This past weekend I completed my first ultra marathon, the Bandera 50k located in south-central Texas. Typically, weather in Texas is pretty mild, but this past weekend we had our first “ice storm”, meaning a slow steady drizzle with temperatures that hover right around freezing so the precipitation comes down as a liquid, but freezes on surfaces such as roads, windshields, and big rocky hills on ultra marathon courses. I stressed about the weather pretty much constantly leading up to the race, checking the ever changing forecast every couple of hours. In the end, the weather wasn’t much of an issue. Yes, it was cold and a bit rainy, but I had good solid gear, so I fared okay.
The race was 3 hours from our home, so my husband and I opted to stay in a cheap motel in the closest semi-large town near the race which happened to be a 45 minute drive. I was a little worried about ice on the morning drive, but the roads were fine. It did rain on us a bit which caused a problem because the rain froze upon contact with the windshield making a it a little difficult to see, but we took it slow and made it without incident.
When we got the race, it continued to rain as we picked up our packets and I dropped off my drop bag. I had just enough time to make it through the bathroom line and get to the start before the gun went off. It was still raining a bit, and the trail was already muddy, but I felt good. I settled into a nice little pace, and then about 2 minutes in, I passed a sign that said “50k start line”. Wait. What? I gave what must have been a very bewildered look to a volunteer standing near the sign and he kindly said “Don’t worry, you’ll catch them. Just take your time. It’s a long race”. Apparently, I started with the 25k runners a little ways behind the 50k runners. This turned out to be a blessing though, because by the time I started catching the 50k pack, they were already spread out and passing was a breeze. I am telling myself that I wasted less energy by not being in the giant pack of runners muscling for position on a single track trail.
The first 10-miles of this race were HILLY. The hills all had names like Ice Cream (or I Scream), and Boyles Bump and the Three Sisters. I don’t know about you, but hills that warrant their own names kind of freak me out. To make things a little more difficult, the hills were made of large rocks covered in a smooth sheen of ice. It was exciting to say the least. I didn’t fall, but I had several out of control slides.
If you remember my hydration pack saga, what I finally ended up doing was running with my Nathan Firecatcher without any water in it, and carrying a small 12-ounce handheld. I run 20 milers on the road with just a couple water fountain stops, surely a 12-ounce bottle should be sufficient with aid stations 5 miles apart, right? Thing again. 5 miles on trails, this trail in particular, is NOT the same as 5 miles on roads. I ran out of well in advance of each aid station. Lesson learned. I will wear a hydration pack with a bladder for my 50-miler because I don’t want to carry 2 water bottles, or a larger bottle.
Once I made it through the hilly first few miles, I settled into a nice little pace. The course was very sloppy, and my shoes felt like they weighed 10-lbs, so it was a slow pace, but I was content to try to enjoy the day. At some point, I reached in my pouch for a salt tablet only to realize that they had all fallen out along with the Tylenol I had planned on taking to alleviate any foot pain. Luckily, the aid stations were stocked with salt, so it wasn’t an issue. I was even able to procure some Tylenol at the aid station at mile 21. This was also the location of my drop bag, so I changed into a dry shirt and abandoned my vest. It felt great to run with just the handheld. I think miles 21-24 or 25 felt the best out of the entire race! I passed several people, and I just felt happy despite the somber mood of the cold, wet runners around me. I tried to talk to a few people, but everyone seemed understandably a bit grumpy.
Then it hit me. Around mile 25 I started to get nauseous. I couldn’t drink any water or swallow without feeling like I might throw up. There was another station at around mile 26.5, and I ended up just sitting down on an ice chest waiting for the tummy trouble to pass, only it didn’t. I felt kind of empty, but too sick to eat. An aid station volunteer handed me a cup of soup and a cup of coke. I drank the coke slowly, and then started walking down the trail sipping on the soup. About 10-minutes later, I tucked the empty cup into my pocket and started to jog. I made it about 5 minutes before having to walk again. I continued this walk/jog routine for the rest of the race. With a half mile to go, there is another aid station geared toward the 100k runners, but I ended up taking a cup of coke to sip with the hopes that it would settle my stomach enough to be able to jog the last bit across the finish line. I am not sure if it was the coke, or just knowing that the end was near, but I felt a bit better and was able to run the remaining bit into the finish. My time was 7:09. I ran 4:29 for my 30 miler a few weeks ago, so that should give some indication of the difficulty of the course. I ended up 13th in the results, but that isn’t exactly true because there were sever 100k women who were faster than me on their first 50k loop.
Despite the nausea, this was an excellent first experience with ultra running. My husband did the 25k, so we were able to experience it together which made it 1000 times better. Even during the moments of my worst suffering, I was surprised to find myself still feeling very excited to have the opportunity to do this and to get to run 50-miles in a few weeks. I think that I just may have found my way back into enjoying running. There is something about running for hours and hours on end that makes all the troubles of the world just drain away from you. It’s like the world doesn’t even exist. I can’t wait to get out there again!