It used to be that running a marathon was a big deal - until Oprah ran one! Now every man and his dog, and his cat, and his parrot and his pet stick insect has run a marathon. So how can you possibly stand out from the crowd? Run an ultramarathon!

Yes my dearest family and friends you can now say you know or are related to an ultramarathoner - and not one of those skinny muscly kinds either, no this ultramarathoner is still pretty cuddly in places.

Admittedly 50k (31.0685596miles) is the baby of ultra marathons but it still counts. The event was the Mt Si Rely and Ultra - here in WA state. This is a race that I love to do. I've been in the relay twice (once officially and once as a 'run along' due to injury) but spending the day in a sweaty car eating junk food with your running friends is something special. As you may recall I was supposed to run the 50km last year but due to an injury I was unable to take part. Well after a year of recovery and building back up everything was looking good. I did my longest run (3:30 in the rain 3 weeks ago) and have been tapering down ever since. Given how hard the last 6 miles of a marathon is I knew doing another 5 on top of that was going to be a whole new experience - one that needed some official plans. Normally for marathons I take a short break at every water stop and then just see how I feel at the end. This is a trail run with limited water stops and no mile markers. So I've been running with a CamelBak and J bought me a Garmin GPS watch for Christmas but where would I stop? For training runs we normally do 30 or 20 minute runs with 1 minute stops. But for the 50k I switched to 2 minutes - pure luxury. At the start it feels just wrong to stop when your watch beeps and see everyone else run on by but I knew that this was what I needed to do and really its not dissimilar to what I do in marathons anyway, just that EVERYONE stops at the water stops. The course starts out pretty flat for 4 miles then there is 11 miles slowly uphill, a steep half mile downhill to the turn around point and then you reverse yourself. After chatting to coach N the plan was to take a nice slow 11:00 pace to the turn around and then see how the downhill went.

The 50k group went out fast... at mile 2 I was 4th from the back. But I keep my pace very even and slowly but surely up the hill I started to pick people off. I think I passed about 8 people on the way up. It was a beautiful day and the views up in the Cascades are great but I'm used to marathons with lots of people. Sure everyone was friendly and you can have short chats as you pass or get passed but its a lot of running on your own. At 10 miles you hit the first bag drop where you can dig into any supplies and refill whatever you are carrying. Being British I had stashed a bacon sandwich and a cadbury creme egg. Apparently it takes a strong stomach to eat this sort of stuff while running but its was something for me to look forward to.

Mile 4-15 is pretty much uphill all the way but I was feeling great. I slowly passed a few of the people who went out too fast and eventually got to the turnaround point. This is the cruelest part of the race. The turnaround point is at the bottom of a hill. Yes after spending 2 hours climbing when you deserve to just turn around and reap the rewards they make you drop down a steep hill just to grab some food and turn around. This of course means an instant climb back up and for those at my speed this means a walk. I had taken a Gu at the top of the hill, eaten food at the bottom and then grabbed another Gu at the top. At this point I hit some sugar limit and decide I needed to go a while before I took any more food - my stomach was not happy with the overdose. In good news at this point I am exactly at 11 minute pace so the race plan is perfect... time to pick it up a little.

So now its easy right? 11 miles of a gradual slow downhill followed by 4 miles of flat. All on nice soft gravel trail. Well that would be a big fat No. For a start the hill is not steep enough that you feel like its that much easier which is odd because it did feel easier last time I ran this trail - it just wasn't after a 15 mile up hill. In addition the wind is now in my face which is nice and cooling but means that I had a tail wind on the way up that I didn't know about. The 5 miles back to the bag drop seem to take forever. I'm calling out the distance to the people coming up still - some seem grateful and others seem not to care. A couple of the 50 mile people pass me - amazing that they are 19 miles ahead of me in terms of distance and still going faster.

Sadly I miss my friends doing the relay at the changeover point - they are about 5 minutes behind me in time so I eat more cream egg and head off down the next 6 miles. Glancing at the watch I can see that even with the downhill I am not gaining any pace. I'm still right on 11 minutes. I can't really understand - somehow I am running downhill at the same speed as I ran uphill. My legs are getting tired sure but I'm slower than my marathon pace so I should have some left. I pass my running team mates who are running the relay and are on the way up towards me - lots of high 5s. I also pass a couple of other 50k people. I reckon I have passed about 10 people since the start so I think that I am still doing pretty well.

Getting to the bottom of the hill I pass 2 big milestones.... at 26.2 miles I start my longest distance run ever and at 4 hours 57 minutes my longest time run ever and I still have 5 miles left to go. My legs are tired but nothing like the Goofy race. As I plod along some people are catching me up. I am pretty sure most of them are 50 milers as I don't recognise them as anyone I have already passed. They are mostly taking regular walk breaks like me so we pass each other several times with various witty comments. Everyone looks so tired. The fast relay runners are cruising past us like we are standing still and most of them yell something encouraging. I'm especially grateful to the lady who yelled "you guys are amazing" to all the ultra runners as she passed us. The trail is long and straight and seems very much longer than the same trail just 4 hours earlier. Taking walk breaks at this point is a double edged sword. On one hand your tired legs really appreciate the walk and the water but restarting those legs is quite horrible. During the 20 minute part of my run I often convince myself that I should just run through the break to avoid the pain of restarting but by the end I always need and take the break.

It seems to take forever to pass the golf course and get to the bridge with the steps down to the road. Yes I said steps. The small group I am with takes them very easy. Some go down backwards - I choose a sideways approach holding onto the hand rail very well. Once at the bottom I know there is less than half a mile to go and somehow find some energy. I pull away from the couple of people I have been running near and head up a slight hill to the town. There is a bar on the corner I recognise and I pick up my speed and get to the school. Less than 400 yards to go and I hear coach N yelling and amazingly my legs feel just fine and I even manage another speedup round to the finish line. Final time 5:53:33 a little slower than I hoped but under 6 hours. That's an 11:20 pace so I know I slowed for those last 5 miles. I end up 39th out of 56 people.

Amazingly enough my legs are stiff but after a few minutes of stretching and walking around I feel pretty good. I get my blanket and my box of little debbie triple chocolate super fudge high fructose lard cakes and start the refueling process. My watch says I burned 5552 calories in those 6 hours so for once I am allowed to eat whatever the hell I want. I have about an hour to wait before the relay teams come in. Thankfully the weather is nice so its not too bad.

That evening I was moving around far better than I expected. The more marathons I run the easier the recovery gets. Don't get me wrong - I didn't run anywhere for a week and stairs and buses were not my friends but in general people don't believe you ran 31 miles when you just have a few aches and pains.

So is this the end of craziness for The Zman? Who knows? I will be doing some more half and full marathons coming up and hopefully at least one Triathlon this year. I'm hoping to run 3 marathons in 3 months at the tail end of the year to qualify for Marathon Manics. The 50k was overall easier than the 39.3 miles in 2 days that I did at Disney so I think I will try some more of these. Will I ever run the 50 or 100 milers that tantalize me despite knowing that only insane people do them? Well time will tell I suppose. I can't say never because 3 years ago I would have said 'Never' to running 5 miles let alone 5 marathons and an ultra.

Oh and for those keeping count the final food count for the run was 7 Gu's, 2.5 bags of shot blocks, 2 cream eggs, half a bacon sandwich, 2 handfuls of potato chips, about 6 cookies and about 1.5 bottles of gatorade. Final verdict - cream eggs great. Bacon sandwich great but takes too long to chew and eat - I wonder if I can make bacon flavoured Gu?

Published 14 April 2008 08:37 AM by zman
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