50 Mile Rainer 2-Ruston Ultra-Marathon
Having finished a 50km run, I was looking for my next challenge, and at the time, in addition to the 50K race, the Rainier to Ruston also offered a team 50 Mile race however, if one was so inclined they could opt to run the 50 Mile race as a single runner.
I had been reading a lot about UM at this time and most UM runners don’t consider a 50K a true UM because it’s not really that much further than a marathon. This did not sit very well with me because I really wanted to consider myself an Ultra Marathon runner so I decided that the next year I was going to run the 50 miler as a single.
This was by far the biggest challenge that I had decided to undertake. My goal was to run 50 miles before I turned 50 and this race would get me there by 3 months. After several months of relative easy miles and recuperating my training started in earnest. Many people have asked me how do you train for a race that long? Do you ever run that far in preparation? The answer is no. The goal is to run consistently throughout the week with some easy days and some heavy days and the cumulative miles at the end of the week is the goal. I found a training plan for the time that I had before the race and followed that.
Training for a 50-mile race in the Pacific Northwest can be a challenge to say the least. The weather once fall hits is pretty much wet and rainy every day. Once Winter hits freezing temps are pretty regular as well but when you have 50 miles staring you in the face you don’t have the option to miss a training day due to weather. As the race approached I decided to have my longest training run of 30 miles about 5 weeks before the race.
So on a clear and sunny day in May I set off early on a Saturday morning with 30 miles in mind. A huge part of running these extremely long distances is proper fueling. If you don’t get the right nutrition at the right times your endurance is going to suffer. This may sound easy but it can be difficult to manage. I found this out again the hard way when at about 28 miles I hit the dreaded wall, also called bonking.
In endurance sports such as cycling and running, hitting the wall or the bonk describes a condition caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles, which manifests itself by sudden fatigue and loss of energy.
If you aren’t sure if you have ever bonked, then I can say that you haven’t - If you have bonked, you will know it. It’s more than just being tired, it’s a condition where you physically feel you have no energy left, that the gas tank is on empty. I had experienced a bonk one previous time while riding my bike in preparation for the STP and fortunately I was within .5 mile of a McDonalds where I was able to get some chocolate milk and French fries. After 15 min I was able to finish the ride.
For this time, I was fortunate again because I was within a mile of a convenience store where I bought some chocolate milk and potato chips. As I ate my food and drink I told the cashier what I was doing. I remember the expression on her face when I told her that I was about 29 miles into a 30 mile run and I needed food. The look was one of being impressed but also one of “what an idiot!”.
After the 30-mile training run it was time to start my slow taper until race day. Entering the taper is a big day for an endurance athlete. It signifies that the hard training is behind you and all that is left now is staying healthy and of course the actual race.
On the day of the race I felt great. I was for the most part healthy and had a good plan. I was determined not to start out too quickly and I was determined to get the proper fuel throughout the race. Mentally I was prepared to take whatever the race threw at me. I kept telling myself that the pain and suffering was temporary but the accomplishment of the finish was forever. I also had been helped and supported by my faith throughout my training and preparation for the race. I was determined to give this my all, but I also knew I’d need the Lord’s help for me to finish.
As the race progressed I was feeling pretty good. I was running at a good pace and I was fueling regularly. It was nice that much of the race actually took place on my normal training route so I knew what to expect, however, at the 35-mile mark reality really set in. Although I didn’t bonk at this point the exhaustion really kicked in. Knowing that I had at least 15 miles more to run became mentally overwhelming and I started to get very down. I texted my wife at this time to tell her that I did not know if I was going to be able to finish the race, 15 miles just seemed too big a hill to climb. She encouraged me as much as she could and she told me that she was calling people to pray for me. I was at my lowest point in the race and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. It was at this point that I looked to my faith for help and support and I felt compelled to narrow my focus and stop thinking of the 15-18 miles ahead. Instead of thinking about the miles I told myself to run to the next telephone pole. Once I got there I told myself to run to the next telephone pole. I continued to employ this method throughout the remainder of the race and because of that I was able to keep going.
I have a great support system and with about 6 miles to go, Brian a co-worker and a great friend met me on the side of the road to help keep me going. Seeing a familiar face was exactly what I needed. Physically I was still exhausted but mentally this was huge. He was able to encourage me and to push me when I started to fail. Then at about 3 miles to go, Norm, who at the time was 60 and one of my closest workout buddies surprised me on the road and said that he was going to run the rest of the way with me as well. Even now I get choked up when I remember what these two guys did for me.
As I approached the finish line my emotions were raw. I could see the finish line and hear the crowd and the announcer. As I crossed the finish line the feeling of relief and thankfulness was overwhelming. I stopped running, pointed to the sky to thank the Lord and in honor of my mother who had passed away a few years’ prior, gave a double bicep pose and then fell into my wife’s arms exhausted!
It took me several weeks to really process what I had been through. As far as the race statistics goes the actual distance according to my GPS was 53.27 miles. 96 people started the individual race but only 60 finished. Of the 60 finishers I came in 29th with a time of 10 hours and 5 minutes. During the race I lost 7 lbs. I didn’t place in this race but that doesn’t matter, I was so pleased and grateful that I had done it, I was an ultra-marathon runner!
At this time, I decided that I needed to give myself a break from actually training for any events so I decided to take a year off. I would continue to run and exercise regularly but not for a race.
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