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My first Ultra. It was Rough.

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MichaelV

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I guess I’ll try writing a race report. This will be the first race report since I wrote about my first marathon a little over a year ago.

Yep - Marshall was my first and I did a second at the end of March this year. It was the Carmel Marathon and it didn’t go as well as Marshall. I went a little more aggressive and blew up around 20 miles like so many do. Enough about that.

So not long after Carmel, I decided that I wanted to do a 50K trail race. For years, I’ve been far more into trail running than road running despite the fact that I almost never run on trails. My so-called excuse was that I spend so much time running already that I can’t really justify spending more time driving at least 25 minutes one way to the nearest trail.

Trails appeal to me for a lot of reasons. The scenery obviously, but I’m also not ashamed to admit that running long is more interesting to me than running fast. That explains my lack of speed workouts generally, but trails give you the excuse to go slower. You’re supposed to walk the uphills and the technical stuff on trails, right?

So I decided that I’d run one of the closest trail 50Ks to where I live. It’s called the Rough Trail 50K and it’s in the Red River Gorge here in Kentucky. How “Rough” could it be, right? I signed up in April and kind of put it in the back of my mind because it was a November race.

Sometime early summer, I mentioned to one of my running buddies who does a lot of trail races (he’s done Western States and the Vol State 500K and he’s done Rough Trail twice) that I’d signed up. His response - “You’re making a mistake. You need to do something that’s easier than that one for your first”. 

A real confidence booster, right? Well he probably had a point. Although I’ve randomly done some trail running, I hadn’t done any in quite awhile and had never done a trail run longer than 10 miles. 

So one of the ways I started training in late spring was to start limiting my runs to a heart rate lower than 140. When my HR gets to 140, I start walking or at least back off. When it drops below, I start running again. I figured this would mimic the constant shifting from run to walk you do on trails where the terrain is a bit technical and more importantly it would boost my endurance.

So basically, all of my running the last 6 months or so has been slow. I’ve not done a single interval, tempo or anything that closely resembles speed. 

Eventually, I got around to asking my trail running buddy if he would take me out to “the gorge” to do a practice run and show me around a bit. Our schedules finally synced up sometime in August and I headed out for what was essentially my first trail run.

(Just throwing in a couple random pictures from the gorge that aren’t me since the race hasn’t posted the photos yet)

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Well….he’s supposed to be a buddy, but I think he tried to kill me. He basically took me on a section of the course that had most of the big climbs. It was a run that was about 12 miles and it took me 3 hours. And it left me broken. As in, I couldn’t run for 5 days after that because my legs were so sore. And I went out and tried to run every day. I immediately considered dropping down to the 25K option. There was a 10 hour cutoff in the 50K and I’d just managed to only run about a third of it in 3 hours.

As it turns out, he is a good friend because that run put the fear of this race in me. I started going out to the gorge anytime I could find someone to go with and I started driving to a more local trail for 10 mile runs on the other weekend day each week (and some Friday afternoons). I upped my road running as well and turned in a 250 mile month in September. The most I’d ever done before that was just under 200. Over 100 of those miles were on trails. 

I kept it up into October culminating in a 16 mile run that covered the last half of the course and was very similar to that first trail run...only longer. I’d made a lot of progress. I wasn’t even sore the next day and I was able to run. 

I had one more taper 10 miler on an easier section of the course and the hay was in the barn. I can’t say I was confident, but I felt better about my chances than 2 months prior. I’d essentially run the entire race course at least twice at that point on various runs. But still, I hadn’t had a run longer than 5 and a half hours, and I was figuring at that point I was going to shoot for 8:30 in the race. So I might be 3 hours into uncharted territory. 

I made a race plan that essentially had me holding myself back for the first 17 miles. That first part has most of the easiest sections whereas the majority of the big climbs were all in those last 14 miles.

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Two days before the race, a running acquaintance of mine - Marcelo - messaged me and asked if I wanted to carpool. I agreed and I told him that I was aiming for 8:30. He said he was too, so now I had someone to run with as well. 

Race day was pretty cold. And that’s a good thing for me. It was going to be about 23 at the start and climbing into the 40s. I decided on shorts, calf sleeves, two short sleeve running shirts and a very light jacket with gloves and a buff over my ears. I ended up being comfortable the whole day and never took off the jacket.

Don’t worry, I don’t remember many details about the race, so this will wrap up pretty soon. And anyway, running and racing to me is more about the entire journey and not the single day of running/racing. 

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The race started and I was mildly successful at holding myself back during that easier first half. Well….maybe not so much! I did keep the effort where I felt it needed to be, but I was going quicker than I figured in my planning. At the first aid station at 8 miles, I was already about almost 30 minutes ahead. At mile 13, that was now about 45. I was 50 minutes early at that 17 mile aid station. So I’d pretty much failed in holding myself back, but I was feeling pretty good.

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So that is where I figured the real race would start. There’s about a 7 miles stretch to the next aid station and it had a lot of climbing - including one of the biggest climbs leading right up to the aid station itself. Marcelo had dropped back around mile 18 and said he'd catch up. I didn't see him again until about mile 25. I ran most of that time alone with nobody passing and nobody to pass. When I got through that section, my cushion was now up to 53 minutes over my plan so I’d basically held even with the plan. I wasn't gaining on it anymore, though and  was also starting to feel the miles and hours in my legs and pretty much everywhere else. 

