Wednesday, October 09, 2013

My Second Ultramarathon Run

My Second Ultramarathon Run
Martin Bodek
My wife says she’s proud of me, but she doesn’t get the drive behind why I want to run long distances so much. I can’t explain it either. The best I can do is expound it biologically: when the thought of running distances longer than a marathon enters my mind, endorphins are released into my bloodstream. When I train for long distances, more are released. When I actually run one, even more flood my system. That’s the best I can do. That’s the best I have to offer.

On September 29, 2013 I ran my second self-designed ultramarathon. My first in 2012 was also self-designed, a 50k through my neighborhood and the surrounding neighborhoods. I stretched the second to include more parks, safer roads, more water fountains and porta-potties, for a total of 55k, or 34.17 miles. I called it The Unsanctioned JRunners 55k Quad-Counties Ultramarathon.

I won’t include a mile-by-mile recap. That’s more insane than the actual undertaking of the endeavor. I’ll simply highlight noteworthy events at various junctures along the course:

T minus 1.5 hours to showtime: I wake at 3:30 AM, after having gone to sleep “early” at 12:30 AM because the SNL premiere sucked.

T minus 15 minutes: I’m ready to go, after having spent the last hour and a quarter shedding the last 3 days of yom tov food to the best of my ability, taking various anti-chafing measures, arming myself with my Luxor-beam competing night-safety equipment, road IDS, and money, loading up my running shorts-cum-utility belt with enough nutrition to replace the 4,000 calories or so that I’d burn on the run, double-checking that my phone, reserve power source, and GPS watch were fully charged, eating and sipping unhurriedly, and sidewalk-chalking the start line.

T minus 10: Still ready, but the fellas haven’t shown up yet. I pace back and forth on my porch.

T minus 5: Sill pacing, nobody here. We start at 5:00, fragnabbit.

T minus 1: Jonathan runs in and Matt rolls in. Okay, here we go. I offer gels, the facilities (nobody needs them, great, don’t wanna risk waking up my kids and driving my wife batty), give Matt his bib, say tefilas haderech, sing the National Anthem, line up, and…

5:13 AM: …we’re off. 55k ahead of us. What are we, insane?

Mile 1: We clear it in 9:17. Perfect. My goal is to travel at a steady 9:00 per mile pace for as long as possible. Great start. It dawns on me that we have only 33.17 miles to go. It then dawns on me that I shouldn’t dawn on this stuff now, as we have 7 more miles to go before we start running a marathon distance, which means the answer to the question just above is yes.

Mile 2.5: We’re supposed to meet Glenn and David at this juncture, but we don’t see them. Uh oh. It might be the starting pack’s fault for starting too late. We look here and there and everywhere, and start calling and e-mailing, when in the distance we see two bounding figures, illuminating the darkness with tons of smart, reflective gear. Yup, it’s the rest of our crew. They explain what happened, with some street confusion, but it’s all good. Let’s run.

Mile 3.7: We witness a delivery truck back in towards a bagel shop and trample the al fresco chairs and tables on the sidewalk. Nice going, champ.

Mile 4.9: We enter the world’s smallest park, and exit 7 seconds later. It’s a favorite of the participants. I have no idea why.

Mile 5.4: First mandatory water fountain stop, at least for me. I’m carrying Powerade, not water, on my back. Everyone else forgoes it and begrumbles me for wasting time.

Mile 8.6: We pass a Dunkin’ Donuts, shiny and new and glistening and inviting in the sunrise. The only thing more deafening than the sound of my salivary glands kicking in, is the same audible thing happening with the rest of the runners. Seriously, there was something Pavlovlian about how the store looked…

Mile 8.7: Suddenly everyone asks me when the next bathroom stop is. Was it the psychosomatic diuretic effect of the coffees shop? Whatever it was, I promise it’s less than a mile ahead.

Mile 9.4: Fall has hit this block, in this town (pick an Orange, the map is confusing), faster than anywhere else. Fascinating. Foliage on the ground only here, everywhere else the colors are still changing on the trees.

