Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A 50K was not part of the plan but I did it anyway

Crossing the finish line with Jennifer Palmer (left). 
Photo courtesy of Virginia Beach Distance Races
Yay! I'm an ultramarathoner. What does that even mean? First, a 50K is not ten 5Ks, although it is equivalent to it. It is hundreds of training miles, countless hours of running (and walking), aches and pains, strength training, and a lot of work that all came together to help me cross the finish line of the Virginia Beach Distance Races afoot on Sunday, Feb 8, 2015.

It's amazing how blogging and social networking helped me achieve many things that I never even dreamed of. In October 2014, I started following Penny Lane of 26.yikes on Facebook. She blogged about her training for two major events: a marathon followed by a 50K three weeks later.

I was already signed up for the Disney marathon on Jan. 11 when I found Penny, and she got me thinking: what's 5 miles on top 26.2? I'm already training for the marathon. I think I can push myself to cover the additional miles.

And so it began. In November 2014, my journey to complete a 50K started

Finding a 50K race is  not as easy as finding a 5K

I'm standing on the finish line looking at the club house which served 
food and a warm place for all. Restrooms in the building 
were also open to runners.
Just like Penny, I wanted to run my 50K about 3 weeks after my marathon so that the training is still fresh.  However, finding a 50K that matched my preferences was a challenge. I wanted a road race in Feb 2015 that was 'easy' or on a flat course. Most ultras are on trails, and I didn't feel ready for those.  

My usual race finders did not include events longer than a marathon (26.2 miles).  It took a lot of digging to find the ideal race. First, I found the UltraMarathonRunning.com but it didn't have a search tool. Then I found ultrasignup.com, and I was happy.
Orange cones blocked parts of the course to guide runners. 
Porta potties, similar to the left, were available every mile.

The first race I seriously considered was the Jed Smith Ultra in Sacramento, California. Coming from Pennsylvania, I was concerned about the time difference and travel costs. After more than a month of waiting and searching, I found the VA Beach 50K. It was in the same time zone, only 6 hours away, 12-hour time limit to finish the race, and cost only $35 in registration. Of course I signed up!


My next hurdle was finding a training plan. The 1st plan I found required two 26-milers. My jaw just dropped.  I was already pushing myself with my marathon training and that only required two 20-milers.  After posting the plan on Facebook, Penny came to the rescue and shared her 50-K training experience.  I was relieved, and focused on the reverse taper that Penny suggested. 

VA Beach 50K was a 2.3-mile loop. I was ready to take on the distance, but I wasn't thrilled about running the same loop 13 1/2 times. Again, I turned to Facebook and asked Coach James Whipple of Whip Runs for some tips. I didn't know him personally, and I was apprehensive to ask, but I did anyway. He was kind and graciously shared the following tips: use the treadmill, run loops or out and backs during training. And so I did. I never ran loops before, and to my surprise, it wasn't so bad. I actually prefer loops over a treadmill.

A Beautiful Race Day

It was a pretty small race: 36 runners.  We each got a free cotton shirt, but no finishers medal. I was a bit disappointed when I found out there was no bling, mainly because I learned about it via emails with the director instead of reading about it on their website. They did not advertise any finishers medal. It was my fault for assuming that there would be a bling because I always got a medal for finishing races that are 13.1 miles and longer.

With or without a medal, I still would have joined it. I was in it for the challenge.  Besides, internet results are more important. No one sees my medals because they're all in the closet.  I just wish it would have been made clear.

The course looped through a golf course which was closed for the race. It was quite flat, and was on all asphalt surface.  Distance should have been 31.06 miles but my Garmin recorded 32.26 miles. This included my extra movements around aide stations, and turning at corners. Ideally, we should take the shortest route between 2 points, but that's not always possible. There was also some confusion during the 1st loop. 

The course around a golf course.
There was a porta potty every mile (I think) plus nice rest rooms at the club house.

We were blessed with awesome weather. As the sun came out, the temperature rose from the 50s to the 60s.  

Everyone was nice and pleasant.  Runners and spectators, cheered each other on. Volunteers were very accommodating. I asked for bananas, and the next time I came across the aid station, the bananas magically appeared.  They served a wide variety of food including bite-sized peanut butter jelly sandwiches, choco chip cookies, oreos, candies, and everything I love.

It was well organized, and communication during the event was clear and constant.  

The Results: New friends and a great time

Jennifer (left) of Hands Free Fun.
I'm so grateful to Jennifer Palmer of Hands Free Fun for joining me. I met Jennifer through Facebook, and though we've never met each other personally, we grew close especially after she registered for this race.  After many online correspondences, Jennifer and I finally met for the first time in Virginia Beach, the night before the race. We had a wonderful meeting over a delicious pasta dinner.

Now or never bracelet from Jennifer. 
So appropriate for our upcoming challenge.
Jennifer ran her first marathon in November 2014.  While training for this race, she fell ill and struggled to complete her plan. She managed to run 16 instead of 20 miles during training, but that did not stop her. I'm so proud that she finished this race against all her doubts.  

Jennifer and I paced together for the 1st half until she got tired of me =).  Running with Jennifer helped me finish strong.  I placed 30 of 36 with a time of 7:22:54

I met other runners and felt like I was with family.

Virginia Davis
Meet Virginia Davis, 65, started running at 60, finished her first triathlon last year, ran the VA Beach 50K in 6:54:44 - the new state record. She was 'just practicing' for her 2nd 24-hour ultra in April. She once outran hundreds of soldiers in a 5K. What an inspiration!I had the pleasure of meeting John Price at packet pick up. In 2011, John ran across the USA in 3 months, and he's doing it again in April this year. I didn't know about his legendary feat until I got home. Jennifer of Hands Free Fun confirmed that he's the man! Thank you Jennifer. Check out John's storyI ran with Chris for about 2 miles and had a nice chat. I usually can't talk and run but my pace for this race was comfortable enough. Chris has been running since 2008.  This wasn't his first ultra, nor his  last. He said he wanted to finish in less than 7 hours, and he did.

click to see more pictures

Would I do this again? That's a big YES! Would you join me?


  1. This is great! And no, I won't be running a 50k any time soon. I'll just vicariously through you and Jennifer (and a few other friends!). If you run the one in Chicago, I'll come down and do a loop with you!

    1. LOL Wendy, thanks for offering the to run the 1st loop with us =)

  2. So great!!! New follower here :) I discovered ultras back in 2012 and have just loved them.

    1. What's with ultras? I am hungry for more ;-) Will probably do Dirty German in Philadelphia in May.