Sunday, December 9, 2012

Umstead Crazy 8's Death March

Ultramarathon runners, don't take this the wrong way, but you people are all f'n insane! As if 26.2 miles isn't enough pain and suffering (and glory) for even the moderately insane among us, you maniacs have to double down on that, or nearly quadruple down in the case of the 100 mile events. If running a marathon is the gambling equivalent of going "all in", you lunatics throw all your chips onto the table along with your watches, credit cards, mobile phones, and any clothing you happen to be wearing. And then you jump on the table and dance naked to music that only you can hear, all the while waiting for the dealer to play the winning card.

But just like Vegas, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose (DNF). The true difference is that win or lose, an ultramarathon is always a glorious human adventure.

Uwharrie Training
Already being insane, I decided to attempt joining the other patients in the ultramarathon insane asylum by signing up for the 40 mile Uwharrie Mountain Run. Of course this means that I have to stop saying "I'll never..." since I've consistently proven myself wrong. "I'll never run a half marathon!" I've run a half dozen of them now. "I'll never run a marathon!" I've run 4 of them now. "I'll never, ever, ever run an ultramarathon!" Sigh.

So, recently I found myself organizing a training run in Umstead in an attempt to somehow get my body ready for the 40 mile Uwharrie Mountain Run. I created a calendar event on Facebook and invited all my nutty running friends to come out and share a lap (or two, or three) with me on the Company Mill and Sycamore trail figure 8 route (about 9.5 miles of hilly, technical single track).

I figured I might goad a couple of my crazier friends into coming out for a lap, but just to show how awesome the trail running community really is, about a dozen people came out to run or just to show moral support in my first attempt at a distance beyond the marathon. You people just rock! Thanks to everyone who dedicated a bit of their Saturday to my insanity. In no particular order, Jay, Karen, Aline, Brandy, Ryan, Gene, Josh, Iris, Chris, Andrew, Anthony and Shannon. A special thanks to Karen and Jay, who ran all 29 miles with me. And to Gene who kept me laughing that last 5 miles, when I needed it most.

Aline, Jay, Iris and Josh at the start.

Lap 1 - This Is Easy!
I'm not bragging, but my fitness is pretty high at the moment. I came off Medoc Mountain Marathon in mid-October with a good aerobic base and have managed to maintain that base with little effort the past couple of months. So, 10 miles in Umstead on the first lap felt very easy. I had good company on the lap (actually true of every lap) and spent a lot of time joking and laughing. I ate one fruit snack (maybe 80 calories of sugar) during the lap, and then had a couple of peanut butter cups and some blueberries when I finished the lap. I drank only about a cup of water from the water fountain. This was a totally stupid fueling strategy, as I would discover on lap 3.

Aline made a custom shirt for the event.
Aline is awesome!

Lap 2 - I'm Done, Right?
Heading out on lap 2, I was feeling great. I tried to remind myself to walk all the hills, but I was still trotting up the first part of most hills. Again, I had only one fruit snack during the loop, and then a handful of blue berries and some raisins at the end of the loop. The temperature had gone up during the loop and I was feeling very thirsty by the time I finished the loop, so I guzzled down about 20 ounces of water at the fountain. I felt done. My body definitely did not want to go out for another 9.5 mile loop. I was behind in fueling and hydration, and at this point there was no way to make it up. But, dammitall, this is what I came for! The last loop was the important one. The loop where I would train my body to keep moving through pain and exhaustion. So, out I went.

Lap 3 - I Hate Running
The final loop started hard, and got worse from there. I was behind on hydration and fueling, and my stomach was now bothering me, so there was no chance of getting out of the hole I had dug for myself. I managed to choke down about half of a fruit snack (maybe 40 sugar calories) on the loop, but it was difficult to keep from hurling that onto my shoes for the next couple of miles. As my misery levels increased, and my energy evaporated like the fog from earlier that morning, my mood went straight to the crapper. I think the only thing that prevented me from giving up about half way through that lap was the company. Having four experienced ultra runners with me in those dark moments saved me. Their banter and joking kept me moving forward, although I walked a lot (I had to walk when my stomach did flips).

The Finish
With about 2 miles to go, standing on the stone bridge on Sycamore Bridal Trail, I entered death march mode. I would finish this run, even if it killed me (I'm stubborn like that). So, I used up nearly every last bit of blood glycogen that I had left in a determined shuffle towards the end.

Dizzy, nauseous and trying not to pass out
after finishing. Photo courtesy of Shannon.

Lessons Learned
So, what did my first trip into the nether world of the ultramarathon distance teach me? Loads. I have a pretty solid feel for how to prepare for and finish the marathon. However, that knowledge seems to only partially translate to ultramarathon distance.

  1. Go slow! No, really. SLOW! Especially early in the run. If it feel effortless to run up a hill, it really isn't. Save it for later, when you will desperately need it.
  2. Speaking of hills, WALK THEM! Even the itty bitty ones early in the run. Yeah, you'll feel like a total pansy for walking up a tiny hill on fresh legs, but trust me, this will pay off later.
  3. Eat LOTS! I'm a notorious camel when it comes to running. I rarely carry water and eat very little on runs up to 20 miles. This DOES NOT work for ultramarathon distances. The time on your feet is simply too long.
  4. The first half of the run just gets you to the starting line of the real run. I think this might apply to a run of any distance, but it's a lesson I have yet to learn.

So, I feel like I was only partially successful in my first run past the marathon distance. I did finish the run, but I learned some hard lessons. Worst of all, I screwed up the fueling so badly and threw my body into such a bad tailspin, that I wasn't able to eat my BBQ ribs afterwards.

Good times afterwards. But those ribs never did get eaten.
Photo courtesy of Shannon.

PS: Special thanks to Josh for helping me across the parking lot at the restaurant. And for giving me the sweater off his back when I tanked at the table and began shivering uncontrollably. I owe you!

PPS: More special thanks to Shannon, who made me take a salt tab in Umstead when I finished, and then made me eat lots of salt at the restaurant. After a sucking down a beer and some salty fries, I felt nearly human again.