Running an ultra has been in the back of my mind somewhere for a few years, but I wasn’t sure that it would ever happen. It’s never been a big priority. Then, I was listening to a podcast about an ultra and started thinking “hmmm…running a 50k the year that I turn 50, that sounds interesting”. And so it began. Then one of my running besties made the leap to 50k and made it look easy. So I searched for the right one – the right timing, the right terrain, climate, etc. and started to train.
I picked the Titletown Ultra because of it’s terrain (not technical, but still a soft trail), and the fact that 2 of my running friends had already done it and loved it, and would do it again with me. So it became a girls weekend. Renee and Jen were on my Ragnar Michigan team 2 years ago, and Rory and Renee are in BibRave with me.
I approached the training just like training for a marathon, and threw a marathon on the schedule just because I needed it – for confidence building if nothing else.
I was in town for some work events for the days leading up to the race, so I was able to start acclimating to the insane humidity. As race day approached, heat warnings were being posted. Renee and I went and picked up our packet, it was already a heat index of 108 the afternoon before. We walked the first .25 mile of the race course down to the water. At least I’d get a water view for about a minute of each lap!
I met up with Renee, Jen and Rory and we carb loaded and tried to get some sleep before rolling out at 4:15am.
We got to the race literally 10 minutes before the start (something I NEVER do), and picked up our timing chip, aka monitoring device that went on our ankle and made us look like we were being watched by the cops. In my hurry, I realized I had not grabbed my wallet – no ID, no money, yikes! Notice how clean these shoes are at the beginning.
The Titletown Ultra is a timed race – you choose either 6, 8 or 15.5 hours. You go as far as you can (or want to) in that period of time. Rory chose 6. I chose 8 and Renee and Jen chose 15.5 as they were shooting for 50 miles. Once we saw the weather forecast, we all started having doubts about reaching our goals.
The course is a looped course through the woods of the Arboretum Trail at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Each loop is 4.75 miles. To reach my 50k goal, I would have to complete 6.5 loops. There were 3 aid stations. You could set up a little campsite with drop bags, coolers, etc. and pass your supplies every loop.
The race started at 5:10am, to allow the 15.5 hour runners to finish by dark. We started off and it was already close to 80 degrees. Crowded at the start, but thinned out pretty quickly. The course is a combination of gravel, then packed dirt and woodchips, then back to gravel, and finishing with a little concrete.
My first loop was my fastest, but it honestly felt terrible. Like I was wearing a wet sweater. Most of the course is shaded in the woods and the heat was thick. Lots of ups and downs through the woods. I started having doubts about going all the way to 50k. Maybe a half marathon was enough?
The volunteers were AMAZING. I always had ICE cold water and electrolytes. They were great about knowing what you wanted even before you could communicate it. I started putting ice down my sports bra. It seemed to help. They also had washcloths that they would wet down with cold water, then hang back up with a clothespin that had your bib# on it. Every lap you’d just ask for your towel again.
As the laps ticked off, I was getting a little excited, but also a little concerned about the cutoff, now that I was taking more walking breaks. I got a little extra energy around loops 4-5, but during my 6th loop when I should be on cloud nine, as I approached the last aid station, I started wobbling a bit and felt like I was seeing spots. Then a wave of nausea came over me. I was so close. I had been drinking fluids NONSTOP but didn’t eat anything other than my 3 gatorade endurance gels. Nothing sounded good. I decided to walk, I didn’t throw up, but felt a little scared that I just might fall over on the trail. Walking was eating up my time buffer that I had. I came to the conclusion that I should just end it at 28.5 miles (6 laps) instead of trying to go out for another half lap (2.5 miles) and have to come back to the finish ( I forgot that I could get a ride on a golf cart and not have to walk back). It seemed like the right thing to do rather than to try to push it given that I was so close to the cutoff and was afraid to run again, thinking that would only make me more nauseous. I clocked in at just over 7 hrs 20 minutes. So I did leave almost 40 minutes on the table – but even my walking was more like 17-18 min miles, I just couldn’t guarantee a 50k finish by the cutoff.
So I turned in my timing chip and laid down for a little bit. Heat index was 103! My legs were covered in dirt. I took a quick Ragnar-style bath to clean up and then headed out for lunch with a friend while we waited for our last runner to finish. One of the girls who was going for 50 miles called it quits at 19 due to dehydration. The other called it quits at 28.5 miles after giving it her all. Here’s our squad at the finish:
Overall, I felt pretty fabulous that night and the next day. Way better than after a road marathon. I attribute that to the softer surface I was running on, and also that I was doing a run/walk combo. Looking back at race day now, I am disappointed that I didn’t go out for that last ½ loop. It was mainly the cutoff that kept me back, otherwise I could have just walked it all. I did not want to be a DNF. I knew that 28.5 was enough to call myself an ultramarathoner, but not reaching the 50k mark bothers me. So you know what that means…I have to do this AGAIN!
Despite the intense heat, I did enjoy my first ultra and learned a lot. It’s not as scary as I thought. I finished 14th out of 26 females in the 8 hour time category. Now I have this finishers mug to remind me of what is possible. I'm an ultramarathoner!
Hi, I'm Emily! I'm an avid runner in Arizona with a passion for travel and racing around the country!