Saturday, September 27, 2008


Today the annual Great Eastern Endurance Run was held at Sherando Lake. In fact, it is still being held. With the 6am start time, and a 19 hour time limit for the 100k group, there are likely plenty of runners still out there. I only ran the 50k, so I (thankfully) have been done for a little while.

I've been signed up for this run since sometime in the summer, and it has been my primary training goal since then. What is surprising, to me anyway, is that I don't think I ran too many runs in all that time that were longer than 20 miles. I think no more than 5. I have, though, run every single day for the last 6 weeks (as long as my 2 mile run yesterday counts). I'd like to continue this streak, and run a little tomorrow, but I'm going to see how I feel.

This last week I've been eating lots of pasta, and the last two days several bagels. Yesterday I drank a whole lot of water, and some Gatorade. Also in this past week I watched 'Running on the Sun', a documentary about the Badwater 135 mile ulta-marathon. I think it was a good move (and movie), since it made me much less nervous about my own run. My run seemed entirely reasonable next to those guys.

All the same, last night I was reasonably nervous. It didn't help that it had been raining for two days, and the forecast called for more today. I also wasn't looking forward to the waking up at 3:30 part of the plan. Luckily I got to bed pretty early, and my cats actually let me sleep. At some point a thunderstorm woke me up, so I got to worry about running in one of those. The primary concern there being that the GEER run is out in, and on top of, some of the mountains near the Blue Ridge Parkway. On top of a mountain doesn't sound like the ideal place to be in a thunderstorm.

Waking up early gave me time for a bagel and a banana, and some water. A little after 4 I met with another runner (doing the half marathon) that I was carpooling with, and then we picked up a volunteer for the run on our way out of town. Around 5 we were down at the park, still earlier than many people, which meant we got a good parking space, and getting our packets wasn't too much of a hastle. A couple of trips to the bathroom, a pre-race briefing, and it was go time.

Of course, it was still pretty dark out. Most of the runners had headlamps, and I was running just carrying a flashlight. The first mile or so was on the road, so it wasn't too much of a problem. The next stretch was up a pretty steep trail, but even so, the light wasn't too much of an issue. I was running, at the time, with the one other guy I knew, and we were somewhere in the top 10. Which was a good plan, so we didn't have to worry too much about getting stuck behind people on the relatively narrow trail. Eventually the sun starting coming out, and we were on top of a ridge, running in the fog or clouds or whatever. It was quite nice.

The rest stops all had lots of goodies. I went through handfuls of gummi bears, as well as a few oreos and pretzels, and even a quartered boiled potato. The stops also had bananas, but also other candies, mini chocolate bars, and even twinkies at one point. I had brought along some Clif Shot Blocks, courtesy of my carpooling friend, 3 packets of Gu, and a powerbar. The Shot Blocks and Gu were a huge help, and I never needed the powerbar.

By mile 14 I had moved up to somewhere around 5th place. The way the course is setup, there are two places where you run out and then turn around, and run back. This gives you a good chance to see how many people are ahead of you (if you are keeping track), and gives some indication how far back you are. I was surprised that the first place runner didn't seem much further ahead.

Around mile 20 I took 4th place, and within another 2 miles had passed two more runners on a bit of an uphill. I was quite surprised by all of this, but it made me pretty excited. Surely the top 3 finishers get something cool! Of course, that left me looking over my shoulder for the remaining several miles. Generally in the runs I do I start off far enough back that I spend the entire time passing people, which is a great feeling. Running in the front, all you can do is get passed. That's not as fun.

All the same, I decided I was going to hold on to second place. That (along with all the gummi bears and other goodies) kept me pushing the remaining miles away. My legs had started hurting a bit, and I was worried that my right quad was going to cramp up. It was not appreciating uphills, but luckily the last 7 or so miles are primarily downhill or flat.

I had decided not to run with a watch. This was my first run at this distance, I just wanted to go out and enjoy myself and not stress about my time. At some point about half way through I caught a guy looking at his watch, and got the time from him. I felt a little bad interrupting his run, but it seemed to work out ok. When I'd been thinking about the run, I had hoped to finish in 6 hours. With the weather, I thought 7 might be more reasonable. In the end, I came in just under 5 hours, holding on to second place (just about 4 minutes behind first). Which felt amazing. I'm still pretty excited about it. I got not only a pretty cool jacket (even though it's got a big logo on the back), but also an additional running t-shirt (all runners got 1 for the event).

It's been about 7 hours since I finished running. My legs can definitely tell that they did something this morning, but I feel pretty good. This week one of my professors was talking about how when he goes running he goes for short, hard runs. He wants to get tired as quickly as possible. I told him I'd much rather go and run for a few hours and get tired that way. Today I realized that perhaps part of that is that with a nice long run, you still feel like you did something hours, or even days later. Sure, a half hour hard run will make you tired, but it's not the same tired. Either way though, as long as you enjoy it, that's what counts. Right?


sara said...

congrats on 2nd place! That's awesome. I read a blog of a guy from alaska who runs ultra marathons. I don't think i've ever run a mile myself. Used to inline skate a lot before cville though.

sumidiot said...

Thanks! If you've got a link, I'd probably be happy to read about the ultra-runner in Alaska.

I've got a friend in Canada who skates sometimes, but I've never really tried it myself. I can ride a unicycle, so I figure I should be able to sort out the balance issues, but it still makes me nervous. Is cville not so skating friendly? Not too many convenient places to go?

Anonymous said...

I only ran the 50k

I don't believe that you're ever permitted to use the word "only" in conjunction with the phrase "ran the 50K".

Congratulations on an impressive effort. I'm a marathoner and am always wowed by the endurance and physical and mental fortitude of the ultramarathoners. I'm often reminded of the old joke: What's the definition of a crazy person? Someone with one more cat than you.

Harry Landers

sumidiot said...

@Harry thanks! Seriously though, 50k is just a few extra miles. And if you factor in walking up bits of hill... It's like a marathon with a walk attached. :) Now those 100k(+) folks... those are clearly the crazy ones. I'd not heard that definition of crazy before, but I love it. My 2 cats qualify me as crazy, compared to some I guess. They certainly drive me crazy.

Kate said...

Holy crap - what an impressive accomplishment! Nice work.

Last year I read in Wired (I think) about an ultramarathoner who would order and eat whole pizzas in the middle of races. Reading his story was like reading about some kind of alien species.

sumidiot said...

@Kate Thanks! I think that guy you are talking about wrote a book (actually, 2 now). Probably I should read them some day. Dean Karnazes.