Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Rockledge Rumble 50k

Getting ready to go. One last smile!
Where to start, where to start?????

I guess the best place to start is...
This would be my first Ultramarathon. This would be my longest run ever.
Graham making sure I had all my stuff ready.
I started running at the end of April this year. Had to stop for 6 weeks with a foot injury (from stupidity). I had to start all over again, from close to scratch, in September. So a little over 2 months of training, going from 0 miles to a 50 k, seems fairly reasonable....

My training consisted of getting as many miles in as safely possible. My longest run, prior to the race, was just over 20 miles on the same trails that the race would be held on. The goal from the beginning of the race was to finish, period. I was looking forward to testing my limits physically and mentally. I have read countless horror stories of "the wall", smacking people dead in their tracks at mile 20 or so of a marathon. Quitting, I told myself, was not going to be an option for me. Hopefully, I would survive.

Exactly one week before the race, it felt like I got punched in the chest. "Reality" was starting to sink in. What in the world was I thinking! This kind of distance, based on my training, was NUTS! The rest of the week was full of semi panic, worry, anticipation and uncertainty. Funny, the closer it actually came to race day, the calmer I became. I was almost worried.

You see, I tend to think I can do more than I actually can. This trait has been with me from the beginning. I would see a professional surfer on TV..."I can do that". My mom, as kindly as she could, would say "No you can't". Before you start thinking bad thoughts about my discouraging mother, let me paint a better picture of who she was talking to, this "I can do that" person was a 7 year old extremely chubby kid. Whose athletic ability consisted of...
-getting winded putting on rollerblades
-making 1 goal in basketball, during 4 years
-voting for "freeze" tag at school, because it involved less running
I somehow got the impression that my fantastic ability to play sport games on my Nintendo through the dexterity of my thumbs somehow carried over into the real world. I was very full of ambition, unfortunately I was also very "full of IT".

My wife/photographer/support crew/motivation...and love of my life!

Lizzi and myself pre-race.

Over the years I have learned to keep "7 year old chubby and overly ambitious Tyler" in check. My ambition is still there, but it is strongly coupled with optimism, reality and my physical ability. I started to make my game plan for the race. I evaluated  previous runs I had done on the trails and started making time estimates. I knew I had the ability to finish, but even with my conservative time estimates, this was going to be a huge task for me. I wanted to keep the possible problems that could occur to a minimum. I started calculating all the gels, electrolytes and water I would need to have to keep my body going. I made a time and mileage sheet, based off of the aid stations, to help me track my progress over the day. My estimated time for finish...just under 7 hours. I would find out, about 5 miles into the race, that I had taken into account aid station stops but not my walk breaks. I also made myself a few notes about when to stop, what I would need and how I should run the race. Knowing that several hours into the race, I might not be thinking too clearly.

Time sheet. Estimated time to finish 6h58m.

Back of time sheet. The game plan.

So now to race day.

My wife and 2 kids where going to be apart of this special occasion and I was very excited. We all got up at the crack of dawn and started the journey. When we arrived at Jackson Pavilion, sunrise and excitement were stirring. The packet pickup process went flawlessly, it is so nice when this occurs! There was a fantastic "opening ceremony" of sorts honoring the veterans that have served our country. After this, the 50k race would start. I knew trail races had casual and very informal starts, but while standing in a crowd with a few friends, the word "GO" sounded and that was it. I'm kinda glad it happened this way. Standing around for several minutes and waiting would have allowed me time to think about what I was about to do. It was too late now, I was running!
Right before the start with some last minute advice from Rick.

Against my better judgement, or maybe not, I started the race running the pace of friends Steve and Jay. The pace was a little faster than I had planned, but nice and comfortable. It finally dawned on me around mile 2, "Hey moron, you have 29-30 more miles to go! If you keep going like this too early, you will be screwed!". The company and conversation was very enticing, what to do? Fortunately, my friend Jay announced he needed to walk some, and thus my exit from this pace had arrived. Another half mile down the trail and I wished Steve all the best and decided to implement my game plan now.

My kids coming to check on their Dad!

My game plan consisted of taking walk breaks early in the race, a 45 second walk break every 0.5-1 mile. The first 10 miles would be getting into the groove. I would start to pick up the pace some for the 2nd 10 miles. The last 10+ miles, depending on how I was feeling, would be "go for broke" mode. I would also consume 1 gel every 30 minutes and take 2 Hammer Endurolyte pills every hour for 20 miles. I would up the gels to 1 every 20 minutes for the last 10+ miles, assuming that my body would have completely exhausted whatever resources I had in me. I wore my Nathan Endurance Hydration pack. It held 70oz of water and had several pockets to hold my plethora of goodies. For shoes, I decided to wear my New Balance MT101's along with Injinji toe socks . I also wore my Zensah compression calf sleeves, I figured they would be needing a nice 'snug hug' at some point during the run. Finally, I had my Garmin 405 CX GPS watch and heart rate monitor. It felt like I was supplied and stocked up well beyond what I needed, but better safe than sorry for the first ultra. This would be a learning experience, and hopefully it would get me to the end in one piece.

