Saturday, May 26, 2012

My first Ultra-Marathon: A Budget-Tour of Eastern Sierra Geology

This is me, about 45 minutes after running thirty-three miles through the mountainous terrain outside of Bishop, California. Probably, I'm tired. Likely, my stomach wants to heave. And there's a good chance that I'm prone because my hip-flexors have given up the ghost. What this picture doesn't convey is my elation at running further than I've ever run, by a factor of 13 miles. That's right: prior to this event, I had never run an "ordinary" marathon, or even slogged past twenty miles during my training. I went right for the grail: the Ultra-Marathon, on trail, in the mountains. Now I will exhale a big, fat, UFDA. The un-glossy details of achievement abide on paper, but they read like gibberish to me now:

— 33 miles in 6:22
— 4,600ish feet of vertical gain
— 4,600ish feet of vertical loss
— 1.5-2 gallons of water imbibed
— 1 Gu Packet, multiple orange slices, 1 tiny boiled potato with salt, 1/8 banana, and some pineapple consumed over the course of the day
— 1 bowel-movement in 36 hours
 — Placement: 17th out of 70 runners, and 5th in my age-group

I don't know if what I did is quantifiable in a standard, cocktail-party-conversation kind of way, since the venture of an ultra-marathon resides so far out of ordinary athletic discourse. Ultra-runners come from the gritty niches of society, and since the sport imparts so much esoteric suffering on its participants, the ratio of sadists-to-fun-runners is quite imbalanced. I'm not saying all Ultra-runners are Greek gods, clad in Saucony lycra. I saw the obese, the lanky, the stocky, the average, and the exquisite. Racers truly spanned the breadth of physiognomy. They also spanned a wide range of ages. Let me rephrase that: I saw more viciously gnarly old cranks smoking my 30 year-old butt than I ever thought possible. In fact, the population of racers was HEAVILY weighted on the 50-70 year-old side of things. I appeared to be in the whippersnapper bracket.

Since this was my first ultra (and the shorter of ultra-distances at that), I knew this was all just the tip of the iceberg, and were I to keep running these things I would see much, much more. For the present, I'm quite satisfied with how things turned out. My goal was to finish under seven hours (I'm not fast, just steady), with my legs still intact and my desire to run un-sullied. Those goals in and of themselves seemed fleeting, especially about a month out from the event, when my body was falling apart from all the training. Not only am I not injured at all right now, I still want to run, and I think (whilst simultaneously shuddering at the thought) that I want to run another ultra. And maybe another one after that. But it's summertime now, the prime season for evening bouldering sessions at the Brickyard, and canyon-climbing up Rattlesnake. I've got more projects than I can count and a mini-guidebook idea I want to realize. The shop is cranking, and I have a Baltimore-blacksmithing-vacation planned for next week. Ultras take up so much time!

Oh, and a BIG shout-out to Travis Madsen. He trained for and ran the ultra with me, placing 15th ahead of my 17th. He's a 35 year-old running machine, and rather than merely finish the 33 mile course, he continued jogging for another two miles to run his age—just for a fun birthday-challenge. He and and I have racked up a rather long list of painful long-distance/long-duration activities over the years, both in the climbing realm and running world. Here he is, pre-race, happy as only Travis can be:
After catching a night of rest in the Pit (climber's campground outside of Bishop), we drove home. A quick stop at Whitney Portal punctuated the weekend.
Next in line: 50 miler. Then 100 miles. Then Western States.