When I signed up to run my first ultra marathon (the NDW 50) I knew that, of course, training would have to involve some really long runs. My step up to long runs happened a month or so ago now with the following:
- 18 miles
- 20 miles
- 26.2 miles (Paris marathon)
After the marathon I took a week almost completely off other than some gentle, easy runs, and then got back into the training, with a 24 mile run two weeks after the marathon. I’ve got one big one left to go, before the big one (50 miles!).
I ran 24 miles in northern Michigan, Wilderness State Park to be exact. James and I rented a lovely air bnb a few minutes drive from the bridge to Upper Peninsula (UP) and drove up late on Wednesday night. We spent Thursday and Friday exploring and hiking (more on that another time). Saturday was all about the long run – I arranged for late check-out at the air bnb, ate a huge bowl of pasta and set the alarm ridiculously early for a holiday.
At 7am, shortly after sunrise, it was a gorgeous morning but cold, with the sun glinting off the frost on the grass. I plugged a podcast in and headed out – my legs felt heavy and tired so it was easy enough to stick to a slow and easy pace. I had 4 miles to run along the road until I reached the shores of Lake Michigan.
After taking the above photo, I turned to run along the North Country Trail. The NCT is a long-distance trail over 4600 miles, from New York to North Dakota. It doesn’t have the prestige of the Appalachian Trail or the PCT but it is the longest National Scenic Trail in the US. Given it would be well-marked throughout, and clearly long enough for my run, I figured it would be a great way of getting in a long run on trails.
So at 4 miles I turned off the road (for which my feet were happy) and started winding my way through the woodland on the trails. It was great – shady and cool and soft underfoot from the fallen leaves. There were lots of short, steep, sharp climbs up banks that took a matter of a few seconds (or just two leaps if you had long legs), followed by some short, steep technical downhills. I took these easy, the last thing I wanted was to twist an ankle in the middle of nowhere three weeks before my first ultra!
Then there were just lovely winding narrow paths between the trees, over boards placed on particularly muddy sections, jumping over logs that had fallen in the way. After a few miles, the path widened and flattened so for about 4 miles I was running on a wide stretch of soft grass, pretty flat, winding between small lakes that sparkled blue in the sunshine. There was not a person around and it was gorgeous.
With two miles to go to my turnaround point, I was back in the tightly-packed forest, winding my way through trees and up and down steep hills. This certainly broke stuff up! I turned around and began heading back. All felt good and the first 12 miles had really sped along, it seemed as if very little time had passed. I had decided I could be more cautious with walking up hills on the way back – I could walk (power-hike) up all of them. Although it didn’t quite work like that because sometimes in the foresty sections, if I had speed from coming downhill, it was much easier to just keep that speed and take a few long strides up the next hill!
I was eating constantly. I had had porridge just before setting out, so after 45 minutes started eating a clif blueberry bar, taking little amounts every 15 minutes. After that I turned to a whole bag of dried strawberries, taking a handful every 15 minutes and stuffing them in my mouth until they were gone. Then two chocolate cookies – which went down slightly less well. They were just crumbly and I was worried about having enough water. They weren’t bad – they didn’t make me feel ill – but just weren’t quite as enjoyable as I had hoped! Finally, as I got into the last hour, I resorted to the shot bloks and gels.
Back over the flat section and I was starting to feel an ache in my hips around miles 17-18. It was getting hotter – it wasn’t forecast to be too hot but I had set out when it was very cold so was wearing quite a lot of clothing! I hung my jacket off the back of my camelbak and rolled the sleeves of my long-sleeved top up. I was glad of the shade!
I had no real bad aches or pains or exhaustion until I reached the end of the trail and started the 4 mile trudge back to the air bnb – the 20 minute mark. It was only at this point, staring at the road, that I realised it was all uphill. How could this be?! I could have sworn it wasn’t all downhill when I ran down to the lake. And despite telling myself I could walk uphill there was no way I could walk this, it would take me forever. So I pushed on, slowly.
The sun beat down on me – there was very little shade on this one, long, straight, uphill road. I began listening to the wonderful Talk Ultra podcast, a Marathon de Sables special. This certainly put my heat in perspective and took my mind of what I was doing as I listened to an interview with the female winner of the race! I should probably point out that it wasn’t that hot – for the rest of the day I wore jeans, boots, t-shirt and a jumper. But it felt horribly hot at the time.
Probably I should have taken some more gels for that last hour. I don’t know. I am just feeling around with this at the moment…. all I know is that when I got back to the air bnb I was absolutely exhausted, collapsed in a chair. I downed a glass of chocolate milk then felt mildly nauseous while I packed up my stuff and showered. I was stiff and sore but not in the same post-marathon way where sitting down/standing up is agony. I was just sore walking around.
And I had a 5 and a half hour drive to do….. we broke it up by stopping off for lunch and then for a 2 hour hike around River Jordan which was gorgeous and really loosened my legs off before the rest of the drive. I was still sore and stiff the next morning when I had to set out for a 6 mile run….. the first 3 miles were horrible but then the legs loosened up and I managed to pick up the pace for the second half.