The mild winter provided decent opportunity to train throughout and I felt I had put in enough trail mileage to move my registration from the marathon to the 50k.
I had done two twenty mile trail runs, one of which was a reconnaissance run in Harriman State Park (in preparation for the North Face Endurance Challenge) and the second was just last weekend 20 miles in the Buffer. After those two runs I was feeling confident, knowing the NJ Ultra Festival was going to be on a reasonably flat route.
But as the event got closer my nerves started firing with greater and greater intensity. All the thoughts of unworthiness began to circulate through my head. I realized that I had done two twenty mile runs which is fine for a marathon prep, but a 50k was another 5 miles beyond the marathon distance. I was feeling the anxiety that I can only suspect I had gone through prior to my first marathon back in 1999. I was definitely going to be running into the unknown.
Race day finally rolled around and I left my house for The Sussex County Fairgrounds at about 5:30 AM, even then I was feeling the effect of my anxiety as I had a mild nausea as I drove to NJ.
I ran back to the car, dropped off the unnecessary gear and headed back to the chat. I was careful not to pass through the building, since the clock for "the day" had already started and that's where the timing mats were.
|Back of the 50k start|
Since the course is a 10 mile loop and a 50k is 31 miles we were instructed to do an additional one mile before we entered the 10 mile trail loop. The loop consisted of some extra road mileage in the fairgrounds before heading onto the trail.
|Onto the trail|
We turned around and headed back to the intersection taking a hard right onto the trail we would become very familiar with today.
It wasn't long before there were runners from earlier starts heading towards us as we proceeded down to a fence that was our turn-around. We were instructed to touch the fence and double back.
We were a fairly tight knit group and after the first turnaround we doubled our way back and crossed Northrop Road where we originally entered the trail.
We passed through the Northrop Road water stop (that was run from out of the back of an ATV) and continued on the longer northern section of the route.
|Railroad bridge crossing|
There were several "mushy" portions that required some navigational skills. In most cases runners stayed to the right unless the preferred path was to the left and there was nobody approaching from the other direction.
On the first loop, at about the five mile mark, I took a nose-dive at the first really mushy portion. My face hit the wet turf. The young woman behind me asked if I was OK. I responded that I was fine and that I suspected there was no better place on the course to fall considering how extremely soft the landing was.
We continued along and a bit further and found ourselves crossing the first of several old rail bridge crossings.
The race director had placed strips of plywood for us to cross these somewhat precarious crossings.
The first time through it was a bit of a wait as we were all still a pretty close together and the delay was an instant re-set.
We passed through the water crossing and several more bridges all of similar condition to eventually reach the far aid station/turn-around.
|Sussex County Fair Grounds|
The Big Blue Building was the Holly Grail of the weekend. It was the official timing checkpoint and the marker for the completion of a 10 mile loop. My time for the 1st loop was 1:46:30
The course went through the building (where the timing mats were) and out past the main aid station and back out along the fairgrounds roads.
|The Big Blue Building|
Rounding out of the Fairgrounds for the second time the temperatures were considerably warmer than it was for the first loop.
I attempted to calm myself down and run more conservatively. I found it difficult to run at my own pace with runners of so many abilities.
Soon enough the excitement abated and fatigue took over as the main driver of my pace. The soft path seemed to be absorbing significant effort and I watched my footing so as not to roll an ankle in the soft double track.
I had been experiencing minor shoulder tightness from what I attributed to carrying a hand-held water bottle. So as we approached the blue building for the second time I swung by my car and quickly swapped out the hand-held for a hydration belt that I was fortunate enough to have brought along.
I passed through the blue building for the second time (at 21 miles) knowing everything from here on would be for the last time today. My time for the 2nd loop was 1:57:53
|My final loop|
I made my way back and headed down the southern portion of the trail for the last time today. I'd swear some the grasses along the wetlands were greener now than they were on our first pass through.
I shuffled along determine to touch the fence of the "out and back" as my feet began to moan for relief.
I shared the course with runners of all the ultra disciplines. I wasn't entirely sure if runners were doing the marathon or the 50k or if they were running into the night by doing 50 or 100 miles.
Amazingly the packs had thinned out to relative solitude allowing me to move at the pace I was comfortable with.
The final aid station and last turn around was at the 26 mile mark. All I had to do to complete my first 50k was to get back to the Big Blue Building, just 5 miles away.
But those 5 miles were the unknown. I had never run more than a marathon distance and I was about to find out what was beyond 26.2.
|Home stretch across the fairgrounds|
My feet and back were screaming but when my GPS chirped at miles 27 and 28 I knew I was going to finish and the pain seemed to fade.
I emerged from the trail onto Northrop for the very last time today. One last loop of the fairgrounds and I would be home.
The loop across the grass is deceptively long, you can see the finish and yet you are not taking the shortest route to get there.
|NJ Ultra Festival Medal and SWAG|
I wound my way through the fairgrounds and onto the final stretch of pavement leading to the finish line. My final lap time was 2:17:53
I finished my first 50k in 6:02:16 (and outlasted my Garmin's battery).
At the finish the race director, Rick McNulty, told me my time shook my hand and congratulated me. He gave me my finishers medal and a awesome fleece jacket with the NJ Ultra Festival logo embroidered on the front.
I hobbled back to the warmth of my car realizing just how much my feet were aching.
I learned a lot at the NJ Ultra Festival and it's evident to me that there's so much much more to be learned when going beyond 26.2.
I now have mad respect for the Ultra Running Community, you guys are super Bad-Ass!
Thanks to Rick and Jennifer McNulty, the NJ Trail Series volunteers and the ultra community as a whole for putting on events like this and being such a wonderfully welcoming and supportive group. I intend to return for more.
|The Elevation Profile|