“Nope. Absolutely not,” I told my mentoach as he was starting to suggest I find an ultra race to do. I had recently finished my second 30-miler in training and since the marathons and other road races I had on the schedule had been cancelled, he thought it presented a unique opportunity. “Now wait a minute and hear me out,” he said as he started listing and explaining some of the reasoning behind this idea. He had some good points, enough to make me stop and think about it for a second. “Nah,” I said. “The ultra world is something else entirely.” He ignored that comment and continued listing the ultra races nearby he had googled. I was rolling my eyes but then I heard it – “Speedgoat.”
Are you kidding me?? I thought to myself. I wasn’t even part of the ultra world, but just by being a local I knew the reputation it had. It was designed to be one of the hardest courses in North America. Taking place in the mountains, the LOWEST elevation was 7,500 feet above sea level, and included 11,500 feet of GAIN throughout the course. Even the ultra runners I knew shied away from this race. So of course, I at least had to look up the website…
After listening to my mentoach’s reasoning, and realizing that my road races were already cancelled anyway, one more tiny detail broke me down to register. In describing the course on the website, Karl Meltzer (famous ultra runner and this race director) said “If you think this should be your first ultra you’re probably wrong.” And with that, I was in. I had about 10 weeks until race day.
If you’re a runner you eventually notice different “cultures” within the running world. There are Track Princes/Princessess, Road Kings/Queens, and Ultra Kooks. Cross-country may be fun, but it’s more of the ugly step child of running – nobody focuses solely on cross-country. Many runners will transition through labels throughout their running career, but there’s usually a focus on one for a period of time. Each of us have our quirks, and if you haven’t already been offended they are quite funny. I am most definitely a Road Queen, and as a Road Queen I was completely out of my comfort zone in doing this race.
Most of my training didn’t change too much, with just some added trail and a little extra climbing. Part of the point was to go in somewhat blind. I knew the details on paper, but I needed this to be something really really hard and unknown. This was technically my first trail race, too but I had been used to doing one trail run (6-10 miles) a week so I wasn’t worried about the terrain…at the time.
Race morning Kyle drove me to the start and sat with me in the car until it was time for me to check in. It became real, and I was really going to do this. I was so terrified I broke down. Kyle asked, “Do you want to go home?” I said “No.” He asked, “Do you want a road race?” And I sobbed, “Yeeesss” and then we both laughed. I got my butt out of the car and headed to the start corral. It was wave starts, twenty people at a time. I already looked a little out of place (an Ultra Kook quirk is their garb). There was only one other woman in my wave start and as we made eye contact and nervously smiled at each other I wondered if we would end up racing against each other (that was the Road Queen coming out).
We were off and running and around mile 2 I got a headache from the elevation level. It wasn’t bad, and I knew it wasn’t going to get much worse, but that also meant I had lost that gamble. I notice a difference in training when I go from 4500 to 6500, but I was wondering if I would feel it as much with this kind of slower-paced effort. I had previously noted that being up there, casually walking I didn’t feel it. We kept climbing and that woman and I started a very long leap frog dance. I wasn’t sure if I was up for the added challenge because by mile 6 I was pretty over the event. The climbing was one thing, the terrain was another. I did not expect to be hiking up boulders. I thought I would be able to run at least some of the course and even make up time on the downhill, but the grades were steeper than I imagined. It’s runnable with practice, but tearing and/or breaking a body part was not on the agenda. Once I understood that I wasn’t going to be able to run hardly at all, I let the misery sink in. I did not want to be doing this. Am I mad at Judd? Should I be? It was his idea. No, I’m the one that gave it a green light. I’m the one that had the final say. We got to the top of the first climb at 9 miles and I contemplated dropping out. Would it be worse for me mentally to quit or continue doing something I don’t like? I filled my camelback with ice and moved on. A bit of downhill now, with a view and lots of wildflowers. I can do this. I started descending and the headache began to disappear. Every time I went up it came back, and every time I went down it went away. I was getting close to halfway and there was about a 2-mile stretch that I could run. My spirits were lifted. The next aid station had popsicles and though I had packed my own nutrition and intended to only get water refills, I took up the offer. There wasn’t as much coverage from the sun that I thought there would be and it was starting to feel pretty hot. I’m pretty good at running while eating so I ran with the popsicle. If I choked or tripped and stabbed myself I figured death by popsicle was okay at this point. Soon it was time to go up, up, UP again. With every bend I comforted myself with “almost to the top” and then I would make the turn and see that was never the case – ever. Around mile 23 we crested and went through a short tunnel that had a concrete sidewalk floor. Home! I laughed to myself. Out the other side was the next aid station. I still had water so I decided not to stop. One of the volunteers tried to convince me I needed calories as she held up a slice of Domino’s supreme pizza. I wanted to barf at the thought. Hard. Pass. That is an Ultra Kook quirk that I cannot understand – the aid station fuel is absurd. I thanked her and said I had my own and she said, “Are you sure? You’re going down and then you’re going back up again.” I said “Yeah, I’m fine” and moved on, but I thought, down and up again? She’s lying. I’m at mile 23. She has to be lying. She wasn’t lying.
There were parts where I could only focus one flag at a time (course marker flag) because there was no path/trail – just flags. Some portions I had to grab onto shrubs otherwise I’d fall backwards (and yes, I did consider it). Poles seemed to be helping other people but I didn’t want to invest for this feat. A few steps at a time and I got to the final aid station. My camelback was dry so ice water and a few bites of watermelon. I had to keep moving. As slow as I was going, the idea of chilling out at an aid station was so foreign to me (another roadie thing). Back down the boulders and then onto some trail. There were a few more ups, but they were relatively short compared to what we already had done. I was getting awfully close to 31 miles and I knew we weren’t that close to the finish. Road Queen started to get grumpy. Roadies like their race distances to be exact. I pushed forward remembering that the woman I had been leapfrogging might be close behind. I just focused on lengthening the gap. At least my competitive spirit didn’t die. Mile 32…33…where’s the finish?!?! There, one more S curve and there it is – 34.42. I jogged it in and Karl handed me the coveted mug. I confessed to him that he was right – this should not be one’s first 50k.
I was really happy and proud that I finished. It was the hardest physical event I’ve done thus far. Afterwards, my feelings are “I regret nothing.” I thought if I could go back, maybe I would just do more of my training higher to avoid the headache and ease my breathing, but since I finished, can I really say that?
It is worth noting, that I did not get lost. Anyone who runs with me on short trail runs knows that that means the course was marked really well. I was impressed. The volunteers were amazing and the event as a whole ran smoother than a lot of road races I’ve done. In summary, it was really hard, I’m glad I did it, and I actually am glad it was my first ultra.
Time – 10:28:05
101st of 152 finishers
18th of 35 women