Mile 9.6: Bathroom break! While each of us takes a turn in the porta-potty, the others run loops around the park. Smart way not to waste time. I’m last out. I refill on water, text my wife the current state of affairs, and onward we go. Much less than a marathon to go. Now it’s safe to think this way.

Mile 10.4: We begin a 3.5 mile straight wide-shouldered stretch. I like this part of my course because of its high visibility and relative safety outside of the parks. I actually stretched this portion from last year so even more of it could be included.

Mile 12.5: Jonathan has to leave us at this point, to finish out 17.5 miles on his schedule and head for home. He’s got a BQ in mind in a few weeks. We take the opportunity to take a class photo before parting ways. And then we were 4.

Mile 13.0: My watch chimes in that we’re doing 9:07 per mile thus far. David marvels at the fact that we’ve been doing that for quite some time. It’s true, for the past 7 miles, we’ve heard nothing but 9:06, 9:07, 9:08. Steady as a rock we are.

Mile 14.4: We encounter a group of runners and have a quick chat. They’re out for a 5k. We tell ‘em we’re out for 50 more than that.

Mile 14.8: Mandatory water stop! Hey guys, wait up! Just me again? Hold up! Wait! I’m thirsty!

Mile 16.3: We pass the street corner that was mile 15.6, halfway, in last year’s 50k, and I think “Whuh, we’re not even halfway there!” I’m very much looking forward to getting halfway there.

Mile18.4: We do the usual potty-break-for-some-of-us/park-loops-for-the-rest-of-us drill in my children’s’ favorite local park (because of the challenging apparatuses – apparati?). My phone is down to 23%. I recharge with my handy little power pack.

Mile 19.0: We arrive at the spot where David and Glenn Parked their cars. David runs ahead so he can complete 20 before heading home. Glenn lifts his trunk door and reveals a treasure of Gatorades and waters, which we down happily, along with other foods on our persons (people?). We dilly-dally a bit, waiting for David to return so we can wish him farewell and thanks for joining. I’m done rehydrating and nourishing, and pace a parking lot to keep the legs moving. David returns, and the rest of us continue on the way. And then there were 3.

Mile 19.5: We enter a 2-mile stretch of interconnected parks, which would be drop-dead gorgeous if it weren’t for all the goosepoop. But life is like that. You take the good, you take the bad…

Mile 21.4: The recharge gets my phone to 53%. Glenn bids us adieu. He’ll go on to complete 22.8 miles for the day. It takes me a few minutes to get the legs moving again after the stop. And then there were 2.

Mile 21.5: I start flagging a bit here, a little intentionally, a little unintentionally. My man Paul had advised me ahead of time that at this race distance, I should walk every uphill, to save my energy for the haul. I had done that a bit up to this point, but I still had a half marathon to go, so I put the plan into full effect. I also have that heavy feeling that’s caused by one of two, or both, things: I’m waterlogged, or am low on nutrition. It isn’t the first; I’m hydrating properly, so it’s the second.

Mile 21.8: A long uphill is ahead of us. I ask Matt – who is still bounding with limitless energy – to go ahead up the hill while I munch on some more of the food I have on me and swig some Powerade. I meet Matt at the top and we continue on the way.

Mile 22.6: My RunKeeper app keeps sounding off every half minute. Aha, that’s what happens when my t-shirt is so saturated with sweat that when it bumps against the phone, it considers it a touch. I’m pleased that I’m perspiring properly, and tuck my shirt flap into my waistband (illegal in the NHL this season).

Mile 23.4: Into Branch Brook Park, a jewel that straddles Belleville and Newark. An immediate hill meets us, a short one at that, but we’re walking these now.

Mile 24.2: One last bathroom break before committing to no more such interruptions for the rest of the journey. Matt doesn’t need the break, he runs about the park piling up mileage while I take care of business. When I exit, my legs are a bit tight and wobbly, but Matt is schmoozing up a storm with some locals prepping for a soccer game.

