A couple of months ago, after I had successfully run my very first marathon, I got the crazy idea that maybe I could do something special for my upcoming 50th birthday. Like run a 50K. So I searched the internet for a race. I had several criteria. It had to be on or within a day or two of my birthday, it couldn't have any monster hills, and it had to have a very generous cutoff time. The answer to my search was the Jack Bristol Lake Waramaug Ultra. I waited a couple of weeks to make sure this still sounded like a good idea after the euphoria of my first marathon wore off and then sent in my application.
Arrival in Connecticut
Fast forward to this weekend. I arrived in Connecticut on Saturday and spent the night in Danbury. It seemed like I was surrounded by runner karma. From the shuttle van driver who was contemplating signing up for his first 3K race to my waiter who was going to run a relay from Harvard to Yale in a couple of weeks. I managed to tell just about everyone I had contact with that I was turning 50 tomorrow and that I was celebrating it by running a 50K. I got to the hotel around 2 pm, so I drove the 25 miles or so to the race course. The countryside was beautiful and the road around the lake that I would be running on didn't seem too hilly. After my carbo load dinner, I settled in on my computer to see if I could Google any race reports. I ran across UltraBrit's blog and saw that she would be volunteering at the race. I left her a comment and then tried to get some sleep.
I got a fairly good night's sleep and woke up about 30 minutes before my alarm went off. I took a shower, ate some oatmeal, and checked the weather report online. Still forecast to be in the 80's. I also saw that Dane and Blaine of the Biggest Loser had run the Nashville Country Music Marathon in a time of 5:47. I got out my calculator and figured out that I would have to run a 6:50 to run at the same pace they ran the marathon in. I know, I know, I had promised myself that I had absolutely no time goals, but this time got stuck in my mind the morning of my 50K. (Side note, check out Absolut(ly) Fit's blog, she got to run the whole marathon with these guys!) I also checked my blog and saw that UltraBrit would be working the aid station with the monkey, cool, I would have a friendly face to look for! Now time was running short, so I packed my stuff, covered my body with Glide, and drove to Lake Waramaug.
As soon as I got out of the car, I was swarmed with bugs. They weren't biting or stinging bugs, but they sure were annoying. I thought, "oh great, not only do I have to contend with heat, now I'm also going to have bugs chasing me for 31 miles". I made my way to the registration area/start line/finish line/aid station and picked up my race packet. I also checked out the aid station goodies. Besides water and gatorade that you find at a marathon, they also had salty, sugary, and chocolately goodies. Also first aid supplies like vaseline, S-caps, Ibuprophen, and one that puzzled me, Tums. I then went back to my car to put on Julie Berg's magic Foot Potion and slather myself with sunscreen. By now it was time for race director Carl Hunt's safety briefing. He described the course, told us that it was going to be hot and to stay hydrated, and mentioned that all the aid station workers were either ultra runners themselves or were related to ultra runners, and that they were well trained in lying and telling runners that they were looking good even though they weren't. I didn't look at my watch, but I figured I had enough time to use the real flush toilets about 100 yards up the hill before the start.
Oops, I guess I didn't have enough time to use the flush toilets. Apparently while I was in the bathroom, they started the race. I walked out and saw a herd of runners heading down the road. No worries, it was going to be a long day, so I walked down the hill to the start, asked if the race had already started (it had), and was on my way. Ok, now the worries start. Within a hundred yards, I felt pain in my left shin. Now, this is not an unusual pain for me, if I haven't run in two or more days, my shins almost always hurt for about 5-10 minutes and then feel fine. So, I figured that was what this was. However, only one shin hurt, and it hurt a lot more than usual. I toughed it out for about a quarter of a mile, and then slowed to a walk. I started swearing to myself. For the next mile or so I alternated walking for 2-3 minutes, jogging for a couple of dozen yards, and swearing at myself. Then I thought about DavidRay's picture of the back of his hand after an ultra. It said HTFU. You can google the definition. So, I had the following internal dialogue with myself. "Hey, its your birthday, you came here to have fun. Quit your bitching. You have 12 hours to cover 31 miles. Its a beautiful day for a walk around the lake. Quit your bitching and enjoy yourself. Appreciate the lovely day and quit your bitching!" After that I mentally turned a corner. My shin still hurt and I still could only run a couple of dozen yards at a time, but I stopped swearing at myself and started to enjoy the day. At about this time, the lead runners had reached the 2.2 mile turn around point and started running by me in the opposite direction. All offered encouraging words to this sorry looking person at the very back (remember, I started two minutes late, plus I was doing a lot of walking, so I wasn't even close to the back of the pack). I waved at all of them, and told them they were doing great, and kept on going. I reached the aid station/turn around point, refilled my water bottle, and kept doing my run/mostly walking thing. Then something amazing happened. Somewhere around the 3 mile point, as I was doing my couple of dozen yard run, I realized that my shin no longer hurt. I guess it realized that I was serious about doing this 50K thing and that trying to sabotage me wasn't doing any good. So I kept right on running. I had planned on alternating running 10 minutes with walking one minute, so I continued running for 10 minutes, then walked for a minute. I arrived at the start/stop line aid station, topped off my water bottle and was on my way. As I left, I heard someone remark to someone else "she's looking strong". I'm guessing some of the people who had seen me the first two miles had expressed some concern to the people running this aid station. Hearing that remark made me smile and feel great.
