After last July’s ultra relay (which I promise I will blog about one day), I decided it was time for a real ultra. Two of my fellow runners were thinking the same thing (a fourth had already done one). They picked one in mid-April, but it was on the other side of the state and a week before the 5K I was organizing for our elementary school. I declined that offer and decided instead on the Greenland 50k, which is heavily advertised in Colorado Runner. It’s a race I’d considered before. Ryan (ultra relay captain) had done the 25k and didn’t like it because it’s a 4-loop course, but I thought that particular feature made it more attractive, at least for this first-timer. Among other things, by the last two laps I wouldn’t have to wonder where we were going, because I’d know. That seemed marvelous somehow. And was.
And so I signed up.
My training wasn’t great. I’d gotten one 22-miler and other longer runs, but had managed to miss more than I’d like due to illness, sheer exhaustion, and all the chaos that goes with a puppy and two children and a spouse. For example, I missed my last 18-miler because said spouse was out of town at a friend’s funeral and my plan–to run 7-8 miles during the day and then finish the rest on the treadmill after the kids were asleep was foiled by the fact that I feel asleep with the kids and slept for 3 hours.
I did manage to run 7 that day (5 while they were at their baton class, and 2 with the puppy). And clearly I needed the sleep. And it’s an ultra and people walk and my only goal was to finish, so I shrugged it off and figured maybe there would be more walking.
My biggest worry? Getting up early enough to get down to Larkspur. I was sooooo tired all the time as I tried to pack in work and family life and errands and everything else into the not-nearly-sufficient 24 hours we get in a day (still am, though maybe not to that extent). But I got up and out of the house without problems, and it only took about an hour to get there. I found parking easily, picked up my packet and felt relieved–now all I needed to do was run.
Greenland is mostly run on the open space of the same name, in the area south of Denver and just before Monument. Pikes Peak is clearly visible in several places on the course. So are trains. There are two train tracks on the west side of the open space and they have a fair amount of train traffic.
The race starts at the north end of the open space, and we run south toward Pikes Peak, head east and up and over a saddle, and then head back north. There’s briefly a view of I-25, and then we tuck back behind the ridge. There’s another climb in there somewhere, but not nearly as hard as the one to the saddle, and finally it’s a downhill stretch back to the finish line–or in the case of the 50k runners–to the turnaround, after which we’d head back out and do it again. There was also a climb as we headed south, though I think the climb was more pronounced for the other three loops than for the first because part of the first is run on a different trail. Actually, I think it’s two smaller climbs (in comparison to the climb to the saddle), though they don’t feel small by the third and fourth loop. But it’s ok–because it’s an ultra and everybody walks. (Sense a recurring theme?) At any rate, the link above connects to a map that shows the trails there and is exactly what we did.
The race was good. Very good. Yes, hard, painful, tiring, all those things, but good. It was a bit Zen, a bit sweatlodge. There’s definite discomfort. And yet, the only thing to do is keep moving forward because ya know, I voluntarily chose to run—and pay to run!—31 miles. Might as well keep going. But there’s something really good about that too–about just being focused on moving one foot in front of the other, or just being focused on power hiking up the hill or getting through the next mile or not stopping until you hit the finish line.
I’d do it again, no question. Maybe this fall (Bear Chase?), maybe not. It was a really good experience. When I was done, I felt…kinda empty, at peace. Definitely like all the random thoughts that sometime buzz around were all put away in their respective closets for the time being. No doubt that’s mostly endorphins, but it was also notably different from running last year’s sub-4:00 marathon at Colfax. It didn’t really hurt more than a marathon. There was a relief knowing that I could walk if I wanted to, which is something I really try to avoid at marathons. And it’s been a very long time since I haven’t cared at all what my time is in a race, so I ran comfortably. I don’t think I want to do that in shorter races, or at least not yet, so a 50k gave me the space (and excuse) to not care how long it took. I’d think, “I want to walk.” And maybe I would, which is something I don’t do otherwise because in general, I care about my time even if my time isn’t exactly something to brag about. It’s a really long way to run, but that’s also awesome because it’s a really long way. Eventually there’s no escaping being in the mile you’re in.
Good stuff, and something I really needed given where I am in my life right now.
Now for those of you wondering about practical issues:
1. If you don’t like loop courses, don’t do this one. It is four loops and the scenery is good but maybe not that good. My opinion had been that I don’t run that far south and I don’t plan to do Greenland again, so on the first loop I’d get to see all new scenery for running, on the second loop I’d see what I’d missed the first time, would find a few new things on the third loop, and by the fourth loop I wouldn’t care. That’s pretty much how that played out, except that I realized part of the area had been in a wildfire on the fourth loop–and then thought maybe I was hallucinating. A sign back at the start area confirmed that there was a patch hit by earlier wildfires. (Also, why am I not doing Greenland again? Only because there are a number of 50ks in Colorado and only so much time. I don’t think I’ll do any 50k more than once unless it’s really awesome. If they managed to stage an ultra along the Moffat Road, I’d probably run that multiple times–but there’s no danger of it because Boulder County wouldn’t approve the permit when someone tried to organize exactly that a few years ago.)
2. There were two aid stations, one at the furthest point south, just before heading up into the saddle. It was well-stocked and the volunteers were awesome. They’d fill your water bottles for you and everything. That was probably about 3.5 or so miles in. The other one was at the turnaround point. I think it was cool, though I think I only stopped there once to refill water because the bag drop was also there.
