I will never be a fast runner. But I can be faster, relative to how slow I am. That may sound confusing but it really isn’t. Simply put, I will never be fast like Boston Marathon-fast. I hate speed work. And it doesn’t help that I only started running 2 years ago.
Lately, however, I’ve been trying to push better at some of my runs and tried not to settle with a comfortable pace. So I think setting a PR in Philly’s Dirty German 50k is a testament to that.
Flashback August 2013. I ran my first 50k at the Wildcat Ridge Romp’s under Rick McNulty’s NJ Trail Series. That was a horrifying experience that I swore I will never do again. That took me 11 hours 6 minutes. I was close to being dead fucking last. And almost hit the cut-off. This first attempt at running an ultra came only 3 months since running my first marathon. Who was I kidding?
I ran Dirty German 50k on May 18, 2014 on a whim. More like unplanned.
I was off that weekend, supposedly, because I was going to bandit a race in Minnesota on a course where my first attempt at running a 100 was going to be. But because I am broke from all these races, I opted to stay. Instead, I agreed to go to Jun (the husband’s) race in Virginia for the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100. But as fate would have it, we would argue over license plates and I declared I was not coming to watch him.
So I decided to do the Dirty German. Luckily, while the online registration was closed, there was a race day sign-up.
Race-day sign-up was not something I am used to. I was nervous about driving to Philly and not being guaranteed to run. So I emailed the RD, who assured there would be same-day registration, just minus some swags.
Fine by me.
Now, I think I may be lucky that I have races almost every month. I had just finished running The North Face Endurance Challenge’s Bear Mountain 50k 2 weeks prior to Dirty German. I kinda figured, my legs may be capable of running the same distance, minus the highly-technical stuffs, the climbing, the scary decents. Also, I quite figured that since I had also run Bear Mountain 6 days after pacing NJ Marathon, this might be something doable.
And so I went to Philly, drove alone on race day. It was not something usual I’d do. I thought about inviting some other friends to go but I also decided, I wanted to give this my best shot, so I didn’t want to run this alongside anyone. I also decided to run this as a marathon and not an ultra; not quite sure if you get what I mean but what I am trying to say, I thought I was not going to hang around and chit-chat and take my time.
So off I went. Thankfully, a friend agreed to watch the kiddo. I drove, got to Philly early enough to have some spare time in case I get lost. And get lost, I did.
It was in a park called Pennypack Park. Its just funny how you go to one side of Philly and see signs that would say Pennypack Park and actually fail to find the entrance there. I must have a driven a good mile more on another side of town when I saw another sign that said the same: Pennypack Park. I needed to pee so bad at this point that I could barely stand when I got out of the car to ask a stranger in a parked car for some directions. He didn’t know, either. Then decided to call my friend, Ken, who finally directed me to the right address. Note to self: read race instructions on addresses. Siri doesn’t know everythin
So I finally found the entrance to the park. I couldn’t hold my bladder so soon after I parked on the highway, I ran down a semi-ravine and peed right there. My logic behind this is I am a trail-runner; I could pee anywhere.
It was so great to finally relieve my bladder. Soon enough I went to where the race would start and saw my friends, Violet and Maria, then Talisa. Then Ken and Christine and Evy and Lisa. Somehow, I didn’t find Maggie, who was one of my missions in coming to Philly (note: an autograph signed by Kara Goucher that I needed to give her). It was going to be a beautiful day of running with friends, I thought.
I had some time to go back to the car about .2 mis away to retrieve my drop bag with Talisa.
I barely finished fixing my hair— aka my bangs— when the gun finally went off.
And so we ran. Into the woods.
It was beautiful. I felt good, I think.
The race description was, in fact, right in saying that it would be a race within the city limits, but that runners will not be seeing cars or traffic. Spot on.
The first few miles went fine. The race followed a loop that formed an 8 and you had to do that twice for the 50k. A couple more for 50milers.
It was beautiful to see streams along the course, some random strangers. I do not have much memory from what I saw mile to mile to mile. I remember running through some mud. I remember seeing runners trying to avoid them while I just plunged into the them. I figured, whats the point? That was when I finally decided, I love some mud. Not TARC 100 2013 mud but yeah, some mud. It makes running fun.
Mile 7-ish, however, after I hit the 2nd AS, I felt my stomach cramp. It was not a bad cramp, but I’ve never had an abdominal cramp before while running before. I thought it must have been the Hammer or Heed that I took at the AS or the combination of that and my secret electrolyte drink that messed me up. I dashed to the porta-johnny, thinking I may just need to poop it out (that was a scary thought because I have never pooped in a porta-potty) but it wasn’t. All I had was gas. I made a mad dash out of there and ran. Then I had the cramp again, that I had to stop one more time.
