Sunday, May 4, 2014

I AM ULTRAMAN! Greenland Trail 50K Race Report!

Ok.. you'll have to forgive me as I am still in my post ultra-marathon giddiness.... I knew I had trained for it, and I set good goals, but there was a part of me that just wasn't sure.  And there is the other part of me that still can't believe it!  I just finished a trail ultra marathon!  31 miles (50K) and just over 7.5 hours of blood, sweat, and tears. Ok, no actual blood.. that was a good thing :-)

And if you thought the title was a reference to Iron Man, it is not.  Ultraman is a childhood hero of mine. I spent a few years in Japan (my dad was in the Navy) and it was there I enjoyed watching re-runs of a classic superhero Japanese TV series from the late 60's.   Anyway, during those hours of running, and realizing that I was going to make the leap to ultra running, Ultraman kept popping into my head...  I miss that show!

Sunrise as I was arriving at the race start

But as usual, I'm digressing from what is supposed to be my race report :-).  I ran the Greenland Trail 50K up in Greenland CO (Between Colorado Springs and Denver).  The race consists of a 4 lap single/double track through the Greenland open space (rolling hills, meadows/grass etc).  The trail was not technical, but had some good uphill grinds and nice easy downhills.

Here is a great shot of the open space. You can see part of the trail on the left, and Pikes Peak. The loop runs through these rolling hills, reaching its peak about halfway through the 7.5 mile lap.  It was a beautiful day... in the high 40's I'm guessing at race start at 7am.  The breeze was light, which was great because I had run this trail once before, spending the first half of the loop in a 20-30mph headwind!

This was taken back by the finish line which was about 1/4 mile away from the aid station at the looping point.  Such a beautiful day, but set to warm up for sure.  Just about all of my training, and especially my long runs, were all done at or below freezing temps.  Spent most of my training trying to stay warm, but today was going to be a different story!  Highs were expected to be in the low to mid 70's.  I know that sounds mild, but I had yet to run in anything above 60, and certainly not this distance!

I got so much great advice from runner friends, and the various Facebook running groups that I follow, that my head was full of thoughts when the race started.  First and foremost, I know that I should enjoy this and have fun more than anything, so I started off with a big grin on my face.  How could I not? The day was gorgeous, the views amazing, and I was running with a group of people that were out there for the same reasons.  The next thing I wanted to be sure to do was to pace myself early on, and did my best to walk up the steeper hills, even thought at first I didn't feel I needed to. I kept telling myself I needed my legs to finish this thing and not burn up early.  I crashed and burned in my first marathon (run at sea level) because I let the profusion of oxygen allow me to outrun my legs early on.  I had some nice conversations with folks during that first lap, which also made me slow enough to carry on comfortable chats.

As I ran on into the second lap, I felt pretty good. I was also trying to stay ahead of refueling by ensuring to take an Electro-Bite packet or gel on a regular basis, and not when I felt like I needed one. By the second lap it was really getting warmer and I was sweating a lot.  I was finding that my 20oz bottle was just making it between aid stations (about 4 mi apart).  I know from past experience that if I am going to hit a "wall" it was going to get me between mile 16 and 20.  Where it hit me in this race was between miles 18 and 20 or so. Fortunately it hit during most of the uphill sections of the 3rd lap, so it coincided with the portions I was mostly walking.  But ugh, I hate that feeling...  total energy drain, stomach doesn't feel well, and mentally I got so negative.  This was the toughest mental battle, but I knew it was coming.. I knew ahead of time that lap 3 would be the challenge.  It was here that I stopped my self several times and literally forced myself to smile even though I wasn't feeling it, and to grasp that I was running an ultra marathon!  I would have NEVER believed it just a few years ago. That action, combined with basically "embracing the suck", or focusing on and relishing each new pain, rather than wishing them away, pushed me back into the game.

I know it sounds a bit crazy, but I've read that rather than hoping a pain goes away, or trying ignore them, it's better to just embrace them head on.  When a new pain popped up, I focused on it.. and literally said "oh hey.. that's a new one"..  grinned and accepted it as part of joy of ultra running.  Surprising how the impact of the pain faded to become manageable.