Graham doing his best impression of me running. Much better than me of course!

Jordyn and Graham encouraging me.
After the separation from my starting trio, a fun little "cat and mouse" game occurred between myself and Jay. Our breaks were timed differently, he would catch up to me, then I to him. This lasted until about 12 or 13 miles into the race, when I passed him for good. Should I be taking this as a confidence boost, absolutely NOT! Jay had recently taken a nasty spill on the trails and had several cracked ribs. And he still showed up to race!!! Passing him at this point kinda had me worried, if I can't run better than a guy with cracked ribs, I might not be doing that well!

Since my hydration pack held 70oz of water, I was able to skip several of the aid stations. Thinking this would save me time, in actuality it may not have. The pack is fantastic when time is not of the essence, I have gotten the process down where I can refill the water fairly the right circumstances. On my first refill stop, a volunteer offered to refill it for me. Being in a 'running zone stupor', I said OK. It ended up taking several minutes because if you don't open and close the bladder just right, it doesn't work. I ended up thanking the very kind volunteer, but doing it myself.

Off I go, around 20+ miles.

Having my family at the race, we strategized a way so they could see me in action. The best place we figured was somewhat in between where the start/finish was and the trailhead. I carried my phone on me and gave her a 5-10 minute heads up via text message. It was an awesome feeling to come around the corner and see my wife, 2 kids and a dear friend Lizzy cheering me on! My spirits were already good, but this took them to another level. In a moment of confusion, I almost stopped to talk to everyone. Then I remembered that I was in a long race, the more I stopped the greater the chance of my muscles getting tight on me. So I continued on, back to the starting spot and the "stairs".

I had been told about the stairs. I even checked them out pre-race. But they look different 20 miles into the race. I figured this was not the time to be the hero, walk up them. I then proceeded over to my drop bag to refill water and gels. This process went vary smoothly, partially because I had written down exactly what I needed to do on my race "cheat sheet". I saw another trail running friend Robin while refilling my goodies and was able to chit-chat briefly while taking care of my necessities. Back to the trail, back for more fun.

The "stairs". The picture speaks for itself.

On the way back out to the trailhead, I ran past my family and friend again. This time my kids came out to run with Dad. This was the highlight of the whole race for me! They ran up and down a grassy hill with me, it was an amazing experience. After the family "high" was over, it was back to business. It was time to assess my gas tank for the 3rd leg of my journey. Surprisingly, my energy levels where very high. My legs were in some pain and my feet and I were not on speaking terms.

The best association I can use to describe what was going on with my body is this...
Remember back to being a child. You are in some public place with your parents. You do something wrong and your parents witness it, yet they are not in the position to adequately convey their anger at what you just did. They give you the look. The look that sends chills down your spine. The look that says "I know what you did and you are not going to like what happens when we get back to the car". My mind was the child, doing something I know was wrong. My legs were the parent, scornfully looking upwards. Every rock I stepped on, every hill I climbed and every downhill I took fast... the message was sent from my legs and feet to my head...just you wait, you are not going to like what I have to say when you get back to the car. But just like a child, I smiled right back at my lower half anyways, enjoying my last remaining moments until I had to deal with the consequences of my actions.

Thumbs up, everything is great.
This was my "go for broke" time. I had this written down on my cheat sheet. But being the overly ambitious guy that I already spoke about, I wasn't 100% sure this would even be an option. Well here I was, just recently surpassing my longest run ever and I COULD pick up the pace. It was a good feeling. I started taking my breaks less frequently. I started implementing my 1 gel every 20 minutes. At this point I am thinking, if I have to eat tree bark to keep this up, I will. I made a specific effort to look at my Garmin GPS watch to see the number 26.2 officially click. It's amazing I didn't trip and fall trying to do this. I must have looked at my watch 50 times from mile 26.11 until the 26.2 happened. I took a second to reflect that I had officially run my first marathon distance. That was neat and all, but I still had at least 5 more miles to go.

About half way to the final turnaround, I started to realize that I might be able to crack 6hr30min. These are just numbers, it's nowhere near the prestigious 24hr/100mile number, but it was something. Remember I was thinking a 7 hour finish was the most likely scenario, but again, I had not factored in my walk breaks. A 6:30 was my absolute best case scenario. I spent a few minutes wondering if I might be getting delirious. How did this happen? Was I off in my calculations? I knew I was ahead of my planned schedule, but only by about 10 minutes. And here I am, it is really within my grasp.

