This was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, my first ultra-marathon. And it was pretty mild at 50K, or 31 miles. I had a feeling it was going to be tough. There were thunderstorms the night before here in Portland and it’s been lightly raining most of the week. So it was going to be soggy and muddy in Forest Park for the Forest Park Trail Run. But that was fine. I didn’t have a real time goal. My first priority was to not get injured. Second, was to finish. Third, was to finish in under 5 hours. Goal #3 turned out to be quite overly unrealistic. I finished at 6:43. Really slow. It was a great experience all around even though I couldn’t see during the first half of the race (my glasses kept fogging up in the humidity, not so cool). Tough, but a great experience.
For the first 8-9 miles or so I ran with someone I just met because I happened to be behind him and he was running at a good pace for me, Dan Harshburger, from central Oregon. We had a good conversation about all sorts of things. I got the feeling that this wasn’t his first ultra so naturally I asked how many of these things he’s done. “200” he says. Holy Jesus H. Christ! 200?!?! He’s been doing ultras since 1982. Amazing! I’m such a Johnny-come-lately. Dan introduces me to Olga, who writes the Run More Talk Less blog, and who happens to work in the same place I do but in a different department. She was doing the walk-the-uphills strategy, which I would later adopt, only it wasn’t so much of a strategy for me as it was a necessity. But when she ran the downhills, she really flew. It was a great privilege to be able to spend part of the day with these folks. The camaraderie among ultrarunners is legendary and deservedly so.
At about mile 26 or 27 my mind started wandering. I was feeling pretty good especially since I knew after the last aid station the trail was going to be either flat or downhill. My mind started thinking about how running my first ultra was going to be a really spiritual experience. Somehow I was going to transcend something. What that would be was something that I was going to sort through for days or weeks, or even years. So then I come down the trail and what I recognize as Leif Erikson trail. What the hell? I’m not supposed to be on Leif Erikson trail! Uh oh. I made a wrong turn somewhere. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I made a wrong turn at, oh say, sooner than mile 27. It occurs to me that I could keep going down Leif Erikson and make it back to the finish line where I’m supposed to meet my wife. But then I remember about the spiritual transcendence and how I just ran 27 miles and I wasn’t going to let a wrong turn nullify those previous 27 miles I worked for. I was going to finish this race, dammit, and finish it the right way. So I trudge back uphill the half mile or so at the intersection where I chose unwisely. The spiritual experience turned into a death march. And I also knew that walking uphill was going to take a lot out of me and my slow time was going to become even slower. I figure I lost 15 minutes just backtracking. But I’d lose even more from the energy expended.
So, what did I learn? I learned that running my first ultra was not such a great idea to cap off another 4 marathons in 22 days feat. I’m sure I’ll reconsider this by tomorrow and look for another ultra to sign up for. But since all the area ultras this summer are filled up I’ll have to wait until next year. Until then, I’ll have to settle for Chicago in October. I also learned that I seem to only tweak my pinkies. When I was in high school I jammed my right pinkie playing basketball. Today, I jammed my left pinkie grabbing a tree to brake myself as I was sliding down a steep part of the trail. I finally ended up on my ass at the bottom of the slope.
Update: pictures from Glenn Tachiyama