Thursday, January 14, 2010

My First Ultra-marathon (Bandera 50k)

So last Saturday I ran my first Ultra-marathon, any race longer than 26.2 miles. In this case it was a 50 kilometer race, or about 31 miles. It was at the Bandera 100k/50k/25k. The last two years I have run the 25k option and the fun just ended too quickly. This year I almost decided to do the 25k again because I was having a little nagging pain in my feet, but I ultimately decided to go for it.

I've been reading about ultra-running for quite a while now and I've wanted to give it a try. The last link there is the blog for Sean Meissner. He lives in Oregon and posted that he would be coming down to run Bandera. I talked to him briefly just before the start and again after I finished. He was really nice and appreciated that I've been reading about all of his adventures. It was cool to meet someone I've been reading about online and in magazines.

As you are probably aware, the country has just gone through a pretty good cold snap. Texas was not immune either. On the morning of race day I got up at 4:30am and made the hour drive out to the Hill Country State Natural Area. It was a balmy 9 degrees Fahrenheit when I got there. I think it had warmed up to 10 or 11 by 7:30am when a race official yelled out, "5 seconds, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO!" I had agonized over what to wear for this race. I generate a lot of body heat when I run. It has to be in the 30s or low 40s before it makes sense for me to even wear a long sleeve shirt and I had never run in temps below 20 degrees so I didn't know what to wear. On the bottom I wore a pair of compression shorts to avoid chafing and two pairs of tights. On top I overestimated the cold and so I wore a short sleeve shirt, for when it would warm up later in the day, two thin long sleeve shirts and a very thin rain shell type jacket plus a hat and gloves. Within the first mile I had to start stripping off the layers. I took off the hat and just left my Buff as a headband and to cover the ears when needed. The thick gloves came off, replaced by very thin ones. The jacket and one long sleeve shirt came off too. All of this I now had to schlep around with me until the midway point aid station (at Chapas) when I put them in a drop bag.

The trail out there is really brutal. Big rocks, small rocks, and steep trails that go straight up the hills (they don't believe in switchbacks in Texas). It really beats you up and forces you to walk up the hills and try not to crash on the way down. Coming up on the first main aid station at 10 miles, I heard this music coming out of the trees. When I rolled into the aid station it was blaring. I picked up a paper cup of water, tipped it back to drink and nothing happened. I had to crush it to break up the ice before I could drink it. At the halfway point I dropped off most of the clothes I was carrying and stripped off the other long sleeve shirt and just went with my short sleeve shirt with gloves. This aid station was wild for a different reason. They were cooking waffles, grilled cheese sandwiches and a bunch of other stuff. I refilled my hydration pack, grabbed some pretzels and kept moving. It was hard to start running again after walking or standing for a while. Gotta keep moving.

The next section to the Crossroads aid station was relatively flat. Then came a rocky 5 mile loop with a few hills before coming back into Crossroads at a little over 26 miles. At this point I was hurting pretty badly so I pulled out my mp3 player, cranked up the rock and put the hammer down for the rest of the run. I knew what to expect and I ran it hard. I passed a lot of people and I just suffered through the pain. I finished in 5:50:28.

I was really sore for the rest of the day but I recovered remarkably quickly. By the next day I was basically fine, walking down stairs, lifting my leg up high. It was great! I'm really happy with how my training got me ready for this race and I'm especially happy with how I ran that last 5 miles or so. Awesome!