On August 24, 2019, I finally became an ultra runner. I’m so proud of myself and quite humbled. Check out my experience at the Moebius 50K!
Ah! You guys! I’m an ultramarathoner!! What a crazy, fun, and humbling experience. My mantra for the last several days has been “everything hurts and I’m dying” because let’s face it — everything does hurt and any time you push yourself past your threshold, your body does die a little faster than a normal day.
My First Ultra: Moebius 50K
But holy moly. I grossly underestimated just how awful I would feel after this race. I used Burning River as my litmus test and told myself if I finished Burning River and felt good, I would sign up for Moebius 50K. Well, I felt pretty darn amazing after my 17-mile leg of Burning River so I signed up. And the rest is history…
The Road to 50K
My training went surprisingly well. Since I wasn’t initially planning on running an August 50K, my mileage probably wasn’t as high as it should have been. But I did manage to get in a few high mileage weeks with one 20-mile long run. I felt sufficiently trained.
I fought signing up for Moebius for years. My friend Sara ran it in 2015 and I thought she was crazy. Not only was it a loop course (I can’t do loops), it was also trail which I was not keen on at the time.
Over the years I’ve, of course, changed my tune. I’ve incorporated a ton of strength and balance training, and I’ve gotten my past injuries under control. I’m a much stronger person and runner now than I ever have been. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end. And that means the resurrection of past injuries.
In other words, my ITBS flared up pretty bad on race day.
Past Injuries back with a Vengeance
It’s hard to blame my shortened training schedule entirely, because I actually did have a very solid training cycle and while I wasn’t doing strength training 3 times per week, I was certainly getting in at least one day per week and usually two. The biggest hurdle was the vast amount of roots and thick, slippery mud that I was totally unprepared for. And let’s face it — even if I knew what was coming, I don’t think it would have mattered much. My IT bands took a beating they haven’t taken in several years and looking back on my preparation and race day, there probably wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it.
It’s difficult to break down this race into mileage. There were many times (most times) along the way that I didn’t even actually know how many miles I had run. I was using the lap button on my watch to keep track of how many loops I had run (which didn’t even end up working anyway) so the mileage beeps were reflective of when I hit the lap button (10K marks) and not of the actual one mile split.
With my husband’s help, though, we did some calculating and figured out my time per loop. I’ll do my best to summarize each one.
Moebius Green Monster Trail 50K
A little about Moebius Green Monster Trail 50K: it’s held in a surprisingly beautiful park with a lovely lake. I had never been there before until I picked up my bib and I was more than pleasantly surprised. The park highlights: shimmering water, row boats, a fishing dock, plenty of green space, and lots of areas to have a cookout or get together.
Moebius is a loop trail race. Each loop is roughly 10K or 6.2 miles. If you do the math, there are five total loops. The course is comprised of single track trail, gravel paths, grass, and a little bit of asphalt. There are hills but they’re very mild. Of note are the many, many, many roots and the shoe-sucking, thick and slippery mud.
Since this was my first experience in the ultra running world, I really had no goal. I had a soft time goal of 7-ish hours but having never run on this course before and never running so far before, I had really low expectations. I figured throughout my training that I was averaging about a 13-min per mile pace so I’d be roughly in the 7-ish hour range. But we all know a lot can happen on race day, right? My only real goal was to complete the distance and have fun doing it. I think I achieved the goal by about 70%. Here’s the recap as best as I can remember it (don’t judge, it was a long day!):
Moebius 50K Race Recap
The day started off a little cooler than I had been used to. I was undecided about running with arm sleeves for the first loop but I ultimately decided not to. I’m glad I didn’t bother with them because I warmed up pretty quickly. My hands were cold for a while but that’s nothing abnormal for me.
Lining up with the others, I wasn’t quite certain of my place in the pack. I had briefly met a few runners from an online running group but I had a feeling they would be faster than me. Plus I was worried about making small talk for seven hours with strangers. I found my friend Haley and hung with her, but when the race started she took off and I never saw her again until the finish line. Luckily, I heard someone say, “Are you Rachel?”
