ultra runner

Bad Apple Ultra

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After completing a half marathon without stopping and running a sub 30 minute 5k, is the next step a full marathon?  No, not in my world.  Instead, I decided a 12 hour ultra marathon would be the next step.

I originally heard about the Bad Apple Ultra from a high school friend.  I liked the Facebook page, decided it might be a future goal, then back logged it in my head for what I thought might be a few YEARS down the road.  Well, I like to impulsively undertake things for which I haven’t trained properly and when my schedule was empty on the day of this race I just couldn’t resist.

15 months ago, a quarter mile was impossible.  When I moved up to a 5k, it was torture.  35 (or more) minutes of running?!  I just want it to be over with!  Nearly 7 hours on the Xtreme Muck Ruck obstacle course was mental brutality last June. Recently, increasing to over 2.5 hours of continuous running on a course for a half marathon was intimidating.  However after running my second half without stopping a couple weeks ago, even running carrying my water through aid stations, I felt like I could go forever mentally.  Take that mental barriers!

There were three time choices for this event:  3, 6 or 12 hours.  I debated between the 6 and 12 hours, taking into account that I’ve already been on a course for over 6 hours before and that I have planned a few endurance challenges for next year.   Choosing the long race seemed like the best choice.

The race was held at Klackle Orchards in Greenville, MI on a 4 mile loop.  When I pictured the orchard, I imagined it to be rustic and rural.  It was actually on the main highway going through town and less than a mile from our hotel.  It was very convenient and despite being on the highway, the course turned out to be pleasantly secluded.  More about that later.

We registered the night before the race, so we didn’t have to worry about it in the morning.  I was slightly disappointed in the race shirt.  Being my first ultra, I was hoping for something really cool that I’d love to wear.   I love the logo, I love red… but I really dislike white race shirts.  I think most people agree.  People just don’t like wearing white t-shirts.

First take, hands covering logo and very dorky. Second take, crazy eye. Boom.

I organized my gear in the hotel room.  All of my food (EPIC bars, bananas, apples, protein pancakes, almonds) went in one bag, then I had a hydration backpack filled with gear (gloves, mittens, headband, headlamp, race belt, extra dry socks, shirts and coat),  another bag with our post race clothes and a plastic bag with two extra pairs of shoes.

The race started at 6:00am on Saturday.  I ate a banana and a couple protein pancakes  before heading to the race. (FYI, I made the pancakes at home with only protein powder, bananas and egg.)  We arrived onsite and arranged our bags on tables under the event tent.  Headlamp on, adjusted my shoelaces, gloves on and I was ready to go.

A little scared and excited!
Receiving some last minute course information from the race director, Ben.  Picture from the Bad Apple Ultra Facebook.

My original strategy was to run a 4 mile loop, walk a loop, repeat for 12 hours.  Being an endurance race, rather than speed focused, Dion decided to keep his pace slower and we could run the first loop together.

The course started in the main area of the orchard.  We ran through an area where orchard patrons would later be occupying, but it never proved to be a problem.  The course continued up and down rows of apple trees, through some wooded areas and single tracks, back into the orchard.  The variety in terrain and scenery was nice.

There was a low chance of rain that morning, so naturally the first two hours of the race were in a light chilly rain.  I didn’t want to wear contacts that day, because I knew it was suppose to be windy.  I figured with that amount of time outside, they’d get pretty dry and probably irritate me.  Part way through the first lap, I couldn’t see from the rain and my glasses fogging so I had to ask Dion to take the lead (he normally lets me lead to set pace when we run together) .

After the first lap, Dion kept running and I began my walking lap.  Still raining, my glasses were spotted and fogging.  Since I was walking now instead of running, I figured following the course wouldn’t be a problem.  I was wrong.  Thankfully, I didn’t get too lost.  There was a section that turned to the right, then left, and left again… so I imagine Oklahoma, flip the state horizontally and you get this…

Course was suppose to be the red line, but I missed the turn. The purple line is where I went.

Luckily, the row I was in ran back into the course so I didn’t get very lost in the dark and rain!  And I probably only missed less than a quarter mile of the trail.  This is around where I met Teri.  She was running off and on and we ended up by each other.  Not sure how we even started talking but we discovered that our goals for the race were similar.  We both thought wanted to rotate between running and walking and we both wanted to get at least 32 miles so it would be a real ultra (over 50k or 31 miles).

