• 11th June 2009 - By adventuresofgreg
    IMG_0806The Northface Endurance Challenge Gortex 50 mile ultramarathon race report

    To say I was having a good day would be the understatement of the year. I was on fire and after 9 hours I was flying through the mountainous course feeling WAY too good. Something bad just HAD to happen…

    My first triathlon coach gave me some very wise advice regarding preparing for a race. He told me that the things that we most worry about effecting us on race day NEVER happen. Instead, it’s always always something that we don’t expect. So far, after 12 Ironman races, about a dozen marathons, four 24 hour world record attempts and my first 80 km ultramarathon, this advice has proven to be very true.

    I was quite nervous going into this 50 mile (80 km) ultramarathon because it was my first shot at running farther than the standard 26.2 mile marathon distance. In fact, the distance is almost a double marathon. My right knee had been swollen and sore for about 3 weeks leading up to race day. Most of my training has been on steep hills and the constant downhill pounding really effected my right knee and it wasn’t showing much improvement during my taper leading up to the race.

    Thankfully, and true to my coaches advice, my knee injury never really bothered me during the race and instead I was inflicted by another injury that I never expected – a BRAIN injury! Basically, I got a bit stupid for a while and it cost me about 1.5 to 2 hours in additional running! Here’s the story:

    The race started at 5:00 am with the blow of a horn and I kissed Helen goodbye (she was running the half marathon that started at 10:00 am), turned on my headlamp and and joined about 80 fellow 50 miler runners as we launched ourselves through the start line and disappeared into the forest for a very, very long day. A few minutes after we started our first climb I heard a voice calling out from behind me down the trail; “is GREG up there?”. It was my buddy Dennis from Boulder, CO who had driven out to Bellingham, WA to run the race with me! It was so great to see Dennis and I had totally forgotten that he was coming out, so it was a really cool surprise to learn that I had someone to run with.

    Our paces were very well matched – I worked to keep up with Dennis on the up-hills and he worked to keep up with me on the downs. I think we were pushing each other. The course is a brutal 13,000 feet of elevation and rated 4 out of 5 for technical difficulty, and 5 out of 5 for elevation. You are either running up or down – never flat. We were both feeling pretty good and after a few hours of ‘warm-up’, so we started to ‘pick-off’ runners one by one as the day wore on. We would see a runner down the trail and take aim, focus on our pace, eventually pass them and move on to our next ‘victim’. Sometimes it would take an hour, but we never got passed and were passing runners one by one as the hours ticked through. It was really a lot of fun and kept us both focused on the race.

    Dennis shot this photo with his iPhone while we were running

    After 4 or 5 hours my legs started to feel that soreness that creeps in after a marathon, but that just seemed to dissipate with the realization that were weren’t even HALF done. There was no choice but to ignore the achy fatigue and push through. I think when you know the end is near, the pain becomes very apparent and real, but your adrenalin allows you to push through to the finish line. When you know that you are only half way there, and realize that you will be living with the pain for another 5 hours or more, I think your body just sort of pushes it to the background and you kind of start just running through it. That worked because I started to feel pretty good and was able to pick up my pace a bit. We started walking less of the ups and running the downs faster.

    At 8 hours, we reached a fire road that was a reasonable grade and I was still feeling pretty good at that point, so I decided I would try to put the hammer down a bit and really focus on maintaining an aggressive pace all the way to the finish line. I figured Dennis could keep up and would probably catch me on the next up hill like he typically had been doing all day, so I took off.

    I cranked up my music and switched over to tank mode. I was taking no prisoners! I was flying, singing to my music and having a blast – really. Just loving every minute of it.

    At 9 hours I figured I had less than 5 miles remaining and I was pumped with the realization that I just might actually make my 10 hour goal. And this is where the ‘brain injury’ stopped me cold in my tracks. After a blazing 30 minute downhill segment, I reached a highway by the ocean that wasn’t supposed to be there. I thought: “Oh, oh… I don’t remember seeing this on the map. Wait.. Where are the route markers? In fact, I don’t remember seeing ANY of the orange flags that are supposed to mark my trail during the last.. well… quite a while. Oh no! This can’t be happening! NOOOOO!!!!”

