Sunday, March 06, 2011

Mississippi Trails 50: my first "ultra"

Pic above :Click on the link above for a photo-movie preso

A journey mostly begins with a destination, but perhaps it offers very little insight into the destiny at the inception. Three years ago, when I met a group of my friends who were running to lose weight and collaborated on the first half-marathon, little did I know where the journey would take me. As it turned out it took me on an

exploration of the exciting world of endurance running, its myriad forms of running and its sub-cultures, the obsession with everything from shoes to apparel to finish times and completion of 9 full marathons and a number of sub marathon distance races. The most recent exciting discovery has been the running sub-culture of trail running and the testing of limits in human endurance through what is called ultra-maratho

n distance running ( 50k,50 mile,100k and 100 miles).

With over 8 road marathons behind me, I was looking for a different challenge, perhaps even a different perspective to running. The trail running culture appealed to me. It was a smaller group, it took you close to nature, and one

trail was never ever the same as the other because of mother earth’s design of the forest landscape, and most importantly I found the trail running community to be friendly folks, and a lot relaxed in their approach to running. There it was, trail running had got me hooked. I had a run smaller distances of 18 miles and 16 miles over the last few years, and a 50k was something that appealed to me as a standard progression to “ultra” trail running.

Back in Dec, my running buddy Jeff sent me a message on Facebook to see if I would be interested to run the 50k. Jeff is a seasoned trail runner and was shooting to do his first 50k as well, he reasoned that theMS 50 were a good starter 50k race considering it was moderately technical(a trail runner’s lingo that means if the trails are challenging) , so I readily agreed the 2011 MS50 scheduled for the 5th M

ar (Sat).

We left to Laurel,MS on Friday and reached just in time to pick up the race packet that evening. The race packet was being distributed in a little building amidst an Agricultural office of some sort. There were about 40-50 folks from what I could count. Many there were planning to run their 50-mile run. We met Jeff and Bridget at the race packet center and then head out for dinner. It was nice to catch up with them, both are ardent runners and their son is an elite runner, winning many races in the Memphis running circuit.

Race started at 6 am. Our drive from the hotel to the start line nestled amidst the Longleaf forest about 15 miles away was uneven

tful because it was mostly dark, but I sensed driving on the gravel roads inside the forest, this was going to be exciting and different. Roopa accompanied me to Laurel, and it gives me a lot of comfort when she is around, she is great as my only support crew, the girls were back at home with their grandparents, so I missed my cheering squad. We got to the start line area by about 5.30 am, it was still pre-dawn dark.The start area were lined with various tents, including the race organizer’s tent , and I could see people scampering to get ready for the race. The start line was a few yards away from this point. The race comprised of two loops, yellow loop and the blue loop. The yellow loop was the 20k and blue loop was the 10k. For the 50k we had to repeat the yellow trail two times and then one time of the 10k, simple math, but body physiology does not work very mathematically I thought.

As I lined up on the start line amongst

the shuffling feet and splutter of drizzle on my cap’s visor, I could feel a sense of calm that comes from total surrender of the unknown. I have never run more than 26.2 miles, and this was going to be 5 more than the most I have ever run in a single attempt. Besides it was the off road trails, less prone to getting into a rhythm and hence consumed more energy. As these thoughts played around , the whistle blew, and off we were.

The start of the trail were closely packed with close to 140 of the runners starting the 50k or the 50-mile, the 20k runners were scheduled to start at 8 am. The trails were pine covered soft broad trails for about 1.5

miles and then it narrowsed to a two-track mud trail. The trails were wet, with many parts holding puddles of water. Initially as it always happens, most of us tried staying dry on the feet, but that slowly disappears as our inhibition drops, and then you see everyone splashing through the puddle. It gets a few moments to be a child again presumably. Its fun to run trails if you think of oneself as a child, it simplifies the run, uncomplicates the mental process. It starts becoming a wild adventure when you embrace the many uncertainties the forest trails throws at you.

