It wasn’t pretty, but I made it.
Five hours and thirty-four minutes after I started, in temperatures that never got out of the twenties and fierce winds that numbed my face at times, I crossed the finish line of my first trail race, the PHUNT 50K, and officially became an ultramarathoner.
The group I run with (called RUT, short for “RASAC Ultra Team”) uses the phrase embrace the suck to describe the mindset required of an ultrarunner. I think it’s more often applied to the misery one must endure to complete a 100- or 50-miler, but during the last eight or so miles of my 50K — “only” 31 miles — I got my first taste of true, unmistakable suck.
In hindsight, there’s no reason why I should have expected anything less. My oral qualifying exam at school, the holidays, soreness from a new weight training program, and helping out with finishing our basement to make room for the baby limited my December training to 40 miles — less than my weekly average during the month of November. My longest and hardest December run, a hilly 15-miler to get back in the swing of things, took place less than a week before the 50K and left me sore until last Thursday, just two days before the race.
Somehow I had convinced myself that it would be ok, that trails are softer than roads and a nice slow pace would make for an easy introduction to the world of ultras. But when my legs got prematurely heavy after only about 15 miles yesterday, the realization that I was less than halfway finished made it painfully obvious that there would be plenty of suck to embrace if I were going to finish this thing.
I have my friend, Ginn, and my “support crew” — my wife, Erin, and my dad — to thank for making this day a success, and not what it easily could have been, a bailout after about 20 miles. Ginn, who was running the marathon-distance option, ran with me until our courses split off at about the 23-mile point (en route to taking second place in the marathon category!). It would have been extremely difficult for me to finish the race after I started hurting if I had been alone for the whole thing — the loneliness and uncertainty of whether I was even on course during the final eight miles made that the hardest part of the day. Well, that and the few-hundred-foot incline at about 20 miles that was so steep we had to pull ourselves up most of the way by grabbing onto the trees and literally climbing.
And without having Erin and Dad there to give me extra clothing (thank you, Recovery Sock armwarmers!), exchange my shoes (my new ones gave me blisters after 10 miles, not surprising considering I had only worn them once before this), and to simply be familiar human faces and voices in the stark lifelessness of the woods and wind-exposed fields in January, there’s no way I would have made it.
Our dogs came along too, and clearly had an extremely hard day:
I felt alternately terrible and elated during the final, lonely eight miles, at times wondering why I was doing this and at others, becoming overjoyed with a feeling of accomplishment and anticipation of finishing. I knew there was hot soup, cold beer, and lots of congratulations and stories of others’ days waiting for me. And at this point I realized what embracing the suck means. Doing it sucks, having done it is ecstasy. You suck up doing it to get to the having done it, and when the ecstasy wears off, you do it all again.
I kept going, and for a while, it did suck. But eventually, I forgot about how much it hurt and managed to just put one foot in front of the other. Walking some steep uphills, and eventually even the steepest downhills, but always pushing forward. And, sure enough, I finished. And then I was happy.
And to think this was only a 50K. I can only imagine the suck of 50 miles and beyond. I have at least two more 50K’s, in the next two months, before I do a 50-miler, and I hope to do those much faster than this one by being more prepared and pacing myself better.
What I ate, and a giveaway
As promised, I have a prize pack of the drink I used yesterday to give away to a reader. But first, here’s what I ate, since it’s kind of funny to me. I tried the no-sugar thing for a while, but soon realized that wasn’t going to work for me on this day, and the aid stations had such tempting stuff! I’ll get there one day.
- Handful of almonds
- 6 pretzel twists
- 2 cookies
- Handful of potato chips
- 2 Fig Newtons
- 1 orange
- 2 cups sports drink
- 1 whole wheat bagel
- 4 Gu Chomps
- 40 ounces water with Nuun electrolyte tablets
And the last one is what I’m giving away! Nuun is a sugar-free electrolyte tablet that you drop into your water to get everything sports drinks give you, without the sugar, of course. Note carefully: the point is not to run calorie-free. Nuun allows you to get the electrolytes you need while getting your calories from wherever else you want, sugar or not.
The company sent me a bunch of different flavors to try, as well as some water bottles and stickers. Erin and I have been drinking water with Nuun every day; we are both hooked on the stuff! It tastes really good, and has come in especially handy over the holidays in the morning when I’ve woken up feeling just a little under the weather from the previous night’s festivities. And all the flavors we’ve tried are great. It comes in citrus fruit, lemon lime, tri-berry, orange ginger, banananuun, and kona cola.
If you haven’t tried Nuun yet, I recommend it, especially if you’re trying, like me, to get away from relying on sugar during your long runs. You can get it at most running stores, at Nuun’s website, or you can win it here.
So, the giveaway: one winner will receive a Nuun prize pack, consisting of a Nuun water bottle, a Nuun sticker, and two tubes of Nuun (12 tablets each), in citrus fruit and tri-berry flavors. As always, enter with a comment, no linking or tweeting necessary. What fun is it if you have to do all that? Get your comments in by Friday, January 8th, and I’ll announce the winner after that.
Thanks to longtime NMA reader and Nuun rep Tracy for approaching me about the Nuun samples!