If someone had told me at the beginning of the year that I would be an ultra marathoner, I would have accused them of being into some fairly serious drugs. I've only been running for 4 years, and my first half marathon was in January of 2012. I attempted to train for my first marathon which was scheduled for January 2013, but I gave up after chronic injuries left me in constant pain.
When I backed out of my marathon experience, I realized that I really wasn't all that sad. When I stopped to think about it, I realized that I didn't really want to be a marathoner. Sure, it would have been nice to put in the training and get it done, but I wasn't doing it because I wanted to do it, but rather because it felt like the only logical step after completing countless half marathons already.
I'm a back of the packer. I'm overweight. I struggle with health issues. Sure, I wanted to take my running to the next level while overcoming great obstacles, but deep down, I knew that marathoning wasn't for me. Friends would ask me all the time when I planned to take that leap, but after that failed attempt at training for a marathon, the answer was always the same: I just don't want to. Maybe you want to, but I don't.
And then something crazy happened.
I spent the weekend at a race with my dear friend Mel, and he paced me through a 15k, a 5k and a half marathon. And he kept talking about this crazy event he would be doing on Easter Sunday in Jacksonville: a 50K Ultra Trail race called the Run Til You're Boared. I thought he was insane, but I wanted to check out the website. He told me repeatedly that this was the perfect race for me to take my running up a notch without the pressure that is normally associated with a full marathon.
But I was so untrained...
By the time my interest was piqued enough to pull the trigger on registration and get airfare to Jacksonville, I only had 5 weeks to train. And training wouldn't be easy. I had never logged over 14 miles at a time, and never logged over 18 miles in a day... somehow I had to get my head around how this was all going to work. I messaged Bobby Green (the race director) a few times to ask about terrain, I talked to a couple of established ultra runners for their advice, and I told a couple of very select friends. I was afraid that if I told everyone before the event, that they would think I was a failure if I didn't cross the finish-line.
On the day of the race, crossing the finish-line seemed like the easiest thing in the world. The real struggle for me was crossing the start-line. From the moment we pulled into the park, I was nauseous and overcome with an intense feeling of dread. 10 seconds before the start of the race I burst into tears and started to hyperventilate. But my friend Mel was right there by my side, as were other veteran ultra runners who turned to me and gave me encouraging smiles and words
Even after the gun went off and we started our VERY long day of running, the attitude of other runners never changed. People were absolutely exhausted, some were downright miserable in their own socks and shoes, but they were each out there doing their own version of epicness... and they were supportive of each and everyone else on the course.
We were taking liberal bathroom breaks, breaks to change and refuel, and enjoying the opportunity to be in such a gorgeous setting, and this reflected in our time. For the most part, the course was fairly straightforward. 5 loops of 6.2 miles, all relatively flat, mostly in dirt roads through the wildlife preserve. But there were a few tricky areas of the course where we were routed through burn-breaks (where the course significantly narrowed and the footing was through deep loosely packed dirt and sand).
But although the course was tricky at times, the support more than made up for it. There were 3 aid stations on the course, and the race director did an excellent job of anticipating everyone's needs. My stomach was so upset during the race that I had to survive almost entirely off of pepsi (for sugar) and pickle juice (for salt), but there were options for both vegetarians and carnivores alike... with food ranging from gummy bears and marshmallow peeps, to bananas and oranges, to pb&j and bacon. Because the field of runners was so small, the volunteers at the aid station quickly learned what each runner preferred and made certain that it was immediately available to them when they came through. In retrospect, the only thing that I think the aid stations should have had at the very front of their tables was sunscreen... the weather was perfect, but it was overcast... so although I applied sunscreen, it clearly wasn't enough... note to self: next time be more careful.
Anyway, There were a few moments where I worried that I wouldn't be able to finish the race in the prescribed 10 hour time limit, but not once did I allow my mind to go to the negative side of questioning whether a finish was possible or not. Which I think leads me to the most important revelation of the day...
Anything is possible with the right attitude and mindset.
With an eye on the finish, you can do anything you put your mind to... as long as you really put your mind to it, failure is not an option. Barring any unforeseen injuries (which are always possible), your mind gives out long before your body ever will. If you enter a situation with the right attitude, the power of positive thinking will get you far. This is obviously not just a lesson for running, but sometimes it takes a crazy experience like an ultra to bring something like this into perspective.
My name is Amy, and I'm an ultra runner!
Check out more at Amy's blog.
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