My First Ultra-Marathon – 50 Miles of Glory

It’s been a while since my last post, so I thought I’d jump back in with a personal post about my first ultra-marathon last Saturday.

Why oh Why?

The story actually starts about 4 months ago, during an evening of drinking with the Kendall Keiretsu. At that point, I had been on the sideline, and had not run for about 6 months because of a heel injury I go playing squash with Chris Keller. I was out of shape, and not happy about it. During the happy hour, I was talking with Moe Kelley about a book he was reading, Born to Run. We talked about the book for a while, about how humans evolved to run, and about how he was thinking about running a 50 mile ultra-marathon, inspired by the book. I found exactly the type of excuse I needed to get back in shape. So that night, after a few beers, I made a brilliant decision to join him and run the ultra-marathon. I really like making commitments that are more than you really should make, because it forces you to complete them.

Training, Training, and a Nasty Injury

Once I committed, I needed to start logging miles, lots of miles. I also purchased my own copy of Born to Run, and couldn’t put it down once I started reading it. It really helped motivate me, and got me thinking about new running styles. I never did go all the way to get a pair of Vibram Five Fingers, but I did do weekly barefoot sprints.

After about 2 months of training, and working up to 17 mile runs on weekend, disaster struck. 9 miles into a 20 mile run, I had an intense sharp pain in my left Achilles heel, and had to hobble my way home. I was really worried that this would sideline my plans. If you run that much, you’re bound to get injured. My friend Moe, who had this idea in the first place, was also sidelined with a stress fracture in his foot, which would eventually keep him out of the marathon and ultra. To be sure, I went to my podiatrist, had an MRI, and took 2 weeks off from running, before slowly working my way back up.

It turned out to be nothing serious, but to be safe I changed the way I ran to put less stress on the Achilles. I started landing on the forefoot, instead of the more traditional heel-toe. There are lots of reasons the heel-toe is not good for you, and the injury was the final straw to get me to change. The first couple of weeks were very difficult, since you work different muscles, but it was worth it.

Along the way, I built a sweet little spreadsheet to help me keep track of the miles. Below is a graph of the running log. It shows daily and weekly mileage, and speed, in a nice visual way. I rested the week of Aug 24, before ramping back up. The Bay State Marathon was on October 18, and the last big bar is obviously the 50 Mile race


Final Prep and Taper

In the 2 weeks leading up to the race, I tried to stay off my feet, ran very little, drank lots of water, tried to sleep a lot, and avoided coffee and alcohol. This all went well, except for the night before the race, when I had to drive back down from Hanover, NH, then get up at 5 am, meaning I only got 5 hours of sleep.

Race Day

The race started at 6:15 in the morning, just as the sun was coming up, to give people enough time to finish before it got dark if possible. I went with my usual pre-run breakfast, banana, coffee, and bread. Chris, my brother-in-law, drove me to the race since we had stayed with him and my sister the night before, to be closer to the race. The race was limited to 150 people running the full 50 mile race, and 150 doing a marathon on the same course. This is probably one of the few times that a marathon is a “short” run.

The course was four 12.5 mile loops in a forest preserve. It was incredibly hilly, had loose rocks all over, and 3 inch high exposed roots. And to make it worse, all the dangers were covered by 3-4 inches of loose leaves all over the course. I tripped and fell once, and hit my toes a few dozen times on the various roots and rocks, which was incredibly painful when your legs are in the middle of a 50 mile run.

At about 26 miles into the race, I started cramping up really badly. I was worried about finishing, and realized that this was the hardest physical thing I’d ever attempted. Luckily at the next aid station a few miles later, I was able to get some ibuprofen, water, bacon, and a shot of whiskey to help thin out the blood.

About a mile after that station, I saw Andrea, Chris, and Nadine, who made it to the course to cheer me on. It really helped to see them, and I kept pushing along. By the time I finished the third loop, I knew I would finish, even though I still had 12 miles to go.

This picture captures how I felt at about half way:

Later on, ironically, I actually felt better and was surprised at how fresh I looked with about 8 miles to go (below). And that thing I’m holding is actually a water bottle that I duct-taped to my hand so I would have water the entire time, even between the aid stations. It was a life saver.

The Finish

I finished in 10 hours and 7 minutes (see Full results). It felt great to finish, and no, I never reached a state of zen where I just floated along. It hurt, I pushed through, nothing magic. But the adrenaline at the end was awesome. Here is the finish: