Hell yeah it can be done. Here’s how I pulled it off.
I realize I am a lousy blogger, I can’t seem to keep up at all with race recaps, but wanted to get this posted even though it’s a month late!
I decided that the first step toward running an ultra was to tackle two marathons within a one week time-frame. By Maniac standards, this is still pretty tame, but to me I thought it was a pretty good challenge, and would serve as one of many for the year. In the weeks leading up to Marathon #1, I made sure to put in some high mileage weeks and back-to-back long runs on weekends. My maximum mileage for the week was 70, and it wasn’t easy getting in those double-digit runs on a weekday, but nonetheless I was dedicated to the training and made sure to stick to my self-made training plan as much as I could.
I also had traveled and taken a couple weeks off from serious training in April (it was totally worth it too), so I had SOME concerns about being able to pull this off successfully. I never managed a 20 mile training run during this time, but I personally think 18 is all one needs to run a marathon after they have several under their belt already. Sometimes between fulls the most I can do is maybe 14 miles…but trust me, the body remembers (or was it Pepperidge Farm?).
So enough jibber-jabber, here we go…
Marathon 1: Delaware Marathon (Marathon #26)
I went into this race telling myself over and over, I am only doing this as a training run, this is going to be a “fun run”, and take it slow and easy; besides, the medal and swag were pretty damned sweet (thus a huge incentive…what else is there I ask ya?).
And it’s exactly what I did. It was a very humid day, 100% humidity for the duration of the race, but luckily it stayed overcast and 60 degrees for the morning. It was a double loop course, something I swore I would never do years ago, but since a lot of ultras are on loop courses like this, I figured it would be good practice. And in the end, it was not nearly as bad as I expected, it was actually kind of nice! Plus you pass the finish line area where the halfers split off, and the crowd support was pretty great. There were a LOT of halfers and relay runners, and only around 400 or so marathoners, so I have to admit it felt a little badass to tough out the entire 26.2 when everyone else was running 4, 8.5(ish) or 13.1 miles. I had to control the urge not to shove someone out of the way as they pranced by clean, fresh-faced and full of purpose at Mile .01 and I was at Mile 22. DON’T demoralize me.
My body felt great for the duration of the race; I only had some issues that had nothing to do with running: basically I was undergoing severe GI distress and had to stop several times during the race. I was seriously in pain, it was like my Anne Arbor Marathon all over again. I had pain, cramping, and even chills. Ugh. It sucked. A lot. But after the final PortaJon stop with only 5 or 6 miles left, I finally felt a little better and was able to pick it up. I also had some chafing from the humidity, but had put a portable sunscreen stick in my Spi-Belt and it worked well as pseudo-Bodyglide. In fact, it saved me I think.
Considering all the starting and stopping I had to do, plus a short walk break or two, I finished in 4:16, and looking back feel that it was a pretty respectable time. I kept my pace VERY conversational and comfortable throughout, and my pace never really changed throughout the morning. There is a decent hill section at Mile 5.5 and 18.5, and that second loop almost made me hit the wall, but I managed to push through. All in all it was actually a pretty enjoyable race, and the sun came out just as I hit Mile 26. Thank GAWD. If I had to run in full sun with that humidity it would have been horrific.
The finish line had plenty of food, but one of the BEST things was a beer and champagne garden, and you were free to enjoy your beer anywhere in the finish area, not just a designated beer tent.I had brought a couple cold ciders and even had a couple cold mimosas. Food? Eventually I had real food, but was content with a bag of Old Bay Kettle Chips. In fact, I am discovering that kettle chips are turning into my favorite junk food, and some ultra-runners swear by them as fuel! That’s giving me some ideas for my ultras this year!
DE Marathon Pros:
- A lot of Maniacs and 50-Staters run this one, as DE is a state with few marathons.
