Tuesday, March 25, 2014

24 Hours of Utah 50K (First Ultra)

First Ultra Marathon!

Two years ago I had never heard of the term "Ultra marathon."

A marathon in itself seemed crazy. I had no idea people actually ran MORE than that.

Last year I read "Born to Run" by Chris McDougall. It's what first introduced me to the realm of Ultra marathons. The idea of one still seemed unfathomable to me. But at least I knew what it was. By definition an ultra marathon is any race longer than the marathon distance of 26.2 miles. So it's pretty broad. It really can be anything, although most Ultra's are a nice common number - 50K / 50 Mile / 100K / 100 Mile. Most of them, especially those in Colorado, are also run on trails. Therefore, in addition to running for miles upon miles, you've usually got a wide variety of elevation and terrain as well.

Now, I'm not entirely sure when this next part happened, but sometime last summer in between reading a few more running books, and meeting and running with ultra marathoner's, I decided I wanted to do one to! I was somehow convinced that it was an entirely doable feat (which it is - you should try it someday!). I didn't have a set race in mind, but I figured choosing one a few months after my marathon might work nicely. This way, I would already have a good mileage base when I started training.

So in the fall of 2013, I looked up various 50K's in the area and picked one - the 50K distance of the 24 Hours of Utah race in Moab. I chose this race for a couple of reasons. For starters, it was in Moab - only a 3 hour drive from me. Second, it consisted of 6, 5.3 mile loops. Now before you start thinking I'm nuts for choosing a race where you're running the same loop multiple times, I did have good reasoning for this. For one, 5 mile loops really aren't THAT bad. 5 miles provides a lot of variety, and it's not like you can see the starting point the whole time or anything. The loops also allowed me to access all of my gear and fuel every 5 miles without having to carry it all with me. And, instead of concentrating on running 31 miles, I only had to think of it in terms of 6 laps. Win, win in my opinion. Plus it was in Moab, which always has awesome views and is typically beautiful weather this time of year.

Now that I had a race picked out, it meant starting to train as soon as I got back from Florida in mid January. Sure I had the mileage base, but I hadn't been running trails or hills all winter. So I did several 15-20 mile trail runs, as summarized in my last post. I also ran the Red Hot 33K, also in Moab, to familiarize myself with running on sand and slickrock.

Finally the big weekend was here! If all went according to plan, I would be an "ultra runner". How weird was/is that?! Since Scott typically works weekends and I didn't want to make him take off, I invited my mom to join me for the weekend instead. She drove over the mountains on Friday morning and I met her up in Grand Junction that afternoon where we grabbed a quick dinner and then made the hour and a half drive into Moab. Luckily we got into town while it was still light out, so we took some time to go find the race start so we would know where to go the next morning (which I was very grateful we did - the instructions made it sound like it was right off of the highway, but it was actually a short drive off the highway by way of a not-so-well labeled road). After that we checked into our hotel, relaxed for a bit, and then went to bed.

Surprisingly I slept okay, and felt pretty good when I woke up at 4:45 the next morning. I quickly showered and then got all of my stuff ready. I packed anything I might possibly need into a duffel bag to have readily available near the aid station in case I needed anything during the race. Then we drove to the start. I picked up my packet then waited around for the pre-race briefing at 6:45, before the race started at 7. There were several different distances/race types (24 Hour, 100K, 100 Mile, and relay's) so the briefing was helpful. I was a little surprised to find out that my first of 6 laps would be a partial lap (making the course closer to an actual 50K - their website had said that I would just be doing 6 full laps - making the race slightly longer, at 32 miles). I guess it was kinda of nice to find out I wouldn't have to go an extra mile.

Finally the sun had come up, it was 7:00 and time to start!

Lap 1 (partial lap - clockwise)
Mile Splits: 10:37, 12:00, 9:39, 9:52

As mentioned above, the first lap was a partial lap, or essentially an out-and-back. The course starts on a short stretch of dirt road, then enters onto a sandy trail, until around a mile in where the slickrock started. The turn around point was on the slickrock, shortly after reaching 2 miles. A cone with a deck of cards under it marked the turn around point. We had to bring a card back to prove we went all the way to the cone.

