Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Race Around the Lake, my first Ultramarathon...and my dirty little secret...

There were a number of reasons why I wanted to try an Ultra marathon: First off, I wanted to challenge myself. Second, I figure at my age and slow speed there's no way I'm gonna ever gonna get a fast marathon but my mental toughness paired with a "low and slow" run would make me a perfect Ultra runner. Lastly, if I'm ever gonna do an Ironman distance event, I need to see how my body can handle 12 or more hours of racing.

And of course since I'm a control freak I wanted to pick a race that would allow me to rule out as many variables as I could...thus I chose the "Race around the Lake 12 hour Ultra" (they also do a marathon on the course as well as a 24 hour race too) in Wakefield MA. Its a run for time on a 3 mile loop around a lake. Before you go "oh my god, that would be so boring", just go with me on this. A repeated loop lets you know the layout of the course quickly and identify any obstacles or issues while you're still mentally awake. Because its a loop, you'll see your support team (J, was the best support crew ever by the way!) on a predictable schedule (no need to worry about them not making a link up point on time to give you gear or support) and if you get hurt or decide to call it, you only have a short walk to get back to the start. What? I did say I was a control freak! I mean the Army did train me pretty well at planning.

Ready but I'm nervous
So, because the race allows you to be self supported, we set up "FOB Dutch" (that's forward operating base for you non military folks) and stocked it for the next few hours of racing. Tent/sleeping/chilling out area, and table set up with all my food: water, bananas, gels, Clif Blocks, Accelerade, salt tabs, Coke, potato chips (I've read that its a great thing to eat at an endurance event) and McDonalds cheeseburger (yes, cheeseburgers. For some reason when I do long training events I crave burgers and I figure its a quick way to get calories, fat and sodium into my system) were all set up at the back of my truck which was parked right by the start/tracking chute. As people started to come in and park and everything started to get set up I have to admit I got nervous. Not because of  my dirty little secret (more on that later) but because it dawned on me that I was going to spend the foreseeable future running. Look, I've done marathons, plenty of them but there's just something about running "as far as you can" that makes a world of difference. There's no time or mileage limit...its kind of freaky. I will say that I went into this event with little to no expectations. I kind of kicked around at least a 50k in my head but I was just planning on seeing what my body would do. There is something very weird about getting no a start line with "just run" in your head...

At the start I ran into my friend Danielle (awesome girl I've raced with and done a Reach the Beach team with) and Sarah (who BQ'ed for Boston on the course). We chatted, listened to the race instructions and headed over to the start. With little fanfare, we were off. Even with the start being at 7 p.m. it was still warm and humid. I figured I would try to hold a 9:30-9:55 pace for as long as I could and see where it got me. The first lap was spent with everyone chatting and dealing with race jitters because there was LOTS of running left to do. I hit the first mile comfortably on a 9:55 pace and settled in for the 1st lap around the lake. After coming in off the first lap i figured it was time to grab the iPod and listen to Macca's book. I will say that I've NEVER run with an ipod or music in my ears. Normally I wouldn't even entertain the idea but since I was running on a closed loop and I knew I was gonna run for that length of time, I figured having some type of motivation in my ears would be the best thing and let me tell you that Chris McCormack's "I'm here to to Win" audiobook was just the ticket! I highly recommend for any triathlete and it was so weird that there were points in the book that were exactly what I needed to hear while a ran. Every lap I took on water/Accelerade, gel and salt tabs.

Glad to have 4hrs done
Each lap I ticked off was a little victory and got me closer to the 4 hour mark which I had set in my head as time for my first "break" to eat/refuel. I figured the easiest way to deal with the Race was to break it into 3 races of 4 hours each. The end of each 4 hour block would be my stopping and taking on 'real food", changing clothes and then heading out again. As I closed on 4 hours I was near the marathon distance (8 laps) and figured that would workout perfect, hit the 26.2 and then take a break to recover/reset. The nice thing was as I ran across the line I was presented with a medal for completing the marathon! It was nice to have some bling going into my first rest/refuel break. While I had a smile on my face, I was concerned that I couldn't eat anything. I could take on some coke, part of a banana and some chips but that was it. The thought of "eating" made my stomach turn. I glanced down at my Polar RCX5 G5 and saw that I'd burned about 4200 calories thus far. I was in the tank and needed to fuel but it was the last thing I wanted to do. I couldn't even chew on that much desired McDonald's cheeseburger. Ok, time to take a deep breath...I did have 12 hours afterall, so relax and try to rest/recover.

