Sunday, June 27, 2010

Vashon Ultra Race Report!

Team REI takes on yet another island!

I can officially, legitimately call myself an ultramarathoner now! Yesterday, I ran 50 kilometers - which roughly translates to about 31.1 miles - nearly five miles longer than a standard marathon, and not without coincidence, five miles longer than I'd ever run in my life before. The moment in which my Garmin rolled over from 26.2 to 26.3, and I noticed that my legs were still moving along just fine, was pretty darn exhilarating.

I didn't make my Sun Mountain mistakes; I started toward the back of the pack, and used the first mile or two as a very slow, gentle warm-up, rather than trying to push hard right out of the gates. The course was a lollipop loop course, with 3 ten-mile loops, and a bonus 1.1ish-mile loop at the beginning for all the 50K runners (there was also a ten-mile event that took off at the same time as the 50K, but skipped the 1.1 bonus loop.) I started catching 10-miler runners about half an hour in. About halfway through that first loop, something scary happened: I passed a 10-miler who said, "Hey, I've been passed by about a dozen of the male 50K-ers, but as far as I can tell, you're the leading woman!"

I had NO idea that I was leading the women's race at that point. I still wasn't sure, but a family who'd set up a makeshift aid station at the foot of the gravel driveway of their tucked-away-in-the-woods home confirmed such on my second lap. They'd cut up a bunch of watermelon, which I gobbled down with the most profound sense of gratitude, but the mom was just like, "Go, go! You're the first woman...go win this race! You're an inspiration to my girls!" It's probably good she said something, because otherwise I might have stayed and eaten watermelon there forever.

Of the three laps, the first lap was, naturally, the best: the exciting exploration of a new course, my muscles fresh and energy levels high, the adrenaline of the race just getting started in my veins, plenty of other runners still around to keep me company...I felt fantastic. The single-track portions through dense forest were gorgeous and fun to run, and with some baby hills, but nothing too aggressive elevation-wise, at least not in comparison with what I usually train on. The weather was ideal: overcast and in the 50s.

The second lap was mentally, by far, the toughest. From 11-21 miles, my body started wearing down, so I couldn't cruise the course quite as easily as I had the first time around. The 10-mile runners were already done, and the 50K-ers more spread out than before, so I was mostly running alone by the second lap. I started psyching myself out with the unknown...what if I hit the wall the way I did at 18 miles on my road marathon? What if my stomach got upset? What if I developed blisters? What if I'd been horribly overambitious and would lose all momentum, and have to walk the last lap in the same cloud of defeated disappointment that I spent the last six miles of my marathon? I was the first woman then...but what if I got passed? What if I was stupid to go out as fast as I did, even taking it as slow as I thought I was? 31.1 miles is a hell of a long distance to run...

But once I made it to the third lap, I knew it was going to be okay. Elodie came out to pace me for the final ten miles, and knowing that I'd have her at my side made things a lot easier mentally. My body was certainly more tired than ever, but I never hit a wall. I remember moments in my road marathon when I thought I was running, and suddenly notice that I was actually just walking, and be unable to either remember when I'd stopped running, or muster up the energy in my leg muscles to run even more step. That never happened this time. My last lap was the slowest, but I held a steady pace, and didn't get passed by a single soul. I still even ran up the majority of the hills.

Me with my illustrious pacer!

I crossed the finish line in 5:34:34 - far from a truly spectacular time in the scheme of the ultrarunning world, but almost half an hour faster than my secret time goal I'd hardly even admitted out loud beforehand, and a first-place finish (14th overall) for my first 50K...can't complain there! The course was spectacular, and the support along the way - the volunteers, the aid stations, the families cheering along the way, the friendliness and encouragement of other runners (so many genuine "You go girl!"s from 10-miler women that I passed on my way out on my second loop as they were just approaching their finish line) - were downright amazing. I couldn't have asked for a better first ultra experience.

It's been said that long distance races aren't even about running; they're simply eating and drinking contests. My stomach does not digest well on the run, so as much as I can, I avoid consuming more than water and the occasional GU, even on long training runs. But all the advice I got for this 50K was that fuel is more important than anything else, and I HAD to eat in order to survive that kind of distance. So I did. I stopped at nearly every aid station and ate fruit and energy chomps and the occasional handful of potato chips. I carried a 1.5-liter bladder of nuun-infused water on my back the whole race, and drank it all by the end, in addition to guzzling water and electrolytes at most of the aid stations, too. I bought squeezable packs of peanut butter and almond butter which I ate while running, in order to get some protein in my system, too. I took GU gels every hour. My stomach wasn't happy the whole time, but for the most part, it cooperated. No blisters, rolled ankles, sore knees, or serious chafing either. *Knock on wood.*

The ferry ride back to Seattle at the end of the day, post-run, post-BBQ, post awards-ceremony...

As for the aftermath? My right shin feels a little sore - but otherwise, I don't even feel like I did anything strenuous at all yesterday. I think I was more sore from my Mount Si run last week than I am now from yesterday's adventure. Such a sharp contrast, again, to the Seattle marathon last November, after which I hobbled and limped around for several days. The biggest post-run effect has just been my appetite: I can't stop eating. I had a giant breakfast this morning, and my stomach still rumbled all the way through my tutoring session. Second breakfast when I got home from that, which involved pizza and eggs and a giant bowl of granola and milk. It's been about forty minutes since I finished that, and I think I'm just about ready for first lunch now...


  1. Congrats again Yitka - great job getting through and WINNING your first 50K. The ravenous hunger afterwards is all part of the fun. ;) Good to meet you today at REI!