- Tons of parking and easy race day logistics
- Course was actually quite scenic for the most part
- Very good course support and finish line spread
- Swag was fantastic – a pint glass, hat, gender-specific shirt, and a really nice quality medal
- Finish line was really great, good spectator support at certain points
- Packet pick-up available on race day without a fee
- Beer AND champagne garden, and you could sit anywhere in the grass to enjoy, not just a roped off area/beer tent
- Early morning start to avoid the heat
- Double-loop course (you can take this as you will, I prefer point to point, but didn’t mind this so much)
- This time of year is hit or miss for weather, and it can be very warm and humid in May
- Some sections of the course are slightly ugly in terms of scenery, but nothing super industrial (Harrisburg Marathon, I’m looking at you)
- A bit pricy but the cost doesn’t change, $100 without a running club discount, which for a small marathon is pretty expensive
The Week Between Two Fulls
The Sugarloaf Marathon in Maine was exactly a week after the DE marathon. For the Monday after the race, I rested. Completely. And I actually felt pretty good, I was hardly at all sore…it honestly felt like I had completed a long run that Sunday, but regardless I didn’t jump into a high mileage week at all. I made sure I rested, took naps, and ate carbs – mainly simple carbs like rice or toast with breakfast.
But I digress, Tuesday and Wednesday I did walk/run intervals for 4 miles, Thursday I only had time for 2 miles. That’s it. Just maintenance and shaking out the soreness. Nothing more.
Friday and Saturday involved the drive to Maine and relaxing at the Sugarloaf Hotel. The day before a race I tend to do absolutely nothing. I like to stay off my feet, eat a little more, drink a little cider, play Final Fantasy: Crisis Core on my PSP (in the words of Patton Oswalt: My geekiness is getting in the way of my nerdiness.)…and just have the laziest day I can possibly imagine before hitting the racecourse again.
Marathon 2: Sugarloaf, Maine : Marathon 27, State 23
Race morning I had to take a shuttle to the start at 5:45 AM. In all honesty, I felt pretty good, no leftover soreness, no phantom joint or tendon pain, everything felt good and I felt ready to go. I had NO idea how I would fare, but this race was known as the fastest race in Maine and was a great Boston qualifier and PR course. Precipitation-wise, we lucked out with the weather too, as it had threatened to rain off and on in the forecast…and on race day, the rain was definitely no longer in the forecast. So I had a feeling I would do well, but the idea of a ridiculous PR sounded way too good to be true.
The problem with Sugarloaf is it’s on roads that aren’t shaded, so even if you’re running at a good clip, having to run in full sun on a warmer day (to me, warm is anything above 70 degrees) can devastate you in the second half. I don’t do well at all in full sun, and really felt like I was starting to fall apart in the final ten miles.
All I could keep thinking was:
I actually WALKED at mile 25 (I NEVER EVER WALK AT MILE 25!!!) and that is usually when I really push myself to the finish. Instead I felt as if I was just done…I had to REALLY dig deep mentally to finish. I felt pretty defeated in those final miles.
The first 5 miles were great, it was a nice easy morning, still felt a tad cool outside, rolling hills and beautiful scenery. Miles 5-10 were slowly uphill, and while nothing ever brought me to a walk, they were fairly long hills and a decent climb. At this point the sun was also starting to beat down on me just a little. Once we got to the top of the hill section, the last sixteen miles were either downhill, flat or slightly uphill. The main problem, again, was sun. I felt like I could never get any shade, and it was draining me fast.
I also decided after this race to never bother with another energy gel AGAIN. I’d rather starve and rely on my own body fat. Bottom line, they’re gross, and during the Sugarloaf marathon I had a very hard time using them. I actually was gagging trying to get them down. From now on it’s real food or nothing, the way ultra-runners do it, I’m DONE with them! Bam!
