Last October, Mother Runner Heather wrote about running her first marathon, and this year, she's hit a new milestone: her first ultra. (Talk about #goals.) Here, her race report on the 50k she just tackled (!).
If you’d told me a year ago that I’d ever deem a 31-mile race “unremarkable,” I’d have laughed you right off the road.
After last year’s marathon and two training seasons spent hard at work on speed, I found myself craving a distance goal. Plus—let’s be honest—I wanted a new car magnet. So this summer found me logging a lot of quiet miles on the Buckeye trail, a technical gem that runs through Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I was working toward my first ultra marathon, the Moebius Green Monster 50k on August 27.
Moebius is a very laid-back race, even by trail standards. It was started several years ago by a local veteran trail runner and consists of 5 laps of a mostly-wooded 10k loop at a city park. Two aid stations, one at the starting line and one halfway through, mean you’re never more than three miles away from fuel. And a playground situated next to the park pavilion at the starting line means it’s an ideal race for mother runners.
Only 75 people were signed up for this year’s race, and I don’t know a single one of them. I arrive at dawn, get myself registered, and kill a half hour people-watching. As with many local trail races, much of the group seems to know one another, milling around making wisecracks about race prep—or lack thereof—and the weather, which is expected to be hot and humid. Soon enough it’s time for us to line up at the start and I choose a spot in the back half.
The race begins with little fanfare, and I fall into an easy stride, occasionally chatting with the strangers around me. At this point in the morning it is still cool and I’m able to appreciate both the scenic (the blanket of mist covering the lake) and the practical (the surprising lack of bugs.)
After two quiet laps, my first pacer joins me. Maggie is a young but experienced trail runner with several 50-milers under her belt. We haven’t seen each other in a while and our chatter makes the loop fly by. Before I know it, I’m over halfway through the race and when I reach the pavilion, I’m cheered in by a big group of my MRTT girls, my husband, and BRF Abbie, who will pace me through my final two loops. The group bustles around me, refilling my bottle, wetting my bandana, feeding me watermelon. I could get used to this! After a couple minutes, Abbie and I head back out.
Probably the most remarkable thing about the entire race is how unremarkable it is. If my marathon was a traditional epic odyssey, in which I conquered an imposing obstacle and came home changed, my first ultra is more of a poem: sweet, lingering, and introspective. Lacking a time goal, I rarely look down at my GPS. My progress is marked by landmarks—the field of goldenrod, the bridge with the missing plank, the pine forest—rather than mileposts.
By 11:00 a.m., the day is heating up and my 16-ounce handheld isn’t quite getting me through the three miles between aid stations. Around mile 22, my reflexes aren’t as sharp as usual and a small root takes me down hard. After mile 28, my tummy gets a little queasy, something I remedy with a bit of walking and some ginger chews. These are my biggest problems, a far cry from the colossal wall that I hit in the road marathon. In this race, The Wall never appears. Whether it’s the soft surface, the change in fueling strategy, the slower pace, or - more likely - a combination of all three, I never once want to quit. Before I started trail running, I thought wanting to quit was just part of running any distance over, say, 17 miles.
With about 200 yards to go, Abbie and I round the final bend and I hear a shriek of “MOMMY!” and a brightly colored blur comes hurtling toward me. Four-year-old Henry barrels into me and hugs my weary legs. We run toward the finish line where the rest of my family waits. I’m tired and very, very happy.
A lot has changed since last year’s marathon. My husband became an entrepreneur, taking the leap to start his own law practice. I started a new-new job, one that has me feeling happier and more fulfilled in just six short weeks than I ever thought possible. And our family is settling into a groove—our littles are almost-five and two-and-a-half, and most days it feels manageable.
While still busy, life somehow also feels a little slower, a little sweeter, just like those long trail runs. Last year, I was always plugged in, using music to distract and push myself farther and faster. These days, whether it’s 31 miles on a technical trail or a mile walk through the zoo, I’m happy to stay in the moment.
Any Mother Runners out there thinking about an ultra? What's your biggest concern?