well as the much slower pace made it possible to run a longer distance and feel good even after 7 hours of running!

If I had never started this blog, I would have never even heard of this race. I'm so appreciative of Kara's help with preparing for this race, for taking me trail running, and for agreeing to run with me and my crazy friends! I am also so thankful to all my friends, family, and blog readers for all the words of encouragement and for listening to my never ending, crazy running stories. I couldn't have done it without you!


  1. You are amazing woman! I loved reading this recap! I ran my first trail half 2 weeks ago and after that I just want to run trail races forever.
    Way to smile at mile 30!!!!!!!

  2. My favorite part of this recap was all the pictures of my ass :)

    I was amazed like you at how good I felt for this race. I self diagnosed my puking issue and I think I drank too much water too quickly after that period of running with no water. I'm mad though because I totally wasted my free sandwich. :P

    I can't wait for my next trail race!

  3. Alyssa! This is awesome! 30something freakin miles. You're my hero!!
    I cracked up at the Asshole race. : )
    Girl you should be SO proud of your self! This is such an amazing accomplishment!!!

  4. you guys are seriously so awesome! I can't believe how well you guys did (you know, the whole, surviving it part). You should be proud. I think maybe you need an "ultra marathoner" sticker for your car or something or maybe a tattoo!

  5. CONGRATS! It sounds like way more fun than a marathon!

  6. Congratulations, ultramarathoner!! Great recap. Looks like you had perfect weather! And you weren't eaten by a bear :) I'm impressed you made it all the way to 11pm. Do you have ticks down there? Just curious if you picked any up in the tall grass or if the bug spray helped with that.

    I love running in parks...while 13.1 is nothing like 32.1, your recap is confirming my desire to run in a nearby trail half marathon this fall.

  7. Great report - very entertaining - and great photos. I'm with you completely that it is so nice to get to walk the uphills without guilt, enjoy the scenery, and eat -- unlike a marathon race. Congratulations to all of you - great job. -- Cordially, Perry

  8. Wow, congrats! You guys are incredible! It sounds like you had a great time and the aid stations sound delicious!

  9. Awesome report. This sounds like an amazing race. All the food and the scenery are greatness. Great job!

  10. Great report, I enjoyed reading it. I am very proud of you!

    However, 32 miles pales in comparison to my 2.8 mile walk along the (paved) Erie Canal Towpath yesterday. Now that was fun!

  11. You absolutely rock. You make ultramarathoning look easy. You ran 32 miles! That's so crazy awesome!

  12. Fantastic race report! I *almost* feel like I don't even need to write my own. ;) Glad you and your friends had such a strong race (I finished 3 minutes behind you--34 minutes faster than my finish last year).

  13. okay now i want to run a 50k trail after reading this. you make it look so fun!!

  14. Love it!!!!!
    Thank you for being a great running buddy and Kara for telling us about the race!!!

  15. what an incredible post. I don't even know what to say! You made it sound so DO-ABLE, I almost want to just map out 31 miles in the woods and strap on a big backpack of skittles and go do this right away!

    I hike up steep switch-backs often, and sometimes I think it actually feels easier to jog up it than to walk -- walking feels like lunges!

    Does anyone actually finish something like that in less than 6 hours? Did Dean run, or just MC?


    (p.s. I accidentally posted this on the wrong post at first. My computer sucks, not me)

  16. I read every word of this post. FREAKIN' AWESOME.

    There are so many things to say I don't know where to start. High five Dean?! Say what?! How cool. The food and swag at that race sounds amazing. I ALMOST want to do an ultra just to get boiled salty potatoes. yummm. I would have FREAKED when the blue ribbon wasn't on the tree. I am so proud of you for not only completing this but doing wonderful and feeling great! You're a rockstar.

  17. p.s. - did you're hubby make a sign that says "Alyssa. Once a marathoner. Now an Ultramarathoner."?? :)

  18. So freaking awesome! You rock! Congrats on an amazing trail race!

    I have been wanting to run a trail race for a while. I hear so much about them.

    I bet it was 100% better because you were running with your friends!

  19. I totally saw you guys on the course! I was running behind your group for probably the first 3-4 miles... until you turned down the golf cart path instead of into the grass. Glad you had such a great race! I LOVE your pictures, you did a much better job of that than I did!


Thanks for commenting! Comments make me probably more happy than they should.