Enduring a 50k Ultra in the North Carolina flatlands by Beth Greer
So there I was toeing the line for an ultra marathon of firsts. First one post-baby. First one with proper training, race plan, and nutrition. Most importantly, first one injury free.
I ran my first ultra in 2010 and to say I had an insufficient training plan would be generous. I ran on a whim most weeks, had nowhere near enough miles on my feet, ran through an injury, and had a nearly non-existent hydration and nutrition plan. It was a pure sufferfest and I was rewarded with six years fraught with knee pain. For my second ultra, I cobbled together a training plan, but realized it was still inadequate especially when a tropical cyclone caused a course change resulting in an additional 13k. I was still struggling with the injured knee but managed the pain better. In February of this year, the last piece into the puzzle fell into place allowing me to run pain free.
I was going to run smart. And since it’s proven that I cannot be trusted with my training, I hired a local running coach. Not only did he create a dynamic running plan based on heart rate, but he also knew the challenge of training in the soul-crushing flatlands of Eastern NC. Strength training, foam rolling, and stretching were integral parts of the plan. I mostly participated in one-woman W.O.O.T.-NC runs. It is especially lonely on the trails during the summer when the heat, humidity, and swarms of vicious flies chase sane people away.
The race took place on the trails of the US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. The 50k course consisted of three well-marked loops plus a short parade lap prior to loop one. This thinned the herd of runners and alleviated the bottleneck heading onto the single track. The first half of each lap was a near constant fluctuation of elevation gain and loss while the second half incorporated some flatter sections. Each lap felt significantly longer than the previous one, but my split times were nearly identical. The three aid stations exhibited phenomenal volunteers and ample caloric fare. The weather was ideal.
How was my race experience you ask? It was a rainbow of emotions. I ALWAYS go out too fast (Unadulterated excitement). My coach said that I should still feel fresh at 18 miles, so by mile 12, I told myself that I ONLY had to feel good for another 6 miles (Ultra runner’s optimism). But the fast start took its toll; my body started hurting at mile 14 (Disappointment). From past experiences, I knew that I could muscle through to the end (Determination). Towards the end of the second loop, I stopped trying to hold myself back (Acceptance mixed with guarded optimism).
The third loop was a sufferfest but I was still mostly running and occasionally passing people (Pain). And as with the last ultra I ran, people kept asking how I was still smiling. If I wasn’t having fun, I wouldn't want to push through the suffering (Delight). However, by mile 30-31, I was DONE with this race. My fun meter was pegged (Frustration). I know that ultras are often more than the advertised distance, but I was irrational at this point. I even swore that I wasn't going to run another ultra knowing full well that by the end of the day, I'd be looking forward to the next one.
At mile 32, the discomfort disappeared, and I grew angry (Anger). I was so mentally and emotionally drained that it was the only emotion I could summon. I picked up speed. I set my super focused, angry face. Although anytime someone cheered, I'd look up suddenly, smile, say thank you, and then return to angry face until I cruised across the finish line (Joy).
In retrospect, I’m pleased with the race I ran, but I'd be interested to see how I would do if I went out more conservatively. I am still amazed at the difference proper training, hydration, and race nutrition makes. My advice for future ultra runners: “Train, Eat and Smile.”