I decided this might actually be my first DNF.
Somehow, however, I decided to go back and run. It wasn’t helping that I also had other GU (read: genito-urinary, not GU the gel) issues going on. I ran, paused some, and just continued running. It was also around that point that I felt something weird, something painful on my L knee, where I had surgery on for a torn meniscus in 2010. I was almost, almost, almost convinced I was going to DNF it. I texted my “little brother,” Dylan, to tell him about the knee pain.
I guess somewhere in that state, I just decided to push past the pain. And intermittently heard Tom’s voice in my head, asking me, “why? are you bleeding?” My answers were no. That must have been what made me just run and suck it up.
It was not a perfect run. Especially not in those sections of running pavement. That was AWEFUL. I decided to run off the concrete road and into the grass or sidewalk with gravel whenever they came up on the course. It was horrible. It was one of those times when I confirmed I belong on the trails. Apparently, I wasn’t alone. This is what we talked about during dinner after the race.
But you learn to suck it up.
Like I said, no race is perfect. You do not always find satori in races. But you need to learn to overcome the negative thoughts. There were times when I actually walked little uphills, just to get through it.
And I tried to enjoy the downhills, which I think I have become quite good at. I even tried to enjoy that part of the course that formed a crazy spiral in the woods, the switchbacks, where you actually feel like a little mouse, trying to find the cheese at the end.
I tried to live by what Otto once said, run it “aid station to aid station.”
I finished the first loop and started my second loop pretty soon. At that point, I was a bit exhausted. I assumed I ran my first loop too fast for my standard. Regardless, I decided to go out right away after retrieving some nutrition from my drop bag. (One of the things I learned and did on this race was actually pack a set of nutrition and electrolyte supplements in a small ziplock bag just so I can do a grab-and-go and not have to scramble).
I went out for my second and final loop and yes, got lost on the way out. Thankfully, someone guided me to the right way. Sigh.
I think somehow I forgot about the abdominal cramp. Somehow, the knee pain disappeared. And after being in this course once before, I kinda knew what to expect.
Now, let me say that before I came to run this race, my goal was just to finish. Then to finish within 8 hours. At that point, I thought my 50k PR from another course was 8:06 or something (at the Greenbelt Trail Ultra 50k, which, by the way, still does not appear on my Ultrasignup race results). So I figured I wanted to beat that PR. Apparently, as I learned few days ago, my 50k PR is prior to Dirty German was at Badwater Cape Fear 50K at 7:48, which also, does not appear on my US race results. Ugh.
So at some point, I finally decided I actually have a shot at finishing under 7.
There would be times when I doubted that I would. The biggest shadow of doubt came when, few miles nearing the finish, I felt that it took forever to see the last AS. We passed it on the first loop, which had a sign that said “1 mile to finish.” I ran and ran but could not seem to reach that final AS. I doubted more and more that I would I actually finish under 7 hours when I failed to get to that AS soon enough. But then the course became so familiar and reminiscent of the final approach to the finish. A stack of horse manure eventually would prove that.
Soon enough, I could hear the noise and cheering from the finish. I gave it a mad dash. It was probably a mile away or less when I just ran for my life. I was dry-heaving. And I had not taken a puff of Albuterol that morning to fight some allergy-induced asthma that I self-diagnosed myself with, which I often get during the allergy season. I thought while I was gasping for air that this must be how runners struggling and fighting for their lives to qualify for Boston must feel.
=I just ran like I’ve never run in Ultras before. I saw my Garmin and thought I didn’t want to just finish under 7 hours; I wanted to finish under 6:50, otherwise it doesn’t count. It was cutting it close.
So through my heaving, I sprinted to the finish. My mad dash led me to a 6:45:08 finish on my watch. And I didn’t forget to stop my watch this time.
I crossed the finish line under 7 hours. No, under 6:50, my lofty goal. Right on.
By fast runners’ standards, thats not fast enough. But considering how my first 50k had turned up the year before, I figured I did so well. I was happy.
And then it was time for a jump. I always have the energy for that.
I went home back to Jersey that day after some beer with friends at the race venue and late lunch at a Cracker and Barrel. I had a great time with everyone that day. I knew I was happy. To know all these great people that have become friends and who were actually proud of me for finishing with a good time.
In retrospect I think of Dirty German and say my stars have aligned.