I started out 2012 with one main running goal - to complete an ultramarathon. I had even dubbed it "the year of the ultra." At first I had my eye on the Mt Hood 50 miler in July. A hamstring strain in December 2011 put that one out of reach, so I decided to focus on the Autumn Leaves 50k in October. I was less than a month out from the race when we found out my MIL was having surgery and we ended up flying out to NJ that week instead to stay with her. I thought my goal of completing an ultra in 2012 was out the window...until I remembered a 6-hour timed run that had been held last December. I looked online to see if it was being offered again - it was! It was the Operation Jack Northwest Run, a 6-hour run where participants could run as many laps around a .95 mile course as they wanted to within 6 hours.
Saturday was race day. All week the weather had been forecasted as cold (high 30s to low 40s) and rainy. I wasn't sure how it was going to go, my backup plan was to run an hour or so on the course, then come home and run the rest of the 6 hours on the treadmill if it was just too wet or cold to stay out there. When we woke up, it was dry but chilly. After the usual pre-race routine I was ready to go.
The race was held at a local park about 15 minutes from our house, very convenient! The aid station was under a covered area, and participants could leave drop bags to access every lap. Hubs parked our car right in front of the aid station/start line so I could just use that as my personal aid station. There were also real bathrooms which was great, porta potties are one of my least favorite things about racing. The race was very small (100 person cap), so we all just gathered around the covered area and after a few words from the RD we were ready to start. It was freezing so I was ready to get moving.
My A goal was to run 30 miles, my B goal was to run an ultra distance (technically anything more than 26.2 miles). The course was paved but very slick since it had been raining all week, and had a few uphill and downhill portions. I decided to try to average around 5 miles an hour, which would get me to my 30 mile goal, and see how it went. I maintained this pace for the first 3 hours or so.
Approaching the half-way point, I knew I would have to start walking more if I wanted to make it the full 6 hours. After having a very sour experience at the Seattle Marathon, I really wanted to have a good race to end the year. I wanted to enjoy it and finish with my love of running intact. Starting out the 4th hour, I incorporated more walking. With a little over 15 miles done in the first 3 hours, I only needed to do about 12 more miles to reach an ultra distance.
At this point, hubs, who had been running off and on with me, left to go get lunch. I had been taking 2 shot bloks every 30 minutes and my stomach was starting to get upset from the lack of real food. I was hoping it wouldn't derail me too much, and worried that if I had to quit hubs was gone. After a few more laps he had returned and when I told him I was having trouble he started running with me again.
When we came around to the aid station I saw a familiar car parking next to the course. Hubs had arranged for my parents to come cheer me on! I almost started crying when I saw my mom. I was so surprised they had come all the way out just to see me run, and it was exactly what I needed at that point. They stayed around for awhile, walking with me for a minute when I came by their car, then huddling in the car to stay warm while I went out for another lap. It was so special to have them there.
I was getting pretty tired around the 23 mile point, and starting to ache. I had started eating pretzels to get some real food in my stomach, but I was feeling nauseas. Once I hit 24 miles and I knew I would definitely be able to complete an ultra distance, I gave myself permission to walk as much as I wanted. I didn't want this to turn into Seattle Marathon part 2. There were only a handful of runners still on the course (people could stop whenever they wanted) and most people were doing some combination of running and walking.
The only laps that counted for the official race distance were the ones completed by the time 6 hours was up. I finished my 29th lap with about 10 minutes to spare, I knew I couldn't finish another lap before time expired but I wanted to go the full 6 hours so I did a short out-and-back on the course, ending up at the start/finish line at exactly 6 hours. I had completed 28.05 miles.
I was an ultramarathoner! I know it isn't a 50k, but it is longer than a marathon. I was overjoyed to have completed a goal that eluded me for the last 11 months.
It also meant I FINALLY got to wear this shirt I bought about 3 months ago. The front of the shirt says "start" with all these different race distances (5k, 8k, 10k, 13.1, 26.2) and then ultra, which wraps around the back of the shirt.
I also got to have a guilt-free veggie pizza all to myself!
I thought this might be my first and only ultra. I wanted to complete one as kind of a "bucket list" thing, but I am hooked. I really like the timed race aspect, rather than a fixed distance. I already have my eye on a 12-hour race next year :) For now I am taking a little time off though, I think I owe my body a break after 3 marathon+ races in 3 months.
For anyone considering an ultra...do it! The sense of accomplishment is incomparable, and the experience is unparalleled by traditional race distances. I still love half-marathons and I am on ok terms with marathons, but the ultra has become my true love.