Allow me to preface this post with: I am a medium distance runner who had never raced over a half marathon. This 24 hour endurance Ultra Marathon was the best thing I ever put myself through as a runner.
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Rewind back to mid-March. Bryce and I were casually hanging out with a couple friend of ours and our buddy Stephen is telling us about the 50K he just ran that morning. We discuss how the idea of high mileage races intrigue us but neither of us have ever done over a half marathon. Stephen slides the proverbial Kool-Aid cup across the counter and talks us into doing this ultra that his buddy Eric puts on every year. He says it’s a 24 hour endurance race and you can stop and start as you like on the 5 mile loop course. There is camping (of course this perked our interest) and free food/beer. The minimum distance for a medal is a 50K (31 miles); from there you can go up to 50 miles, 100K (62 miles), 50/50 (50K+50 miles), or the ultimate 100 miler. For the REAL crazies you could go over 100 miles to try to get the top mileage award. There was also a ruck division. Aight, we’ll bite. We signed up for the 24 Hour Endurance Eagle Up Ultra in Canal Fulton, Ohio.
Bryce was coming off of a foot injury and as soon as he started training…BOOM….knee injury. I had NO idea how to ultra train and I was thankful that this course was flat, so I just kept training as though I was distance training for a marathon. I worked up to 15 miles with another girlfriend of mine who I’d conned into signing up as well. I wasn’t sure what I could do beyond that but I knew that if all else failed I could walk. I had 24 hours, what could possibly go wrong, right?? ….continue reading….
The weekend of the ultra finally arrived! Bryce had only been able to run a total of 3 times and nothing over 3 miles but was adamant that he was going to try to run or walk the 50K at least. It absolutely rained BUCKETS all….day…long… It poured the entire way to the race. We didn’t let it dampen our spirits however because we knew the weather looked perfect for race day. As we pulled in, the rain slowed to a sprinkle and stopped. Perfect timing. The skies turned all the beautiful shades of orange and purple you could ask for and we ended up having a great evening hanging out with our little crew and eating some amazing local pizza. *side note, if you attend this race I highly recommend ordering Carla’s Pizza which is right up the street from the park*
We were awoken by the humming of the generators and staff setting up at 4:30am. The energy of race day buzzed around everyone in the little tent village that had been created in the park. The parking lot was filling up and racers from across the U.S. plastered the lawn. We dressed, stretched, and relieved ourselves before heading to toe that line.
None of us had ever participated in an ultra so we didn’t really know anyone and just kind of kept to ourselves as we approached the starting line. The national anthem was played and we were given directions by the race director. AND WE WERE OFF!
The first 15 miles I ran at a great (too fast) pace of between 10-12. Bryce ran the first 5mile lap with me and then dropped back off at camp because he was already hurting. The second lap I was joined by Stephen and during this lap he introduced me to a million people because he seems to be famous in the ultra world. No one was at our camp which told me that the others were still out and doing good as well as Bryce had went back out and must be feeling alright. The third lap I ran alone and truly just admired the beauty of the towpath course we were running and appreciated exactly WHAT I was doing.
Laps 4 and 5 I slowed the pace and just enjoyed the atmosphere. Lap 4 (miles 15-20) the other two girls who had come with us were going to walk so I opted to hang with them. Around mile 19 I saw Bryce coming up behind us and he informed me that he had started using my calf compression sleeve as a knee brace and it was working fabulously.
Bryce and I did one more lap, bringing us to 25 miles total, before breaking for lunch. There was more food available than one could possibly even attempt to consume. Everything was being promptly refilled and cycled out with new stuff constantly. There was a great variety and everything was specifically targeted to refuel the energy we’d lost. Peanut butter sandwiches, chips, candy, fruit, beverages, pizza… and so much more. There were also 4 water stops along the 5 mile loop and one aid station which had m&m’s, twizzlers, chips, skratch labs, and water. The water was kept in coolers with ice and was more refreshing than I can describe to you.