The first loop started off pretty well. The person who asked my name was a lovely woman named Patty. Our paths have crossed via social media for years since we share several mutual friends, but this was the first time we met in person. It was so nice to run with someone for most of the first loop. We played leap frog with another lovely lady named Becky. I was the newbie ultra runner of the group and it was nice to pick their brains on all things ultras.
During this first loop, I took note of my surroundings. As I mentioned earlier, there were a lot of roots. Much more than I anticipated. There was also a lot of mud. I normally don’t mind mud but this kind was really hard to navigate. The grass was also fairly uneven in spots. It’s no wonder I had trouble in the later loops. More on that eventually…
Toward the end of the first loop, I did feel the need for speed so I ended up running alone for a short stretch. When I finished the first loop I was greeted by my friend, Liz.
Loop 1 complete: 1:23:13
After a quick potty stop, I began loop 2. Liz had a run to get in that day so she ran with me along the paved path. When it was time for me to turn off into the woods, she continued on the pavement and followed it around the lake. It was fun to run with her even if for a brief moment. We logged so many miles over the summer, I was beginning to miss running with her!
As I turned into the woods, I was alone for a bit. After a few miles I spotted Patty and ran with her again. One thing I noticed that drove me crazy eventually was that I could see the aid station located at the halfway mark of the loop but it was still incredibly far away. So I would see it and think, “awesome, I’m almost there!” when in reality it was still several miles away. That was kind of a mindf*ck.
Once I reached the aid station, I had to ask for salt since I forgot mine. I could really only tell it was starting to affect me because my hands started getting swollen. Unfortunately there were no salt tabs to be had so I grabbed a few salt and vinegar chips and went on my way.
I lost Patty around the same place again during loop 2. I was so happy to see Liz again as I finished up. She helped me fill up my water. Unfortunately when I asked for salt at the main aid station, they didn’t have any there either. I messaged my husband to see if he could bring some for the next loop. I grabbed a few more chips, said bye to Liz, and went on my way!
Loop 2 complete: 1:29:34
The third loop was largely uneventful. I was alone for most of it. I didn’t feel too bad but I was starting to worry about my electrolytes a bit. The roots and mud were also starting to wear on me mentally. Lucky for me, when I got to the outback aid station, one of the volunteers had salt tabs! She was my hero in that moment. Interestingly, I’ve never taken salt tabs before. And you know the saying, “nothing new on race day” but that went out the window all over the place for me for this race.
I took the salt pill and went on my way.
My IT band started to hurt a little bit during the third loop. It wasn’t a lot but I was working on trying to activate my glutes because I was sure they weren’t firing. Hindsight’s 20/20 and looking back that’s not at all what happened.
As I finished loop 3 I was greeted by my friends, Sara, Noemi, Pam, and my husband, Brandon. What a fun finish!
Loop 3 complete: 1:26:53
I definitely dawdled a little longer than I should have before starting loop 4. When I look back at the data from my watch, I was stationary for 26 minutes over the duration of the race. I’m pretty sure 10 minutes of that was before loop 4. That’s a lot of time in race time.
But, in my defense, I needed to restock my pack and say hi to my friends. Priorities, right? Plus, Noemi was visiting all the way from W. Va and Sara is super pregnant, so I had to spend at least a few minutes with them!
I finally got on my way. And if I had one word to describe loop 4 it would be: sucked. Loop 4 was really hard.
I was alone the entire time. Half the time I was rather enjoying running trails alone. My mind wandered and I didn’t know where I was more than once during loop 4. Unfortunately during loop 4, my IT bands really started hurting. So much so that there was a lot more walking happening than running.
Time to turn on the tunes…
After running in silence for as long as I could, I listened to music for a little bit. I started with the Grateful Dead but it wasn’t cutting it so I went to the Indigo Girls. Fun fact: I grew up listening to the Indigo Girls but never once listened to any of their albums all the way through. I did that on Saturday and I really enjoyed the album.
