My First Ultra



It's hard to believe a month has already passed since the race, the Sybil Ludington 50km Run. Overall it was a very positive experience, but I have to admit when I woke up the morning of the race the thought I'm doing this voluntarily? did pass my mind. Everything after that was trying to stay on plan and not do anything foolish.

If you're curious about how training went, I did a training write up about halfway through and then posted a gallery, covering most of my long runs from the start of winter through spring.

Getting There

I woke up with plenty of time to eat, drink coffee, and get ready. Of course, as can happen on race day my biological processes weren't as timely as I would have preferred, so I ended up rolling in to pick up my bib as everyone else was leaving the building. It happens, and frankly could have been worse.

The start of the race was actually a mile or two from the sign in location, so race volunteers nicely ferried everyone over. I spotted my Thursday night running group friends and chatted up with them. We might have had a timely photo from a fan.

As I mentioned in my training post, one of the reasons I wanted to do this race was because of the size; just under 50 people finished the race (I think at least one dropped out, but I'm not sure). I knew probably a dozen of the runners, as well as a lot of the volunteers. While any random person cheering on during a race is helpful, I think there's a definite psychological boost when it's folks you know.

It's worth mentioning that my memories of everything during the race may be slightly off. This is in part because I'm a human and our memories are more or less unreliable, but mainly because I ran 31 miles and then went home and was useless for two days. I was able to reference my GPS results, so I'll just note that all my splits include time spent walking as well as standing at aid stations.

Early Goings

The pace was mercifully very slow at the start as we ran close to single file along a major roadway. I have a habit of starting out too quickly, so this nicely nipped it in the bud. For the first five or so miles (largely guessing), our Thursday running group stuck together (along with some other friends). All that said, our pace quickened to almost too-fast for what I had planned (one split was just under 9 minutes, which was my self-imposed floor to avoid burnout).

As the mileage wore on, I ended up running with my friend Sean. He was using the race as a training run and didn't feel like he was in great shape, so I stayed with him rather than run myself into the ground in the first half marathon of the course. His general strategy was to walk most hills, which I followed suit. For normal runs I enjoy attacking hills, but this race was going to double the most elevation for a single run for me so I didn't want to push it. Finish the race and not die was more or less my motto. Aside from hills, our general pace with typically high 9, low 10 minute miles. Nice and easy.

We knew the temperatures were going to be warm. At the start it wasn't too bad, helped no doubt by cloud cover that stayed with us for maybe half the race. There was an occasional breeze that was very welcome, but when the wind was noticeably absent the air felt stagnant and kind of sucked.

One thing that was unexpected were the biting insects. I have no idea what they were, but they swarmed us as we ran (generally whenever the air was still or when we ran by the many creeks and marshlands along the route). They were by far the biggest annoyance for the race for me.

When we were around the halfway point of the race, Sean decided to slow up further and was going to walk a flat section. I decided to move on and see how things would go. I should probably mention that the first half of the course is probably best described as “rolling hills”, while the second half is “hills”. It also had flat sections, but seriously, hills.

Putnam Classic

Most of the race the route followed the traditional documented route that Sybil took during her ride, centuries previous. The race course was marked with white arrows periodically painted on the pavement, but I used the historical landmark signs as a sanity check. Well, until I got to a turn off for the historical trail that had no arrow. I pulled out my phone to see if I could figure out the map, but thankfully two runners came up behind me. One was as clueless as I was, but the other had run the race before and she thought we stayed straight. And so we all went straight.

I ended up running with Emmy from then on until around mile 22 or so (again, I'm guessing). She's the race director for the Putnam County Classic, an 8 mile race held every summer around the 4th of July. We ran together through a good part of the back country roads, including the spur that was dirt/gravel. Eventually we got back to pavement and some larger hills which I walked, she ran.

Part of the courses between the two races overlap, so it'll be interesting to see how it feels to run it again this summer (if I partake).

The Grind

All of my splits for the second half of the race were far slower than the first half, generally around 12 minute miles. Walking hills will do that, but really hills will do that. The temperature was higher and the sun was out in full force. While some trees had leaves, shade cover was very inconsistent and often completely missing for long stretches. I wore a singlet because of the temperature forecast, so as a result I got a nice burn on my shoulders. That wasn't particularly fun, but at the same time it was certainly cooler than wearing a shirt. And by cooler I obviously have one intended meaning. You're thinking of the other one.

Throughout the race I tried to be good about sipping from my water bottle (a 10oz one on my belt) and generally had to refill it entirely at each aid station. I also ate at least a little something at each aid station. I had 4 fortified salt tablets that I used more or less on the hour (so glad I picked those up a few days prior). I also had one gu that I had around the marathon mark.

The aid stations were fairly plentiful, but I played things a little too close with just the one small water bottle. As the sun got stronger and hills higher, there were a couple of aid stations that were a couple miles beyond my water bottle's volume. Those were tough miles to grind out and occasionally meant running through sun to walk through shade. The last aid station was perhaps a mile or two from the finish, but was a welcome sight as I was sorely pressed at that point.

End Game

Thankfully after the last aid station things were more or less flat. We ran over the causeway (which is a little sketchy, as cars go fast and there's basically no shoulder. Somehow there was roadkill halfway through, so I shifted sides temporarily to avoid it. Yikes). This part of the course is rather familiar to me as it's just around the corner from my grandparent's old house! It was… interesting… running by their old street. A short ways beyond that my brother Dan was on the side of the road to cheer me on, which of course was awesome. I paused for a quick word and then went over the last hill (very small, but at that point anything not flat is a hill) and finished the race.

I had guessed I'd finish between 5:30-6:00 and ended up at 5:56, so pretty happy with the result. If not for the heat, I'm guessing I would have been closer to 5:45 (according to my watch, my actual “moving time” was 5:40). If you're curious, you can see the official results.

One large difference between an ultra and any race I've ever done is the massive time difference for finishers. They had food and beverages back at the sign-in location, but it was basically the recent finishers (after all, the winner was done 2+ hours before me!). Logically it made sense, just a little odd to experience it for the first time. I may have been tired, as well.


The race was on a Saturday, so I was basically just shuffling around like an old man for the weekend. I mostly lived on my couch. On Tuesday I went down to Philly to see Old 97s in concert with my brother Dave, and by then I felt pretty good. The only exception was a blister on one toe that took until later in the week to heal. In the hopes of my other toe healing up from the training injury, I took a full two weeks off from running entirely. Sadly, no luck on that front so at some point this year I'll probably visit a doctor. They might even tell me something other than “stop running”.

Of course now that I have the race under my belt, a common question is whether I'll do another (or, when I'll do another; or, when I'll do a 50 miler; etc.). The short answer is “I have no idea”. I like the idea of doing another one, but training does take such a large chunk of time that's more the determining factor. It is nice knowing I'm at least capable of finishing the distance. It didn't particularly help the idea of running a marathon; similar distance, but run at tempo? Um, sounds like fun not really.

The rest of this year I'll be focusing on running for fun, including doing races for the experience rather than targeting any specific time or PR. I'm looking forward to running the Solstice race up at Lake Minnewaska in a few weeks and am thinking of doing the Putnam Classic not long after. After that I'll most likely ignore my own “just run for fun” concept and try for a PR at the Peekskill Brewery mile. But it's only a mile! Ha.

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