Race Report: Ultimate Runner
Yesterday was the 26th annual Ultimate Runner, and the hottest on record at an official 100 degrees at the start. It was my second annual Ultimate Runner. The fun begins at 4:30pm leaving a long morning and afternoon to mull over what to eat, when to eat, what to bring, etc. Given the extreme heat, I drank at least 80 ounces of water before the event, which gave me something to do.
Started my day around 8:30am with a typical running breakfast of oatmeal with peanut butter and dried cranberries. Around 1pm I realized I would have to eat something else before the race, so I had macaroni with pesto sauce and parmesan cheese. Nice and simple. Just tried to stay cool and relaxed until the race.
Come 3:30pm it was time to head down to Hanes Park, just a few minutes walk from my apartment. I packed up some things and headed down the hill to find my friends who were already there. Steve from Steve’s House of Running had been kind enough to bring a big cooler of drinks to share, and had staked claim to a spot of shade in the infield of the track. Lots of other groups had brought tents, and the Twin City Track Club who was hosting had a big water table set up nearby as well as a misting tent which was refreshing. We all picked up our bib numbers and started getting antsy for the runs to begin!
At 4:30pm, all the runners gathered at the start line for announcements. The race director introduced the announcer and the official starter, and the National Anthem was played. Then the director held up a jar… in it was the ashes of the unearned shirts from last year’s event. As I mentioned in my race preview post, you must complete all 5 events in order to receive your shirt – otherwise they burn them. He recited a poem that went something like this (I can’t remember the third line so forgive my creative license):
Ashes to ashes,
Dust to dust,
This is your fate,
If you’re an Ultimate Bust.
Then he opened the jar and a few chunks of black junk fell out. He reminded us that last year was a tech shirt so it was more pellets than dust! I hope they had plenty of air circulation when they lit those tech shirts on fire. I have to imagine they melt more than burn.
The first heat of the mile began a couple minutes later, and the longest heated event just seemed to drag and drag until it was my heat’s turn to run. I was in the 6th of 8 heats for the 1 mile, 400m and 800m; the 13th of 19 heats for the 100m and then the 5k starts all together. My friend Dana was in heat 5 so it was fun to watch her run just before it was my turn. My other friends, the aforementioned first timer Steve as well as fellow second-timer Stephen (pictured stride for stride with me in my preview post), were in heat 6 with me. An acquaintance I know through Stephen was supposed to be in our heat as well but she was not able to come. Her shirt will burn next year!
I am already getting the events mixed up in my head. Which did I push to the finish and which did I not have the juice to edge someone out? I don’t even remember. Maybe I should have taken notes. I’ll try to recount honestly but remember that creative license if I get something mixed up. And if you were there, feel free to correct me. :)
1 mile: 6:59.9. 74th place
Just squeaked through under 7 minutes, thank goodness. On this one the heat really started getting to me about halfway through. I felt like my ears were on fire and my mouth was a desert. Throughout the event, that was really the biggest impact of the extreme heat for me, I think – the super dry mouth that set in about 200 meters into each event with no available resolution (except the 5k). Being parched is no picnic, especially when I spent the whole darn morning taking in water.
After the mile, the rest between events dropped considerably, but I still found it sufficient to catch my breath and take in some liquid. I’d brought a bunch of little dishrags to keep in the ice cooler and my goodness they felt SO good. Also, I remembered the extreme refreshment of putting a little handful of ice into the front of my sports bra… heavenly.
400 meters: 82.1. 82nd place
On the 400 meters, half of the heat seemed to get off to a great start and I could never catch up. This one was tough for me, especially seeing so many of the other runners so far ahead. I hadn’t been toeing the line for this one and that looks like it was a mistake. I was able to catch one of the other runners right at the finish line (my official finish 82.1, his 82.3 – surprised it wasn’t closer). Nearly a photo finish, I’d say. We had to stay in order through the finish chute to get our bib numbers recorded, and they yelled “PURPLE” (my shirt color) as I crossed to signify that I had caught the other fellow. Felt good to have a little oomph at the end. We high fived in the chute for no hard feelings. Until he said “youth before beauty” that is… I’m not vain but I think I had him on both of those!
800 meters: 3:12.1. 73rd place
Before long it was time to run again! I was feeling a bit worn down already so I wanted to run this one smart. Better to pass others at the end than be passed. My hip was feeling tight during the beginning of this so I was a bit distracted by that at first. Need to stretch better next year. One girl in my heat looked quite the experienced runner – super slender and wearing track spikes – but obviously speed is her better performance. She did great in the 400m and 100m but burned out in the mile and 800m (crazy to think of 1 mile and 800m as “distance” but in track they kind of are!). She started out fast in this one as well but I caught her about 500m in and passed steadily. Was nice to maintain that gap – I was able to catch a few people in the second lap so I think I paced myself well.
