Wednesday, March 27, 2013

NJ Ultra Festival Race Report

This past weekend, I ran my first ultramarathon since last September. The NJ Ultra Festival was held at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in Augusta, NJ. I decided to camp out at the fairgrounds on Friday night. While I had a frigid night with little sleep, I did get to see the brightest shooting star of my life! It was white and blue, very bright, and big, and it rocketed across the sky with a long tail.

My parents came to the Festival Saturday morning to crew for me. I was glad they were there. They even laundered my sweatpants while I ran and brought me hot chocolate and compliments. The race was well-managed and well supplied. Water stations every few miles. An aid station with granola bars, junk food, and terrible tasting Hammer endurance drinks. At night, they even had hot broth and noodles at the far aid station. Yum. The food at the Sunday Brunch after the race was even better, but I wasn't able to eat much initially, because my mouth was sore from 20 hours of snacking on salty foods.

The race course had surprising unnecessarily poor conditions. It's a 10 mile course with two out-and-back trail sections. The "trail race" was on an unmaintained old gas pipeline trail that was swamped in many areas. For the 100 milers, we had to traverse the swamps 20 times! The runners had to walk on the slanted side of the trail to pass the swamps and the trails edges became icy at night. I slipped and stumbled into the icy mud many times. The course was flat and fast, all considering. The large bathrooms and aid stations made this race pretty convenient compared to other places I've ran long.

The weather was cold, but pretty easy to manage through the day and night.

I went out 90 minutes for the first 2 lap and soon realized I went out too fast. I started to worry that I had wasted energy, that I wouldn't finish, that this race would take forever to finish, etc.. I was reminded of the Mindfulness book I am reading right now called, The Mindful Way Through Depression, by Williams, Teasdale, et. al.. I had a great thought at some point - if I can just get my mind out of the way, my body will be able to run smoothly. So I came up with a mantra to say in sync with my breathing and foot strikes, saying, "I'm - In - The - Groove." The other one I said to keep me thinking and sensing the present moment was, "Right - Here - Right - Now." These mantras helped my mind stay present and calm while I ran. Can you believe it, I continued to say those mantras to myself for over 10 hours until I finished.

After a day of running, I continued to run through the night. Oddly, there weren't many others running the course at night. Most people were walking. I stopped to walk with one woman because she seemed distressed and down. Her partner had left her after the first lap, she was having stomach problems, and she was worried she wouldn't finish in the 29 hour time limit at her current pace. I was happy to help, sharing my mantra, my eating habits, and giving her some company. Hell, I was pretty lonely myself. Even though the course is set up so you pass many people on this narrow two lane trail, I hadn't run with anyone for 10 or even 15 hours. But soon enough, I said goodbye and good luck to Eleanor and started running and slipping on the muddy trail again.

On my tenth lap, my dad told me to rush this next lap so I could finish in under 20 hours. I told him no. I wanted this run to be about experiencing the race, and enjoying the run. I did not want this experience to be driven by a need to get some time or some place. As my friend Barry says, when someone asks what time he got in a race, he says, "Yes, I had a good time."

I am always surprised how alive I feel and how strong my emotions are at the end of a long run. At the finish line, I was overcome with relief. I was proud of the conviction within my body, spirit, and mind. I was proud of my parents for being there, and being great parents. The race director said they'd monogram my name into a belt buckle and mail it to me. My first belt buckle. My mom's friend joked that it was quite necessary to give me one since I'd need it to hold up my pants after losing weight from the race.

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