distance: 50k (but my garmin said 30.4 miles)
i signed up for my first ultramarathon less than a month before the race. i knew last year that i eventually wanted to run an ultramarathon. i also knew i was doing the griffith park marathon two weeks before. i figured, what better long training run than my first trail race? that also happens to be a marathon? so i signed up. a bit crazy and not well thought out? yes. but i was really excited. i knew i wouldn’t win or do it fast by any means, but i just wanted to do it. check off the box, my first ultramarathon. and yes, “first”. not “only”. not “last”.
jimmy and i signed up for this race together (i had also suckered him into signing up for the griffith park marathon). unfortunately, right after the marathon he hurt himself and dropped down to the half marathon. having a friend at the start to distract me from the impending race was really great. a couple other friends of ours signed up, one on the half and one on the 50k, so jimmy and i each had a friendly face to run our distances with.
the race was in valencia, about a 45-50 min drive from where i live. for bib pick up, they had an option to pick up the day before and an option to pick up morning of. because of the long drive, i originally considered doing morning of, but due to a lot of factors (practicing the unfamiliar drive, use their provided bag as a gear drop bag, one less thing to worry about in the morning, etc.) i drove up saturday. it took all of 5 minutes to get my bib (and bag and tech shirt) and head back. the tech shirt is good quality (and i like that 1. they had a women’s shirt option and 2. it’s a crew neck, not v-neck) and the bag is very functional and well designed. it’s like those draw string bags you get everywhere but made of thick burlap. it’s bright yellow and had a place to fill in my bib number with sharpie so i could use it as my drop bag.
note: since this was an ultra distance, they offered 50k runners the option of a drop bag around mile 20 (and when we came back around, mile 22). this was a new concept for me. luckily i read a letter to a first time ultra runner and i had more direction for what to pack.
the morning of the race, i woke up to my alarm at 4 am (after a very weird dream involving flying cockroaches that looked like lobsters). i got dressed, braided my hair, packed up my gear, toasted an english muffin, and was out of the door by 5:15 am. i arrived in valencia at 6 am. i met up with jimmy and our other friends, told some jokes, dropped off our gear, and headed to the start line.
the race was supposed to start at 7 am, but due to long lines at the porta potties it didn’t start until 7:15 am. the race offered a 50k, half, and 10k, and started in that order in 15 min intervals. that meant we were first. at 7:15 am, the race started. the course was single track and very hilly starting about a half mile in. this meant that most people (like me) started walking. most of the faster runners were at the front by this point, so it was an almost comical line of people walking in a row. i knew this race would be hilly (in the words of jean, “holy begebbers!”) so i wasn’t discouraged.
here’s a link to the course. it’s a bit difficult to see, but we started on the orange course (10k). then when we got to aid station #4, we started the blue half marathon loop. once we returned to aid station #4 again, we took off on the purple 50k course. after a long out and back, we arrived at aid station #4 again, ran a small segment back to aid station #1, and then ran to the finish. also here’s the elevation profile. it was no joke.
the 10k loop had very very steep hills. so steep, that i saw a woman refuse to go down one because she was scared. these types of hills aren’t even fun to run down. the half marathon loop was a lot more fun. there was a segment of a few miles that were just rolling hills in the shade. that’s my kind of trail run. i wouldn’t even stop to take a picture because i was having so much fun. this loop connected with the top part of the 10k loop and we ran that segment once more. i reached aid station #4 again (at around 11 miles this time) and my legs were already feeling tired. i wasn’t even halfway done. i didn’t let it worry me too much. i grabbed some salty snacks (i was constantly eating saltines, chips, and goldfish crackers for salt) at the aid station and went off on the 50k out-and-back.
during the first part of the race (on the 10k and half marathon loops) it was single track and had runners of all three distances. i was constantly passing people or people were passing me. i talked to a girl about knee pain. i said “good job” to people as we ran by each other. despite my 15 min head start, the half marathon leaders caught up and passed me right away. but as soon as the 50k segment broke off, we were all on our own. i saw a few people in front/behind me. there were two out and backs (that were a steep downhill that we then had to run back up) and i saw a lot of the 50k-ers there. but otherwise, it was just me. i was fine with that, i made sure to run my own race, walk up the uphills and run down the downhills. stop and drink lots of water and eat my gus and pretzels. i listened to my music, read the inspiring text messages from my friends, and thought about anything and everything. my friend sparky gave me advice to take pictures to enjoy the experience and slow me down.
i reached the furthest aid station (#8) at mile 20 and got my hat, shirt, and gatorade out of my drop bag. the volunteers at this station were my favorite. one of the women was saying that “this distance clearly isn’t far enough, you all look too good” and one of the men let me put my gatorade in a cooler for the out and back and i could get it again at mile 22 when i returned. he also asked if i do this a lot, to which i replied, “this is my first one!” i had an extra pair of shoes and socks in my drop bag, but my feet didn’t hurt and i didn’t want to mess with what was working. i also swapped out my now gross and sweaty buff for a clean one.
i ran down the hill to the furthest point in the race, grabbed the token to prove i had reached the distance (a pin that said “50k or bust”) and ran back up the hill to the same aid station. i drank some gatorade, ate a lot of gold fish, and filled up my camelbak. at this point i had less than 10 miles to go. i kept telling myself, “10 miles is do-able.” i also counted lizards the entire run. i got up to 28.
at mile 27, i returned to an aid station on the half marathon course. i felt so close. i had run this segment twice by that point, and now i just had to run it back. familiarity really helped me, knowing the distance and elevation ahead. i kept up my slow pace but ran into a couple people i had talked to on the run, one was my friend and another was a woman i talked to at the token turn around. my friend and i walked to aid station #4 (our 3rd time being there) and got some coca-cola (which was cold and tasted amazing) and then i took off, knowing that we were only 2.5 miles out and my legs still had energy left.
the downhills at the end were as brutal as i remembered from the start. i had to scurry down them, trying not to fall or hurt myself. the last 1/2 mile was pretty flat, and this was where i hit my wall. hard. first my right calf cramped up for a second. then my left calf right after. i knew the finish line was so close, and i was so afraid my calves were going to fail me. then.. boom. there was my wall. i didn’t want to run. i didn’t think i could run. i had no energy. i was done. but i was so close, so instead of walking to the finish line, i opened up a gu pack and just started popping them into my mouth. the little boost of sugar and caffeine got me through it, and i finished 29th (and 2nd in my age group).
at the finish line, we were handed a medal and a mug filled with a packet of hot cocoa, a reflective snap bracelet, a nature valley granola bar and some ginger peanut butter candies. they also had bagels and snacks at the finish line to eat. i sat and waited for my friend to finish (only a few minutes later) and then waited for the gear drop bags to come back (about a half hour later).
all in all, i had a really great time. i thought my body could handle it and i was right. i am not the happiest with my time, but it’s something i can strive to improve. i know i need to work on my speed and strength up those hills. and i also need to get better with the more difficult/technical trails. with road races, i’m not used to looking down at where my feet will land with every step.
this race was really well organized and i would definitely run it again. the race director and volunteers were amazing. the aid stations were well stocked (except no vaseline) and at good distances. i loved the “50k or bust” pin we got and had to bring back, what a fun souvenir to have from my first 50k. i like the race shirt, mug, medal, and bag. i wish there had been more “real” food at the end of the race, but i had been eating a lot during the race so i wasn’t starving. with the hot temperatures, i wish it had started earlier, but it only started 15 minutes late and i don’t think that would have made much of a difference.
and last but not least, i’m an ultramarathoner!