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Sunday, September 29, 2013

My First Ultra-Marathon: The Bear Chase Race 50K


Yesterday I ran my first ultra-marathon and I would like to tell you a little about the whole experience. If you only wish to read about the race and not my other ramblings about the path leading up, skip below until you see "The Race." Before I get too deep into this or that, you should know that an ultra-marathon is any race that is over the standard 26.2 mile marathon distance. Coming off a high from completing the Pikes Peak Ascent this year and getting a 3:26 time, I was excited to see what else I can do with my body. In training for the pikes peak ascent, I started running again in January of this year after getting to the heaviest weight of my life. I am 6' tall (legitimately) and weighed 216 lbs (now down to 186). I call that sympathy weight from my wife having our son in late November. Anyhow, I was running at a 10 minute pace and could barely finish 3 miles without feeling like I was going to die. By March, I was able to run a 23 minute 5k and was beginning to ramp up more miles to about 30 or so per week into April. Running a few other short races throughout the season and fighting through a groin pull, I quickly made it to Pikes Peak and really focused on that one race which was a good culmination between hiking/climbing all the Colorado 14ers and running. After finishing the 14ers last year, I was trying to figure out what to do next. You can't climb higher without leaving Colorado and I needed a real challenge. The ascent seemed to foot the bill. I went into it with a goal of 4 hours and trained to meet that time only to rock it out on race day with the time above despite having strep throat.

Decisions... Decisions...

Anyhow, enough of my life story. After Pikes Peak, I found myself asking what now? How do I top that? Maybe I will run the full Pikes Peak marathon next year which is the 3rd oldest in the country but that is a year away. I need some smaller things to keep my body in shape and adventure going on for my mind. I continued to put in my weekend long runs after the ascent and carry the normal weekly mileage of 30 to 35 miles per week. My weekly long runs ranged from 12 to 16 miles after that. I was maintaining but not increasing minus one week where I put in 50+ to see how well I could handle it. I read somewhere that 1 super week every couple of months can do a lot of good for you where you up your mileage 25-50% just for that one week and then resume normal schedule. Towards the end of my long week, I was running 8 miles for the 5th day in a row. With my standard well rested 8 mile time to be 1 hour. Thats a 7:30 pace holding for 8 miles. Day 5 I was running at about an 8 min per mile pace and feeling great about it. Earlier that day, I had received an email abou the Bear Chase Race which hosted a 100k, a 50 miler, and a 50k. During that run, I found my self thinking that if I could hold an 8 minute pace after 5 days back to back of 8 mile runs, I should be able to do something really long like a 50 miler. Wait... What? What am I even thinking? A 50 miler with no planning, no proper training? I guess its the adventure... The challenge. I began to google, "Can you run a 50 mile ultra on 30 miles per week?" Sure enough, I find that you can if you have the time in and some longer runs especially. Well, I hadn't run anythign over 16 miles all year but I was putting in 4 hour runs training for pikes peak so I felt it was possible. Worst case I could walk to finish anything I couldn't actually run. With my hiking experience, I know I could walk that far because I have done it. Not in 1 day but because I never had to. With my previous blogging experience being my Trip Reports on on my mountainmicah83 profile, I have laid out some pretty impressive trips over the past few years. Multi-day