From that point, there are two other aid stations in fairly short order. I gave back about 10 minutes of my cushion in that stretch as I just really didn’t feel like running on the easy stuff anymore. At the same time, though, I also started thinking about the chance to break 8 hours. 

Here is a photo from around that time:

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By the time I got to the 27 mile aid station, I was feeling a little better. I’d had some food at the previous two and maybe that was working its magic. I also chatted for a second with a running friend who was working the aid station and that gave me a boost. I was a bit disappointed that she didn’t have the shot of Fireball she told me earlier that she’d bring for me (for the record, I don’t like Fireball at all but it was something fun to think about). Or maybe she’d already drank it herself.

At that point, the 4 miles left felt doable. Never mind that the longest climb of the race starts at mile 28.

(Trail running tip that I learned - At that last aid station, I asked one of the aid station workers to fill one of my bottles with coke. Do not do that. Within about a minute of running, the shaking caused the carbonation to activate and the bite valve popped open and coke started spraying out a little bit. I stopped, took off the cap, chugged half the bottle and poured out the rest.)

The last 4 miles was pretty uneventful. Marcelo didn't stop at the aid station and left me on the downhill. I got to the last climb and I worked my way up in the fastest time I’d ever climbed it. I caught and passed Marcelo at the start of the climb. When I got to the top, he was nowhere in sight. At that point, it gets a bit difficult mentally because the climb is over, but you still have to drag yourself along for 2.5 miles on flatter stuff to the finish. 

I was doing math at that point and figured I should be under 8 hours. But it would be kind of close. I got to mile 30 and then to mile 31 and I still wasn’t quite sure where the finish was. I started wondering if I’d taken a wrong turn. In training, I’d just take the trail back to the parking lot, but the finish was in a slightly different place along a trail I’d not used. As it turns out, Marcelo did actually take a wrong turn at the top of the climb and ended up running an extra half mile. 

By the time I got to 31.3 miles, I was starting to get nervous about that sub 8. But that’s about the time I spotted the finish line chute about 15 feet above me around a curve.

Finish time 7:53:20. I was 60th overall out of the 140 registered. 

Honestly, it went about as good as it could have. Garmin says it was 6900 feet of elevation gain. Strava says it was somewhere around 6,000. Not sure why they are never closer. The race says 6500, so maybe that’s what it was. It was 2 plus hours longer than I’d ever run. Sure there was a fair amount of walking during the uphills and technical sections, but I never stopped moving forward except to grab food and fill up my water bottles at the 6 aid stations. 

Nutrition and hydration weren’t ever an issue. I basically drank Tailwind most of the day and had a little bit of aid station food each time to supplement. I think I had a few brownies, some mini peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a small pickle and some potato chips over the course of the race. There were rumors of grilled cheese sandwiches at the last aid station, but they must have been gone when I got there. 

I was kind of stiff and sore that evening and more so the next day, but nothing too bad. The day after I went for a 2 mile walk, but I was still a bit too sore to run. 

So the question in my head now is what next? I’ve considered doing the Atlanta Marathon Loophest next spring, but I’m not sure I want to do another road marathon right now. And the failed spring marathon this year is in my head. Training goes so well in the cold months of winter and then the race ends up being warmer than you’re used to. Fall races seem to be the opposite.

I also REALLY enjoyed this race. Despite the fact that it was supposed to be a mistake as my first, I think it was tailor made for me. I’m sure better trail runners than me would disagree, but I thought there was a lot of the course that wasn’t runnable and I kind of liked that. 

I’ve looked at a couple of spring trail ultras but haven’t pulled the trigger on those either. I’ve got to make up my mind soon because races that I do have to be in cooler months. So that means mid-April or earlier. 

And that means training starting real soon.

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Sounds amazing!! I can’t even imagine all of that climbing. I think the most I’ve done is 2,000 feet so far.

If you do pick a spring east coast ultra let me know which one.

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2 hours ago, ocrunnergirl said:

Sounds amazing!! I can’t even imagine all of that climbing. I think the most I’ve done is 2,000 feet so far.

If you do pick a spring east coast ultra let me know which one.

I would have thought your desert running adventure would have had more elevation change. 

Not sure what you might consider East Coast, but 2 I'm looking at are the Big Turtle 50 Miler (probably the 50K), or Land Between the Lakes (60K option). 

I know people who have done both. People love Land Between the Lakes and I've done part of the Big Turtle course. 

I'm open to other options, though. 😀

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2 hours ago, MichaelV said:

I would have thought your desert running adventure would have had more elevation change. 

Not sure what you might consider East Coast, but 2 I'm looking at are the Big Turtle 50 Miler (probably the 50K), or Land Between the Lakes (60K option). 

I know people who have done both. People love Land Between the Lakes and I've done part of the Big Turtle course. 

I'm open to other options, though. 😀

Over the 3 days of racing the total elevation was +4000’. Each day was only 10-14 miles.

Big Turtle course looks out of my league with all of that climbing!! LBL looks interesting.

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12 hours ago, ocrunnergirl said:

Over the 3 days of racing the total elevation was +4000’. Each day was only 10-14 miles.

Big Turtle course looks out of my league with all of that climbing!! LBL looks interesting.

I'm not sure how easy Land Between the Lakes is to get to, but everyone I know who has done it says it's their favorite race. It's a bit tamer for sure.

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Rough maybe, but seems to me you pretty much beat that course into submission. Congratulations.

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