At many points in my first go around of the yellow loop, saw many runners either passing me or vice-versa, there was a constant flow of traffic. At the end of first go-round, I was glad to see Roopa waiting to hand m

e over the Endurolytes replenishment. I consumed the Endurolytes caps every hour, and perhaps that mayexplain the total absence of cramps in my entire 31 miles. I also made it a point to eat a piece of banana and some chips at each aid station. Stuck to water, no Gatorade or Heeds, and felt good, didn’t have to deal with an overwhelming sweetness that comes with it.

The weather was overcast when we started and it may have drizzled with a few splatters of first go around. In the second go around on the yellow loop, the skies came down upon us, accompanied by thunder. I was hoping that one of the many tall pine trees in the tail wouldn’t suddenly get hit by lightning. The cre

eks were fuller and water was now coming up to the knee, and I enjoyed wading through them. For one it was a child like pleasure of doing it, but more importantly it soothed my feet. My feet did not tire, versus how I normally feel when I run road marathons, my feet feel nasty. This was a welcome change.

At many times during my yellow loop go-arounds, I actually chose to slow down and enjoy the rain. If you haven’t open your mouth and stood under a downpour, its should be on ones list. It’s a blissful experience. Imagine not being inhibited, and letting pure aqua refresh your mouth, its one of those senses that is hard to explain.

Pic Above: Jeff and I at around 25 mile point

It took my about 30 minutes more to complete the second loop. As I approached the completion of my second 20k loop, legs were protesting. Doing an additional 10k at this point seemed daunting. Luckily for me Jeff caught up after staying back to run with Bridget and as he passed me, pulled me along as well. My 10 k was an example of what ultra runners often describe as need to dig deep to keep going. I did, and let the mind run the show, disregarding a protesting set of muscles to continue pushing a steady pace. And it worked; my discomfort subsided as I managed to keep a steady cadence in the last 10 k loop. There were some unexpected inclines in this phase, which I chose to run versus the previous loops where I power walked.

After 6 hours 42 minutes of embracing the slushy trails, I hit the finish line, elated, and glad it was conquered. It was good feeling to have gone beyond a marathon distance.

I learnt later in the day that the forest service had to ask runners to vacate the trails after around 3.30 pm because of intensifying downpour, leaving many of the intending 50 milers to settle for a 50k finish. In summary, it was an enjoyable experience and I hope to build on this to try a few other more challenging trails in the years to come.

Happy Trails out there!

The below link is a video created by a fellow 50k finisher, paints a great picture about the race.


Augustus Unus said...

Loved the write-up and literally transported me to the scene. Wish we could get medals for running vicariously, I would have gotten so many medals from reading your blogs!

Congratulations once again, splendid achievement really!!

Anonymous said...

"My flying capability is limited to the span of my wings" so thought the Jonathan Livington Sea Gull". But when attemtped and tried out it was an infinite capability. So is the case with the Universal form in the Bhagavat Gita ch 11. It is nothing but the infinite capability in us once we apply to practice. We are potemtial with infinite capability and becomes visible when we apply to life.
congratulations and best wishes

kvssiyer said...

great just great congrtulations and best wiswhes

kvssiyer said...

"My capability is limited to the span of my wings" so thought the Jonathan Livingeton sea gull" But when it tried to fly and fly it turned out to be infinite. So also quotes further the Bhagavat gita in ch 11 the universal form. Our potential is infinite but it becomes visible when we apply to practice in life.
congratulations and best wishes

RZen said...

Beautifully described experience, the child in you example and splashing in the puddle...they gave the feel of your bliss...

Love it, when are you doing it next?

santy said...

Rohit- I am tempted to sign up for the next, need to check out some moderately technical trails once more. If there is something in your area, we can explore that , you can run too:)

Vivek said...

very good description anna. the video also was lovely. i now feel like exploring running as a hobby. i currently do only normal forest treks and rock climbs. running seems to be a physically demanding yet rewarding act. :)

looking forward to many more of your adventures

Tanjavur Iyer said...

Very cool, enjoyed the read and the video. Congrats!