50 miles… it’s the new 26.2

  • This was printed in April of 2014 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 47th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

Ever since I decided to start running again in November 2012, I’ve caught a host of

ailments, and Saturday added one more.

First I caught the running bug and shortly after came down with the Boston bug. Saturday

at the American River 50-Mile Endurance Run near Sacramento I was forcefully hit with

the ultramarathon bug. You really have to be sick in the head to want to run 50 miles

— or do you?

It was my coach’s first 50-miler and he did it with a hairline fracture in his heel and a

bum hip. Afterward Coach Brad said he felt “fine. It hurt less than a marathon.” I asked

him again on Sunday how he felt. “Great. Fifty was easier than a marathon.”

I was sure the soreness was going to set in by Monday, so I asked again at our training

run at 5 a.m., only to hear, “I’m good. My hip hurts no more than it did before. I’m fine.”

It’s possible to run 50 miles along a beautiful path that follows Folsom Lake and the

American River, and includes 4,000-plus feet of elevation gain…with no pain afterward?

Sold.

I ran the last nine miles of AR50 as a pacer for a fellow Wascally, Lisa Van De Water. It

was also her first 50-miler — she even skipped marathons and went straight to an ultra

— and she wanted Audrey Crow and I to run with her for the last 20 miles of the race.

Pacers in an ultramarathon aren’t really there to help a runner keep a pace, I realized,

they’re there to help a runner keep sane. It can be a long, lonely road because racers can

become very spread out over 50 miles, and long distances are known to make runners

hallucinate.

AR50 organizers allow pacers to join runners around Mile 25. Lisa held off needing us

until Mile 30, when Audrey followed in step behind her to provide conversation and

company. We switched at an aid station at Mile 41, where I helped Lisa attack the

steepest climbs in the course through Mile 50.

“You trained for this, Lisa, you can do this,” was met with grunts and the occasional,

“I’m going to throw up.” But that strong 51-year-old woman never faltered and picked up

her pace during the last two miles to finish in 11 hours, 29 minutes and 8 seconds, a half

hour faster than her goal.

(For the record, Brad — broken foot, bum hip and all — completed the race in 11 hours,

29 minutes and 20 seconds.)

Watching these tough men and women put themselves through such a rigorous course

over a distance that most people don’t even drive during one day was nothing short of

inspirational. It was a pleasure to be a part of such an amazing race, even if it was only as

a pacer.

I definitely want to hit another level of crazy and become an ultramarathoner. I’m looking

at but haven’t committed to the inaugural San Joaquin River Trail 50K and 50-Miler

tentatively scheduled for November. What better training for the Boston Marathon than a

highly technical, 50-mile race with 9,000 feet of elevation gain?

What else is there to do after reaching — what I thought was — my ultimate goal,

qualifying for Boston? Get faster? Run farther? Run harder courses? How about all of the

above?

How will we ever know what our bodies are capable of unless we push them to their

limits?

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