A few months ago, as I crossed the finish line at a 25K desert trail race, an unexpected thought entered my mind: there’s no reason to not run an ultra.
That led me to the start line of the Pemberton Trail 50K at the McDowell Mountain Regional Park near Fountain Hills, Ariz., where I planned to embark on my first ultramarathon.
Arriving at the park early Saturday morning, it wasn’t clear how the race would play out. Even with 15 marathons to my name, it had been 16 months since I ran one. And I had no notions that racing a marathon and running an ultra were similar endeavors.
With a morning temperature of 46, and a slight breeze, the desert morning was setting up to be ideal for a trail race. The race reached its cap of 150 runners, and the course briefing proved to be memorable as the director thanked volunteers, including his mom, and asked for a moment of silence for his dog Oliver, who died 2 months earlier.
The event itself was notable for its amazing, scenic course – relatively flat and excellent footing using some of the same trail as the legendary Javalina Jundred – and another day of weather under the winter desert sky.
My personal experience was near perfect, too. My strategy to run the flats and push the downhills, and walk the uphill portions at times when it proved difficult keep an efficient pace. The course offers very few uphills, so the double loop course proved to be an attempt to maintain a consistent pace.
With no cramping, blistering or other significant issues, my in-race plan switched to running from aid station to aid station, about 5 miles apart. At the stations, I stopped to fill up a water bottle and eat some treats, mostly sliced oranges and bananas. But I also discovered a new addiction: boiled potatoes dipped in salt.
Without question, I will be running this event again. It proved to be a perfect event for a first ultramarathon. The ultra finish goes down as one of my most memorable races. It bolsters my confidence for other goals this year and has me looking for other ultra races to add to the calendar. In the upcoming days, I’ll add some more thoughts, but photos may be the best way to recap the race.