"Oh, I am just running the marathon." This was said by me several times during the trail marathon race I did yesterday. Each time, I smacked my forehead and thought to myself "who says that?" But seriously, when surrounded by a bunch of people running 50 or 100 miles while you are merely doing 26, you cannot help but feel a little chagrined. I was able to counter that in my brain with a vaguely Russian accented voice (thanks, Monica), telling me "a marathon is good enough."
I was struck (besides by my hand to my forehead) during this race by the politeness of the ultra crowd. Pretty much everyone that passes you or whom you pass says something encouraging. On single track trail, instead of being elbowed off the cliff as would happen if it was, say, a 1500m race populated by track stars, people pull off to the side and smile kindly. When you pull up along side someone on a wider trail, it is just natural to stay and talk for awhile. Of course, there aren't cheering crowds on the sidelines, so supporting each other makes sense. But there were occasional people along the way who tucked themselves on the side of the trail and would shout out something funny or inspiring when you least expected it. And the volunteers--well, bless their hearts.
I saw some animals (and not just the leaders in the 100 mile--whoa, man, sheesh), but non humans too. My favorite was this guy. He was hopping on the trail ahead of me, and kept pulling off to the side then hopping some more, as if he was my pacer. It did not take long for him to get bored of my pace though. I suppose I was the tortoise in the story.
I had heard about people walking in trail races. I made a vow to myself to do that if necessary. And yes, it was necessary. When every single other person walked, I took it as a sign to do the same, particularly on steep, single track, rock laden hills. I also, for the first time, truly understand why people buy trail shoes. I always thought that was just another money making ploy of the shoe industry, but when careening down those single track, sandy, slippery, rock-laden hills, a little extra grip on the soles would be nice (and potentially life and limb saving).
Mainly though, I was blissed out by the scenery.
Which took the sting out of the big climbs, at least a little.
Which also took my breath away, but not unpleasantly so.
Which made me feel like I was practically on top of the world.
I have never been in a race where I stopped to take photos before. I just could not help myself. And I was not the only one.
Ultimately, I am trying to picture adding another marathon or so onto the race I did. How would that feel? I am thinking: ouch. But it was inspiring to see people out doing it, eating their PB and J and just being in the zone. I saw several older people with decidedly gray hair, running 100 miles. They were wiry and strong and confident looking. And the women near the lead of the ultra? Well, let's just say that such distance is a great equalizer. This was no 1500 meter race, which men dominate with their testosterone. The guys leading the 100 miler were going to need to watch their back.
What I learned:
The uphills: slow and steady.
The downhills and flats: you feel like you can fly!
Doing a marathon in the midst of superhero ultrarunnners: let me just say, when I awoke this morning, I was in bed, and some of them were still running. I have no regrets. But they are pretty cool. I admit that.
Finally, the post race shower was not only necessary, but truly the best shower I have ever had in my life. It is the little things that make life worthwhile: breathtaking vistas on a foggy morning run, kind strangers running at your side, long eared jack rabbits looking at you over their rabbit shoulder, and a nice, warm shower. Not that I was that dirty. Ha.