So the time has come and gone, my 50 mile debut is in the books. It was hot. It was lonely. And it threw wrinkles at me that did require severe mental/physical endurance.
My 50 mile ultra debut (and ultra debut for that manner) took place in Lanesboro, PA. A town with a 2010 Census population of a shade over 500. The event itself is called the Viaduct Trail Ultramarathon. It is a young event as the first occurred in 2007. Over the years it has changed. For the first time, it offered 3 distance options: 50-100-200. As you may have guessed, I opted for the 50. The course is rather basic: 12.5 miles out, 12.5 miles back per lap on an old converted railroad line started under the Starrucca Viaduct.
With this being July, the temp was expected to be warm but recently there has been an enduring heatwave. Here in Philly alone, yesterday got up to 101. Lanesboro forecast 93. Thankfully, we were starting at 5am. Of course, a 5am start meant having to travel to Lanesboro on Friday night. Race organizers made arrangements for participants to camp out in a small town park right at the start. On our way up, dinner was consumed at a Perkins. It was a known entity so I opted for the safest bet. Good call I feel. Once we arrived, we set up camp and got to sleep. After all, I had to get up at 4:15 for prep.
Surprisingly, I had a good night of sleep. Upon waking, it was a fury of headlamp activity in the dark. As it got closer to 5, it was easier to see. With the forecast, I intended on making the most out of the lack of sun and cooler temps. At a reasonable and comfortable pace. We started out and I was alone pretty quickly. The one person who I expected to be close wasn't too far back but it was increasing between us. Peg was at 3.5 in to hand me my handheld as we determined it was a good place to add an extra drop bag for myself. That way I could run small patches without extra weight. My plan was to run from 3.5 to 10.5 with the bottle on the way out and the reverse on the way back. (The 10.5 point is where I consumed some food and additional nutrients on the return. On the first lap, it worked to perfection. As I hit the turnaround, I was 9 min up on 2nd. When I got back to the start/finish, I snacked and drank some more. Out I went and discovered I was now 18 minutes up.
Things were going well coming into the 3.5 bag....until I found it was gone. Bottle too. Mentally, I cracked. My hydration strategy went out the door. At that point, things became about enduring. I continued to run to a small 6.5 station but until I made it to 10.5 I was not going to have fluids with me. With the heat rising and the sun starting to rain down on the trail, my body started to heat-up. Patches of walking started coming in. As much as the thought stinks, I was determined to finish but not die. I kept plugging alone. Finally, I made it to the 10.5 station. A big relief as I had a hip pack in my bag there. Talk about planning that smartly. Had I not had that available, I probably would have quit. I put that on and headed out the additional two miles to the turnaround. Before I headed out, I told the station, I did expect to be passed because I was being a realist. Over the next 4 miles, I only saw one runner. (Twice.) I made it back to the 10.5 station restocked and off I went. Still no sign of second. It was not for 20 minutes since the turnaround that I saw 2nd, meaning I was increasing my lead despite stops! I felt I could win and started thinking about how much time I could afford to give back. It was now in the 90's. And I was not until I got near the 6.5 mark that I saw anyone else. Most people opted to now walk in the heat. Heck, I was doing it. But alone. When I spotted people it was usually in at least pairs.
Each mile was now feeling longer and longer but I was managing to run even if I was mentally exhausted. With each walk period, I thought about how much time I was giving back. Finally at 3.5, Peg was there rooting me on. I have to say those 3.5 miles were the toughest 3.5 miles I have ever done. Ever. Not so much for the physical exhausting but the mental self-solitude of the run. So much time spent alone coupled with stolen handheld played heavily on my mind. However, I was still on pace to finish before noon meaning under 7 hours! I really wanted to walk that whole last mile in and bask in what I was accomplishing. Yet, if I did that...no sub 7. So I managed to run it in.....just as it was starting to rain....
Clearly a PR.
Aside from the mishap with my bag and bottle, the event was really well run by some dedicated volunteers. If it was not for the encouragement of Carl at 10.5, I may have wilted and dropped. Thanks also goes out to my partner Peg, who was highly supportive of me doing this. Even if it meant she is putting up with my uber-rest mode now and driving the whole 3+ hours back.
I know I didn't talk to much about me doing this because 50 miles is a scary thought in the first place. Add in the heat and I was very worried. But now that it is done and I have my silver railroad spike, I can say I did it and finished a debut that tried me to ends I had not experienced before.
Now, if I ever done a 50 again, I will make sure the weather is much cooler.
Due to a lack of clarity, I should probably point out that I did win the 50 miler. As to by how much, I am not certain as the results have not been posted online yet. And I also do not know because we did leave about 30 minutes after I finished due to the rain and our drive.