Thursday, September 17, 2015

My first ultra marathon! (A guest post by my brother)

As you already know, my younger brother, Nathan, completed his first ultra marathon on Saturday. He ran the Freak 50K, a part of the Run Woodstock weekend of races through Hell, MI. I'm still rather awed by my brother's drive when it comes to running. 

Nathan started running in the early spring of 2014. After finishing his duties with the Army, and returning home from Iraq several years ago, he'd put on some weight and got out of shape. When my sister started running in late 2012, Nathan was the only one of my siblings that wasn't a runner. He saw my older brother, my sister, and I having fun doing races, and I think that influenced his decision to start running.

I'm SO GLAD that he did! Nathan and I were not close at all a couple of years ago. I only saw him a few times a year, and I just wasn't sure what to do to fix that. When he asked me if I'd like to go for a run with him one day, I was thrilled. We finally had something in common we could talk about, and an excuse to get together. 

At first, we were running close to the same pace; but as Nathan started getting faster, I started getting slower. And as Nathan lost weight, I started gaining weight. Still, I ran his first 5K with him, which was fun (even though he and Brian left me in the dust at the finish line, haha). I've gotten to watch as he progressed from completing his first 5K to his first 10K, first half-marathon, first marathon, and now his first 50K. 

First race with all of my siblings! Nathan, me, Brian, Jeanie (April 2015)
When Nathan does something, he really puts his all into it. He's only been running less than two years, but he's already gotten pretty fast and can run 32+ miles at a time! Anyway, I wrote about my experience watching his first 50K, but several people asked if Nathan would write about his experience... and although he was a little shy to do so, he obliged ;) I hope you enjoy this guest post by my brother!

In the days leading up to my first 50K, I started to really question if I had trained enough, and was worried that I would end up bonking toward the end of the race. I looked through all of my training runs on Garmin Connect and that boosted my confidence. I added up the total mileage since I began my training plan and also saw that I did five runs of 20+ miles with another long run the following day. The back-to-back long runs were generally not fun at all but proved to be valuable by learning to run on tired legs and while glycogen-depleted. 
The morning of the race, I woke up at 3 a.m. so that I could eat a good breakfast before we left at 4 a.m. I had a big bowl of oatmeal, a banana, a Clif Bar, and some Pop-Tarts. Katie and my mom came to pick my girlfriend, Kendall, and I up; and we drove about an hour to Hell Creek Ranch, which is where the race started. The weather was perfect for running, about 45 degrees with a forecast high of only 65 (I had been worried, because just a few days earlier it was really hot and extremely humid). I had a hard time deciding  to run with a hydration backpack and handheld water bottle or to just use a handheld bottle and carry another bottle in a waist pack. I wanted to have one with Gatorade and one with water but wasn’t sure what to expect at the aid stations so I opted to use the hydration backpack and handheld bottle. 
The atmosphere at the starting line was completely different than any other race I’ve ever run. It was very relaxed and nobody even lined up in the corral until about a minute before the race start. There wasn’t a big build-up with music playing and everyone cheering or anything. We all just lined up in the chute and someone said, “go”. 
The course circled around the campground for about a quarter mile before entering the woods on a single track trail. At that point, it was too narrow to pass any other runners and the pace seemed quite slow; but it was nice, because it kept me from going out too fast. Everyone was very friendly and making jokes such as, “50K? I thought this was the 5K!” and as everyones Garmins beeped for the first mile, someone said, “only 30 miles to go!”. We ran in the dark for about the first 45 minutes and then it started to get light enough to see without a headlamp. During that time, the runners started to separate. 

I didn’t expect to see "Team Nathan" (my mom, Katie and Kendall) until the second aid station around mile eight, so I was surprised to see them at the first one. The aid stations were really well stocked with all sorts of food, soda, water, Gatorade, GU, etc. I grabbed a cup of clear liquid (assuming it was water) and one of the volunteers said it was pop but I drank it before the words registered in my head. It turned out to be Sprite which made me feel bloated for a while, but luckily it didn’t give me any other stomach problems! 

