Immediately after I finished the Bear Chase 50 miler, I started looking around for a spring ultra. What I found instead was a race called 24 Hours of Boulder, which took place just two weeks after Bear Chase. In an instant, I wanted to do it.
The Boulder race included multiple events: a 100 miler, a timed 24 hour run (i.e., how far can you run in 24 hours), a 100K, a 50K, or a 6 hour nighttime “fun run.” The course was an out and back along the Boulder Reservoir, and the description said it included an equal amount of paved road, dirt road, and smooth single track trail.
This really seemed like my kind of thing.
What got me was the race director’s promise of the amazing views of Boulder’s mountains and autumn foliage and the enticing statement on the website: “Race under the sun and stars in the running mecca of Boulder, Colorado."
I had to do this.
My training for the Bear Chase 50 miler had left me with what I felt was pretty adequate base for a 50K, and my tibia had somehow, miraculously survived. So the family cleared our schedules for the weekend, and I signed up.
The race was a lot more low-key than I’d been expecting, but low-key is fine with me. What was surprising about the Boulder race was how few participants there were. I mean, it is true that Boulder is a running mecca. And this race seemed to offer something for everyone. I was expecting there to be hundreds of participants, so I was really surprised when I showed up on Sunday morning and there were only 7 of us lining up at the start of the 50K.
Well. I guess this meant I’d finish in the top 10. Even if I came across the line DFL.
The course consisted of an initial short (2 mile?) out and back, then 4 longer laps of about 7 miles. There was a lot more pavement than I’d been imagining. And I couldn’t say that my tibia did not hurt.
The dirt road felt a little better to my legs than the pavement, and I kept waiting to get to single track trail. We never did. The skinniest the trail ever got was still wide enough to accommodate maybe 3 people running side by side. But that was okay. The course was an out and back, so we were somewhat frequently meeting other runners (the 100K, 100 mile, and 24-hour races were still going on), plus it wasn’t closed to the public, so there were people out there just for their morning walk/run/ or bike ride. There was even one section that seemed to be really popular with dog-owners who were letting their giant dogs run and jump unleashed. Nobody knew there was a race going on, least of all the dogs, who mainly viewed me as something to chase and bark at. It felt a little bit like going through an obstacle course.
There was an aid station somewhere around 3.5 miles out, where we then turned around and headed back to the start/finish area again. On the first full lap, I’d been running behind this guy on the way to the aid station, but on the way back I caught up with him and we ran together for the next 20 miles.
The course was becoming very sparse because all the other races (100 mile, 100K, 24 hours, 6 hours) had started the day before, and they were now winding down. It helped tremendously to have a running buddy. 50 kilometers in solitude would not have been fun. I was still really surprised that there were so few runners doing this race. It seemed pretty well advertised. Maybe everybody around here just likes hard core trails too much to do this? I’m not sure. Anyway, I felt really bad for the volunteers, who were amazing, but standing out in the cold and occasional rain for just a handful of us out on the course now.
Working with my new running buddy really helped pass the time. We kept a pretty even pace of around 10-10:30 minute miles, and I was doing the best that I could to stay on top of hydration and nutrition. My tibia did not feel great, particularly on the sections of pavement, but it wasn’t appearing to get any worse as we piled on the miles.
I was still in really good spirits as we began the last 7-mile out and back. There was only one other woman running the 50K, and I was pretty sure she was a ways behind us at this point. Anything was possible— but at that moment it occurred to me I still had a 50/50 chance of being either the first or last female finisher. I’ve run some fairly small ultras, but this was not a situation I’d ever been in before. No middle ground here.
The wind had really picked up by this point, and as we headed out for the last lap, we were running right into it. I kept my wits about me and stayed calm, even as I was pummeled by tumbleweeds. There would only be about 3.5 miles of this, then we’d head back to finish the race with one heck of a tailwind.
Somewhere just before the turn-around point, I lost my running buddy. It was his first ultra, and maybe he was getting a little tired in the wind. I still felt freakishly strong, and the best part of all was that I was experiencing no nausea!!
