2009/03/07: Prickly Pear 50k (race report–first ultra)

Today I ran my first ultra: the Prickly Pear 50k Trail Run. I purposely didn’t tell anyone about it in advance, in the event it did not go as planned.

Now here is where I insert my disclaimer about how I really should not have done this race based on the fact I’ve only been running since last May, I’ve only done 4 19-milers ever with my longest since my Nov marathon being only 23.1 miles, and I’ve had some medical issues lately (although I was cleared to run).

I found this race when I was looking for a 20-ish mile race this weekend since I was scheduled for a training run of that length. I came across this race which included a 10-miler in conjunction with a 50k. Ten miles was too short, and I figured I could enter the 50k and only do 2 loops instead of 3, but I couldn’t force myself to enter a race I was going to purposely DNF. So I considered the crazy idea of signing up for the whole thing. I created a new screen name and posted on the Ultra forum with my situation; I should have known that I was not going to get a sane answer from people who run upwards of a hundred miles for fun; they encouraged me to do it.

I was still skeptical, so I did a lot of research online, in books, and watching a documentary of David Horton’s 66-day running adventure from Mexico to Canada via the Pacific Crest Trail. In one of my books on different individuals’ encounters with ultras, I saw David’s name listed all over it due to his “god-like” status in the sport and the inspiration and mentorship he’d provided to many runners over the years. I happened to come across his e-mail address, so what did I do? I e-mailed him, not expecting a response of course. However, a few days later, I got a very detailed response along with a bunch of tips and a request for me to e-mail him again after I completed today’s 50k. I signed up in January.

A couple days ago, I e-mailed the RD and asked about the cutoff time, which he said was 8 hours. I crunched some numbers and was concerned I would not make the cutoff, considering the distance and that it was on trails. As I was getting all of my race stuff together last night I thought, “Wow, what am I getting myself into? 31miles??” However, I put my concerns aside and went to bed. Of course I slept terribly because I kept waking up thinking I was late for the race and kept dreaming of getting lost on trails.

This morning, the 70 degree temperature at 6am concerned me, but I also knew I didn’t have any control over it. An hour later, the race began at a local park here in San Antonio. After the first few miles of everyone being bunched together, we were all finding out own places in the pack. I was toward the very back. I was concerned because I knew that the 4 of us running together were the last ones and I knew that the pace we were running was not one I could keep up with for 8-ish hours, but I also did not want to fall back and get lost on the trails, which was one of my phobias going into this. However, throughout the first lap of 10-ish miles, we did slow down a bit and 2 of the guys fell back. I was running with a nice lady in her 50s named Isabelle, and we gradually passed a few more people who had started out too fast. Isabelle was on a quest to run a marathon or greater distance in every state and had never run an ultra before. However, she was a bit intimidating to me because she runs numerous marathons a year (compared to my one ever), her average marathon time was 4:15 (compared to my debut 5:12), and her longest run being 30 miles (compared to my 23). However, she was nice to talk to and wanted to run with someone.

The whole course was not too technical of a trail, but it still had its fair share of rocks, roots, and un-runnable areas, including one area with switchbacks that required us to hold trees to maintain our footing. I had opted, however, to just use my road shoes instead of shelling out over a hundred dollars on trail shoes I’d likely get very little use out of. This turned out to be a good decision, as the shoes I wore were fine.

The first loop, I tripped many times, likely because of the unfamiliar terrain and the fact I was not used to picking up my feet as much when running on roads. The second loop, I tripped minimally, and the third lap, I tripped a lot because I was getting tired and not lifting my feet enough. There were a few aid stations on each loop with very helpful volunteers who would refill water bottles and offer encouragement. There was also a LOT of food at each one, such as cookies, candies, muffins, pretzels, potatoes with salt, and a bunch of other stuff. I ate something at most of them, in addition to gels along the way, and I think this really helped.

Isabelle and I ran nearly the entire race with less than a quarter mile between us, and about 80 percent of the time, we were running together. We had conversations about lots of things and bonded, as it would be expected after a multi-hour conversation. Along the way, we also met up with other people and would run with them for a bit.

My first lap was 2:11, which is faster than I thought it would be, but I was prepared to slow more drastically as the miles accumulated. The second lap was 2:21, which I was also happy about. I was about an hour ahead of where I predicted I’d be, but I expected I’d hit the wall on the third lap. However, that never happened! The last few miles, of my third/last lap, I pushed harder as I realized I was right on the verge of breaking 7 hours,which would be a whole hour faster than I’d predicted. This was my slowest lap, but my split of 2:26 was enough to give me a chip time of 6:58:11! As is my trademark, I did sprint the at the very end, sub-6-min pace. Isabelle was only 20 second behind me. My Garmin read 31.18 miles.

All of the finishers got nice etched glass medallions. Much to my surprise, I got 3rd place in my age group of females 29 and under! I know there were more than 3 in my age group who started, which made me excited too since it wasn’t just by default. I got a nice etched glass mug for this.

I was covered in dirt at the end due to the high temperatures (in the 80s for the last few hours of the race) causing me to sweat and the winds blowing dirt all over, but it was well earned. My only “injuries” were 3 tiny blisters and a stubbed toe as a result of jamming it into a rock at mile 27; luckily the stabbing pain stopped after 2 miles when my toe went numb. I’m already sore, even after an ice bath, but I guess that’s to be expected. The jury’s still out regarding whether I’ll try another one of these again, but it really was a great experience!

Isabelle and me after race

I and me

Just me afterward

Me

Finisher’s medallion

medallion

My 3rd place AG mug

mug

My post-race feet

feet

Katrina

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