June 6-7, 2015.
Fort Snelling State Park-Minneapolis, MN.
Marathon (or greater) #12.
When I look back at all of the endurance events that I have completed. I am already shocked by what I have achieved. 11 marathons, 10 century rides, 5 Half Ironman triathlons, and a few front-of-the-pack finishes.
But, there will be two events that will bookend the adventure. Two events that push the level of my endurance to the limit. Two extreme events that I would compete in only one time. And the two events could not be more different.
The first was Ironman Wisconsin. This was a huge event. My training was extreme. My stress level was off the charts. I have never been more fit. I had nightmares about weather, bike mechanical, and missing cutoff times. It was unforgiving and intense. The finishers medal and shirt will be treasured forever. My finishers swag could fill a closet.
The ultra-marathon experience could not be more different is as low key and relax as an event like this could be. That is why I chose it. There will be about 200 participants. There is no DNF. You go as far as you want. You stop anytime. It is a 2.1 mile loop around a lake with 2 aid stations. There is a single 20 foot hill. It is a paved/gravel walking path. There are no timing chips (laps are counted manually). You can bring a support crew, but don’t have to. You can pitch a tent, or use a communal tent. You can take a nap in your car. You could go to a restaurant for lunch. You can leave after one lap. The total number of laps you run in 24 hours is your finish distance. There is a tiny medal (that just has the logo of the charity partner on it…doesn’t even have the event name or year) and a cheap t-shirt. No other swag. I am bling motivated, so this is odd for me.
Ultimately, I am doing this to have an ultra-marathon on my running resume. I will not feel that it is complete without one. I have actually completed an ultra-marathon distance twice. I completed the Route 66-“World’s Shortest Ulta-Marathon” (26.5 miles)-which is basically a joke, and a 50k training run (which doesn’t count in my book). So, I want to make it official.
I want to complete 50k (just over 31 miles) as it is the shortest recognized ultra-marathon distance. I had hoped to push myself a little further after the 50k, knowing that every step would add to the longest run of my life…and knowing that I would never get here again. But, ultimately, I am undertrained. 50k will likely be it for me. I will be slow. Fortunately, I have have all day (and all night) to get there!
I arrived at the race sitet around 6:30am. The sun was already high in the sky…with threateningly dark cloudbank forming to the west. The weather was uncertain for this event. It looked like the skies would be clear in the morning. Showers may pop up in the afternoon (scattered…so we may or may not get soaked) then severe thunderstorms starting at 11pm or so (I should be in bed by then). I parked the car and walked over to the event tent (about 300 yards from the parking lot. This was on a paved walking path around Lake Snelling. I got my packet (in a plastic grocery bag). It had my bib, shirt, and finishers medal (no DNF in this event, so they just give it to us at packet pickup). The shirt is nice, the medal isn’t (just a logo medallion of the charity partner…does not even state what event or year).
There was no timing chip-everything is tracked manually. The aid station was right next to packet pickup and we had to do a weight in before the race. Just past the check in tent is the main aid station and the “tent for the tent-less”. Beyond that was “tent city”.
I brought my packet back to the car, grabbed my gear (for any possible weather conditions) and headed back to tent city. By the time I had everything set up, it was almost time to start the race. We had a few race announcement and we were ready to go. The first “lap” started with an out-and-back about halfway around the lake. This was done to move the 100 mile point to the starting line so a 100 mile split would be properly recorded. So, all 200 of us went out, back, then out again…resulting in a very congested first couple of miles. After that, the course was pretty straightforward…just “Keep the lake to your left”.
The last thing I heard as I passed the starting line was one of the officials yelling “Remember: Start Slow, Then Taper”. That was my plan. I would not go out fast. I would walk the aid stations. I would take a walk break anytime I wanted one. 50k is only 5 miles longer then a marathon, but I was still entertaining the thought of stretching this race farther. If I were to have any chance of that, I would need to conserve energy. I was shooting for 15 min/mile pace (which would typically result in a DNF at most marathons). This was a much slower pace then my one and only 50k training run last year. I completed that in 5:52:21. But, I was much better trained at that time (peaking for Ironman Wisconsin). My fitness was not there this year, and even the 50k would be a stretch.
The loop starts as a paved walking path on the beach/picnic area on the west side of the lake. It becomes a gravel path on the east side. Finally, we run briefly on a section of the main access road to the park. It is at the intersection of the gravel path and the access road that the secondary aid station is found. This was mostly fluids, but they had a few snacks as well.
The course was mostly flat. There are some gradual uphills and 2 short but steep downhills (which I walked every time). The first two or three laps were fine. I settled into a slow training run pace and walked every aid station (including tent-city). I quickly found myself closing in on a half marathon split. I was feeling pretty good by this point.
Half Marathon Split (unofficial)- 2:43:32.
