My experience of running 43 miles to celebrate 43 years🎉
I started thinking about running 1 mile per year lived for my birthday back towards the end of January. I had seen a few others that I follow on social media do this kind of challenge and they had turned even older than I was turning. One fellow runner friend ran 53 miles for her 53rd birthday and then another had run 60 miles for her 60th! I was in utter shock, completely in awe of these ladies for doing this. I thought to myself, could I really do something like this? The furthest distance I have ever run up to this point was a marathon and I’ve done 19 of those in all my years of running. I even asked the question on both my social media platforms on whether people thought I was crazy to run this far or should I do 43 miles or 43k. It was interesting to hear that most that responded did not think I was crazy for attempting something like this! Though, on twitter more followers thought I should attempt 43k over 43 miles. Anyway, in the end I decided on having 43 miles be the A goal, and 43k be the B goal, with 4.3 miles the C goal.
I googled ‘ultra-running’ and found some awesome quotes by ultra-runner Michael D’Aulerio. Quotes give me all the feels and help inspire me; Anyone else with me on that front? Here are a few that resonated with me the most:
“If you make finishing your most meaningful goal, keep your pace relatively slow, find a big enough purpose, and nail down nutrition, the finish line of your first ultramarathon will come.”
“When will you feel ready? You won’t. It takes a leap of faith. Signing up for an ultramarathon takes a jump into the unknown.”
“An ultrarunner’s stamina is the result of all the struggles they are willing to overcome both inside and outside their running shoes.”
I spent the first two weeks of February prepping by running longer runs on the weekends, 20 miles the first weekend and 26.2 miles the following weekend. I had also been running longer on the weekends for a while now so that base was already there with me running between 45-60 miles per week. My original plan from the start was to run this on the local trail and either direction I went I would be no more than 5 miles from my car so that I could have supplies there, plus a bathroom! Well unfortunately, a bunch of snowstorms later the trail was basically snow and ice covered and just not an option for my run. I was a little disappointed and a little scared thinking how am I going to run 43 miles just around town? It seemed almost daunting and impossible. A friend, who lives close by, that I had connected with who runs ultras had reached out asking me what my plan was and reassured me that I could in fact still get this done even without the trail being available. She told me that she had run a virtual run back in December and had run almost 42 miles all around town, and that the trail was her original plan too! She then even offered to come along with me for some company. How thrilled was I that someone was so kind as to take me under their wing and show me the way!? I decided that I’d like to run at least half the distance on my own and then have her join me the rest of the way.
The week leading up to my epic run I had my normal day off on Monday, ran for 60 minutes easy on Tuesday, 4 miles Wednesday and 3 on Thursday. After all the miles I had been putting in my legs and body welcomed the shorter distances! I used to have such an issue with the taper but not much anymore. I know that it’s necessary, so I try to embrace it. My birthday thankfully fell on a Friday, which was perfect to give me the weekend to help me recover before work on Monday.
My friend and I talked the night before about my game plan and she offered some advice of what to bring with me in my vest for fuel which was very helpful! Once thing she kept saying to me was this: you are going to surprise yourself when you realize you can do this! Here is what I stored in my vest, S/Lab Sense Ultra 5 from Salomon to start: I filled both my soft flasks (17oz each) with berry flavored Tailwind my new go to hydration favorite, packed different snack size bags filled with goldfish, Swedish fish and dark chocolate Hershey kisses. I also packed some tissues and $5 cash, all based on my friend’s recommendation. Dinner that night was what any normal runner would eat: some type of pasta dish, my pick was ravioli and garlic bread. I even sometimes have pizza, depending on my mood. Give me all the carbs, please!
I got up around 5am and did my normal routine of drinking some coffee and eating a granola bar. Only this time I ate 2 granola bars. I got myself dressed, did my pre run stretches and hit the road by 6am. My plan was to run for 4 hours alone and then meet my friend back at my house at 10am. I knew by that point I’d need to come home to get more hydration, fuel, bathroom and possibly change my shirt or whatever I may need. What I didn’t plan on was seeing so much black ice out there. I knew I would be having to stop to get through snowbanks but not so much ice! Because this was my own birthday run and the first time ever running this far, time didn’t matter so I wasn’t letting it bother me and just tried to be careful.
