Just in case you were wondering, that’s how many steps are in a 50k.
On April 2, my partner in crime and I set off for Hardwick, NJ to participate in the NJ Ultra Fest 50k as part of our training for our upcoming Rock the Ridge 50 miler. It is a good thing the race was not on April 1, because I might have been lulled into thinking the course description was a joke. It wasn’t.
(It looks pretty harmless, but don’t let those pretty colors fool you).
The ultra fest offered every distance from a marathon to 100 miler, and the shorter the distance, the later you started. Runners had to complete the Figure 8 circuit a prescribed number of times, and then either the “woods” loop (about 3.5 miles) or “lake” loop (about 2.3 miles) one extra time. For the 50k, that meant we started at 9:45 for our five circuits plus an extra lake loop.
I’ve done a few trail runs, but never an ultra, so I had no idea what to expect in terms of time and level of exhaustion. This was a single-track trail and fairly technical, in that it was either strewn with rocks or roots, and there were several water crossings, but not as many bridges as there were crossings. Also, see those blue peaks–they were tough! Maybe this wasn’t the best bet for a first ultra, but the fact that we ran through the aid station after both the woods loop and lake loop did make it mentally easier.
But how can I describe this 10.5 hour trek (yes, it took me 10.5 hours!)? Difficult. Invigorating. Frustrating (at times). Ten and a half hours is a lot of time to process lots of thoughts.
- Difficult: it’s sooooo hard to judge a course by topographical maps and elevation profiles (at least for me). The uphills on the woods portion of the circuit were killers. But the downhills almost equally so–especially for me with my insecure footing. And at the bottom of each of those downhills? Water. There was lots of wading in this race.
- Invigorating: Because of the loops, we got to see lots of the 50 milers, 100 k’ers and 100 milers go round and round. What skill they all had–effortlessly negotiating such difficult terrain. Yep, we got looped (a lot), but it was amazing to watch.
- Frustrating: Really? Was it necessary to scrape my leg each time I tried to catapult myself over the same damn tree lying across the path? Really? Did I need to nearly trip on the same rock wall EVERY. SINGLE. LOOP?
What got me through this? Proper nutrition. A good training partner. Visions of Shaz in mud, and sheer stubbornness.
- I’ve been seeing a sports RD (registered dietician) for this entire training cycle, and I credit her advice to my getting through this training. I’m sick to death of eating (and thinking about eating), and sweet potatoes are no longer my favorite food, but with one short exception, I felt FANTASTIC the entire race.
- When a fellow running club friend asked if I could consider doing the 50 miler with her, I didn’t even think twice even though it wasn’t originally even on my radar. Since we don’t live all that close to each other, we don’t train together all that often, but when we do, I consider so blessed. We are very different as people, but we compliment each other nicely on the trail. And she brings along with her an entire cadre of supportive people that I’m so happy to have gotten to know better.
- Shaz (a reader from across the pond) bravely faced knee-deep mud in her Grizzly Run. So every time (yep, all 30 of them), I was wading across some river or lake, I just imagined Shaz knee-deep in mud, and thought, “It’s only water. Suck it up, Buttercup.” Thank you Shaz.
- This race had amazing swag–and when it got dark on our last 1.2 miles and my headlamp wasn’t working well, and I had to use the flashlight on my iphone just to see a few inches in front of me and we slowed to a crawl after 10 hours of high energy, all I wanted was that damn orange jacket.
I haven’t taken it off yet.