The second lap went by fast having someone to talk with and it turned out we had very similar back stories (formerly overweight, started running in 2012, two kids, among other things).

We checked out the mile 2 aid station on the way that I had skipped the first time through.  It was stocked with “ultra runner foods” a.k.a. junk food.  Apparently, ultra runners like to fuel with cookies, oreos, pretzels and lots of things I don’t eat anymore.  For this exact reason, I brought my own food.  There were double chocolate chip cookies at this aid station that I literally was eyeing ALL DAY.  Later in the day, they have grilled cheese sandwiches (which looked delicious), boiled potatoes and a plate of salt to dip them in (YES, these were awesome) and chicken broth (I probably had about 3/4 of a cup through the day).

I can’t remember exactly what I fueled with between each lap.  I kind of winged it and tried to have something different every time through.  I believe I had a turkey, almond and cranberry EPIC bar after the second lap and a banana.  Throughout the day, I consumed 3 EPIC bars, 2 apples, 2 more bananas, a handful of almonds, a couple potato chips and about 10 M&Ms in addition to the potatoes and broth.  I’d say that was pretty good given all the stuff I could have cheated with there!

Teri and I ended up running lap 3 and walking lap 4.

As we came in from our 4th lap it was 10:12am.  16 miles in 4 hours and 12 minutes isn’t shabby!  We were half way to our goal and had only used a third of the time we had.  Piece of cake.

Beginning the 5th lap, we decided to take it easy.  There was plenty of time to finish.  We ran here and there, but walked most of that lap, as well as lap 6 and 7.

We talked quite a bit and enjoyed the scenary.  Also stopped a few times for pictures.

16 miles down and half way to my goal.
“Hey, these pumpkin wagons are awesome!”
“Let’s take pictures!”

On one of the laps, we met Ben, the race director, off the trail taking pictures of runners.  Of course, we were walking and had to remedy that for photos…

Who isn’t smiling over 16 miles into an ultra?

After lap 7, I took a good break at the base camp aid station.  Dion came in soon after having just completed his 8th lap.  His 9th lap happened to be a walking lap (he started rotating after 20 miles).  It was likely to be my last lap and I was excited that after beginning together, I would finish with him too.  Teri headed out on her own, while I waited for Dion to refuel.

At the end of the 8th lap, I decided I wanted to run the last stretch.  At this point, all of my joints were aching and the bottom of my feet hurt especially bad, but I wanted to finish like I started… running.

I reached base camp at 4:27pm finishing my first ultra, 32 miles, in 10 hours and 27 minutes.  There was still an hour and a half for me to go back out, finish a lap and possibly come in under 12 hours to go back out for a bonus lap.  That would have given me 40 miles, but I knew that I needed to stop.  I had reached my goal.

Dion left for his 10th and final lap, intending to run as much of it as possible.  I went to the car for a blanket, grabbed some food and waited.  Closing in on 12 hours, I began to see some people who left base camp AFTER Dion.  I was getting a little worried that he may have injured himself, because if he was running he would have been back by now.

I decided to head out and see if he was coming close to the finish line.  Probably less than a quarter mile out, I could see him running down the trail.  I waited for him then ran behind him to the finish.  He made his goal of 40 miles in just under 12 hours.

The medal was unique which I really liked it!

The only suggestion I have would be separate medals for each event and maybe a nice ribbon instead of a chain.  Perhaps the ribbons could have the year on them too.

I almost forgot to mention the volunteers were phenomenal!  They were in the cold all day serving the racers warm broth, making sandwiches, recording our lap times and asking if we needed anything.

The race director was awesome!  He was constantly on the go, making sure stations were stocked and the race was running properly.  Ben marked the course wonderfully with pie plates on stakes as well as  little orange flags with reflectors.  Had it not been for my darn glasses, I wouldn’t have gotten lost on the second lap.  That was my fault.  I emailed him for my lap times after the results were posted and he promptly emailed them to me as well as the pictures he took of me.  I’ve never had a race director reply so quickly.  Great job, Ben!

My first ultra experience was definitely positive and I’m EXTREMELY excited to come back next year with bigger goals.  Maybe 48-52 miles next time!