Sort of on a whim (as in, registered less than a month in advance), I decided to do the Dirty German Endurance Fest 50-miler in Philadelphia, PA on 5/26. These days, you’re lucky if you can register for a marathon or a half without being sold out three months in advance. One of the pluses of being an ultrarunner is that most ultra races (with notable exceptions like Western States, the Umstead 100, Badwater, and others) don’t sell out early, so you can bide your time before forking over the entry fee.
I have to thank my friend Tommy for planting the idea in my head, because a part of me was questioning the wisdom of running 50 miles in a different state then working the day after (I worked on Memorial Day). Luckily for me, I am still young and full of energy, because I doubt I can pull this off in a few more years!
At 5:30am, my Dashing Whippets teammates Atsede, Sky, Tommy and I piled into a car to drive from NYC to Philly and arrive for packet pickup by 7:30am. Atsede and Sky were running the other race distances offered (25K and 50K), while Tommy and I were running the 50-miler. When we got there, it was like an NYC running party! I saw a bunch of people that I knew, including Sharon, Tony, Jessica, Keila, Joe, Elaine and others! It’s always nice seeing familiar faces–it’s a great way to start a race.
The best part about this race is that it would be a great test for my fitness in prepping for the next few ultras coming up for me:
1) Back on My Feet 20in24 Lone Ranger Run (24-hr run in July)
2) Great Cranberry Island 50K in July (Maine)
3) Bear 100-miler (Utah), September
No matter how many times I do it, any distance 50 miles or longer makes me really nervous. You can’t fake a 50-miler. Some distances, you can get through with little or no training, but not a 50-miler!
I recently had the good fortune of re-joining Team Refuel, and they helped to provide me with X-1 Women’s Momentum light earphones. X-1 makes waterproof and sweatproof headphones for athletes, and I was excited to try them out!
I picked up my packet and it included a nice tech shirt (no ads, definitely a plus) and a green drawstring bag. Finishers get a pint glass and an embroidered tech hat post-race.
All the races started at the same time, but the 50-milers tack on an extra 3.5 miles at the beginning. The course is 3 loops of a convenient 25K (15.53 miles) trail around Pennypack Park. and it is a perfect “beginner’s trail” with singletrack, a few minor mini-creek crossings, and some short, steep climbs. The weather was perfect, around 55-60F, and the course was shaded.
I was really excited to see what my result would be, since I felt like I have been in the shape of my life by alternating running with spin classes at SoulCycle. Also, the last time I ran a 50-miler, I was sick with a terrible head cold and the trail I ran was very muddy (the North Face Endurance Challenge DC). I barely made the 13-hour cutoff with a 12:48–a solid effort for a sick person but not ideal.
Tommy and I wished each other luck at the start, and then we were off around 8:10am. It was a bit late, but it was a pretty low-key race and the race director pushed back the start when the bathroom line got long. I saw a friend that I met from the 20in24 race, Maggie, at the start, but then she quickly disappeared in the lead pack.
I enjoyed running with my music for a little while at the beginning, because it got me pumped up and set a good pace. The X-1 headphones were very light and worked well–I barely thought about them because they were so light!
The course felt psychologically challenging because the loop was so long (15.5 miles). It was the longest loop I had ever run, so I had to bide my time and be patient.
Since 50 miles is a very long time to be running, I’ll break it down into the good and bad:
-The course was beautiful and very well-marked. The creek crossings were not bad (shoes got a little wet) and added variety to the scenery.
-I got to see my swift friends in the 25K and 50K on some of the out-and-back portions.
-The aid stations were excellent–boiled potatoes, gatorade, potato pancakes, cola oranges, bananas and PB&J.
-Some of the aid station females wore dirndls.
-I hit my 50K road PR at the 50K mark on trail–6:10, dead-on. That gave me a sweet, sweet boost of confidence.
-I saw Atsede, Sky, and Elaine shortly after I finished the second loop. Their cheers gave me extra energy. Joe also helped me refill my water bottle.
-I also hit roughly my 60K (37.2 mi) road PR (7:05) around the 36 mile mark in the 50-miler, not bad!
