For the past couples years of running I set a few goals for running the marathon, sub-4 hours was one of them. When I finally broke it, it shouldn’t have been a shock to me that I slipped right into another goal: the ultramarathon (anything above 26.2 miles). The ultramarathon is nothing like racing a marathon, in fact, to me, it wasn’t about racing at all. It was a test of endurance that I’m super proud to be getting better and better at.
This past weekend I completed my 2nd 50K (~31 miles) at the North Face Endurance Challenge in Bear Mountain, NY. When I signed up, I was undoubtedly insane considering that I saw the rating of difficulty only after my credit card was charged, and after I read what the course would entail. While listening to others gasp as I told them which one I signed up for and noting how technical it would be, that only made me anxious as the date approached.
On the website, the rating was like this:
Overall Difficulty: 5 out of 5 stars
Technical Terrain: 5 out of 5 stars
Elevation Change: 4 out of 5 stars
Months later after completing a Ragnar, and covering a couple marathon-distance training runs, May 3rd had arrived and 7am, as the runners got together in wave 2 (I went back a wave no one wants me leading this) I was pacing myself for the 50 kilometers of mud to trek through, loose tree leaves to sort, snakes to run away from, bugs to avoid, rocks to scale and slide down, bridges to cross, streams to jump over and asphalt.
It’s not until the we stayed overnight at the hotel I realized how unprepared I was.
“You don’t know about S Caps?”
“How was I supposed to know about that Kat?” I asked my friend. “You let me out into this new world of ultras with no guidance. Go young one just start running…” I gestured with my hand imitating how ones parent might shoo their kid out of a location. Kat had in fact been my inspiration to try the Watchung Ultra 50K in January and somehow convinced me to sign up for the North Face Endurance Challenge, without a blink of an eye.
It had been over IM and I am sure the conversation went like this, “Wanna do an ultra? You just did a marathon, you can totally do an ultra, just a 50K…” Yup, pretty sure that’s how the conversation went. It’s pretty much how all my endurance challenges have been (Wendy with the Tough Mudder talk).
Here was Kat again preparing her outfit the night of our race with gaiters (new to me), S Caps, and whatever vegan thing she was going to convince me really works. Ok, the dinner was delicious and we even got Chinese food to eat the morning of. Delicious. Powered by rice.
Her friend Luis signed up for the 50-miler and he gave me some tips before we dozed off into dreamland. I felt bad that he would have to wake a couple hours before us to head to the start. It wasn’t long before it was our turn however, and luckily even in getting lost, we made the shuttle with a couple minutes to spare.
I’m at the start. I contemplated hanging back with Kat and her friends but realized that this 2nd ultramarathon would be a test on myself. I wanted to see how well I could do so I started off at a comfortable pace. “Maintain a pace that you can see yourself do for 31 miles,” I reminded myself. As we turned the corner to enter the trails, there was chaos. Everyone was stuck on the side because there was a huge puddle that, of course, no one wanted to run through for good reason (you probably don’t want wet shoes for 31 miles). Once we passed that area the thick mud awaited us. Great! Even more runners were sorting themselves out.
Then some brilliant runners, myself included, decided to just jump right in. I didn’t want to spent the next 30 miles trying to be clean. I came here to get through this. However, that means feeling your shoes get stuck in the mud and I had to reinforce my shoelaces a few times even if they were double knotted. After awhile we encountered some flatter, dry areas which made it more comfortable to run but a few miles in we met rocks, and ascents. I remember Luis telling me to approach it like stairs (I’ve been practicing on the stair master) and breathe when going downhill. I did that. Seemed like those tips helped because by aid station 2 I had people complimenting me on how fast I was and how strong I looked. Nonetheless, people were also dropping out of the race by that aid station.
“More difficult than I expected,” I overheard.
“I underestimated it,” said another.
“I didn’t train well,” said a third.
I continued in, remembering than Joe (who ran Watchung) mentioned don’t spend more than 1-2 minutes at aid stations on a post once. Made sense. “Beware the chair,” another last minute advice by Kat. So, minimal stops and no resting, except to walk—fair.
While running I found it difficult to avoid taking out my phone to take photos of the landscapes. It was absolutely breathtaking.
I also noted how every other runner approached each obstacle. I made room for the faster ones to pass and passed those who were making me take extra steps (I find that annoying and physically taxing). I refueled at the right times and I began questioning myself as to why I hadn’t needed to use the bathroom the entire time but I assumed it was because I trained well (trust your training).
I even ran into Dean Karnazes on the route. I shouted out:
“Dean! You’re one of the reasons why I’m attempting crazy distances like this! I have your book and DVD, we have to take a photo!”
Of course, who wouldn’t? I’m lovable.
I also took a photo of another ultrarunner with Dean and emailed him (Yes, Pier you took some time off my run).
By the time I ran into a fellow teammate at an aid station with 2.9 miles to go, I was still energized and he agreed that I should have signed up for the 50-miler. Probably.
(Photo compliments of Kenneth Tom)
I refueled abit more and continued on. That was the final aid station, I had enough water and I could start picking up the pace, especially since my Garmin Forerunner 610 (which lasts about 8 hours) began alerting low battery.
So, this is how my mind works: I’m 7 hours in, I wanted to register my mileage. Run faster. I did. I also realized that we were merging with the other runners who would be running the marathon and marathon relay. The course started looking familiar in the reverse (The muddy path and puddle ahead). I bolted more. Only a few more, it’s was literally less than 800 meters. I came around the corner and saw the finish line and continued on. Push.
(Photo compliments of Kat’s husband, Jun)
I was welcomed by cheers by my running team and the announcer. One of my new running friends found me and lead me ahead. There was an ice bath. Yes. I went to pick up my bag. I refueled, had a drink, ate some food and waited as my other friends completed their races. Accomplished. I’m an ultramarathoner, for the second time.
Pictured: Jessica [ultrabeast] Woods, Me & Kevin Chin
So final results:
194 out of 334 people
33rd out of 79 females
9th out of 24 in my age group
Not bad, very similar to Watchung under different extreme weather conditions (-2 degrees F, snow and ice).
Now, on to the next race, no 50-miler yet. Oh, and there’s a specific way you pronounce “ultra” marathoner, everyone’s doing it. 😉