While I was "resting", I was doing math in my head (which to be honest is quite a feat considering I'm not that smart and the calculations involved my fingers and toes). I needed to do another lap in order to hit that 30k mark I had set in my head. So, I asked J if she'd go do another lap with me. After that I'd stop and try again to take on fuel and rest. After my 9th lap, I took another break and I tried to force myself to eat...still, no luck. Anything more complicated than coke or water or a gel and I just wanted to vomit. I never thought eating would become such a difficult task. I'm normally ravenous and fight myself to not eat all the time and now I was in the tank on calories and didn't have the desire to nor could I stand forcing myself to eat. There was nothing to do but try to calm down, try to rest and try to eat. I contemplated whether I should quit now, if this was even a smart endeavor to start with and even the meaning of life while trying to shove food in my mouth....then it dawned on me...I had only done 29 plus miles up to this point! There was NO WAY I could stop, I need to get at least 50k in. So, I asked J to accompany me on at least one more lap.

The 10th lap went my relatively easy but I was gassed. I knew I was in the tank and  I had no hopes of getting food in any time soon. So, as Macca's book was saying in my ears "you can't lie to the man in the mirror", I made the assessment that I wasn't going to get any better and continuing to run would just put me at risk for injury. I have a lot of racing left to do this season and the last thing I wanted to do was hurt myself and ruin my chances. Not to mention I had to be on a plane in about 30 hours to D.C. for work. I was grinning ear to ear when I received my medal for the 12 hour Ultra. I had managed to keep my expectations for the event reasonable: find a good steady pace, try to hydrate and fuel, don't get hurt, use this first Ultra as a learning event and just run as far as you can. Mission accomplished, I felt good and I honestly believe that if I could've fueled/refueled better I would've had another 10 or 15 miles in me at least. The final tally was in 5:53:07 total time running. I will say that even though you might think the course is boring, it and the race were great. The organizers do a FANTASTIC job, its supported well, the "community of Ultra" is great there and even the locals hang out all night and support the runners. I even had one guy, who sat in his driveway all night, cheering me on with a "looking great Polar guy" until 3 a.m.!

And now for the dirty little secret...I did not train for the Ultra. Sure I trained but not the "serious long" excessive miles or time that one would normally do to ramp up for such an event. I just stuck to the regular training plan (run/bike/swim/lift) that is my usual and thought at the very least I should do the race just to see how its set up and what it all about. Although I had that 30k number in my head I rally went into it with the thought of "I might run 3 laps and go home". Honestly, I don't know if that approach helped or hindered me. I went into the race with NO expectations. I saw every lap as kind of a gift and I was smiling at the end of 4 hours because I had just run a marathon, on no training and felt 100 times better (mentally and physically) than I did when I ran Boston in '11 (and for that race I trained my ass off, blew up and dragged myself across the finish line). It was nice to run a race with no pressure, yes its normally self induced, and just run. I one point I actually noticed the sun setting on the water and made a mental note of how pretty it was. I NEVER do that. I normally run so hard that my recollection of any race is little more than a blur. And, and, and...knocking out 32.56 total miles, with this old, fat, broken body...ain't bad :) It was a great experience and I'm looking for another Ultra to put on the calendar.

Post Script:
I read back through this post and realized I missed a few things. I need to thank Natascia, Dustin, Jessica,  Di, James and Stephanie. The fact that you took time out of your schedules to come by and cheer me on means the world to me and I can't tell you how great it was to see your bright shiny faces on the course way into the night.

I was lucky enough to have some great gear, by some great companies, that helped get me through the race. My Polar RCX5 G5 kept me right on pace, allowed me to keep tabs on my HR and was the key to my keeping myself in check and running as far as I did. My lululemon 4" Light as Air shorts were beyond comfortable through all those miles. My legs would've never made it if not for my Zensah Compression calf sleeves, since using Zensah my calves have never hurt after a long run. Those rocking amber-lensed Rudy XX2i glasses were great at seeing the route in crisp detail and helped get me through the daylight hours. My Thorlo Experia socks were the key in keeping my feet comfortable and pain/blister free. Everstride kept all my bendy places chafe free and last but not least my Saucony Kinvaras helped the miles fly by with no feet or ankle pain. They are the best shoes I've ever run in...hands down!


  1. Congrats! It's quite an endeavor to undertake!!

  2. Thanks for the shout out! And very nice job to you- I couldn't believe my ears when I heard that you were planning to eat a cheeseburger but this confirmes it... Although it sounds like it didn't go well and that you wanted to hurl just like the rest of us! (gross!!)

  3. Thanks Kelly! It was certainly an experience and my goal is to set myself up for success for my next Ultra.

  4. Sure thing Sarah! It was great to meet you and it was nice to be able to hang out with peeps before the start. Your support crew was great at cheering my old broke ass on. Unlike my throwing up 3 times during my Boston Mary run, I never threw up but I couldn't get anything down for the life of me.

    Speaking of old...you're middle aged?! Puh-lease!! You're shredded and fast and NOWHERE near old!!! Congrats again on the BQ!