It was uphill for the "out" portion, so that meant downhill for the "back" portion. I don't know what I was thinking here, but I went way too fast on these 2 downhill miles. In fact, I learned my lesson the hard way because I completely wiped out shortly after hitting 3 miles (I've determined that as soon as I start to get confident in my downhill running, the ground likes to remind me who's boss). I literally just ate it. One second I was running down the trail like a beast, the next second I was on the ground - my knees stinging in pain. Since it was still early on, and I still had fresh legs, I got up super quickly (so as not to draw attention to myself), and continued on back to the aid station/check in. This was definitely the hardest fall I've taken yet because not only were my knees bloody, but I had blood dripping down my legs! I don't remember much of the rest of this lap because my mind just kept thinking about how clumsy I was, and how in the world I managed to wipe out so early on! I tried my best not to worry about it - it would just make me feel that much more hardcore when I finished.

Lap 2 (counter clockwise)
Splits: 11:15, 12:01, 12:30, 10:05, 10:25

Part of the course rules were to run each lap in a different direction - or, all even laps would be run counter clockwise, and all odd laps would be run clockwise. So, after checking in for my first lap and trying to rinse off my knees as best I could, I headed back out to run the course counter clockwise. Since the first lap was an out-and-back, this was my first time on the other half of the loop. It started out really sandy, in fact one area was literally like 6" deep of sand. I tried my best not to let too much get into my shoes. About a mile in, the course turned more swampy with tall grasses and lots of sandy mud. Luckily sandy mud doesn't stick too much to shoes, so no worries there! About 2 miles in,  you reach the slickrock. I could see one the large rock formations we had gotten close to on the first lap, but this time we were on the other side. So obviously that meant we were going around it! As soon as I got onto the slickrock the wind really picked up. I had taken off my arm warmers after the first lap, but now I wished I had them again!

Lap 3 (clockwise)
Splits: 11:34, 11:57, 12:09, 10:56, 11:20 

After completing lap 2 (I couldn't believe I was already almost 10 miles in!), I quickly checked in, expecting to see my mom (she headed back to the hotel right after the start, but was planning to come back), but she wasn't there yet. No worries though, as this just meant I would be halfway done by the time I saw her! So I grabbed a long sleeve shirt, half of a banana from the aid station, and then set back out to complete my first full clockwise loop. Here's where the laps kind of start blending together. I don't recall anything specific happening in Lap 3. I did have a pack of Honey Stingers towards the end of the lap. I was carrying my amphipod handheld water bottle which worked nicely and has a small pocket for one packet of gels or chews.

Lap 4 (counter clockwise)
Splits: 10:27, 14:20, 13:19, 14:36, 10:59, 11:45

Was I really halfway done already? I honestly couldn't believe it. The first 3 laps went by really quickly. I checked in, then went to say hi to my mom who was back by now. The wind had really picked up so it was fairly chilly. I grabbed another half of a banana and this time grabbed my pack of saltine crackers before starting lap 4. Nothing too specific happened during lap 4 that I can recall (oh except that the winner of the 50K came in BEFORE I even finished my 4th lap).

Lap 5 (clockwise)
Splits: 17:08, 13:27, 14:05, 12:14, 12:17, 11:52

Finishing lap 4 meant that I only had to do each lap 1 more time per direction! I'll be honest I was getting tired by this point. The first half flew by, now I was starting to think more about how many miles I had done and how many I still had to go. I was 20 miles in - 11 to go. I knew I could do it, I just wasn't sure how fast. I was starting to think that I probably went out to fast. Before this lap, I honestly was running almost the whole course with the exception of a few really steel portions. Lap 5 incorporated a lot more walking. I definitely tried my best to do more run/walk intervals vs. just completely walking. I filled my water bottle with Gatorade for this lap and ate 2 small candy bars. I was having trouble with my arms chafing, so I also switched out my long sleeve for a tighter fitting shirt.

