Sunday, April 24, 2011

Red Mountain 50k Review

The Red Mountain 50k was my first official ultramarathon if you don't count last month's 50 miler. I'm going to tell you a secret: my knees were hurting so bad last week that I told Mel I might have to drop out of this race. I wanted to stay optimistic, but deep down I knew I might be in trouble. I decided to give it a try and just see what happened.

The bus ride to the starting line was ultra-long. Honestly. I could have watched the whole Harry Potter movie series during that bus ride. We got off the bus and it was COLD outside with a decent wind. After about two minutes of that nonsense, we got right back on the bus and waited until it was time to start.

The first 12 miles of the race is on dirt and the rest is on pavement. Considering the problems I've been having with my knees, I planned to start very conservatively. I quickly realized that the ultra-steep uphill and ultra-steep downhill of the first few miles was going to be murder on my knees.

Thankfully the incredible scenery made up for the beating my knees were taking.

At one section of the trail I paused to watch the sun rise over the hill. This was one of my favorite pictures of the day.

A few minutes after I passed the Mile 9 aid station I reached a river. The only runner I had seen for a few miles was this guy who charged right through the river.

There was the option to leave a change of shoes for the Mile 12 aid station but I chose not to because I didn't know we'd be crossing a big river. I walked up the river to find a shorter distance to cross. No luck going down river either. I didn't want to run through it and have wet shoes for the next 22 miles so I sat down, took my shoes off, and waded to the other side:

After I put my shoes on again I started running up another ultra-hill. I had run a mile past the river when I thought I saw a group of around 15 runners charging toward me! I figured it was too early in the race to start hallucinating. Sure enough, they were running the other direction. Apparently they had gone farther up, hadn't seen any course markings, and realized they had gone the wrong way!

We ran a mile back to the river and had a pow wow about what to do. Someone concluded that we took a wrong turn and needed to go BACK across the river! So.......I took off my shoes AGAIN and waded back to the other side. Apparently a prankster sabotaged the course by changing the direction of the arrows. Standing at that river again with everyone was the craziest thing I have ever seen during a race.

When we got to the next aid station I realized that I had run almost two miles extra. That made me nervous. My knees were feeling ultra-terrible from the loose rocks of the trail so I was ultra-thankful to finally reach pavement.

And then things got ugly. I met up with my friend Jason Smith at Mile 15 and neither of us were feeling too hot. I tried to stay with him for the next couple miles but I just couldn't do it.

After this I reached a really low point. My knees just would not allow me to run for more than a minute or two. In my 33 years of life my knees have never hurt so bad. When I bent my left knee, it sounded like a bag of chips being crumpled. That wasn't too comforting.

In the first half of the race I was praying to God to please help me and my knees. In the second half of the race I was praying to God to forgive me for all the swear words I had been saying. The death blow was around mile 20 when I got passed by two old ladies. Granted, they were fit old ladies. But still, they were old ladies. I saw the race director at an aid station and asked him where I stood. He told me I was among the last 10 racers. I felt devastated and didn't know how I could keep going for another 10 miles.

I ran many miles by myself without another runner in sight, either in front of or behind me. By this point the extra two miles I had run from the detour were killing me mentally. It was so frustrating to arrive at the Mile 24 aid station as my watch showed that I had run 26 miles. Normally a few extra miles would be no big deal, but with my knees in dire pain, I was very concerned.

Eventually I could see a few runners creeping up behind me. I realized that I was part of the "Who Is Going To Win Last Place" competition. It was powerful and humbling to be part of a group of people who were experiencing such intense suffering.

Sometimes I was able to run 30 seconds before walking. Sometimes I managed to only get a few steps before being slowed to a walk. Want to see what it looks like when you try to smile at the same time your knees feel like they've been run over by a train and your flesh feels like it's melting off your bones? This is what it looks like:

The scenery during the last mile of the race is amazing:

There were a few people still at the finish line when I arrived, including my friend Jason who finished the race earlier. That meant a lot. When I crossed the finish line, I didn't feel a huge sense of accomplishment. I didn't feel enlightened. I didn't feel like I was a new person for what I had achieved. I didn't feel a runners high. I didn't really feel anything. Except glad that it was over. I finished the 31 miles in 6 hours & 38 minutes (but with the couple miles extra my race time was 7 hours & 3 minutes).

Now that I've had a day to digest everything that happened, thinking back on that experience brings tears to my eyes. I can't describe how bad my knees hurt during those 33 miles. I am so thankful God forgave my swearing and helped me make it through. I certainly didn't feel his help then, but I see it now.

