Last year, on my 34th birthday, someone asked me, “Are you going to run your age?” This was a joke, obviously – at that stage I wouldn’t have even considered riding my bike that far. But after a year of rubbing shoulders with endurance athletes on Daily Mile (and particularly after seeing DM friend Steve accomplish the feat on his 45th birthday) I began to give it some serious thought. I started to see that people really can tackle this kind of distance.
Besides, I was coming off a great spring marathon-training cycle this year in which I had built up my endurance, and I’ve got no races coming up to worry about sabotaging. In fact, the birth of our second child is quickly approaching – so what better time to get the ultra bug out of my system? So what if my longest run in the past two months was 12 miles?
Over time, the idea of this endeavor became so much more than a superficial birthday run. In fact, I dare say anyone takes an ultra-distance run lightly, even if it seems like something spontaneous. After two somewhat bitter disappointments this spring (not getting my BQ at Shamrock and not running sub-40 in a 10k), this was my chance to reclaim control over my running. I wasn’t going to be trying to beat a clock or other racers. It was just going to be me and the road and however much time I needed to cover the distance. Just me and the run.
This run just happened to be 9 miles and almost two hours longer than any previous outing, and even 4 miles longer than those 50k ultra-distance races everyone’s doing these days. (Trust me, those last 4 miles are no joke.)
So how did it all go down? I’m glad you asked. Herewith is my mile-by-mile breakdown of the day:
Mile 1 – Just kidding. Writing that kind of recap would take almost as long as the run (5 hours and 53 minutes of moving time, by the way). But there was something alarmingly anticlimactic about the beginning of this run. Step out of the car, warm up, wait for satellites, and then … just start running. No one else in the entire city knew what I was up to, in sharp contrast to the community atmosphere of an organized road race.
Here are some other thoughts, observations and statistics from the run:
– I started slow and kept it there all day. Nothing about this run was based on speed – my only goal was to make it all the way through. My fastest mile was 8:17 and I stayed in the 8’s until my pace started gradually slowing after Mile 16.
– I had a great run and was mostly happy with the course. This was my chance to choose the areas of Richmond that I wanted to see and map the route accordingly. I ran over two major bridges, through five parks, in Hollywood Cemetery, past the state Capitol, through two college campuses and through the RiverRock outdoor festival that happened to be on the riverfront this weekend. I also ran in some new areas where I cursed the fact that I hadn’t checked the elevation profile in advance.
– I also had great weather. The high was around 74 and the skies were partly cloudy with a (mostly) pleasant breeze. Since I was running so slow I never felt overworked during the entire run.
– That’s not to say I had a spring in my step for 35 miles. I started walking the hills around Mile 19 as a way to stave off the inevitable fatigue, but a few miles later I found myself walking some of the flats, too. I ended up walking most of the last 2 miles, but not because of pain or lack of energy – I could shuffle along well enough but would soon find myself growing lightheaded. I really wanted to play it smart since I was doing this unsupported, and lightheaded is not good. But when I’d slow to walk I would feel sick to my stomach. Like, thisclose to losing my lunch, er, gels and Nuun. So at the end I just kept walking to try and maintain my physical equilibrium as best I could.
– There is no more depressing thought than hearing your Garmin beep at Mile 17 and realizing you’re not even halfway done yet.
– I really started to feel good around Mile 5, and that feeling lasted for about 10 miles.
– At Mile 28 I thought about Mile 14 and laughed to myself. My, those were carefree times, weren’t they?
– I’m not going to prevaricate – I stopped several times during the run. Early on I took a few short breaks (3-5 minutes), but as the run wore on I started to realize how much distance I still had left ahead of me. My new mantra became, “Just keep moving forward.” I never stopped in the last 10 miles.
– I parked my car so I would encounter it again at Mile 25, planning to take an extended breather (around 15 minutes), change socks and shoes and eat something more substantial than the gels that had sustained me to that point. I brought PB&J, tortilla chips, candy, a Clif bar and a banana, but I could not eat any of it other than a few nibbles of the banana. My stomach just would not accept food and I began to worry that I would not have enough fuel to make it through the last 10 miles. I had nothing but water in those last miles.
– In fact, my appetite went AWOL until about 10 at night – six hours after the run was finished – when my body realized it hadn’t been fed all day. Before that time I just could not force myself to eat. I’m writing this at 11:30 p.m. – I want to go to bed so badly but I am ravenously hungry and am eating a large bowl of pasta and meatballs as I type.
– My marathon split was 3:50.
– I never considered not finishing this run. Even when I stopped at my car at Mile 25, I wasn’t tempted to turn the key and drive home.
– Crossing Mile 30 was probably my biggest moment of the day. I don’t know why that was bigger to me than finishing 35 miles total or even running past the marathon distance for the very first time. It was probably that first dip into the 30’s – or the fact that I was starting to grow a bit delirious at that point.
– Aside from slowing, and eventually walking, during today’s run, I never experienced anything like injury or even unusual tightness, and I feel really good right now – just the standard fatigue and a bit of stiffness. It really is hard for me to believe that my body can put up with this kind of abuse.
– My Kinvaras were probably not the best shoe for this kind of run, but they’re all I’ve got. The bottoms of my feet felt well-used by the end, but there are no blisters, etc.
So I guess I’m an ultra-runner now. But does it really count if no one else witnessed it? That’s the one thing that’s missing from this experience – the fanfare. People come and cheer their lungs out when we run 3.1 miles, but the beginning, middle and end of this epic adventure were greeted with … nothing. It was a completely solitary experience, which was what I wanted. While I’ll never find a “35 Mile” magnet for the back of my car, this is something I’ll always have – the knowledge that I can successfully tackle this kind of endeavor. And if I can do this, there’s no telling what else I can do.
(I wrote a piece for Beyond Limits Magazine about this run. Find it here.)Bike: 20/455.5 miles Run: 82.1/690.1 miles