Lap 6 (counter clockwise)
Splits: 16:25, 14:03, 16:39, 12:01, 12:33, 5:55 (last .59) 

Finally, I was 5 laps down, only 1 to go! My Garmin was at 26.1 miles! Practically a marathon. I now knew by this point that I was definitely going to finish. Even if I walked the entire last 5 miles I could finish in the cut off. I checked my watch and I was just under 5 hours and 20 minutes. If I pushed myself, I could make 6 1/2 hours. So, I set out on my last lap with the intention of pushing myself. Well the pushing didn't really go that well. I did run the first 2 miles on the sandy portions (oh and the sun finally came out right around here!!!). As soon as a hit the uphill slickrock, I had slowed down to a walk. That stuff is just really hard to run on - especially at an incline. I pushed myself to run a couple times, but still ended up with some slow miles here. Finally I reached the half way point, where it starts downhill again, so I started running again. It was a slow run, but it was a run. 2 miles until I finished. Then 1 mile. Then I hit the dirt road about 1/4 mile from the finish. I looked down at my watch - I was at 6 hours 28 minutes. I knew I would be mad at myself if I didn't at least TRY to make 6 1/2 hours, so I finally pushed myself and ran hard for the last 400 or so meters and finished in 6:30:25 (according to my Gamin). I didn't quite make my 6 1/2 hour goal, but it was close (and it was a last minute goal anyways), and a pretty good time for my first ultra

Date: March 22, 2014
Weather: 40's - 50's and cloudy/windy
Distance: 50K (31 miles, Garmin clocked it at 31.59)
Bib Number: 224
Official Time: 6:30 (Garmin overall: 6:30:25)
Garmin Moving Time: 6:19:58
Average Pace: 12:22 (12:02 moving - pretty for me on trails!)
Elevation Gain: 3,159 feet
Overall Rank: 11 of 15
Gender Rank: 4 of 4
Division Rank (Females under 30): 1!!! (of 1, lol)
Lap Splits (time of day - official start was 7:09am): 7:52am, 8:53am, 9:57am, 11:07am, 12:23pm, 1:39pm

Overall, I definitely think this race went well. I do wish I had paced myself a little more - as my pace slowed significantly during the second half. But I had a good time, and I honestly can't believe how quickly the 6 1/2 hours went by. Actually this is something that always surprises me - how quickly long runs go by when you're out on the trails. People often ask me if I get bored, but I never do. I just enjoy being out there, and the time really does fly! I really liked this course - it was challenging, but still pretty runnable. It didn't get boring despite doing multiple loops. It was marked well in my opinion (although I wasn't out there at night!) and I liked the variety in terrain (slickrock, sand, dirt roads, grassy/marshy area).  I think I might be done running on slickrock for a little while (not forever though - just for my next few races!). Even though I got tired, I definitely don't think this will be my last Ultra! I had a blast, and I look forward to continuing to challenge myself with both terrain and distance.


Still dark during the pre race briefing
This view looked really pretty in real life - my picture does not do it justice!


I liked this sign!
Checking in after my 3rd lap!
Monitor & Merrimac Trails (M&M)

So much slickrock!

The sun finally came out at the very end!
Almost finished! Coming in from my last lap!

Just a TINY bit of the tons of sand I got in my shoes!
I'm an Ultra Runner!
My knees post race. I'm just that cool! (They looked worse in person)

On Sunday after the race my mom and I went into Canyonlands National Park for a little bit. I've been there once before, but it was several years ago, so it was fun to see it again. It is such a big park!

The race was just on the other side of this!
Mesa Arch
I love this picture - just wish it hadn't been so hazy out!

My Mom and I
Wearing my new race shirt!

White Rim Road is about 100 miles long! It would be fun to run part of it sometime!

P.S. It was pretty crazy for me to comprehend that the 100 mile and 24 hour runners were STILL going the next morning! I ran into a gentleman a couple times who mentioned at one point, something about going 70 more miles than me. 70! Crazy. At this point, I definitely won't associate the word "never" with doing a 100 mile race, but I know I would definitely want a lot more experience before attempting something like that! I need to learn to pace myself better, and just be prepared to be out moving for hours on end! It would be a cool thing to do someday though...maybe.

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