Monday, November 02, 2009

My First Ultra Experience

I didn't really mention it on the blog or tell a whole lot of people about this since it feels like my track record hasn't been all that outstanding about following through on some of my personal races discussed this year. I also just wasn't quite sure how feasible this was and what kind of training I was going to manage to fit in before the race. I really had no idea whether I would be able to complete this and even whether I'd even start it, despite how badly I wanted to try it.

On Sunday though I ran the Potomac Heritage Trail 50k put on by the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club.

Since my 23 miler on the Heritage trail 3 weeks ago I'd barely gotten out for any kind of exercise. The first week was cut short by a trip to Florida for Mike's wedding, the next work was busy prepping for a seminar we put on every few years, the weekend filled with DCCX, and then this past week was spent off site for work putting on the seminar in a location where slipping out for a lunch run just wasn't an option. On Friday and Saturday I was lightly considering emailing the race director and giving up my spot on the 100 person deep runners list but I held off.

Sunday morning I made my way down to the house in Woodley Park for the start of the race, unsure of what to expect. A small gathering, similar to that of a house party was what I found and I stood around anxiously after checking in waiting for things to get rolling. Se eventually moved things outside to the side walk across the street and had the pre-race briefing in the cool rainy air. 5 Minutes later and we were off, heading up the street in a pack 100 strong on our way to the first bit of trail.

While standing around inside another young and equally anxious guy named Matthew struck up a conversation with me and it turned out he was in the same boat as me. He'd found the race online, knew no one and was really unsure of what the day would bring but was up for the challenge. We continued to chat as the race began and as we settled into race we kept ourselves occupied with the random chatter that goes with these types of races (at least early on them).

The first few miles were on a surprising network of trails ranging from Woodley Park to Georgetown. Some were part of Rock Creek Park but the majority of trails I'd never seen before and I was thankful to have the large group of runners around to lead the way. Eventually we popped out at Fletcher's Boathouse up along the C&O Canal and headed south back to key bridge to finally hit up the actual Potomac Heritage Trail. By the time we hit the PHT we'd covered around 8 or 9 miles and had been treated to two extremely well stocked, well manned and super friendly aid stations. A HUGE thanks to all the volunteers for spending the cold and dreary day outside helping out some fellow runners, many of which were on their first ever Ultra!

Matthew and I were still hanging together and we'd managed to get together in a group of maybe a half a dozen folks, all pretty young and most new to Ultras. We made our way along the PHT enjoying the still riveting fall colors and views of the Potomac river on the right. The rain was still falling and the trails we wet though for the most part everything was runable early on in the trail. Further along the trail got a bit more rocky and things slowed but for the most part we stayed pretty tight with the same groups. Matthew, another guy and I pulled away a bit through some of the rocks from the others and pretty soon we were bouldering our way up and into the Chain Bridge aid station. Again, awesome volunteers and offerings!

From their we headed down a brief stretch of trail before the hairiest water crossing of the day. Knee high rushing water at about 20 feet wide was enough to take some caution in crossing we we linked arms and used each other for support crossing over the uneven stream bottom. Across the stream with no issues we continued on. Pretty soon we caught a few folks grouped up ahead of us and got a new pacer. This guy, with some obvious experience under his belt was a smooth and consistent runner. Unlike many other folks he would generally continue running on the fairly steep uphill pitches and was quick on the down hills. We stuck with him for a while, through most of the rolling terrain the day's course would offer. Eventually this started to take a toll on both Matthew and I and along some constant and steep rollers up in the Turkey Run Park area Matthew lost contact of the group. A short ways on though was the final aid station before the turn around point at the American Legion Bridge (495).

There was a dart tossing contest for bonus time which I played and managed to win 2 minutes or so off my time with so I used that time wisely and waited for Matthew to catch up. I knew I wouldn't be able to maintain contact with the others for the remainder of the race and more then anything I didn't want to be running alone, especially through some of the most painful miles of the race.

We headed out from the aid station shortly after, me setting the pace on front and just settling into cruise control mode. Things were going smoothly here through about 17 or so miles and I was feeling pretty good about everything so far. We were informed we'd be DQ'd if we didn't pee on the AL Bridge so we did that, turned around and started cheering for all the folks that were coming up our way, right on our tails.

Back to the Turkey Run Aid Station and then the long slog from mile 20 to 25 or so on the rollers was tough. There was more walking as we looked to conserve our energy for the final few miles but we made it back across the stream crossing and to the Chain Bridge AS to refuel before heading out on the final leg of the race.

Instead of heading back down the remainder of the PHT we crossed over Chain Bridge back to DC and swung down onto the C&O canal for a couple of miles before reaching Fletcher's Boat house again. From here it was back into the trails, following the pink chalk markings on trees and sign posts as we shuffled along. Too many pink dots and wooden stair sets going up later we were back out for the final stretch of road, almost all uphill, back to the house.

Shuffling up the street we saw a couple of previous finishers walking who gave us words of encouragement, telling us we were just around the corner. The final right hand turn to a slight downhill and the finish was (unknown to me) in sight. I kept running past the house, expecting to see a line or person telling me I could stop. Only when I looking back over my shoulder and saw a fellow runner pealing off his shoes on the front porch of the meeting house.

Total time: 6 hours 15 minutes. With Bonus: 6 hours 7 minutes. (Hey, I'll take whatever I can get!)

Inside there was hot chili and chips and pasta and other food and beers and sodas to refuel. I grabbed a bowl of chili and beer before slogging the quarter mile uphill back to my car where I left my warm dry clothes to change into. Once warm I headed back to the party for another bowl of chili and a bowl of pasta before heading home to get Aimee and back out for some Chipotle to top of the reserves.

My legs and feet were sore though miraculously I came away without any blisters or really even any lingering acute pain. The joints were sore for a day or so and the muscles are still slightly sore though Tuesday night I managed to get out for the Night Ride at Rosaryville without too many ill effects. I'm sure the 20 minute long ice bath Sunday night didn't hurt the quick recovery time.

I have a feeling this won't be my last or longest run, though I think I'll stick to the trails. Since I started running trails, road running just seems tedious, boring and painful. Matthew, who lives out in the Front Royal area expressed some interest in a long run partner and is into mountain and road biking and fast packing as well so hopefully that'll help me to get some more quality time out in the SNP area with some pretty solid "real" (eastern) mountain trail training. I think we both will be eyeing up some 50 miler races in the coming months as possible options.

No results up yet and I didn't pull the camera out of the bag even once due to the rain but I saw a couple of flashes here and there so maybe a shot or two will show up of my run. I'll post the link to results when they're up though just in case.

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