After realizing how awesome the aid stations were, I decided that I’d drop my hydration backpack with my “crew” the next time I saw them and just go with a handheld and waist bottle (which is lighter and a little more comfortable). I made it a point to take in a Huma Energy Gel every four miles with a few ounces of Gatorade every mile and water whenever I felt I needed it. (I used Huma gel for nutrition along the course. They weren’t sponsoring me or anything! It just tastes great, has the needed carbs/calories, is all natural, and makes me feel full from the Chia seeds.) I realized during training that I sometimes would not take in enough nutrition because I was feeling good at the time but it would catch up with me in the later miles. 
I can’t remember exactly when, but I think it was after the second aid station that a few other runners and I found that we were all running at roughly the same pace and ended up running most of the race together. A woman named Laurie was out front; and trailing her was myself and two guys, both named Matt. We talked and tried to encourage others to join our “team”. Some runners would hang with us for a while and either pass or fall back. 
I know it sounds kind of crazy but we’d get excited when we started up a steep hill because that meant we could take a break from running and walk up! Running with them was awesome because the miles seemed to fly by and we were able to keep each other motivated. 
 I wasn’t sure how often I’d see my mom, Katie, and Kendall, but they were able to meet me at every aid station which was great! It not only gave me something to look forward to every few miles but I was also able to add/drop gear and refill on gels and Gatorade. I packed a bag with a extra pair of shoes (I was running in Altra Lone Peak trail running shoes), shorts, shirt, hat, gloves, a bunch of fuel and anything else I thought I might need. I asked Kendall if she could make sure it was with her whenever she’d see me along the course.  At the second to last aid station, which was around mile 25, I was still feeling great and had plenty of fuel, so I told them to skip the last one and just go to the finish line.
Shortly after leaving the last aid station, I looked behind me and we had somehow lost Laurie and one of the Matts. I was hoping to all finish together but they were nowhere to be seen so the other Matt and I decided to push it pretty hard for the last 4 or 5 miles. It seemed like quite a while but finally we could hear the music playing at the finish line! As we came off the trail and into the campground he said, “All right, lets go!” so we both sprinted (or it at least felt like we were sprinting!) to the finish line. 

After we crossed, a woman there asked my name and age and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I took first place in my age group! 

Overall, if I had to sum up the whole experience in a word it would be, “AWESOME”! The event was very well organized and all of the other runners were extremely friendly. Whether you were passing somebody or they were passing you, they always gave a compliment, words of encouragement or a high five. I knew for a long race like this that it would be important to fuel properly, so I made sure to stick to my plan. I think that helped me avoid hitting "the wall” and I felt great the entire race. The support along the way from my mom, Katie, and Kendall was great, and definitely much appreciated!
My only goal was just to finish my first ultra but I was kind of secretly hoping to do it in under 5:30. I ended up finishing in 5:21 which put me in 11th place overall! Trail running is a whole different animal compared to road running but it’s a blast and a nice change of pace--literally!


  1. Sounds like a great experience!

  2. You rock Nathan!!! Congrats!!!

  3. Loved reading about his experience! Makes me want to try trail running!

  4. Thanks writing this Nathan. Enjoy Katie's blog so much and loved this post. You rocked it!

  5. Nathan, I told Katie about the documentary "The Barkley Marathons," a film we saw at the Nashville Film Festival. It is an insane trail race consisting of the mileage equivalent to 5 marathons. The race creator, "Lazarus Lake", starts the race with the lighting of his cigarette. It could take you years just to figure out how to even enter the race! I won't spoil it all but we were all captivated by it.

  6. Nathan, you totally rocked the race AND this post! I enjoy reading your writing. Congratulations-and-a-half for finishing your first Ultra and for winning your age group. Looking forward to your next race report.

  7. Congratulations and thanks for writing this guest post. Enjoyed it very much. Katie, ever consider riding your bike with Nathan while he runs? I used to do that with my husband when we were dating. Just a thought.

  8. Amazing job!! I loved reading about this, thank you for the guest post! Trail running sounds so interesting. I never really put much thought into the different kinds of running but it makes me want to give it a shot! Congrats on your accomplishments!

  9. Congrats! That's quite a feat!

  10. Nice Run Nathan! I know Katie wrote about how it is unusual for spectators to be out watching the runners in these intense races, but it sounds like it should be more common place, as it provided you with a lot of encouragement and inspiration. You are blessed to have your Mom, Katie and Kendall in your corner!

  11. Way to go, Nathan! My husband and I have come across some trail runners on the Superior Trail while we've been backpacking, and are just amazed at the distances people can run! Thanks for sharing your experience :)

  12. Thanks for sharing your experience Nathan!!!

  13. This is so inspiring! Stories like this are what keep me going!! :)

  14. Congrats Nathan! You rocked that 50K!

  15. Well done!! It is such a great feeling. I ran my first marathon at 55 and the feeling of elation when you cross that finish line can't be explained. Congratulations!!

  16. Love this post! Congratulations to Nathan and to Katie for being an awesome sister!

  17. Love hearing his story. Awesome!

  18. Just got around to reading this...what a great story and an awesome performance. Great job, Nathan!!


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