    Realizing that I had missed an important turn, I turned around at the highway and started to back track wondering just how far I had to go to make it back to the course. I ran back up this steep grade for another 40 minutes before I found my orange flags. UGH! I was exhausted from running back up that horrific grade and the whole time I kept thinking – no… hoping, that my course markers were just up around the corner. When I finally made it back onto the course, I looked at my watch to consider the damage, and realized that I had just wasted about 75 minutes including a grueling climb! This was a disaster. Plus, it had been a few hours since the last aid station and I was out of water and out of food.

    Of course, the part of the race course that I started back on was the steepest, longest UP HILL section, and my legs were already fried from my little detour. I started to get very discouraged and started to walk quite a bit. I was also getting cold because I was becoming dehydrated and running low carbs. dumb, dumb, dumb. I could be finished by now I kept thinking. There goes my sub-10 hour finish. (I discovered later that a 10 hour finish would have earned me 4th place in my division).

    About an hour later I met a Search and Rescue guy and asked him how much farther to the next aid station. He told me it was still 3 miles away
    and kindly offered me an apple and some water which I devoured. I finally made it to the aid station and chowed down on a plate of potato chips (I was craving SALT), Skittles, Smarties, brownies and drank a gallon of Mountain Dew.

    I eventually made it to the finish line just short of 12 hours where Helen was waiting for me. Dennis finished in 11 hours and assumed that I had already finished and headed back to the hotel room, so he didn’t stick around. I talked to him after and he told me that just after we separated, his knee locked up on him and he spent 20 minutes sitting at an aid station trying to massage the cramp out. He got it worked out, but he said that last 10 miles was pretty brutal.

    In the end, I was totally happy with my day and my primary goal was just to finish in under 13 hours which is the cut-off time. I was expecting it to be difficult, and the last few hours certainly were (mostly due to my stupidity), but for the most part, I THOROUGHLY enjoyed myself and found the general organization of the race, along with the volunteers at the aid stations absolutely AWESOME. One of the best races I have done and I look forward to running it again next year.

    In fact, I loved it so much, I’m thinking of signing up for a 90 MILE ultra called “sinister 7” in July. Why do I get myself into these predicaments? Yikes – 90 miles!!! That’s probably going to be 24 hours of straight running. What am I thinking?

    Helen had a great half marathon. She finished 5th out of 20 in her division with a time of 2:24 (which goes to show you how tough these trail races are!)

    Helen and I relaxed for a couple of days in Seattle after the race. We rented a kayak and paddled in West Seattle.
  • 4 Comments to “My first ultramarathon – race report”

    • Amber Dawn on June 12, 2009

      Awesome race, even though you went off track, it just shows how much further you can run! I love the idea of a 24hr run, I am looking forward to becoming an ultra freak in the next couple of years.

      I've heard good things about Sinister 7, except that the most scenic part is done in the dark.

      PS Tell Helen she kicks a$$! And she is a hottie!!

    • Ron on June 12, 2009

      I really love reading the updates to your adventures but this last report is really the limit. Not only are you an obvious super human able to leap, run, boat, bike…design, build develop… I mean I can go on and on from all of your records and adventures but now your telling me that your actually human. You can make a mistake (missing your orange flag turn) and then tell us about the mistake to boot… I can only picture what was in your mind and the frustration you must have felt as you looked around trying to find the &%$@$% flag and then decided to back track up the grade… All of this and you still finished !!!!!!!

      Darn Greg… you really are an example that we can aspire to… I can't wait for the next adventure report…

      Best as always

    • Anonymous on June 12, 2009

      Hey Greg… SUPER job on finishing – despite the unplanned detour! There's a VERY good reason you likely missed that marker and went off course… you were so consumed in the moment – music blaring… fresh mountain air… the sights and smells… realizing another dream… all those things that allow us to extract the most out of the short time we have in this world – THAT's the essence of what it's all about!

      PS… AWESOME job Helen!!!

      Cheers Cyrille

    • Bryon Howard on June 17, 2009

      I would have … cried … realizing I'd have to back track.

      Great report.

      Helen Rocked.


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