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<span style="font-family:'Courier New';">So, you want to be an ultrarunner? Yeah...I think I do...</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">Maybe I should have thought harder but right now that didn't matter. It was September 9th, 2007 and I was standing in a now pouring rain, on the start line of The Pisgah Mountain Trail 50k in Chesterfield, NH. For the better part of the 2007, this date had always seemed to be far off in the distance. Now, it was here...and again I was asking myself the same question I did at this time last year...So, you want to be an ultrarunner?</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">It's funny how one little spark of an idea can lead one down a path, that to some, can seem extreme. For me, that little spark came from the culmination of a few things. First, my rediscovery and re-dedication to running which came about 2 years ago. Previous to this I was a typical 3-4 times a week runner, usually around 3-4 miles. And I had been at this level for about 6 years. I had run a few marathons by this time, including The New York City Marathon in 2003, which I struggled through. And I always wondered how anyone could run farther than 26.2 miles.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">About 2 years ago something changed for me though. Initially I think it was my having more free time. I had just change shifts (from 3rd to 2nd) and with both of my kids now being in school full time, I suddenly had each day to myself from about 9:00 AM til 2:00 PM. It was time I decided to use to recommit myself to running. Currently I was at plateau point in my running. On one hand, I was happy that I had continued running all these years, even if it was only 3-4 times a week for 3-4 miles. But, I also knew that I wanted to do more. I was unhappy with the way I had finished my last 2 marathons (New Jersey & New York in 2003) and wanted to commit to running (and finishing) one on my terms.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">So, I began my recommitment. Building my running up to 5 days a week for a minimum of one hour a day. I also took the year off from racing and set my mind to only accomplishing the goal of getting out the door everyday. I left my watch at home and ran by feel, running hard or slow depending on how I felt that day. After a year and a half of this and creating a very solid base under me (approximately 40 - 50 miles per week) I decided I would return to entering races.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">During this time I also read the book Ultramarathon Man - Confessions of an All-Night Runner by Dean Karnazes. In reading the book, I began to see similarities in how I felt on running and how ultrarunners do. For the first time, I began to think that I too could run past the marathon distance. And<br>
then, somehow, I got into my mind the idea that I'd actually like to try it.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">That leads to this year, which I began with the goal of entering (and hopefully finishing) my first ultramarathon. I decided I would start "small" with the shortest of ultras, the 50k (31 miles). I decided entering a race in the fall would give myself most of the calendar year to build up, which I would do by signing up for numerous long distance trails races throughout the spring and summer. I began my internet search for New England fall ultras with The Pisgah Mountain Trail 50k being one of the first I found. With a race date of September 9th I figured I had plenty of time (I signed up in February).</span><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">Spring and summer came and went and after a successful string of trail races (Northern Nipmuck, Soapstone Half-Marathon, Nipmuck Trail Marathon) and numerous long training runs (20 miler on the Natchaug Trail, 18 miler on the Shenipsit Trail, re-running the 16 mile NOrthern Nip[muck Course & lastly a 26.2 miler on the Tunxis Trail) I was feeling confident that I had prepared myself well. I'd put the miles in. I'd learned to eat as I run. And I'd learned how to mentally prepare myself for 5, 6 or 7 hours on the trail, by myself in all conditions.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">Now, with all of that behind me, I look ahead. Thirty One miles ahead as I stood on the start line on a rainy Sunday morning. For the first time since my first marathon I felt a small bit of apprehension on how I would do in "unknown territory", namely miles 26.4 - 31. I felt 100% confident I would finish, I just didn't know how those last few miles would feel. I also didn't have much of an idea of what to expect in terms of course conditions. For some reason, possibly a good reason, I was unable to find much information on this race outside of a course map and profile on the race website. For this reason, I had no idea what to expect over the next 31 miles. This can be viewed as both a benefit and a detriment. It can be a benefit in such that you don't become bored with a course or realize how far you have come. It can be a detriment in such that it makes long term strategy and energy conservation tougher, since you don't know what you have ahead. Because of this lack of information, I decided to run conservatively and focus on the task of finishing (on my terms).</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">Pre-race planning with my support crew had us debating on when we would meet up and if I should carry my food or plan on eating when I met with them. At the last minute I decided to not carry my food (via camelbak) and only go with my handheld water bottle (filled with gatorade). I picked up my race bib and chuckled as the race volunteer handed my race bib # 1, as it appears I was the first runner to sign up this year. In most races, #1 is reserved for the previous year's race winner. As if I need more pressure, I now had other runners looking at me as if I WON this race last year. Pre race prep was to be completed with a final stop at the infamous porta-potty. Unfortunately, this was not to be as the call to head to the start line was put out while I was still awaiting my turn. Oh well, all I need is a tree anyway. No more time for anymore preparations...I was headed to the start line.