Ultra-marathoner. Doesn't that have a nice ring to it? I can officially call myself an Ultra-Marathoner (again)!
This was such an amazing experience. It's absolutely surreal to grasp the reality of knowing I did it. But I crossed the finish line, and I have the swag to show for it. And, several days post-ultra, I'm still basking in the sweet essence of endorpohins.
The Christmas in July Races
are put on by a local group, Runners 4 Wellness, and take place at the Lisle Community Park in Lisle, IL. This was only the third year, but they have the details of this event down to a near-perfect science. Last year, myself and six other runner friends (Team #UBAGE...U
xtravaganza) took on the 6-hour endurance race (recap HERE
), and several of us returned last weekend to try our luck at the 12-hour race instead (seriously, it seemed like a good idea....).
|Last year's #UBAGE team...myself, Michelle, Penny, Maggie, Teri, Barb, Karen|
The 12-hour race began at 11:00PM (that's right, in the evening!). I drove from Iowa (along with my sister...who would be my chauffeur for the return trip, post-finish line) and arrived at Penny's house around 3:00 Friday afternoon. Penny is a gal I met a few years back when both of us were training for our first marathons. We've since become good friends, and have done other races together (including last year's CIJ 6-hour). We had plenty of time to finish getting our gear organized, strategize on the race ahead of us (fueling, rest periods, pacing, etc.) and relax.
|Penny and me...smiling, almost as if it's just another day in paradise...(pic from Penny)|
We arrived at the race site around 9:30PM, and met up with the other gals...Maggie and Michelle (who also had run the 6-hour with us last year) and Jamie and also Michelle's hubby, Michael. Both Jamie and Michael were running the 6-hour (which didn't begin until midnight). We set up a tent and an overhead awning for our "campsite." One of our #UBAGE gals from last year (Teri) was not able to run it this year, but she was there to see us at the start line and would be returning in the morning, to volunteer.
|Here's all my gear....extra shoes, blanket, yoga mat, foam roller, and my go-to bag of essentials|
We had plenty of time before out 11:00PM start time, so we walked around and took a few pics.
|This year's #UBAGE team...Jamie, Penny, Maggie, myself, Michelle (pic from Michelle)|
|There was a bigger-than-life Santa!|
|Lots of Christmas trees!|
Before long, we were called to line up. After a few instructions from the officials, we were off and running! The four of us hung together for the first several miles, very reminiscent of last year. What was very different this year, though, was the weather (temps in the mid-60's as opposed to upper 90's) and a clear sky (instead of dark cloud cover with occasional lightning bolts and thunder...which later turned into an all-out downpour).
A unique feature about this event is the course. Instead of running through city streets, open trails, or looping around town, this course has a 1-mile route (technically, it was .973) that we had to run repeatedly, as many times as we were able, within our 12-hour time limit. There were luminaries all along the route to light our way, several blow-up displays and occasional lighted Christmas trees. The route started out along a street (on the sidewalk), then turned onto an asphalt trail that twisted and turned around a lake (involving a bridge). There was a long, curved path up a hill (that didn't seem as treacherous this year), followed by a sharp 45-degree left turn (which was just as bad as I remembered it) that took us back along more curves towards our "campsite," then along the numerous aid stations and, finally, back to the start line. Every time we crossed the start line, our ankle timing chips chirped and our laps were recorded...and we would began the entire route again for each subsequent lap.
|Ready for the start line....Michelle, Maggie, Penny and myself (pic from Teri)|
The first miles went fast. Before long, we were closing in on our 6th lap and the 6-hour runners were ready to start their race. Although my angry hammy was feeling alright, I knew I would need to pull over and walk. I had not trained with any of these gals, so their pacing and fueling intervals were not in sync with what I'd need to do to keep my hammy (and, potentially, my healing heel) functional. And that was alright. We'd never be more than a lap apart, so I knew I'd be seeing them several times throughout the race.
After my 8th lap, I decided to stop and stretch for a few minutes, and pull on the compression sleeves. I have not come to any conclusions as to whether or not the calf sleeves help with my running. My calves, though, were already feeling a little bit of strain from having run that hill eight times. I was pretty certain the compression sleeves wouldn't hurt.
