I’m so excited to share a personal story with you this week. I’ve been doing a lot of running and I finally had a chance to test my legs. Despite finishing 61st out of 67 racers. I got it done. Here’s how it went down.
The Night Before
I signed up for the Atlanta Fat Ass 50K via a friend’s recommendation. I had planned to use it as a training run for the Cheaha 50K at the end of February. I was reluctant to commit to running the full 31 miles. My longest training run had been just 15 miles the week before. But, being perfectly prepared is rarely the case so I set my sights on just showing up and starting.
Two day before the race I got sick. I don’t know what to call it but it takes a mean sickness to knock me down for two full days. I spent the night before the race getting up over and over just feeling like some alien was eating me little by little from the inside. Not cool man! I’d be lying if I said I never thought about just staying home that morning.
I woke up early and the house was quiet. I lathered my friction spots up with some Body Glide and dressed up in my lucky orange shorts and an old t-shirt from that team building exercise in 1999. It was time to decide if I was a victim of some strange cold or the guy that goes anyway. I didn’t want to live with playing the victim card so I saddled up my horse and rode into the city.
I pulled up the weather radar about an hour before the race start and there was so much red it could have been a Quentin Tarentino movie. The thunderstorm was busy thrashing the course and I thought that many people wouldn’t come because of the weather. I failed to adjust that thought for the crazy, radical bunch of people that show up to run ultramarathons to begin with. When I pulled into Sweet Water Creek State Park it was still dark. Traffic was backed up out of the gate. After parking and picking up my race number it became clear that most of these people were so badass that they didn’t even know it was raining. I was in good company and I felt great for being a part of it.
We started on time at 8 am and I was the very last person in the gaggle as we funneled off the road and onto the single-track trail. My planned pace was a shuffle really. At about 14:30 per mile I could keep my heart rate so low I’d barely be breathing hard. I knew it was going to be a long day.
The race was a 5.2 mile loop. You could opt to do as many as 6 laps for a grand total of 31.2 miles. I knew I could do 3 laps but 6 was iffy. I didn’t want to wreck myself and my training plan. My wife, son, and tiny daughter were in the aid station by the time I got back around from my first lap. It keeps you pretty accountable when your wife and son both understand what’s going on and they are there watching, cheering, and giving me food each lap. It’s a great feeling to have that kind of support. We joked about my son being the new crew chief. He was always there running, smiling, and yelling , “Daddy!” when I popped out of the woods. He filled my water bottles, stole a bite of my blueberry scone, and chased me back to the edge of the woods over and over.
Don’t be that Guy
Some guy lapped me in the middle of lap 2 or 3 when I was feeling fresh and in the groove. As he approached me he yelled, “Move to your right” and then “great job” as he passed. Now I know why some folks get strange unexplainable injuries out on the course…
“Yes, um, I passed this really slow guy and then I came around the bend and like a rock or something hit me from the sky and struck me down… It was the craziest thing.”
(For the record, if you are that guy that laps everyone and throws a “great job” out there when you speed by, save it. A simple “hello” would be fine.)
But really, I was slow. I’d love to be faster. Maybe one day if I grow a beard, buy a kilt, and get one of those bottles that fit your hand, then, I’ll get faster.
I got behind on hydration and when I finished my 3rd lap I chugged some serious water. So much water that I couldn’t really run for about a mile afterwards. After a while I started to feel great and turned it back up to a slow simmer.
At some point I committed to the full race. My joints were hurting but my muscles were fine and I really wanted a finish.
When I started my 5th lap, lots of people were already finished. That was hard to believe. I still had another hour and 15 minutes to run! Lap 6 was great emotionally; especially the last couple of miles. I really started to smell the barn. I would get excited and increase the pace only to start cramping in my legs and slow back down. I rolled into the finish line at 7 hours 48 minutes and 56 seconds. I was 61st out of 67 finishers and it felt great to be back in the game. It’s the first ultra I’ve done since my 65 mile attempt at the Pinhoti 100 in 2011 and only the second ultra ever. So I guess my stats did improve. I’m 1 for 2 in finishes!
Why Did I do it?
I’ve been trying to remember why I wanted to do the race in the first place. I think no matter where we are in life we are always comparing ourselves to others. It’s not always the healthy thing to do. It’s not the best way to judge your success but it happens. When I was half-way through the race I heard the voice that said, “What are you doing?” “Why are you here?” “You’re not an ultramarathoner.” “You don’t even like doing this.” I thought of my plans, my wife and kids and the time I’ve spent training for the past couple of months. I remembered that I had wanted this, I had started this, and since it had begun, there was only two ways out. Finish or go to the hospital.
I don’t feel like 31 miles is a great distance but it’s farther than I usually go in a day. In the end, I was really proud to be able to show my son that his daddy can stick it out. It’s ridiculous to think that by running some amount of miles it somehow makes you a better person. It doesn’t. But it does make me smile a little when I think about it. And we could all use a few more smiles.