On April 19, 2014 I accomplished something that, 6 months ago, I never really thought I would attempt. I ran 50 miles in one shot. I ran 50 miles during the 2014 Ruth Anderson Ultra. The race was a loop course around Lake Merced in San Francisco (not too far from the zoo). This race represented not one, but three, broken personal records.
- Longest run ever in distance and time (50km/31 miles at Jed Smith 50k and 6:40 at AR50, both in the last 10 weeks).
- Longest distance covered under my own power (38 mile bike ride last year)
- Farthest monthly mileage (98 miles) – I would be at 101 miles by the end of the day, with 10 more days left in the month.
The race morning started super early at 3 am, as I had to drive from the Sacramento area to San Francisco. I had gotten everything ready the night before, except my tea. I was out the door by 3:30 am and on the road. I made it to the race start in about 90 minutes, about half the time that it would take during normal rush hour traffic.
At the race start, I started getting things in order. I got my Garmin GPS watch to locate satellites, and then turned it off to save the battery (BTW my Garmin remembers its location, so it will find satellites very quickly when I turn it back on within the next hour). I also applied Body Glide, I put some anti-blister powder in my socks (first time doing this), and grabbed my race bib and packet (which was a mug and some stuff from Hammer – a race sponsor).
I decided to run with my Compresssport socks and calf sleeves. I usually don’t run with compression, but I figured that it might help over 50 miles. I also wore my Hokas One One Stinson Trail shoes.
The Ruth Anderson Ultra is an interesting race because there are three distances, 50km, 50 mi, and 100km, and you can choose what distance you want to complete during the race. The only rub is that if you quit in the middle of the distance, it counts as a Did Not Finish (DNF). So if you run 40 miles, you don’t get credit for the 50km. The race is a loop around Lake Merced along a paved bike trail with a bit of trail along the shoulder. The loop was 4.47 miles long. Everybody started about a half mile from the finish line. The 50k folks would finish their 8th loop and then run ¼ mile past the finish mark where volunteers were there to mark their time; the 50 miler runners had to run past the finish line after their 11th loop about a kilometer (0.65 miles) turn around and run back to the finish line; the 100km runners got to finish at the finish line – lucky bastards. The course is not flat, despite the perception. Each loop had about 255 feet of climbing and 255 feet of decent for every 4.47 miles. There was an aid station at the finish and another one about halfway around the loop.
After we all walked to the start line, there were the obligatory pictures. One of the Pamakids team.
And of course this guy.
My plan for the race was to walk about 8 minutes each loop. I was going to walk 2 minutes after each aid station and 2 minutes between aid stations. The first loop and a half (about 10k), I pretty much only walked at the aid stations. I was trying to figure out the course, noting landmarks to figure out where to walk in case the battery on my Garmin died. I was also figuring out where hills were as I would rather walk up hill and run down hills. We also got to watch a very nice sunrise over the lake.
I managed the first 10 miles in about 90 minutes, which was a bit too fast. I knew I couldn’t hold that pace. I started walking a bit more, and did the next 10 miles in about 100 minutes.
However, it was around mile 16 or so that things started to suck. I will talk about this more later, but it was also at this point that I realized I had forgotten to tape up my nipples. I got bandaids at the aid station (mile 17.5), but because I am a sweaty and hairy guy, they didn’t stick very well. They fell off within 3 miles. I got more bandaids around mile 35, and those lasted about 6 miles.
Around mile 24, I had caught up to Endorphin Dude, who was at mile 19.5. He was pacing himself because he had run 50 miles two weeks earlier, and ran his 5th fastest marathon the weekend before, and wanted to make sure he had the legs to do the 50 miles. When I met up with him, I was actually in the middle of my running leg, but decided to take a walk break. During this walk break, I cursed him out for getting me into this ultra running thing.
He pointed out things that I knew, that I had started out too fast, and I didn’t have the experience in running long distances. I was also having issues with nutrition. I needed something more substantial than GU and oranges. Endorphin Dude offered me a soy patty – I declined. When I finished my 6th loop, which was 26.3 miles (at 4:15 ish) the aid station had watermelon, which I don’t like unless I am running.
So I ended up with a cup of watermelon, which I ate as I walked for the next quarter mile. I had slowed down quite a bit as I approached 30 miles. I had done the last 10 miles in about 107 minutes. I was walking a lot more than 2 minutes each mile. I was basically walking up all the hills and running down them. I did try to run a little bit up the hills to keep my pace down.
I don’t remember that much during the next ten miles. I just focusing on moving forward. I do remember passing the 50k mark, and it took quite a bit to not stop there. I knew I had to keep moving forward at least a bit more to make me keep going. Luckily it wasn’t hot, I was keeping up my hydration (I was peeing at least once a loop), and trying to eat watermelon. I completed miles 30 to 40 in just under 2 hours.
Mile 40 to 41 was really bad. I had struggled up the hill to finish my 9th loop (Note: at this point my Garmin had me over 0.6 miles actual race miles). One of the Pamakid members, Kelly was checking on me and getting me some food. I got another cup of watermelon and kept moving forward. I finished the watermelon and then my stomach started rumbling. I ended up throwing up about 4 times. That mile was my worst of the day at 16:40, over 2 minutes slower than any other mile of the day. However, by throwing up, I actually exorcised the demons, as I felt better than I had for about 15 miles. Yes my legs still hurt, and I was exhausted, but I was feeling good. I looked at my time and saw that if I could keep my pace under 11 minute miles I could finish in under 9 hours. I also think that having less than 10 miles to go really boosted my spirits. I grabbed a sandwich that I made (I don’t like strawberry jelly). I would take a bite, put water in my mouth so I could actually chew it.
I made sure I ran down every hill, and would do quarter mile runs up some of the hills, doing my best to keep my pace at that 11 minute mark. The math in my head was going like crazy. I was figuring I was going to be running 51 total miles, and what my time would be if I maintained a 15 minute pace (this math was a lot easier to do). By doing this, I could figure my finish time if I was just walking. Even in the last 10 miles I was walking at faster than a 15 minute mile and was running at about 9 minute miles down the hills. As I was approaching the end of my 11th and final loop, I was reaching the part that I dreaded the most of the entire race. The last 1.3 miles of out and back
For the rest of this epic journey please see Part II.