Saturday, March 21, 2009

HAT 50K - 6:59:30: My first ultramarathon

Predictably, I couldn't sleep last night-- I tossed and turned and got about three hours of sleep before the alarm went off at 4. I reviewed my checklist, ate a bowl of oatmeal, and went and waited to get picked up by my new ultramarathoning friend, Jimm.

It was cold this morning. We headed up to Havre de Grace and sat in the parking lot, shivering, waiting for packet pickup to start. I really was pretty unsure as to what to wear. I had brought a lot of stuff to put on. I got lucky today and hit the right combination. Arm sleeves (affectionately known as "arm panties") are key, I found out. I felt pretty silly putting them on, but they were perfect. I was freezing at the starting line, but the temperature fluctuated all during the race. I was glad I could roll my sleeves up and down. I have a very funky tan on my forearms now, though.

I learned a few things out there today. I thought about it as I ran: In a 31 mile race like this, you have to get it all right on several points:
  • Logistics - in a 10k, you put your shoes on and run. Marathon and above, your race can end because you wore the wrong socks or made a bad choice of hydration systems. At a minimum, you can be miserable for a long, long time.

  • Awareness - this was a trail run, and there were roots to trip on, branches to brain yourself with, and trail markers to miss. I missed the 27 mile marker and almost ran off the course! Thank god someone yelled at me and I ran back, sheepishly. You have to crank up your awareness, even though tiredness makes you want to drift off into la la land.

  • Efficiency - at this distance, it's not about being the strongest and fastest. A lot of it is about expending the least amount of energy. I found myself shortening up my strides and just grinding up the hills. I remembered how pounded my legs would feel at the end of my 22 mile training runs, and I knew that if I didn't take care of them, it would be a lot worse at the 30 mile point.

  • Determination - it just takes pushing through sometimes, the determination to stick to concentrating on good running form, and running when you feel like lying down. This sounds trite, but this was key, especially when I really hit a rough patch around mile 28.

So that's my formula for getting through the 31 miler: LAED. Either get LAED, or you get screwed.

At one point I looked down at my GPS watch just as it clicked over 26.2 miles. I had just run a standard marathon distance and I still had about five miles to go. A few steps later, I realized that I had just run further than I had ever run in my life. In fact, every step I took was the farthest I had ever run. Wow.

Some great people out on the trail helped me. The volunteers in this race were magic. There were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Chips Ahoy cookies at the second rest stop, and I am sure that I have never tasted a better PB&J in my entire life. I really don't understand what motivates race volunteers. Those people froze for eight hours and prepared food for sweaty, sometimes grumpy runners. Maybe it's just my depleted glycogen reserves talking, but I love those people.

And the other runners encouraged me. When they heard it was my first ultra, they gave me advice, salt pills, and encouragement. At mile 28 I started to fade really badly. I knew I would finish, but I had no idea how it was going to happen. I just wanted to lay down. A lady from Annapolis whose name I never learned ran up alongside, and I just whispered, "I'm really having a rough patch." She listened to me for a while, and eventually we started running again. She ran with me for about two miles, until we could hear the crowds cheering at the finish line. By then my adrenaline had kicked in and I really started running again.

My last mile was one of the fastest of the race. As I ran up the field, I could see Jimm waiting at the finish pavilion. He ran out to me and started yelling for me to pick it up. I heard one specific thing: "Tim, there's food". I yelled back, "Jimm, tell me about the food". He told me there were hot dogs and soup and Jambalaya. I yelled back, "Jambalaya?! Let's go!". We ran in as fast as we could. Jimm had finished the race more than half an hour before and still paced me in. I'm sure I could not have sprinted it in without him (okay, I am being very generous with myself saying "sprint").

When we turned the corner and I could see the finisher's clock, I could not believe that it was at 6:59:25. I was going to break seven hours! I put in a final push and crossed the line in 6:59:30. One of the race organizers congratulated me and gave me a hat (of course) and a stadium chair. No medals were awarded-- and I'm not sure I wanted one. I've got my medal right here inside.


  1. YAY!! Awesome Tim! I'm so happy for you... I knew you could do it!! You rock!

  2. Great Job Tim! I was the race organizer who gave you your finishers award. It is because of runners like you that volunteers are so supportive. Hope to have you back in 2010.

  3. Thanks, Tim G.! I was sitting on my finisher's chair this morning and it was amazingly gratifying-- so gratifying that I had trouble standing back up! It was a terrific honor to run in your race, and I will certainly be back next year.

  4. Tim, I'm not sure I met you before the race. Great job though, especially for a first one.

  5. Eva, were you the one who was joking around about segmenting the pack into sub-six hour and over-six hour runners? I thought you were funny.


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