Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hawkeye 50K UltraMarathon

OK so the day I trained for came and went and it was everything I wanted it to be. It was challenging, a suckfest (but not a bad suckfest like this but a good suckfest that left you feeling good), and well organized. I had been wanting to run an Ultramarathon for 4-5 years, in fact I was training for one 4 years ago when I tore the meniscus in my left knee and it took this long for me to get back to where the knee could handle the distances. I must admit the weather forecast for race day called for some pretty crappy weather and that part messed with my mind a little bit. In fact I almost wimped out and downgraded to the 25K but I am glad I didn't.

So the morning of the race I woke up and jumped in the car. I stopped at a local convenience store and grabbed a pre race breakfast of Gatorade and honey buns (yum yum) and then drove the 25 miles to the race start. The race was held around the Coralville Reservoir in the Macbride Wildlife area. When I arrived I was able to park only about 100 meters from the start. I got out of the car grabbed my camelbak and drop bag and walked to the start/finish line. I had put my ipod in my pocket and drapped my earphones over my shoulder, big mistake, by the time I got to the drop bag area I had lost my earphones. This was not good, I looked around for about 10 minutes but couldn't find where I dropped them. As I walked back to the car to put my now useless ipod away I was thinking, awesome what am I going to do without the 8 plus hours of carefully selected tunes and podcasts I had hoped to use to take my mind off the whole running thing? Just deal I suppose.

So I got back to the start about 5 minutes before racetime and as luck would have it, the rain started pouring down. It was about 38 degrees at this point which is almost worse than anything else, cold and wet really sucks. All the racers where trying (about 125 of us) to huddle under a little overhang and stay as dry as possible before the race started. The course for the 50K was two 15.5 mile loops that would end up at the same place as we started. Each loop was divided basically in thirds, the first third was along a two lane highway, the second third was along crushed gravel paths around the lake, and the last third was on single track mountain bike trails in the woods.

Well the race director gave a little motivational speech and hit the starter pistol and off we went. The first .5 miles was on a mountain bike trail and it was pretty stop and go as all 125 of us tried to funnel on this trail. Eventually it dumped us out on a service road which we ran on for about a mile before we got to the highway. Did I mention it was still pouring buckets? Just after we hit the highway and people started stretching out a lady ran up beside me and started a conversation. Her name was Dorothy and she is a middle school music teacher. She told me her husband was running the 50K and she was running the 25K, he was somewhere up ahead of us. She also told me she had brain surgery last May, it was pretty amazing that she was out running a 25K. We had a very nice conversation for the next 6 miles as the highway stretched ahead, eventually we turned left as we hit the town of Solon Iowa and we came up on the first aid station. I walked through the aid station and we continued on hitting those crushed gravel paths. These paths were soggy and had a lot of standing water from the rain, but it made for better running on my knee. About mile 8 Dorothy told me to go ahead. I wished her good luck as she started to slow to a walk. I kept running along the paths as they followed the shoreline and through the woods. The houses on the lakefront where all very rich looking and most had private docks. About mile 9 was the second aid station where I grabbed some water and used the porto-potty. I then hit the woods for the third leg, this leg was the toughest as far as terrain, it reminded me of some of the terrain I had walked through on the Appalachian trail. Up and down and around trees and ridgelines and draws. At mile 10 we had a stream crossing, it was fairly wide about 50 meters and about ankle deep. It took me probably 5-10 minutes to pick my way through jumping from rock to rock but I managed to make it without getting my feet wet. Immediately after the stream we had to actually free climb a short section of rock to get back on top of a ridge line and hook up with the trail. From this point forward I started employing a run/walk strategy. The ridge lines where just too steep,too muddy,too many roots and leaves to run up. I would walk uphill using a tree every now and then to get over the steeper sections, I would then run downhill and the flat parts. I still had to be careful going downhill though because the mud and leaves was like skiing at some points. At mile 12 we suddenly popped out of the woods and there was the start finish, on my first lap I was thinking, no way my GPS wasn't off that much! I was right because the course went right by the start and took a hard right straight up another ridge. We continued on about 3.5 miles more of muddy trails until we looped back to the start/finish. It was during this section where I started talking to a lady whose name I never got who said she had run a few 100 miles races. Pretty impressive. When we got back to the start/finish, I made the decision to put on my dry shoes as I was muddy up to my ankles and my feet where soaked. I finished the first lap in 3 hrs 10 minutes and it took me about 4 minutes to change my shoes and socks. I grabbed a banana and a PBJ and headed down the trail. So at 3:14 race time I was back out starting my second lap.

