Running a marathon is hard. Now, take those 26.2 miles and add another eight, spread the aid stations out by about nine miles, and swap the wide and smooth paths of a road race, with a single track, rooted, ankle-crushing trail. Oh, and to top it all off, you're running this race up and down Mt. Chuckanut, gaining over 8,200 feet of elevation.
What do you get? The Lost Lake 50k (really 33-34 mile), an amazing race just outside of Bellingham, Washington.
This was my first official ultra-marathon and probably the hardest thing I've done so far.
Let me back-track for a moment. I've run the distance of 50k (31.2 miles) before. On city and county roads, I've looped out and around until my watch read just over 30 miles. This was tiring, and I enjoyed a beer and a burrito when I was done, but this was no ultra-marathon. This was me just running around town.
What I learned yesterday from running the Lost Lake 50k is that this shortest of "ultra" marathons (usually set at 50k, 50 miles, 100k and 100 miles+) has less in common with the marathon, then it does with an adventure race or mountaineering expedition. What I learned is that it's an entirely different beast.
- Walking Race: Almost all the competitors walk/hike up the major mountain ascents that can pitch upward until you're crawling hand over foot.
- Self-Motivated: Almost all the race you spend by yourself or maybe with a few other runners. No cheering fans, just you finding strength to keep moving forward.
- Sightseeing can be Limited: For five, seven or twenty hours you're staring at the ground to ensure your feet don't land unevenly on a root or a rock. If you do twist your ankle, you might have to hobble miles until you get to an aid station.
- Distance only Kinda Matters: Yes, 50k is far, but distance isn't your problem. What you need to worry about are stream crossings, rationing food and water properly, mountain scrabbling and accidentally wandering off the course.
I'll write a full review of this race another day, but I did want to share one observation. The Lost Lake 50k had a few hundred competitors, with many women and men not fitting the traditional sterotype of an ultra-marathoner (you know, wearing a Red Bull t-shirt, over-using the phrase gnarly).
I met a woman in her 40s that would easily fit in walking her dog at Greenlake (just before her knitting club), a man in his late 50s who looked more like a cheerful grandfather, than one of the top competitors, a pet control business owner and a military maintenance civilian. This list of unique personalities goes on, and on.
It was inspiring to learn the stories of so many people who the traditional athletic stereotype might have overlooking. No mountain dew, heavy metal music or fawning fans. Just guts, without glory.
These are a few insights into my first official 50k. Feel free to add a comment if you have any ultra-marathon suggestions or inspirations.