So, six days ago I ran the Pittsburgh Marathon and blew away my best time by twenty minutes. I decided that running my first ultra only six days later was a very wise and sensible thing to do and on paper it is! Well, it is if you ignore muscle fatigue and all that stuff. Please do not mimic me in this. I do not regret that choice, but it was not the wisest thing I ever planned.
As always, I was stalking the weather like a bank robber planning a heist. It was all over the place from cold to thunderstorms, to temperatures in the 80sF, and everything in between. The only constant was the pollen forecast which was bright red (very bad in case that is not obvious).
Race morning comes, and the weather reports are still fighting, so I pack a variety of clothes and we head out. I was a long way off from being decided on what to carry with me, but in the end, I think I choose pretty well.
The 50K was starting an hour before the 30K, so my wife, who was running the 30K, got to sit around the fire for a bit while I was running. It was cloudy and cold at the start. Standing in the queue to start I was shivering and considering stopping by my truck on the way out for a warmer top. I decided against it.
The race starts and quickly breaks up into two large groups. I think there was like a hundred people running the 50k. I was in the second pack and noticed our pace was around fifteen minutes. I felt this was a problem because we were on level asphalt. I passed them and caught up to the lead pack. They were doing more like 9:30 per mile, so I felt this was where I belonged. I knew the pace would drop a lot once we got to the trail, so I wanted to make sure I was at a good pace to fall from.
About a mile in we hit the trail. It was single track, and by that, I mean my shoulders were brushing plants on both sides of the trail. Pace fell predictably, but not as much as I was expecting. I was expecting based on talking with runners a three to four-minute loss in pace and we fell maybe only a minute or so.
The first “aid station” was at mile five. It was water only, but I had not touched the water I was carrying at all yet and blew through after taking a picture and sending it back to my wife. I had covered those five miles in about 50 minutes, so she had not started yet.
At this point, I was comfortable with the temperature and glad I had not grabbed my warmer top. I would have had to carry it for the next twenty-five or so miles. The pack I was running with broke up more and more as we hit harder parts of the trail. Eventually, I caught up with a young woman, let’s call her “S.” S offered to let me pass, but at this point, I realized I was pushing too hard and needed to back off so I fell back a few strides instead.
I chatted with S and we ran the next several hours together. She was an experienced ultrarunner training for a 100-mile race. She cheered when I said this was my first ultra and my first trail race.
The first 10 miles flew by. We completed them in about 2 hours. That is a far cry from my marathon pace, but I discovered quickly this trail was hard. As in it made the marathon effort look easy. There were lots of up and downs, mud, moss-covered rocks and invisible roots to contend with. None of which I had any meaningful experience with before this.
S was fun to run with. When we hit a good steep downhill, she would stick her arms out like an airplane and sweep back and forth across the hill descending way faster than I could. When we hit the mud bogs she would call out “Weeeee” as she navigated through them. In general, you could just tell she was enjoying herself.
Other runners joined us for short stints before passing or falling behind. At one point we were leading a pack of about half-dozen other runners. Most of the track was only wide enough for one runner so passing was always a bit of a juggling act.
We finally made it to the turnaround and the aid station there. We took advantage of the real bathrooms they had, the food, and refilled our water. Probably lost ten to fifteen minutes there, but at this point I really needed it. I left with S and she was saying “It is at this point I need to remember that there is still half the 50K left to run.”
I stayed with her through the next aid station where I needed to refill again and eat more oranges. I was really feeling the run at this point. S was talking with someone so I decided to start walking. My hope was I could walk for a bit and get ahead of her, then when she caught up, start running again.
She caught up with me in minutes but as she did she said, “I am going to take this next part easy, so go head if you want.” I of course declined. We had around ten miles left, but I was nearing my limit. I stayed with S most of the way to the next aid station, but she eventually pulled away.
Turns out she, get this after she left me she met my wife on the trail and ran with her for a short while and they somehow worked out that she had just been running with me.
Around mile twenty-five, I set my wife a text telling her that I was at least an hour form the finish line and she should just rest and eat when she gets there. I had hoped to catch her and finish with her, but there was no way.
I walked for several miles lacking the strength to run, but the terrain would not have allowed much speed. I probably went nearly as fast walking as I would have running. Little by little the miles rolled away and eventually, with about three or four miles left, I was able to start running again.
Eventually I crossed the finish line with a time of 7:23:23. About an hour slower than I had hoped, but the trail was much harder than I was lead to believe and the temp was nearly 80F by the time we finished.
Overall, I think I made pretty good choices. I had plenty of liquid, thanks to refilling three times at the aid stations. I had plenty of food on my person, even finished with some left over. Leaving the warm clothes in the truck was a majorly good choice.
One thing that did not work well was my Amphipod belt. It got way too loose way early in the race. I ended up tying it in a knot to stop it from falling off. The food bars I bought were a bit tough to eat. They were too dry, but they did work.
Oh, running a PR marathon six days before should probably be reconsidered. Though the “you’re a beast” kinds of comments I got on the trail were pretty nice.
After crossing the finish line, I found out my wife only crossed about ten minutes before me, and “S” was not all that much farther off. So, I pretty much kept with a much more experienced runner for almost the entire race. I guess that is pretty okay.
Several runners on the trail told me that this was much easier than the marathon and I would like it much more. Well, they are wrong. It was way harder. Strava reports 4,475 feet of elevation, but I do not think that really does it justice. The steepness of some of the hills made going up very tough and coming back down very dangerous. There were many places where I was mostly in a controlled fall as I ran down the hill, afraid to try and slow down or stop.
Still, overall I am glad I have done it. The course was beautiful, and all of the runners were nice and friendly.