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">Now, I'm sure it's just an odd coincidence, but now I am starting to think it may not be. I am starting to feel like I have a literal trail race black cloud following me. Not because of any bad luck I've encountered but more because of the now more persistent rain drops I was feeling on my walk to the start line. Rain drops that by the time I got to the start line were now big fat drops developing into a full blown down pour. If this was the first time I wouldn't wonder about the running gods and their seemingly overuse of skydiving h2o. But this would now make my 3rd marathon and 2nd this year (and in a row) to be run in a consistent rain. Again, one encounters a positive and negative benefit with rain. On one hand it keep it cool and helps keep one from overheating. On the other hand, you are constantly wet and so is the course. After some final, shouted out instructions (which I couldn't hear), I was off. Thrity-One miles (on an unknown, wet course) to go.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">The race began with a paved road section for about a mile, including a decent hill that I saw people already walking up. After the road section we veered off to the right onto some nice double track carriage roads. Just when I began to wonder how long we would get to enjoy this wide, spacious portion, us 50ker's turned left onto The South Woods Trail. This is really where the race would begin. The South Woods Trail began with the first of many wooden bridge crossings. These bridge crossing would prove to be a consistent challenge throughout the race. The South Woods Trail would also be the beginning of the single track trail we would be on for most of the race.</span><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">With the rain now coming down steadily we were led deeper into the Pisgah State Forest. The rain and accompanying cloud cover made the trail very dark. On top of that, the trail also became much more technical with numerous wet roots attempting to trip and slip me up. I settled into a steady pace near a few other runners and concentrated on completing part one of the race. Now that I was underway I considered my race strategy, namely when/where to employ any walk breaks. In training I had used a 25/5 minute ratio of running/walking. Now, I decided, as I did at Nipmuck, to let the course dictate when/where to walk.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">Due to this being my first ultra, one mental tactic I used was to break the race up into sections, namely aid station to aid station. My first section (water station) was 4.8 miles in. Although it was only an unmanned water station it did mark the completion of part one. In pre race planning I had planned on meeting my support crew at this point and the fact that they were nowhere to be seen caused me some slight concern. I began to wonder what I would do if I did not see them at the next aid station (8.1 miles). Pushing any negative predications aside I continued on.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">Quicker than I realized I pulled into the first aid station to complete my second section of the race. Happily I saw my support crew for the first time since the start. It was really great to see my parents and my wonderful wife. I am quite lucky to have a group of family members willing to chase me around the woods in a steady rain. After some initial hellos and "how you doings" I headed to the vehicle to grab some pizza and potatoes both of which have become my long trail run staples. A quick top off of the handheld bottle and couple cups of water from the aid station and I was set to start again. We quickly discussed when/where we would meet up next and once again I debated taking my camelbak as future meetings looked shakey (Aid station at Mile 17 was inaccessible to vehicles). At the last second I decided to stick with my current plan and leave the camelbak in the vehicle, I'd rely on the aid stations for nutrition if my support crew could not get access. I stuffed a Ziploc bag of gummy bears into my handheld water bottle's pouch and hoped I was making the right decision.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">Over the next 9 miles I continued to focus my mind on conserving energy. I still considered this the beginning of the race and now that my supply plans had changed I wanted to ensure I would have enough in the tank until the Mile 20 aid station. The rain had finally let up but temperatures and humidity remained steady so I settled into a comfortable pace and set my mind into cruise mode. I cruised into the mile 12 aid station and to my surprise (and relief) heard my wife's voice as I emerged from the woods onto a dirt road. A helping of potatoes and pizza, with a few gummy bears slipped in and I was off again. This would begin, for me, the best portion of the race.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">Feeling quite fresh and strong I started out on my fourth section of the race (miles 12-17). To my surprise I was not taking as many walk breaks as I had in training. My time spent in aid stations was lower than I had expected. And the course too, despite being wet and quite full of roots had not caused any footings issues (and no toes stubs). Throughout the race I had reminded myself to run my own race and not get caught up in "racing" and run to someone else’s pace. Because I felt to strong, I let myself "race" for a bit and ran with a couple other runners over the next section. Using the other runners to challenge myself I quickened my pace. I began to get that long distance runners feeling of floating. That part of a long run when you almost forget you are actually running. It was at this point in the race I knew 100%, without a doubt that I would finish. I was almost in disbelief at how good I felt. As I approached the end of this section and the halfway point of the race I began to think about my late race strategy and how I would approach that "unknown territory". Despite how great I felt at this point, I decided to reverted to my conservative approach for the second half of the race and use my 25/5 run/walk ratio I had used in training. I soon to be glad I did because as good as this past section of the race had been, the next would be just the opposite.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">The Mile 17 aid station would turn out to be inaccessible to my support crew, leaving me to rely on the provision provided by the race. Unfortunately, one of the few areas of race organization that was lacking was the aid stations. I always feel bad complaining about aid stations and the lack of them or what is available at them. After all, these are folks volunteering to provide me food while I run a race I chose to run. So, I always make it a point to thank the volunteers and never complain about what is available at the stations. The only reason for me to complain at any aid station, in my opinion, is because I neglected to provide for myself. This was my main concern at this point. I had made the decision to not carry my own food. Now I would start to feel the effects of that decision. It was at this point in the race that I began to feel as if I wasn't eating enough. When you run long runs on a consistent basis, you tend to become quite in tune with your body and it's needs. I wasn't at the point where I would "hit the wall" nor did I feel I was headed to that, but I could tell that I was eating less than I did on any of my other long runs. I grabbed what I could from the aid station and started the second half of the race.