Tuesday, June 14, 2011

PCT50 - Reflections of my first ultramarathon

by Paul

Looking back I truly do not know where I got the idea to run a 50 mile Ultra Marathon, but I got it in me I could do it. I wanted to do something to push me beyond what I’ve ever done and I do not like swimming so that knocked an Ironman off the list of things to do. My wife read BORN TO RUN, which talks about a tribe in Mexico which run 100 miles or something, I haven’t read it yet as you can tell if you’ve read it. But I think that is the story that you as a human could run a hundred miles. So I put it in my head after I completed the Carlsbad Marathon I would chase down a Ultra Marathon.

I gave myself a couple days after the Carlsbad to rest then I got right into training. I had signed up for the PCT 50 mile run here in San Diego in the mountains of the Cleveland National Forest. I had heard of it from a man at the Bumble Bee 5K in December of 2010. So I started training for it after the Carlsbad with no idea of what I was doing or getting myself into at the beginning. I was telling people I was going to do this - and one time someone handed me a book from Dean Karnazes named “Ultramarathon Man”. After reading that I decided to up my miles from 40-50 miles a week to 75-113 miles a week, reading the book gave me the confidence that we as humans could run more then we were being told we could.

It was an weird experience to start going out and running 3-6 hours at a time almost every day. I never thought I could run this much without dying or falling apart. I went out and tested myself a few times with runs over 30 miles just to get over the 26.2 mile wall we mentally put up as the standard of endurance for most of us. I survived all of the training and was getting anxious for the real race. By the last two weeks before the race I was so wanting for it to be here so I could just start and see how I would do. There were so many challenges along the way during training that I was ready to just do the race already.

SO race day came - May 14, 2011! Surprisingly I was excited for it to be here, unlike most of my races where I am filled with lots of stress. I really wanted to be out there in the wild chasing this goal I set out for myself so many months before. This race has a 7500 ft elevation change throughout the race you start at 3000ft and run up to 6000ft with many up and downs along the way. I don’t think I could have prepared for that unless I had run it before. I did go on a training run up on the Pacific Crest Trail in April just so I could scope out the terrain a bit, that helped to see some of the trail.

At 6am 138 people started running on the single track PCT heading up a steady climb for the first 14 miles. For a lot of the race we would be at or near 6000ft elevation and I could feel my heart pounding during this time trying to get oxygen to every part of my body.
The first 6.4 miles you start at Boulder Oaks Campground and head up to Fred's Canyon Rd, where your first Aid Station is. I was feeling pretty good and my time was spot on with what I wanted, I yelled in my number filled up my bottles of water, ate half a PnJ sandwich and headed out yelling my number out.
The next 7.3 miles were a grueling climb up to Dales Kitchen Aid Station in the middle of these pine trees. I was feeling it by the time I got to Dales a bit but still felt good. I ate part of a PnJ sand again added some pretzels and filled up the bottles again headed out.
Next was a 3.8 mile mostly flat trek up to Todd’s Cabin Aid Station, which had a little trail heading down to the cabin (which stunk going back up to get to the PCT again). I refueled again with the usual PnJ, pretzels, 1 salt tab. This was also the first place your crew member or family could see you and help you. My wife and kids were crewing for me and cheering for me. It was so nice to see them for the minute I stayed at Todd’s cabin, but it was worth it.

This run was different then a regular marathon - you didn’t have people along the path to cheer you on. This was you against the mountain and trail.
Next was a 5.2 mile run to Penny Pines Aid Station where your crew member and family could see you and help you if needed. First time through here I just refueled and kissed my family while eating. I was feeling pretty tired at this point and feeling the elevation in my chest beat down on me. Oh the bugs were awful going through that part also I was looking forward to putting bug spray on next time through Penny Pines.

My wife and I planned to reapply sunscreen/bugspray second time through Penny which would be around 27.3 miles a little over half way. From Penny Pines you had a 2.3 mile run out to the halfway mark, drop a card off that some one gave you at Penny Pines, and head back to Penny Pines. During all of this I was watching my time and was on schedule for my ultimate goal for the Ultra (around 11 hours). At the aid stations, I was not paying much attention to things other then eating food and grabbing water. But as I found out later I needed to focus on a few other things also.

As I was running I would meet up with other runners and we'd have to try to go around each other on this single track trail which turned out to be pretty difficult at times. Every time you went by some one that was all the encouragement you got other then at the Aid Stations. Every one passing said some kind of words of encouragement and that made you feel good. Most of these people had raced a Ultra or did something equivalent like a Ironman. For me this was my first experience and it was starting to show on the way back to Penny Pines.
I was feeling every bit of exhaustion and the elevation and it was dragging on my legs. My feet were killing me (I was wearing New Balance MT 101′s) I will never wear those shoes again for this race or any trail race lasting longer then 10 miles. I learned this trail was mostly rocks (loose and hard rocks sticking out of the ground) and I had tripped about 15 times, not falling but crushing my toes and stumbling along. On parts of this trail you do not want to stumble because there is a nice sheer cliff on one side.
Coming back into Penny Pines the second time, I was happy to see my family and get wiped down and reapply Sunscreen/bugspray (2n1 spray bottle). People were getting stung along the trail from different bugs and bees, those pesky things were swarming me at times scaring the crap out of me.:)