I was able to pass about 15 people on this final loop. Not just an "excuse me" while I inch just slightly ahead of you. This was a "watch out, I am about to run you over!" type of excuse me. I would pass someone, run for 10-15 seconds, check the rear view mirror....out of sight. Now THIS was grounds for confidence boosting. All that was left after a super quick aid station stop, was another heads up text message in about 30 minutes to my wife to be expecting me at the finish.

When I reached the very last section of trail, which runs along the shore of Lake Grapevine, I was met with gusts of winds that had me feeling like I was running backwards. I could finally start to see where the trail met the road, signaling the last half mile. While my mind was focusing on staying strong to the finish, something occurred. The fact that I had almost ACTUALLY completed this race hit me. I'm not an emotional guy by any means, but I won't lie. I had a few tears of joy. Not really sure why, I knew I could do this. But I think my "ambitious Tyler" and my "realistic Tyler" had a pretty good stalemate on me, each "Tyler" yielding just enough space to not let me fully grasp what I was getting into. I relished the moment, but "my parent/child leg battle" reminded me that I needed to focus on the task at hand.

Off the trail and onto the road. I took a brief walk break near the restrooms to catch my breath and get ready for the true "go for broke" moment. I was going to give 100% of what I had left. I began to pick up the pace even more and after running 30+ miles, this would be the equivalent of a sprint. I had decided that I would attack the "stairs" in full force. As the stairs came into my view, I saw my wife and 2 kids....and an older man standing VERY close to my wife, TOO close! I am instantly confused. I am gone for 6 hours, running my heart out and this is what I come back to find!! Just a little bit further and my confusion/semi-suspicion turns into honor and pride. It was my wife's Dad! He had called her literally 30 minutes earlier just to see how she was doing. My wife told him what was going on, then a few minutes later he was there! He was in the area and the timing could not have been better.

Graham, Jordyn and my wife's Dad Raymond seeing me finish my first ultra.

The final push, hitting it hard.

So the thought that is going through my head...."attack the stairs hard!". Then "realistic Tyler" speaks up..."What if your legs cramp up and you fall flat on your face? Everyone is watching you, you will look like an ass!" Well, so be it. I will give everyone a good laugh if need be. The last bit of adrenaline, that was hidden somewhere in a love handle possibly for a rainy day, surged through my body. I was able to fly up the stairs, just like I hoped and deep down inside knew I could. THE FINISH!!!! It is over!!! I am greeted by the race director with a handshake, a finishers medallion and a special beer made just for this race. Talk about the icing on the cake!

A happy finisher!

I stopped my watch, glanced at the time...... 6h20m46s.... WOW! This information is still processing in my head today. A 7hr realistic goal. 6h30m best case scenario. 6h20m actual. It's not just the fact that I beat my best case scenario, it's the fact that I ran for over 6 hours! I remember vividly talking with an old friend from high school who had just run the Big D marathon. I said that I had no desire whatsoever to run that far and especially that long. This was about 6 months ago and here I am doing further and longer. Don't ever say you won't do something, keep the possibilities open.

My legs did eventually forgive me for the pain I caused them, they understood. This whole experience has been so amazing. I would say that I can't put it into words, but apparently there are several words/sentences/paragraphs above that would say otherwise. I am already plotting and planning my next adventure to come.

The time finally came to answer to my legs. Well worth it.


  1. Congratulations, Tyler. Very well executed effort. Mine was the voice heard announcing you at the finish... rest assured, you had one of the better efforts on the stairs all day long!

    See you on the trails,
    Lynn B

  2. Congratulations! Great story...

  3. Watery eyes...watery eyes...really! What an accomplishment! I love to "hear" what goes inside your the details (your little cheat sheets with "replenishing" guide)! I can truly say that I understand the "lure" now and as I follow in your footsteps, there will always be that Tyler speaking...and making me laugh :) When I look back at that day, the race seemed to have flown...honestly the 10 miles I did...flew. I can understand now why it's easy to say, ok...what's another 5, then another 10...I really get it! Like you said, the feet take the biggest beating with that mileage...everything else just follows :)

  4. Great job did outstandingly spite of those final "words of wisdom" from Rick before the start! Congrats! (See you at White Rock!)

  5. Tyler, fantastic Job! I totally understand where you're coming from. I remember when I used to think a marathon was literally impossible. It's amazing what we can do when we stop setting limits! Can't wait to read the next race report.

    By the way, great choice in shoes! ;)


  6. Wow... all I can say is awesome! I am in awe that you can do this after just starting running.

  7. I loved the "pick the kid up and run with him" obstacle on the race.....

    Great write up and videos, enjoyed every bit of it. Well done my friend.

  8. Awesome man! Your running history is very similar to my own. It was my first marathon / ultramarathon out there as well. While we had similar goals (finishing), you did it MUCH faster! :) I think I'm gonna sign up for the 50 miler in Huntsville in February -- hope to see you there if you can make it.