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">I began by letting the other runner I had been running with go on ahead. Back to running my own race and pace. With 17 miles behind me (and 14 to go) I had to push back any negative thoughts about being just over half way. I forced my mind to focus on only the next 3 miles where I knew I would see my support crew again. From this point on in the race I would run solo. So solo in fact that I would only encounter people at aid stations. When on the trail I could look in either direction and not see another soul. I settled into my second half strategy and after what seemed like a very long 2.9 miles I came into the aid station at 19.9 miles (it also doubles as the 25.4 mile station). Seeing my support crew brought me a much needed mental boost but more importantly, it meant food. I dove into my cooler shoving more pizza and potatoes into my face. I made a point of staying at this station a bit longer to ensure I ate enough since I considered the next portion of the race to be my toughest challenge of the race.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">Heading almost due south I pulled out of the 19.9 mile aid station and began along loop around Kilburn Pond on a trail appropriately named "the Kilburn Loop". On my left I could see Kilburn Pond as I descended for what seemed like a mile or even longer. It was on this descent that I began to prefer the uphills, with their lack of pounding on the knees and quads to the downhills. I also began after being constantly wet since the race start, to become a bit cool. I knew I had a dry shirt awaiting me at the next aid station so I unconcerned about this. Finally I reached the bottom of the loop and began the gradual climb uphill and north. Steadily I continued on and began to let myself start to think of finishing. I was getting closer to reaching the final aid station and completing my hardest part of the race. This coupled with the rewards of food and a dry shirt gave me a big mental boost as I pulled back onto a section of trail I had done previously (part of the loop) and about 1/2 mile later I pulled into the 25.4 mile aid station (the same 19.9 aid station).</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">I quickly grabbed a few Oreos available at the aid station and proceeded to climb a very steep section of road for about .4 of a mile. On this road section I actually passed a couple runners for the first time in about ten miles. I began running again as I crested the hill for another .3 or so until I reached a parking lot where my support crew was waiting. I immediately dived into some much needed nourishment and donned a fresh dry shirt just as the skies once again opened up. For the first time since I started I sorta sat down as I leaned against the vehicle bumper while I ate. I quickly made final preparations and continued on my way, eager to begin the last section of the race. I dashed across the parking lot taking a sharp right at the end and ascended the Davis Hill Trail on my way to the highest elevation of the race.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">As I began the final section of the race I continued on with my 25/5 run/walk ratio but also ensured I walked every uphill I came too. I was beginning to feel fatigued and was now using all the tricks I could mentally. I told myself all I have to is run a 10k, just keep moving. Only 3.3 miles to the final unmanned water station. With the rain now pouring down it felt like I had been running all day. My thoughts began to drift to warm, dry, fuzzy clothes and hot cups of coffee and soup. "Just keep moving forward...keep moving forward". After a long steady uphill I'd reached the highest elevation of the race and began the long descent to the final unmanned water station.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">Previously in the race I had not stopped at the unmanned stations. This time however I made an exception and enjoyed my last two cups of race water. The course took an immediate left turn after the water station and dumped me back out onto a paved road. To my surprise my support crew was also there. I was not to linger however. The end was near I wanted to get there as soon as possible. I hit the pavement running strong, feeling determined to finish strong.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">Knowing I had a little over two miles to go on the paved roads, I allowed myself to walk the final uphill and began running just prior to reaching the top. In front of me I could see one runner walking. I set out to get by him continuing on strongly. I could see a stop sign at a T intersection in the near distance and asked a spectator which way to go. He pointed to the right and said "right there...the finish". What? Not yet, it can't be....I'm already there.</span><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">I seriously thought that after turning the corner. "I'm here already?"</span><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">Another 500 or so feet and through the finishing chute I went and just like that......I was an ultrarunner.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">It's now official, I have completed my first ultramarathon. The first of what I hope to be many more to come.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">The official standings:<br>
PL # Name Sex Age Town, CT Time Pace<br>
48/91 1 Ron Starrett M 37 Vernon CT 6:20:07 12:16</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">Overall, I felt just like I did after my first trail marathon in June (Nipmuck). I was tired, but never hurting. Never hit the wall or had any point in the race where I wanted to quit. I couldn't believe I just ran 31 miles. I felt like I could have made it to 40 miles if I had to (but wasn't complaining that I didn't have to). Also despite having constantly wet feet, no hotspots or blisters. The North Face XCR 103's held up nicely.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">Sunday evening I was tired and a bit stiff but never hurting or sore. I felt ready to run again on Monday but took a mandatory rest day anyway. Legs were slightly stiff in the AM but walking the dog 4-6 miles helped loosen them up.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:'Courier New';">Now to plan and get ready for the Stone Cat 50 miler.....</span>
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