100 meters: 17.6. 91st place
It seems that 17.6 is how fast I can run the 100m. Now before you say “duh” and dismiss me, I’ll explain that in the three times I’ve had a timed effort at this distance, it has been 17.6 each time. Last year, last week and last night. As you see my places in each event listed out, you’ll see how far off I was compared to the other participants here. There are certainly some track stars out here, and I know I’ll never be that fast. I think my weakness is probably in the start. I don’t know how to launch into running… I’m used to steady running for hours. And even in a 5k, my shortest regular distance, jumping fast off the line is irrelevant, not that I’m toeing the line in a 5k anyway. This kind of sprint just isn’t my forte and in the Ultimate Runner event that really drags my overall place down. Oh well – I’m a marathoner, not a sprinter, so it’s okay. I just ran as hard as I could while trying to be sure I didn’t do anything stupid in a 17 second event and pull a muscle. I was way behind the rest of my heat, but whatever. My left quad was feeling a bit tight after this and I was concerned for a moment but all was well. I wished I brought my The Stick massage thingie but I made do with my friend Lauren’s steel water bottle for a little rubdown.
5000 meters: 28:19. 78th place
We all milled about for the on-track start of the 5k. It began with 1.5 loops around the track then headed out into the park for two loops of the cross-country trail. The sun was going down by this point and it was slightly cooler, but still mid-90s. Immediately upon starting my run, I got side stitches on both sides. I’d had a stitch earlier in the event and Steve had suggested breathing out on the opposite footfall (so left side stitch, breath out when the right foot hits the ground), but I didn’t know what to do for stitches on both sides. I think I may have actually over-hydrated to cause them, though some quick googling shows that the main cause is shallow breathing. My usual solution is to stop and stretch, but I wasn’t sure I’d get started again if I stopped, so on I ran, with what felt like knives stabbing me.
We passed the water stop for the first time around 0.75 miles and I actually grabbed a cup. When I am actually racing a 5k, I try not to stop for water at all, and slowing before the first mile is just laughable. But my mouth was dry as could be. Thanks go out to Eric at Running From the Past for volunteering for the event and working the water station. He also has an Ultimate Runner post with some photos here. It was good to meet you, Eric, and thanks for the water on my first pass! I took a small sip then just sloshed the rest of the water around my mouth for some needed moisture. Pushed up a small hill next and back down the other (rocky, careful footing) side.
Mile 1 came by soon and we headed into the darkness in a shaded grove then under the road, around a school walkway (my voting place!) and back around under the road again. These aren’t nice walkways under the road – too dark and kind of scary. Some lighting would be nice as I was worried I would fall. There were great volunteers stationed all over the course though, including one under each bridge, and they were warning of the uneven footing. Crossed a grassy field and it was time to repeat the whole thing again. Even under the best of conditions (great weather, not having run all these other things beforehand) this would not be a fast course. Lots of sharp turns, bridges, the rocky areas with uncertain footing, etc. Just trying to make more excuses for my slow time.
The second pass of the water stop also brought mile 2. I grabbed another cup for another small sip, swish and spit. Slowed significantly here for a moment to take in the water better. I passed one or two people during the second lap. At one point (well I think this was first lap) I passed a 9 year old girl who was participating. Poor thing was crying. I told her “good job” as I went by – she was fine but just exhausted. Definitely commend her for doing it, though I’m not sure I would want a child that age to participate… but then again I don’t have kids. Based on names, it looks like her mother also ran it. As long as the girl wanted to run, instead of being made to, I think it’s okay. Kids should be active!
To end the 5k, we ran ~500 meters on the track. Entered at the back turn and made a full loop then the home stretch again. I had been slowly bearing down on Steve during the last half mile and caught up to him with about 300m to go. Ran with him for a moment but then I had a little bit left so I pushed on ahead. Was expecting him to catch me at the finish but he was out of gas. Crossed the finish line and hand my name announced, and the declaration “Congratulations, you are an Ultimate Runner!”
Thank God it was over. Went back to my area and got some water, and took one of the ice-cold clothes and put it on the back of my neck. Amazing. Those were one of my best ideas. Washed down a little with the rags, including all the dirt that the cross-country trail had churned up. Packed up and put our things into cars so as not to carry chairs and coolers to the after party. I changed my shirt and put on flip-flops and we headed to Bob’s Big Gas Subs and Pub to get our grub on. There were platters of sandwiches, and I grabbed one along with a couple scoops of fruit salad. Best grapes in my life were consumed at that moment, or so it seemed. Got a glass of free Coors and chowed down. Was so nice to eat – I was hungry!
Each starter had finished all the events, so excluding the 3 no-shows, there were 111 shirts to hand out. We each got called up one by one where the emcee/race director (I think) had a brief comment for most of us. The shirts were handed out in no particular order so I wasn’t sure if it was me when he was like “Emily… Emily… Emily?” But when I could see him trying to mouth out my last name, I figured it out and headed to the front. I told him how to pronounce it and he said he didn’t want to get in trouble. After asking if I was a first timer, I told him no, and he congratulated me on my second UR. I got my shirt and headed back to my Coors. :)
Last year’s tech shirt was really nice, but I do like this shirt a lot too. Worth wearing! And it has all the events listed out to show what the event is all about. Another Ultimate Runner is in the books!
My original goal had been to improve my times over last year. I was also hoping to over-perform my seeding. Once the weather became a reality, I thought the former was unlikely but the latter would be reasonable since everyone was dealing with the same heat. Unfortunately it didn’t come to pass and I under-performed my seeding by more this year than last. I was seeded 74 and finished at 81. Oh well.
My times were comparable, and my 800 was a good bit faster. I can’t complain too much. Just need to come back in 2013 for more, and hope for milder temperatures.