Welcome back to the wild world of ultramarathon training. By this point, you’ve read all about my current training cycle, my successes at the Bear Bait 25k, my semi-failure at the BUTS Bearly Heavy half, the pain of training in times of COVID, and the ups and downs as I chase down that ultramarathon goal. Its been a long journey: four attempts with three failures over five years, an ER visit, and enough self-doubt to sink a person. But let’s not bury the lede:
I FINISHED AN ULTRAMARATHON!
Today you’re getting my full race report for Mississippi 50 – 50k (31.1 miles) Race
Like all races recently, they’ve done a good job adapting to the times. They had to cancel the traditional pre-race dinner, but other than that, it was the same brisk in-and-out of years past. I had my packet in less time than it took to drive the 10 minutes from my hotel to the pickup location. Like most ultras, the goody bag was very stripped down: a few pamphlets for local stuff I chucked immediately, a shirt, and a flexible cup.
Packet pickup is in Laurel, MS, but the race is held in the Desoto National Forest at the Longleaf Horse Trails, a 40-minute drive south. Half the drive is on paved county roads; the other half is on rough dirt roads that are not easily navigated in the pre-dawn, a factor that will come into play after my race.
Gosh, I love this course! It’s smooth with almost no technical spots. My only gripe is a perennial gripe: the damn puddles! There are five or so creek crossings and while you can cross some of them without getting too muddy/wet, there are two that you have to run through. My feet were a disaster from all that soaking.
For the 50k course, we did two laps on the big loop (20k) then one smaller 10k loop to finish. Each lap took me past my car, where I had my gear set up to assist me as I ran. I have run the 20k loop on all my previous attempts but never had to take the 10k loop, which was all new trail to me.
Weather: Sheer perfection! At the 6 am race start, it was a cool 49F, but it was perfect weather and sunny by my second lap. By the last 10k lap, I was running in a tank top and it was a beautiful cloudless 64F.
Trail conditions: Overall, great, but there was a 4-mile section that had burned the day before. There was a smoky odor lingering in the air and I worried my previously trashed lungs would react, but I had no issues.
Terrain: Flat! It is relatively flat and I only logged 1,700’ of elevation gain over the whole 30+ miles. For reference, at BUTS Bearly, I had logged that in just the first six miles.
The aid stations are conveniently spaced and while they have made some changes for COVID mitigation, there was still a broad array of snacks available, including a cooked strip of bacon I ate at mile 27 that was pure mana from heaven. One aide station just past mile 4 and just outside the burned-out areas another was at the head of an out and back section, so you hit it at just past 8 miles and 10 miles as you entered/exited the out and back. There was one final aid station at the start/finish. Since this was a looped course, I came through that aid station three times during the race and finished at the aid station.
Did I hit the Pain Cave?
Yes. Fucking, yes.
Kind of a big “duh, of course” for this one. On my last two races, I was well trained for the distance and either didn’t hit the pain cave point, or I stepped a toe into the cave, but a snack pulled me back out. To give you an idea, I’ll break it down by mileage with a rough estimation of how/what I felt.
Mile 8: I wasn’t in the pain cave, but I met a man that I had passed and been passed by a few times over the last five miles. He asked if he could follow me a bit since he was “mentally in a dark place.” I told him, “ah yes, the pain cave, I’m intimately familiar, follow as long as you want.” He followed quietly for a bit, but we got to chatting, which seemed to pull him out of his pain cave and delay me hitting mine. It turns out, this wonderful man is a trauma therapist specializing in PTSD. We talked a long time. The whole race, in fact.
Mile 14: my first dip into the pain cave came not long after finishing the first lap. I did some mental math, realized I was roughly 1,000 calories behind, ate a snack; it went away.
Mile 20: physical pain in my feet and knees dragged me in but chatting with my new friend and pacer helped pull me out.
Mile 25: just after the end of the second lap and into the third, we found ourselves on new trails and entering the unknown. Physical pain is increasing and starting to affect both our moods. He gets quiet and I’m gritting my teeth.
Mile 27: we are both into the unknown as neither of us has ever run further than a marathon. My feet and knees are screaming on the downhill and we’ve slowed to a brisk walk with occasional bouts of a shambling jog. I get a cooked piece of bacon around here that pulls me out for a few minutes.
Mile 28-30: I have no idea. By this point, I can only manage a brisk walk because my stomach is cramping now so bad it almost felt like early labor. I want to stop. I want to sit down for a minute, but my new partner and I both acknowledge that if I sit down now, I’ll never stand back up under my own power.
Fortunately, mile 30 connects you back to the first big loop and I now know not only where I am but that we are no more than a half mile from the finish. We both broke into a pained jog, each of us tripping on the smallest things, but we staggered across the finish line.
Everything after mile 25. Possibly anything after mile 17. Because of my trip to the ER, my two 20+ mile training runs were wiped off the board. I never made it further than 17.5 miles in training and no more than 23 miles over 48 hours. I had never run longer than a marathon and that was ten years ago. While I’ve run the big loop, I’ve never run the little loop, so that was an unknown as well.
Huge shout out to my pacer back home who pushed me to run further on my Friday runs; I think running more miles back to back really helped build my base, even if I never got my longest runs in.
No crew for this race at my distance, but there was limited access for pacers on the 50 miler’s last 10k lap only. Honestly, I’m not sure I would have needed a pacer.
The finish line:
It was the post-COVID ultramarathon standard: flash your number, get your medal, grab a snack if you need it, and they send you on your way. The only change here was that Zac, my new friend for the last 20 miles, and I snapped pictures for each other to commemorate our first ultra finish. We gave each other a quick fist bump of triumph and parted ways.
