It’s been almost a year since I signed up, ran and finished a 50k race. This past weekend was the 3rd Annual Harbison 50K in Columbia, SC. This great race is put on by a good friend in the Ultra community, Dan Hartley. The race is challenging for a guy that does 100% of his training runs at or below sea level. Harbison has 4,186 feet of elevation change so it always offers a nice change from the Lowcountry. For the last two years this race has been a warm up and build up race for our Delirium 24 Hour Ultra, which takes place in February.
Last year at Delirium I fell 8 miles short of 100 miles and hurt my right knee. Very disappointing! After a full year of NO RACING, Active Release Therapy, Dry needling (Google it) and a lot of stretching, I finally began to ramp up my training in November of this past year. I went from ZERO miles back up 56 miles my first week of training and felt really strong. My training consisted of a lot of two a day runs: 4 in the morning, 4 at night etc. to stretch the weekly base up without putting a lot of strain on the body all at once. My peak week leading up to Harbison was 84 miles with my longest single run being 18 miles.
(my training over the last 26 weeks)
As race day approached, I began getting phantom pains in my knee. Not only did I begin to over think the pain I also began contributing every sore muscle, ache, crack, tickle or prick back to my knee. Quickly my goal became, finish with two legs and the ability to walk.
I decided a week prior to the race that I would run the race differently than I have ever run a distance event before. I would pace myself the same for this race as I would for a 24-hour event. This would put me between a 10-11:00 minute, which I knew would be hard for me to mentally hold back that much, especially toward the beginning of this single track event.
When the race started with a very cold 26 degrees, we settled into a very comfortable 8:45 pace as we turned off the gravel roads and onto the trails.
Breathing was under control: CHECK
Body was warming up: CHECK
Legs were confortable: CHECK
Knee was still attached: CHECK
I was sticking to my game plan: FAIL
I really wanted to finish the race and feel like I could run for another 10 hours (even though my longest run in a year was less than 20 miles) so I stepped off the trail and let the conga-line of runners behind me go.
I settled in to a slower and much more controlled pace and clipped away mile after miles. I got to run with some great friends and final got to meet and run with some great “online-friends” for the first time!
There was no stress. There was no pain. There was just RUNNING.
When I passed the 18 miles mark I didn’t start thinking, "that I was going farther than I have over the past year", I actually started doing the math of how I could still run negative splits and finish just over 5:00.00. But quickly said out loud "that's not my race."
The last 2 miles were fantastic for me! The sun was shining, my body felt great and I was almost to the finish line. One last climb and then a quick quarter mile stretch and I’d be done.
As I approached the finish line, a volunteer began handing me my metal and I told him to wait a second… I put all my weight on my right leg and did several one legged squats just inches away from crossing the line of my first Ultra in a year. I know that I have a long way to go still, but this was a mental win for me that I needed more than anything right now.
Everyone laughed but I needed those last few seconds to reconfirm that I was healthy again, that I could run the distance and that once again I was an Ultra Runner.