After I finished running my first marathon, the TCS NYC Marathon, back in 2016, I remember riding the bus home with my sister, sitting there in awe of what I had just accomplished. One of the things I said to her was, “I don’t know how people run ultra marathons (referring to the pain I was in at that particular moment). I’ll never run an ultra.”
Never say never.
Fast forward a little over a year later, I did what I deemed impossible, and ran my first ultra, the NYC 60k. I will be very honest, I wasn’t expecting to finish. I went into this race with an open mind, and to see how far I could go. As someone who had just completed the NYC Marathon just 2 short weeks ago, I felt pretty recovered, yet danced around the line of caution. Despite all of that, I underestimated myself, and ended up finishing the race. Nearly two weeks later, I still don’t know how I pulled it off.
I treated this race almost like it was a 5k, despite the fact that it was 37 miles. What I mean by this, is I didn’t stress out about it. With my expectations being what they were, I just wanted to go and have fun, while doing the best that I could. I never expected to run an ultra marathon this soon in my running career. I was looking into races such as Badwater Cape Fear (the 50k) and local races here, such as the Watchung Ultra. A month ago, if you asked me to run an ultra right after the NYC Marathon, I’d think you were insane. In fact, the NYC Marathon was supposed to be my only big marathon/race for this year. I deferred my Chicago entry for 2018, thinking it would be too much to run two marathons so close together. And here I am signing up for an ultra in Central Park. It’s that post marathon thing that runners get. That “I’ll never do this again” but then a day later, after the pain subsides, “Ok, when and where’s the next race?”
The night before the race, after work I went to the supermarket. I bought bagels for the morning, electrolyte drinks, pretzel sticks, and various protein edibles. I read that you were able to bring food to check in on the course and eat as you please, so I packed them all in a bag and prepared it for the race. I packed up my fuel belt, lay out my race outfit, and was in bed by 9:30pm.
The next morning, I was up at 3:30am. It gave me enough time to get ready and catch the 5:00am bus to NYC. I left my house ten to 5, as the bus stop was literally down the road. As I walking to the bus, a bus pulled up to the stop and I began running, thinking, “Oh great! I just missed my bus!” It left after about ten seconds, then I stopped running and continued walking to the stop. 5 am arrived, and still no bus. Oh God, maybe that was my bus. Ten minutes later, it finally arrived and a wave of relief came over me.
When I got to Port Authority, I caught the train to Central Park. After I arrived, it was maybe 6:20am, and I still had time before I could pick up my race packet. I realized that I had to make my way over to Central Park East, since that is where the race HQ were. It was still dark out, so I walked through a quiet, dark , Central Park to get there. Thank goodness I wasn’t alone, there were a few people around. Some were getting in their morning run around the resoivoir, some cops were patrolling the park, and a man was out walking his baby (a little early for that but okay) When I finally saw people in NYRR jackets, I knew I had found the race site.
The volunteers were still setting up. I found one and asked where I could pick up my stuff and they kindly directed me. A nearby runner asked me, “Are you one of the crazy people attempting to do this today?” We chit chatted for a bit, I told her this was my first ultra, hers as well (Good, I wasn’t the only one). After I got my tech shirt, bib, and timing tag, I took a seat on some concrete steps near a statue. Another runner sat down next to me and asked me if I knew how to figure out the timing tag on the shoe. We talked running talk for a bit, then I got up and checked my bag. I had one bag for my clothes, and the other for food, which I left out on the course if I needed any of my self-packed sustenance. Also provided for us on the course was pretzels, potato chips, chicken broth, salted potatoes, soda, water, Gatorade, bananas, bagels, and hot chocolate (I may be missing one or two things). They sure had everything covered as far as nutrition during the race. I mean, when you’re running 37 miles, you can only survive on Gu for so long before hitting the dreaded wall. The key during an ultra is to eat, eat, eat.
About twenty minutes before the race began, I grabbed a coffee to keep warm. I just started chugging it, in hopes that it would warm my body quickly. I made my way over to the porta pottys one last time, then walked back to the starting line, where runners were beginning to file in. Now, I was nervous. What have I gotten myself into?!
8:00am-The Race Begins
After we got the all clear, we set off on our first loop around Central Park. The first loop was 5.2 miles. I was feeling good, keeping my pace nice and steady, and then it started; THE HILLS. Well, I better start getting used to it. For the rest of the day, I was going to be running them. Before I knew it, first loop was done. Everytime you complete a loop, you pass a monitor with your name, how many loops completed, and how many left. One down, eight more to go. I didn’t eat any solid food yet, instead I took my Gu gel, some Gatorade, and some water, and continued on my way.
Second loop went pretty quickly. When I reached HQ again, along with the water and Gatorade, I grabbed a bag of pretzels and downed them quick as I started on my third loop. The third loop is where I solidified my strategy the rest of the course;
Caitlin’s NYC 60K Race Strategy
-At the last aid station before race HQ, use porta potty, take water, Gatorade and Coca Cola
-At race HQ, take water, Gatorade, bag of pretzels, and Coca Cola
-Stretch after every loop completion, and as needed
The more loops you ran, the more you got to know the volunteers stationed throughout the course. You begin recognizing them, and they begin recognizing you. Not only that, but the other runners began recognizing each other as well. The one difference I noticed between an Ultra race and any other race, is the real push and motivation runners give each other on the course. This was a battle we were all trying to conquer together, so we assisted each other along the way. It all goes back to that runner’s comeraderie. There is nothing like the running community.
Back on the course, I completed loop 4. Greeting runners near the timing mat on this loop this time, was race NYRR President Peter Ciaccia. I got the opportunity to shake his hand again as I passed through checkpoint. After stopping briefly for nutrition, I badly needed to stretch. After stretching and shaking it out, I continued on my way. During loops five and six, I began to realize that I was going to actually finish this thing. Between that thought, the volunteers, and my music, I kept pushing on. Moments of misery came and went (running with a full bladder, rain, leg pain) but it was nothing compared to the feeling of finishing this race.
When I had reached the final loop, Peter Ciaccia met me on the course. He asked me what loop I was on, because he wanted to know who was still out on the course in order to judge runners/cutoff time. After chatting briefly with him, I kept running. I ran more during the final two loops, because at this point I had just wanted to finish, and finish before the cutoff. I became teary eyed at times, thinking about the day and what the hell I was about to accomplish. Some volunteers on bikes rode with me as I ran, as it was getting dark at this point. They frequently checked in with me also, making sure I still felt good as I closed in on the finish line. I told all of the volunteers as I passed them one last time that this was my final loop, and I thanked them for being out there for us today. Just then, I recognized the final turn, and suddenly, the finish line was there before me. I was in pain, my legs were still, but I ran. Whatever I had left in me, I used it to finish strong.
I had just completed my first ultra marathon. I began to cry, and then I phoned my mom. As I told her the news of my finish, I began sobbing even more. After, some of the volunteers congratulated me, some who saw me out earlier this morning, some hugged me.
So almost two weeks post race, I am recovered. No pain, no fatigue, just the aftershock of running 37 miles through hilly Central Park. In fact, it feels like I never even ran an ultra. I read so many things about how if you can run a marathon, you can also run an ultra. Despite my doubts beforehand (and this is the only race I have doubted a finish) nothing is impossible folks.