My First Ultramarathon
Silver Rush 50, Leadville, Colorado (10,000 feet to 12,200 feet): 13 hours 16 minutes 45 seconds
This has been a journey. When I registered for my first ultramarathon, I knew that I didn’t have the time to train properly. With a full time job, wife, and 4 kids, time is limited. There was a day I thought sleep was optional, but since running 120+ miles a month, more sleep was becoming physically necessary.
2 months prior to the race, I started taking Juice Plus. I was realizing that I was not doing well with nutrition and many days going without fruits or vegetables. After 3 weeks of taking Juice Plus each day, I started to notice the runs were getting easier and the recovery time was shortening.
Tanya and I headed up to stay at the Leadville Hostel Friday afternoon. Part was to get comfortable with the thin air and part to get some time away from our 4 kids. We had dinner with the owner of the Leadville Hostel, talked to others staying there that have done the course, and watched a movie. Simple and easy.
Here is my full recap of my first ultramarathon race …
Mile 7.5 – And the climbing begins. For the next 3 miles, nothing but uphill. Not just uphill, but mountain climbing. To make it more interesting, the snow melting was making a nice stream down the trail. The climb was relentless and several times had to stop to catch my breath from the altitude. Focused on the mental battle and tried to enjoy the view as I climbed.
Mile 10.5 – Downhill! Made some new friends. A former pro-biker from Illinois and another biker from Texas. There were quite a few people from Texas, which is interesting as the altitude there is 500 feet.
Mile 13.5 Aid Station – First time I get to see Tanya since the starting line. Seeing her felt great! Many of the volunteers handing out PBJ, chips, pretzels, and more were people I met the night before at the Leadville Hostel. People that understood this course and what my body was going through mentally and physically. Absolutely incredible people!
Mile 15 – Climb 2,000 feet again. Ugh.
Mile 20 (defining moment) – Finally a descent! Saw the first runner heading back to the finish line which was pretty cool. They were climbing hard up the hill and you could see the deep digging in their eyes. As I came around a corner I started descending a rocky hill. About a third of the way down, my left foot caught a rock and sent me in the air. It was like watching an action movie in a slow motion scene. I tried to move my right arm around in front of my face, but failed to do so. I landed on my face. My body bounced and left knee came down on a rock while my chest dragged across a minefield of smaller rocks.
I came to a stop about 15 feet from where the action started. Slowly, I opened my eyes and began doing a body assessment. All parts were moving. I started reviewing skin to see if there were any bones sticking out. Left knee was only area that showed concern as blood came out of 3 holes and looked like air was pumped under the knee cap. I slid myself off the path and took out the only water bottle near me to start pouring over the knee. My hand bottle broke off my hand when I hit the ground and 2nd bottle on back belt was slingshot about 20 feet down the hill. I was not going to stop. Just because you fall down and it hurts a little doesn’t mean you don’t get up.
After a few minutes, I gingerly stood up, gave my knee a few bends, and started moving forward. I made it to my water bottle and placed back in belt and continued to the bottom of the hill. On the flat surface I started to shuffle jog. Continue forward.
Mile 24 Aid Stattion (turnaround) – Just before coming into the aid station I ran through hail and rain. It felt great! As I rolled in and saw Tanya, I pointed down at my knee. She knew that there was no point asking if I was stopping so she asked the right question:
“do you need anything for that?”
Do I “want” versus “need.”
The medic asked the same question. I told her I poured “magic water” over it while on the trail so it was working fine.
I enjoyed some Coke and a turkey/avocado sandwich from Tanya while chatting with other runners.
Mile 25 Mistake – I knew I had a climb ahead of me with just coming down the mountain. I put my head down and started to move. Funny story, at the beginning of the race, there was an announcement that stated:
“The course is well marked, but it is not idiot proof.”
Guess what? I’m an idiot.
With my head down and moving forward, I didn’t see the turn I had to take. I kept on moving forward. About half a mile past there, I felt the course was too easy. I looked around and didn’t see markings. Fortunately, Search and Rescue was out on 4 wheelers so I asked the idiot question: where’s the course? They steered me back the correct way and after several choice words with myself (pretty sure outloud) I was back on the journey.
Mile 34.5 Aid Station – I was full of jokes by this point. As I came into the aid station I had this conversation:
Crew: How you feeling?
Crew: That’s awesome to hear!
Me: Yes, but I’m lying!
This was the last time I would see Tanya before the finish line. As I had came this way before, I knew what was up ahead. My guess was that I would be climbing for the next hour. That’s a lot of walking and thinning air. Mental deep digging was imminent.
Not only was there a climb ahead, there was the stress of hitting the mile 40 aid station time cutoff.
Mile 35 – 38 – Climb climb climb. Leaving the aid station I met up with a guy from Boulder named Ryan. He was a strong runner having a rough day. He showed up to the race 10 minutes before start, and decided to take part in the contest of being the first to sprint to the top of the hill. He missed it by a stride. About 1.5 miles in, he realized he forgot to pickup his timing chip. He ran back, but found nobody at the start line anymore. So while I added almost a mile to my course, he was dealing with an extra 3.
We continued our climb for 1 hour and 20 minutes. That’s a long time of climbing 2,000+ feet on dirt and gravel.
Mile 40 Aid Station – Have I mentioned how amazing the volunteers are in Leadville? Absolutely incredible! Some soda, watermelon, orange slices, PBJ, and M&Ms. I took a seat and took comfort in still being able to think clearly. Others around me were not so fortunate. There were those that couldn’t keep food down, others asking 4 times what the time was, and hearing about body parts that hurt. After about 6 minutes, I stood up and thanked every volunteer individually, and pointed my shoes to the finish line.
The majority of the remaining miles were downhill, yet my body didn’t really want to run. Made a deal that if it was smooth (no rocks thank you) that I would jog. Done. Met up with 3 people and started chatting. Once I was informed we were less then 2 miles from the finish, I was off. Felt nothing but joy as I glided through the last few turns into the finish line.
As I came around the corner and saw the finish line, it was almost surreal and didn’t feel like I had just traveled 50 miles over mountains 4 times. Was ridiculously excited to discover volunteers waiting with a BBQ sandwich for me. The smile didn’t leave my face for an hour.
Body and mind all checked out good and still talking coherently. The point to prove in running an ultra was that a person can redefine their limits. You don’t have to run 50 miles, but you have to be active. Our world and society are becoming less and less active with cars, technology, and online shopping. Just start moving. If you want tv, walk around or do situps during commercials. Just start moving!
Will I do another ultramarathon? Oh yes, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Now I just need a sponsor to pay for my races. In return, I will write, speak, and raise awareness of your company/organization! Let me know if you are interested!
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