What Drives Us? – Recap of my First Ultra

What drives one to the edge of reason and the brink of collapse? What makes a reasonable person want to do things that seem so incredibly difficult?

I am sure that the answers are different for all of us. For me, I found some of those answers during my first twelve hour race: it is the search for how hard I can push my body and mind, how long I can withstand pain; it is the accomplishment of hours, days, weeks and months of training; it is the joy that I feel when I see the pride in the eyes of my wife and son; it is my quest for adventure, for distance…

According to David Blaikie of http://www.ultrunr.com/, "An ultra marathon is any organized foot race extending beyond the standard marathon running distance of 42 kilometers, 195 meters (26 miles, 385 yards). Ultra races typically begin at 50 kilometers and can extend to enormous distances. There is no limit."  According to me, “It’s any distance that seems too long to think about and too crazy to actually do."

The Trail at Hampton Park
Over a year ago I decided that I wanted (maybe even needed) to run an Ultra Marathon. Being new to this sport, it seemed the appropriate step in my progression as a runner. My first year of serious running included three half marathons. My second year I completed two full marathons. The "Qu’est-ce que c’est?" seemed a perfect fit for my third year. I actually played around with the idea of running this race last year, but thought I needed at least one more marathon under my belt. I checked the web site and saw that the date for this year’s race was July 4th. I knew it was going to be hot and humid, but I liked the idea of running a loop for my first Ultra. I saw this as an opportunity to practice hydration, refueling and everything else I would need to know for my next Ultra (that’s right, I was already thinking about the next one…).

Runners setting up their supplies.
I woke up early and drove to Hampton Park in Downtown Charleston (SC) for the beginning of my twelve-hour adventure. I had no idea how many miles I would complete or if I could actually run for the entire twelve hours. This was unchartered territory for me. It sounded so ridiculous every time I told anyone about the race. I even questioned myself as to why I needed to run this race, but as I got closer I found myself excited to test my training and start this crazy adventure.

Being my first twelve hour run, I was not sure what supplies I needed. What does one need for a half day race? I found a great checklist on an Ultra Runners' web site: http://www.ultrarunr.com/ . I modified the list to include what I thought I needed and packed the day before the race. I felt good about my preparations, but I must have checked that list a million times...

Setting up my supplies.
I arrived at the park at 6:15am to set up my supplies with the help of my friends Will V. and Coach Greg. The course started at the park gazebo where the leader board and our supplies were located. As you ran out of the gazebo you had to run down four steps and out to the park trail. The trail was paved and had a few inclines, but was mostly flat (1.03 miles). It looped back around to the gazebo where you had to run up four steps to mark your mileage on the leader board. I set up my supplies on the far end of the gazebo where I thought I would get the most shade during the day. I had a folding chair, cooler, box of first aid supplies, bag of clothes, shoes and food (gels, bars, bagels, and pretzels). My drinking supplies were on ice and consisted of Powerade, Coconut Water, BaNa, and bottled water. After I set up I went over some last minute details with Will and then waited for the start of the race. As I looked around at all the other runners setting up I felt nervous and anxious. Did I train enough, did I bring enough supplies, had I lost me mind! Just then, a guy walked up to me and introduced himself. He was an older guy named Billy. He was super nice, we talked for a few minutes and he welcomed me to their “club”. I started to relax and was ready for the race to begin.
Getting ready for the start!

As we gathered in a group outside the gazebo there was a C-17 flying over and Alex the race organizer said, "Ok, there's the fly over so let’s start." He gave some last minute instructions like, "If you get lost, just run back here". That was about it and the race started. The pace was nice and easy and everyone seemed in good spirits. The group was small and a lot of the runners seemed to know one another. I ran alone for most of the fist few miles and tried to concentrate on the moment, but I could not help thinking about the past few years and how I had reached this point. I even laughed out loud as I thought about a funny memory of this very place…

Hampton Park has a special place in my heart. When I first started running, about four years ago, I came to this park on Wednesday mornings with a group of people from the MUSC Boot Camp Program (run by some tough Marines). I was amazed by the people that were going to run three to five laps around the park. I would think, "That's like three or five miles in one hour. Who can do that!!!?" After a few months, I was finally able to try to complete a full mile. I remember feeling so excited as I finished and telling the Marines that I had run one mile without stopping. They looked over and said good job and went back to talking to each other. Moments later, I threw up on the road. The Marines went nuts! They were cheering me on and telling me that it or I (not sure which) was outstanding!!! It is a moment that I will never forget.

These are the things that go through a runner’s mind…

Feeling good!
The first twenty miles of the race were a breeze. I was running slower than my marathon pace and the weather was amazing (70’s and 80’s). I had been training in hot weather for weeks and could not believe how cool it was that morning. The problem with the easy pace and good weather is that I was feeling so good that I was not drinking enough fluids (a fact I would realize later in the race).