Two of our friends showed up and paced a lap with us. This lap took us to 30 miles and while I was still feeling good, Bryce was starting to feel the wear and tear on his knee. We took a 5-10 minute break to pee and say goodbye to our friends before heading back out.
From this point on we did run/walk because we knew we needed to save our legs/feet and we decided to go for the 50 miler instead of just the 50K….because we’re over achievers (stupid, we’re stupid) and we didn’t feel like we got our money’s worth if we weren’t hurting even a little bit.
Miles 30-40 went slowly but manageable. After mile 40, Bryce was chaffing and my knees were starting to give me fits. Every time we would stop or slow down it was much harder to get back at it. We pushed on after taking a break to charge our watches and eat dinner bringing us to 45 miles. I had given up filming and focused on finishing. At this point it was starting to get dark and we were only walking. We had decided that we wanted to do a lap in the dark and we got to do it simply because it took us that long to get to that point. The other two girls were a lap behind us and they were feeling it too.
As we started our final 5 mile loop, there was no hiding that we were both in intense pain. There was no way I could have ran it if my life depended on it. Our knees, our feet, our backs, everything hurt. Every step I took I felt a new pain somewhere else. My poor husband, who had to be hurting worse than I was, tried his hardest to keep up morale and I angrily shut him down every time. While it was cool to be out there with our headlamps listening to the sound of the bullfrogs, we were laser focused on hitting those last 5 miles. Though they came VERY slowly, we finally started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Literally, we started to see the lights in the tent village and the big lights of the finish line.
Coming through the park, we were so exhausted it really hadn’t hit us the HUGE milestone we’d just completed. We walked across the finish line and were handed our medals by the race director, Eric. He gave me a hug and shook Bryce’s hand and congratulated us. Our official time was 17 hours and 34 minutes. Our time on feet was 13 hours flat. It was then a quick pee break and back to our tent before we passed out from shear exhaustion. We ate a little bit and got some fluids in our system and went to sleep at about midnight.
I woke up at 1:39 with the worst urge to pee I’ve ever felt in my life. My legs were cramped so tightly that I almost cried trying to bend my knee. Everything went through my head from sticking my butt out of the tent and not caring who saw to trying to pee in my coke can. Finally I gave up and zombie walked to the port-a-john 100 yards away. Once in the port-a-john I realized I was shaking terribly and almost didn’t get my pants down in time. I wasn’t sure if I was cold or if my body was so depleted that I had no energy. Either way, I completed my business and tromped back to the tent.
I was barely back to sleep when I heard the other two girls coming by our tent at 2am. I let out a tiny cheer for them and spoke with them a little before passing back out. Both of their husbands were still out on the course trying to complete 50K.
We awoke at 6am to the sound of the horn signaling the race was over. We were all too exhausted to walk up and watch awards so we just hung around our camp and talked about our experiences before packing up camp. The end of an epic weekend adventure.
I wanted this to be a challenge of how far can I push my body…and it absolutely was. At first I was upset with myself because I felt I had ruined the rest of my race season by pushing too hard. I learned that my body will withstand FAR more than I ever thought possible. I also learned that I am 100% ready to marathon train, which I now am training for the Columbus Marathon. By Monday my legs were feeling 90% better. By Tuesday I was already running again.
As per the race itself, it was fantastic. I have never seen runner taken care of so well at any race. The attention to detail was wonderful. Packet pickup was very well organized and there was a pre-race meet and greet and beer garden. The food was plentiful and well thought out for the runners. Someone was on hand at all times to make sure no one needed anything. Eric Whittington is literally a one of a kind man. He put his heart and soul into this race, and it showed. He personally handed everyone their finisher medals and congratulated them. The camaraderie I experienced at this race was second to none. Everyone felt included and welcome no matter your pace or what distance you were completing. No bad vibes were anywhere near this event. We will absolutely be participating in this event again! You can find more information about the Eagle Up Ultra by clicking here! You can also find them on Facebook.