3. Bag drops are very, very cool. We were able to drop our bags at the start line and they took them over. I filled my pretty purple and pink backpack with anything I thought I might want: gels, Clif and Luna bars, Mediterra Savory bars, a water bottle filled with coconut water, Justin’s peanut or almond butter packets, chews, etc. It was very cool to be able to stop every 7.5 miles or so and grab whatever sounded good. It also meant that I could wear more layers during the early part of the race and then dump them into the backpack. I wore both sparkly arm sleeves (thank you Sparkle Athletic!) and a lightweight Brooks shell for most of the first loop because the wind was chilly. I peeled off the shell around mile 6 and tucked it into my waistback band (see picture, above), but kept the arm sleeves for two full laps. Stupidly, I managed to forget to leave the shell at the turnaround, so it traveled two loops with me instead. By loop 3, I was ready to just be in the tank and skirt.
4. Portapotties were my only complaint about the race. There were plenty at the start, but the only one on the course was near the turnaround. I thought there would be one at each aid station, but no–if you needed to go, you had one chance every 8ish miles. Also, there was only one at the turnaround. I waited about 3 minutes to use it after the first lap, and about half a minute after the second lap. There wasn’t a line after the third lap, which was nice. But two portapotties would have been appreciated (or alternately, one portapotty at each aid station).
5. I don’t know if this is true of all ultras, but a number of the lead runners were shockingly aggressive. Much of the route is double-track, so it’s easy enough to jump to the other track to pass people. Instead, a number of them would come up behind me pounding their feet into the around, apparently expecting me to hear them coming and move out of their way? Perhaps I was being selfish, but I figured if they had enough energy to be that much faster, they had enough energy to move to the other track, or at the very least to call out “excuse me please.” I haven’t encountered anything like this at other races. The faster runners go around slower runners, and even at trail races I’ve never seen an expectation that I could make my feet pound the ground loudly and expect people to jump out of my way. Maybe it was just this group?
6. There’s really no shade on this course. That will hurt you if it’s a hot year.
7. My friend Mark, who was the other one who’d finished the 50k in Fruita two weeks earlier told me to start eating early and not stop. It’s sound advice. I packed in two bagels with peanut butter, part of a Luna bar and some egg white breakfast sandwich thing I’d found at Target (Evol maybe?) on the way down to Greenland. I needed to keep track of when I was going to eat and sometimes needed a little more despite that, but overall found fueling to be very easy. The drop bag helped considerably in that process.
Finally, some stats.
My time: 5:59:04 (11:34 pace)
That was good enough for 5/12 F40-49, 16/46 women, and 70/156 overall.
I was pleasantly surprised to come in just under six hours. I wasn’t paying attention to time at all after the first two laps, and I’d stopped looking at my Garmin for most of the fourth lap, except to see it flash “mile 27″ after I’d finished that mile because it was cool. And I’d done a fair amount of walking in both the third and fourth lap. Going in, I knew I’d walk some on the fourth, but I ended up run/walking the inclines on the third as well. On the other hand, if it was a downhill or flat stretch, I ran all of those so my walking was probably fairly limited in the grand scheme of things. On the chart below, you can see the walking–and the bathroom breaks after each loop.
Lap 1: 1:21:11 – We headed out and I was surprised at how many people quickly pulled to the front because we were all running the 50k. I had the impression that I was probably in the last third of the pack. It turned out that was not true. I kept telling myself to run my own race and run slower than I thought I should because I’d need that energy later.
Lap 2: 1:25:49 – This lap wasn’t really that much slower, but I did spend 3 minutes waiting for the portapotty. If you exclude that, I was only a minute or two slower than the first lap. This time we didn’t have to run on the old wagon road, which was nice because that road was full of puddles and mud from a thunderstorm the night before.
Lap 3: 1:30:15 – I started to feel tired much more quickly than I anticipated, though this was in part because the loop heads uphill pretty quickly. After reminding myself I wasn’t running for time, I power-hiked some of the hills and figured I’d let it be what it was. Funny story: as I came into the 3.5 mile aid station, the guy told me that I was the second woman. I laughed and said no, that wouldn’t possibly be, as I was only on my third lap. It was pretty funny though.
Lap 4: 1:39:09 – This lap was better than lap 3 in many ways. Knowing it was my last lap helped. The cloud cover from the approaching thunderstorms made things more comfortable. The approaching thunderstorms gave me more inspiration to keep running when I might otherwise walk. At some point I stopped to stretch (maybe at a couple of points even). The course had thinned enough that people ahead and behind me were really far away, so it was like a nice little trail run with the wilderness to myself. By the time I could see the finish line I was willing myself to not walk, but it was also interesting to realize how much a mind-over-matter issue that was. After all, I’d been tired for most of the loop and had kept going, so the fact that I felt like I was completely drained was completely about seeing the finish line and not at all about what I was physically capable of doing.
Good, good stuff.
What’s up next? On Sunday I’ll run the last leg of the Colfax Marathon relay. I won’t be fast but hopefully I’ll manage a reasonable pace. The Bolder Boulder is on Memorial Day, where I hoped to have a faster pace. Then there’s the Winter Park Half Marathon on the last Saturday in June. I have this idea that I’m going to hit a lot of hills (maybe run Lookout Mountain?) before it, but we’ll see what actually happens. I’m mostly doing it because I’m really glad they have a half marathon in Grand County.
Then there’s three sprint triathlons between late July and late September. Tragically, the pool at the gym is closed for the next month, so I’m hoping to spend more time on the bike instead and maybe fit in a swim a week at the local rec center until the gym pool is open again. We’ll see what I figure out, because I think it’s going to be a pita to swim at the rec center.
I think I’d like to run something of distance in the fall. Maybe even a fall marathon, provided I approach it like an ultra. Time will tell.