As I ran around the trail I noticed motivational signs had been placed on the course. They were drawings and pictures all the runners had sent in to illustrate why they wanted to run the race. Around the back part of the loop I found two pictures I had sent in; one of me and my son getting ready for a run (from our mission to be the first father and son to cross the new Ben Sawyer Bridge) and another one of my before and after picture (from three years ago when I lost over ninety pounds). It was fun to see everyone’s pictures and it helped a ton to see mine each time around. In addition to the signs, I had several friends stop by and run with me and cheer me on at the gazebo. My wife and son came later and their presence gave me a boost more powerful than a truck full of Starbucks. I was truly overwhelmed by all the support that I was given during this whole race.

Pictures from all the runners.
I knew there would be a time in the race that I would hit some type of wall and I would be challenged as I piled on the mileage. At mile twenty one I felt my first leg cramp. These cramps have popped up on my two prior marathons around the same mileage. To me this was both a mental and physical blow. I had been taking salt pills and drinking BaNa (a sodium enriched drink) to keep my sodium level up. I thought I had been drinking enough, but now that I look back I know I was not even close. I had been feeling so good that I was not concentrating on my fluid intake. As I made it to twenty six laps the cramps kept coming so I stopped and sat down on my chair to take a break. I used my “Stick” and rubbed out the cramps. I could tell that other runners were watching me and wondering if I would keep going. I started to doubt myself and my abilities. After cramping up at my last marathon it took weeks for me to get out of a funk and stop beating myself up. I started to wonder if this was all I could do; was this as far as my body would allow me to go. My mind was in a haze and I had not even reached the 50K mark…

About that time Coach Greg showed up. I was really out of it; I was bonking. I was still dazed and my energy level was way too low. Will had done an excellent job all day and was a huge help. He had tried to get me to take breaks and drink more, but I was feeling so good that I was skipping a lot of my preplanned breaks. Greg made me take in a bunch of fluids and food before I continued. At that moment, I was so out of it that I was sure Greg was trying to drown me!

After being forced to hydrate and refuel I started to come back to my senses. I was now starting to concentrate on the race again. I had lost a lot of time during the last nine miles (my pace had really dropped and I had to take a long break to get back to speed). I finished lap thirty and began to feel better, my pace even picked up.

Peyton waiting for me at 30K!

As I came around the end of my thirty first lap (and my first 50K) I saw my son, Peyton, waiting to run in with me. Then I saw my wife, Jen, waiting at the leader board to greet me as I finished the lap! I will never be able to describe just how amazing that moment was for me. To have my family there to see me accomplish this goal and be there to support me was incredible! The look of pride in the eyes of my son and wife cleared the haze I was in and my self-doubt was replaced with a will to succeed. I know that I will be able to go back to that moment for years to come when I am in need of inspiration and strength.

Jen waiting for me at 50K!
I stayed hydrated for the rest of the race and used a walk run technique for most of the last laps. I had accomplished my main goal so everything else was a bonus from this point on. I had an awesome time running with my son for a lap. He seemed so proud to be running with me and was surprised to see his picture on the trail. My wife was amazing as she ran five miles with me to keep me on pace (she was a real pro). She not only helped keep me hydrated and fueled, she kept me motivated and focused. How awesome is that?

Jen taking care of me during the last 20 miles.
As the last hour arrived I was very close to the fifty mile mark. I was in fourth place after finally passing a runner ahead of me and was chasing an older guy named John K. I was rushing through the rest area and gaining on him as fast as I could. The other runners were cheering me on to finish fifty miles (the support that these runners give each other is amazing).

One of the characters of the park.
The minutes were flying by and I was starting to worry that I might not have enough time to finish my last twolaps. Just then my wife told me that the race organizer (Alex) had offered to pace me. I took him up on his offer and we headed out. He was so cool. He talked about ultras he had run and the one he had just done two weeks before this race. He talked about the character (and characters) of the park and how it changes not only each year, but throughout the day. He actually had me laughing during those last two laps (which we ran at 9:00 pace)!

50.5 Miles!!!
I’m not sure if I would have had time to run one more lap and tie Mr. John K., but as I came in to the finish I had no thoughts of going any further. I was way too happy about what I had just accomplishment. I hugged and kissed my wife and son; I shook hands with other runners and Coach Greg; and then I sat down and just shook my head. I could not believe that I had just run over fifty miles…
My awesome trophy!


  1. OH my goodness! Where in the world have I been! I didnt know you were training for an ultra!
    This post is AMAZING!!! wow.
    My goal is to do an ultra before my 50th birthday :)... thanks for the inspiration!


  2. Ruthie sent me over to take a look at your post...congrats! Our town hosts a 50 mile trail race every June...San Juan Solstice. Maybe one day, I'll do more than volunteer in it!

  3. That is just an awesome accomplishment. Fifty miles in one day! Just a fantastic achievement. Congrats.


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