Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Well...it's official...I finally ran an ultra-marathon.  Although I still have a hard time considering myself, I guess you could say I'm an "ultra-runner" now.  It seems crazy to me, and although I've wanted to do an ultra for a couple years now, I honestly wasn't sure I would ever do one. I was more afraid than anything else. I mean, come on, a marathon is one thing, but add a few miles....geez I don't know...Little did I know however, that it wouldn't be nearly as tough of a transition as I thought.

I decided after my marathon season last November that I wanted to try and do an ultra-marathon in the Spring.  The natural progression from marathon to ultra is of course, the 50k.  Well lucky me if there wasn't a well supported, easy terrain 50k basically in my backyard.  (Starting in the Rocky River Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks) Problem was, it was in March, pretty early Spring, especially here in Cleveland. And as some of you may know, I don't necessarily stay consistent in the winter.

I had a decent Winter.  Not great, but decent.  The weather here in Cleveland (a valid excuse) was probably the worst I can ever remember living through.  Non-stop bitter cold (< 5 degrees) and a whole lot of snow that came, and stayed.  The treadmill (or dreadmill) depending on how you look at it played a bigger part this Winter than I had hoped, or ever would want again. But things worked out, and although I wasn't in the best shape by a long shot, I felt good enough to start.

The only problem I really was concerned about was my shoe situation.  I had talked the Brooks Transcend up a ton, but just wasn't getting great feedback from them leading up to the race.  My brother bought me a pair of Hoka One One Stinson Trail Evo for Christmas, but they just felt a bit too small. (I sent them away for a different size a couple days ago.) I have a pair of New Balance 890v4 but they just seemed a bit to small for this long a distance.  I was stuck, I really didn't know what to do! Tim, my brother, works at a running store, and in an Eleventh hour effort, he talked me into the New Balance 980 Fresh Foam.  Tim has them, so I trusted him and bought them Tuesday before the race. I didn't run in them till Friday, and that was Four miles just to see how they felt.  Race was Saturday....oh well...let's see what happens. (I brought a pair of Brooks Pure Cadence 2 and the Hoka's just in case).

Saturday morning comes and I am calm.  Calmer than I've ever been for a race.  Even a 5k race, I mean I was calm.  Picked up my buddy Chris from his house (my crew) and went down to the start.  Walked up to the start line still extremely calm.  Before I knew it I was off, running 31 miles through the Metroparks.
My start at the Marina in Rocky River.
I started race feeling really good.  Legs felt fresh, mind was fresh, air temperature was decent.  Pretty good conditions. Except one little issue, ICE. It was still cold, and had rained the day before, so there was a decent amount of ice and black ice throughout a lot of the course early one.  Later in the day it wasn't a problem, but for the first few miles, I almost bit it more than a couple times! Luckily I kept myself vertical the whole race.

I felt great till about mile 13 or so.  This is when I really started thinking about how FREAKING far this race actually was! I walked a couple times leading up to the aid station at around mile 14.5 or so and just could not wait to get to that Aid Station and take a break for a couple minutes! I knew Chris was going to be waiting for me, but because of the parking situation and both of us being new to this, it was hard to know how long I'd be at the station re-fueling. 
Chris and I at around mile 14.5 at the Aid Station. 

After the Aid Station at mile 14.5 I began to feel pretty good, the weather was warming up, it wasn't as icy, and I had come to terms with the "longness" of the race.  I got into a decent pattern of running for a mile, then walking for between 0.1 and 0.25.  This system had worked for me (thanks to Chris in our first marathon.) I wasn't sure if I'd keep this up for the whole remainder of the race, but right now it felt good.  Ended up running 2.5 miles straight around mile 15 or so with a guy who was running the relay.  Running with someone during a race like this, and being able to talk really gets your mind away from the task at hand and was a great break from the monotony of an ultra. Since he was running the relay (my excuse) and was going a bit faster than I was, I told him to go ahead, I couldn't keep the pace anymore that he was pushing and we said good luck to each other and he was gone and I was back by myself.
Great picture from Ohio Runs on the course. 
Pretty uneventful for the next few miles.  Was nice to have a couple more Aid Stations at mile 19 or so and mile 24.5. Chris was right there to take care of any needs I had as well as re-stock me. Having someone with you who knows you well and will take your stubborn and tiredness in stride is a huge advantage and something I would definitely recommend.  Chris is an awesome guy, one of my best friends, and someone I could really trust.  After the 24.5 mile Aid Station I knew I'd be on my own till the finish.  It's only 7 miles or so by yourself, but at this point in the race, those are the tough miles for sure.  I knew at this point that I would finish, even if I had to walk, and that was a great feeling. 

I had an emotional moment when my GPS hit 26.2. I was now in new territory.  I had run a 27 mile training run, but this was different.  I heard someone say, "It's just a marathon with a 5 mile cool-down." I thought this was a great analogy, at least for your first ultra. My legs felt far better than I thought (NB Fresh Foam was fantastic) and I was now in the home-stretch! I was now on my way to officially becoming an ultra-marathoner, and it started to hit me.  My legs stayed strong throughout the remaining miles, and other than a couple more hills, I stayed pretty consistent with my pace.  
Another great shot from Ohio Runs along the course.  (Notice the "gloss" on the trail.)
Mile 30 was another pretty emotional time for me.  I knew I was getting very close.  The funny thing was, I knew it was a 50k but wasn't completely sure what that meant in terms of miles.  I knew it was 31. something but didn't know the exact amount.  Decided it didn't matter, I was finishing regardless.  The last mile or so was an easy one, legs felt good, mind was on track, and trail was fairly flat.

Coming around the turn into the open picnic area where the finish line was was a powerful moment for me. About 500 feet from the finish line I was my dad and his two dogs cheering me on, I wasn't expecting my dad to be there at all! That gave me a good push, and although it probably didn't look like it, I started running a lot faster!  Went through the finish line and my wife, Elissa, my mom, my sister and her boyfriend and my buddy Chris were all there to congratulate me, it was a great moment, and truly an emotional finish.  I'm totally hooked! 
Happy as can be at the finish. 

Finish time was 5:52.  That's fine with me, goal was to finish and I did. I learned a ton on this run, how to trust your legs, how to work with a crew, how to pace yourself for a long haul, and so many other things.  The run was way more mental for me than physical.  My legs were strong throughout the entire race, it was my mind that was tired. I am so in love with running, and this just furthered my love affair.  I love the ultra distance and am looking forward to hopefully getting into a 50 miler some time this summer. I am so thankful for all the support that I've gotten throughout the last couple of years with running.  It's amazing what a community we runners have at our fingertips! This was a fantastic course, with plenty of restrooms, and Aid Stations.  The volunteers did a fantastic job.  The course is very easy to navigate as well.  I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for an Ultra, especially a first-timer! What an awesome run and day!

My parents, their dogs Odin and Breck, my sister Jen in the red and my wife Elissa at the finish!

Things I used on the course:

New Balance 980 Fresh Foam. 
Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek Hydration vest. 
Feetures Elite Merino wool socks. 
3 Clif Bars (Chocolate Chip)
4 Nuun Tablets. (Tri-Berry)
1 Picky Bar (Need for Seed)
4 Gu Energy Gels (Mandarin Orange and Lemon Lime)
3 Vega Sport Enegy Gels. (Orange Zest)
Garmin Forerunner 110 GPS watch. (Only about a quarter battery remained.)
Patagonia DuckBill cap.

Keep running.