The only thing you can plan for in an ultra is that nothing will go as planned. The recent Moab Behind The Rocks 56 miler and Zane Grey 50 both proved this. The endurance aspect of ultras is about much more than the distance covered. And the race aspect of ultras is about much more than your finishing time or place.
The 25M loop across Lory and Horsetooth State Parks in the foothills of Fort Collins is deceptively grueling. RD Nick Clark manages to squeeze in 5,500′ of gain into those hills with some seriously quad rockin’ climbs and descents that will leave you whimpering for mercy. To run that loop twice is just plain foolish.
Somehow, last year at the Quad Rock 25M, my legs found just enough speed to get me round 1 loop and across the finish line in 1st place. So I had signed up for the 25M again this year and was quite looking forward to the punishing loop when all of the sudden, out of nowhere, I found myself emailing Nick a day and a half before the race asking to be switched to the 50M. Within minutes the deal was done and there was no turning back. I can’t even blame anyone for peer pressuring me to do it. 36 hours later I was shivering at the starting line with Kerrie and a whole bunch of other Rocky Mountain Runner & Boulder Track Club teammates and 3, 2, 1, go. I didn’t even have a chance to make any plans.
I cruised into a comfortably hard pace right from the start. A few miles in we hit the first of six 1500′ climbs. Ooooh these hills were definitely going to hurt today. I started to feel the 32 mile run I had just done 4 days prior. Thankfully right at the moment when I started doubting if this was a smart idea, I linked up with RMR teammates, Lassen, and New Zealander, James, who’d been running with us for a few weeks during his travels. A bit of talking about James’ recent trip to Moab got my energies back in line and reminded me of the magical places that running can take you. I remembered to lift my eyes from the technical trails to catch the glowing sunrise over the vibrantly green hillsides. I would run two loops of this course just for that moment.
A little bit later I descended into the Horsetooth Aid Station at mile 10.5 with Emily Judd, whom I hadn’t seen since San Juan Solstice last June. She’s an incredibly talented yet completely unpretentious runner with some impressive 100 mile wins under her belt. I secretly tried to absorb some of her wisdom as the thoughts in my mind shifted to my own upcoming 100 mile attempt at Western States… in 6 week’s time…
100 miles is a long way to go. But so is 185, which is what I’ll also be attempting at TransAlps in just 3 month’s time….
And all of the sudden, 50 miles didn’t seem quite so long.
I came into the start/finish in about 4:30. The smiles and cheers of a bunch of friends and RMR teammates kindly distracted me from the BBQ and booze flowing on the other end of the finish line.
I mentioned to Ryan at the turn around that my toes were getting a bit jammed in my shoes from all the downhills so I was thinking of switching my shoes at the next aid station. Thankfully my friend Greg interrupted me mid-sentence with some of the wisest words of wisdom (yes, there can be unwise words of wisdom in ultra running too): take the time to take care of little problems when they’re still little. Who knew there would be a life lesson disguised as a little blister on my middle toe. I swapped for different pair of Merrells that have a roomier toe box and, instantly, all was good in the world again. Even the massive hill I had just descended and now had to ascend seemed, somehow, less massive. This illusion didn’t last long but at least my feet were infinitely happier to tackle them.
The next 7 miles came and went fairly smoothly as I focused on polishing off the last of the 5 ounces of goopie deliciousness that I had shoved in the front of my bra intentionally to annoy me so I wouldn’t conveniently forget about it. I’m a lazy calorie consumer in ultras (although I know of an even lazier one!) so downing a whole one of those repulsive 400-calorie flasks in 33 miles is a big deal for me. I couldn’t wait to hand over the empty to Ryan… only to have him hand me another full one…
With the fifth & penultimate 1500ft climb, and more importantly, descent, done, I picked a handful of bright, happy and resilient dandelions and cruised into the mile 40 aid station with my little bouquet in hand.
One more climb up to and down from Eric Lee‘s Hawaiian-themed and bacon-scented aid station and all I had left was the finish line!
Jon, Greg, James, Oliva, Amelia and Ryan screamed at me as I came toddling ’round the bend towards the final straight away. Apparently the clock was ticking dangerously close to the 10 hour mark and since everyone knows a 9:59:59 is so much cooler than a 10:00:01, the crowd went wild. I had no idea what they were yelling about but thankfully still managed to make them proud by crossing the line with 51 seconds to spare.
If it’s true that the only thing you can plan for in an ultra is that nothing will go as planned, is it also true that if nothing is planned it all goes to plan? Probably not. But what I did learn as I finished off my first ever 100 mile training week with 2 ultra distances and a 4th place race finish, is to sweat the little things (like blisters and calories) and to not drip all over the big ones (like the big fat intimidating number 1-0-0). A relaxed mind is a relaxed body. You can do so much more than you think you can if you stop thinking you can’t.
Finally, I’d like to give a shout out to these awesome pieces of gear without which my race would definitely not have gone to plan: Simple Hydration, Merrell, Feetures! Socks. I’d also like to thank Rocky Mountain Runners and Boulder Track Club for their support and camaraderie. Thank you to the selfless volunteers at the race and congratulations to everyone who toed the starting line and gave it their all out there!