On Sunday, I ran my first ultramarathon — the G.O.A.T.Z. 50K in Omaha at Glenn Cunningham Park. It was also my first trail race. Good idea to combine my longest race with uneven footing, right?
Friends, it was awesome.
Completely, absolutely awesome. Even though it took me longer than I thought it would and was way hillier than I thought it would be. It was still one of the most fun races I’ve ever run.
The idea came up because my friend Chris and I had heard our friend Barry was doing it. This was during the height of our summer of random long runs, and it began to sound fun to have a goal. And even more fun to have a race that was brand new, on new footing, with zero expectations.
Just show up and do it.
I’ve spent the past few years working so hard to get to Boston, and I did, and it was all worth it. And the race I ran to qualify was super fun — but in a painful, horrible sort of way. I wanted to do something that was less stressful but would still feel pretty cool. And, I confess, I have always been in awe of ultramarathoners and trail runners and wanted to be part of their group. At least once.
So, we signed up and convinced our friend Christine to sign up for the 10-miler (they offer four distances – 5-mile, 10-mile, 21-mile and the 50K). My husband Philip rolled his eyes, and we began training.
It was mostly your average marathon training, but we put our long runs back to back on the weekend — 17-milers both days, a few weekends in a row. And one really long run of 24.5 miles. Beyond that, I did what I usually do — teach spin class a few days a week, average 45-60 miles a week running and try to cram in some push-ups most days. It seems to be a plan that works for me.
The only real hiccup is that I was sick during taper and was diagnosed with walking pneumonia on Friday. My sister said, “Too bad it isn’t running pneumonia!” I can always count on her. I felt OK.
On Saturday, Christine, Chris and I drove down to Omaha. We picked up our packets at a local running store and then met Barry and his wife, Kristina, for dinner at Zio’s, which was awesome.
It was during the course of this dinner that I started to get a better understanding of this race. Barry and Kristina had driven down to the course that day — something we chose not to do — and told us that it was hilly. I had already obsessed over the maps and elevation charts and told myself it wasn’t that bad. But Barry kept talking about the paces from last year.
Is this where I admit that I thought maybe just slow people ran last year? I seriously thought that. I feel like a complete idiot now — I don’t know how many people told me how much the trail will slow you down. I was like, right, but not THAT much. Turns out, it is that much.
But I’m glad we talked about it, because I decided then to adjust all expectations, which were low to begin with, and have fun. And not care. Just try to “run within my limits,” as my friend Owen always suggests, and to walk up the hills and run down them, as my ultramarathon friend Natalie recommends.
Beyond that: Have super fun.
We went back to our hotel, and I slept OK. But when I woke up, I told Christine I couldn’t believe I had to run this race feeling as bad as I did. I felt like my chest was full of gunk and my head was heavy. A little coffee helped, and since there was no turning back, we all checked out and headed to the course.
The park is absolutely beautiful, and the race itself was super well-organized (right down to answering questions over email beforehand and sharing information as the day got closer). We waited for a while in line for the restrooms, then gave up and got to the start about 2 minutes before it was time.
Another friend was there watching, so we were able to throw our coats and other warm-up gear to her and head out.
The course is 3 loops — each about 10.75 miles long (according to my Garmin, which I wore for the first time in a race since the miles weren’t marked).
You start running across a field, and then immediately have to hike up a hill. We got stuck behind some people who were a bit slower than us, and it was a bit frustrating. The course is so single-track, it’s difficult to pass when crowded. But Chris and I tried to remain mellow and remember that a lot of these people were just doing one loop, and the course would open up to us eventually.
We passed a lot of folks where we could, and ran up most of the hills for the first maybe 7 miles. At one point Chris said, “Are we making bad decisions here?” I wasn’t sure, but it was good to remember that we were in this for the long haul.
I hope G.O.A.T.Z. will forgive me for posting these photos off their Facebook page:
Could it be any more beautiful?
Some of the course was fairly rutted, but it was all runnable. Except the hills. The worst parts were over some grassy fields, one where there were a billion walnuts everywhere. It was just kind of exhausting to slog through it. And there were a few bits on roads or paved trail, not much, and not for long, but they were a little unexpected. Going from trail to concrete feels like when you take your ice skates off and try to walk.
I felt the best when we dipped back into the woods. Who wouldn’t? Though I had to watch my steps so carefully, I felt like I couldn’t look around. There also were some spots where the sun was so much in my eyes I had to follow Chris, so I could just watch his feet because I couldn’t see. I should buy prescription sunglasses one day. I didn’t wear a baseball cap because it was cold, but I wished I had. I think it would have helped in those spots.
