Running an Ultra Marathon: 0-40 in 6 Weeks (Part 2)


On Sunday, I posted part 1 of my story about preparing for and running the Mt Mitchell Challenge. Here is part 2.

I have to tell you that my final week of training and preparation did not go to plan. I was in Florida, traveling for work, and spending the majority of my time driving. I wasn’t able to stay loose, I stayed up late, and didn’t eat all that well, at least in comparison to the previous month. Then the day before the race, I drove from my Aunt and Uncle’s home in Port St Lucie, FL back to Black Mountain, NC. A cool 700 miles by my lonesome, with a stop in Jacksonville for lunch with my brother. My wife was able to go pick up my race packet, and our friends there said to kindly pass along the advice that I was crazy. Agreed. I got home at 9:30 pm, packed and prepared for the race, and was in bed by midnight.

Race day began at 5:30 am, and I began the ritual of coffee, breakfast (superfood slam probar) and stretching. I kissed my wife, “Be careful”, she said. Then I grabbed my bag and was out the door. I drove up to Dan’s house to borrow a pair of Yaktrax, and he handed them to me and said a prayer. I told him happy birthday. “Thanks, see you later!” he said.

Honestly, I still had not made up my mind fully. I was leaning towards the 40 mile Challenge, but didn’t know how my body would feel. I decided I would attempt to run to the parkway in time to make the challenge cut-off time, then make another decision. I had to make those 14 miles in 3 hours, not a crazy time, but averaging 12:51 min/mile. For the distance I was going, that was on pace for what I hoped would be on the faster end of my average. If I needed to poop during the run, it could spell disaster! The race begins at roughly 2000 ft, and even the cutoff point climbs drastically to 5000 ft, before the final push to 6684 ft. I met my friends Jay & Allie at the start. Jay and I planned to run together, he was even more undertrained than me, but he’s a better runner and I figured he would whip me anyway (he did). Allie was gunning for the win in the women’s challenge, after 3 straight years of victory in the marathon. We exchanged clever jokes about the silliness of what we were about to do, and soon the starter yelled “GO!”

So began a journey that took up my whole day. A long, beautiful, treacherous, sometimes painful day in the woods. I fell at mile 5, soaking my gloves in a creek. I clipped them to my pack waistbelt to dry, but 2 miles later they were frozen stiff. My water hose froze, cutting off water supply, so I stuck it in the pack. I didn’t shut the nozzle though, so when the water melted, it leaked through my pack and froze my butt (hint, close the nozzle and stick the hose in your shirt). I fell again less than a mile from the cut-off, rising in pain and panic that I would be too late. I wasn’t, coming in 4 minutes ahead of schedule. I rested, and made the decision to move on as I watched poor souls come in at 3:01, 3:02, and be turned around. I had made it, might as well keep going a little further.

The miles ticked off, and I hit the summit at noon. The temps hovered around 10 degrees, and winds gusted between 50-75 mph. I touched the sign, was marked with an “S” for summit, and stopped to look around. I had made it to the top. I took a short break to walk to the overlook, and stood on a bench to survey the mountains. I had made it to the top.

via Asheville Citizen-Times & Colby Rabon

The feeling of making my way all the way up, on foot, was amazing. I shouted to the heavens, and smiled. I hopped off the bench, and made my way down to the summit aid station. I still had a long way to go, and the return would take several more hours. I thought about the hero’s journey; the ancient cycle of culminating the quest, and returning. We can’t stay on our mountaintops and stare wistfully at the scenery our whole lives, we must return to our communities, with a vision of how we can contribute and make other’s lives better. We have been given a gift, and the best course of action with a gift is to share it.

As I ran over to the station, the volunteer shouted to me, 

“Runner! What’s your number?”

I smiled again, and shouted back,

“40!”

Afterword: The rest of the race was just as tough, and I finished in 9 hrs, 46 minutes. My legs stopped caring around mile 30, and I couldn’t keep up my pace. I told myself the whole time that simply to finish was my goal, and I accomplished that. Fast? Not at all. I finished in the bottom 5, my worst athletic finish ever. But no one cared about that, myself included. Family and friends were incredibly supportive and encouraging, and I had a blast. Thanks to Jay Curwen and his team for putting on an amazing run. If you are interested in running either race next winter, check out their website at BlackMountainMarathon.com.

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