The Journey to My First Ultra

My first OCR was a Spartan Beast in 2016.  As someone who had only done one 5k at the time I signed up, it was intimidating thinking of going for 13-ish miles.  I did the Beast first because I signed up for the wrong Chicago race initially, then decided I might as well go all in and complete the trifecta even if it meant that the Beast was my initial OCR as it was the closest.

It was painful, as I bet many of you felt during your first race.  During the uphill sandbag carry I discovered the debilitating, stop you in your tracks as your legs will not function, joy of leg cramps – and the miracle of mustard, which I will only eat during races to counter cramping!  When I eventually crossed the finish line 5 hours and 48 minutes later, I had not only chanted many “keep moving” lines from movies to keep going, I had also fallen in love with a sport I used to think was crazy, and I wanted to do it again.  Not right away, but within a week or two.

At some point last fall, my mindset started to change from “the people who multilap and do an ultra are nuts” to “I think I want to do an Ultra.”  I don’t know what switched in my brain, maybe I wanted a new challenge.  Thankfully my coach, Ryan Hart, is a firm believer in the value of multi-laps at races and finding new and inventive ways to bring the suck.  For any other questions I had it was not difficult to find the Ultra crazies on FB who are always willing to provide you with information and tips, which has proven to be been both a life saver and a way to ratchet my fear up to eleventy-stupid.  Here are a couple of things I have learned that may help you.

The past eight Sunday mornings have been spent at the highest point of elevation in the Chicagoland area going up, down, up, down, up, down, around, with and without sandbags, pancakes, and buckets.  I’ve also power walked with the treadmill cranked up as high as it would go for at least an hour once a week, trying to hold onto it as little as possible, as well as my normal runs in my attempt to like running as much as I like carrying heavy things.  It’s not working yet, but I have hope.  I just want to get as much time on my feet as possible and gain as much climbing comfort as I can.   

A key component I have been struggling with is nutrition. What can I eat before the race that won’t make my stomach go loopy?  If I don’t have to do burpees right away, oatmeal and 2 hard boiled eggs work well, as has half a sweet potato with a tablespoon of peanut butter.  Over the course of my almost 7 hour training workout I learned that a good fueling strategy was a couple sips of water with electrolytes every hour paired with a couple chews or half a goo every 2 miles.  I am glad that I played with that in my last big training session as it showed me that I need to throw some real food into the mix, as my stomach started to get tired of the goo, even though the brand I used was all natural.  In the weeks leading up I am playing with how much water should I get and how much sodium?  What should I eat the night before so my body has the right types of fuel to survive?  How can I alter other people’s recommendations so that they are Gluten Free and I won’t have a Celiac flare mid-race?  There are just some of the things I never thought I would be pondering.

They hardest thing to get ready for has been the mental aspect.  I’ve listened to more self-help type books over the past couple of months than I have in my life.  I’m not sure if they have helped yet, but I am hoping when I am out there in the suck what I heard will bubble up and help me gird my brain and power through.  Everything got a test on Sunday when I had a 6:50 minute workout that saw me achieve over 21 miles and 5,000 feet + of elevation.  When we started it was cold and a little wet, but about an hour in it started to snow – in mid April.  It was not a soft, fluffy snow.  Nope.  Mother Nature decided we needed the extra wet, slushy type of snow, the kind that slashes your face when you run downhill and leaves you surprised to discover your face isn’t bleeding when you stop.    reached a point where it hurt to run, I was cold, wet, and miserable.  Everything was screaming at me to just get in my car, get warm, and go home, but I also wanted to either complete the workout or be told to stop.  Being a part of Team “Did Not Quit” not “Did Not Finish” became my goal, and in doing so I proved that my mental game is a bit stronger than I thought it was.

I am not sure how my Ultra is going to go.  Currently I have lists everywhere of everything I need to buy, pack, arrange, circumnavigate, whatever.    know I will have a LegendBorne jersey on at all times, even if I don’t yet know which ones I am packing.  So, if you see me in New Jersey, say “hi” or “Go Ultra” and know I am going to continue writing my legacy as one who does not quit when the going gets tough.   

by ambassador Mel Heeres

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