Ran My First Ultra - How Hard Was It? (Read 255 times)


Proboscis Colossus

    Ran my first ultra Saturday night...the Full Moon 50K in Arkansas.  Fun race, great support, and my finish time was "without the aid of the Forestry Service," so I'm happy!


    It being my first, though, I'm curious as to about where this race ranks on the difficulty scale.  I ask because, while I'm certainly glad I did it, I'm not sure I'm up for going farther than good ol' 26.2 again.  It was quite a beating, and I'm wondering if I just stumbled upon (literally) a particularly tough one, or if I'd hate how I felt for the second half of about any ultra.


    Factors I suspect lessened the difficulty level:

    1. Not a particularly technical trail - pretty much just gravel roads and/or broken pavement the whole way.  No streams to leap over, no slick rocks, etc.

    2. Excellent support (as far as I know)...it was an out-and-back course, with a 25K option.  There were aid stations with tons of food at the 25K turnaround and the 50K turnaround, and water stations to refill bottles/packs halfway between those stations.

    3. Trail was well-marked with glow sticks and flour.

    4.  Big party with even more food at the end, though that didn't really have much to do with the difficulty, just wanted to give a shout-out to the organizers on this one.


    Factors I suspect made it a little tougher:

    1. Those gravel roads and/or broken pavement I mentioned above sure tore up my legs after awhile.  It was not particularly soft or even gravel.

    2.  It was dark.  There were a few people running without lights, but I don't know how.

    3.  It was in the Ouachita Mountains...which aren't mountains like you have in Colorado and such, but still, there were very few points that we weren't going up or down at a fairly steep grade.


    So, those of you more experienced with ultras (trail ultras, if there are road ultras, too), does this sound like a particularly hard or easy course?  Or somewhere in between?  I liked running in "nature" (though it would have been nicer if I could have seen any of it), but like I say, I may not be cut out for that distance, if this would be considered a cream puff of a course.


    Then again, there was some measure of stupidity on my part that probably didn't help.  It was my first run after recovery from an injury, for one (that injury did poke its head up, but not to the point that it was really bothering me), and I wasn't really trained for even a regular marathon.  And those hills I mentioned?  Probably should have walked at least a few of the early, really steep ones.  At least I had the sense to stop and rest at the aid stations.


    MTA: I believe that run is public in my log, feel free to take a look.  Oh, and doing so myself reminded me of the other, probably most significant, bit of stupidity on my part: going out for those first few miles hilariously fast.

    "God guides us on our journey, but careful with those feet." - David Lee Roth, of all people

      Lazy answer, you went out too fast , likely at marathon pace but uphill, 800 feet gain in the first 4 miles if that map is right.

      Regular ass person



        I am jealous... Little Rock is my hometown and the AURA folks are my homepeople.


        I ran the AT100 on those trails last year, and they will beat you up anyway... regardless of how fast you go out.


        "Now, you know."  Just don't be like me and keep doing it Smile


        Proboscis Colossus

          The AURA people were VERY cool, and are the reason I will almost certainly go back and run at least the 25K next year!  I enjoyed meeting "Lou," who was described to me as sort of the "godmother" of ultra running in Arkansas.  She was manning the 50K turnaround aid station, which was very well-stocked!

          "God guides us on our journey, but careful with those feet." - David Lee Roth, of all people


            I don't really have the experience factor to share, but I just completed my first ultra on 7/13, the Psycho Psummer 50K in the Kansas City area.  The course was a little long (the race director said so - this isn't me disputing it!) so it was actually about 32.7 miles. I finished slower than you did, by almost an hour!

            The trail in my race sounds like it was much more technical. Definitely mostly single track dirt with plenty of rocks and roots. The second half of each 10.9 mile loop featured some big hills, the first half mostly just rollers.  I'm a klutz, and I did have a fall - during mile 3!  So I ran the rest with a skinned up knee, which got me lots of sympathy at the aid stations.  I never seem to fall on technical sections, rather I find the only rock or root on a smooth section and am down before I know what happened.

            I was tired at the finish and my quads were pretty tight for a few days, but I recovered more easily than I have from any of the 4 marathons I've run.

            I think most of my easier recovery was due to taking it pretty easy out there. Race start time was 8 am, and it was 90F by noon. I ran with an experienced trail and ultra runner friend with a goal just to finish and have fun and we took the pace easy, ate a lot at the aid stations, drank well, and generally had a good time out there. we slowed down some through the day as it heated up, but not a whole lot since we started out pretty unambitiously.

            I loved the more laid back ultra crowd. The aid stations were fabulous - turns out pumpkin cookies with chocolate and peanut butter chips are a big motivator for me.   The local Trail Nerds put on a fantastic, well organized, well supported race for sure.

            So, I dunno if your course was harder, but I definitely enjoyed the "just finish" nature of this one for me and found the second half tiring, but not as bad as the last 6 miles of a marathon with the easier pace.  I swore I'd never do an ultra, and then that I'd be one and done, but I might be hooked.

            Options,Account, Forums

              Move up to 100s and do one on this scale, and then you'll have this nice scale rating.... Smile

              It's a 5k. It hurt like hell...then I tried to pick it up. The end.

                I ran my first Ultra back in March, "Way Too Cool 50K".  Since this is a trail ultra, all of my long runs during training were on the trails.  Trails made me such a strong runner.  In fact, I still trying to work my body back to where I was on race day.  Missing a couple months of trail running after the race was huge on my body.  Anyway, the race was tough but I loved every minute of it.  So much so I'm planning on running my first 50 miler next with the hope of getting that lottery ticket for Western States.


                The three marathons I've run, all road, have beat me up WAY more than the 50K on the trails.  I was up and moving fine the day after my 50K and running two days later.  After my marathons, I can barely walk for 3 days let alone get out and run.  This is why I'm so pro-trails now.