I didn’t waste time at the aid station turn around point—I just wanted to get this done. With the wind at my back now, I flew towards the finish. My last 4 miles were my fastest of the race, even though my quads and calves were beginning to hurt a lot. I cranked it up even more as I got about a mile from the end, running about an 8:30 pace.
It was pretty unceremonious as I crossed the finish line in something like 5 hours and 19 minutes. The RD (maybe that’s who it was?) and his wife and kids rang cowbells as I approached, and Will ran it in with me. With only a handful of other runners still out on the course, the finish line was starting to close down. The few who remained congratulated me and gave me a medal, a cowbell, and a 1st place finisher cookie (homemade by the RD’s daughters). It was really nice.
The best thing by far was that I’d finished this race without puking or even feeling nauseated. I wasn’t hungry at all, but at least I didn’t feel sick. We waited around only long enough to congratulate my running buddy, who finished a few minutes after me, and then we started to pack up. The temperature had dropped by several degrees, and rain hung heavy in the blustering cold wind. It was time to go home.
Some thoughts on this event
The views of the autumn foliage and the mountains surrounding Boulder were amazing, as promised. The bright yellow of the aspen leaves against the grayish blue of the rainy sky and the brown and green mountains were breathtaking. I’ve never actually run a 50K (31 miles) before, though I have run Farmdale (30 miles) twice. These were very, very different courses. My fastest time at Farmdale was something like 6:40. In Boulder, it was 5:19. This course was definitely flat and fast, but that gave it a very “road marathon” feel, which was weird, because it was 6 miles longer than a road marathon and you had to pace yourself differently so you didn’t burn out. I think I actually did pretty well with pacing because I never got myself into a dark, scary place, and I was able to speed it up at the end even though my quads and calves hurt a lot during the last 4 or 5 miles. I could power through it because I knew I was almost done, but I was glad that I’d started out conservatively enough so that I made it that far without feeling any pain. By the end I was way more beat up than I’d been at Bear Chase, even though the distance there was much farther. The course in Boulder didn’t really have any hills, so there were no natural walking breaks. I ran the entire time, and that really took a toll on my legs.
Nutrition: I didn’t puke this time
Of the 8 ultras I’ve run, this is only the second time I’ve managed to finish without debilitating nausea and/or puking. I think this was mainly due to luck: the weather was cool, so I wasn’t depleted as much. I raced with Nuun Hydration for the first time, which doesn’t supply anything in the way of calories, but it does give you electrolytes. Maybe that kept me from falling off the edge so that I was able to take in nutrition from other sources. Here’s what I ate/drank during the race:
- approx 1 bottle of water and ~3 bottles with Nuun tablets (~24 calories, about 48 oz total)
- 1 Peanut Butter Gu (100 calories)
- 1 Chocolate Peanut Butter Gu with 20 mg caffeine (100 calories)
- about 1.5 oranges (slices throughout the race at aid stations)
- about 1/2 a banana (slices throughout the race at aid stations)
- about 1/2 a boiled, salted potato (I brought potatoes from home and grabbed some from Rob before I started the last lap. This absolutely saved me).
- 2 potato chips at the last aid station
Would I do this race again?
A definite… maybe. It was a pretty cool race. The 50K distance intrigues me. But having only 7 participants on the course was really kind of weird. If I hadn’t randomly caught up with a this guy and run 20 miles with him, I would have been totally alone and had a fairly miserable time.
What did I learn from this race?
I guess I’m not super interested in running a “flat, fast” 50K. It tore up my legs way more than a more hilly, challenging course (with natural walk breaks) would have. It really made me realize how much I prefer course like Bear Chase, even though I had a lot of other problems there.
Technically, I was the first female finisher.
Technically. But since there were only 2 of us, celebrating this would be as ridiculous as the other woman feeling disappointed about coming in second (I certainly hope she doesn’t feel disappointed about that). It could have just as easily gone the other way for me. So, don’t worry, I’m not going to let this go to my head or anything. But I guess it does make kind of a good story, and that’s why we do this, isn’t it?
Thanks for reading.