Race Date 11/02/13
For my first 50-mile race, I chose the Nashville Ultra Marathon, a course that is 90% paved, with just a few miles on grassy, non-technical trails. Although many ultra-runners prefer to run on trails to protect the joints, I find it easier to run on pavement. As a toe striker and a total klutz, if there is a root or rock to trip on, I will find it.🙂
My previous attempt at a 50-mile race resulted in 49 miles in 11:45:20 in February 2012. I’m not only a klutz, but I can’t count! The race was one-mile loops, and I had made the bad decision to stop my Garmin watch and forgot to start it. The Nashville Ultra was my shot at redemption. My A goal was to finish the 50 miles in 12 hours, B goal was to finish in under 11 hours, and C goal was to finish in under 10 hours, minutes.
I began training for the Nashville Ultra in July, gradually building up to a 28 mile run on Saturday and a 12 mile run on Sunday (2 weekends) before tapering down. As all ultra-runners know, logistics are just as important as the training. I studied the race’s Web site to determine that the aid stations would be about 6 miles apart. The site also mentioned that drop bags could be labeled and left at the start, to be transported to the designated aid stations. I carefully prepared 4 drop bags (we passed most aid stations twice) with crackers, pb&js, honey stinger chews, band-aids, anti-nausea tablets, pain relievers, band-aids, S!Caps, NUUN drops, etc.
I traveled to Nashville with local running prodigy Daniel Clements. This was Daniel’s fourth race after he had been running seriously for about a year. He is on some kind of insane running fast track! Daniel’s mom Donna and his sister Anna offered support for both of us and we went over our plan the night before the race while carbo loading. Because Daniel and I opted for the 5:00 a.m. start instead of the 7:00 a.m. start, we knew we would not have aid at mile 5 and 11, because the aid station at this location didn’t open until 7:00 a.m. But Ugly Styrofoam Cooler (see photo below) came to the rescue! Donna and Anna graciously agreed to meet us at aid station #1 with Ugly Styrofoam Cooler filled with water and Gatorade.
About 30 runners opted for the 5:00 a.m. start at the Stones River Greenway at the Wave Country pool. As you can see from the photo, we all look like coal minersJ The first part of the race was on a paved trail without lights, so headlamps or flashlights were required for all runners. Prior to the race start, we placed our drop bags in the appropriate bins, used the porta potty one last time and chatted with other runners. We were given our final instructions: Follow the white arrows and signs to stay on the course, check in at all aid stations and at check-in points. And then, we were off!
The first 16 miles – and 8 mile out and back – went by quickly because it was in the dark. I also met two very nice runners, Kim and Susan, and we visited during this time, which made the miles go by more quickly. There were some rolling hills during this section and it was nice to get them finished early. Prior to the turnaround point, Daniel zoomed past us and was in the lead by a wide margin. I refilled my water bottle at mile 5 and 11 and was very grateful to Donna and Anna for bringing Ugly Styrofoam Cooler! The aid helped a number of runners who needed refills before aid station #1 opened. I was proud of Ugly Styrofoam Cooler for providing a valuable community service.🙂
Mile 16 brought us to the start line, where we had the opportunity to visit the porta potty, re-hydrate, refuel and get supplies from drop bags. I felt surprisingly good at this point and focused on keeping a steady pace for the next 6 miles. We continued on the paved trail across the Cumberland River and into the Shelby Bottoms Greenway, part of which was on a grassy trail. I began to think of segments of 5 – 6 miles (between aid stations) instead of 50 miles (way too daunting!) The variety and beauty of scenery along the course really helped break up monotony.
At mile 22 we reached aid station #2 inside Shelby Park. I made a quick stop for water, retrieved some NUUN drops, honey stinger chews, and half of a pb&j from my drop bag, and took an S!Cap and shed my outer layer to finish the race in shorts and a tank. The weather was absolutely perfect! Starting temperature was about 45 degrees, with a high in the low 60s. My energy level was still pretty good and leg muscles were in good shape. We circled around the park and because it was such a small race, the runners really started spreading out. At this point, it wasn’t unusual to run 2 -3 miles without seeing another runner. I had some concerns about getting lost, so I really watched for the white arrows and signs!
