Thursday, May 6, 2010

First Time

You always remember your first. It’s almost always awkward and you’re nervous, having never done it before. There is lots of fumbling around a bit, not really knowing what you are doing Though if you are like most, you have imagined exactly how it will be and probably practiced on your own so everything goes just right. There is nothing wrong with that, its natural and no one wants to go into this kind of thing unprepared. You dreamed about it, thought about it, and you are absolutely sure you are ready. Most of the time though, you still start out too fast and pay the price later. It’s rarely how you thought it would be and some parts are downright disappointing. Still, it is your first time, and that lives with you forever.

That’s what your first ultra marathon is like, and that’s exactly how things went when I ran the Sunsweet Tehema Wildflower 50K. I didn’t think I was nervous but friends later told me that I had absolute tunnel vision at the start, and hadn’t quite shaken it at the 16 mile turn around point. I had everything planned out, right down to the ziplock bag with replacement energy gels, enduralyte capsules and a Cliff bar. I had practiced for hours running the hills near where I live and was fortunate enough to get to run half the course with race directors Alan and Bev Abbs prior to race day.

This is where I have to take a moment and give serious props to these two. Despite full time jobs and demanding pro ultra running careers of their own they take the time to put on this amazingly beautiful race through the spring time hills above the Sacramento River in Northern California. Not only do they do a magnificent job of orchestrating the event (a 10K, 50K and 50K relay) they are unbelievably gracious. Several weeks before race after corresponding with Bev regarding the course and explaining I was new to ultra running, she invited me and several of my friends to come up and run the course with her and Alan. Along the way they pointed out where stops would be, provided tips on ultra running and served up brownies at the end. Truly remarkable people Alan and Bev.

And, like most first times, everything is magnified. During the ultra I found that there really seems to be no “slightly” anything. If you are low on fluids or fuel, the resulting bonks are intensified. If you haven’t trained properly, you will know it early on. And, everything positive is intensified too. The beauty of the wildflowers, the friendliness of fellow runners and aid station volunteers and the finish… oh the finish is exquisite and indescribable.

And when you are done, and reflecting on what just occurred, one wants to brag, but do try to respectfully refrain. It is unseemly to boast and ruin the special moment. You do wonder if people will be able to tell by looking at you what you have done, and you ponder if it will it make you run differently.

I fared well for this first time out, and when things settled down I was able to actually enjoy the run, reap the benefits of all those hill runs I did during training and generally came out of it with my dignity intact. I posted a respectable time, coming in 16th overall with no injuries and can’t wait to do it again.

There will most certainly be others, and I will do better, last longer, and fumble less. Some perhaps will be even more beautiful. But none will ever match my first.