Team TSF Coordinator, Rachel Belmont, shares her experience running a 50 miles ultra marathon Through her story, she explains “why running an ultramarathon is the greatest, but also most challenging thing you can do for yourself.” Check it out.
Running a marathon is an achievement within itself, one that gives you bragging rights, if you will. Although this 26.2 mile distance is very challenging, there are runners who want an extra push, which is how the ultramarathon was born. An ultramarathon is any race distance over 26.2 miles, and includes popular races such as 50k’s, 50 milers, and the coveted, highly venerated 100 miler. In 2017, I decided to make the jump from marathon to ultramarathon, signing up for my first 50 miler that May, the North Face Endurance Challenge in Washington D.C. Training for the race was brutally challenging, requiring me to run double back-to-back long runs each week. For example, I would wake up early on a Saturday morning to run 22-27 miles, then run a “shorter” long run of 12-15 miles the next day. One Saturday morning, I woke up and ran 32 miles, my longest run yet. Finally after months of training, I headed to D.C. to take on my first ultra, a completely different animal compared to any other race I’ve ever done. I could barely sleep the night before, with mixed emotion of nerves and excitement keeping me up. Would I finish before the 13-hour cutoff? What will the course be like? What is going to happen to this perfectly intact body of mine once I am done? Finally, after 2 brief hours of sleep, I woke up at 2:30 am to catch the shuttle to the start at Algonkian Regional Park. At exactly 5am the gun went off, before I darted into the pitch-black woods…headlamp illuminated, camelback filled, legs racing, heart on fire. The first few miles were quite peaceful. There was a full moon out, as me and a couple hundred other runners raced along the trails. This was unlike any marathon I had ever done. It felt a lot more like an adventure than a race.
For the first 25 miles, I kept a steady pace, feeling good throughout my journey so far. However, about mid-way in the course required me to repeat loops of long, steep hills at what felt like every turn. I had not done any hill training before the race, a plausible explanation for why I suffered so much during those loops. At mile 32, I was forced to stop and sit down at one of the aid stations, because of how much pain my legs were in, and how sick I felt. Luckily, there were 2 other runners who stopped at the aid station as well, asking me if I would like to run with them. I gladly accepted, having hope that I would eventually finish under 13 hours. Together, the 3 of us worked as a team, taking turns running ahead to pace one another, and providing each other with water, salt tab pills, and food.
We eventually picked up other runners who were struggling as well, expanding the size of our group. Running with others made ignoring the excruciating pain a lot more feasible. Instead, I kept focusing on the conversations we were having with one another…why we started running, other life goals, etc. The bonds I made with these strangers will last a lifetime. After 11 hours of hard, painful, and relentless effort, I successfully crossed the finish line of my first 50-mile ultramarathon. The feeling was overwhelming. A mix between relief, victory, sweat, adrenaline, passion, and pain. The pain, yes, that was the most memorable. The pain I felt after running 50 miles on trails, in 98-degree heat was more uncomfortable than anything I have ever put my body through. It was pure hell, but I had made it out alive.
Although my limbs felt nearly paralyzed after the race, I was never happier, or prouder of myself than I was in that moment. I had finally overcome the barrier, transforming from marathoner to ultramarathoner in just 11 hours. That race gave me so much confidence to take on anything that challenged me from now on, regardless of how terrified I was.
Putting the pain aside, running my first ultramarathon introduced me to remarkable people while pushing me to overcome any known limitations I had previously set on my body. Most importantly, running 50 miles taught me that limitations are not physical, therefore, with a tenacious mind and determined attitude, you can overcome any barrier ever set on yourself.
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