NJ Trail Series Ultra Festival 50KA Successful Ultramarathon DebutPart II – Race Day, 1st & 2nd 10K
Posted Mar 25 2011 12:54am
Photo by NJ Trail Series
We arrive at the race area about fifteen minutes prior to the start and already the home base staging area was hopping with activity. Unlike a road marathon or half marathon where everyone more or less start at the exact same time, in an ultra, the start is staggered according to distance. So by the time I was scheduled to start the 50K at 7am, the 50 miler people had been running for an hour, the 100Kers two, and the 100 milers almost three hours! Since the course we were all sharing was essentially composed of two out and back sections of one long single track trail (see trail map), we saw a constant stream of runners entering and exiting the trail as we were preparing to start the 50K. For the most part, everyone looked happy which made me less nervous that I had perhaps made the wrong decision in signing up for this race. I also met and chatted with a local twitterfriend CJ (@multisportdad) at the start. It turns out that he was running his first ultra and we laughed and shared a few jokes how we cityfolk look so out of place around these parts. Soon enough we were given final race instructions by one of the race directors, and without much fanfare, she counted down from 3 and sent us on our way.
The journey began with little fanfare as the 60-70 of us made our way over to the Columbia Trail for the first out & back loop. Because I just happened to be closer to the trail entrance than the others, I was about the 5th runner entering the first part of the trail. I kept my position in the line of runners and basically just followed the path of the other runners. I must have been focusing entirely too much on running because I found out afterwards that I missed a buck crossing the trail at mile 2?! The countryside scenery I did see was beautiful though as I got to witness a full sunrise in between the shimmering trees. Running was mostly easy and enjoyable at this point. I felt comfortable and smooth, with my Saucony Peregrine trail shoes leading the way. (First 10K – 47:58)
After a quick pitstop at the end of the short eastern loop for some water, I began the longer western loop at a slightly faster pace than before. Because all the loops are out/back, you can clearly see those in front and those in back of you at every turnaround. Each time I would pass CJ, I would give him a high-five and give encouragement the best I can. For the others, I would give a hey or thumbs up sign while passing by. After a while, it became a sort of game to me, to anticipate who would give what sort of acknowledgment so I could prepare an appropriate response as I ran. I also tried to cheer on those who I passed on the trails as well because it was readily apparent that many of them started this epic adventure before I did this morning and will finish way after I’m done.
I’m about a mile in on this section when I became acutely aware that I’m in second place. Two people ahead of me had stopped off at an aid station longer than I did and I found myself alone running ahead of the pack. (The first place person had taken off like a rocket right out of the gate so he was about a mile ahead of us already by this point.) It felt odd to be in this position being that it was my first ultra and I was not racing hard at all. I kept to my easy pace (which was about 7:40s at this point) as I had before until 3rd place guy passed me by again. But then something odd happened. He never took off. My pace matched his perfectly. We can together for approximately 2 miles, him in front, me directly in back. At some point, both him and I became acutely aware of the situation but neither of us knew what to do about it. Through the subsequent miles, he threw a surge, a small one, into the 7:10s pace, and I followed. The effort felt easier to me at the faster pace so I didn’t mind. In my head, it was Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley and the Duel in the Sun Part II, and I was not going to let up until I felt that the pace was too aggressive or fatigue or both. We carried on for 2 miles at the faster pace until eventually he stopped for some fluids (he wasn’t carrying any) and I took off. I took a sip from my HydraPak and continued the same faster pace that I was running before. For the rest of that mile until the turnaround point, I didn’t dare look back in case he had caught up and was directly behind me, drafting my wind like I had done to him a few miles before. It wasn’t until I realized after the turnaround that he actually slowed down quite significantly and was almost a half mile behind where I was. After this point, my friend was not to be heard from again for the rest of this race. I celebrated my small victory with a strawberry-banana GU handed to me by my brother and continued on. (Second 10K – 45:19)