September 12, 2015

A different breed of runner (Run Woodstock spectator race report)

My day started at 2:30 am. TWO THIRTY! I had my alarm set for 2:50 (my mom was going to pick me up at 3:15), but I woke up at 2:30 and figured I might as well just stay up.

Today was Nathan's first ultra marathon, and I wanted to go cheer him on. My mom picked me up at 3:15, and then we went to Nathan's house to get him and Kendall. Nathan wanted to leave by 4:00, because it was an hour away and the race starting time was at 6:00.

When we got to Hell Creek Campground, it was still pitch black outside. There were tents set up all over for runners who were there for a weekend event (the Run Woodstock has races of all distances--5K, 5-Mile, 1/2 Marathon, Marathon, 50K, 50-Mile, 100K, and 100-Mile). The races are all on trails, which are hilly and "woodsy". I've never done a trail run, or even spectated at a trail race, so I had no idea what to expect.

When Nathan was ready to line up for the start, we took a quick picture:

Kendall, Nathan, me, and my mom

Nathan lined up for the start, and it was still as dark as can be outside. All the runners were wearing headlamps. I can't even imagine what it would be like to run through the woods in the dark. For that reason alone, I would never want to do this.

Starting line
I'll preface the rest of this post by saying that I was SO surprised at how different a trail race is from a road race. Not just the race course itself, but the atmosphere, the people, the mood--everything. It wasn't necessarily better or worse, it was just different. I learned that trail runners are basically an entirely different breed of runner ;)

The atmosphere was very non-competitive. Nobody was fighting to get to the front of the starting line, and the runners all seemed so friendly toward each other. There wasn't a big ta-da when it was time to go--someone just said "Go!" and they started running. The 50K'ers and 50-Milers started at the same time.

One of the things I noticed most was that trail runners go more slowly. In a typical road race, you see the people at the front of the pack just flying past, completely focused on getting to that finish line as fast as possible. But I found myself finding it odd when we saw someone running at a faster pace during the trail race. You could tell which distance people were doing just based on their pace as they ran by. Even the slowest half-marathoners were going faster than many of the ultra marathoners. It was very interesting to see.

Kendall, my mom, and I had to figure out exactly where to go to see Nathan. The map of the course was really confusing, so I just picked some crossroads that looked like they might work, and we started driving there. We were on a dirt road, with woods on each side of us. I could see a flashing light coming from the woods ahead, and as we got closer, we saw a runner emerge from the woods, wearing a headlamp. We stopped to let some runners cross the road, and it was just such an odd feeling to be where we were, pitch black outside, with people running in the woods.

When we got to the crossroads, we kept going a little farther, and came across an aid station. The aid station was awesome! I've never seen anything like it at a road race. There were tents set up, with tables full of the usual Gatorade, water, and Gu... but also with tons of fruit, candy, soda, pretzels, and other stuff that ultra runners might want. Seeing that table almost made me want to sign up for an ultra (just kidding).

We quickly realized that we were definitely the odd ones out at this race. We were the only spectators at this spot, and we walked up with our "Team Nathan" shirts on, and carrying the giant cardboard head (I found it in the eleventh hour last night!). We watched as some of the runners came through (the 100-Milers and 100K'ers started yesterday afternoon at 4:00, and they were still out running).

Eventually, Nathan came through, and we started cheering. He headed straight for the portapotty, so we immediately thought, "Oh no! We embarrassed him. Maybe the shirts are too much." Later, Nathan told us that he just totally didn't expect to see us at the first aid station, because it was only at mile four. Still, we kept thinking that we were like a parent showing up at a child's first day of high school and embarrassing the heck out of him. We were just proud! ;)

He headed on his way, and then we went back to the car. We had asked a guy at the aid station about the best places to go and what the actual route was (it was hard to tell on the map). It turned out that we could see Nathan eight times during the race by hopping between three aid stations (the station pictured above was hit twice on each of the two loops). So, it basically went like this: Station 1, Station 2, Station 1, Station 3. Repeat. Station 3 was also the finish line.

So, we started driving between each station, which made the time fly by. Each time we arrived at one, we only had to wait 10-15 minutes to see Nathan. I was surprised to see how amazing he was feeling. He did great!

Every time we saw him, he got more and more enthusiastic about how he was feeling. He was eating a ton, and never hit the wall.