I made it to the 4th lap, and made the turn at the aid station much quicker than prior ones.  I knew I was on track to beat the cutoff and I didn't want to waste any time.  The volunteers at the aid stations (and all of ones running the race) were outstanding! So positive and helpful... at this station they grabbed my bottle quickly, refilled it and snapped it back into my Hydraquiver pack (review coming!) all while I was grabbing a few snacks and tossing cups of water on my head!  I was in and out like Richard Petty in the pits...  By this time it was really warm, and I was tossing ice water on my head at every station stop.  Even then, it seemed to evaporate in 10 minutes.  I was also running out of water before each aid station which was a struggle... worse than that, at this point I didn't need to pee, even after 60+ ounces of water...  must have been sweating like crazy.   I was fueling with hammer gels, Huma Chia gels, Electro-Bites, Mama Chias, and the occasional handful of chips or pretzels. The Electro-Bites were a life saver as I get so burned out on gels, I loved to offset them with something salty/sweet and packed with energy. I was also taking S Caps regularly, and increased them when I felt some cramping in my shins coming on.

The 4th lap was kind of cool...  being at the back of the pack (no I didn't DFL but sure was close), there were very few of us left on the trail in the last lap.  I ran the whole thing by myself.. just catching glimpses of those ahead of me, but really it was just me and the trail. On the one hand, it was really cool...  having the entire trail and space to myself... so quiet...  peaceful.  But also kind of lonely! I was anxious to finish at this point, and my confidence grew as I kept glancing at my overall pace on my Garmin.. .doing the math, and knowing that at the halfway point in the last lap, I could probably have shuffled in dragging one leg and still beat the cutoff time.  That's really when it set in that I was going to do this!

As I was coming down the last of the hills towards the finish, I could see it and I was still in shock that I was going to make it.  My feet hurt a lot, and I could feel several hot spots but I pushed on.  As I approached the finish I saw my wife standing off the trail, about 50 yards from the finish..   I know many people have said how emotional it can be to finish an ultra, and I could kind of understand that, but now I really understood it... seeing her there brought all these emotions rushing in out of nowhere it seemed... I teared up so much I couldn't see the trail... tears of joy and happiness....  She grabbed this pic right after...  where I realized I need to keep it together and finish this thing!  My wife ran with me from here... giving me a big boost!

At this point our 9 yo twin boys came running up to me and we crossed the finish line together...  I loved that so much...  no better way to finish a race!   And as I crossed the finish line... in my head I thought.. yeah, I could do 19 more miles...  if my feet weren't so sore..  my legs still had some juice in them...   hmm...

Happy guy
So there you have it... one more step in a crazy journey that started 3 years ago.. with the goal being to just be as healthy as I could be, and survive a 5K...   funny what happens when you become passionate about something!

I actually hate Bud Light.... but it was ice cold and I drained it in a couple sips!  Ahh... that's what running is all about... that and the 5 Guys burger/fries on the way home!  :-)

As always thanks for tuning in, and thank you to everyone for your kind words of support and inspiration... I truly appreciate it.

Happy trails!

Ultra Runner Jeff  :-)


  1. fantastic job jeff! congrats on the great race - i'm hoping to reach 'ultraman' territory this july ... may i ask what training plan you used to prep yourself for the Greeland Trail 50k?

    1. Thanks Patrick! I followed this plan after it was recommended to me by several friends that had used it. I liked the plan and it got me through! here's the link:

    2. fantastic - i will give it a good look over jeff! i have been reviewing some other ultramarathon plans - specifically for the Comrades as i'm hoping to run that within the next two years, but it's a road-specific program.

  2. Congratulations! You look joyful in every pictures. So glad it was a great experience!

  3. Great job, Jeff. Nice write-up.

  4. Job well done. I was there for my first one also. Wished it had been cooler though. I had to will myself from cramps those last three miles to reach my goal of under 6hrs. I did it but it wasn't pretty. My Dad saw the finnish & he said we all looked like $#*^%. Maybe he shouldn't go see the ending of the PP Ascent... >; }

  5. Congratulations!! Greenland was my first ultra as well. The course is deceptively tough as it is very exposed so you are always at the mercy of the elements.

  6. So stoked for you, congratulations! Super inspiring. I'm at the beginning of my journey, addicted to the activity, prodding my passion. cant wait till my first ultra, or first halfer, or even my first 5k for that matter.
    Could you tell me a bit about which footwear you went with and why?


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