SweetH2O 50K 2011 Race Report, or How to Run an Ultramarathon with Only Three Weeks’ Training*

New favorite t-shirt
I had talked about doing the SweetH2O 50K for the previous 4 years, pretty much since it first started. I’d put it on the That Would Be Cool to Do list every year, and when springtime rolled around I’d forget about it/chicken out/go traveling/kick myself for not registering. After a nice wake-up conversation with a friend, I decided it was time to put up or shut up. This would be my first ultra… and my first marathon**, technically.

“Training”
Emphasis on the air quotes. I’d been out for a long (~30M) hike/trailrun about a month before the race, but that’s somewhat typical for me a long day in the mountains. I took my time, took lots of breaks, and didn’t really think of it as a training. I didn’t even remember the 50K was coming up until about a week later. I registered on March 23. The race was set for April 16. Between those two dates I did a grand total of 26.5 miles of running, which I now find funny/brilliant/lucky but at the time had me a bit panicky. I figured I was pretty much screwed overall fitness-wise, so I focused on hill-climbing runs, keeping the core muscles in tune (situps, pushups, planks, various leg raises, etc. etc.), and lots of stretching. I’m lucky I’m young and resilient. Next time, it would be wise to plan ahead and take it a bit more seriously.

Highlights from the Race

  • Being so nervous at the starting line that I had to leave the pack and face the opposite direction before the gun fired. And then I was fine.
  • Settling in at the very back of the pack, where I knew I belonged, for the for few miles with a couple other guys also running their first ultras.
  • Ridiculously beautiful morning weather! Perfect.
  • A giddy, loopy, ridiculously fun runner’s high/ Transcendental Experience of the Union of All Things from ~8-12M.
  • Tripping and falling into a creek at the ~16-mile mark. Soaked from neck down.
  • Passing people. I’m human.
  • Drinking a nice cold Mama’s Little Yella Pils at ~22M. Aid stations rule.
  • Metabolic crash into my own personal hell at ~24-27M. This was a dark place, a highlight only in hindsight.
  • Finishing in 7:47 (#141/250) and not feeling all that bad.
  • My awesome new shirt and hat.

Philosophical Observation
One part of the race route (a giant loop, run twice) is an out-and-back spur to an aid station. This is a maybe 2-mile round trip where you have runners going both directions. The brilliance of the course layout is this spur comes after a nasty section of just brutal hills, and the second time you run the spur is right around the marathon mark, i.e. when it’s hot and you’re crashing. But this is also the only time you cross paths with your fellow runners. And the thing is, everybody is cheering everyone else when they pass by. “Good job. Keep it up. Stay strong. Not much further. Looking good. You’ve got this. Doing great.” I don’t want to get too hippie-dippie about it, but it is amazing how much these platitudes can lift you up, and how quickly I fell into saying them, too. And when you remember that they’re coming from people who are every bit as tired, sore, thirsty as you are and just as likely to be in their own hellish mental state… there’s something special there. You feel grateful to be out there, struggling, but supported and somehow maybe saying something another person needs to hear. Life lesson.

In Conclusion
Now that I finally gave myself a chance, I think I’m hooked. Next stop, 50M.


*Misleading title. Please don’t follow my advice.
**I have little to no interest in road marathons, unless I hear about a really amazing course somewhere.

One thought on “SweetH2O 50K 2011 Race Report, or How to Run an Ultramarathon with Only Three Weeks’ Training*

  1. A few reactions:1. That sounds amazing. I think I got a little runners high just from reading about it.2. This is almost certainly a well-duh remark, but I think I just realized that ultramarathons are testing something other than the endurance of your leg muscles.3. The world needs more Philosophical Observations.4. Please post more often.

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