An Ultra Day…

It is called a bucket list for a reason.  They are the items that we have always wanted to do, but have not been prioritized, so they sit in a bucket that has a label that reads “one day, I will get around to doing this,”  We all have a bucket list.  What is in your bucket?

Jeff Gaura completes the Whitewater Center 50km ultra marathon.
Wiped out after my first Ultra

Until a few months ago, I didn’t know that an ultramarathon was in my bucket.  When I heard stories of the Badwater or the Western States, I shake my head in rejection of the idea of going that far, for that long.  It seems outrageous to think of undertaking the idea of more than a marathon just to get a medal only to have no one in your immediate family understand what you are doing.  The Badwater is a 135 mile run that starts at the bottom of Death Valley, in July and ends at Lone Pine, at the base camp of the highest point in the lower 48 states.  The Western States is a 100 mile run that starts in Squaw Valley, CA and ends in Auburn, CA, after 15,000 feet of climbing and bushwhacking.

I found myself reading stories about these events and drawn into wondering what it might be like, but even the “trail” ultramarathon that I did this last weekend required substantial preparation.  The Whitewater Center 50, aka WC50, required that I be able to run 50 km on trails, starting at 6:00 am, running the first hour with a headlamp in the woods along the edge of the Catawba River.

The course was three loops around the park…10.5 miles each.  The training for this required a lot of 90 minute runs and a few 3 hour runs, at all times of the day, to get used to the conditions at the WC50.  I knew that salt, water and carbohydrate management were going to mean the difference between enjoyment and suffering.  I am so proud to say that I finished it.  I am even more proud that I can move around normally today.

As always, I raised my hands in prayer and thanked God that I have come so far as to be able to attempt this feat.  I committed to Him to make this my act of worship, for the day…my Romans 12:1 moment.  And, I didn’t think about it again for several hours.

Lap one was slow, in my mind.  We ran in the dark, following the person in front of you more than following the trail.  During rare moments when we would break into open fields and be out of the trees, I would look up and gaze at the stars.  They were beautiful and there all the time, even though I couldn’t see them while under the tree cover.

At the end of lap 1, I changed T-shirts, dropped my headlamp and headed back to the trail.  Lap 2 seemed to go so much faster, being able to run faster and see more than a few feet ahead.  In reality, lap 2 was 3 minutes slower!  The mind plays tricks!  The subsequent laps should always be faster, since I knew the trail better…so I thought.  The problem is that the official scoring timer showed the opposite to be true.  According to the timer, each lap was slower than the previous one.  What my body remembers is that the last lap was the fastest lap.  This illustrates the crazy thing that happens in the mind during an endurance event.

There is nothing about a 10.5 mile loop that creates a sense of hope.  The half-way point is still an hour away from the end of the first lap.  Life is very simple when running for 6 hours.  Get to the next check point, drink all you can and get carbs into your gut.  Look forward to simple things at the end of each lap, like changing shirts or socks.  For the last lap, I put in earbuds and listened to music to carry me the final distance to the finish.  I had really good running music queue’ d up, and the last song I heard before crossing the finish line was “Good Morning” by Mandesa and Toby Mac.  Toby Mac’s last meaningful line in the song is “Give me half a marathon, and I’ll give you the Gospel of St John.”  That was not appropriate enough.  I sang out loud at the top of my lungs, “Run me an Ultramarathon, and I’ll give you the Gospel of St. John.”  I raised my hands and crossed the finish line, with great pride that I had done more than what seemed impossible.

Yet, I almost didn’t do the 50k.  During lap 3, I was well behind the seasoned runners but ahead of most all the first timers.  Many of the turns on the trail are one and back shoots, to make the course long enough.  And, these spurs can be nonchalantly cut.

I tell the kids in the scout troop that integrity is not what you do when everyone is looking…it is what you do when no one is looking.  I could easily have made the last lap 3 miles shorter by cutting a few corners.  My legs were hurting, and I was looking forward to completing this thing and getting in the swimming pool to cool down.  On three different instances, I looked back and thought about cutting a corner and making my run that much shorter.

But I couldn’t do that.  It would nullify my claims to this being worship AND it would make me a hypocrite as I teach the scouts about right and wrong.  Despite the pain, I decided to overcome the moment and stay on the target till the end.

I felt Holy and self-righteous (capital H intended).  I was BETTER than everyone else. So I told myself.  Then, a magical moment occurred.  One of the people that was behind me by no less than 10 minutes all of a sudden showed up in front of me.  Without hesitating, I drew conclusions about what happened.  He had cut one of the very corners that I thought about.  Then, in the moment, I put myself in his shoes.  He, too, must really be hurting and looking for a way to make the pain stop.  Just like me, he was not about to give up on his commitment to run an Ultramarathon.  Perhaps he also does the Gospel of St John, to boot.  Whatever…I felt total compassion for the man, and I understood that he, too, was suffering.  I said a prayer of gratitude that had nothing to do with that man, or the moment, and I just started to cry.  Just 6 months ago, I was in a walking boot, and now I am completing an Ultra.  Wow.


4 thoughts on “An Ultra Day…

  1. Jeff,
    congrats on completing the WC-50!
    I am with you on the suffering- even though I chose an adequate pace and executed my nutrition plan well, there was nothing easy about the third lap- trail running always has and always will hurt.
    I am sorry to hear that some runners must have taken shortcuts, typically the code of honor in this running community is very strong and the check-in system at the aid stations was very effective in my opinion. I agree that there were still at least 2 spots (towards the end of lake loop and to cut out the weigh station section) to take a shortcut and the way the course was marked this decision must have been somewhat deliberate rather than accidental…

    I hope this has not tarnished your experience with this race (which in my opinion was extremely well organized) too much and won’t discourage you from future long hauls on the trail.



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