A different sort of race experience
Over the past few years, as I’ve gotten back in to running and gotten serious about it, I’ve been to a far number of races. About 90% of them I’ve actually run in. It is always slightly weird for me to play the role of spectator but if I’m not racing, I do enjoy cheering on other people who are, especially friends. One thing I hadn’t ever done before last weekend though was pace someone in an ultramarathon. In fact, before last weekend, the only ultra I’d ever been to was the Potomac Heritage Trail 50k last November. And I ran that (and placed 4th thankyouverymuch). My awesome friend Ashley was running the Finger Lakes Fifties 50 miler last Saturday, July 3rd, up near Lake Seneca in New York. Considering I had to work on the Fourth of July, it didn’t look like it would be in the cards for me to go and cheer her on. But then something wonderful happened. I didn’t have work Friday and I moved to the closing shift at the park for the Fourth. Still and all, it would be a lot of driving (~300 miles each way) and not a lot of sleeping but I needed to get out of Maryland for a little bit and this was just crazy enough of a plan for me to not do it.
Wednesday night found me at Walmart getting last minute camping supplies. Thursday after work I was driving the five hours to the Finger Lakes State Forest, only to find no campsites available. At 8:30pm. Fortunately Watkins Glen State Park had some. So I spent the night there. Not wanting to waste the wonderful opportunity to run some new routes, I made Friday a double — 12 quick miles on the Catherine Valley trail in Montour Falls around noon followed by an easy 6 through Watkins Glen in the evening. I finally met up with Ashley and her friend Tyler just before sunset and we camped about 200m from the finish line of the races.
Saturday was an early wake-up call as the 50 mile and 50k runners started at 6:30am. Ashley and Tyler departed and I went back to sleep til around 8. The 50 mile runners would do three 16.5 mile loops and one baby half mile loop at the very end. I set up a chair at the finish line and waited for them to come through the first time. Despite my lack of time spent at ultras, I can tell this is ultimatey where I’d like my running to take me. The atmosphere is laid back, everyone is super friendly, and the food is SO GOOD. Team Awesome (as they’d dubbed themselves) came through around 3:15 and departed a few minutes later. About three hours after they departed I began to get myself ready to run the last 17 miles with them. I knew this would be a much easier run than most of my long runs, as we’d be doing the last 17 miles of a 50 miler. I wound up only pacing Ashley as Tyler struggled during the second loop and eventually dropped to the 50k option.
We started off solidly but after about two or three miles the fact that she hadn’t been able to put anything but water in her stomach all day caught up to her. She struggled for the next few miles, and kinda sorta scared me that she’d collapse or I’d have to carry her out of the woods at times. There was a lot of walking, a lot of sitting, and a lot of me doing my best to keep her spirits up and her feet moving her forward. She says I did a good job of this, but while we were out there I just kept wishing I could do more. After a long hike uphill out of the last aid station, with about 3 miles to go, somehow she found the strength to shuffle most of the way to the finish line (with one short glitch that involved an old bridge falling apart). It took us almost 5 hours to complete those last 17 miles but we did it and I couldn’t be prouder. The entire time I must have heard about a hundred “I’m sorry”s which is ridiculous. I had a great time, the views were incredible, and I helped a great friend do something that is still a bit intimidating and absolutely astounding to me.
The biggest “problem” from the whole weekend — the fact that ultras ARE so awesome and look so fun (fun in the masochistic awful way that I tend to seek out), it re-whet my appetite for doing one. But, for now, I’m sticking to my decision to not run anything long for at least a year and give myself time to finally lay down a solid foundation that I can improve upon for years to come. But maaaaaybe next year, if they go back again, the 25k option wouldn’t hurt.
Til next time… RUN HAPPY EVERYONE!
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