trips where my elevation gain has exceeded the height of mount everest in a week and my mileage was nothing to scoff at for sure. That is how I know I have it in me. Plus, I am obviously a glutton for punishment which is what brought me to sign up for the Marines right out of high school. How is getting your butt kicked supposed to be fun? I know there is a lot of background here but trust me, when I was trying to research if I could pull off this race, I was frantically searching blogs just like this one to read about people's first ultra marathons and the like. I wanted to know what they had done before to see if I had something similar.
Finally, I reach the deadline a little over a week before the race where I thought the price was going to go up if I didn't bite now. Only problem was I called sick into work that day for the first time in like 3 years. I had a nasty sore throat and some pretty bad cold symptoms. The other problem is that my wife was requesting my presence at a party where she was earning an award for her hard work. The party was at 6 PM in Colorado Springs and my race was to be in the West Denver Area. Now I knew I could finish 50 miles but could I finish it in enough time to make the party? I was not going to guarantee that. I would have had to finish in under 10 hours and still somehow have the energy to look human at the party. I wasn't sure I would even be able to walk after that ordeal. Thinking my cold would pass in just a couple of days, I compromised and decided on the 50K which is only 31 miles. Only... Really? I have only run one marathon which was back in 2007 and I barely finished with a time of 4:52, I walked the last 5 or so miles and said I would never run that far again. Here I am thinking a 50K will be "only" 31 miles. Worst case, I would run 15-20 miles and walk the rest. Monday morning rolls around and I don't feel any better despite jamming all sorts of vitamins down my throat such as garlic, echinacia, zinc down my thorat and even slamming a 1/2 tsp of honey, cayenne, and grated garlic every half hour. I go to the doc and she says she doesn't think I have strep or a cold but possibly pneumonia. Oh no! After getting the chest x-ray to confirm and immediate antibiotics, I figured I was done running for a while. Not only was I going to lose my race money, I was gonna get fat again. I'm pretty sure running a 50k with pneumonia would kill you. Luckily the results came back and I didn't have that. So recovering from being sick and having chest congestion I had to decide if 50K was really a good idea like if I could pull it off without some major repercussions later on. The race director informed me that I could step down to the 10K or half marathon they were offering if I wanted to. After a week of being sick and still feeling it, I had to make the decision. I went for 2 test runs. 1 with the stroller and baby for 2 miles. That felt good but I still wansn't sure so I ran my normal 4 mile loop with a goal of a 7:30 pace. If that felt good, I would do my race. If not, I was doing something less! The run was fine and I made it in 29:58 feeling good. I was in on the 50K.
The same day, I noticed that the course was to change. Due to all of the flooding in Denver and Boulder, the Bear Creek Lake (designed to catch a 100 yr. flood) was so deep it was covering over half the course which was a 12ish mile loop to be run several times. In fact the original start line was something like 40' under water. They said the race was still on. Planning on racing on Saturday at 7:15 AM meant I needed to leave the house by 4:15 to make it in time for packet pickup and drop bag placement. At 11:30 that night, the race team called me notifying me that the park had received a lot of rain that day and the course was unsafe and the race would have to be on Sunday. I thanked the Lord for the extra day of recovery.

