Sunday, October 28, I ran my first ultra, a 50k in Omaha, Nebraska. The G.O.A.T.z 50k course was a 10+ mile loop around Cunningham Lake, which the 50k runners got to repeat three times (well, run once and repeat twice).
Although I arrived at the race alone, I quickly met up with fellow K.C. area runners, Bryan, Beck, and Deb. Knowing that they were there running the 50k, too, was actually quite comforting. This was also Beck’s first 50k, and we had tons of moral support from Bryan, Deb, Coleen (our running coach), the Lawrence Trail Hawks, and the K.C. runners.
The weather was around the freezing mark in the morning and warmed up to about 50 degrees by the afternoon, but the wind made it feel much colder. Fortunately, I’d dressed just right for the run: wool socks, wool leggings, wool skort, wool short-sleeve shirt, wool pull-over jacket (which zipped up to keep my neck toasty), wool gloves, and wool ear warmers under my lucky running cap. Thank you, Icebreaker! I eventually removed my gloves but kept my hands tucked up into my sleeves when they got cold, and the ear warmers came off during the first lap.
This was the first year for the G.O.A.T.z 50k, and I expected there to be snags with the trail markings or aide station supplies or some kind of disorganization along the way, but there honestly wasn’t. If they had any glitches, I didn’t see them. I’d enthusiastically recommend this race to a friend, and I can’t thank the organizers and volunteers enough for making my first 50k such a positive experience. [I will say that some of the runners should be more considerate of the trails and not drop trash on them. That's a rude way to treat our generous hosts and other runners, don't you think?]
I’d heard that the course would seem easy in comparison to running the trails at Clinton Lake. I heard wrong. Maybe this isn’t the most technical course in the history of the universe, but it was challenging enough to keep it interesting and keep you on your toes. First, you run through some grassy parts, which I didn’t really love, then you get to walk across slippery rocks to cross a creek, which was kind of fun the first time. (The novelty wore off the second time and was gone by time number three.) The trail parts of the route were fun and less technical than the ones at Clinton, although there were more hills, or at least it felt like it. And runners occasionally encountered horse riders, which offered me a welcome little break as I stepped aside and watched them pass. (I’ll admit, I considered bumming a ride off of one guy, but I figured that would be weird, so I just kept on running.)
One stretch before the 5-mile mark was out in the open, which wasn’t the funnest because of the wind. Plus, I think that psychologically the open stretches make the run seem longer because you can see how far you have left to go. In the woods, you can focus on not tripping because you don’t see very far ahead. I like losing myself in the woods (except when I actually get lost in the woods, which I don’t like at all).
A little past the 5-mile mark, you hit the staffed aide station, which was fabulous. The volunteers were amazing and really helped reenergize me for that next stretch, which felt like forever because that’s when all the hills came in. Right when you reach the top of the last hill, you get to run down the hill, across a grassy patch, and to the finish line… Unless you still have two laps to go, which I still did. Talk about an anti-climactic ending.
Through the finish line, past the aide station, back out again for lap number two.
So the first 10+ miles was ok and I felt pretty strong, and I tried to rush through the aide station and refill my hydration pack with water. One problem: My hands were numb from the cold and I couldn’t really feel the bag, which is why I dropped it and dumped about a liter of cold water all over my left foot. And then I dropped an f-bomb.
A volunteer helped me with my water bag, and then I got to cover the grassy bit again. I was feeling less grumpy about my wet foot and thinking I could probably make it for 21 more miles, and I arrived at the first creek again. This time, my legs were feeling a little tired and less steady on the slick rocks, so I slipped and got my right foot wet. And then I dropped an f-bomb.
The second lap was the hardest for me. I wasn’t feeling fresh and excited like I was on the first lap, and I wasn’t even half way there yet, so I started thinking things like, “After this, you’ll technically be an ultra marathoner, even if you did only run 50k… Can you retire from running ultras after running your first one? I’ve always wanted to crochet… I could take up crochet.”
So I plugged along through that second leg, trying not to think about my retirement and how to crochet a groovy granny square. I passed the happy aide station again, and those folks perked me up a little.
Then I started getting passed by people who were finishing their third lap. Good grief.
The final 10+ mile leg is somewhat of a blur. I got both feet wet in the first creek that time and didn’t have the energy to drop an f-bomb. I took a quick break on a picnic table to stretch my hips and legs. I knew if I sat on the ground, I’d never get up again, but I needed to stretch. My hips and legs were starting to feel like they were completely over all this running silliness. The stretching helped, and on my little walk breaks I updated Facebook to let my daughter and friends know where I was on the run, just in case they needed to recover my corpse later.
I felt like I was making decent time and plodding along at a nice clip, but in the end, I finished in 7 hours and 11 minutes. I didn’t have a time in mind, really. I just wanted to get this first ultra under my belt in 2012, and I did it.
Note that I did not break the sound barrier, but I did run farther than Felix Baumgartner fell in his space jump when he broke the speed of sound. I tell myself this because that seemed like such a long way to fall, and it is, which means it’s also a long way to run, even if you aren’t doing it from space. When I finished my 50k, I kicked back and slammed a Red Bull. Just like Felix Baumgartner did.
And when I started thinking that I ran too slow, I didn’t train hard enough, and I’m a classic example of an underachiever, I reminded myself of this:
On March 4, 2012, I ran on the trails for the first time. I ran a half marathon, and came in last, and I had a blast. (And there was pie.) On October 28, 2012, I ran my first 50k. Two-hundred and thirty-eight days passed between the first time my feet hit a trail and when I ran a 50k on them. If that’s being a classic example of an underachiever, I’ll take it.