Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Blues Cruise 50k: My First UltraMarathon!

     I did it! I completed my first Ultra Marathon on Sunday in Reading, PA. It was an incredible day, full of ups and downs (literally) and one I will never forget.
     The day began with some low lying fog, and some nice, cool temps. I arrived at the race site one hour before the start time, picked up my race number, and cool race swag including a hat, long-sleeved running shirt and Gu water bottle. I texted another mother runner in the Ultra group, Nanci, and we were able to meet up before the race. It was so nice finally getting to meet her in person!

Before the start. Ready to Go!!

Before we knew it, it was Go Time! We lined up near the back of the crowd of runners, wished each other good luck, and after a minute of instructions from the race director, we were off! The first few miles were "easy" with a few small hills, but generally pretty smooth single track. The biggest challenge was to get in the groove of having people right in front and back of me, and trying to keep a consistent pace. After a few miles, the crowd of runners thinned a bit, and it was easier to get into a nice pace. Before the first aid station (3.5 miles) was a bit of a climb. I hiked up the hill, took off my arm sleeves, grabbed a couple of twizzlers from the aid station and was on my way. Miles 5-10 were pretty smooth. I was able to run these miles between 10:00-10:40/mile pace, feeling really great. Before the race started, Nanci told me that there was a sign in the port-a-potty that said "If you start to feel good in an Ultra, don't worry, the feeling will pass". Yep! At mile 10, there was a HUGE hill. Looking at the elevation chart now, it looks like I climbed 223 ft over a quarter of a mile. When I looked up as I was climbing, I couldn't actually see the the top! It was tough, but I just took it one step at a time, telling myself "keep moving forward". It was so great to finally crest that hill. The "rolling" hills started at this point, and this is when the challenge of an Ultra really started. I would hike up one hill, then cruise on the downhills, which felt great at this point. I was able to pass people on the downhills, which was a big confidence booster. I had practiced running downhill during my training, and I'm glad I did. The hills just kept coming, but I was still running strong. At the half marathon point (13.1 miles) I looked at my watch and noted that I was still making great time. I was at about 2 1/2 hours at this point, which surprised me. I was hopeful that I would break 6 hours if I could keep up a steady pace. 
     I stopped at each aid station, which were every 4 miles. I filled up my water bottle, added Nuun Performance, snacked on some cookies, candy, pretzels, PB and J sandwiches, and just kept going. I took a Gu energy gel every 40-45 minutes. The aid stations were absolutely amazing, with friendly, cheerful volunteers, and different themes at each one, including "Blues Brothers", "Margaritaville"and "Oktoberfest". I loved hearing the cheering up the trail and we approached each station. 
The elevation chart. HILLS! 

     Miles 15-20 were challenging, with the hills continuing. At this point the downhills weren't as fun as previously. My legs, specifically my quadricep muscles, were really feeling the pounding at this point. I still resolved to run on the flats and the downhills, and hike up all the hills.  I noted the time at mile 15.5 (1/2 way finished), and it was just a little over 3 hours. I was still hopeful for a  6-6:15 finish time.  Little did I know that the course would not let up, with relentless hills. 
The only photo I have of me on the course. I think it was taken sometime in the second half, climbing. Head down.

At mile 21 or 22, another HUGE hill. Another climb of about 200 ft. This was tough mentally and physically, but I got through it. I was looking forward to getting past the marathon distance (26.2 miles) and knowing that I had gone further than ever before. Once I passed 27 miles, and the last aid station, I knew I would make it. I grabbed a handful of potato chips, and resolved to stay strong and get to the finish under 6 1/2 hours. 
 From miles 28-30 was a seemingly continuous climb, and I had to walk more than I wanted to. Finally I could hear the finish line, and I was able to run it in. I saw the clock, and it was reading 6:29:xx, so I was happy that I would make it just under 6:30! 6:29:56 (official).  The elevation gain was over 3,000 ft, and the elevation loss was about the same over the 31 miles. 
  I was handed my finish award, a fleece hoodie and was told to "ring the bell". I rang the bell, and celebrated my finish. I hobbled over to my car, and took a few minutes to clean the salt off my face, change my shirt and hat, take off my trail shoes and then walked back to the finish to wait for Nanci to finish and grab some post-race food. I helped myself to some pasta, potato salad and a grilled cheese sandwich, which I really enjoyed, washed down with some Nuun Active to replace the salt that I had lost. The sun was shining and warm now, probably close to 70 degrees. 
    The finishers were still coming in at a steady pace, and I was happy to see Nanci come in and celebrate with her kids and husband. 
She made it!
My next challenge was to get in the car and drive home 70'ish miles. I was tired, but so, so happy with my run. I never gave up, I move steadily through the course and felt pretty good! My fueling was consistent and adequate, and I never had any truly low moments. I also managed to stay on my feet the whole time! I had to catch myself a couple of times from falling, but I managed.
  Would I consider running Blues Cruise again? Yes, I think I would. Most likely not next year, but maybe when I move in to the next age group (after 2019). There were a total of 370 finishers, 134 of them who were female. Of those 134 female finishers, 59 of them were in the 40-49 age group. That is is 44% of the finishers!! There were only 13 female finishers in the 50-59 age group, with the best time being 6:19. I think if I hold out, and stay in the shape I am now, I have a shot of placing in my age group in 3 years. 
    I loved this race because of the friendly organizers, easy logistics to get to the race, fantastic aid stations, and the beautiful course.  
 Of all of the finishers, I placed 205/370. 56/134  female, and 27/59  of  female 40-49 yr olds. I'm happy with this for my first Ultra.
 Next up? I'm not sure yet. Time to recover, continue to enjoy the trails when my legs are ready. I am considering a 1/2 marathon next Spring, and maybe a late 2018 Fall marathon, in order to possibly qualify for Boston again and run Boston Marathon in 2020 when I enter the next age group. I would also consider another 50k in the next year, and I am setting my sights on a 50 miler during the Fall of 2020, possibly JFK 50 miler.  

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