I still can’t say that I ‘love’ running, but I am beginning to enjoy it more and more everyday. I’ve made a lot of new friends in my journey through the endurance world. Some of my closest friends currently, are probably the biggest reason I was introduced to the world of endurance sports. They have done all kinds of races and unknowingly push me to try harder distances and races.
I remember the first year I volunteered at Three Days of Syllamo, a stage race that covers close to 100 miles over the course of the weekend. I remember thinking how in the hell can these people run a 50k, followed up by a 5o miler and finish with a 20k?! I was intrigued from then on, but I still had not quite built up the desire to try it myself. A group of us always try to go up to this race to hang out, volunteer and sometimes run. I think this race alone was what truly made me want to give the Ultra Marathon distance a try. Trail runners are just a totally different breed of human beings. They are some of the nicest, down to earth, loving and interesting athletes I’ve ever met. Most all of them are always smiling throughout the entirety of the race. I guess it is hard not to smile when you get to see so many beautiful views that some people may never get to see in their lifetime.
Fast Forward to my decision to attempt my first 50k. The decision was solely based on the reason that I have never ran that far before and so I wanted to push myself towards a new challenge. I can’t say that my training went perfectly or even close to what I would have considered a solid training base going into it. There were several weekends when one too many beers contributed to me neglecting some long runs. My dog had a hand in ruining a long run one weekend, she crapped out on me at mile 12 and I had to hike her out of the trail and get a friend to come back and pick us up after they finished. Did I mention she rolled in a huge pile of feces, the producer of the big pile of crap is still unknown, but I bet it was created by a hiker. Oh and I had to wash it off of her in a creek. The smell of it on your hands does not go away easily! (Great and funny story now, but not at the time).
A few friends atop Flatside Pinnacle mid run, the same run my dog covered herself in poo.
Two weeks out from the race I had a sketchy week. I wanted to get some more solid miles, but my body was telling me otherwise. I think I might have over trained the two weeks prior. I experienced unusual muscle fatigue and even some slight cramping in my lower legs. I was chugging water, it didn’t make sense. I only got in 3 runs that week, 2 of the 3 were under 2.5 miles. The week leading up to the race I ran 3 times with the longest run only being 3 miles. I figured that if I wasn’t trained up enough, hopefully my body will have rested enough to get me through. I was really banking on the fact that even if I was not prepared physically, I would have the mental toughness to push through to the end.
Training run on the Ouachita Trail with my dog, Delta. This is the view at Vista Point, you get a great view of Pinnacle Mountain from here.
Most of my friends know, that I don’t always prepare for races in the smartest ways. Typically, I would sabotage race day by doing something idiotic. For instance, having one too many beers the night or two before a race. NOT THIS TIME! I really wanted to get at least this part right going into this kind of a race. I know, I know…It should be a given right? Obviously, you don’t like beer like I do! I made sure to chug water all week leading up to race day to ensure I would be well hydrated. I also decided to stay at the lake house in Heber Springs the night before the race as well. The first reason being, I could chill out and relax and get to bed early and not have to worry about socializing all night. I do not typically sleep well, so I wanted to get to bed as early as possible to make sure I would get as much rest as I could. When I got to the lake, I spent a half hour paddle boarding, but the wind and chilly water cut it short for me. So, I decided to relax in the chairs in the lot and enjoy the view.
I wanted pasta for dinner to get some carbs in before the race. I decided to try a place down on the Little Red River just outside of downtown Heber Springs. I went to Café Klaser. The weather was perfect so I opted to sit on the patio that overlooked the Little Red River. I was soaking up the moonlight and enjoying the view until I realized how long I had been sitting there without being greeted. Let’s just say, the service was horrible and the food was nothing worth bragging about. Do not order the chicken parmesan pasta! The meal was a far cry from good, but I ate what I could handle before it started to make me feel nauseous. The waitress noticed I only ate half of it and asked if I would want to try anything else instead. Is that a real question, I thought to myself. I decided against that, mainly because I didn’t feel like waiting and because how much better could anything else really be?! I got a to go box for the noodles only and left. I choked the rest of the noodles down when I got back to the house to make sure I had enough food in me before bed.
I woke up, got my things together, made some coffee and two whole wheat bagels with peanut butter and banana for breakfast and hit the road. Of course I had to stop to get ice for my post race celebratory beer, then on to Allison, AR. I was just getting into Mountain View coming down a big hill and noticed a cop, looked at my speedometer and was immediately like SHIT! I was going 73 and little did I know that the speed limit had switched to 45 from 55. Either way, I was speeding, but gosh that ticket is going to suck. I felt like it took forever for him to write the ticket and give it to me. So much for showing up early to the race.
I FINALLY make it to the race with a WHOPPING 8 minutes to spare before the start of the race. I hustled across the parking lot to check in and grab my race number, etc. I sprinted back to the car to get myself together; mix my drink up, pack my oh crap I’m cramping pills, and whatever else I needed. I had everything good to go, so I started to pin my number to my shorts and I realized I didn’t have but only one pin. Damnit! I have everything I need so I sprint back to the check in desk to get some more pins for my number. This is the terrible part…while I’m waiting for the police officer to write my ticket all I can think about is how bad I need to go to the bathroom and I need to go now! Back to finishing pinning my number to my shorts, I am literally clasping the last pin and I hear an air horn sound! SERIOUSLY?! I look over and all the people running the 50k have taken off, so my quick decision was to hold out on the bathroom break and start running. (Horrible decision!) I had to quickly pick up the pace and start pacing as many people as possible as to not get caught behind all the slow people before we hit the single track after the creek. All I can think about is how badly I need to go to the bathroom and I hoped I didn’t forget anything. I thought all was good until I realized I forgot my iPod.
