This is a low key event - you show up, you run, and you write your time down when you finish. If you don't want to finish, you turn around early and tell them you didn't do the whole thing. They have aid stations that you hit four times, so like most ultras you need to carry some hydration. There is a big party with pizza and beverages at the end. And they request that you run in seasonal colors. Here's a video of the start, right before we get on the trail-- you can see me run by about halfway through. I'm on the left, and have a green shirt and a Santa hat on.
I really had no idea what to expect, other than I knew the course was tough. I came in 24th out of over 250 at the at the half marathon and my pace was 10:13. There are a lot of ups and downs. Here is an elevation chart of the entire 50 mile course (we did 31 of these miles in the 50K) that I stole from someone else's blog:
As you can see, the course begins with an insane descent. I fell for the first time here. The ground was frosted, there were leaves everywhere, and the rocks were wet underneath them. I realized right away that I apparently need a better pair of trail shoes, and that most of these runners were a lot more experienced on this terrain that me. They were flying on the downhills.
At about three miles in we reached a section along the river that wasn't really run-able. There were steep rocks and we were walking single file. Everyone was chatting to each other. Totally a different atmosphere than road racing. I started talking to a girl who just moved here from Seattle. She was a very experienced trail runner. After we got out of the rocky section, I chatted to her on the flats and the uphills, but when we got to the downhills, she flew. I couldn't go that fast - I was afraid I would end up with stitches -- so I was alone for a good stretch. I caught up to her at the first aid station, and barely spent any time there, but lost her again within the next mile.
About one hour in, I started hearing a guy behind me talking about the Chesapeakeman Iron Distance Triathlon, about doing the Bull Run Run 50 last year, and about recently qualifying for Boston at the Marine Corps Marathon. I realized that this might be the co-worker my husband is always talking about who is crazier about endurance sports than I am, as I knew he was signed up for this. I waited to see if the friends he ran with called him Jim. They did! I turned around and said "Hey! I'm Jamie's wife! You work with my husband!" And then I had a running buddy for the next hour! Wahoo! Jim wasn't doing the whole run, though -- he and his buddies did about 23 miles total -- so I bid him farewell around the 11.5 mark (maybe. I honestly have no clue what the mileage was anywhere on the course) and ran alone for a little ways.
At the second aid station, I filled my bottles with Gatorade, grabbed some cookies, and kept on going. My old boss, who has run the Bull Run Run 50 every year since it began, said that people waste a lot of time at those aid stations and you have to plan what you need to do before you get there. I think I only stopped for 90 seconds. Long enough to drink some cola and grab five oreos.
Finally we made it to the "Do Loop." They warned us that people always get lost on this section, which is right around the halfway point, and that we should run it with a veteran. I was with a big group of people, but none of us were veterans. Sure enough, we got lost. I think we probably went an extra .4 or .5 miles. Ugh. BUT on a positive note, we were in a group. It was at this point of getting lost that I met Dan and Elena, who actually seemed to run about my pace, and we stuck together for the entire second half. So in a way, the rest of the race was a bit less mentally challenging than the first when I had sections I did all alone.
I thought I was a little bit crazy for running 70 miles a week during my last training cycle. The great thing about running an ultra is that you meet people who are crazier. In a good way. Elena runs 70 miles a week pretty much every week, but she does it ALL on the trails. Dan has done 50 milers and 100Ks and told me all about the last race he did, on a course in southern Virginia that was tougher than this and 62 miles long, that he finished in the dark. I have no clue how people can run these things in the dark. I was falling at least once an hour, and it was broad daylight,
When we hit the last aid station, 4.5 miles from the finish, I realized this was the longest I had ever run at one time. I remembered 8 years ago, when I trained for my first marathon, every training run I did was the "longest I have ever run." I hadn't been able to say that for awhile.
I looked at my watch and realized that I could probably finish in under 6 hours. There were a lot of tough sections coming up, and it would be close, but I made that my goal. It kept us moving. We got to that rock scramble section at the river and had to take it slow, but the run on the dirt section was at a 9 minute pace. Then we hit that crazy descent from the beginning, except this time it was straight up. Like straight up a cliff. What kind of cruel joke is this? I walked every step of that "up." And then... remember that nice flat section in the video from the start? I knew that was all that was separating me from lots and lots of pizza. I also knew I was really going to have to book it to finish in under 6 hours. I ran as fast as my legs could carry me (which wasn't all that fast) and pulled in at 5:58:23.
I walked in, entered my time, and then I ate one... two... three.. .four... maybe five slices of pizza. Okay, maybe six. Then I drove home.
Now I can't walk. But that's okay. Cause I am an ultramarathoner!!!