8 things I learned when I ran an ultra marathon

by lachicaruns on

lessons-learned-at-my-first-ultra-marathon

This 44-year-old just ran for more than 31 miles through trails so muddy that moving forward felt more like skating than running, hills steep enough to leave her winded and for so many hours (more than 10) that just about any GPS watch would have died. Just a week after doing the Run Woodstock 50K, I’m still a bit shell shocked but pretty darn proud of myself and my runner friends who took on this challenge.

lachicaruns-mud-vicki

Rain = muddy trails.

Through all of that, I learned a few things. Things that I hope will help anyone new to running longer distances or even someone training for their first ultra marathon:

Trust — and follow — the training plan. I happen to have a one-track mind, so printing off a training plan or putting all of the runs on my calendar and scratching them off helps me stick to the plan for weeks on end. This was probably the most important thing I did to prepare to run such a long distance, just four years after I began running using the Couch to 5K app. I was tired and sore for a few days after the race, but I also recovered quicker than I have for previous 26.2 mile runs.

Run Woodstock map.

Run Woodstock map.

Ultra-marathon aid stations are the bestest. My ultra runner friends pretty much dangled the promise of potato chips, soda and M&Ms as the incentive for us newbies to sign up for the race in the first place. The spread (which also included cheese sandwiches, pretzels, fruit and other yummy food) did not disappoint. This particular race had aid stations every four miles, allowing us to break the 31 miles into more-manageable goals, which makes for a great head-game strategy.

The Run Woodstock utra marathon aid stations served as a huge incentive to keep going.

The Run Woodstock utra marathon aid stations served as a huge incentive to keep going.

The volunteers are even better. Aid station volunteers are more akin to a NASCAR pit crew. They approached us, immediately helping us find just the perfect treat to give us a boost, talking about the course and in one instance, even giving their socks off their feet to a runner who was struggling with blisters.

Charlotte, an experienced long-distance runner, raised our spirits.

Charlotte, an experienced long-distance runner, raised our spirits.

Your body will rebel. Rain and mud can leave one’s feet soaked, meaning a high chance for blisters. Water retention was pretty common, giving several of us the tell-tale sausage fingers. I’m not sure how to address this in the future, but I suspect I need to take in more salt and fluids, both.

Sausage fingers.

Sausage fingers.

The drop bag is better than CatsTo get the full 31 miles, this race had us run the same loop twice, meaning we could have a drop bag at the beginning and also halfway through the loop. I was fortunate enough to have Brandess’ tips for packing a drop bag, so I was prepared. When we found out we could have two bags, we included a fresh pair of trail shoes and socks in the bag halfway through the course, allowing us to switch out shoes for the last five or six miles. My feet and mood were both grateful.

I cut up plastic binder dividers, wrote my information on them with a Sharpie, and tied them to my drop bags so I could find them.

I cut up plastic binder dividers, wrote my information on them with a Sharpie, and tied them to my drop bags so I could find them.

Runner friends will see you through anything. Not only did I get to run with the best runner friends in the universe, but a couple of our friends who didn’t even have a race traveled with us, cheered us on, took lots of pictures and video, and even helped one of us change out of her shoes after our ultra. Yes. Seriously.

Our friend Michelle helps one of our runners change out her shoes after the race. Not pictured is our friend Janet who cheered all of us and recorded the day's events for posterity.

Our friend Michelle helps one of our runners change out her shoes after the race. Not pictured is our friend Janet who cheered us on and captured the day’s events for posterity.

You are stronger than you thought. I may have felt better than I thought I would, but running for more than 10 hours took a toll on my body. I was tired and hungry. I just wanted to take a hot shower, eat all the food and go to bed. But my body did carry me through 31 miles without failing me. Our friend Vicky got hit by a falling branch. Shannon was stung by a couple of bees and picked up an unfortunate case of poison ivy. We saw 100K and 100-mile runners who were barely shuffling along. But we all kept going and met up at the finish line.

My friends Shannon and Vicki finishing the 50K, even after getting hit by a branch, stung by a bee and getting poison ivy.

My friends Shannon and Vicki finishing the 50K, even after getting hit by a branch, stung by a bee and getting poison ivy.

Our friend Corey stuck with Melissa to make sure she finished her first 50K.

Our friend Corey stuck with Melissa to make sure she finished her first 50K.

There’s no miracle recovery cure. I rested a lot the day after the race, but made sure to stretch, use the foam roller and put my legs up the wall. I also drank tons of water and took Aleve on the second day, typically my hardest post-race muscle-pain day. The closest thing to a cure, however, is a sports massage, which inevitably gives me fresh legs. Ahh, relief.

While most of my familia and friends thought I was nuts for attempting my first ultra marathon, the whole event was a huge success. I’m not yet committing to my next one, but I am certainly glad that I got to this one and hope it inspires you to sign up for your first 50K if it wasn’t on your radar before.

What have you learned from running your longest distance? Feel free to share a blog post if you’ve written about this topic before. (Click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

Written by: lachicaruns

My name is Gisgie. It's pronounced geese (like the birds) and gee (like the letter). Now that we've met, I'm glad you're here. I'm an injury-prone runner who manages to find reasons to keep coming back to the road despite ongoing challenges. Most recently, I've struggled with piriformis syndrome. I'm currently winning. Most days.

11 Comments

MICHAEL BRANDON

Thanks for sharing these very useful lessons. I absolutely agree with “Trust — and follow — the training plan” and “You are stronger than you thought” lessons. Your post gives me positive power; I enjoy reading this.

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Michael

In my point, runners are creatures of habit and love to work from a plan. But when you’re traveling, try to avoid getting hung up the specifics of a workout. Something is better than nothing. The key is to stay flexible and creative and to emphasize making something happen.

Fighting !!!

Reply
Jeremy

Way to go. Woodstock 2016 was my first ultra as well. Don’t short change yourself, Woodstock’s “50k” is actually 33 miles. I loved it so much I signed up for bad apple 6h as well!

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Jennifer Love Running

My last year marathon was great. I joined to with 2 more friends. We enjoyed not only running but also great time together on our running way. Thks for your advices. Cant wait to see your next post soon:)

Reply
Jack

Congrats! 31-miles race is not bad. Your spirit is admirable, especially in the after-rain weather. Please keep the spirit and we are waiting for your next articles.

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