It was chilly to start off (28 degrees with a real feel of 25ish), so I brought my warm mittens from Turtle Gloves with me and they worked perfectly! It has only taken me 20+ years of running to realize that mittens are best when it’s freezing! I knew from talking to my coach to try my best to keep the pace between 10-10:30 per mile so that I could save my legs for once it got tough! Thankfully it wasn’t too hard to stay in that range with having to stop for snow and ice and cars and lights, etc. I stayed in my neighborhood for about 2 miles then at that point it was light out, so I made my way out and I was off. I hadn’t really planned out my route but knew what neighborhoods I was going to head to and see how the miles played out before having to go back to my house. I had to go to the bathroom around mile 9-10 but the wawa I was going to stop at was so busy and I decided to skip it and ended up going to a grocery store many miles later. Unfortunately, in the dead of winter it’s not as easy to use the bathroom outside as all the trees have lost their leaves and there is nowhere to hide! I brought my phone with me but wasn’t going to use it for music because the battery wouldn’t last all day. I ended up buying an AM/FM small radio that I brought with me and just listened to 92.5 the whole time. A lot of what I thought about during these first 4 hours was how was my run going to go once I met up with my friend. I knew that I could run 26.2 miles, as I’ve done that many times before. I knew that the real ‘race’ would start after that distance was reached. I was thankful that I would have someone there with me when I was in that moment. It made it seem so much less scary!
I started to make my way back to my neighborhood around 9 am based on where I was at and was going to run back and forth once or twice on this flat one-mile area that I knew of before heading back home to meet my friend at 10. One of the best parts about this day was the sun was shining the entire day!! Sunshine on a run just makes everything that much better.
Fueling wise, since I had 2 granola bars before I even left the house, I didn’t feel the need to eat anything until around mile 10-11. At that point I reached in my vest for those goldfish I had packed, only to find that the zipper was open, and they had fallen out somewhere, I was so bummed. I instead opted to have 2 dark chocolate Hershey kisses. Also, because it was cold out, I didn’t feel extremely thirsty and hadn’t been drinking that much so I started making myself knowing I needed to.
As I was making my way back, I ran into my friend who was just a few blocks from my house. I knew from our conversation the night before that I wanted to get in and out of the house as quickly as possible so I could keep moving and not have a huge lull. I had already set out everything that I was going to need so that I could just refill, throw stuff in the vest and I ended up changing both of my top layers. I used the bathroom, ate a PB&J sandwich, had a few hard pretzels and we were on our way! She told me that we could go at my pace and she would take my lead with whether I needed to walk at any given point. She also told me she brought me some fuel that she uses for her longer runs that works well. Once we got going, I had told her the places I had already ran and told her that I was open to her leading us to the least hilly spots LOL! We spoke here and there but often we were silent, listening to our footsteps hitting the ground, saying hi to people we saw out, listening to the birds chirping and hearing the snow melting. I remember seeing the miles click by and then once I got to 26.2, I thought, well, this is when the real race begins! It’s time to go further than I ever have in one shot. Once we got to around 30 miles in, she gave me a gel. It was called Spring Energy. I had never heard of them, but she said they work well for her tummy, so I trusted that! And I’m happy to say it worked well for me! She had also brought me a box of candy hearts, which I ate here and there and a butterscotch candy, which I stuck in the side of my mouth and sucked on it for a while! I drank a lot more on the second half of the run. It had gotten warmer; it was 28 degrees when I started and close to 45 by mid-day! However, we just kept going and going. We did take a few walks breaks like after we got up a long gradual hill. I couldn’t believe the numbers on my watch as the miles kept clicking by. Once we passed 31 miles I said well, I can certainly do that 50k I signed up for in May! Then I think when we got to 35 miles, I keep telling myself that I could do this. I only had 8 MORE MILES. Really, I just said get to 40 and you have 3 more miles after that! Sometimes you just go with one mile at a time but it’s just about playing tricks on your mind to get it done. I think around 39 miles I said to my friend, why couldn’t I be turning 40?! She then said, well, be thankful that you aren’t turning 50! So true! I needed that perspective at that point. I seriously could not believe that I was 3 miles from hitting my goal. 3 miles. A 5k. A distance I have run almost every day of the week for so many years. I could totally do this! But really, my exact thoughts were that I wanted to stop and just lay in the middle of the street and make it stop. It literally took until I reached 40 miles for my brain to think this, which is amazing! And then once we were almost done, I can’t begin to describe the feelings I felt the moment that my watch hit 43. I honestly knew that I had it in me to run this far but you really never do realize exactly what you are capable of accomplishing until you are in that moment and pushing yourself to do your best and to keep going! As I ran those last 20 miles I kept thinking about David Goggins 40% rule. When your mind is telling you you’re done, you’re only 40 percent done. Now let that sink in. It’s seriously true! But, remember, it’s up to YOU to be the one to determine what you are capable of!
I will write another blog on how I recovered from this epic birthday run!! Stay tuned!!