I took off Friday and Monday in preparation for the big event. We had a 2 hour drive to the Iowa City area. We left home around 1:00 PM and drove right to the pizza joint that was the location of the race packet pick. I picked up my bag that included a nice shirt. I was bib number 132. It had 50k written on it. There was no denying it now. I was about to embark on a great adventure the following day.
We left the packet pick up location and found a hotel, registered, dropped off our gear, then headed back to the pizza joint to eat. I have a big plate of spaghetti and a few big glasses of water. I was feeling pretty good. In the back of my mind I still had lots of doubt. If you have not followed along I have struggled to get in the needed training miles to feel comfortable in my ability to complete the full 50k. I had a couple of injuries that prevented me from proper training. I was recovering from a foot injury but was still hampered by a hamstring twang that I felt could snap at any time. It weighed heavy on me the last couple of week. I had the option of dropping to the 25k distance all along. I just couldn’t bring myself to drop down in distance. Too stubborn? Too proud? Too stupid? I think a bit of all that and then some. Regardless, my bib said 50k and I would be damned if I did not give it my all despite the setbacks in training.
I woke up at 5:50 on Saturday and about 6:40 we were out of the hotel driving to the race. After a wrong turn we managed to get the last parking spot in the closest lot to the starting line. We had about an hour before the race started. I filled up my drop bag and placed it in the designated area. I was nervous and thought I had to go #2 but I think it was just nerves. The line was too long to wait anyway. At 7:55 AM we all lined up. There was 150 or so of us and after a few words from our race director the gun went off.
I was middle of the pack and it worked out perfect. I never felt like I was running too slow or rushed over the first mile. We started on a short single track trail. I chit-chatted with a few other runners. One runner in particular I remember. This was also his first 50k. He said was wanted to run a 100 mile race and that his wife was going to be at every aid station to learn how to be a support crew. He did not carry any water with him. Something about him did not sit well with me. I think it was his personality but we did not run together very long. He eventually pulled a head of me and I settled into a 9 minute mile pace with a few other runners.
After a short 1.3 miles of single track trail we opened it up to a park road. Now it was 3 miles of highway running. This was the worst part of the route by far. 80% of the 25k (15 mile) loop was either crushed gravel bike paths or single track dirt. The road part sucked. It was long hills with speeding cars coming down the road. I tried to run far enough on the shoulder that I was running on dirt/grass and not the hard pavement. It just felt better to me. We eventually hit the crushed gravel trail at mile 4.5 and the first aid station. I was thankful for the new scenery of trees and lakes for the rest of the first lap.
The race was a two loop route. It was not until mile 4.5 that we hit the crushed gravel. Then mile 11 we had a water crossing that was very tricky. Rushing water with mossy, slippery rocks. Once passed the water is was all single track dirt. Awesome is all I can say. Very hilly and one part that you have to climb with all fours to make it up.
The first lap went really well I thought. I came in at 2:42 for the first 25k. On the first lap I never took more than 30 seconds at any aid station. I grabbed two squares of PB&J, a few cups of Gator Aid and was off. I did very well I think with aid station management. I drank from my Nathan pack between aid stations and did not need to fill it up until the 15k point. I was sucking down GU gels as well. At the 15k mark I spend about 15 minutes. It might have been longer but I am not sure. I sat, drank and chatted with the family. But I felt really good. The legs held, the hammy was about as I expected but I don’t think it held me back any. In hind site I did not need to take as long as I did at he half way point aid station. That was a mistake. If I had to do it over I would have treated the half way as another aid station and only took 30 seconds at it. Having the route a loop was deceptive and made me take longer than I really needed. Lesson learned in aid station management.
I set out on the final loop tired but in good spirits. I remember several people on Daily Mile saying to run happy. This came into plan many times as I ran. I forced myself to smile at several points when I was feeling down. To be honest it helped a lot. But mentally the distance started to hit me within the first 2 miles of the second lap. This was around mile 18 I think. At this point I started to do a run for as far as I though I could then power walk. I did this for the entire second lap. I was hurting pretty bad. My legs hurt but my feel felt great. Every mile my legs hurt a little more.
Early in the second lap I passed the same guy that I talked to that was also doing his first 50k. I passed him on the road about mile 18. He looked bad and we were just out of the halfway aid station. But I was just as bad and kept pushing on. I caught a gal and chatted with her for a while then passed her. She was also doing the run then walk routine. She caught me as I reach the first aid station on the second lap. I was just leaving it and she was just coming in. When I reached that aid station I told them to go back and check on the guy that was struggling. It was only mid 80’s but I never saw him with water. I also looked back on the 3 mile stretch of road and never saw him come out of the single track. I departed the aid station and hit the crushed gravel. I was passed by a few guys along the way. One of them was a guy from Daily Mile. I asked if he was Michael from Daily Mile and he said yes. I knew from his blog that we were both in the 82nd Airborne Division so we chatted for about a mile as I tried to keep up with him. I eventually let him go on as I continued to do my run then walk, then run, then walk routine. Repeat 100 times.
