For the past several years we’ve been thinking about and talking about doing an ultramarathon. I don’t remember when I first heard of their existence. I remember hearing about some crazy death-defying race through Death Valley called Badwater many years ago, but I hadn’t heard the term “ultramarathon” until after I moved to Philadelphia, in 2013.
On twitter I heard of a man my age who did these incredible long runs, over and over, back to back, like some kind of relentless machine. I followed him and even tweeted at him, and it turned out he’s just this really nice guy. I bought a t-shirt. It wasn’t until later that I learned that even in the ultrarunning community he’s considered an elite freak for the volumes and speeds he runs.
That got me interested in the community. A colleague at work started doing ultramarathons. She was traveling around the world and doing these incredible runs on her weekends. I wanted to try it. Melissa, my partner, was a fan of Dean Karnazes, another runner who takes on seemingly impossible challenges and knocks them down, one after another.
Meanwhile, I was slowly running more and more, gathering distance. Always slow. Always a struggle. I learned to love the half-marathon. I still love the half-marathon. Melissa and I ran two full marathons together, in 2015 and 2016. We ran a good dozen or more half-marathons. Including a trail half which, to this day, is the hardest race I’ve ever done. I know it wouldn’t be that bad today, but I was not even close to fit for it.
Then fate brought us out to Seattle, where we discovered the long trail-running season, the trail community, Seven Hills, The Ginger Runner, Northwest Trail Runs, and so much more. Running an ultra became not just a possibility, a potential. It became a goal. We set our sights on a 50k in the fall of 2018.
And then life happened. Both of us ended up injured. Melissa’s shin, my hip. We couldn’t run. We couldn’t race. Even though we recovered in time for the 20 miler, we didn’t have the full 50k in us this fall. So we reset, at registered for another 50k, and started training in November.
We ran through the winter, climbing mountains in mud and cold rain, hiking up Tiger Mountain over and over again. And then Seattle had one of the snowiest, iciest winters in living memory. The city shut down, and Chuckanut mountain, where we planned to race, was coated in two feet of snow, ice, and slush. The race was postponed until June.
So we ran the Fort Ebey Trail Marathon instead. Only our third marathon (Melissa’s fourth), with 5000′ of gain, it was an objectively hard day, and we performed very well. But because it wasn’t the goal we’d set for ourselves, we didn’t celebrate it the way a marathon, perhaps, should be celebrated. Running 26.2 trail miles, with a mile of vertical gain, is a major accomplishment. But we – or at least I – treated it more like another long training run, rather than the major achievement it truly was.
But then we found the Badger Mountain Challenge. A 55km race (they call it a 50k, but it’s actually closer to 56 and we ran 57 including a wrong turn), with 5400′ of gain. It was different than we’d planned. Eastern Washington, sage scrub land. Rolling mountains that look like giant tumuli. It took us 8:49, which is 15 min/mi on the dot. 35.27 miles of blistering sun, mountains, jeep tracks, and gullies deep enough to dump a 30 story building in.
We’ll write a race report later. But for now, I’m just reveling in accomplishing something bigger and harder than I ever thought I even wanted to try. I’m proud. And I’m looking forward to the next one.