For as long as I can remember, I've always wanted to be a versatile runner. In my mind, the mark of a great runner was someone who was as equally proficient in short distance races as he or she is in the long ones. (Think Haile and Kara, who both excelled on the track before becoming world class marathoners). Indeed, one of the crowning achievements of the past year for me was getting PRs in the shortest of road races (5K, 4M) as well as in the longest, the marathon, in the same calendar year. To see some measure of success in both arenas in 2010 was thrilling and motivating and gave me hope that with some degree of dedication, passion, hard work, and luck, I may achieve even better results in the short and long distances in 2011.
Then December came, and with it, some rest and recovery, and slower long runs with friends and family and a laid-back trailish 10K on Christmas morning until suddenly I woke up one day a couple of weeks ago and found myself registering for a 50K...on trails no less! I'm not exactly sure why I decided to register for my first ultra that day. Maybe I was desperate for adventure. Maybe I was getting bored with base building and maintenance running. Maybe I just wanted to prove something to myself in a way that even a sub-3 marathon can't. Whatever the reason, I am scheduled to run the longest race of my life in the 50K version of the New Jersey Ultra Festival in mid-March. Holy crap, did I just admit to myself that I am crossing beyond the 26.2 threshold in hopes of becoming an ultramarathoner?
To many, what I call a "baby ultra" is nothing more than five miles beyond 26.2. To me though, it's a huge mental challenge as well as a physical one just to learn how to train properly for one of these. From what little I know so far, drawn from the knowledge and experience of those who've done a plethora of these and longer, I can already say that preparing for an ultra will be nothing like preparing for a marathon. For example,
In marathons, we eat gels and shot blocks.
In ultras, they eat chicken soup and PB&J sandwiches.
In marathons, we run on pavement and roads with thousands.
In ultras, they run on trails, mostly alone and cross rivers/streams.
In marathons, we run according to pace & measure training in miles.
In ultras, there is no set pace and training is measured in hours.
As you can see, I've got a lot to learn and practice in the next two months if I want to do well in this race. Biggest problem for me will be finding some longer distance trails to practice on. I see a lot of visits to the Central Park Bridle Path and Van Cortlandt Trails in my future!
I find it funny that a friend/teammate of mine thought I would be in danger of underestimating the distance when I first mentioned this race on a facebook post. In actuality, I'm been freaked out and scared and stressed beyond belief for the past week about this March trail run. I was so preoccupied with my race prep that I even had a vivid dream about it in my sleep a few nights back. In it, I was taking a PB&J break at an aid station during the race when Scott Jurek comes flying by from out of nowhere, whispers in my ear that "50Ks are A LOT of Ks" and takes off again. With the help of several friends, I was able to decipher the hidden dream message: Ditch the PB&J and go with Special K for the race!
Finally, I want to leave you all with this excerpt of a typical conversation between an ultramarathoner and his wife. Let's just say I'm glad I'm not married as I train for this 50K =)
Are you an ultramarathoner? If so, what are your secrets? Any good tips to share with a newbie like me? If not, why not? Has it enter piqued your interest? Is it a no for life or no just for now? As always, thanks in advance for all your tips, advice and suggestions.