I DID IT! I’M AN ULTRA MARATHONER! I’ve attended the Angela Ivory Memorial 50K/50 Miler for the past two years without completing the full 50K, but this year I finally did it! Both years prior I had to leave early due to a toddler’s birthday party, so if you’re interested in those mini recaps, check them out here (2017) and here (2018). I think they offer a great taste/slice of what the full race is like.
This year, hubs and the Angry Kindergartner (AK) dropped me off at the race instead of my taking our car by myself. The race started around 8:30 a.m., so we were able to leave the house by 7:30 a.m. with plenty of time to get to Killens Pond State Park in Felton, DE. Compared to typically getting up at 5:30 a.m. or earlier for a full marathon, this felt very extravagant! It was light out, and I didn’t feel sleep deprived.
In years past, I would arrive at the park before the park entrance was open. There would be a line of cars waiting to enter, and I’d simply wait and follow everyone else’s lead. This year, however, we got there, and the park gate was open, and no one was in sight. My heart sank into my stomach for a second—what if I got the wrong date or time for some reason?!
Thankfully, as we weaved our way to the starting area (read: group of picnic tables) near the Nature Center, we saw several other cars. It was still very cold (barely 30 degrees I think), so everyone was being smart and waiting in the warmth of their cars before the official start time.
The AK was sick that day, so I gave hubs and the AK kisses and hugs, and hubs helped me bring my stuff to the picnic tables. I had packed some nuun samples to share with other runners, along with vanilla yogurt raisins, Fig Newtons, some random Peanut Bars (that I had never tried before hah!), and of course my trusted GUs. I also brought a case of water, since the entire race was carry-in/carry-out and self-supported. I had never practiced really eating solid foods while running, so my strategy was to use my GUs like normal for at least the first 20-ish miles. Then after that, all bets were off, and if I had to poop in the woods, so be it. I know you’re not supposed to try anything new on race day, but A) my stomach is pretty solid, and I’ve never had any stomach issues like some runners do B) this was a free race, and I figured if I had to DNF (Did Not Finish), that would be OK too. I was there to enjoy the scenery, tear up some trails, and see what I could do!
Speaking of scenery, this park is gorgeous and never ceases to amaze me! Here’s a little bit about the park’s background. According to the park’s website, “the centerpiece of Killens Pond State Park, conveniently located in central Delaware, is the 66-acre millpond, which was established in the late 1700s. Before the pond was created, the Murderkill River and surrounding hardwood forest were sites of several Native American homes and hunting camps. Killens Pond became a state park in 1965.”
As you can see from the pictures above, the terrain was a mixed bag, but it was mostly covered with leaves, twigs, rocks, and pine needles. There were several wooden bridges/planks to run across, as well as a few small inclines that I walked up.
The course itself was an almost-three-mile loop around the millpond, which you run ten times to complete the 50K. More on that to come, because the course was actually short (or at least the way I ran it) by about four miles.
Once I was situated at the race start, the Race Director, Gene, said that we could start at any time. Gene is a sweet older gentleman who comes out from Illinois to oversee this free, unsupported race. I love that he remembers me (because his daughter’s name is my first name, and his son’s name is my last name!) from year to year, and he’s always there to encourage runners. He sets up a race clock and a makeshift tally board to keep track of everyone’s loops.
There were a few new runners to this course/race, so I chatted with them for a bit before we started. I warned them that there are two spots that always confuse me along the course, but if you follow the yellow markers, you should be OK. I quickly told them about my first experience with this race and how I accidentally followed a runner who was taking a bathroom break off course. One runner laughed and asked if I had written a blog post about that, because he had read it and remembered it! That made me smile a mile wide, knowing that he had actually read a past race review of mine before attending the race himself.
I started around 8:20 a.m. EST, since I knew I would probably be the last person to finish. I’m not a trail runner per se, and I knew I would allow myself to walk whenever I felt like it. I figured my pace would be much slower than usual, around 13–13:30 perhaps. Last year I remember feeling like I was running in slow motion due to the cold weather, so this year I layered up in a long-sleeve shirt, my BibRave t-shirt on top of that, and a hoodie over that. I also brought gloves and a hat.
Not a half a mile into the race, as I was trying to tuck my hoodie strings into the neck area of the hoodie so that they wouldn’t bounce around, BAM. I fell. What is wrong with me?! I picked my confidence up off the ground and kept on going. See, I told you I wasn’t a trail runner. I think the biggest piece of advice to give someone attempting a trail 50K for the first time is to keep this mantra in mind: PICK UP YOUR FEET. I literally said this to myself many times along the course. Because when you’re getting tired around Mile 21 or so and your form goes to hell, the only thing that you can do is pick your feet up higher than normal to avoid roots, mud, and rocks.
I ran with one guy for a bit who was very helpful in steering me back on course early on in the race. Remember those two areas that I warned the newbies about? Yep, I myself got lost on one of those for the THIRD YEAR IN A ROW. Clearly I don’t have a very good memory about this loop. I didn’t catch his name, but thank you if you are reading this post! He was very friendly and encouraging. As I saw him during later loops, he would ask how I was doing, which meant the world to me. Runners are the best, aren’t we?
As I mentioned previously, I know you’re not supposed to try anything new on race day, but I had received my new Aftershokz Trekz Air in the mail literally the day before, and I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to use those babies at this race. I ran with pepper spray, but I also loved that I could hear my surroundings with these wireless headphones! They were light, comfortable, and did not bounce or move as I ran. I’m so in love with them. I plodded along listening to a few podcasts like Another Mother Runner, the BibRave Podcast, and I listened to an entire podcast called Mind’s Eye. The sound quality was crystal clear, and I was still able to listen to the wildlife around me and hear other runners coming up behind me.
I think two of the most surprising things about how I reacted/did during this race were my hunger and stamina.
I’ve never physically gotten hungry during a race, but by around Mile 20, my stomach was growling, and I knew I was ready for some solid food. I had taken a GU every four miles like I typically do, but my body was screaming for more fuel. I asked the other runners who had just finished a loop what they would recommend, and they suggested a banana, which I happily ate.
A few folks were camped out at the picnic tables cooking bacon, pizza rolls, and who knows what else. The grill master kept trying to entice me with food, but in the earlier miles that seemed like a horrible idea, and by the later miles, they were already packed up and gone.
Toward the end I did end up chomping on the yogurt-covered raisins and some Honey Stinger Chocolate Waffles. I also started singing this to myself during one part of the course that’s a series of little dirt mounds:
I suppose you get kind of creative if you’re spending that much time out in the woods virtually by yourself!
As I completed my tenth loop, my Garmin clocked me in at a little over 27 miles, so I told Gene that I wanted to get the full 50K distance in. He smiled and said that the RD says that 10 loops is 50K, but that obviously I could go farther if I wanted. He was so sweet to stay and make sure I was OK until nearly the end. I gave him a big hug and thanked him for his constant support after each loop and for being out there for so long.
I ran around the parking lot for the last miles. Literally everyone else at this point had finished. I’m not sure if they covered a little extra distance on each loop or they just didn’t care if they completed the full 50K, but since this was my first, I really wanted it to be official!
Those last four miles or so felt like an eternity, but I knew that hubs and the AK were coming to pick me up and there was an end in sight.
I finished in 7 hours, 49 minutes, and 44 seconds. It still amazes me that I was able to to put that much time on my feet without hitting any sort of wall, without getting any blisters, and with the same amount of soreness that I get after a full marathon (which is typically three to four days).
I will most definitely be back next year, whether I go for the 50K option or just a jaunt in the woods.