I forgot my iPod?! This is going to be the longest day of my life! I began to think, what in the hell am I going to do when the pain train shows up and I have nothing to take my mind off of it?
We get down to the creek crossing, the water is freezing cold as always, but no big deal because it was only knee deep. I still have to stand in line, like I am a first grader at the water fountain waiting to get up the rock stair case that begins the trail. I guess I didn’t pass enough people. I finally make it up the rock stairs and we start in on the trail. Remember I still need to go to the bathroom badly, so I run the first 5.5 miles a lot quicker than I originally planned to make it to the first aid station at Blanchard Springs. I knew there was a bathroom there. I figured the faster pace would just make for a good warm up. Crazy thing is I was running behind an older guy and through small trail talk found out he is grew up in my hometown and knows everyone I know it seemed. Small world. I finally make it to the aid station and immediately hit the bathroom. FINALLY!!!! Normally, I would pop of the trail somewhere but not when I know a bathroom is coming up.
I finish the deed, decide I do not need anything from the first aid station and start up the stairway out of Blanchard into the first big climb on the trail. Here I ran into Melanie Baden and Brad Schmitt again, which I first saw them before the creek crossing. We started in with some slight small talk to which I do not remember, but I slowly pulled away and Brad followed. I think Melanie told him to get after it. We ran all the way to the next aid station together shooting the bull. I told him about the trail, how the next section has some gnarly views and who knows what else. We both end up leaving the next aid station together and I can’t remember if we decided to keep running together or if it was just an unspoken mutual agreement. I honestly thought he was probably way faster than me and at some point we would part ways because I would be running to slow.
I have no clue how I was not dying by the halfway point, but I guarantee it had a lot to do with my main man Brad cruising the trail with me.
Brad and I at my favorite section of the Sylamore trail. Photo creds: Cliff Li
Brad and I made it through the turn around and started ‘chipping the miles away’ heading back to the finish line. We hiked when the trail got extremely technical or when there were big climbs. Although there was this one hill, that was maybe two to three steps in length that about took us both out. I hit it first and immediately thought, what the hell, how did that tiny little hill just almost conquer me. I then hear Brad make the same remarks I just did and I died laughing. I still don’t think we really know what happened other than maybe we just ran up it completely wrong or something. But, at this point of the race we are both starting to feel the fatigue. However neither of us felt like we were getting close to hitting the wall. You know, the holy shit, my legs are cramping and I don’t think I can run any further kinda wall. I thought I would definitely see that wall by mile 20.
We finally made it to the last aid station, which was the first one in the race, given this is an out and back trail run. I think at this point the sun was starting to take its toll on everyone. It was heating up out there. We got what we need from there and pushed on, yet this section of the trail we had a whole lot more I don’t give a craps in us. This translates to we were cool with hiking sections more. Brad considered these ‘No chip zones’. Pretty funny if you were there, but it basically meant we weren’t running this section. I think by the time we finally made it to the creek we were both exhausted and so stoked to be back at the creek. The cold creek water had never felt so good! We crossed the creek ran to the start of the climb on the gravel road and started our speed hike again. The gravel road at the end is the biggest freaking hill when its the last freaking hill, it is brutal. We made it to the top of the climb and hit the pavement running, a few minutes later Brad tells me we are running 7 minute miles. I think we both agreed to slow it down and we cruised on to the finish line to seal the deal on our FIRST 5OK FINISH! Mad props to Brad for running sticking with me throughout that race. It literally made the difference between what could have been a long terrible day, but turned out to be one of the best race experiences I have ever had. I forgot my freakin iPod, luckily a conversation with another human being can make you not think about that. So thank you Brad and congrats on a race well ran! Time to go kick a 50 milers ass! Chip on my friend!
Surprisingly, the race went better than I anticipated. This is not an easy race by any means, but it felt easier than any road marathon I have ran. I ran a way faster time than I thought I would and I never had to give myself a pep talk to keep running because I never hit that oh so awful and painful wall. I finished the 50k in 6:37:02 which put me 44th overall out of 152 runners. I’d say that is a pretty good outcome for my first Ultra Marathon experience. I should also add that my good friend, Mr. Christophe Block, won the race for the 3rd year in a row! Good well done, but you are an asshole for yelling do the back flip as I came trudging into the finish line. I NEVER back down from a ‘tuck check’ and of course threw it right after crossing the finish line. The back flip was a lot higher than I expected it to be and caught me off guard slightly, so when I landed my legs flexed to absorb the landing and my legs cramped up. Whoops!
I’m excited for some more racing in the future. I plan to knock out a 50 miler in the near future so stay tuned! Until then ladies and gents…
And that’s a wrap! My first ultra marathon is in the books! Sylamore 50k 2/20/2016
Thank you to Greg Eason and all of the volunteers for another great race experience. I look forward to coming back again and again.