Belated Race Recap: A Stumble and Getting Back on the Ultra Horse

Although my blogging may have been on hiatus this last year, my marathon and ultramarathon training wasn’t.

I had last written in January after running my first ultra, the Cougar Mountain 50K. Running my first 50K would have been hard enough on its own, but I had made a critical error by not researching the elevation gain of the course beforehand. At 7200 feet of elevation gain over 30 miles, a course that would have been five or six hours was instead an 8-hour odyssey. I forgot to mention it was also the first race since running last year’s Seattle Marathon, with freakishly cold 20 degrees at the starting line. I never blogged about it because:

  1. See previous blog entry
  2. the freakishly cold conditions caused my muscles to tense up so hard my body hurt for weeks.

Between these two events, I not only started to doubt if I was an ultrarunner but if I really wanted to continue running at all.

I scaled back my running and training and went into “maintenance mode” as I reassessed things. I got back on the horse gradually by taking on the Aramco Half Marathon in Houston. I had originally registered for the full, but after my experience at Cougar Mountain and the Seattle Marathon, I wasn’t sure that I was up to it. It was a beautiful, flat race. The enthusiasm of the Houston spectators and volunteers was larger than life, as expected. And my family was there to cheer me on. I definitely want to come back for the full so my niece and nephew can see me cross the finish line.

My family making signs to cheer me on

Encouraged, I ramped up my training to a full. The next event on my schedule was the Capital City Marathon in Olympia in May. It was the first full marathon since the Seattle Marathon. Luckily the race was in easy spring weather and the course fairly flat. Olympia is a beautiful city with lots of cool, hip local businesses. My wife and I had a great time there and I hope to run more races in the area soon.

Some runners taking advantage of the pre-race stretching exercises at the startling line of the Capital City Marathon

As with most adversities, time has a way of turning pain into resolve. As the months passed, I needed “redemption” from that first 50K and I sought out the flattest 50K I could. Surely enough I did: the First Call to Run Labor Day 50K on the Sammamish River Trail in Bothell. I set my eyes on training for that event.

In the meantime, I ran the San Francisco Marathon​ two months later. It was a redemption for me in two ways. First, I had run the San Francisco Half Marathon back in 2009, but only after I switched after originally registering for the full. My training for that marathon wasn’t successful. So it felt good to run the first marathon that I had trained for, unsuccessfully. Second, the race had a fair amount of elevation. Not as much as my first 50K, but enough to get me to rethink my aversion to elevation gain. Lastly, we got to visit family and explore the town beforehand. I then got to revisit many of those places on the course was as beautiful as I remembered it when I ran the half in 2009, with the added bonus that I got to see even more of the city this time.

With two marathons under my belt, I felt confident to retry the 50K distance. I ran the First Call to Run Labor Day 50K on my birthday. It was a low-key, flat 50K and got me to feel that I could overcome the 50K distance. When I say, low-key, I mean it. I think there were two dozen other participants, tops. We ran on the Sammamish River Trail. There was no starting line, no chips and the aid stations were just tables with water and electrolytes and tables set at two spots on the course. No fancy website, it’s just a Blogspot.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Low-key races are actually my favorite. I’ve done them before, namely the Birch Bay Ghost Half Marathon, which is actually 15.1 miles long. There’s no corporate bullshit like Race Expos or talk show radio hosts babbling on-end at the starting line. Just a bunch of running nerds. There’s way more community. Although it wasn’t the fanciest race (an out and back, out and back, and one last out and back for a mile on a bike trail), the pizza and the great conversation I had with my fellow running enthusiasts more than made up for any missing bells and whistles. Plus, I had the satisfaction that the 50K was indeed a doable distance for me.

Having accomplished my second 50K, I felt like I could “officially” think of myself as an ultramarathoner. I felt encouraged to set more aggressive goals.

I have now registered for a third road 50K, the Ghost of Seattle. While not totally flat, the 50K is on familiar territory. As mentioned earlier, I’ve run the Seattle Marathon and I train on much the route regularly. In fact, the starting line is a ten minute walk from my front door.

I’m feeling confident about that race and starting to make plans afterward. I am planning on doing more hill training and leg exercises to be able to tackle trail 50K races with elevation gain next year: 1,000, 2,000, 4,000 foot elevation gain. Because, Hell, if I can do 7200 ft elevation gain, I can do anything.

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