Redefining Hard.

A Guest Post by Chief Editor and Baby Daddy, Chris.

I’ve written about running before, several times. Running tourism, my first half, my first marathon, my second marathon. A central theme in all my running blogs is accessibility. As in, you can do this. You, the reader, if you are in reasonably decent health, can train and accomplish these things. I still think this is true.

I recently ran my first ultramarathon, the 27 mile option at the Lake Martin 100/50/27 mile endurance event on the trails at Russell Lands at Lake Martin. It was, by far, the most difficult athletic thing I have done. It was just a bit longer than a marathon by distance, but trail miles are very different from road miles. The terrain was at times technical, steep, slippery, sticky, and/or wet. The trails were full of roots, rocks, mud, clay, stream crossings, leaves, and pine straw. At times it was a 30 foot wide dirt road. At times it was a 12” wide single track ditch. As advertised, the rolling hills are relentless.

IMG_1069I was still feeling great after 90 minutes. {Photo Credit: Tanya Sylvan}

That said, I think for most of you, even an ultramarathon is achievable. It may seem crazy, but this is the heart of new, first time accomplishment – it redefines hard. You move the standard for what is physically and mentally possible.

So whether you are looking at a Couch to 5K program, 10k, Half Marathon, Full Marathon, 27 mile or 50K Ultra, 50 mile, 100 mile, or or a 150 mile race that starts with jumping out of an airplane and falling the first 2 miles (this does exist), that feeling of impossibility is just that – a feeling. It is not reality.

The truth is that with a realistic training schedule, a little knowledge about gear and injury prevention, some practice at hydration and exercise-related nutrition, and the support of your local running community (in my case, the BTC and the BUTS), you can do this.

FullSizeRender-3Rocking my BUTS gear after the race.

So, with all of that heady stuff aside, I’ll get practical. As are all first-time endeavors, it was a learning experience. So I will let you benefit from the wisdom of my experience.

What I did right:

Read. I read bunches of blogs about trail running, ultra running, gear, all of it. I read every line of every page of the Lake Martin 100 website, which is really thorough about all things course, preparation, and survival. (Gaiters For The Win!!)

Listen. I picked all the trail runner brains in my orbit. I did what they said. I like to benefit from the wisdom of everyone else’s experience. Because of others, I had all sorts of goodies like a blister kit, wet wipes, and super greasy feet impervious to water.

IMG_1065 copyI was still feeling good at the Heaven Hill aid station. {Photo Credit: Random Dude.}

Train. I asked a 100 mile vet what trails I should train on. She sent me to harder ones than I planned on, but I am so glad I listened and did what she said.

Overprepare. I had about 500 miles worth of Tailwind (advanced Powerade), snacks, sunscreen, bugspray, and socks in my drop box at the main aid station. Extra everything.

IMG_1063Ahhhhh, downhill. {Photo Credit: Tanya Sylvan}

What I did wrong:

Under hydrate. I drank approximately 5 liters of fluid, but I was on the course (including resting on benches and at aid station stops) over 8 hours.

Around mile 22, my legs began teetering on the brink of charley horses, twinging with every little trip, giving that moment of panic when you feel the muscles begin to tighten and curl.

At one point I intentionally fell down to immediately relieve the tension before it could tighten any further. By the time the race ended, I was walking all the hills, even the tiniest 1% grades, because even a minor incline was inducing the beginnings of Nightmare on Cramp Street.

Most of my trail training just happened to be on cold & dry days. The day of the race was humid, at times sunny, & after awhile, hot.

TMI, but after a final 6:35am pre-race port-a-potty stop, I didn’t pee until 4:30pm, long after finishing, rehydrating, and showering. Bottom line: under those conditions, 5 liters wasn’t near enough.

Not long enough training runs. My longest trail training run several weeks before Lake Martin was 16 miles. Since I had run a full road marathon 5 weeks prior to this race, I didn’t feel like a 20+ mile long trail run was necessary. Oops.

I felt great for about 20 miles. The last 7 were so much harder than they had to be. I wish I had done a 22 mile training run before I tapered down for the race. The single track inclines felt steeper and steeper as I went along, until I looked like I was sneaking up the secret path to Mordor, crawling with my weary hobbit legs at a 22:00/mile pace.

IMG_0992Mile 23. No comment.

What else:

When I got to Mile 23, the trail was named Rock Bottom. I sat on a bench. I took off my pack. I texted with friends. I just chilled. I did not see one other human for that entire section of the course, a 7 mile loop between aid stations. I assumed I was last, and I was just fine with it.

IMG_0993Rock Bottom wasn’t so bad.

I only got off track once for about 100 yards, but quickly retraced my steps and got back on the well-marked course. This is not unusual, but you can’t be lost for long. There are blue flags EVERYWHERE on the route, and signs marking every turn.

As it turned out, I wasn’t last. The last 2 miles of the 27 were an out-and-back to a spool of plastic tape to prove you made it to the turnaround. After I got my blessed piece of blue tape, I turned around for the last mile victory lap, and passed about 5 or 6 people. They looked just as tired as me.

IMG_1062-2The final stretch – I didn’t die! {Photo Credit: Tanya Sylvan}

But all of that eventually ended in a glorious wave of cheering, high-fives, a medal, pictures, fluids, potato chips, delicious soup, flip-flops, and later a giant cheeseburger.

FullSizeRender-4Kowaliga Restaurant. A+.

All together, it was a fantastic experience. The every-flavor forest was so many different kinds of beautiful. The lake itself was a frequent canvas behind the rustling trees. The birds and frogs and babbling streams provided the background music. The camaraderie of crews, pacers, and fellow racers – both old friends and people I met during the race – was worth the price of admission. The aid station volunteers were aggressively helpful and sincerely compassionate.

I definitely plan to do another ultra. Maybe a 50K.

And I will benefit from the wisdom of my own experience the next time I redefine hard.

Leave your comment below!

Comments

  1. Well done friend.

  2. Heather Neufeld says:

    i totally thought tailwind was something else and Im glad you clarified that for me. ……

  3. I am so glad you enjoyed your ultra. My biggest fears are snakes and getting lost. Maybe I’ll hit the trails with you when you train for your next one.

  4. A 50K?! IT FINALLY HAPPENED. YOU’VE LOST YOUR MIND.

  5. Kelly Lacey says:

    Congratulations. I have found both your and Rachel’s marathon/ running blogs extremely motivating.

    I have loaded the Couch to 5K app on my phone and plan to start training for a 5K Foam Fest (http://www.5kfoamfest.ca/locations/moncton/) as soon as the snow is melted off the roads or the second week of April, which ever comes first. :)

    Keep the great blog posts coming.

    Kelly

  6. Greg Blevins says:

    Well done my friend! You inspire me more and more every time we talk and I read about your accomplishments….

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