Despite how I felt yesterday, I think this race did change me. This was the hardest thing I have ever done. I was shown again that I can do hard things. From now on, when I finish a race, I'm going to stick around and cheer for those people at the back of the pack. I have a new understanding about how people persevere amid suffering. I'm thankful I have a cool medal to remind me of the lessons I learned during this race.


  1. Congrats on the race - it sounds like a really tough one, but you still pushed through and got it done in the end. I can't believe you guys took a wrong turn and had to back track in an ultra....that's never good :)

  2. Congrats!! I've only had crazy pain once and it gets your attention! It sounds like it'll be something that you'll remember for the rest of your life. Seriously! Give those knees a high five for holding up!

  3. I loved what you said at the end of this post about cheering on the people at the back of the pack. I just read a book called "4 Months to a 4 Hour Marathon" and in it there was a quote I would like to share. It was by the 1996 US Olympic Marathoner Keith Brantly. He was on the podium after his 2:15 finish and answered a question about how hard it is to run a marathon. He said, "It's tough. That's why they call it a marathon. But my race is over in about two hours. it's the people who are still out there now (4 hours out) that I tip my hat to. They're my heroes."

    YOU are a hero. Dedication and sheer guts. Way to be an ultrarunner.

  4. Cory- GREAT job! you are amazing. Congrats on the finish and for sticking it out. The last stretch looks gorgeous!!! I would have been sooo mad if I came to find out someone messed with mile markers or arrows. It would be horrible to deal with that mentally, but you made it! When's the next ultra ;)?

  5. Great job on finishing despite the extra miles and the painful knees Cory. Excellent race report and I loved the pictures. I don't know if I appreciate being called an old lady though! (I think I might have been one of old ladies that passed you at mile 20) Congratulations on your first official ultra finish, hope you finish many more.

  6. When I read in the newspaper yesterday about some jerk changing the race signs I wondered if you took the detour too. Glad you finished but I really think you need to take several weeks off and get healthy again maybe the entire month of May (switch to cross training biking and swimming and you can aim for the Turkey trot tri this November). You are pushing what could be several weeks of downtime to maybe six months to a year by constantly running injured and or in pain. Take the time to listen to your body and give it the rest it needs, I know its hard I hate even a single cutback week when I get sick but you need it.

    Awesome job finishing though.

  7. Congrats on your finish Cory. Sometimes your body doesn't work the way you would like it too. Throwing those extra miles in doesn't help. I have a lot of respect for someone who still finishes a race when they are crushed and broken. I can say that dropping out of a race is one of the worst feelings you can have as a runner. Way to battle and congrats once again!

  8. Nice work on the race Cory. You are amazing.

  9. way to persevere. you are amazing! i still remember when you thought tom and i were crazy because we ran marathons. who's the crazy one now?

  10. Michael: You're right, the wrong turn wasn't worth the funny story to tell.

    Coy: High fives completed. Thanks!

    Amylee: I LOVED the quote. Thank you for adding it.

    Maia: That last area definitely could be the most beautiful place on Earth.

    Joja: Please forgive me, and props to you if it was you that passed me as I was in melt-down. It was awesome to see that there were so many "older" people who do ultras.

    Patrick: Up until this last week I've actually been feeling pretty good with the higher miles and adding cross training has helped. I focus on thinking of future goals and not doing anything that may jeopardize those goals. I think this race was just a fluke thing, but I'll ease up until they're feeling better.

    Scott: Are you the Scott who was the winner of the Red Mountain 50k? Simply incredible. Great job at the race!

    Thos: Thanks - I'm amazed that you can run twice as fast as me without breaking a sweat.

    Dansie Fam: Thanks, I still have a lot to learn from you guys.

  11. Great job Cory.... So proud of you. I am itching to run another 50m.

  12. Cory-again phenomenal achievement! There are some races that are beyond the miles covered-they make you dig deeper into your mental aspect then others. They become a race to learn more about what you really can do-mentaly, spiratualy over the physical part. Bataan Death March was mine. I think we all have to have a race like that to appreciate the sport, the intensity of it all and who it takes to do this-not anybody can just lace up some shoes and go out there. Remember one of the quotes we sent you, "the miracle isn't that you finished, it is that you had the courage to start at all." You are courageous, inspiring and tough enough to do this again. Let those knees recover, but, know that when they bug you again-you have been through worse and overcame worse and you will persevere.

  13. You're awesome buddy! That's a great life lesion right there.

  14. Wow - steep hills, river crossings and extra miles! Congrats on finishing a tough 50+K!