Yesterday I finished my first 50k and first ultramarathon, the Dirty German 50k. It wasn't a perfect race by any means, but I am elated to have finished.
The morning started off well, when I woke up feeling refreshed and invigorated at 5 AM. I packed my gear and laid my clothes out the night before, so I had plenty of time for a bagel and coffee before leaving for the race at 6:45. The race was held in Pennypack Park in Northeast Philadelphia, only about 30 minutes away from home.
Josh, Whiskey, and I arrived around 7:15 and immediately ran into some friends in the parking lot. Ryan, Elizabeth, Carol, and Brittany were all running the 25k.
Eventually we made our way to the starting "line" and hung out waiting for the race to start at 8 AM. It didn't actually start until about 8:15, when we heard the race director yell "GO!" It was a pretty funny sight as the 50 miler racers ran in one direction, and the 25k and 50k racers ran the opposite way.
I started up towards the front of the pack, but only because I had started off with my faster friends. I eased into about a 10 minute per mile pace, allowing a lot of runners to pass me before we hit the trail. I ended up slowing down after the pack thinned out around mile 3 or 4, and tried to settle into about an 11 minute per mile pace, though my legs still wanted to go faster.
The course followed mostly wide horse trails along Pennypack Creek, but also included a few miles on the bike path and some gorgeous single track side trails. Around mile 7 or 8, I fell into pace with 25k-er named Ashley, and another first time 50k-er named Kyle. We chatted about life and running, and the miles went by quickly.
The first half was fairly uneventful, and I felt pretty strong the whole time. I took a couple of swigs from my Hammer Gel flask in the beginning of the race, but soon found myself craving real foods instead. There were 4 aid station stops all together, and the course was set up so stops 1 & 3 were the same station. The course is a 25k (15.5 mile) loop, so we hit a station about every 3.5 to 4 miles. At each station, I tried to take in calories in food and drink. This usually meant one potato chunk dipped in salt, a quarter of PB & J, and a cup of Gatorade and/or coke. I sipped water from my hydration pack, exclusively. I tried to follow my gut as best as possible, and it seemed to work out pretty well in the first half.
I came into the halfway point at about 2:50, which put me on pace to beat my goal of finishing under 6 hours. As I emerged from the woods and ran towards the aid station at the half, I saw Josh's parents, Eileen and Charlie, walking from the parking lot and cheering me on. I also saw Ryan and Elizabeth, who had already finished the 25k (Elizabeth won the women's race for the 25k!) I was thrilled to see so many familiar faces as I rushed to check in with the aid station and take in some calories.
After a few minutes of eating, drinking, hugging, and chatting with Josh and his parents, I set off for lap #2 at around 2:54. I fell into a faster pace once again, and set my mind to conquering the next 25k. I ran a good portion of this loop (miles 16-23) with Kyle and his pacer/roommate, which really helped me mentally. I began to feel tired and my hip flexors started tightening around mile 18, so having a couple people keeping me company took my mind off of my legs.
Around mile 23, Kyle began having some cramping issues and I apologetically ran ahead. I knew he would be okay with his pacer and other family members there to help out, and I did not want to stop for too long and lose my momentum. I would later cheer him across the finish line, only about 10 minutes after I finished.
Once I passed the marathon, things got kind of rough. I realized I probably should have refilled my hydration bladder, which was getting lighter by the mile. I also began getting slightly nauseous and thirsty, which made it difficult to get down any food. I popped an S-cap (sodium supplement) hoping it might correct any electrolyte imbalance I had, but I think it was too late and I was too dehydrated for it to help much. I walked the uphills, and ran the flats and downhills, so I was still keeping pace between 12 and 13 minute miles, but they felt hard. The last few miles were some of the hardest I've ever run, especially because my Garmin mileage was off, so I had no clue how far I was from the finish. Then I ran out of water, but luckily could hear the finish line crowd and knew I was close.
I came into the finish at 5:55, which was 5 minutes under my goal of 6 hours! I was thrilled to be done, but mostly thirsty and tired. It was much harder than I expected, which I think was attributed to dehydration and the fact that it was 5 miles longer than any distance I had ever run before. I did not receive an award, but did place 5th in my age group. And I picked up some sweet SWAG as well:
My emotions were a mess I finally met up with Josh, and I cried tears of joy and frustration. I am so thankful he was there to support me, especially because he had a cold beer and a chair waiting for me at the finish line!
I knew this would be hard, but I definitely don't think I was at my best on race day. Part of me feels that I trained for and peaked at the Delaware Trail Marathon, a race I did not taper for, and after which I still had energy left. During my taper for the 50k, I felt like I was losing fitness thanks to a combination of decreased running and increased social activities that included lots of eating and drinking. I know I need to re-examine my hydration and nutrition strategies, both on the course and off, if I want to successfully complete a 50 miler in the fall.
I am so proud that I finished my first ultramarathon, and even more proud that I finished under 6 hours. I wish I could say it was easy, but it definitely was the most difficult race I've ever run. Nonetheless, I'm already looking forward to toeing the line at my next ultra on September 29, the Vermont 50k!