I got to the outback aid station and lo and behold, there were salt tabs! Obviously I took another one then promptly asked if they had BioFreeze. Luckily they did and they had the spray kind. It was amazing. I’m shocked at how well it worked, actually. It was far better than my roll-on kind. After a pill and some spray, I continued on in my quest.
One huge thing I learned about ultras is that it can become strangely mind numbing. I’ve heard of 50 and 100 milers (mostly the hundos) hallucinating and I can totally see why. I only ran 31 miles but I could feel the effects starting in loop 4.
My husband and friends (Noemi, Pam, and Steve) were waiting for me as I completed loop 4.
Loop 4 complete: 1:44:04
(Albums in this loop: Grateful Dead Europe ’72 – 1972; Indigo Girls, Indigo Girls – 1989)
I was so thankful for everyone tending to me for my last loop. My new friend, Sydney (who I met during a Burning River training run), saw me and realized I wasn’t in the best shape of my life. I was almost delusional at that point but I did hear her say to someone that she was going to run the last loop with me. And thank god for her because I think I would have lost my marbles out there alone for another painful loop!
But before I started out on my fifth and final loop, I changed my socks, rolled on alllllll the BioFreeze, and was expertly kinesio-taped by Steve and Pam. I wasn’t feeling very confident with my finish time but I was feeling quite stubborn and a little peeved. Quitting was never an option (I learned that the hard way about myself at the Cleveland Marathon in 2015) so I pushed on.
Failure is not an option.
Sydney stuck with me for the entire last loop. I had to explain to her that roots were really hurting my IT bands and that downhills were especially painful. As such, I had to do the opposite of what most trail runners do — I had to run the uphills and walk the downhills. But it worked for me. I felt incredibly strong going up and in so much pain going down. The grass was also a bit treacherous at times since it wasn’t quite even. But I pushed on and Syd was the best pacer ever. I was, and am, so incredibly grateful for her company.
As we neared the last bit of pavement, we saw my son come running toward us. At that point Sydney dropped back and I ran to the finish line with my son. I really wanted to run hard and fast so I “raced” him but I couldn’t push hard enough to keep up with that little bugger!
As we approached the finish line I could hear my friend Ashley and her family, along with my husband and daughter, cheering me in. Pam was on the other side of the finish line to take pictures. What a great feeling!
Loop 5 complete: 1:38:47
I’m an ultrarunner!
Finish time: 7:42:42
The comment I’ve received most about this race is how good I looked when I finished and through each aid station. I’m not sure what that says about me. Either I’m really great at masking the pain I’m in, or I was in less pain than maybe my brain was telling me. Or perhaps some combination of both. Or maybe I’m just really great at faking it ’til I make it. Either way — I’m glad I didn’t look disheveled and discombobulated through each loop!
I didn’t have quite the experience at Moebius 50K I had hoped for with both pace and general physical well being. But all in all, I’m really proud of myself. I apparently surround myself with 100-mile runners so I had a warped sense of reality for a little bit there and I did discount the distance I was running. “Oh it’s just a 50K.” But damn — a 50K is far!!!
When I set out to run this race, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought I had it in the bag. My training was pretty great, I had no injury issues this year at all, and I was strong. I was so incredibly grateful to all the friends I met along the way and on race day, and my friends and family who were there for me at the aid station and finish line. I grossly underestimated the amount of support I would need for a race of this caliber and I’m so humbled and thankful to everyone for their help and support.
I’m taking the rest of this week off, and perhaps even next week, but then I’ll be back at it. I do have another 50K on the calendar this year — Marine Corps Marathon 50K. One thing I’ll be doing even more diligently than before is strength training and foam rolling. Ain’t nobody got time for injury!
Thank you so much for following my journey and cheering me on for Moebius 50K. I haven’t been the best at blogging this summer but hopefully I’ve made up for it via Instagram stories and Facebook posts. Thank you, thank you! Your support has not gone unnoticed!
What’s the farthest distance you’ve run?
What was your most humbling race experience and why?
Linking up with Debbie and Marc for the Running Coaches Corner!