A few weeks ago, I signed up for the Watchung Winter Ultramarathon (5 loops of single-wide and double wide trail over rolling wooded terrain).
When my alarm went off at 4am I was having flashbacks of my fall Track classes and realized that I had to wake up, have breakfast and meet Joe Delano (from the Dashing Whippet Running team) at 6:30am in Chinatown.
I jumped into the shower, got dressed, grabbed the last slices of the pizza (not my typical running fuel btw!) in my refrigerator and downed my coffee but not before I saw the temperature:
It was -2º in Watchung, NJ where the race was going to take place and 6º outside of my apartment. I was not in a rush to get out! I had layered, advice from Joe which helped so much during the race and I cross-checked with Runner’s World What to wear.
Walking to the train in my Yaktrax Run Traction Cleats wasn’t so bad but I was concerned about how heavy my feet felt (I quickly dismissed the thought of packing my New Balance M890v2 Running Shoe, which I regretted).
I missed the train that I intended to take but caught the second one which got me there right on time. Joe had decided to get us (3 other runners were catching a ride with him also) there early, which was brilliant because on the way we actually got a flat:
As soon as that happened, I wondered, “Maybe this is a sign that I shouldn’t run?” Over the past few days I was having phantom pains (I think) in my legs and I had been sneezing (probably getting sick) and I was so close to bailing because of the temperature. So, “Maybe this is a sign?”
He emptied the back of the van to look for a spare but didn’t see one so I asked if there was a manual. We found out where it was but he had pulled on the side of the highway and we all thought it wasn’t safe to change the tire there, let alone learn how to retrieve it.
He drove to a gas station off the exit and with luck, we noticed a tire shop right next door! Joy! The guys were so nice and it cost only $10 for them to change it for us! We would actually never have figured it out if it weren’t for them.
We made it to the start with 10 minutes to spare: To sign up (for those of us who weren’t registered) and to retrieve our bibs.
The start was the slowest ever. There were four options: 10k, Half Marathon, Marathon or 50K so some people really took their time. I really didn’t know what to expect but I knew that I was strong, I slept well and had slowly carbed over the past few days so I was ready to push it. However, running at 13″ pace was killing me. Joe expressed it and suggested that we run at the next clearing. I followed him for abit and eased into my pace since I knew he was fast! Everything was going well until I realized the random elevations of downhills and uphills. I had to be very careful on the ledges because I don’t like heights. My feet started feeling weird, which I thought was the shoelaces, so I untied and tied my shoes a great deal and restrapped the spikes are few times. Nonetheless, the course was beautiful!
I met some super great runners who adored my leggings and I even ran into a woman who was running the 7 continents and doing a marathon in 50 states (This was her 22nd). This was such a great time in this race. I had a conversation with mostly everyone who passed or trailed me along the way.
Sometime in the race, I knew that I had no expectations of running under 6 hours AT ALL. I also realized that my Camelbak Hydration Pack was frozen. I had no water! I tried moving the spout into my jacket to warm it up but realized that I should have just worn the darn thing under my hoodie and outer jacket. I decided to wait for the water stop which was midway of the loop and at the start. I conserved well (however, I had to open my camelbak on the final loop when the middle aid station wasn’t there anymore).
The course was 5 loops (below are the elevations):
Although I don’t care about time, this isn’t the actual pace either haha. After my 3rd loop, I ran into Kat, another Dashing Whippet. She dropped down but I couldn’t push her to continue for the right reasons (not the best conditions)! She was very motivating and I ran into her (she took the following photo) again after the 4th loop, which was so helpful, but couldn’t stick around for my final one.
At mile 21, during the 4th loop, my Yaktrax Run Traction Cleats got caught in twig and I almost fell over. I realized that I was experiencing what I usually did during a marathon. I snapped out of it because I know I wasn’t racing, this is supposed to be an easy, relaxed run.
I had to convince Joe to come with me for the final loop. So I waited around and chatted until he refueled. He did sign up for the 50k and dropped to the full but I was on a mission! If this wasn’t my first, I probably would have dropped to the full marathon also—the conditions were extreme and I figured this was probably the only time I was going to focus on an ultra with my current running schedule.
I’m so happy he came along because I probably would have walked more than I had. However, he was great about walking when I needed to and vice versa. We spoke along the way and I learned about his wonderful family. I love listening to people’s stories about running, I always find they have super interesting backgrounds.
We even made it back in time before “the sweep”—a runner ran around the trail to see if there were people lagging behind. My Garmin showed 7:27 but they called out 7:29 (makes sense because we started minutes later than everyone). The check-points weren’t automated, just people calling out our bib numbers to add the time so this definitely wasn’t a race to take the scoring very seriously.
After the race, we headed back and had Taco Bell on the way! Da’ bomb! I usually have a beer after any long run but fast food was worth it.
For all you ultramarathoners out there, I applaud you! I thought covering 26.2 was tough but, although I wasn’t racing, I kept up and realized this is so much more mentally challenging than the possibility of hitting walls after mile 20. I don’t even mind the blisters!
Thanks to Joe for letting me know about this race! Other distance runners like Stalina, Raf, Jo Ann, Michelle, Kat, Kenneth and the other Dashing Whippets for motivating and supporting. Thanks to my social network on facebook and instagram for commenting throughout my run. Thanks so much Wendy for the text that I got right at mile 23, and Lawanda and Kimberly for welcoming me to the club (they did their first one last year).
I’m an ultramarathoner! Don’t worry no 100-milers any time soon… but who knows?