I finished my 10th lap with exactly two hours showing on the clock above the timing mat. I ran another lap and decided to lather on some Biofreeze while I waited for a turn at the porta-pots. The hammy was still feeling a bit strained, but I could tell it was loosening up. I decided to walk the 12th lap and do some intermittent massaging. I hadn't seen any of the gals since I'd broken away from them (around the 7-mile mark), so it was a welcome sight seeing Michelle somewhere in the middle of the lap. She was going strong! I also saw Jamie a short while later.
That little walk reprieve was just what I needed. I grabbed some water and Coke at the aid station and started back into a comfortable run and caught up with Penny and Maggie for awhile. They were going strong as well, and I think they were two laps ahead of me on their mileage count. I noticed the clock showed three hours of elapsed time as I finished my 14th lap.I continued on for a few more laps before deciding to take another walk break for the 17th lap. I also stopped at the campsite and popped a couple of Aleve and spent a few minutes foam-rolling my legs.
All along, I had the plan of making it to 20 laps (which would be just under 20 miles for distance), and then I could walk as much as I wanted. The clock showed five hours as I finished that 20th lap. My distance goal for this event was 35 miles (which means I would need to complete about 37 total laps). Having done 20 laps within five hours gave me a huge wave of relief! I was well past the halfway point of my distance and still had another seven hours remaining on the course.
I decided to walk the 22nd lap, and paused for some more Biofreeze (more as a precaution than a necessity) after finishing the 25th lap of the course. A couple laps later, I caught up with Jamie. She had just finished her 6-hour race, and she did well...I think she completed 33 laps! She wasn't ready to leave, so her and I decided to walk a few laps together. By then, I was seven hours into my race and had finished 26 laps....so I was just about at the marathon distance. I was well ahead of schedule for my goal of 35 miles, so I thought a little break from running would serve me well.
Jamie and I did a lap, and stopped at the campsite briefly. I decided to change shoes (I had brought along a second pair), and she wanted to stretch for a few minutes. We headed back out and wound up walking a few more miles together. These weren't slow, leisurely miles, either....we kept a good pace so my heart rate stayed up and my energy felt great.
After that much-needed walk break with Jamie, I had a major energy resurgence. By now, it was around 7:30 and the sun was beautiful. A lot of people had changed clothes, so it seemed almost like a different crowd of runners were on the course. Teri had returned, and she was volunteering at the food stand, so I got to see her every time I came around the course and crossed the timing mat.
|Busted! Teri caught me grabbing a few Twizzlers...|
I ran laps 30-34 with a decent pace. It finally hit me, around the 32nd lap, that I had gone my farthest distance ever...and I had officially conquered the 50K distance. I didn't cry, but there were definitely a few tears in my eyes as it became crystal clear at what I was accomplishing by doing this race.
As I was about halfway through my 35th lap, I caught up with Penny and Maggie. Their goal had been 40 miles, and they were about a lap away from reaching it. It was then that I realized I had been reading the timing clock wrong....I had thought it was almost 10:00AM, but it actually was only 9:00AM. I had been (ever-so-briefly) worried about getting all of my 37 laps finished before the cut-off, but I actually had an extra hour remaining. So, we decided to just walk and enjoy what we'd all accomplished.
|Approaching the finish line...Penny, Maggie, and myself (pic from Michelle)|
We finished that lap, and walked our final lap and called it good. We met back up with Teri (and grabbed more food) and even caught a glimpse of Michelle (who wasn't ready to stop yet).
|And there's Michelle, still going strong! (pic from Michelle)|
I walked over to the official's booth, to check on my mileage. Even though I had been keeping count all night (and morning), I had been awake for almost 30 hours...and there was a chance I could have miscounted. They were having issues with the timing system, and the results weren't yet syncing, they told me to come back in 30 minutes. Yikes! What if I had miscounted and didn't find out until it was too late? I would be devastated to find out I had only gone 34.5 miles....so I headed back out for one more lap.
