A year ago today, I listened to my running mentors, took a leap of faith, and signed up for my first ultra marathon. The idea of running for 50 kilometers (31 miles) seemed nearly impossible, but I figured I could always walk my way through the course and still spend some quality time with my runner friends … once I met up with them after the race.
I not only survived the Run Woodstock 50K and had plenty of company, but it was one of the most fun events I’ve experienced since I started running in 2012. Aid stations stocked with cheese sandwiches, potato chips, M&Ms and regular Coke aside, the event showed me that I could reach an insane goal just by doing a few very basic things. Basic, yes, but not always easy.
Six months later, I find myself perusing the Run Woodstock website and pulling out my credit card. Again. Perhaps running ultras is like childbirth: If we remembered the pain, we’d all just have one kid (or run just one).
I learned a bunch of things (8 lessons, in fact) from that first ultra that I plan to follow. I’m adding a few more now that I’ve had the benefit of a few months to think back:
- It’s all about the base. Running in the Michigan tundra in the winter is plain hard. As with all things running, it’s all of those miles leading up to race day that really count. So I’m making sure that I put in the time now. To do so, I’m following the Hal Higdon Half Marathon Intermediate training plan so that I’m ready for my first half of the year: the Gazelle Girl Half in Grand Rapids. Starting early means I will have a strong base before full-blown ultra training begins.
- It’s also about the experience. Sure, the race was a fun event. But what made it memorable — and worth repeating — was the time I got to spend with my runner friends. A bunch of us made a weekend of it, including camping at a local park, a Friday night dinner at a local restaurant and a potluck dinner after the race.
- Think about the time immediately after the race. I spent months and months plotting out just about every detail of my race, including packing my drop bag, buying the perfect hydration pack and breaking in a second pair of trail shoes (in my case, the Brooks Cascadia). But I never planned for the time immediately after we got done. I now know to pack a small bag so I can take a HOT shower immediately. I would have given up a kidney for a lukewarm shower after all that time on my feet. Because we (gladly) waited for our friends to finish, I had to wait a couple of hours before showering. Not bueno.
- A trail race requires that you train on trails. A lot. A group of us run on local trails most Sunday mornings and I certainly ran on trails whenever we were on one of our camping trips. Both truly helped. But I need to increase my trail running significantly this year, plus do a lot more hill work. While I finished upright after 10-plus hours on my feet, working on endurance will make for a more-pleasant experience.
- Don’t expect anyone to understand. Why spend that much time training for such a long race? Are you crazy? Who does that? All questions I’ve been asked and, frankly, can’t really answer to the asker’s satisfaction. I no longer expect them to understand.
This all said, I haven’t actually signed up for the Woodstock 50K yet. I certainly want to and am hopeful that my friends will be by my side. What do y’all say Ultra Sole Sisters?