My wife had started cleaning me off with a wet rag and I was standing there thinking I hope I can make it through this, she was saying all kinds of beautiful things to keep me going - so were the kids and it felt awesome to have them there cheering me on and helping me. I was battling inside to stay on track to my time goal but I forgot about the ultimate goal of finishing, and I was not paying attention to one of the key factors of running an UltraMarathon which is to hydrate and take salt tabs. I was drinking water and HEED and other products but I had only taken 2 salt tabs since the beginning and it was starting to set in on my body.
After leaving Penny Pines I hit a wall and was suffering big time in the elevation and the first signs of dehydration which then turned my mind against me. I was coming apart mentally and physically - and, well let's just say it was getting unbearable in the feet department. I could feel every rock or hard surface bruising my feet as each step I took.
When I got to Todd’s Cabin the second time around I was beat - my feet hurt, my thighs burned, and I was feeling the elevation more with each step. The soreness everywhere was not bad except for the feet at this point - those shoes were a bad choice at this point. At Todd’s this was the last time I would see the family for 17 more miles. They were cheering me on and giving me all the love they could and at this point I tried to enjoy it because I had a lonely road ahead. I ate and refueled and headed back out slowly.

Along the way to Dale's Kitchen I got my second wind and started going after it again faster for about 4 miles. I was really feeling great again, I thought I could get this in the dream time I wanted. When I pulled into Dale’s it wasn’t all that bad I ate some more and got some more water. I headed back out for the last 13 miles.
About 10 miles out, the first bouts of stomach issues started hitting me where I couldn’t move with out feeling like I had to go to the bathroom. I had to take a break in the woods or more like the bushes. Finding a place where you could have some privacy was a very difficult thing to do out on this trail. I started also to get light headed and nauseated. I couldn’t run any longer without upsetting my stomach so I had to walk which deflated me to no end. I couldn’t take a step without excruciating pain on my feet from the poor choice of shoes. SO then the battle started - the real battle to keep one foot in front of the other without quitting.
I didn’t realize I was dehydrated, I thought I had ate too much or ate something wrong because the bouts of diarrhea and stomach cramps. I didn’t realize until later that I hadn’t peed for over 3 hours. It wasn’t until the end that I realized I was dehydrated. See I had never experienced a huge race like this - AND I'd never experienced dehydration this badly. I should have been salting every stop or took some with me. The marathons I had done didn’t prepare me for this long of a run.
When I got to Fred’s Canyon road for the last time there was 6 miles left to go and I was not feeling well. I came into the Aid Station feeling sick and not wanting to eat or do anything. One of the Volunteers asked if I wanted to have ice water dumped on my neck and I quickly said yes - he continued to pour water over me three times. That had woke me up enough to get a bit of a jolt in me. I also took a little Sprite to settle my stomach - thinking my stomach was upset because of food not because of the dehydration. The EMT’s were visiting with runners who were dropping out of the race and it kind of scared me, so I left as quickly as I could - thinking only six miles left.
This is where the race was going to change me for the rest of my life, the things I mentally had to go through were some of the toughest things I had to do in my life. People were passing me that I was at least a hour ahead of and that was knocking my spirit down even more. I had this battle going on inside of me - I can’t put into words without welling up with tears remembering it all. I had this constant voice trying to stop me trying to persuade me from going any further - at the same time I had this other voice fighting to keep me upright. My feet were killing, my spirit failing me (from all the others passing me and just the thought that I was failing at what I wanted to do). But something inside of me - some strength I didn’t know I had until this race - kept those feet going - kept me from stopping and sitting.
I had put so much into this race - the 5 months of training - the hours of running - the sacrifice my family made for me to chase this goal. I couldn’t let them down and most of all I couldn’t let myself down. I still had a belief in me (which in my past I did not have) - somewhere along the way I found the love and belief in myself to conquer everything that is thrown at me - and I was getting everything thrown at me this race. Every part of me was fighting to stop but this voice or spirit or whatever you want to call it kept me going.
I finished in 12 hours and 4 minutes.

This is me finishing looking all but dead. Totally bloated, lightheaded, nauseated and a nice bout of diarrhea. Well if that is too much information than you probably have never ran one of these races. :)

I was doing this race not for the fanfare at the end or any other reason other than to push myself - to see if I could do something most people don’t even think or know about. After coming to the finish line I was so sick, but I felt such pride and strength flow through me. I sat down in the EMT’s tent and they salted me watered me and gave me sugars and in about 20 minutes I felt a lot better. It’s amazing what dehydration can do to you and you not even realize it.

I come away from this race so much stronger and with a confidence I never had about myself. I can’t explain it but some thing about the battle on that trail changed me forever and for the better. I only started running for distance 4 years ago as a 300 pound man looking to change his life - for his family but most of all for this depressed overweight man who was totally unhappy with his life.
I come away from this battle, this race, the strongest person I’ve ever been. I’m still 225 pounds and now I’m going to chase that 200 pound mark and I believe I can do it. This race will always stick in my mind as the life-changing event I needed to help change my mind and body forever.

If you ever decide on doing an UltraMarathon make sure you read up on it. Spend time in the Aid Stations, hydrate and salt tab yourself more often than I did. If you’re not doing it to get into the top 5 finishers then take care of yourself as you go. Tests like this will change the way you see yourself, believe me it changed me forever and now next year I want to get better shoes, take care of myself better along the race and kick it’s butt all over the place.
 After more contemplation, I have fallen in love with this sport and the people in it.

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