The second time around was a very different race, all the 25K runners were off the course so I ran most of it without seeing anyone to my front or my back. Also the weather had changed from rain to snow. The temperature had dropped about 20 degrees and the wind picked up, it was a blizzard the second time around. My jacket froze stiff as a board and I had snow encrusted on my front from top to bottom. The highway section on my second lap took a lot out of me, just seeing it stretch off into the distance with no one around and the wind howling was a real mental challenge. Along the highway about mile 18 I heard this big clap of thunder. I thought "oh great thunder snow!" I started looking for somewhere to take shelter from lightning but I didn't hear any more. I made it to the first aid station and stopped for a drink. I asked if anyone was behind me and they said " a few." I joked with them and said' I better slow down then." So I continued on to the gravel section, which by now the wind was blowing the snow straight off the lake into my face and all that standing water was freezing into ice.I was running downhill during this section when I got a massive cramp in my left thigh about mile 20. It was horrible never felt anything like that before. All I could think was that I was not going to quit. I walked for about 15 minutes until the cramp went away while downing some power gels and water from my camelbak. That seemed to do the trick as it never bothered me the rest of the race.

Between mile 20 and the next rest area I actually passed two people that had slowed down to a walk. I was still doing the run/walk thing by running 10 minutes and walking 2. When I hit the last aid station about mile 22 I downed the pedialite they offered me and ate half a frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwich while I headed back into the woods for the last section. The second water crossing was a lot different than the first, by now all the rocks where snow covered and even though I tried to follow my original line I managed to fall in and get my right leg wet up to the shin. No big deal though as I was pretty much already soaked from head to toe anway. I scrambled up the rocks and headed into the last 3-4 miles of the course. It was about this point that I crossed into ultramarathon territory having went over 26.2 miles. It had taken me 6 hours, compare this to my last marathon time of 4 hours 44 minutes and you can see how the conditions and terrain affected my race. By now everything was snow covered so I had to contend with leaves,roots,snow and mud as I went up and down the ridgelines and draws. The course was well marked and I could follow footprints of the runners ahead of me so getting lost was not my concern. I rounded the curve at the start/finish as a guy asked me for my number I yelled it at him as I headed up the ridge. As I ran through the woods the wasn't a soul in sight except for the occasional squirrel and deer print. It was very still and all I could hear was the rustling of my frozen jacket as my arms swang back and forth. It was somewhere during this time that the song Will Ferrell sang in Step Brothers kept going through my head.

Eventually I started singing it out loud or at least as much as I could remember, if someone would have seen me they probably would have thought I lost it. I rounded the last corner and saw the building at the start a few hundred meters ahead. I ran up and just stopped. I finished in 7 hours 21 minutes and 44 seconds. The second lap took me 1 hour and 7 minutes longer than the first. Everyone was inside staying warm it was kind of anti climactic at the finish. I grabbed my bag and walked inside. Everyone looked at me all snow covered and said" Did you just finish?" I said " Yeah" They said "Here's your medal good job" I said "Thanks." So I ate another PBJ got in my car and went home and took a nap. Awesome.

I am writing this the next day. I got up this morning and was a little sore but I officiated a wrestling tournament this morning and now I am on duty at the ambulance garage. I think I will be losing some toenails though. This was a great race and now I am seriously thinking about doing a 50 miler this spring more to follow on that


  1. Dude! That was the most awesome race report I think I've ever read! I'm laughing/crying so hard right now! The song clip is what did it, 'cause it totally woulda summed up the emotion of completing that crap-tacular ballbuster! Mike, you're an animal and I am humbled to have run at least the first loop in your presence! Keep on going, my friend!

  2. Wow thanks. It was pretty awesome to finish that race and I am totally inspired to run a longer ultra because I still had some gas left in the tank.