After the out and back, we ran the 7.6 miles around the lake three times. There were 4 aid stations, so we were never more than 2.2 miles from aid. At each aid station, I looked for a monkey so I could say hi to UltraBrit, but I didn't see a monkey during my first loop. The volunteers were wonderful, everytime I came to a station they asked me, "what do you need?" Since this was my first ultra, the first couple of times I just kind of stood there as they then asked me, "do you need water, do you need ice, do you need gatorade, do you need food?" By about the third or fourth stop, I had things pretty much figured out, though. I was carrying a water bottle, and in 2 miles I would drink about 1/3 to 1/2 of it, so I just had them fill it up with ice. At the start/stop aid station, I would have them fill my fuel belt bottles with ice, and then I'd go to my drop bag and fill those up with Powerade. My favorite foods were Swedish Fish and the wonderful popsicles that were at the halfway around the lake aid station. While I was running my loops around the lake, I gradually started catching up with some people and also got lapped by people. When I caught up with someone on a walk break, I usually slowed to a walk also and chatted for a few minutes. One hard core gal had run a trail race the day before and had fallen and was sporting some pretty impressive scrapes. Although there were no rock and roll bands or scream tunnels, there was plenty of random encouragement. This loop appears to be a popular one for walkers, runners, bicyclists, and motorcyclists. Although I was running alone for the majority of the time, I got dozens of thumbs up and smiles from people enjoying the day. The second time around the lake, I asked at each aid station if Ultrabrit was working there (I still hadn't seen a monkey) and I finally got to meet her briefly and say hi. Thanks for the great work! (btw, I finally did see the monkey the 4th time through the aid station). As promised, all the aid station workers were accomplished liars, and I appreciated every single one of them.
After the three loops, the 50K runners had to do 1.8 miles out and then back to finish up. During the last loop, I had spent several minutes thinking how I wanted my finish line photo to look. (My marathon photo looked like I was raising my arms in surrender.) I had decided I would have five outstretched fingers for my right hand and a clenched fist for my left hand, so that when you looked at me from the front, you would see a five and a zero for 50 years old and 50K. My stomach was feeling very slightly queasy and I decided to have a couple of those Tums that had puzzled me six hours earlier. I dropped off my handheld water bottle (so I could do my finish line pose) and hit the porta-potty. After I exited, I went back to the start/stop line and told them I would be back in 45-60 minutes and that they had to sing "Happy Birthday" when I crossed the finish line. (Yes, I know, shameless.) By now I was walking a lot more, but I still felt great and my heart rate was staying below 160. I hadn't looked at my splits at all since I had told myself to HTFU in the first two miles. I only looked at my Garmin to keep a watch on my heart rate and to keep me on schedule with S-caps and walk breaks. I passed 4-5 runners in the last 4 miles and was feeling good. I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face, and my five-oh sign flashing. Everyone was saying "Happy Birthday!" and I felt fantastic. These small races are great. The race director shakes your hand, thanks you for running the race, and then personally hands you your medal. I grabbed a diet coke (at which point another runner said "Diet! you don't need a DIET coke!") and grabbed a seat at a picnic table. I changed my shoes and socks (ZERO blisters thanks to drymax socks and magic Foot Potion) and watched and cheered more runners finishing the 50K or continuing on the 50 mile or 100K options.
After Thoughts and Numbers
I finished in 6:38 and actually beat my non-goal time goal. I really think that my sore shin helped me out. It forced me to start slow and not worry about time. In fact, according to Garmin, my last two miles were both faster than my second mile. In total, I spent 16 minutes stopped (at the two porta-potty stops and aid stations), 5 miles walking, and 26 miles jogging. I was able to derive this information using a program called SportTracks that downloads your information from your GPS device and then allows you to analyze that data in various ways. For example, besides the normal 1 mile splits, I could also have the program give me my 5 mile splits, 10K splits, or customizeable splits. It will also break down your time into stop, walk, jog, and run segments. Plus a lot more that I haven't gotten around to playing with yet.
Will I run another 50K? Absolutely! Do I see myself running a 50 mile or further race? Not this year!
All in all, this was about the best way I could have celebrated my birthday. Thanks Carl Hunt for putting on an awesome race, and thanks all you volunteers! And thank you readers for reading this far!