The course took us out of the park and towards downtown on Davidson street. We ran in the bike lane until we saw LP field while crossing the Cumberland River on the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge. Nice walk break uphill on the bridge and a nice view! I refilled water at aid station #3 at the foot of the bridge, around mile 25. At the end of the bridge, we were to cross two streets towards Riverfront Park. This is where I got briefly lost, but quickly realized something wasn’t right, so I backtracked and waited for another runner and followed him. My 50 mile race was actually a 50.3 mile race.🙂
We ran through Riverfront Park and then followed the Downtown Connector Trail to the paved greenway trail. I was started to need short occasional walk breaks, but felt still felt pretty good. We took the greenway to the Bicentennial Mall (pretty park with sidewalks) and circled the mall/park back to the Downtown Connector Greenway. While in the park, my toe managed to catch a section of sidewalk that was elevated an inch or so and I had a crash landing. Although my forearm, hand and both legs were dripping blood, I didn’t really feel any pain, but needed more water and a porta potty. I passed a race volunteer who offered tried to call someone to bring first aid and I said, “No, I can’t wait that long! I have a time goal I’m trying to beat!” (And I really needed to get to water and a porta potty) About a half mile later, I passed another volunteer and had the same discussion. By that time, I was in desperate need of a porta potty and water. The volunteer gave me a bottle of water (thank you, thank you!) and said the next porta potty was within two miles. Along the way, I passed Daniel who was still way ahead and getting ready for his second loop around the Bicentennial Mall. He proudly said, “I just threw up,” and I proudly held up my bloody arm and said, “I just fell,” and we both high-fived each other, bragged about being hardcore and kept running.
Finally, mile 30 and aid station #4 – what a beautiful sight! I visited the porta potty, got my wounds cleaned up, refilled the water/NUUN drops, got another half of a pb&J and met back up with Susan, who took a picture of my half-cleaned wounds (see photo below). Susan and I ran together for the next 6 miles on the MetroCenter Levee Greenway. This section got rough, because we saw runners who had started two hours later and were passing us. We didn’t know if they were running the 50k and had a shorter turnaround or if they were running the 50 mile race and were way faster than we were. Susan and I took a short walk break every mile because we were started to fatigue. My tummy was getting queasy and I had IT band pain that was causing me to limp. I stopped to stretch it out and fortunately, was fine for the rest of the race. Susan couldn’t wait to get back to aid station #4 at mile 36 for her Coke Zero and Doritos! I wanted a regular, fattening Coke to settle my stomach. Once again, we were glad to see aid station #4. After a brief stop, we headed back out towards Bicentennial Mall for a second loop and to retrace our steps back to the start.
In Bicentennial Mall, I was pleased to see that the area that caused me to trip had been spray painted and marked with cones so that other runners wouldn’t trip and fall. The nice weather turned rainy, but the temperature stayed just right for a long race. By mile 39, Susan and I had started running different paces and had gotten away from each other. At mile 40, I was soggy and grumpy and made a quick stop for light fuel (crackers, honey stinger chews) and hydration/NUUN drops/S!Caps at aid station #3. Then it was time to get back in the bike lane on Davidson Street. Due to fatigue, I started having trouble finding the arrows on the way back to Shelby Park and spent a mile hoping I was going in the right direction. And lo and behold, I saw a volunteer at a runner check-in point – whew! He said, “You’re making great time!” I ‘fessed up and told him I had started at 5:00 a.m. for the 50 mile race and he said, “You’re still doing very well.” I responded, “For someone with an AARP card, I’m not doing too bad.”🙂
At mile 44, in Shelby Park, I made my last aid station stop for crackers and more water and a final porta potty stop. I think it was a mile or two until the grassy section of trail, but don’t remember due to the fatigue. At mile 45, my legs really started to ache. At mile 46, I saw a beautiful deer on the grassy trail, so that helped. Around mile 47, I stopped to shake what I thought was a rock in my shoe, but it was a large blister. I then met a nice couple and visited with them during a walk break for about half a mile. I then picked up the pace and walk/ran the last couple of miles. Four runners passed me on the paved trail and that inspired me to pick it up a little bit, but I was pretty much spent. Especially when I saw the hill at mile 49! The other runners continued running up the hill (don’t know how they did it!), but I had to walk most of it. And then…there it was! The finish line just ahead at the top of the hill! I decided no matter how much it hurt, I was not going to be seen walking into the finish line. I started running towards the top of the hill and kept it going as the volunteers and other runners cheered me through the finish line (see photo below). My official finish time was 10:28:11 and I could not have been happier to exceed my most ambitious time goal!
After crossing the finish line, my phone battery was dead and I couldn’t call Donna, Anna and Daniel for a ride back to the hotel. I was in the process of borrowing a race volunteer’s phone, when I saw them in the parking lot. They had come to cheer me to the finish, but I was faster than expected.🙂 Daniel had finished the race in under 8 hours – super fast by any standard, but especially for a first ultra!
The Nashville Ultra was a great first official 50 mile race experience. I really like the variety of scenery along the course and plan to run this race again next year. The event was well-organized and the officials and volunteers were supportive, proactive and just plain awesome!