The first loop went off without a hitch. There were four aid stations — two with water you could fill your own bottles with (no cups provided) and two that were manned and had every manner of food — sandwiches, chicken broth, pop, candy, pickles. It was so weird. I had worn my Nathan backpack and took some gels and pretzels with me. We didn’t stop much the first loop and relied mostly on what we had.
You have to cross the finish and loop back around each time, and they call your name as you come through, so that was fun. Even though my long name always gets butchered. We kept going and began the second loop.
I will say that this loop is where I felt the worst. From about miles 15-17, I just felt overwhelmed and sort of horrified by how far this was going to be. I didn’t talk about it and it would pass. I would feel really bad for about 2 minutes, then fine. Then bad, then fine. Part of it was I would get anxious and feel like my heart was pounding. I had to mentally tell myself to simmer down.
And how can you not enjoy this?
Soon enough we were around 18 miles or so, and feeling much better. Way better than I would feel at that point during a marathon. We hit the aid stations and hung out for a while –I ate boiled potatoes, drank a few cups of Sprite, which was awesome, and ate candy corn. Yum! The volunteers were super friendly and were so happy to help.
Then things got a little funny. I don’t know why, but I got even clumsier than usual (this after I almost missed several turns on the extremely well-marked course). This part of the race taught me I can never do an overnight trail run and I can never run one alone. The crowd had really thinned out, and we spent much of the rest of the run alone or passing/being passed by the same few people.
I caught my foot on something and fell hard on my right arm. I broke that elbow a few years ago, and it didn’t feel good to land sort of straight-arm and shove it up into my shoulder. But it wasn’t bad.
Chris helped me up, and we kept going. Maybe 100 feet later, I caught my foot on something again and went FLYING — complete with a roll. Once again, helped up, dusted off, and go.
Then it happened again.
After the third face-plant in a quarter mile, we walked for a minute or two until my hands quit shaking from the surge of adrenaline. About 5 people caught us and passed us, and I was very, very grateful they didn’t see me fall like a complete idiot.
It was kind of a bummer because we had been doing really well flying down the downhills. Natalie had told me not to think too hard — just go — and I felt like that’s what I did. There were a few downhills where I seriously felt weightless and like I was out of control but OK — even though Chris described me as having “Barrel of Monkeys” flailing arms. But man, was it fun. Like a roller coaster where your legs are barely hanging onto the track. I loved it.
(In other ridiculousness: A bug bit me on the back of the leg at one point and something fell out of a tree and hit me in the face at another point.)
We came through the finish again and began loop three. I couldn’t believe I felt this good after more than 20 miles. My last few marathons, I have felt like I wanted to die at 20. But not yesterday. I felt fine.
And we both watched so we could note when we had run a marathon — and still had 6 miles to go. How weird is that?
The third loop was by far the most peaceful. Desolate, beautiful and exciting to be in this no-man’s land where my watch clicked off mile 27, 29, 30. And I felt great. Really, really great.
Happy and joyful and absolutely in love with the day and the course. And grateful for my friends — Chris is a perfect running partner. Kristina and Barry (who finished in 4:15 and did not lap us) were all over the course yelling for us. Christine was at the finish with kind words each time we came through, and texting Philip to let him know our progress.
What’s not to love?
We came through the final loop and the last stretch in the woods.
And then around the corner and across the field to the finish. Chris and I finished side-by-side and smiling and laughing and feeling amazing.
Here is my Strava from the run:
Strava paused when you stop, so this isn’t an accurate time. I couldn’t find official results today yet, but I think my time is closer to 5:55ish? That is about an hour longer than I thought it would take me, but I’m not disappointed.
I felt the best on the third loop (even though face-planting three times in a row on the second loop made me skittish to run too fast downhill the third time). And I feel like we ran really evenly. There isn’t much I would change about our race.
With walking up the hills, stopping to chat with Barry and Kristina, picking ourselves up off the ground (Chris fell once, too) and one wooded bathroom stop, I think it was just fine.
G.O.A.T.Z. puts on an excellent run. And I can’t wait to come back next year.
I’m way less sore than usual after a race — only my elbow and right IT band really hurt.
After the race, we hung out and ate chicken chili. And I ate a ton of pickles. Then we stopped at a campground to shower — that was awesome, though I did have a moment where I was wondering if I was going to pass out. It was over quickly. On the long drive home, we ordered a pizza for pick-up from a town up the highway and Chris and I ate the entire thing in the car. Plates piled with half a large pepperoni pizza on them. Yum.
When I got home, Philip told me I looked happy and refreshed — that’s not the normal look after a race. Especially one over 30 miles. But that is exactly how I felt. Thrilled. Beyond thrilled. It was a wonderful end to a weird year of racing — first the bombing at Boston (race report here) and then the DNF at Sioux Falls. It feels good to remember that this is all supposed to be pretty fun. And it is.
I could really see another 50K in my future. And maybe something beyond that.