Popping my Ultra Marathon Cherry

On Sunday, I finally realized a dream that I had been holding on to for a really long time.  I became an ultra marathoner.

The Backstory

I started running in 2011 and ran my first half almost 2 years later in 2013.  One year later, I ran my first Cowtown Half Marathon, which was my second half.  This is the race that made me want to become an ultra marathoner.  I hate to admit it, but I was envious of all the people running the ultra.  Even though I hadn’t even run a full marathon at the time (although I had trained for Dallas 2013 which was cancelled due to ice), I knew that running an ultra was my ultimate goal and I wouldn’t be satisfied until I achieved it.

I trained for Dallas again in the Fall of 2014….too well, because I ended up with IT issues.  But I was too stubborn to quit and “ran” it anyway.  (Those last 6 miles were so slow and painful, but I finished with an embarrassing 5:18.)  I was determined to train smarter in 2015 and took the time to rehab my IT.  Running Dallas again was a MUST – I needed redemption, but Cowtown Ultra was the main blip on my radar.  I signed up for both, convinced that I could do it.  THANK GOODNESS that the running gods had me cross paths with my coach, Brent.  He started coaching me late in the Fall and got me to the Dallas start line healthier than I had ever been and I ran a 4:15 (which was 15 minutes faster than my goal).  But in order to keep me healthy, he recommended that I drop from the ultra to the half at Cowtown 2016.  It made me SO SAD, but I trusted him and knew it was for my own good.

So for 2017, I was registered for the Cowtown Half – I planned to use it as a training run/warm-up for the run portion of Ironman Texas 70.3 in Galveston.  When one of my teammates started asking about the ultra, I asked if I could run it and was given the green light! (And I upgraded my registration in record time – before Brent could figure out what he had given me permission to do!)

Carmen Reed was running her first 10k and Suzanne Kennedy joined her in the fun for her first 10k – they crushed it in their Saturday race!!  Jeri was running the half on Sunday.  We spent the weekend together roaming around Cowtown and had an wonderful time together!!img_4472

The Race

I ran Houston Marathon just 6 weeks ago.  I quickly realized that training for a 50k so soon after and training for a 50k and half Ironman simultaneously was a foolish choice.  Training kicked my rear but I persisted (with a lot of uncharacteristic whining and belly-aching) and I survived.

I typically fret over how I will perform at races, but I didn’t fret about this race.  Houston gave me A LOT of confidence and removed any feelings of having to prove myself.  I have proven myself to ME and that needed to happen because I was full of self-doubt.

I went into the race without any goal times.  Well…..I knew what I would like to hit, but I was prepared to be OK with just finishing.  I knew that hurting at some point in the race was inevitable so my strategy was to run by heart rate and try not to go out too fast.  I felt that I could manage the extra mileage by keeping my heart rate in check, but I was still a little leery because of the time crunch caused by running this so close to Houston made any training for this race short and sweet.  In any case, I had no doubt that I could do it – it was just a matter of how well I managed everything.  Early in the week, the forecast was horrid.  Temps were supposed to be close to 70 with sunny skies and winds gusting up to 30 mph.  Honestly, I dreaded this because it would only serve to make a difficult race even harder.  I didn’t check the forecast again until we were in Ft. Worth on Saturday and I literally started jumping up and down, screaming with excitement (while we were in CVS and I *may* have startled the clerk).  Temps while I was expected to be on the course were to be in the 40s with partly cloudy skies and winds around 10 mph.  I felt like I had just won the lottery!

Race morning was so cold at around 40°!!  Several of the Renegades were racing and everyone who could make it met for a pic.  My fellow Renegade sister, Ashley, said it best when she shared our group pic, “From first time 10k finishers to 50k & everything in between. Love sharing the dreams & then witnessing the successes of these Renegades. We all have our own story but together it’s an even more powerful one.”  Being a part of this group is one of the main reasons I’ve been so successful over the past 1 1/2 years.  This is the MOST SUPPORTIVE team out there – and we support EVERY one of our athletes from slower to faster and shorter to longer distance athletes.  It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of!img_4502-1

I waffled back and forth on whether to do UCAN or Tailwind for this race.  I tried Tailwind at the tail end of training, but I don’t think I found the right balance because I found myself hungry and hitting an energy wall.  I ended up going with UCAN because it really does work for me and I can tell a HUGE difference when I don’t fuel with it.  (Some tweaking will be in order as I extend my distance to the 50 miler later this year.)  In the end, UCAN came through for me again, as you’ll see when I describe the later stages of my race.

