I drove up to Sterling, VA to run my first ultramarathon, The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile. Many people looked at me with wide eyes, often followed with the words “Why did you sign up for a 50 miler instead of a 50k?” My only answer to that would be “My coach encouraged me.” followed by a little chuckle. I’ve never been one to take things in baby steps. I ran my first marathon back in 2016. I never ran a 5k, 10k or half marathon. I decided that running a marathon was it. And once I did that, I decided that running an ultramarathon was the next “it”.
So I started my training back in October of 2016. I perused the plethora of websites looking for a training plan that I could follow for my first ultramarathon. I settled on an combination of several that I found and began running. Each week building up the miles till I got to 50 miles a week. It was a very satisfying accomplishement when I first accumulated 200 miles in one month! It was an accomplishment in and of itself. But I continued piling on the miles, sorting out my gear and creating a nutrition and hydration plan for the race.
As the weeks progressed, I was riding a roller coaster of emotions leading up race day. Axiety set in, followed by excitement and jubilation, only to be sidelined by anxiety again. Up and down the roller coaster would go. And there was not much that I could do about it. All I could do was keep running.
I booked a room across the street from where the shuttles would take us to the races start/finish line. I had laid out my gear on the table so that it didn’t require much thinking when I woke up at 2:30 in the morning. I put my head down on my pillow at 7:00 pm and surprisingly… I fell asleep.
I woke up and got ready. Everything was going as planned as I made my way to my car to drive across the street. I walked onto the bus with a lot of energy and excitement to do something completely new. I was about to run my first trail race and my first ultra.
I was astonished by the community of people there. Everyone was very chatty and mingling like they were at a party. Lots of random people approched me to talk with me. I think the ice-breaker for many of them was the fact that I was wearing Luna Sandals. For some reason, I was surprised to see that I was the only person there wearing them. I thought they were more commonplace. I recieved many compliments for them. But the predominant response was “You’re going to run this race in flip-flops? That’s brave!” There were many other variations of the same statement as the early morning rolled by. The comments about my choice of footwear increased as the sun came out allowing us to turn off our headlamps. “Rockstar”, “crazy”, “brave”, etc. were the words uttered as people passed by or I passed by them.
Unfortunately, I was only able to make it to mile 33.2 before the race official broke the news to me that I missed a cut-off 3.7 miles away. His exact words were “Number 167. I hate to break the news to you, but they sent out the sweeper a few minutes ago from the next aid station. I’m sorry but you’re going to have to stop running.” My heart was crushed. But I quickly overcame that when I realized how far I had gone. I originally thought that I was only at mile 26. Then the race official encouraged me to be happy about accomplishing 33.2 miles. I smiled.
I walked away from that race having learned a lot about ultra running, about nutrition and hydration, about running gear and about myself. I learned that ultramarathons are hard and I now have a greater respect for ultra distances and those that have crossed the finish line. I learned that I have a whole lot more to learn about nutrition and hydration, especially when the temperature rises about 90 degrees. I learned that the gear I chose for the day; Ultraspire vest, rabbit clothing, boco gear hats, Buff headwear and their UV arm sleeves and yes… my Luna Sandals are the gear that will continue to use and run with for years to come. They all did what they were designed to do.
And to all the folks that commented about my choice of footwear for my first trail race, my first ultramarathon and my first DNF… I had zero blisters, zero busted toe nails, and zero wet socks. What I did have were dirty and free feet and my feet were happy.
Thanks for the experience. I’ll be back next year!