                MM #5616

                  I've done three 50k races so far:  Gorge Waterfalls in Oregon in March,  Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado in May, and Bighorn Mountain in Wyoming in June.  All three were steep trail races, but not overly technical, and I loved them!   My times were between 6:22- 6:39, so similar to your 50k time, but in looking at your log, your other shorter race times are much faster than mine. I suspect you have a much faster 50k in you.


                  I agree with Happyfeet - I suspect you went out too fast. And it looks like you spent a long time at a couple of aid stations?  Two miles were over 25 minutes, and if you cut 10 minutes off of each you'd shave 20 minutes off your final time - this still allows for a 15 minute mile, which should be plenty for a brief stop at each aid station.  Remember:  relentless forward progress!

                  I hammered down the trail, passing rocks and trees like they were standing still.



                    If you only walked "two or three times" I would call it an easy 50K since it was your first.  As someone who has only recently started trail running this past winter it cannot be underestimated the differences on the trails versus the roads.  Terrain, elevation, conditions, etc. all play huge role in the differences.  For a perspective, my marathon PR is only a couple of minutes slower than yours but my 1 and only 50K this past spring was 50 minutes slower due to about 12,000 feet of elevation change.  But! I had such a blast and it was a lot funner than any road race I've ever done.  Low key, people chatting, drinking, falling, getting up and trudging on, yeah, good times.


                    Heal up and get back out on the trails on a weekly basis and your next 50K should be better, at least that's my plan.  No, that doesn't mean I've given up on road racing but the change of scenery and pace helps break up the monotony.


                    Good job on your first ultra.

                    You people, have issues.


                      Congratulations!  I love the phrase "without the aid of the Forestry Service".  Nice one!


                      From your description, this sounds like an "easy" 50K, sorry to say...  You say you ran hills that you should have walked;  some of the 50ks I've done have had hills for which running is not even physically an option, not even with a good mouth guard and helmet.   And my favorite 50k has many sections where you need to use your hands.  A lot of the races where I'm at (New England) involve a trip or two through the beaver pond.


                      Proboscis Colossus

                        Cool, thanks, guys!


                        maddog - Funny, I'm having the opposite experience: my legs are way more torn up after that trail race than they usually are after a marathon.  But it's significant to mention, I in no way trained for this race, since I planned to "just run it."


                        Wildchild - I did indeed take my time at the aid stations!  Partly to give my legs a rest and partly because mmmmmm, peanut butter.  I definitely could have shortened my time there, but since I jackrabbited the start like a complete ninny (up the longest incline of the course, no less), I was glad I did.


                        FSocks - the atmosphere and the people are exactly what drew me to this run (I did the 25K last year on a whim, having learned about it just that day at the running store), and I wasn't disappointed!  Problem with getting into regular trail running for me, though, is finding a place to train.  For sure, there are "trails" around here, but they're all going to be on someone's private property, almost certainly in a cow pasture, and so I run the risk of being chased by a bull or someone with a shotgun or both.  The cross-country team does have a little route around the school, but it's just a little one-mile loop.  Bleah.


                        SillyC - with my propensity for both falling and getting lost, it was a very real goal of mine to finish without someone having to come get me!

                        "God guides us on our journey, but careful with those feet." - David Lee Roth, of all people

                          Cool, thanks, guys!


                          maddog - Funny, I'm having the opposite experience: my legs are way more torn up after that trail race than they usually are after a marathon.  But it's significant to mention, I in no way trained for this race, since I planned to "just run it."


                          That is probably the difference.  I trained pretty hard.  We did quite a few runs over 20+ and my longest was 25 miles...all trails.  Alot of inclines and declines so my body was ready.

                            I think how hard a 50K is for an individual runner probably depends on your training, overall experience racing longer distances (marathon+), and course difficulty.  In your case I didn't see much ultra specific training especially the long runs, usually people get 22-24 mile training runs in when training for a 50K, do hill workouts, trail runs, etc..  Then there is experience and again I didn't see a lot of marathons or longer under your belt so experience wise it's easy to underestimate your pace.  The course sounds pretty tame on technical features but if combined with limited training (no hill training) and experience it can be tough to have your best race.


                            Are all ultras hard?  Yes and no, on some levels I think a trail 50K or 50 miler is easier than a 5K-1/2 marathon because you don't need to go out of the gate at high intensity.  If you are racing them they are hard, but I know a lot of people that go out just to have fun.  On the other hand, I've never heard anyone say they are doing a 100 miler fun run.


                            Follower of Forrest

                              Just a thought...


                              It is tough to judge how difficult a trail race is until you have done it.  Even knowing the elevation profile of a course doesn't tell the whole story.  I've done runs that have rolling hills and less elevation gain, but compared to trails that have more elevation gain the rolling hills were still tougher...why? Because I walked up the steep sections of the trail that had more elevation.


                              I feel like there should be some cliche saying for this like "The only hard course is the one you are not prepared for"

                              6/21 - Manitou's Revenge 54mi


                              A man may never run the same trail twice for it is not the same trail and he is not the same man


                              Will run for scenery.

                                Not a lot of expertise here, but I just wanted to comment on hills.  IMO, big hills (e.g., mountains in Colorado) can be much easier than little hills.  If you run uphill in Colo., its going to be for an hour or more, so you set your pace accordingly and settle into it.  Even though the climbs in Ark. may sound less daunting, I don't think they're any less steep.  And because of the constant up and down you never settle into a pace.


                                I wouldn't try to compare your first ultra to others.  Just compare your first ultra to your second.  Running a trail ultra is nothing like a road marathon.

                                Stupid feet!

                                Stupid elbow!