- I liked running with a North Face handheld water bottle way better than running with a Camelbak. It forced me to carry less, was quicker to refill, and I was able to switch hands and improve my posture.
-The course was very runnable. This was mostly good (I’m used to trails where you have to hike some portions), but it sucked during later stages of the race because I felt like a cop-out if I walked some easy portions. I forced myself to walk no longer than 1 minute at a time, but I allowed myself walking breaks whenever I needed (just short ones). Proud to say that I ran about 85% of this course. Usually it’s more like 75% for ultras.
- The last 2.5 miles feels like a maze. You are weaving in and out of the forest and the finish line does not seem like it’s any closer! It’s dizzying.
- I tripped and fell over a root around mile 31 and landed hard on my knees, hands and iPhone. The case broke, but luckily the iPhone was ok. I dusted myself off and kept going.
- 50 miles is a LONG way to run. A long loop makes it seem even longer.
-At one point, I was really tired and I had never seen a latke/potato pancake at an aid station before. (Keep in mind this was a German-themed race). At the end of the second loop, I pointed to the latke/fried potato and asked a kid volunteer, “Is that a latke?” He said “no, that’s a potato pancake.” He proceeded to point to the bananas and said “And that’s obviously a banana, and that’s obviously an orange…”
That gave me a good laugh!
-A group of tweens/teenage girls were in the park sometime around my 8th hour of running (40 mile mark?), and they said “Stop! Excuse me, how long have you been running?”
Without missing a beat, I said “Oh, about 8 hours.” One girl looked flabbergasted and asked “Aren’t you tired?” I shrugged and said, “a little.” Then I kept going. Thanks for reminding me how tired I was, girls!!
The first two loops, I felt really strong. The last loop was definitely hard and I took more walking breaks. At one point, a horse got spooked in front of us, and the rider told us to stop completely. We lost maybe 3-4 minutes before the horse was able to step out of the way. Not convenient, but necessary.
The volunteers were outstanding. Many of them were there for very long hours, and their smiles kept me going!
At the end of the second loop, the speedy Tommy Pyon lapped me, and I cheered for him because he was in the lead! I didn’t feel bad being lapped at all, because I knew he was smashing the course. He ended up finishing in 6:55 to win the overall title. I also joke that he’s my good luck charm because my marathon PR remains the Wineglass Marathon 2011 which we ran together.
For the final loop, I passed about 5 people in the last 6 miles, gaining strength when the finish line neared. I knew Atsede, Tommy and Sky were all waiting for me, and I wanted to finish strong. I crossed the finish line in 10:25:32! It was a massive personal best, a 2 hr 23 minute improvement over my last 50-miler on trail! I was so, so happy. I finished 52/75 overall.
Best of all, as soon as I finished, the race director shook my hand and said I finished third in my age group. He handed me a beautiful award, a wooden German weather house, from the Black Forest of Germany! It has been awhile since I won an age group award so I was stoked.
I got my hard-earned finisher’s pint glass and tech hat, and after a few pictures all I wanted to do was sit down. I knew I had to eat, but I had no appetite. Tommy helped grab me a plate of hot food (the finisher food was good, but sadly I had no room in my stomach to enjoy it). My stomach felt bloated from drinking water and gatorade all day, so I had to wait an hour before eating. I took a bite of the hot dog and drank Recoverite, but that was it.
I was thrilled with my finish time because once I broke it down, I was running roughly two marathons back-to-back around 5hrs 15 min each. That was a great time for me, considering I’m in about 4hr 30min marathon shape at this point. I’ve developed as an ultrarunner and I can’t wait to see how the rest of my ultramarathons stack up. Bring it on!
Thanks so much to Tommy, Sky and Atsede for staying many hours after their own finishes to cheer me on. Despite my advice to them to leave the staging area to grab a burger in the 3+ hours it took me to finish after Tommy, they stayed to make sure they didn’t miss my finish. I have the best running friends ever. We ate at a nearby diner and yes, I refueled with chocolate milk. And ice cream and pasta. Cheers! (Or as the Germans say, Prost!)