While digging around in the depths of computer folders, I came across this little gem. It is my race report from my very first ultra in 2003, long before I started blogging about such things. I haven’t touched a word – it is exactly how I wrote it 10 years ago!

I am not new to this sport.  In fact, I have been a fairly active participant for 8 or so years now.  My roles have included registering runners, manning aid stations, serving food at the finish line, removing bugs from runners’ eyes, being a crew for distances up to 100 miles, supporting racers whose names I never knew and listening to hours of ultrarunning stories.  Somehow, the sport of ultrarunning never tempted me to toe the line and become a member of the group.  I was content with distances up to 42.2 km and content to be “support crew extraordinaire”.

Perhaps I had seen too much from the outside – feet  that were rubbed to raw flesh, stomachs that rejected tiny sips of water, unseeing eyes that were bleary and vacant at 2 am, wounded bodies that were being dragged along by unbroken willpower.  Or perhaps, I did not participate because I felt I had more value as a crew than as a racer.  I have always been more satisfied with the achievements of others than my own.  My adult life has been proof of this.

An extrinsic motivator was the reason I decided to try my first 50 km.  I now have a real reason, a need, to be able to run long.  In preparation for a Peruvian running tour, I felt that I must be completely confident in my physical abilities in order to run at high altitude for two weeks.  So, I said ‘bring on the 50 km runs, as many as possible for the next 10 months’.

As I half-listened to the race briefing at the Silver Tip 50 km, I surprisingly felt none of the pre-race jitters that I have felt at marathon start lines.  I knew the satisfaction I would feel at the finish.  I never doubted reaching the finish line.  I didn’t give a thought to my finishing time.  I simply thought ‘what a great day for a run in the woods’.

And it was.  The day was bright, cheery and cloudless – the same words would describe my demeanour throughout.  The course held few surprises, since I was familiar with some of the trails and had a precise, verbal walk-through of the ups and downs I could expect.  It was hilly.  During the second half of the run, I was reduced to a walk on almost all of the inclines. There were difficult sections – such as on the second loop, when I came out of the trees and could finally see the trail ahead which continued to rise and rise and rise out of sight.  I was alone for ninety percent of the day, although never lonely.  Having many out-and-back loops on the course meant that I crossed paths with many runners all day, including three uplifting rendez-vous with Bruce.

I was very aware of the fact that I was one of the last runners on the course and spent some time deciding whether or not I was embarrassed at being this slow.  But being slow and being one of the few still on the course hit home when a quad tracker approached me to warn me of a young, fearless bear who had been hanging out on the trail ahead.  As I ran on, suddenly capable of 8-minute miles, I sang all my favourite songs aloud in an effort to frighten the bear far into the forest.

The surprises were only two fold. The first was an exhilarating stream crossing at the beginning and end of loop two.  I took my time wading through the cold water and letting it circulate around my toes.  During that whole loop, I thought about re-crossing that stream, perhaps even lying down in it!  The other surprise was the grade of the third ascent.  I have never been on a ‘road’ as steep as this one.  I was thankful to be moving under my own steam, rather than riding in a vehicle.  I was sore at this point, but the pain centre was in my lower back, due to the appalling posture I had assumed as I marched along.

My finish will be a memory which I will always hold dear.  Bruce came out to the last corner and was waiting for me.  Hand in hand, we ran to the finish line and I could feel tears welling up inside, although I had no energy left to cry.  So many of our friends and fellow runners were waiting at the finish and welcomed me in, recognizing that I had accomplished the leap into ultrarunning. It was an incredibly moving experience.

Whenever someone tries an ultra, there is a silent question of whether or not they will continue the ultra trail and become an ultrarunner.  Will this be a “been there, done that, got the t-shirt’ experience? Or will this be a life-shaping event that will be hotly pursued?  For me, I know that I will run many 50 km runs this year.  But, beyond that, it is hard to say if I will continue running ultras.  Perhaps my motivation will become intrinsic and I will find deep satisfaction in pursuing ultras.  Or perhaps I will go back to being ‘support crew extraordinaire’ and helping others search for fulfilment through running long distances.

I am uncomfortable spending a day focusing on just me and my running.  It seems too withdrawn and too philosophical.  As I spend more time running ultras, I will probably become more comfortable being on my own for long periods of time. But I wonder if I will choose to spend so much energy worrying about me.  At this point, supporting and crewing ultras holds more challenges and more value for me.  Maybe another great day of running in the woods will change that.