7:29 for 30.6 mi (GPS mileage was just shy of the billed 50k, which is the usual way of things).
My goal was to finish, hopefully sub-8:00. To have finished was a win; to finish half an hour ahead of my goal was a triumph.
I knew the course and terrain I faced and built my entire training plan around it. That bit me in the butt when I did BUTS, but I was 100% ready for this race, even after losing two critical weeks at the end of the training cycle. A day later, I was up and walking around with no problems. Heck, I was speed walking through the Dallas airport in heeled boots without problems. Two days later, I started running again with no issues. My new technique of taping where my bra chaffs worked great, not one single problem there. That said, if it had been much warmer, I would have sweat the tape off and been in trouble the last few miles. I’ve got a few blisters and one incident post-race, but overall I’m thrilled with how well this all went.
I did have one colossal screw up after the race which deserves its own post. I had already planned a “After the Race” post but now its also going to include a “learn from my f*ck ups” section.
The Gear List:
My gear lists so folks can see what I’m carrying and how it changes between courses and weather. As usual, some affiliate links, most aren’t; I am not sponsored by any specific companies.
Mask: Under Armour Adult Sports Mask – required to run. Must wear items for check-in, race start, and going through aid stations. This mask is what I was wearing when my office was hit with COVID and I never got it. Not sure if it’s magic, but I’m sticking with these until I can get vaccinated.
Top: Nike Women’s Dri-Fit Element Long Sleeve Running Top – This one is a good top (45-55F) or middle layer (<45F). Plus, thumb holes and it covers half my hand.
Tank top: Infinite Tank workout top from Nike. It was great as an only layer later once it got warmer (>60F), but it does well as a base layer too (<60F).
Bra: SheFit ULTIMATE SPORTS BRA – a qualified “good.” I like that you buy based on cup size and both the chest band and shoulder straps are adjustable; it’s probably the most comfortable sports bra I have. That said, the metal loop that holds the chest band tab tears my back up after 5 miles. I now put two strips of sports tape under the tab and it works perfectly.
Tights: Curve ‘n’ Combat Boots Empowered Black (V1) – As with my bra, it’s not desired as running gear, but it fits me well and does the job. These are designed as weightlifting tights and the dimensions are for a woman with thick legs. Like, babe, you are squatting 225lbs as a warm-up and the squat boots/thighs are strong and the waist is small! They fit me perfectly, but if you have a more traditional runner’s body, then they may be too baggy or slip while you run. Since I cut down to race weight, these slipped a bit the first 2-3 miles but after that I sweat enough that they stopped slipping.
Socks: Balega Blister Resist Quarter Socks – These are thick and comfy, but the “blister resist” is only as good as how well you lace your shoes and how wet your feet get. At some point, no sock/shoe combo will save you from everything.
Shoes: Altra Olympus Trail Shoe/Altra Lone Peak Trail Shoe – The Olympus have the thickest soles of my trail shoes which were good for keeping my feet comfy over the first 25 miles. I switched to my Lone Peaks, which have a thinner sole and are lighter weight, for the last loop because they were dry. I appreciated drier feet and probably saved myself from more problems, but the thinner soles meant I felt more as I ran.
Gaiter: Altra Trailer Gaiter – Designed specifically for Altra trail shoes and fits well (will not work on other shoes!). They kept out the small sticks, rocks, and debris of the trail.
Hat: My trusty finishers hat from the River Cities Tri a few years ago. It wasn’t cool enough to need a warmer hat.
Vest: Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 4.0 – This is my “new to me” but “older model” vest I got on sale for half price. There’s a new version, but I’m glad I gambled on buying this one as it’s been a real champ. Lots of easily accessible pockets, good bottle holders, and the bladder holding set up keeps it from rattling around or slipping its loops like my other vest. Not as easy to access the bladder for refills once it’s on, so I had to completely remove the pack AND bladder to refill between laps. Not super convenient, but I don’t feel like I lost a lot of time and almost all packs will be like this.
Liquid Salt/Carbs: Gatorade Endurance Formula Powder – purchased with coupons on the Gatorade website, which is good because I still don’t love it. It’s not as strong a flavor as regular Gatorade and it does well for replacing salt/carbs quickly but… I dunno, maybe I’m too picky, I don’t love it. But, I’m kind of a cheapskate and won’t buy anything new until I finish this container. Note: I also refilled with Heed at one aid station, which was WAY sweeter and I’m happy to stick with my Gatorade mix.
Snacks, self carried: Both the Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews (caffeinated version) and the Honey Stinger Organic Waffle. These were tough on the last two races due to the cold, but this time the temperature was perfect. The chews were easy to consume and the waffle broke like it was supposed to. Maybe too easily because I think I inhaled a few crumbs as I ran.
Sacks, from aid stations: Rice Krispy bar, a mini Snickers, a bag of potato chips, and a strip of cooked bacon. For real, I don’t need a finished picture; I need an action shot of me charging uphill, bag of chips in one hand and the other stuffing a handful of chips in my mouth like some kind of running raccoon/trash panda.
GPS: Garmin Forerunner 945 – Y’all know I love this watch and I’ve talked about it before, the good and bad. I didn’t have any tracks walk-offs today and I’m confident in the recorded distance/time accurately. I set it up for a few of my closest friends to be able to track the run. There is a way to push the track to Twitter, but I didn’t need that many folks following along live. The LiveTrack was hit and miss, my Mom was able to follow just fine, but my husband’s link didn’t work.
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