Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My First Ultra

Lake Chabot 
Its called a "Fat Ass."
I opened my email from the race director of the Epiphany Ultra Trail Run and there it was. Its a popular term used amongst the ultra running community to describe a free, "unofficial" and relatively unsupported race.  I've been speculating on where the term came from, but I haven't a clue. Does everyone show up at the trailhead in running tights asking "Does my ass look fat in these?" I don't know. Maybe.


I guess you could say its the running equivalent of a flash mob. You put the word out via Facebook or Twitter and see how many people show up.

I left my house on Sunday morning around 4:30am to drive to the Bay Area and meet my friend Pablo in the parking lot by around 6:45am. I got to race start just as the sun was rising up over the hills, (the view was beautiful from the ridgeline and I had to stop along the way up to get an early morning "jewelbox shot" while it was still dark.). The parking lot was full and I scrounged for a spot on the nearest uphill street. I was surprised to see as many people as I did. Apparently, around 140 people showed.

Pablo (The Skyscraper)
The race took place in the hills of Oakland California. It started at the top of the canyon in Redwood Regional Park and went down about 13 miles then hooked around the marina at Lake Chabot. Yeah. This race was not flat by any stretch of the imagination. We were either running uphill or downhill. The whole way. For 31 miles. My first 50k.

I'm used to running races alone. Generally I don't know anyone or if I do they're usually faster than me so I rarely get to chat with friends. I like meeting random people though. Finding out about their stories. It was nice to run with someone. Neither Pablo nor I had ever run an ultra before (unless you count my almost 29 miler marathon as an ultra) so we sorta paced each other. Well... I probably held him back a little especially towards the end when he had to resort to either calling me like a dog -  "Come on, girl!" - (please don't ask me why that worked) or motivational clapping to get me moving at around mile 29 or 30 (don't ask me why that worked either). In defense of my slowness, it was a little hard for a 5'3" chick to keep up with a 6'4" guy. For every step he took I took three. I was lucky he stuck with me and didn't ditch me. He had the map and the GPS and actually paid attention to where we were going. I just ran. Just like I always do. Aimlessly and practically naked of all technology, although I had my phone for an emergency (in case Pablo turned out to be an ax murderer) and my ipod (in case he was annoying) neither of which I needed. Luckily.

We were both sporting our Merrell Trail shoes, Pablo in his Trail Gloves and I in my well worn and slightly slippery Pace Gloves. And its a good thing I didn't wear my red NYC Barefoot Run shirt or we would have looked like a matchy-matchy couple. Ugggh.

We exchanged a lot of NYC bad humor banter (most of which is WAY too inappropriate to write here) entertaining each other the entire way. Somehow, after realizing that this race wasn't getting flat and that we were in for some serious hill-age we began a tradition of exclaiming at the bottom of every hill loudly... "OH HELL NO!!" said all southern and disgruntled-like. I think Pablo had the idea that we were in for around 1500' in elevation change. I thought we were in for around 2700'. Turns out we were both wrong. It ended up being 4369' in elevation change. We didn't have elevation maps and detailed trail info to evaluate difficulty before we signed up. But, hey! It was free. I expected it to be difficult, but not as difficult as it ended up being.

How far are we?
The 13 mile turnaround point was at the Lake Chabot Marina, where we stopped to buy some "race fuel" (read junk food) at the snack bar and use the loo. No beer there, but the paleo in me really wanted to buy the jerky. I knew I could probably use the sugar though so I settled for a snickers bar instead. Then we rested for a bit and took some pictures before getting back on the trail. We were both still feeling strong at this point. We quickly arrived at the 14 mile mark and celebrated Pablo's farthest distance ever ran with a high-five. Then we joked and laughed back up the trail and yes...there was even a little complaining on both our parts about our knees for the next 15 miles.

