It’s been some time since I published anything like a race report, but then, it’s been some time since I’ve run anything like a race. Not that what I do could ever be confused with racing, but I do register and toe the line at occasional supported events and do my best to complete them in a reasonable amount of time. My last ultra was Way Too Cool 2016. I did not write a race report for that one. Although I was very proud of my student who I had mentored for that to run his first ultra, I had struggled to finish and came in through the rain and mud to finish to my family and my student waiting for me. Then began the reset.
I was fairly certain I would never run another ultra, which was huge departure from my then recent goal of running an ultra every month for a year. Things change.
It only took a few weeks for my “no running” to turn into light running for short distances, this time with a new runnning partner; my wife. I had severely undertrained for WTC and I truly was starting over with a serious deficit of conditioning and a surplus of weight. If you have read some of my earlier posts, you may know that I had lost 30 pounds in preparing for my first marathon. About 20 of that was back and it greatly slowed me down. The focus of my running now was spending time with my wife and investing in a relationship that had been horribly neglected for several years. We ran the Dirty Secret 5 mile together and then Blood Sweat and Beers (she swears she doesn’t want to do that one again). We have volunteered together for some aid stations. We have included some mountain biking and a lot of runs in the neighborhood. We completed the Dam Run 10k and the Turkey’s Revenge 10k (with the kids). Our weekends have been filled with trail runs and rides and our evenings often include runs in the neighborhood, when soccer practice doesn’t interfere.
New goals – My wife started encouraging me to start long runs again. I agreed if she would be involved with crewing and supporting me. I talked it over with Dave, who had trained with me for my first marathon and my first ultra. We decided we would train and run AR 50 together this year. I signed up for Fourmidable and to volunteer for Way Too Cool and Ruck a Chuck 50ks, and for AR50.
As the start for Fourmidable loomed closer, I was acutely aware that I was not prepared for the very tough 50k course. Less than a week before the event I had decided to drop it. Two days before I decide I would start and see how far I could get.
So, here I am.
The Ultra National Championships. Toeing the line with some of the greatest ultra runners in the country and some of my running friends, whom I haven’t seen for a while, but I have truly missed hanging out with.
You can always count on Paulo and Single Track Running to make a challenging course and to run a great race. Fourmidable is no exception. It is additionally challenging due to the recent rains. We start at the Auburn Overlook, onto the road and traverse down to the base of Cardiac Hill. As we turn up Cardiac for the first of the four climbs, I am feeling good and moving faster than I had anticipated. Topping Cardiac, crossing the aqueduct, and heading to the slight downhill toward ADO, I take a second to catch my breath from the climb and pick up the pace a little. I coast in to the aid station and check my pace; still well ahead of my anticipated pace, I am starting think I might finish this thing.
I keep moving, knowing that I will slow down later and I can’t afford to chew up time at aid stations. I have my dual quiver Orange Mud with one bottle filled with water and the other filled with Recoverite. I fill up the water and grab a cookie and move through. The run from ADO to No Hands Bridge is mostly down with a couple of short climbs. The trail has been wet thus far, but heading down to the road along the river the trail is interrupted by a mud bog that is virtually impassable. There is a runner stuck up to his knee, searching desperately fot his shoe that is somewhere beneath the surface. The trail is completely destroyed and the area to either side has been trampled by runners trying to navigate the carnage. The best choice seems to be to use the fallen trees and trampled brush to stay on top of the mud.it’s slow going, but I am back on the road towards No Hands and I make the aid station well ahead of cutoff.
I top off my water and grab a peanut butter sandwich and head up K2. This is the second major climb and, I think, the most daunting.
The climb takes a lot out of me and I can feel my pace slipping away. I finally reach the top and head toward Aid Station for the first time. I am now about 30 seconds past cutoff and I fill up both bottles and head back out to the bottom of the Dam Hill. What goes down must go back up, so I head up the switchbacks that is climb #3. Although my pace has dropped dramatically and, honestly, I’m feeling done, I somehow get back to the Knickerbocker AS 10 minutes ahead of cutoff. My friend, Joel, tells me that I should be able to make up time in the next few miles and I eagerly head down to Knickerbocker crossing.
Judy, someone who I greatly admire, has caught up with me and I am happy to share the trail with her the rest of the way. Knickerbocker is high and fast and cold, but we get across and continue on towards the firehouse in Cool. The trail has been pulverized by so many ahead of us and the going is difficult. We slip and slide and try to keep our shoes on our feet as they stick in the mud. The slow going eats away at the time we were hoping to gain and what is supposed to be a fast part of the course is extra slow. Judy is 75 years old and running her 76th (and last) ultra. She is determined to finish and she adds to my desire to finish as well. At the Cool firehouse aid station we learn that we are just past cutoff and we have 50 minutes to go 3.5 miles to the hard cutoff at No Hands. This is a downhill section and, usually, pretty fast, but, again, the mud and water have turned the single track trails into muddy streams. We are beyond caring about getting wet and just hoping to make the cutoff at No Hands. With only on the trail and one on the clack, we press on to the last aid station.
3:50! Cutoff is 3:40. It may not seem like much, but the last 4 miles has two climbs (one is the last of THE 4) and the mud bog people got stuck in on the way out. We are officially out of the race. It crosses my mind to just stay there and help my friends pack up the aid station and hitch a ride back. But that’s not what I choose.
When I left the house this morning my wife told me she was proud of me. I couldn’t go home without finishing this course and accomplishing what I set out to do. Otherwise, I couldn’t feel like I had earned her admiration.
I am planning on running AR50 in April and my first 100k in June. I need to know where I am and how much work I need to do to reach my goals.
Judy is determined to complete her last ultra, even if it’s after cutoff. I can’t let her run the last 4 miles alone. It’s starting to cool off and the clouds are coming in as fast as the sun is going down. We better get moving. The last 4 miles were more walking and slower running. The race was officially over and the last climb loomed ahead. The ADO climb is particularly brutal after running 30.5 miles, but that’s where the finish line is.
Those last 4 miles (and some of the 8 prior to that) I had the pleasure and honor of talking to Judy and listening to her stories about running, about her life, about her husband and the life they had together. Although I did not get a medal, nor a finishers jacket, the prize I earned by spending those hours on the trail with such a kind and generous runner was worth way more.
Truth be told, I have spent much of my alone time in this race asking God how I could possibly honor Him with my running when I am so bad at it. The answer came to me clearly. Whatever you do, do it with honor and integrity. Care for those around you and leave them knowing that they are loved. I hope I will do an increasingly better job of this, and I hope I can inspire others to do the same.
Oh! The “inequality” in case you were wondering….
I’m glad I got up and ran today. I’m glad I finished. Even if it was dead last and unofficial.