Running in Circles – My First Ultra

I love to race.  It is the crucible that brings me joy and pain.  I discovered it again this weekend when I chose to run the Circular Logic six hour timed ultra.  Why an ultra now? I have had a solid running block since last fall. You can read about it at Marilyn Chychota Coaching – Keep Running.

I found out about this race at the half marathon I ran two weeks ago.  It was only an hour away and it was on a short one-mile looped course. Plus it was two weeks after my last half marathon where I won my age group.  I have learned that I have a nice fitness bump two weeks after some solid training stimulus. I decided this was a great opportunity to see if I could knock off a bucket list goal of running 50K.  

There was some trepidation as I had no idea what I was doing for my first ultra.  Despite the fear, I kept thinking about how nice it was that it was shorter than an Ironman.  When I showed up at the race site, I realized immediately that the ultra crowd is very different than the tri crowd.  People are more relaxed and they wore anything you can imagine; flags, hydration packs, sandals, etc.

My plan for the day:

  • The first 30’ easy
  • Pick up the pace slightly
  • Gel every 30’ by alternating Clif Espresso or Gu Strawberry Banana (all things possible through carbs and caffeine)
  • Run 10 x 5K’s for my 50K
  • If there was time left and I felt okay, complete 40 miles total
  • Use copious amounts of flat coke for the last section

Katie, she who must be obeyed, decided to join me on this new adventure as my sherpa.  One of the many things I love about her is her enthusiasm. She was excited and willing to help in any way I needed.  I lined up near the front of the race and as soon as it started, I was passed by what felt like almost everyone. The story of my life in almost every race!

Sue and KT

Always Happy When it is Over!

About an hour into the long slog, I realized that Katie decided this was going to be a race.  She started telling me who I needed to pick off, where they were ahead of me and what they were wearing.  And she gave me the splits. Every 30’ she would hand me my gel and I would take a short walk to drink water with it.  Thanks to her guidance, I ended up leading the race. I was shocked and had a blast! Every loop Katie kept reminding me that the second and third place guys were shadowing me.  

The weather was perfect and I just kept rolling.  I love short loop racing because you see people, you know where the competition might be and aid stations are predictable.  Plus I love thinking I just need to run a certain number of laps – less daunting!

Things went well until about hour four when my quads and hamstrings started to scream.  I have had an issue with muscle pain in my racing for all of my career. If you have ever seen me immediately after a race or the next day, you will notice that I struggle walking.  It is a frustrating side effect. I have tried so many things to make it better and nothing seems to make a difference.

During hour five, the guy I was racing switched leads a few times.  Turns out he was a very experienced ultra runner and dropped the hammer a bit for his last pass during hour five.  I dug deep to follow him but I realized that my hamstring was getting angry. I could still run okay but I didn’t want to blow it.

I was so happy and relieved when I hit the 50K.  Katie looked at me and told me that I could get 36 miles and that I should keep going.  The last hour I walked a bit every loop to drink some flat Coke. I ended up with extra time and squeezed out one more mile for 37!  I finished 2nd overall and 1st place in the women’s division.  

Some things I learned:

  • Pedicure to get very short nails before the race helped with the post-race nail pain.
  • Not sure how easy it is to negative split an ultra.  This may be the kind of event where my goal is to slow down the least.
  • My tri training has been full gas.  I tapered for five days before this race which worked okay.
  • I didn’t shave my upper legs for a week.  I hate how it feels but it helped avoid any additional irritation.
  • Always run the tangents even on a mile loop course.  
  • Always choose the path of least resistance.  I ran a ramp rather than step up a curb 37 times.
  • I used some vaseline under my arms, on the crotch seam of my running shorts and my HR strap edge.  Next time I need to vaseline my bra line and my ass.
  • I wore my Brooks Launch 6 shoes which worked great.  If I ever go longer, I would consider more cushioned shoes.
  • I didn’t stop running.  Lots of people did and I found that you can make up a lot of time by just keeping relentless forward motion.
  • Having Katie there to make me laugh, push me and love me makes all the difference in my performance.  
  • I love to race head to head and running has brought the fire back to me.

What is next?  Learning to walk again without pain.  I plan on no running for four days (one day for every 10 miles) and some light running by the end of the week.  Triathlon training resumed yesterday with an easy spin.  I find three-sport training keeps my body healthier than one sport.

I might have another ultra in me at some point.  50 miles seems like a doable goal now.  Or not.

Special thanks to Katie, Coach Marilyn Chychota, my team at Marilyn Chychota Coaching and my Gate 9 Running Crew.  There is no easy way.

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