Place: Damascus, VA
Time: 7:00am, Saturday, September 3rd, 2011
Placed: 18 / 39 (includes DNFers)
Course: Out and back, supposedly ended up being a little over 51 miles, with 8000 feet of elevation gain. Started in Damascus, VA at 2000', hovered between 4000'-4500' of wooded ridgeline for the majority of the run. Aid stations every 4-7 miles.
Preparation: Similar to the 50k, not much. Ran about 10 times in the six weeks between races.
Outcome: Wasn't an easy run, but certainly had a great time. Only short-coming of the race was being told at the second-to-last aid station that the finish was 7 miles from the last aid station, getting to the last AS, being told it was actually 9 miles, getting to the finish and finding out it ended up being a little over 8 miles. That kind of messes with your mind after 9 hours of running.
Race: (not very detailed and slightly philosophical...)
Damascus is two hours from tech so I set the alarm for 4am for a 7am race start. Naturally I woke up at 4:47am. Naturally I was low on gas. And also naturally the first gas station I went to was in the process of having it's system rebooted meaning I had to go to a different one. But I made it to Damascus with about 3 minutes to spare, and started the run rather content because I didn't think I'd make it on time. After a mile or two of settling into a rhythm I was going to turn my ipod on but of course it wasn't working... That led to another couple miles of a "well this sucks" mentality.. but for whatever reason it started working around mile 5, and August Burns Red carried me up the first climb (half-mile, maybe 600' or so?) and to the second aid station at mile 9.
At this point, when the great vibes from the start of the race kind of wear off, that semi-familiar realization "now i have a 20 mile run, then a 20 mile run, then a couple more miles" really hits home. And eventually, at some point in the race when music turns to white noise, water becomes more than simply a luxury, food turns to ash, and your body starts shutting down one bit at a time, you start feeling the same way as every non-runner does about covering 50 miles in half a day. But many, many miles before this point comes, the mind tries to rationalize the distance in several different ways, each of which is worse than the last: "so I have to do what I just did again, then again, then again, then again, then it's only five more miles!" ; "well I've been out here for an hour and a half, only 10 or 11 hours to go, hmm that's like 30 episodes of the office" ; "so I've finished 9, which means the next aid station is 6 miles away, then from there it's only a marathon and three 5k's". This attempt at rationalization gets progressively worse and worse until you realize you've only killed a minute or two with thought. With most distances, thinking about how much you have left to do early in the run just sucks. But it makes it that much better when all of a sudden you realize you only have a lap to go in a 3200, or a mile left in a 50, and it really brings out the best in a person, that feeling forces you to leave it all out on the course. And that's what I find so appealing about longer distances: of course it's no fun to go slow, but if nothing else, going the distance and crossing the finish line after dozens of miles is a feeling that ultimately does rationalize what was at some point, quite irrational.
That said, I am taking a break from ultrarunning for a little while. I finished two 50m and one 50k this summer, but... the way I see it, I will still be capable of setting 50m, and hopefully 100m PR's for the next 15 to 20+ years, but I probably will only be able to set marathon (and below) PR's for the next 10 years at best (age steals speed long before it steals endurance). I'm running the Richmond Marathon in November, and if I meet my goal (sub 3:30), I'll try to set a new half PR. If i meet that goal I'll try to set a new 10k, 5k, and mile PR, etc, you get the picture. I never gave the mile a good chance (ran 4:59 at age 15, haven't run a timed competitive mile since). So the super-long-term game plan is to PR at every distance before settling down with marathons and ultramarathons, but it is just that, a plan. For the next six or so weeks, Tom and I are trying to stick to a weekly schedule of at least a workout, easy run, long run, and pandapas run, so that's the short-term plan for now. I'm also doing this because I think it would be incredibly difficult to simultaneously train for say, a 10k, and a 50 mile race. But I have never run a road marathon, or a flat marathon, so I'm curious as to what I can do. And quite frankly, I miss being fast.