Here was another issue: the race wasn’t closed to traffic, and there were cars and exhaust almost constantly during the second half. A lot of the family and spectators were driving along the course (sometimes I saw the same cluster of people four or five times, it was great because they were SO encouraging) and heading toward the finish line. But this is where it got complicated. The final half mile was just bottle-necked with cars, and I actually had to SQUEEZE past traffic to continue on the course into what felt like a cattle chute to the finish line. It actually was VERY anti-climactic, and also annoying. I wasn’t the only one who was very disappointed by this. Your final .5 miles should be victorious, and instead I felt as if we were elbowing our way through a traffic jam! I was literally inches from brushing up against a hot car waiting in traffic!
I’m sorry if I sound like a Little Miss Complainy Complainerson, but the last thing I will say about Sugarloaf, is while I loved the shirts, the medals were the same ones that the 15k runners got, and even said “Marathon and 15k” on the medal. I shouldn’t care about the medals, but I feel like I worked pretty hard and deserved one that proved I ran a marathon. I could easily have just run the 15k, got the same medal, and no one would be the wiser. But cheating is NOT my way! Nor should it be ANY respectable runner’s way (you know who you are!), but that’s…another story (cue Limahl and the Neverending Story theme music!)
In the end, I finished in 4:06, and was VERY disappointed with my time. I felt like the race just flat-out sucked, and was really bummed I couldn’t even manage a sub-4 when in the past few marathons they came so easily. In hindsight, I feel like I did pretty well for two marathons in one week, and I know now that I can do this again, no problem. I just really struggle with weather conditions, and there’s no controlling that.
Sugarloaf Marathon Pros
- Small race field, great for 50 Staters and Maniacs (and everyone was super friendly)
- PR course WHEN CONDITIONS ALLOW, like Wineglass there’s a lot of downhill, which helps to make up for any of the uphill in the early stages of the race
- Great tech shirt, long-sleeved (my favorite for maximum ink protection! Gotta protect that investment!) for the marathoners
- Lovely host hotel with good transportation to and from the race, and the rates were also very reasonable
- Beautiful scenery through a point-to-point course, some of the prettier scenery I’ve seen during a race
- Good support stations and volunteers, and there seemed to be a lot more in the second half (which was needed, as it got pretty warm)
- HARDLY ANY SHADE. Obviously nothing can be done about this, but it really sucked. A LOT.
- Roads open to traffic, and in the final miles I felt like I was really sucking down a lot of exhaust
- Roads were pitted and cambered, and that was pretty tough at times
- Sorry, I’m still a tiny bit annoyed about the medal. I would have liked something to mark the year or race to separate me from the 15k, but trust me, I’ve gotten MUCH worse medals. Ones that can’t even spell marathon right. At least the design itself was very nice and really captured what the Sugarloaf Marathon was about.
- The finish line bottle-neck was very frustrating, as we really had to squeeze past traffic to get to the finish.
- Not really much in terms of finish line food for this celiac…but I didn’t even care. I was too wiped out to care.
One thing I took away from all this: I bought a CamelBak Marathoner in order to keep myself well-hydrated during long, warm races. Sometimes smaller marathons don’t have enough support to keep you well-hydrated, unless you’re a totally kickass marathon like Hatfield McCoy and have one EVERY FREAKIN’ MILE. So in smaller races, especially with trail sections, it’s nice to be able to just hydrate when you feel the need, bypass the support stops and not contribute to wasting plastic/paper cups. PLUS the CamelBak holds all I need in terms of fuel, tissues, and anything else I’d need; it’s come in so handy on training runs this time of year, and I absolutely love it!
Final note: I will say when I researched the CamelBak online I saw a lot of message forums where people asked about them, and some runners just ripped into them for “not being a real runner if you need one” or “you’re obviously a slow runner if you are on the course long enough to need one”. Way to be supportive and informative while sounding like a total dickbag.
It’s runners like you that I hope I never have the pleasure to meet. Obviously you’ve never run trail races where support is minimal or you’d never be so dismissive. I’d love to see you during an ultra someday, especially one in August.
Have a nice day and keep up the good work by supporting the running community.