by James Rockwell
I ran my first ultramarathon in 2009. I met an older man during the race and he told me, ‘The only people that do these ultras are first-timers and crazy people’. It was obvious which I was at that point, but I don’t think anyone really finds out which of those categories they belong till they run a second ultra.
My second ultramarathon was also run in 2009 and this time I was running with the girl I had just started dating. We had met through a running group and decided to sign up for a trail 50k together. I already knew she was one of the crazy people that the old man had spoken of…
Race day was sunny and unseasonably hot. My girlfriend and I started the race and quickly fell in to pace with another running couple we knew. I felt our speed was a little too fast from the beginning, but I was excited to be on the trails again and especially to be running with this girl. The trails were great and I was in great company.
At the aid stations I only drank water and didn’t eat much. I wasn’t feeling like I needed to eat much more than a pretzel or two every other station, and I never was in the mood for sports drink. The day kept getting hotter as the hours passed by, and I still felt good at the 30k mark.
It was shortly after 30k that I noticed something didn’t feel right. I was having to dig a little too deep to keep up with my girlfriend. Should I slow down? Should I say something? Rather than expose my feelings of discomfort to this new woman in my life, I decided to keep digging and press on.
I think it was around the 40k mark that she left me. I was falling apart in every way a person could fall apart. I was dehydrated. I was lacking calories. I was in desperate need of electrolytes. But I had no idea. This was only the second time I had done a run of this distance and I didn’t understand the proper way to pace myself nor handle the nutritional aspect. My girlfriend had been seeing me slowly unravel over the past few km and decided going ahead was the better choice. She never even said anything; she just pranced off ahead, in search of the #2 and #1 overall women not far in front of her.
I was crushed. Physically, mentally, nutritionally, emotionally, and any other –ally I can think of. But I found the will to keep going and eventually crossed the finish line. After the race I was so sick from not replacing electrolytes I couldn’t eat anything and kept having to escape to the bathroom. My girlfriend had to drive my car because I was just too ill. She had been through this type of nutritional depletion before and kept forcing me to eat salty foods and drink sports drinks. I was embarrassed and ashamed. She finished just one minute behind the #1 female (probably because of me), then had to care for this guy she ran with like he was a baby (again, me).
But like I said, you find out which category you belong during your second ultramarathon. And I found out that I was hooked. Hooked on ultras and hooked on the girl. I am happy to report I am still to this day running ultra-trail races and am married to that girl. I guess I am now a crazy person, too!