I hit mile 20 and was hurting. Legs were in pain. I was taking longer at each aid station. I took my first salt pill a few miles earlier. I ended up taking 2 salt pills at two different aid stations. At the time I did not realize it but both times 10 minutes after taking the salt pills they gave me abdominal pains. It was a pain on both sides of my abdomen. Not sure if that is normal or not since I have never taking salt pills before. It was just a minor discomfort and passed both times.
I officially hit mile 23 and realized that I had just run father than I have ever in my life. It was a pretty cool feeling. But the gal that I passed before caught me and beat me into the mile 24 aid station. She was now leaving as I pulled in. I ate as much as I could and then took off. I refilled my Nathan pack as well. I took off and soon realized I just ran the marathon distance of 26.2 miles. Another first for me. I never saw the gal that passed my again. She must have put the jets on because before the water crossing you can see a good mile of the route and I never saw her. At that point I was like WTF where did she go? I tried hard to keep up a good run before I had to walk again. Repeat 100 time.
I reached the water crossing and did my best to focus on the task but it was hard. I knew after this was an all fours climb and hilly single track back to the start. But that only meant that I still had another 3 miles when I hit the start to finish up. The route was setup that on a single loop you passed the start/finish three times. Mentally it was a crusher for me. But it would get even worse.
I reach the start and my family was shaking the cow bells. You can never have enough cow bells in a race. I was very proud that Terra and the kids were the only ones at the race with cow bells. They were rocking it hard for all the runners as they entered the starting/finishing area. Terra later told me that so many runners stopped and said think you for the cow bells. One lady even dropped her water bottle and took out her head phones to thank my wife for the cow bells.
I was about to hit the point I started at and loop around for the final 3+ miles. Those last 3+ miles were the the hardest. The hills here are up and down crazy. Logs to get over on down hills. My body doesn’t work very good when I have already run 25 miles. Basic things were hard for me. But mentally it was going to get much worse.
I reach the start with my family on the cow bells, dropped my Nathan pack, my daughter Ella handed me a full Gator Aid and I reach the start about to loop around for the final 3 miles. The race director asked if I was just coming in. I said yes and he said, “Didn’t anyone tell you? We cancelled the race.” I was stunned! I was at mile 27 and the race was cancelled? I stood there mouth open. The race director said 2 people passed out from the heat and the park ranger cancelled the race. I looked at the path I needed to go for the final 3-4 miles and looked at the race director. I was expecting him to try to pull my race bib off me. I was ready to slap his hand away. He looked at me and said, “If you continue on I won’t try to stop you”. I asked if he would keep the official timer running for me. He said he had to stop it since the race was cancelled. Terra came up behind me and I turned to say the race was cancelled. I remember her saying, “What?” I just took off mad as hell.
My first 50k and they cancel the race with me having 3-4 miles left. Are you fucking kidding me? I am going to do the full 50k and no one is going to stop me. I don’t care if the race is cancelled or not. As I ran I fantasized about meeting a nazi park ranger trying to stop me some place along the trail. Waving his hands telling me to stop. I thought about lowering my shoulder and flattening him on the trail. I then thought about not getting a medal for all my hard work. It crushed me and I got a little emotional. I choked it down and tried to run as much as I could. I couldn’t run much due to the hills. I struggled over a few logs on downhills but made it without falling. For some reason I thought I had to run 32 miles. Delirious I guess. So when I came out of the wood just shy of mile 30 and saw the family about 400m away waiting from me I was ecstatic. I told them they could run the last .1 mile when I saw them 4 miles ago. I came out of the wood with 200 meters to the family and some other races were clapping for me. I raised my hands in appreciation for the encouragement.
I reached the family and we all ran the last .1 mile. We couldn’t see the finish line and I asked if they still had the clock on. Sure enough they did as it came into view. I was pretty happy they kept the clock going. Terra rushed a head to get a photo of me crossing the finish line with the timer.
I finished in 6:37:56. I only wanted to finished without injury but I secretly wanted something between six hours and six hours and thirty minutes. I was in serious pain but I was not injured. I was felling good for about 15 minutes as I tried to setting down. I ate a cookie and talked with the family and the race hosts. I did get a medal for finishing after all. Booyaa! The race director said he was not sure how he would do the race results since it was officially cancelled. A few people came in after me and we clapped for them. I took a photo with Tim the race director and one with the 50k sign before we headed down to the lake to soak my legs.
Click the images to see a larger version.
Terra pulled the van down to the boat dock and the kids and I loaded in. We sat there for a while. The pain in my legs was intense. Nothing like I have experienced before. If you have ever hit your knee on a table and it hurt like all heck then we have a glimpse into how I felt. Now double that pain and make it last for an hour straight. That is how I felt after the race. I again was close to crying but this time it was from sheer pain.
We left and I thanked the race people. We decided to stay the night in Coralville, IA at the Marriott. It was a good decision since I got in the hot tube and the kids swam. We also had a great St. Pat’s day meal at a local Irish restaurant.
I am officially an ultra marathoner!