Yesterday, I ran the Blues Cruise 50k. It was my first real foray into "ultra" marathons – a category that includes anything longer than a marathon, from 50ks to 50-milers to 100-milers and up.
My main impressions:
-It was a beautiful day, a perfect day, really, blue skies and sunlight but cool and breezy.
-The course itself was beautiful, along a lake, trails that were usually runnable
-The support was great
-Toenails, though small, can cause an enormous amount of pain
-I'm happy with my finishing time
-Ultra running just isn't for me.
50k translates to 31 miles, which makes sense, since a 5k is 3.1 miles. This course may have been only 30 miles, though, which translated to around 48.3k; Bob Reynolds also ran this with me, wearing his gps, and that was what he had.
"Only 30 miles" – it was still a long, long way to run.
The race started out well. It's an out and back, on trails that are often nice, frequently beautiful, at times breathtaking. Most of the trails were runable; there were a fair amount of short and really steep hills, which were a challenge (both up and down), but they were never too long. the one real significant hill was at around mile 10 (and then 21, seeing as it's an out-and-back), but that was not quite as steep, a hill that would have been more Wissahickon-like.
I started off a bit fast – first mile around 7:30, no way that was sustainable – and then settled into what seemed like a good pace. I hit the turnaround at around 2:02. I knew at that point that I was going to positive split the race, but was hoping for something around 4:10-4:15. Running that far, even on trails, beats me up, so equal effort = positive splitting.
I hadn't prepared for the excruciating pain that I was going to have to go through in the second half. I first noticed it going up the big hill at around mile 21. I'd felt something similar the Saturday before, on my weekly long run, and chalked it up to poor sock choice. I tried to run through it, but it would keep getting worse. I took off my shoe and rearranged my sock, which helped for a bit – I'd wind up doing that 3-4 times during the race. At a late rest stop (mile 25) I managed to get some ibuprofen, which also helped for a bit. But nothing that helped lasted. I think that at the last rest stop – maybe 3.5 miles out? - if I'd known how much I'd hurt during those last few miles, I'd have DNFed. Lots of grimacing, yelling, deep breathing till the pain subsided, then starting up with the first ginger steps, till up to running pace, then I'd land wrong and the pain would begin again.
That said, I'm glad I finished. Now I've done it – I've run at least one ultra. And my time was good – 4:32. A pretty pathetic 2nd half, but an overall good time. That was good for 19th place out of around 200 runners. I'm usually in the top 5%, but I expected to be somewhere around top 10% for my first ultra. And it was around the time I'd been guessing I'd get.
But I don't think that this is for me. I can't blame the venue, can't blame the weather, because I couldn't ask for anything more. I don't know that I can blame my toes - I mean, I can, but I suspect that during most ultras I'd have some issue or another. But 30 miles, 31 miles, even 26 miles – it's just a long way to run. While running that long has the advantage of letting you see a lot of beautiful scenery, and taking this a bit easier, you don't need a race for that.