The Croom 50M/50K/15K Fools Run took place March 22nd 2008 in the very nice Withlacoochee State Forest, near Brooksville Florida. This was my first ultra-marathon, so I was a little nervous the few days leading up to it. This was odd because I don't tend to get nervous about anything; I had some crazy dreams about the race, like finishing it and not remembering that I had ran it. Some random stuff.
The weather the week before changed each day, going from 80 with no clouds to thunderstorms the entire day. Thankfully, we ended up in the middle of the varying reports, with the temperature in the 70's and partly cloudy skies. It sprinkled just a bit in the morning and opened up pretty well after I finished the race, so some folks got rained on pretty good.
The morning of the race, my alarm went off at 4:15. The 50-milers were starting at 6am, everyone else was starting at 7am. I think I brought almost everything running-related I own to the start. I had two pairs of shoes, four pairs of socks, four shirts, two pairs of shorts, extra batteries for my headlamp, a gallon of water, several bottles of powerade, and enough food to sustain a small community for a week. I think I overpacked, whatever.
About 50 folks started the 50-miler. Around 6am the race director gave us our final instructions which included, not really to my surprise, that we'd have to do a 4.5 mile "warm-up" run before starting the big loops in order to hit the 50 mile mark at the end of the race. I kind of figured something like this would happen, since the math on the loops didn't add up to 50 miles.
I started out in the front quarter of the pack, not really where I wanted to be, but it was where my 10-minute mile pace put me. We ran the first mile down a pretty wide road before turning off into the woods. Nobody passed me, and I was running comfortably, so I wasn't too worried. My plan, at this point, was to maintain that 10-minute mile pace for as long as I could.
We turned off into the forest on a fire road that had some very odd footing. It was a very very fine sand. I was not a fan. My feet were slipping everytime I'd take a step. I did not expect this at all. The fire road was still fairly wide, about a car width, at this point. We got to our first hill, or, as best I could tell it was a hill, and I took my first walking break. I planned to walk all the hills I could, and take walking breaks every 20 minutes if I hadn't walked up a hill recently. It was at this point that I realized how much of a pain in the ass it is to figure out if you're on a hill in the dark. This isn't something I had realized before.
After a short time on the fire road we turned off into the forest. And the fun started. The trail was marked well, for daylight running. Ok, I'm being mean, it wasn't that bad, but it wasn't great. Add to that, for whatever reason, a lot of runners were not running with headlamps...wtf? It's like 6:20 in the morning and these folks don't have lights. Hmm. I ran by two people who were literally running four feet to the right or left of the actual trail because they couldn't tell where they were. I also picked up a guy who didn't have a light, he asked if I cared if he ran behind me since my headlamp, apparently, is badass. After a few more minutes I get a second person behind me. Interesting. All told, I brought three people out of those woods who probably would still be mulling around had it not been for my generosity.
The first loop, after the warm-up run was pretty uneventful. I maintained my 10-minute per mile pace fairly well, and ran hills when I came to them. This wasn't a particularly hilly course. My Garmin registered just over 10,600 feet of ascent for the entire race. The first 15k'ers passed me towards the end of that first loop. I have to say, even though I know they're running 1/3 the distance, it's a bit discouraging to have someone blow by you at 7 or 8 minutes per mile in a long race like this one. Whatever. I went to the car at the start and changed shirts, got some food, re-filled my water bottle, and...well, that's all I did I think.
I do want to mention the first aid station. It was quite a nice surprise. There was an odd part of the course that we ran through - it was like a dirt canyon. It didn't fit the rest of the course at all, which is fine. Once we climbed out of it we ran into a fairly open space with these absolutely beautiful trees covered with moss. If you can remember Forrest running away from those kids on bikes, remember the trees he was running past, I swear it was exactly the same. It was great. I looked forward to that part of the race each lap.
The second loop is where it got bad for me. I wasn't physically hurting yet. My pace had dropped a bit to between 10 and 11 minutes per mile, but I felt ok. The closer I got to the 25 mile mark on my Garmin the slower time seemed to go. I think the first and last twenty miles took about as much time as that ten miles between 20 and 30 miles. Once I hit the halfway point I thought I'd perk up a bit, mentally, but I really didn't. It was pretty anti-climatic. After hitting 26.2 miles I spent a lot of time telling myself "the next step you take will be the furthest you've ever run in your life".
This went on for the rest of the second loop. I went through the debate of "just drop down to the 50k level, that's still an ultra", etc, etc. It was also during the second loop that my right ankle started hurting me, and, after a pee break, I started chafing in the one area I really can't stand chafing. Ouch. I did a lot of walking at the end of that second loop and when I ran I was only doing 12 minute miles. I wasn't really sure how I'd finish.
Once I got back to the start, at the end of the second lap, I headed back to the car to grab some food, eat some more, and change shoes. I did loosen my shoes a bit during the second lap to help with the ankle, but I don't think the pain was a function of tightness in that area. I don't know why, but even though I had spent the last few hours thinking about how much I didn't want to run for three or four more hours I didn't even think about it at the car. I just kind of did my thing and before I knew it I was back on the trail.
The third loop started out with a lot of walking. I was cramped up pretty good and my ankle was absolutely killing me. After about ten minutes of thinking about how sorry of an individual I was I managed to get myself into some kind of shuffle-run that kept me at a 11:30ish pace. I hit some hills but was afraid to start walking because I didn't want to have to stop or start running again.
I got to the first aid station and was closely followed by an entourage of five runners who were talking, laughing, and having a generally great time. We mulled around there for a bit and I discovered that it was four people pacing for one of their friends, Charlie. I didn't expect them to, but they asked me if I wanted to tag along. I've never ran with a group like that, but I figured it couldn't hurt. My pace had slowed considerably and I was walking way more than I wanted to, mainly because of my ankle. I honestly didn't think I'd keep up with them.
Their strategy was great. Walk anything water would run down, run the flats and descents. They ran a bit faster than I planned to, and I was able to keep up, which really surprised me considering that my gait at that point felt like I wasn't moving my ankle at all. They were a hilarious bunch which made the time pass much more quickly than my thoughts and ipod would.
I didn't expect to stay with them, as I felt kind of rude, but we got to the second aid station together and left together. This was probably the worst my ankle felt. I really expected to have to walk from that point on. But, they started running, and I started running, and I kept running, somehow.
By the time we hit the third aid station we figured out we could finish the race in under 10 hours. This was a big surprise to me. Even at our walking/running pace, we had plenty of time to spare.
So, that's how I finished, 9:49:44 by my watch. I don't have the official time yet. I know I wouldn't have been close to that if it wasn't for the group I joined up with on that third lap. They were amazing. If I learned anything from my first ultra it's that supporting each other is probably as important as the training that goes into the race.
I did ok post-race. I downed two Quizno's subs, some chips, and peed out about a gallon of water. I don't know if I was too salty during the run and therefore retained water or what. I'll have to work on that. My ankle swelled up, even with ice applied, about an hour after the end of the race. For about an hour after that I couldn't move my toes or find my pulse in my foot, so that got me a little scared. But, my toes weren't purple, so, I figured I was gonna be ok.
Now that it's the day after my ankle is still swollen, but not nearly as bad. I can walk on it, but I limp a bit. I do have general muscle soreness pretty much all over but nothing bad. It's nothing worse than soreness I've felt at times after a good weight workout. I figure that's a sign of decent training or I didn't run hard enough, not sure which. :)