It was this time last year that I had to write a post about my first DNF at the Full mOOn 50K. That also happened to be my first attempt at an official ultramarathon, and I failed, dropping out after going 23 of the 31 miles on the course. I had no intention to attempt it again this year, but the nagging feeling of leaving the course without finishing the race pushed me to pull the trigger late last month.
Last night was race night, and things went a lot better this year. It took me FOREVER to get to the finish line, but I did cross it, and under the stated 9 hour time limit. We started at 7 PM on Saturday. It was 3:53 AM when I ran over the timing mats in the finish line chute. Official time was 8:53:26, less than 7 minutes to spare to make the cutoff, but made it just the same.
So what made the difference? How did I finish this year what I couldn't last year? I think that's best explained starting with what I did wrong last year.
I never intended to sign up for the race last year. It was actually a decision made in moment of rage. My wife and I were in North Carolina visiting family when a dog of theirs got on the table and chewed up my Garmin. It had been three months since my last marathon and I was having withdrawals I guess. Because I couldn't be too rough on a family member's dog, I sat down and looked for the closest race I could get to the quickest. Turned out, it was Full mOOn. So I'd say I signed up for last year's race for the wrong reasons. Most of the time, decisions made in anger turn out bad. That held in this case.
To say I hadn't trained for last year's race is an understatement. When the heat and humidity set in, I limited my long runs to 10 miles. So by mid July of 2013, it had been more than 6 weeks since I'd run anything approaching a long training run to prepare for a 50K. I was definitely underprepared for last year's race.
Last year, all I knew of the course was, "the first three miles are uphill." That's not exactly true because there's a pretty nice downhill not long after the start, but the rest of the first 3 miles IS uphill. Turns out, about 80% of the first 10 miles is uphill, and a lot of that is pretty doggone steep uphill. The middle 10 miles is a series of steep inclines and descents. Because I didn't expect such drastic elevation changes, I paid a heavy price last year for pushing too hard on many of those uphills, expecting to find long downhills just around the next bend. Those long downhill stretches proved nonexistent and I ended up spent long before I reached the finish.
So those are some of the things I did wrong last year. Now let me tell you what I did right this year.
"He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many" ~ Daniel 8:25a
Even though I was visiting family in North Carolina again last month when I signed up for this year's race, it wasn't in anger. I thought about it and prayed about it and got a feeling that I had to at least attempt to finish what I'd started last year. I can't say I was 100% sure that God wanted me to run this race, but I turned it over to Him and knew I had to try and use it to bring glory to Him. I decided I'd go in and do my best and be satisfied with whatever the outcome would be.
There were lots of prayers that went up for me and this race this year too. Up everyone of those long uphills I was praying, praising God, and even singing some. But that wasn't all. Prayers were sent up from friends across the country. They posted requests on Facebook and there is no telling how many people prayed for me and this race. I believe in the power of prayer and I believe that Jesus heard all those prayers and answered last night.
I was much better trained for the race this year, mostly because of last month's double marathon in Utah and Idaho. Two marathons on consecutive days gave me the long runs I was missing last year. Three weeks before those marathons I had attempted another in Little Rock. I made it 25 miles before the heat took me out of that one, but still, it was another 25 mile run to help prepare me for this race. Almost all my running since the double last month had been in heat and humidity too. I was acclimated to the race conditions and far better prepared.
This year, I knew the course. I knew what to expect so the drastic elevation changes didn't catch me off guard. Last year I didn't regret stopping after 23 miles, but as I rode back in the sag wagon, I realized I quit before the easiest part of the course. All that long, drastic climb at the start of the race would have been the end of the race if I'd finished. This year, I knew it was coming and devised a plan to take advantage of it. For the first two hours of the race, I walked. I walked all the way up that crazy long uphill at the start. After that, I only ran the downhills and walked everything else. I actually felt good when I got through that crazy up and down, up and down and reached the turnaround. By that time last year, I was considering quitting. When I reached the point where I did quit last year, I can honestly say I still felt good, 23 miles into the race. Knowing the course made a huge difference, enabling me to come up with a strategy designed specifically for this race.
I made a few other changes that I think helped too. Last year I took Gu along with salt and potassium tablets every 5 miles. This year I dropped that back to every 3 miles and added a magnesium supplement (100% recommended daily allowance) every 9 miles. I never felt that physically drained feeling that comes when I've sweat all those mineral out on a long, hot, humid run. I could still taste salt in my sweat at the finish line, which is normally long gone in similar conditions. One last thing I did was leave my hydration pack at home. I didn't take off on a 31 mile run without fluids, but I made another change. This year, I froze 6 bottles (16 ounces) of water and 2 bottles (quart) of Gatorade. I lined a backpack with a trash bag and lined the trash bag with a towel and packed the frozen drinks inside. I didn't tap them until mile 12, but when I did it was like drinking liquid Heaven! There was still a big hunk of ice in the first bottle I pulled out and when I started drinking that ice cold water it immediately went to work to cool me down. Those drinks stayed ice cold until way late in the race, and having cold water and Gatorade to drink made a huge difference.
It took me almost 9 hours to finish, but by God's grace and mercy, I chalked up my first ever 50K finish, and in pretty good shape too. I'll be back next year. Not sure if I'll run the 50 or 25K next year, but I'll definitely be back. Thanks to all the volunteers and race organizers and sponsors who made this a quality event. Now it's time to rest up.
Next marathon is Mid South Marathon in Wynne, AR on November 1st. In the interim we'll be running some shorter races. As always we're running to raise awareness of the dangers of teen substance abuse, to honor our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and to raise money for Soaring Wings Ranch.
If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, if you're missing the faith, hope, and love written about here, if you want the peace that we as Christians have in our lives, please visit our Got Jesus? page for step-by-step instructions on how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.