There were still no clouds. There were some wind gusts, but it was mostly calm. The humidity was good as well. But the tempurature was creeping above 70F by this point, and the sun was cooking us. I could feel the strength draining and could feel the start of a sunburn. I stopped in tent-city to reapply some sunscreen. I also started to drink more water, take salt tablets and dunking water over my head. We also had to do another weigh in at the 4 hour mark. I was down about 2 1/2 pounds.
The gavel path was dry and dusty. The cottonwood was in full bloom. At times, it was so thick that it looked like it was snowing. I noticed that the dust and cottonwood was sticking to my legs from all the sunscreen. It looked like I had been tarred and feathered.
There was an official photographer for the event. He was great! He walked around the course in the opposite direction of the runners and would take a shot of everyone as we ran by. I saw him on most laps, and he was smiling all the time. The race offers free photos for anyone that wants them, which is a wonderful perk!
With 200 or so runners stretched out over a 2 mile course, therewas little congestion, but there were always runners around me. I never felt alone. Some were flying past me on a regular basis.
I had elected to not listen to music. Instead, I loaded up an audiobook. It was one of the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett. It is a short novel (about 10 hours long), funny, and easy to follow. If I got distracted, it was easy to get back into the story. This actually worked well. I think music would have made me move faster, but the story helped keep me from getting bored or focusing too much on how unhappy my legs were getting.
By mile 21, I was ready for my marathon to be done. Knowing I had over 10 miles to go was demoralizing. Despite the slow start and frequent walk breaks, my training and fitness were not where they should have been for this event. I would have difficulty just getting to 50k. I would not be going past it, but I was determined to get there…it was the whole reason I did this today!
The lap/timing system was efficient. I would take out my earbuds as I approached tent city. The first guy was a spotter. He would announce your bib number as you approached and I would listen for this as well. They had a guy on a laptop that would just type in your number. There were also about 12 people with binders and spreadsheets, each of which were responsible for a handful of runners. Each runner introduced ourselves to our tracker just before the race, so we knew who to talk to. As I would run by, my tracker would give me a thumbs up, a “I got you Raymond” and sometimes a lap total. They also had the one and only clock there, and they would record our split time. A board right next to the timing tent showed the total mileage for each lap. There was no partial credit for partial labs, and your only official result would be the final distance at 24 hours. Since the 100 mile point was at the timing tent, those going over 100 miles would get a 100 mile split.
With a couple of laps left before my marathon split, the clouds started to move in. I knew that the severe stuff was supposed to hold off until around midnight, but the weather was unstable. I wanted to get this over with and go home. If there is severe weather, the race would be suspended and I would have to wait in the car until the race started again. I did not want to deal with that scenario. Despite the protest from my legs, I carried on.
Marathon Split (Unofficial)-6:15:12.
The clouds were thick at this point, but still no rain. I tried not to imagine what the gravel path would be like after a big downpour. It was still hot, and I was dunking water over my head at every aid station. I was walking more and more. Running was not much faster. The six hour runners had gone home. I finally hit the final lap. That lap would put my distance at 50.5 km. I was grateful that the lap ended just past of 50k instead of being just shy of it. I could not do another. Each footfall was painful. My legs were trashed. It is amazing how much harder it is to add 5 miles to a marathon. Finally, I see tent city (for the final time) and my finish line.
Final Distance-31.5 miles (50.7 km).
Final Time- 7:50:00 (although the official results will show 24:00:00).
Once I had crossed the finish, I told my tracker that I was done for the day. I was advised to check back in at any time if I wanted to resume the race. I grab my gear and head back to the car. As I made my way back to my vehicle, it started to rain. Just a few drops, but I was happy that the rain held off until the end of the event.
I did a quick change in the car and put on my event shirt. It was real now. I am an ultra-marathoner. I could add that to the resume that already included an Ironman triathlon.
Overall, I was pleased with the event, and I am glad that I experienced an ultra-marathon. It is a much more intimate event, and there are some amazing athletes there. Despite my enjoyment of the event, I doubt that I will ever do another. It’s not for me. It reinforced my decision to move towards shorter events next year. This year, however, I still have 3 of my 6 marathons to complete…all in October. I plan on training for those a little bit more seriously throughout the summer. But, for now, I have a month before my next event (a half marathon on July 4th). But what I really need to do is to start training for my triathlon season. I have not been on my bike or in the pool all year. Since all my events are sprints, my longest event bike ride will be 16.9 miles and my longest event swim will be under a half mile (750 meters). Unlike my last triathlon season, the training for this will be quite reasonable. I will limit my bike rides to 2 loops in Elm Creek (30 miles-about a two hour ride), and 1 mile in the pool or lake (a little over 30 minutes). Looking forward to both for a change of pace…