We are all on the starting line. Together. Different paths have brought us there. Different goals and different motivations. But none the less, there we are. 9pm on a gorgeous Saturday night in December. Fifty of our brothers and sisters have been out on the course since 6am! Challenging themselves on the hills and in the woods of Hitchcock Nature Center neat Crescent, IA.
There is some debate on who said it, but the phrase “you are unique, just like everyone else” seems apt for a starting line. We can all relate to each other, but each racer has had and will have a wildly individualistic experience. One of the goals of this site is to share what my experiences are like to those who have never partaken in running. Or for those that have, this is an effort to expose them to something new. Maybe just inspire someone, somewhere. I don’t know what kind of random traffic comes through this site. But I hope you appreciate it and would love to hear your feedback.
All I care is about that six foot circle of light in front of me. Nothing else matters. Not the next aid station. Not the next damn uphill. Not the next damn downhill. Not that tree I have passed for the fourth time. None of it. My concerns have boiled down to that little patch of trail I can see. Such is the blessing and the curse of racing in the dark. It is surreal. A time warp of sorts. You are starting a race and the next thing you know the sun is coming up. At times stumbling your way through the night like a college kid at their first kegger. Feeling like you can crush the race at one moment and then the next step is filled with despair.
The very nature of an ultra distance race is one of simple perseverance. Oddly like any other distance, you can train all you want but eventually it is going to come down to you and your ability to get through it.
In something like this, attitude is literally everything. At some point it is going to get really challenging, but in an ultra this is as much mental as it is physical. Though being really, really tired and having super low heart rate is a an incredibly strange sensation for a runner. That mental game is aided greatly by a whole number of things.
The community of runners out there. Whether it is the people in your race or those that have been out there for 13 (!!) hours. Nothing but encouragement. Ultra running is weird in that you rarely ever approach “max” effort. You just can’t get there with the time or distance you are on the course for. But in the brief moments of passing someone or getting passed, it is only positivity. You could be a complete stranger and still be one of the family in a trail race. The Hitchcock Experience is a product of the G.O.A.T.z trail running group out of Omaha. Generally lead by Scott Giddings, this particular race is directed by Ron Ruhs. Regardless of the event though, the races this group puts on are incredibly well organized and supported. In a day when you can seemingly find something, usually mediocre, every weekend. The GOATz races stand out from all.
Is it a race or an adventure? Something to be conquered or a challenge to be met? Going for a time or going for a finish? How you approach an ultra is almost as important as the starting. It will inform your pacing, your hydration, your fueling. The thing is, I started this event as an adventure. At some point in time though it turned into a race. Weird what it does to your head.
For me it was important to practice some habits in this 50 that I wanted to try down the road. I hadn’t trained a ton for this race, other than just generally higher and consistent mileage for the year. So my pacing was to stay comfortable as long as I could. My hydration was as much a water bottle as I could every hour. My fueling was Casey’s pizza three hours before and then alternating Three Musketeers/Reece’s FastBreak with chips at every aid station. Mix in some stale candy canes to keep me occupied between stations. I was actually more pleased with my efforts at this here than I was in NY in June.
There is so much more to tell a person something like this. I had nine and a half hours to consider it. I know I had plenty of really good points to make. But like being in the shower and thinking, they floated away and have left me grappling with clichés. Which is how I know it is time to end this. I would encourage anyone to attempt to something like this. It expands what you think you are capable of. It may not necessarily be an ultra, but a longer trail race. Who knows what you are capable of and can share with the world?