Mile 24.6: I’m sputtering. I’ve still got that heavy feeling (though it’s lifting, but not fast enough), and my ankles hurt. Matt is still full of energy. I release him again and he goes bouncing away into the park. I feel like a car that won’t turn over. I need more energy. I eat more (*man* I have lots of food on me!). Matt bounces back. I ask for his remaining Motrin, he graces me with it and bounces away again. The energy starts coming back, but the ankles still hurt, nevertheless, I want to run all the way to the marathon distance. We’ll start there and see about the rest of the way.

Mile 26.2: I’m carrying two time-keeping devices. My GPS is for clocking my total time spent on the course, from start to finish. My phone app records just my running time. So one is for running time, and one for running time, respectively, or vice versa. I’m sure you’re following along at this point. Anyway, as Matt returns again from running ahead a bit and crossing the marathon distance himself, I hit the milestone on the watch, that keeps track of just the running activity, in 4:07, which is 1:30 faster than the fastest I’ve ever run a marathon. That makes me extremely happy, especially considering my 19th attempt at going for sub-4 for the distance a bit later this year.

Mile 26.5: The Motrin hasn’t fully kicked in yet, and I begin to blaspheme, muttering about cutting the race short to 50k and the possibility of DNFing. I’m delirious. Matt, ever so patient with me, figuratively slaps me across the face. This is why I need partners on a journey like this. I struggle alongside Matt – still patient, as he’s full of energy still – for the next mile.

Mile 27.5: Matt says something which makes something go click in my brain: We have just about a 10k to go! Oh! Say it like that, and nothing hurts anymore! I’m not at thoroughbred-level speed at this point, but I can keep on. The Motrin has seemingly kicked in, and my energy levels have returned via my nutrition. The legs start rolling, and we get back into a groove.

Mile 29.3: We stop in at a bagel shop for some supplies. I get a Powerade, water, and M&Ms. Matt gets a pile of goodies himself. A man on line notices the 55k on our bids and motions us ahead. Nice! Refreshed, we continue. Less than an 8k left.

Mile 30.2: We pass the point where Glenn and David parked their cars. Boy that seems like a long time ago.

Mile 32.2: We enter the final park I have on the course – which is the first I have on the course. Matt goes boingy-boingy on his tail like Tigger while I toddle in, determined to finish, but dragging. Still I’m in high spirits.

Mile 32.4: I spot Matt outside of the park, schmoozing with a couple of running buddies, Yitzy and Jeffrey. Funny.

Mile 32.6: My phone dies. Just like that. Pfft. I check it to see my mileage, spot a chizuk-text from my wife – “HooHa! U can do it!” – and I want to answer her and thank her but it’s over for my phone. Kaputzky.

Mile 33.2: Matt has finished his 55k. Actually, he’s done a total of 35 miles. Whoa. I ask him to head to my house, let everyone know I’m okay, while I split off to complete the journey and loop around to finish at or near my house.

Mile 34.0: Oops, I get to my corner a bit early. I head for a loop into my local train station, back out and just about four feet from my house…

Mile 34.17: …I complete the 55k, having spent 6:19:24 on my feet, with 5:45:07 of those in the act of moving forward at various speeds (or heck, slows).

T plus the rest of the day: I place the medal on the champion’s neck, take some finisher photos for posterity, munch my wife’s delicious brownies, take a quick shower, exit to find my family in the car raring to go apple-picking, chill for an hour in the car, spend two hours on my feet in the orchards (which, seriously, is the best thing I’ve ever done post marathon-distance-or-longer run) dragging a wagon whose way I cannot get out of when it barrels towards me and slashes the back of my leg, chill for an hour in the car, take care of other family business, take an Epsom salt bath, hit the couch. A day well spent.

So what do I have in mind for next year? A 60k, of course. I want to run from North Jersey to Brooklyn (it would still be four counties!) with many game JRunners buddies. The year after that? I want to run 40 miles (20 in the morning, 20 in the evening?) on my 40th birthday. Excuse me while I get buy-in from Mrs. Bodek.  I’ll explain what I want to do, but I won’t be able to explain why.

Martin writes books, one of which is about running, and includes some of the runners above. Check 'em out:


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