The race finally started with sunny skies and temps still close to 40. I started out consistently running 8:45s and thought that I was DOOMING myself to failure.  But I had decided to run by heart rate and my heart rate was in zone 1, so I maintained that pace.  I went over 9 minutes on mile 7 and thinking back it was probably the streets in the stockyards…or the shucking of my t-shirt – I was trying to be extra careful not to twist an ankle (or step in Longhorn dung!).  Early on, it seemed that the day would be sunny and that caused me some anxiety but the clouds slowly rolled in. Winds stayed at around 10, I’m guessing, and I even got chilly coming up to the mile 9 hill and through downtown. I managed the mile 9 hill just fine and enjoyed the cruise DOWN through downtown through the marathon split.

The back side of the course had an immediate hill that I was not expecting.  I could obviously have avoided this surprise by studying the elevation map, but as I said earlier – I did not concern myself about this race at all.  I barely got packed in time to leave town!!

I maintained splits close to 8:45 but started creeping up toward the 9:00 mile pace in miles 15-17.  Around mile 18, I found myself running next to a man named Joe, from McKinney, who proudly proclaimed his Florida roots with his Florida Gator shirt.  He was running naked (all you non-runners calm down – it just means he was running without a watch!) and was hoping to hit a 4:00 marathon or better.  Well, guess what!?! was hoping to hit a 4:00 marathon, too!! (Even though I wouldn’t admit that to the general public.) We decided to stick together until the marathon split around mile 25.  My friend Joe kept me going during those 7 miles and the funny thing is – he thought I slowed down for him.  WE simply kept at OUR pace. It was a nice relief to share the road with someone.  And I just do better when I feel like I have to keep up with someone.  All my miles with Joe were sub-9, except for mile 19.  I was a little sad saying goodbye to Joe, but I sent him on his way – he should have easily come in around 3:52-3:53 which was under his goal!

I'm past mile 20 at this point and STILL SMILING! :)

I’m past mile 20 at this point and STILL SMILING! 🙂

Honestly, I was amazed that I was able to maintain mostly sub-9 miles up to this point, which made me smile even more. 🙂  And my legs felt amazing!  A tiny bit fatigued, maybe, but my legs felt better at mile 25 than they felt at mile 20 in Houston.  I was extremely encouraged because at this point, I knew if <when> things went downhill fast, I could suffer through a 10k and manage.  I crossed the 26.2 timing mat at 3:53 (which was only +5 from my Houston time) and legs were STILL feeling OK.

Mile 27.  Mile 27 is when my quads started feeling grouchy.  And my brain wanted to be at the turnaround already.  Except I didn’t really know where the turnaround was because I hadn’t studied the race map that well.  I did know that it had to be by mile 28.  Well the turnaround was at mile 27.5.  Mile 28 was my slowest mile of the race, because I stopped for a BEER.  And that beer tasted SO GOOD!!! The aid station volunteers laughed at me because I went on…and on….and on about it!  I drank almost half and realized that I would never finish if I hung around drinking beer all day. (In reality it was maybe 45 seconds.)  So off I went and then I was joined by another male runner – and he rocked the trail runner look with his well-maintained beard.  This guy was a lifesaver.  He was the type of person that oozed positivity.  He cheered on EVERY SINGLE runner that we passed.  Between mile 28-29,we had turned back South and at this point the wind had really picked up.  My legs didn’t want to have ANYTHING to do with running into these winds.  I knew I would be OK if I could just make it to mile 30.  Mr. Positive stayed with me until then, but at mile 30 he cranked it up, said, “One mile, LET’S GO” and was off in a flash. My goal was simply to maintain what I could at that point and I couldn’t have kept up with him if I had tried so I let him charge on.  I was getting so close to that last little bit of the course that is so familiar to me. It seems to go on forever yet I know it isn’t THAT long…and….there was a tiny hill.  I walked just a bit.  I’m a little mad at myself for this, but at that moment I felt that I needed to give myself the chance to collect my wits for the finish.  Onward and upward I went!  And right over the hill was the turn to the road to the finish!

My ONE pic with Mr. Positive - he is waving and I am struggling!

