"Run as many miles as you want in 12 hours." That's what the 12 Hour Adventure Trail Run (ATR) website stated. It doesn't get more straight forward than that.
A couple months ago I decided, rather spontaneously, to run in this race. After finishing my second ultra in June, I wanted to run in another ultra to kickoff my fall running season. This ultra was perfect. It was close to home. It was 100% trails. It didn't conflict with my October races (Chicago and Marine Corps). And, it was cheap (80 bucks!).
If you haven't run an ultra and are considering it, stop considering and just do it. The atmosphere at an ultra is unlike any other running event. You are surrounded by people that truly love and admire the sport of running. They are your running purist, if you will. Ultra runners aren't competitive with each other. They are all in it together and provide moral support to each other throughout the race.
The race was held in the Prince William Forest Park in Northern Virginia. The course was a well shaded 6.5 mile loop with about 650 feet elevation gain/loss per lap. The trail did have some tricky sections, but for the most part, it was relatively easy to navigate.
The race started around 6:15 in the morning just as the sun was coming up, so a headlamp was needed for the first lap. At the end of the lap was a well stocked aid station. An ultra aid station is like a marathon aid station on steroids. In addition to water, Gatorade and bananas, there was PB&J sandwiches, pretzels, chips, cookies, candy, granola bars and lots of other little goodies. The volunteers at the aid station were awesome and would fill my handheld water bottle for me while I was grabbing something to eat. My go to food during an ultra is definitely a PB&J. It doesn't sit heavy in my stomach and it's easy to digest while running. Well that, and PB&Js are freaking delicious!
I wouldn't go as far to say this was a goal for my race, but I was hoping to run 50 miles, or 8 laps. However, I told myself before the race to take it one lap at a time. Knowing the Chicago Marathon is only a couple weeks away, I didn't want to push it.
The first 3 laps went as planned. But, shortly after setting out for my 4th lap, I started hitting a wall. My legs began to feel extremely heavy. It's crazy just how quickly your body can go from feeling good to bad. It comes on so fast and there is no mistaking what it is once you start feeling it. As I got further into the lap, I kept on feeling worse and worse. It was at that moment I realized that 50 miles wasn't in the cards and that really bummed me out.
Once I finished the lap, I had completed a marathon distance. As much as I wanted to stop, I knew I wouldn't be satisfied with that. I came to this race to run an ultra. If I ran another lap, it would bring my total up to 32.5 miles. So, after stocking up on some more treats at the aid station and resting my legs for a bit, I headed out for my 5th lap.
As I started my 5th lap, I was really frustrated. I was mad that I wasn't going to come even close to the distance I was hoping to run. I felt that my body was failing me. It was a very low feeling. Running can be a humbling experience sometimes.
Then, something happened. A feeling of calm came over me. I wasn't mad anymore. I felt relaxed. I felt grateful just to be in that moment doing something that I love. I began to think about how far my running has come. I thought back to a time when I thought running two miles might as well be a marathon. Yet, here I was now, running along this beautiful trail doing 30+ miles.
Running is what defines me. It's what makes me happy. The gift of running is not something that should be taken for granted. I sometimes lose sight of that during a race when I'm hurting real bad.
The rest of the lap ended up being a lot of fun. I crossed the timing mat in 6:44:31 and turned in my timing chip. I was done for the day and I was perfectly ok with that. There will always be other races.