The Race

Race Day Preperations

After countless hours of neurotically researching what to do to be prepared for I had my bags packed. Here is what I had:
2 Pairs of shoes
3 Pairs of socks (there were water crossings scheduled)
Running shorts with pockets
White polyester short sleeve shirt
Running GoLite jacket
Running gloves
Tear away sweats
Bag Balm
S! Caps
Honey Stingers
Clif Shots
A hand towel
16 oz hand carry water bottle.
Waking up at 3:45 am and leaving the house by 4 Allowed for a quick non-eventful drive to park ad bandimere speedway where the runners were shuttled to the race area. I was in place and had my race packet. Now I had 45 minutes in the cold to apply sunscreen, eat breakfast, apply bag balm to my crotch, inner thighs and nipples etc. It was pretty cold and windy so I was glad to have my GoLite jacket, OR Gloves, and fleece beanie.

The Actual Race

The starts of the 100K, the 50M, and the 50K were all staggered by about 2 minutes a piece. I decided to start without a jacket or beanie but with gloves. I decided to start at the back of the pack so I didn't roll out at a 7:30 pace all excited. After the gun went off and a short run on the path, the race quickly choked into the single track trail. I was forced to almost walk for quite a while beign stuck behind all the runners, many of which were purposefully slow because they were in longer distance races than my own. After about 2 miles, the water crossing came. The sun wasn't even out yet and we were running through cold water. I did a lot of pre-race contemplation on this if I would take the time to remove my shoes and go barefoot through or what I would do. I ended up just running through and getting the wet feet. Turns out that the Soloman Sense Mantra shoes I was wearing did as good of a job at holding water in as keeping it out. That water was there to stay for a while. By the time we started the ascent for Mt. Carbon, I met up with the first walkers. I have read that many ultra runners will walk hills to save energy to run the rest but in my training for Pikes Peak, I learned that I am faster to just keep running even if it means running as slow as I can walk. I find it easier to not switch back and forth. The descent from Mt. Carbon was beautiful with the early morning views of Downtown Denver but was painfully slow stuck in the long line of runners with no room to pass. This was probably saving me from myself of going too fast too early. I mean it was only 4 miles into a 31 mile race. The first aid station, I topped off my 16 oz runners world hand carry water bottle that I used on the ascent with the electrolyte drink they had. I picked that up at Wally world for seriously like five bucks. At this point, I wanted to use the porta potty there do drain some of my hydration but I wasn't happy about waiting in line so I just ran a little farther down the trail, hopped the road and watered a bush. Rolling around the course, there were a couple more steep but short hills that I ran and did not walk. Getting on the backside of the lap, the single track made it hard to pass often but I passed cautiously and courteously when I could. Since headphones were allowed, "On Your Left" wasn't working so well cause people couldn't hear. People were very polite and offered to let me pass most of the time so I would tell them I would wait for a more open spot. After the next aid station and an electrolite drink refill, I continued on. At these first two aid stations after roughly 7 miles, I had probably drank about 24 oz of water and popped my first Clif Shot and my first S! Caps tab. From there, the course opened to a double track where passing was easier and I finally had some breating room. I kicked up to about an 8:30 per mile pace to finish the first of 3 10.3 mile laps in 1:35. My goal for lap 1 was 1:30 so I wasn't far off and just over a 9 min pace average. Looking good after lap 1.

My feet were still damp from the water and just wern't feeling right. My left foot was already starting to hurt so i decided to swap shoes from My Soloman Sense Mantras that I used on the Ascent to my $80 mizunos I bought at DSW when I started back running in January that I have put over 700 miles on this year. I figured I would use those for a lap and let the Solomans take a rest and get a different feel on my feet. With my electrolyte drink, dry feet, and head phones I started lap 2. The head phones
were kind of neat since I never run with them except for when I have to use a treadmill. They were like a drug. I started lap 2 at 1:39 on the clock this time not so congested. The goal this lap is to catch back up to being at 3 hours even after 2 laps. I strived to hold about an 8:30 pace feeling really great. The first few miles were difficult as the 10k and half marathon folks were coming head on down single tracks. Mt. Carbon quickly came back up. I shortened my stride and upped my pace count. I had already passed several folks the first few miles but who knows which distance they were running. I must have locked onto the 8:30 pace pretty well because 20.6 miles came at the end of loop 2 with me feeling great. The wall I was expecting at around mile 18 never came. I came in at 3:04 which means I dropped the 5 extra mins I started the lap with. My shoes felt great so I decided not to change back. I grabbed a few more gels for the last lap and dropped my shirt before taking off. I couldn't believe it, with my goal of 5 hours, I had 1:55 left to finish the last lap but I knew at that point I wouldn't need it. Mt. Carbon quickly came again and suddenly I couldn't stand the taste of the electrolyte drink. I still ran the hill and made it down and to the aid station where I changed for water. I also began to take advantage of the mountain dew and the pepsi. A few oz per station. The water was so good and I figured I had enough electrolytes in me to finish. This lap was hotter and I was sweating more. Between the aid stations, I actually ran out of water for
the first time in the race. Luckily I only had to wait about half a mile to get more. The final few miles from the last station, I began to feel a little pain in my feet especially. I figured this is what ultra running is all about. Sticking through the pain. I kept up with a 9:30ish pace to finish. The final hill I got a little emotional as I realized that I was about to finish and managed to run the whole way. I ended up finishing in 4:39 which is a 9:00 pace average and was so so so happy. My marathon 5 years ago was 4:52 and was roughly 5 miles less and not so hilly. The race director told me to hang around because I might have placed for my age group. I highly doubted it so I went and sat down with a beer.  Based off last years results, I would have been like 6th in my age group and maybe 20th overall. Somehow, I ended up 1st in 20-29 and 11th overall out of 202 runners doing the 50k. Thank you elites for not running this race and giving some normal people a chance to win! Also thank you to the race director and staff for making this race happen despite all of the setbacks.

Here are my stats:

See you at the top!