Ultramarathon Perspective: Among the Trees

You guys: I ran an ultramarathon – and it was amazing.

My official time was 8 hours, 12 minutes, so I achieved the heck out of Goal #2!

I’ve had a few days to talk to quite a few people about the race, and there is already a clear pattern to the questions being asked. I will address them forthwith.

How was it? How do you feel?

It was amazing, and I feel like a million bucks.

I was running for eight hours, over many miles, so it’s hard to remember exactly what happened, but here are some highlights!

Before the sun came up. (0-11 miles)
My alarm went off at 4:00 a.m., which is 3:00 a.m. back home. Ashley and I had plenty of time to wake up, shower, eat, drink, and be ready for the starting line at 6:15 a.m. Typically, I would have a really difficult time getting out of bed to go for a long run at that time, but I was fueled by adrenaline on Saturday.

We didn’t have to wait around very long at the starting line. I used the restroom (and took the only photo I would take all day while standing in line), milled around a little, and got in line to wait for the starting horn. Away we went! The first thing we did was climb a 2-mile hill up a well-churned horse trail. This was the only place I almost lost a shoe. My foot went into the mud a little deep, and it tried to suck my shoe off.

Once we got to the top of the hill and a little further into Brown County State Park, the trail turned into wonderful singletrack. The conditions were optimal: dry, smooth trails. My pace was on point for these first 10 miles; I felt amazing. I was smart, though. I’d want to run fast, but knowing I had a long day ahead of me, I held back, especially on the hills. I didn’t walk every hill, though. I love running up hills, so I allowed myself some of that. I also powered the downhills like I had been practicing back home. It all felt so familiar. The terrain reminded me a lot of the trails I run in Hoosier National Forest and Harmonie State Park: Long, slow climbs with a few that really get the blood flowing.

Before I knew it, I was coming into Hesitation Point, the third aid station at mile 11, where there would be drop bags and my wife.

The middle. (11-21 miles)
Ashley was happy to see me, and I was happy to see her. She helped me through the aid station, refilling my nutrition bits (electrolyte drink, more medjool dates – aka, magic beans – that kinda stuff), and I was headed back onto the trail.

Not long after I started drinking the electrolytes, I started to have some stomach problems. This was aggravating because I had the energy and drive to run, but when I ran, nature would begin to call with great gusto. It was uncomfortable to say the least. I didn’t have any TP with me, so I kept going forward, hoping one of the next couple of aid stations would have a bathroom, but it just wasn’t going to happen. I went through two aid stations and there was nothing – meanwhile the GI problem compounded with each running step.

Finally I went back into the woods and took care of business. I’m not unfamiliar with the process of going to the bathroom in the woods – one learns how to be resourceful when backpacking. I felt better after this, but my stomach was unsettled, and it would stay that way until a few hours after the race was over. This also made me apprehensive to eat or drink anything I wasn’t very familiar with. Thankfully I had my own food with me, so I didn’t go entirely without food, which would have been a bad idea.

Unsettled or not, I could run now. This leg had some off-trail sections, which were a fun challenge. Downed trees and near-vertical climbs kept me on my toes as the miles started racking up.

That bathroom would have been nice a few hours ago!
That bathroom would have been nice a few hours ago!

I came into the second drop bag aid station and was greeted by Ashley and Kristen and Eric, two of my friends who came out to cheer me on. It felt so great to have those encouraging voices when I came out of the woods! Ashley was on top of everything, helping me refill my water and put on dry socks.

Finish! (21-31 miles)
As I was finishing the second leg, coming into the third, I started having IT pain in my right leg. Uphills and flats were no problem, but downhills were painful. This slowed me down, but it didn’t stop me. I kept going forward, running whenever possible, and walking when I had to. The walking wasn’t really like walking around the neighborhood. It is more closely “power hiking,” which was always part of my strategy for this race, so I wasn’t disappointed by it.

After leaving the 21-mile rest stop, the course went through an intense 3-mile stretch with some killer climbs – including some long staircases. This slowed me down a lot.

Eight miles after the aid station, the course came out of the woods and plummeted down a dirt patch into a huge, grassy field. Once I got to the bottom of the hill, I started running until I got to the river. Our course went in and out of a river that was at times thigh-deep. It felt so good to go into the cold water! Once past the river, I came out of trees or over a hill or something and saw Ashley and the finish line. I kept running, and she joined me briefly. She told me she loved me, was proud of me, and to go enjoy my moment. I picked up my pace slightly. Kristen and Eric cheered me on (and took pictures) as I went under the finish banner, officially becoming an ultramarathoner.

You’re not limping/stumbling/broken and quivering!

I feel incredible! I have had minimal soreness. Nothing more than expected. There is no soreness in my IT band, despite having issues with it during the race. Ashley and I went for a short run on Monday, but other than that, I’ve not done much. My plan is to take this week off, then start getting back on the trails next week.

When’s the next one?

This is my favorite question because it shows perfectly the outstanding support group I have around me. Not only did everyone encourage me through my training, but they’re already asking the questions I’m asking myself “Want to do some more?”

I’m looking at another ultradistance race for December and next April. But before that, I’ll run Harmonie Half Marathon in Harmonie State Park on May 30, the Rugged Red Half Marathon in the Red River Gorge (September 12), and quite possibly the Indian/Celina Lake Challenge Marathon in Hoosier National Forest (October 10).

Never stop, never go backward, and keep running in the woods!


4 thoughts on “Ultramarathon Perspective: Among the Trees

  1. Kristen May 13, 2015 / 6:22 pm

    You are so freakin’ awesome and inspiring. It was fun to read this recap after hearing and seeing little bits of your experience on Saturday!

    • A Carter May 13, 2015 / 8:58 pm

      Thank you! It was really great having you guys there! I don’t think the adrenaline boost a cheer team provides can be overstated.

      I’ve been considering sending Eric some info on ultras. For example, this post on Rock Creek Runner: (31 Ways to Know Your Ready for an Ultramarathon) http://www.rockcreekrunner.com/2014/09/11/ready-for-an-ultramarathon/.

      Should I stoke that fire?

  2. Brittany June 9, 2015 / 8:48 pm

    My God this is intense and so very impressive. Belated congratulations for this huge accomplishment.

    • A Carter June 9, 2015 / 9:05 pm

      Thanks! It was an amazing day.

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