I supposed the first time I ran in any organized manner was a result of playing different organized sports when I was growing up. Whether it was Baseball, Football, or even Golf, running was a part of pre-season and daily practices. From there my running evolved a bit when I joined the military. The physical fitness test (PFT) was an important test of mission readiness, and had some influence on promotions. I think this is where I realized that running was something I didn’t seem to mind doing. I found myself ahead of the pack in most of our Company runs. It seemed I was kind of a natural runner, or maybe even “built” for running. After being honorably discharged from my military service I didn’t think about running much. Until one day I decided to sign up for a 5k race in Denver, CO. I ended up finishing 3rd in my age group at that race and it fueled something inside me. It led to 10K races, to half marathons, and even to a trail marathon race in New Zealand. I had learned about Ultra races by this point and in the back of my mind I always wondered if I could ever push myself that far. At one point I even wrote down a goal to complete an Ultra Marathon. Probably two years after writing that goal, I finally pulled the trigger and committed to running one.
Why run 50 kilometers, (roughly 32 miles)? For me it’s about testing my personal limits. What am I capable of? The curiousity of what I could potentially accomplish drives me to do lots of different physical feats. Could I hike from Mexico to Canada? Only way to find out was to attempt it, so that’s what I did in 2017. Run 32+ miles? Well, It was time to find out if I was up for this challenge. It had been on my mind for awhile, so now it was time to put myself to the test!
Talking about running a 50k race with a friend of mine sparked his interest as well, and right away he mentioned wanting to run one. Immediately I said, “lets pick one and just do it!”. It was settled, time to lace up and finally get this life goal on the calendar. After a quick chat, my friend and I decided it best for both of us to find a race in Utah in October. This would work for where he was located and his work schedule, as well as give us both time enough to train for it. I believe we decided to do this around Mid June. I knew, at least for myself, that the real commitment wouldn’t be until I had picked a race, and paid the registration fee. Not much longer after the converstation with my friend in Utah, did I find a race via a random google search that fit the criteria we were looking for. After checking in with my friend about the exact dates, and deciding it would work, we signed up and it was official!!!!!
Now it was time to train, time to put in the time and build up that endurance. A 50k race is all about endurance, I wasn’t going for the win, just wanted to complete the distance. I ended up building my own training plan based on my current physical fitness, my age, my goal of running the distance of a 50k, and with my goal of just finishing. I turned to the book ‘Training for the Uphill Athlete’ by Scott Johnson, Steve House, and Kilian Jornet. I won’t get into it here but these guys have quite the experience and knowledge about doing long distances in the mountains. My main focus was to do many miles at easy pace, keeping my heart rate low and just accumulating as much aerobic endurance as possible. Traveling all summer made training a bit of a challenge. Scheduling runs, finding places to run wherever I was, etc. Most weeks I met my mileage goals plus some, as I was doing some hikes as well. All in all I was feeling that I was in the best shape of my life.
I had accumulated some longer and longer runs in my training, but my friend and I wanted to both put in one last big training run, in combination with bagging Utah’s highest peak. So we decided we’d run up King’s Peak in Utah. As we prepared and mapped out the run it looked like a beautiful 24 mile round trip slog with plenty of elevation gain. We camped at the trailhead the night before, and woke up to a very chilly and frosty September morning. We were quite excited to start the run and shake off the cold by getting our bodies moving. The first several miles went up a fairly gentle drainage and we made good time. Things then began to get a bit steeper and we got some power hiking practice in. We successfully reached the summit and started our downhill running portion after a short scramble down some larger boulder fields. Startied getting quite warm on the way down and we had to shed some layers. The miles piled up and before we knew it we were over 20. Then 24. Then 26. Somehow both our running watches read over 28 miles by the time we got back to the trailhead, something went wrong with either our route planning or who knows! I totally felt wrecked after this run, I had finished strong, but it definitely pushed me to my current limits. But I felt more confident after this training run cause it was only a few miles short of what our race distance would be.
Before I knew it race day was upon us! I had arrived in Cedar City, UT a couple days prior to the race as I was already in Utah doing some camping and slot canyoning. It was mid October, but boy was it getting quite cold at night already! One of the nights I camped near town before the race the temps reached a low of 16 degrees! On race day morning it was a slightly warmer, 24 degrees. At the starting line it was plain to see this wasn’t a very big race at all. There wasn’t many of us running the 50k distance, in fact I think there ended up being just 29 finishers.
It was time, no turning back now! It all seemed to start so fast. While trying to stay warm at the start line, all of a sudden a countdown was being announced and we were off just like that! My friend and I started off together with the adrenaline pumping! Only 32+ miles to go! It was actually a relief to finally be off and on the course, no turning back now. The first 10 miles felt relatively good, lots of sweet trails that went up, down, and all around, carving a path through the foothill of this southern Utah town. I quickly noticed that most racers, even in the very beginning were hiking all the uphills, I followed suit, but was still pushing myself pretty hard. It took no time all for us 29 racers to start spreading out, and maybe even just 3-4 miles in I found small stretches of running all to myself. The course was beautiful, and I tried as much as I could to enjoy the scenery and not think about all the miles ahead.
Then there was the “big climb” of the race up the “C Trail” and I expended a ton of energy speed hiking this. At the top was the first station in which you snagged a colored rubber band to prove you made it to that checkpoint. I refilled water, had some salty potato chips and then started to run back down, ahhh much easier miles going downhill. Soon I had reached the half marathon distance, then 15, then 18 miles. After stopping at another aid station, grabbing more water and food, a lasso shaped route was ahead. It was during this stretch of the race when I really began feeling it. I totally noticed that on the uphill portions I was slowing down. I kept chugging along, never stopping, at least always moving forward at one pace or another. During this loop we picked up another colored rubber band, and headed back from where we came. I got a little mental boost when I came across an aid station and they said it was the last one before the finish.
The final miles were so so hard. I felt like a brick, it took so much effort to put one foot in front of the other. Then there was the steep decent back down to the main valley below. This hurt a lot! My knees were not ready for the impact they would endure on this downhill portion of the race. After having run for hours by now, my entire body was spent. I kept on going though, sometimes I don’t know when to quit, and I was determined to finish this race, I didn’t see any other option. Finally I reached the bottom, and the course was fairly flat from here onto the finish line. Though due to my lack of research and preparation for this race, I honestly didn’t know which way it was or how far it was to the finish line. I knew by my watch that there could only be a couple miles left. I didn’t get lost, and found myself on a bike path that would lead me to the finish. Let me tell you, after 30 miles of running in the foothills over the course of 6+ hours, that last flat mile on the bike path was painful. Then it all happened out of nowhere, just when I was thinking I would never find the finish line, it instantly appeared at an entrance to a park. I had made it! Finally I could stop running! I had maybe just a little ounce of adrenaline left to pick up my pace slightly as I ran through the corral and across the finish! I had done it, I was toast, I had nothing left. The race organizer announced my finish, ask my name, and handed me a comemerative pint glass. It wasn’t a spectacular finish, there were only a few folks hanging around, but there was pizza! Lots of pizza!
If you had asked me immediately after the race if I’d do it again, I would have easily said no. I said after the race that it was probably the most physical effort I had exerted in a single day. I was completely spent, and I had thought I was close to the best shape of my life. I definitely have an even stronger appreciation for all the ultra runners out there. Now that some time has passed, and my short term memory loss has kicked in, maybe I wouldn’t be opposed to pushing my body even further. Who wants to do a 50 miler!?