My first 50 mile race felt like a blur. The first 30 miles clicked by without much thought or difficulty, but the last 20 were like a completely different race. Despite the blood, GI distress, and tired feet, I really wanted to savor every single moment. Running a new distance for the first time is a huge accomplishment, and not one that shouldn’t be appreciated. After crossing the finish line, having some pizza, and getting some sleep, there are a few lessons from my first 50 mile race that I thought might be worth passing along.
5 Lessons Learned From My First 50 Mile Race
- Be prepared to run multiple races – Whether you are running a 50k or a 100 miler, you cannot be fooled into thinking you are running one race. Because, LOL. Depending on how long you are out there, you might run three or four races! One of the craziest things I realized when I started training for ultramarathon distances was that your body could come back to life after a low point. In a marathon, once you hit that wall or start feeling crappy, you usually don’t have enough time to get things back in working order. But that’s not the case with ultramarathon’s. If you keep your cool, and problem-solve, it’s very likely that you’ll be able to get back to feeling ok after a low point. For this reason, one race can feel like multiple.
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- Well marked courses are like teachers – Under-appreciated and absolutely invaluable. It’s nice to know where you’re going during the day, because no one loves running further than they have to. But at night, a well-marked course can be the difference between a strong finish and a DNF. And no one really thinks about how important keeping all those little reflecting flags close together is, until you pick your head up at 10pm and feel a cold panic wash over you when you aren’t completely sure if you’ve wandered off the course. The possibility of being stuck out in the middle of nowhere on the side of a hill was full on terrifying, and those little flags gave me 30 seconds of confidence. 40 miles in, those 30 seconds are PRICELESS.
- Don’t skimp on headlamps – Speaking of running in at night, it sucks without a good headlamp. I usually only run in the dark if the sun is coming up, and there’s at least a little bit of light. I’ve never run in the pitch black of Texas hill country after sunset. It’s darker than my humor. And having a light that is fine for early mornings doesn’t cut it. I will definitely be purchasing something like the Black Diamond Storm.
- 50 miles is a long way to go alone – I’m not someone who minds running solo, which definitely came in handy during this whole social distancing business. And while I firmly believe in running your own race, running 50 miles alone is not easy. There were a lot of times in the night section that I wished I had some company to help me feel a little less terrified. I also wouldn’t have hated having someone to laugh at my stomach issues with me. Seeing Henry and my girlfriends several times on the course was a huge moral booster, and I’m so thankful that I had good people I could count on.
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- It’s loud at night in the woods – I guess there were a lot of surprises for me when it came to running at night! Everyone talks about how quiet it can be in the middle of nowhere, but it is not quiet in the Texas hill country at night. Between the coyotes, the locusts, the deer running around, and the giant grasshoppers, nighttime is very noisy. Be prepared to hear things that sound scary, and just keep moving. The things that can eat you can probably out run you, so no need to freak out. Haha.
If you’re taking on a 50 mile ultramarathon, then chances are you’ve been running for a while and won’t be surprised by too much on the course. We all know the importance of things like staying on top of nutrition, strategic pacing, and be prepared for the unexpected. And while every race is different, they all have lessons to teach us. And just like toilet paper, we can never get enough helpful hints when it comes to taking on ultramarathon distances.