The First Fifty

You might think running 50 miles for the first time will change your life. It didn’t work out that way for me. Fellow distance runners may be familiar with post race blues. I’ve had a bad case or two, but that’s not what happened this time. Life just seemed to press on. My 10 and a half hour endeavor through the trails of the Texas countryside passed by in the blink of an eye. It’s as if my brain was playing tricks with me. I had some very difficult times during the race. I remember thinking, “I’m never doing this again.” But once it’s over… when you are back with your wife and friends… when you are sitting down relaxing, you don’t forget those low points completely. But you forget what they felt like. It becomes almost out-of-body. Like I read the story in a book, and it was about someone else.

It was hot. And the kicker is we got lucky with the cloud cover. It could have been much worse. The high was probably around 82-84. As it turned out, I didn’t realize how good I felt for the first 37 miles, until I learned how bad I would feel for the last 13. That I had 37 “good miles” is quite an accomplishment in itself since my previous longest distance was just 31 miles.

Details Details Details

Logistically, I executed pretty well. The course consisted of three 16 2/3 mile loops. Since I knew hydration was going to be crucial, I probably over did it the first few hours. I think I stopped 5 times the first lap to recycle fluids. I drank heed and Gatorade mostly, plus some water. At each of the two aid stations I “banked” some fluids by drinking a cup or two of water, then refilled my two 8 oz bottles for the “road.” For the first six hours I took an electrolyte capsule (Hammer Endurolyte) every two hours. From 6 hours till the end, I took one every hour. Food wise, I ate 9 gels, plus aid station fare consisting of Oreos, animal cookies, Pringles, PB&J. The Pringles were especially satisfying.

Looking back, I’m surprised how distracted I was at the start/finish area. Compared to the rest of the course, there were lots of people there. My wife, Sarah, was among them. I’m not sure why, but I was always anxious to get out of there and back on the course. In my rush, I always forgot something. After the first lap, I remembered to take off my headlamp, but I forgot my sunglasses. I remembered them after the second lap, although I wouldn’t need them thanks to the continued cloud cover. At that same break, before starting my second loop, I also forgot to eat some snacks. However, my forgetfulness was more problematic after the second lap: I forgot to refill my water bottles. I drank a couple cups when I stopped, so that helped. Thankfully I made it to some water coolers after only about 20 minutes. I don’t think I got too far behind on my hydration and attempted to “catch up” by drinking around 20oz.

My first two loops were dead even splits, about 3:15 each. I really hit my stride on the 2nd loop as I passed a lot of runners. At the end of two loops I was at my longest ever personal mileage of 33 1/3 miles and felt decent. A few miles into the last loop is when the wheels came off. The first thing I noticed was my hands tingling. I worried it was the onset of heat illness, so I forced myself to break rhythm and slow my pace. Thankfully I was able to avoid any further, more serious issues. At each aid station I was very thankful for ice cold water and poured several cups of it over my head. It really helps bring your core temperature down. I was able move a bit quicker and more comfortably after cooling down. But it didn’t take long to start warming up again.

That’s when it became difficult. I never thought about quitting. But I had to battle with myself to run the flats and downhills. My body really, really wanted to walk. But I knew it would be over sooner if I could muster some sort of jogging cadence. Finally, I started recognizing the last portions of the loop and after struggling up and down a hilly section was on the home stretch. The last loop took about 4 hours.

The Finish Line and Beyond

After I finished, I sat down and took off my socks and shoes. At the end of such a long run there really is immense satisfaction in those two very simple things. More so than any of my other races, I experienced a deep sense of satisfaction. I was so very happy to be done. I spent the next hour or so hanging out with twitter friends cheering runners as they came in for the finish. It was a great time of celebration. It was fun getting to know some twitter folks better. Runners are good people and trail runners are really good people.

It’s been a long, hot summer, and this race recap is long overdue (understatement). I recently registered for another 50 miler, Palo Duro Canyon, in October. I’m considering the idea of trying Rocky Raccoon 100 mile in February. More imminently, I’m climbing Mt. Rainier the last week in August (another first on many levels). More than anything this is a reminder to myself. It’s easy to think accomplishing the next distance or breaking that next big time threshold will make everything perfect. It’s easy to think it will make your life complete. Of course it’s easy to think that… you put so much time and effort into it. While personal accomplishment is an amazing and incredible thing, there’s something more valuable. Investing in other people. Sharing life’s journey with your neighbor, through thick and thin, mile after mile. It’s worth more. How will you live your dreams today? How will you help somebody else in need?

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  • Peter Brunone

    Way to go, Matt.  Amazing accomplishment, and accompanied with wisdom.

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