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THE BIRTH OF AN ULTRARUNNER
After a very hard fought 2nd place finish at the Endurance Challenge 50k in Wisconsin, I qualified for the 50 mile elite start with a time of 3:53:03. From then on I focused on training for the 50 mile race. I read books and articles about ultrarunning, and reached out to experienced ultrarunners.
I trained myself as best I could for a distance I had never come close to running. I concentrated on adjusting to the “ultra pace,” ran the steepest hills around, ate right, practiced race day nutrition, and allowed for proper recovery.
Despite my best efforts, however, just three weeks before the race I began to suffer from plantar fasciitis.
As a runner I wanted to ignore the injury, but the coach in me knew I had to address the issue right away.
I started a stretching and icing regimen that week. I took days off, wore compression gear, rolled daily, and took ibuprofen for pain. The week before the race I felt better, but not 100%.
Although I felt unsure about how I would perform, I had gone too far to turn back.
Finally, after months of preparation, the day of my first 50 mile race arrived.
I did my best to stay relaxed as I warmed up in the darkness before sunrise. I told myself to just run and stay committed to the task at hand. I knew it would be difficult, but reminded myself that that was one of the reasons I signed up.
Soon the countdown began and the race took off.
I pressed forward through the long hills of the San Francisco wilderness guided by a headlamp and full moon.
At mile 15 I felt relaxed. I had positioned myself well at 7:47 pace per mile. By mile 18 things took a turn for the worse. My plantar fasciitis suddenly decided to return at full force. Each step I took was more painful than the last as I made my way along the trails.
By then the sun had risen, so I could see the miles of hills ahead of me. I asked myself, “Is this even worth it, or should I stop?”
“No way!” I screamed in my head. You have never quit a race before and will not start today.
I then came to terms with the fact that I would not run my goal time, and switched to survival mode. I committed myself to not giving up.
I adjusted my stride to more of a hobble, because it was too painful to land normally on my foot. The situation was far from ideal, but as my goal changed so too did my methods.
As I ran along the coast, I took in the beautiful scenery to keep my mind off the pain. By mile 22 I had developed a system of run-walking uphill, running the flats, and limping cautiously downhill.
In the past rest stops were but an afterthought, but that day they were my saving grace. I used those precious moments to gather myself and recommit to my goal.
At mile 32 I recognized that it was the farthest I had ever ran and I smiled. This was a defining moment in the race, because it solidified my determination to finish.
Just before mile 40, I began to cross paths with some runners racing the marathon and 50K. Running and talking with them helped me realize I was not alone. There were other runners going through their own struggles and fighting to finish too. This commonality raised my spirits and gave me a stronger will to finish despite the fact my body pleaded me to quit.
With two miles to go I made my final descent down the mountain I had been running on for 9 hours. As I thought about what I was about to accomplish, I experienced a surreal moment of clarity.
A wave of emotions overcame my body in the final stretch. I felt pain, joy, and strength all at once. As I crossed the line in 9 hours and 22 minutes it felt like everything I had experienced came crashing down on me at once.
Then as I walked around in circles trying to gather myself, tears of joy and relief began to form. The race did not go as I had planned, but I think it was exactly what I needed.
This race pushed me further than I thought I could ever be pushed. I am now a stronger runner because of it. Now more than ever, I want to know my true limits. I am also a smarter runner because of this race. To better prevent future injuries I will pay closer attention to what my muscles tell me. If I feel a pain or discomfort I will address it right away. I will commit to extra core work, targeted stretching, heating muscles before a run, icing them after, foam rolling daily, and consulting a doctor if needed.
When it comes to ultra training there is little room for error and one must pay attention to every detail. As I train for my next 50 mile race at Bear Mt. in New York in May 2015, I will be sure to keep all I learned at the forefront of my mind.
In the seven months leading up to the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile race I accomplished three unexpected milestones. I had no idea I would run my first marathon, 50K, and 50 miler.
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Coach Patrick Hammond earned his Masters Degree in Sports and Performance Psychology from the University of the Rockies. He is a USA Track and Field Level 1 certified coach.
As a runner in college he competed at Western Kentucky University, where he helped his team win a Division IA Cross Country Sun Belt Conference Championship.
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