Wooop! Here I am, on the other side of my first ultra. The Traverse City Trail Running Festival was everything I thought it would be and much more (and by more, I mean more miles. AHEM).
Want to know what I was thinking before and during the race? Then keep reading to enjoy my ultra recap.
2 Days Before the Race
As anyone who has spent time in Northern Michigan this spring knows, we had a ridiculous blizzard in the middle of April that brought feet, literally FEET, of snow. Therefore, I had been slightly nervous about trail conditions. So when I received an email on Thursday that the course had to be revised due to excessive amounts of snow, I was not surprised.
Originally, the course was a 4-loop deal, which each loop coming in at 7.75 miles to complete the 31. Thursday’s email indicated that the loop would be cut down significantly – in fact, it was shortened to become a 5k loop. That meant 10 laps.
“How in the world am I going to keep track of 10 laps?! I’m going to get dizzy!”
The Day Before the Race
Another email arrived. This one was a mix of good and bad news. The snow had melted more than anticipated, and another adjustment was made to the course. Now the course was a 6.7 mile loop, and 50k runners would complete 5 loops. Now for all you mathematicians out there, you’ll notice that 5 loops x 6.7 miles each = 33.5 miles. YUP. That’s longer than a 50k, yo! I only signed up to run 31 miles! I panicked slightly but then got over it. What could I do?
*Insert silent weeping*
I arrived onsite about an hour early. Standard me. It was about 30 degrees with a decent wind. I was cold and anxious to start. Finally, the 50k runners lined up at the start. There were only 10 of us total, and two females including myself.
“Hey, at least I’m guaranteed to place within my age group.”
Lap One: Miles 0-7
I took this lap quite slow. I didn’t know what to expect or if I needed to save excessive energy for any crazy hills. There were flags marking the course, but that didn’t stop me from getting lost at least 2.5 times. Pro tip: Don’t blindly follow the guy in front of you, he may not know where he is going either.
While large chunks of the trail were hard-packed dirt and decent, many areas were not. Sheets of ice and snow covered long stretches and it was nearly impossible to run those sections. I developed a rather attractive “shuffle-slide” to get through them. I’d be happy to demonstrate this technique for you.
Towards the end of the loop, I glanced down at my watch. We had already crossed the 6.7 mile mark and I hadn’t begun lap 2 yet. In fact, the start of lap 2 was at least 1/4 mile away. As I crossed over into lap 2, my watch read 7.03.
“What the hell, man!”
Lap 2: Miles 8-14
I spent quality time on this lap hoping that the GPS on my watch had been off, and this lap would come in at an appropriate 6.7 miles. It did not. I finished lap 2 at 14.06 miles. Shit. This is going to be a 35 mile race.
“I will die. Death is inevitable.”
Lap 3: Miles 15-21
“When I’m halfway through this lap, I’ll be halfway done with this race.”
“Am I fueling frequently enough?”
“Why am I STILL cold??”
Lap 3 was tiresome. I was approaching the 20+ mile mark and still had two laps to go. However, I was loving running on trails for this amount of time. And just as I was thinking about how peaceful the woods were, BOOM. I tripped over a root covered in leaves and fell face first into the dirt. Thankfully, not a human was around to hear the noises that escaped my mouth.
Lap 4: Miles 22-28
“Well I’ve run 22 miles and I still have a half marathon left to go.”
That thought was humbling. Lap 4 brought a bit of mental fatigue. I heard someone in the distance shooting guns for target practice and couldn’t help but think, “It wouldn’t be the worst thing if I got grazed by a bullet right now and didn’t have to finish this race.”
My mental fatigue also had me thinking about not completing lap 5. Lap 4 would bring me to 28 miles. That would be the furthest distance I had ever run and technically, I could still consider that running an ultra marathon since is was longer than 26.2. This thought was fleeting, though. Fortunately, my obsessive need for accomplishment would never let me have a DNF after coming this far.
Lap 5: Miles 29-35
“One.Last.Lap. One.Last.Lap. One.Last.Lap.”
“If I finish this race, I never have to run again.” (LIES, Jennifer, LIES)
Running the last mile of this race, I laughed out loud to myself. “Holy shit, I’m completing a 35-mile trail race on some ridiculously rough trails.” Everything ached and I was exhausted. I had no idea how many people finished ahead of me or how many were still behind me out on the course. I was sweaty but chilled, which is always an uncomfortable sensation, but one any winter runner is familiar with.
I did it. I finished. I ran 35 miles. I am an ultra-marathoner. I need a nap.
To conclude, I loved my first ultra. The horrible trail conditions just added to the badassery of my accomplishment. Will I do another in the future? You betcha.