It was hard to get back to the race start (which, by the way, was at the top of a steep three mile climb) and then turn around and go back down to finish off the last five miles of our 50k. Especially since we knew we would be running down the mountain (which was a bitch on our knees) just to turn around and run back up. But at that point I think we were both determined to finish 50k and as Pablo succinctly put it... we just needed to "Get 'er done and flip 'er over" to get our goal. Literally.

Pablo yelled back to me when we reached the 30 mile mark so I could break out my "happy hour" iskiate and celebrate. We shared a few squirts (this time I put chia seeds in it) and I put it away quickly forgetting about it to focus on the uphill climb out of the canyon.

We finally made it back to the top, flipped that bitch of a hill over and finished. I was tired. Very tired. But I still felt there was a little fuel left in my tank. Not much, but a little. I was pretty hungry. There was only one aid station at about the eight mile mark where I was able to get a banana, some peanut butter crackers, and a couple PB&J's on the way back at mile eighteen but I pretty much sustained myself on my race iskiate, a candy bar, a Lara Bar and my Nuun.

"Oh HILL NO!!!"
The clock on Pablo's Garmin told us we finished in 7:26. Of the 97 people who actually signed in on the roster there were about 15 of us who completed the 50k. 

It was another epic accomplishment for me. I had no hip tightness whatsoever on this run. However my ITB came back to haunt me (um. duh. HILLS!), but on a much more manageable level than it has in the past. I was very aware of my overstriding (trying to keep up with a man the size of a small skyscraper will do that) and managed to reel myself in when it was happening. I ended up with one very inconsequential blister on my right foot top part of my second toe and another smallish one on the bottom of my foot (which probably would have been a deal breaker had I gone much longer). I thought my feet were going to be way more messed up than they were with as much downhill as I did. I had put body glide on my toes and tops of my feet that morning, but not sure if it was that or the cooler weather that helped prevent my top-of-toe blisters this time.

Running Hills
So, literally minutes after completing the race Pablo and I said our goodbyes and went home to our spouses. There wasn't much time to celebrate as I had a two-hour drive ahead of me and I needed something in my belly. As if running 30 miles wasn't enough I decided to extend my ultra with a little manual transmission driving (pushing in a clutch with a slightly swollen knee and legs that are about to lock up is not pleasurable by any means no matter how much a masochist you are). Luckily I made it home in one piece.


Writing this today (Tuesday, Jan 10th) I'm sore but not crippled like I was after my trail marathon. Funny how that is since the terrain seemed much harder. But I felt stronger. I believe I have finally arrived. Don't get me wrong. I still have lots of work to do to make my body work like its suppose to, but I achieved the goal I never thought I would achieve not only once, but twice now. I have every intention of continuing on this journey to see where it takes me. As long as it stays fun and inspiring I will keep running. I might try another Bay Area 50k come March. We'll see!

And speaking of fun and inspiring... I will be hanging around on Merrell's facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/merrell) in real time tomorrow, Thurs Jan 12 from 7-8 pm (EST) 4-5pm (PST). I plan on finally getting in my celebratory "happy hour" for finishing my first ultra. Yay!! Come hang out with me. I'd love to chat and hear your stories!
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5 comments:

  1. I'm more impressed with unsupported ultra efforts than official races (maybe because that's how I busted my ultra cherry as well). So way to go!

    You are the elite among the elite now, even if you don't feel like it.

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  2. I get strided (probably not the correct use of the word; see also my probable misuse of the term "loped" for the same thing) by men with longer legs a lot. I'm not short by any means, but I'm all torso.

    Good work on the run and getting into that "beyond" territory.

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  3. Awesome job! It feels so great doing those things you never thought possible...and twice! Can't wait to be in your area!

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  4. I am so glad Pablo did not turn out to be an ax mrudrer, you would have to run so much faster. :-)
    Congrats on your second ultra (29mi marathon counts!!!). Great job. BTW, Merrell Trail Gloves rock! I am also loving NB Minimus Trail.

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  5. I meant to say murderer!!! Where is spell check???

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