I loved seeing the 100-Milers on the course. It's hard to even wrap my mind around the thought of running that far. Nathan was doing a two-loop course, and the 100-Milers had to do the same course (with the exception of a small section) six times! We clapped as each runner passed by us (there was usually quite a distance between runners). When Nathan came through, we gave him all the stuff he needed (his gels, Gatorade, etc). It honestly felt similar to a Ragnar, in that we drove from station to station to support our runner--except Nathan was the only runner.

At Mile 25, Nathan insisted that he was good to go until the finish line. He was running with a group that he met on the trail, and they were all encouraging each other. So, we skipped the last aid station, and went directly to the finish line to wait. We set up some chairs, and watched the runners go by. I was so excited to see the firefighter in his gear! He was doing the 100-miler, and had been running since 4:00 yesterday afternoon. Seventeen hours later, he passed by us...

He was just finishing one of his loops, and then continuing on. There is a 30-hour time limit on the course, so I'm not sure if he finished or not. I wish I knew his bib number or name, so I could look at the results. Even if he didn't finish, I am just so amazed by this guy! You would have to have some serious mental stamina to make yourself keep going.

About 10 minutes later, Nathan came running in...

He was cruising! He ended up finishing in 5:21:46, which is a great time for a 50K (31 miles)--except that he'd ACTUALLY run 32.4 miles, because the course was long. He had said he'd be really happy to finish under 5:30, so he was thrilled with how he did. And he still felt great at the end! He even said that he felt like he could keep running. It turns out that he finished 11th overall (out of 176) and first in his age group.

The little VW Bug is his age group award
I'm so glad that I went to spectate this race! It was completely different than any road race I've seen, especially because there were very few spectators (which is totally normal for a trail race, I learned). I also learned that trail running is basically a completely different sport than road running, and has it's own set of "norms". It was really interesting! Next year, I would definitely love to volunteer at the aid stations. I'm just so astounded by the runners doing these obscene distances!


  1. So, you and Nathan will REALLY appreciate and enjoy the film "The Barkley Marathons- the race that eats its young" when it is released on 12/8. We saw it at the Nashville Film Festival and met Lazarus, the man who created this insane endurance event. We still talk about it and can not wait to own it!!

  2. Congrats to Nathan! He looks like he's feelong great in the picture near the finish!

    Trail running is defiantly different! I personally love it. The runners are so much more supportive of each other and love to chat. Also pace is not nearly as important and that seems to make people more relaxed. Also every tail race I've been to has pumpkin pie at the aid stations!

    Again huge congrats to Nathan!

  3. My brother (who loves marathons) did a 50 mile trail run last summer. I remember it feeling different when I went to the finish line to wstch him come in. They don't worry as much about time and the food he got was pretty great too, like your brother's race. But I also saw the toll 50 miles took on his body. He didn't run for 6 months after. Glad it worked out for your brother! I love how happy he looks as he's running in!

    1. It definitely felt different from my point of view! Nathan said that nobody was competitive or cared much about their pace. It was much more about connecting with other trail runners and enjoying the outdoors. I wish we had trails closer to home, because I'd love to give it a try (in much shorter distances, of course! haha).

  4. I'd love to read a race report from your brother, if he'd be willing!

    1. I would love that, too! I asked him, and he said he'll work on it tonight. He thinks he has to be an amazing writer, but I told him just to write as if he's telling someone the story of his race.

    2. Oh great, I'm so glad he's going to do a race report. As I was reading this post I kept thinking I'd love to hear about his experience in his own words. And Nathan, you don't have to be a professional writer, just "talk" to us like your long lost friends lol We all support you and have loved following your running progress :)

  5. This is so awesome....I cannot imagine doing such a race. A recap from him would be fun.

  6. I LOVE trail running and races! I started out doing road races, but once I found trails... Man, there is no going back. Well, sometimes, but in general I'm all trails hehh. Great great job to him!! That is super bad ass and definitely a great time!

  7. You might check out Beth at Shut Up and Run- she's one of my favorite running bloggers, and has done a bunch of trail/ultras:

    It might help you understand the trail and ultra culturet. It's a little less individualistic and competitive, and the running and mental toughness are much much harder.

  8. Check out Wildwood Preserve Metropark in Toledo. It shouldn't be too far from you, I've run there before and it's a pretty nice trail. Ohio Metroparks don't require a pass either, you can go for free :)


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