My ONE pic with Mr. Positive – he is waving and I am struggling!

But 5 steps later and I manage a smile....AT MILE 30!

But 5 steps later and I manage a smile….AT MILE 30!

That last little bit of the course always seems so long.  My mouth always starts watering because I want to see that finish line and cross!  My best pace on mile 31 was 8:27 and my best pace on the last .06 was 8:07.  I was SO READY to be finished!  After I fought my way down the finish line chute, I grinned the entire way across.  I came close to crying, but I managed to hold back the tears.  I was BEYOND happy (and still am)!!img_4546

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After I got my medal and grabbed my phone to text Carmen, a woman sitting on the curb congratulated me.  I told her it was my first ultra and that I was over the moon!  She said, “You HAVE to ring the bell!!”  I mentioned getting my friend to come take my picture, but she volunteered.  She stood in line with me, videoed me ringing the bell and then took my picture.  I thanked her and went on my way to get food, finisher shirts and my extra challenge medal.  And after that, I went to find the important stuff – BEER!!img_4542img_4511

I think cold molasses moves faster than I do after a race.  It always takes me SO LONG.  I finally made my way to the building where Carmen, Suzanne and Jeri were waiting on me.  Carmen is my sherpa – she is THE BEST sherpa!!  I can’t believe she hung around in the cold for almost 5 freaking hours just to snap a couple of pics of me finishing.  She is seriously amazing.  Suzanne, deserves her own medal for sticking around as well when she really didn’t have to.  That meant the world to me!!

As we were leaving to walk back to our hotel, I got a message from Brent that simply said “Dude! Podium!”  I read it in disbelief, relayed my disbelief and he sent back a screen shot of my results.  THIRD IN MY AGE GROUP!!!  How in the heck??? All I can say is that it was an amazing day!! I later found out that I missed first in my age group by TWO FREAKING MINUTES. The beer stop and the walk stop would have closed that gap for sure. And maybe I should have tried to keep up with Mr. Positive. But I had a GREAT race and placing in my first ultra is an amazing accomplishment, so NO REGRETS! img_4512

This race was absolutely amazing.  I smiled almost the entire race and I rarely smile during races because I’m all business.  I can sincerely say that I enjoyed EVERY SINGLE MINUTE.  I had just been waiting for so long to cross this threshold. And things work out in God’s time. I wanted to rush this and do it last year, but I listened. I was signed up to run a 50 miler but I listened and dropped when I realized it wasn’t the right time. And I was rewarded with one of the most amazing races that I have ever run!! (I know you’re wishing at this point that I would use and adjective besides amazing!)

What’s next to CONQUER? 

Ironman Texas 70.3 at Galveston is next on the plate.  The thought of it made me throw up in my mouth a little today because I feel like it’s totally out of my league.  I am gaining confidence in the water, though, and that is encouraging for the swim.  I say that my only goal is to make the swim cutoff then manage the rest of the race, but I know you all know that isn’t quite true.  I am competitive (with myself, anyway) and I have a time goal in mind.  I just hope I can get close to it!  In the end, my goal is to enjoy Galveston like I enjoyed Cowtown – hopefully good things will happen! I know that Brent will give me what I need to be prepared. The rest is up to me!

After that, all that is on the calendar is Brazos Bend 50 in December. After this race, I know I can do it. I just need to reign myself in and not set the bar too high. But I can worry about that after Galveston.

I know I want to work on manintaining/increasing my speed, then focus on BB50.  Other than that, I’ll just have to see what pops up!

Until next time,

Jen 💙

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7 responses to “Popping my Ultra Marathon Cherry

  1. Pingback: Cowtown 10K….my first… | Life Begins At Forty!

  2. A great write up Jenn, and what an incredible time for your finish. It must have quite the rush when you not only finished your 1st Ultra but also finished 3rd.

    Love reading about the runners you connected with on the course. I am the same as Joe in which I don’t run with a watch. I just run for the love of running. And I treasure those times where I can run along side another runner for a few kilometers.

    And what can I say about “Mr. Positive”. He is out there on every race course. Sometimes he may have a beard, other times without a beard. Other times it may be a “Miss or Mrs. Positive”, a lady such as yourself who encourages others. They definitely make a race so incredible.

    Congratulations on such a great race! 🙂

    ~Carl~

    Liked by 1 person

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