My phone's battery had died in the night, but it had been recharging. I grabbed it from the tent and
brought it along, to get a few pics of the course in the daylight. This bonus lap felt like a victory march.
|You can see some of the luminaries along the path (no longer lit)|
|A lot of the remaining runners were now walking|
|The curve that lead us to the hill|
A lot of the remaining runners were now walking, and some of them had changed clothes. Almost everyone I passed (and those who passed me) had encouraging words and high-5's to share. This wasn't just my victory, but it was all of ours. Many of the people still on the course were fellow 12-hour runners, but there were also some 24-hour participants (who still had another 11 hours to go).
|There it is.....|
When I finally made it around the final corner, Teri was waiting to hug me again. I saw the timing mat up ahead and made my way to it...for the final time. I still had another 30 minutes on the clock, but I decided all was well. I had done it! My total laps came in at 38, giving me a grand total of 36.987 miles!
|A pic with Teri...she was my chief cheerleader in the final hours on the course (pic from Teri)|
As I said, this experience was epic. Even though I ran the 6-hour ultra last year (and technically did finish with a longer distance than 26.2), I had a hard time calling myself an ultra-marathoner. I did all the necessary work, but I came up short of my goal of completing a 50K last year. And that little "thing" has been hanging over my head ever since. Finally, I feel like I redeemed myself and can move on (not that I have any grandiose plans of running a longer race....yet).
|no, I didn't mistake the medal for a brownie in my state of delirium (pic from Teri)|
Some final thoughts on this experience:
**The challenge of doing a 12-hour Ultra was physically demanding, no doubt, but the emotional aspect was much worse. No matter how fast the miles were going, it didn't feel like I was making much progress because of all the remaining time looming over me. Even when I reached the 20-mile mark (five hours into the race), I still had seven hours left on the clock.
**The hill (just after the halfway point of each lap) did not feel as ominous this year. Could it have been all the stair-training I have done? (most likely) I actually ran it more than I walked it this year, and there were many times I actually forgot to walk it (as a means to conserve energy and save the hammy) until I was already 3/4 of the way to the top.
**All of my fueling was with "real" food (no gels, sport beans, waffles, etc.). Granted, there was an occasional half-glass of Coke or Gatorade, but that was it. The food spread was out of this world...we're talking pizza, pancakes, bacon, potatoes, tortillas, pretzels, fruit, etc. all through the night and it continued on for the duration of the event.
**After breaking from the team (around the 7-mile mark), I was pretty much on my own, and it worked out well. There still were numerous meet-ups throughout the entire 12 hours, and many walk breaks with lively conversation. I had my own race to run (due to my own unique circumstances with my hammy and heel), but I still had all of their support and encouragement.
** The hammy was my main concern. It felt tight for the first 6-7 miles and periodically throughout the night. The brief pit stop at mile 8 (and the compression sleeves & foam rolling thereafter) made my situation much better.
**The wonky heel was practically a non-issue. It felt a little tender towards the end, but I had been on it for almost 12 continuous hours at that point (duh!)
**I was pleasantly surprised how my energy stayed consistent throughout the entire 12 hours. I had a brief slump when I took that extended walk break with Jamie, but that was more as a precaution and not a last-minute remedy. I never once felt like stopping, there was no proverbial "wall," and there were no tummy issues. All went remarkably well considering my training was less than desirable (due to the wonky heel) and my longest training run was only 17 miles.
|The spread of food was incredible!|
Overall, this event is one of the top-notch events I have ever done. There were some issues with the timing mat, so not all of the final results have been posted. But aside from that, the organizers do a FABULOUS job with everything else. Great swag, awesome volunteers, well-lit (and decorated) course, and an awesome spread of food, fuel, and drinks.
|Swag included a red tech shirt, a running hat, and our choice of a green (or red) buff |
Have you ever thought of running an ultra? Ever attempted an over-nighter?
I'm linking up with Deb from Deb Runs
for the Wednesday Word...this weeks word is Pragmatic
. This ultra had all the makings of a pragmatic situation on many levels (my training, the 11:00PM start time, the 12-hour time frame, and the hammy/heel issues as of late), and it all played out to near perfection as a result. I got very lucky...could have been problematic instead.
Also, I'm linking up Running on Happy
, Crazy Running Girl
, and Coach Debbie Runs
for the Running Coaches Corner link-up.