Our ultramarathon journey happens to be a bit non-linear, as we jumped into ultrarunning before we had ever participated in a marathon.
We kind of paid for it, too, with the amount of discomfort experienced afterward (those ankles and feet had seen better days!).
However, the experience was a fun one, shared with friends, and on the road as a destination race (in Lockport, NY, outside of Buffalo).
After having involved ourselves in a number of obstacle course races, 5k and 10k races, we'd been looking for a new challenge.
The Beast of Burden Winter Ultra checked off a number of boxes in providing just that.
We hadn't had to get ourselves into this sort of "trouble," as there were several distance options from which to choose.
Racers had the option, during registration, to choose from 25 miles, 50 miles, or 100 miles, each of which would follow the same course route.
The course was out-and-back style, following the towpath, where it would be approximately 7 miles from the start to the first aid station, another 6 to the second aid station, which was also the turnaround point, to then follow the same route back to the start.
50 milers would complete this twice; and 100 milers would complete the course 4 times.
The surface was a sort of fine gravel. In the year that we'd raced, there was a bit of hardened snow on the ground. That hardened snow is what challenged our ankles throughout the race, putting our connective tissue and muscles through stresses we hadn't encountered often during training.
In other years, the snow has been seen to be much deeper, creating a different set of challenges.
Where it was our first race of this distance, it hadn't been a key focus of ours to have a goal finishing time in mind.
There were cut-offs determined by the race directors.
As many races will begin fairly early in the morning (e.g., 7am or 8am), the starting time for that year's event was 10am.
That start time nearly ensured that we would be running a portion of the race overnight, and thus would be forced to face some of the more harsh temperatures and wind gusts.
Part of ultramarathon race strategy should include a focus on aid station efficiency.
Our strategy, was nearly non-existent, during this first experience.
That was especially true of our time spent in the final aid station of our race, somewhere around 3am, and with about 7 miles left in the race.
Where the winds at that time of night were gusting, and with no place to hide, as we were fully exposed along the canal path, the mental and physical challenges were different than we'd experienced before.
You may often hear, "beware the chair," as it relates to ultra-running, where its comfort can cause significant delays and distractions to the task that you have at hand.
Our delay, in this instance, included about 45 minutes of sitting, right in front of the most powerful, portable heaters we've ever enjoyed.
Once we were moving again, the error of our ways greeted us.
That amount of rest, especially in our first experience of this type, had led to additional discomfort of the ankles with nearly every step. We'd likely have done better to have kept moving.
What was great, however, was that we were able to witness the sunrise as we headed for the finish line.
There we were met by the race directors, friends, and spectators, and other athletes. We enjoyed a cup of coffee, a breakfast sandwich, and as much time in the chair as we wanted!
And, though we haven't been back to the race yet, we do plan on it.
Now, we are armed with improved, ultramarathon training strategies, running workouts geared toward the areas in which there were opportunities for increasing strength and endurance, and better aid-station strategies.
Running an ultramarathon takes a certain level of commitment. If you've run one (or several), or if you are planning to, we'd love to hear all about it!
What have been some of your favorite ultramarathon races? What made you want to attempt one? What were your strategies in training? And, which ultramarathon races are on your bucket list?
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