Sometimes it’s important to have a little distance from something before making up one’s mind about it, especially if that something is an ultra-distance event.
On Saturday, March 4, 2017 I ran the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k. My emotions that day ran the gamut from hyped to hopeless as I struggled through and ultimately triumphed over the course that chilly day.
During the first 22-ish miles of the race: “This is so awesome! I’m going to send the RD an email to congratulate her on a great event. So well-organized! Such a runnable course!”
During the following five miles of the race: “These hills are bullshit.”
During the final five miles of the race: “This distance is bullshit. 50k is a knowable distance, and we passed 50k a long time ago. That lake is pretty, but bullshit nonetheless.”
After the race: “I hurt, but that was awesome! I can’t wait for my next ultra.”
The inevitable emotional swings that happen during an ultra are nearly as up-and-down as the hills were in this race! I know it’s strange, but I love it. I want to make clear that I don’t think I’m cool for running ultramarathons nor do I expect anybody else to think I’m cool. Outside of the hardcore running community, nobody thinks that running ultra-distance races is cool. I mean that. Nobody. Part of my job involves putting on large events, so I meet lots of new people regularly. My colleagues like to introduce me to people they know with, “Meet Hope, she runs double marathons.” I have yet to get a response other than, “Wow, good for you!” or its equivalent. Ultras are crazy to non-runners, not cool and certainly not relatable, so dropping the ultrarunner factoid does little to break the ice. Running even more than 26.2 miles? Inhuman! Aching for days afterwards? Why would you do that to yourself? Chafing? Losing toenails? AAAH!
Luckily, I don’t run weirdly long distances to impress anybody but myself. I run to see what I’m made of, what I can endure. The Seneca Creek 50k certainly tested my mettle. Its rolling course, which featured its steepest ascents and descents as well as its most treacherous roots when my legs were most tired, was nothing if not challenging. Though I often found myself enjoying the serenity of running through the woods with nothing but my own thoughts for company, I wasn’t alone out there. My fellow runners and I were assisted in our journey to the finish by hardy volunteers who leapt into action at each well-organized, well-supplied aid station to fill water bottles and hand out goodies. I usually go for Oreos/Oreo-like cookies as I know how I handle them and while I did that on Saturday, homemade salted oat cookies at the final aid station were a welcome treat. There were a number of hot food items that I did not take, but was impressed to see out there. I even heard rumors of grilled cheese. The aid station volunteers deserved the “Today is a good day to be a badass” T-shirts I saw on several runners – dealing with type-A runners all day and keeping food fresh, plentiful, and hot in low-20s weather is not for wimps! I also appreciated not being told “you’re almost there!” until I was truly almost there.
I ran my own race on Saturday. I listened to my body, walked up hills when I needed to, and lingered over many (MANY – as in 15+) cookies at aid stations, taking my time to make sure I was adequately fueled to continue. My first 50k was through deep drifted snow in 6˚F weather (no kidding!) and I came in at 8:38:00, so I knew I had room to set a PR without rushing through aid stations. Setting that PR was far from the point, but I was still pleased to clock in at 6:52:14.
I felt pain in my legs and feet during the race, but that pain was the price of the elation and pride I felt afterwards. When I finish an ultra, I feel like I can do anything because little I come across in my everyday life is as difficult, as physically trying, as mentally fatiguing, as running seemingly endless miles through the woods. If I can realize that the finish line isn’t at mile 30, mile 31, or even mile 32 and still keep going, I can keep going through anything else.
Running ultras is both the sickness and the cure. I’ll be back for more of both at the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k in 2018. If you want to suffer alongside me and test yourself on these punishing hills, you can find out more about the race at https://www.senecacreekgreenwayrace.com/.
Disclosure: I didn’t send that congratulatory email to the RD. Still bitter about those hills after mile 22. Certainly not a sponsored post or anything like that.
Until next time, happy trails!