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Becoming an ultra athlete

July 29, 2012

Let Your Fear Fuel Your Dreams A Race Report

About a year ago Dr. Shawna Wentlandt became an ultra runner. She and her husband, Brady Wentlandt have been endurance athletes a little over a year now. Both crewed for Ed Ettinghausen for his second Badwater.

Dr. Wentlandts blog, Dr. Shawna Runs, is well-written. For folks looking to become endurance athletes, Dr. Shawna is an inspiration.

While Dr. Wentlandts first ultra, the ET Full Moon 51K, she wrote an excellent account of her adventures in the Leona Divide 50 miler.

For most people the marathon is the ultimate running challenge. It is the common, well-known event that we look at to solidify our place in the endurance world. Soon after I had accomplished my first marathon, I learned more about the ultra marathon world. I became part of that community when I ran a 51k as my second long distance event on August 14, 2011.

The 50k is not that much harder than a marathon. It may seem like a lot, but if you are mentally prepared to push past the 26.2, the rest goes by pretty quickly. When you have accomplished it, you then have gone beyond the 1% who have completed a marathon. You are even more unique. Your friends will really think you have gone off the deep end!

When my husband, Brady,  ran his first 100 miles in February, 2011 I realized that I wanted to increase my distance as well. I wanted to go beyond what was popular and well-known. I have conquered the marathon more than ten times, so the confidence that I can finish is mine. I wanted more.

Brady found a 50 mile race at Lake Hughes not terribly far from home. I decided that rather than be his crew, I wanted to run too. The course map looked terrifying. The elevation gain was not going to be a walk in the park. Fifty miles was 19 miles further than I had ever ran before.

The confidence and comfort I enjoy with 26.2 does not apply, therefore I found myself outside my comfort zone again. That really is where the magic happens. When you do something that terrifies you, when you own it and accomplish it, the feeling you have is priceless. It can be a drug because once you experience that feeling, you want it again.

There were nights leading up to the race that I couldn’t sleep because I worried about my ability to finish in the time allowed (13 hours). Quit is not in my vocabulary, so I was confident that I could finish, it just may take a ridiculous amount of time. Would that be the end of the world? Of course not. It would be the beginning of a lesson on how to come back and do it right. Words I repeated to myself a lot leading up to the race.

Race day came and it was finally time to find out what I was going to be able to do. We met up with other friends at the start and I tried to push doubt and fear aside. One step at a time. Continuous forward progress. Fifty would be mine.

We started the race and were immediately hit with a nice incline. Nothing horrible, but with cold legs and lungs it was tough. My calves were burning and I kept praying for them to loosen up. We trucked along for the first 8 miles to the first aid station. From mile 4 8 I was looking forward to a port a potty at the aid station, only to find out there wasn’t one. Ughpanic set in. I knew there wouldn’t be any option but the trail ON the trail, but totally assumed there would be potties at the aid stations. Well, you know what they say about assumptions

We took off from the aid station and I was trying not to let it bother me. We ended up on a single track trail and I started really worrying about what I was going to do when the urge turned into a full blown requirement. There was no where to get off the trail. No cover, no hiding places, nothing! What the heck was I going to do?

The thoughts in my head (repeating constantly) One foot in front of the other don’t fall of the cliffkeep moving where the heck am I going to pee that is not in the middle of the race?

We came upon the aid station at mile 12+. As Brady was filling my water pack I noticed one of the volunteers was wearing my favorite road shoe, the Brooks PureFlows. I asked her how she liked them and shared that I had ran several marathons in mine. Her response, “I feel like a real runner chick if I wear the same shoes as YOU!” I almost turned my head to see who she was talking to because she had such an admiring look on her face. I told her that if she runs, she’s a real runner chick :)

We continued on and I felt great. The scenery was amazing and exchanging small chit chat with other runners was fun. I spent about 3 miles listening to girls behind me talk about their dating lives. Time flew by and we were at mile 16+ before I knew it.

From miles 16 20 we experienced the first real elevation gain. This is the part I knew was coming and hoped would never come. My nice, even, comfortable pace slowed to a breathing hard, quads on fire, death march of never ending switch backs. I mentally fell apart and apologized to Brady for being weak. This hill kicked my ass a few times before it was done with me. I was never so happy to see an aid station as the one at mile 20. This was the 50k turn around. I wasn’t tempted to drop down, but was definitely jealous we had much further to go before we could turn around.

The next 6 miles were not huge inclines, but were a steady uphill climb. There was a lot of very narrow single track. It was not technical, but became difficult now

Shawna tackles the Leona Divide Trail Race

that many fast runners were on their way back down the hill and needed us to yield room on the trail for them. It was hard to avoid taking a wrong step or stopping completely when they came by.

We eventually reached another fire road that was blissfully down hill. We opened up our stride and ran comfortably for about 3 miles. It was wonderful, but as we passed the runners coming up the hill, I knew we were in for hell on the way back up. At the mile 29 aid station we were greeted with amazing volunteers that were dressed in their best luau fashions. It was a nice mental break to join the party. We were required to be at this point by 2:00. We had arrived at about 1:00.

The party ended quickly when we started back up the hill. I am sure it took us well over an hour to go those three miles. It was super tough, crazy hot, and took it’s toll on my mind. I hate feeling weak. I hate when I struggle that much. The hill went on forever until we finally reached the top at mile 32. I heard a choir singing hallelujah at that point! (They say it’s normal to hallucinate in ultras, right?)

For the next 10 miles we enjoyed nice downhill sections where we could comfortably run. We finally had a break from the faster runners coming at us because we were towards the tail end of the pack. I was hot and tired, but able to regroup and feel strong again. With the exception of my heels being on fire, I had moments where I down-right enjoyed myself!At one point we had this conversation:
Brady: How do you feel?
Me: Great. Strong.
Brady: Dont worry, that will end

Mile 42 was looming. This is the next and last big hill. I knew it was coming and dreaded dealing with the dead legs it would bring. It hit and hit hard. I struggled to breathe again and wanted to cry. Why did I sound like a 110 year old smoker? Brady wanted to run anytime the hill relented but I just couldn’t. By the time I caught my breath the hill would be back in full force. (We were on switch backs, so sometimes there were 10 or 20 feet of relief before the incline started up again). I was so over it. So done. So tired. I saw Brady watching the clock and knew he was worried about the cut off. I just couldn’t make my body move any faster. Cut off be damned, I had no choice.

The great thing about hills is that they do end. Thankfully, this one did about mile 46.5. We came to the last aid station. These amazingly wonderful people had chocolate covered strawberries! I had found heaven at the top of that hellish hill! The most glorious words ever spoken, “You have about .6 of uphill and then the rest is downhill into the finish!”

We pushed on. We walked the .6 as quickly as we could. We were back on a fire road, so the steps were easier to navigate and it was nice to be side-by-side. We intended on running the minute the ups relented. I was amazed at how many people we passed during this time. There were several guys that looked strong but had just ran out of the motivation or ability to move very fast. I had felt like I was so weak (even referred to myself as a loser on more than one occasion) yet here I was pushing through the last small bit to an amazing accomplishment.

The road leveled out and we kicked it into gear. We were running and running rather hard for this point in the race. Brady said we were maintaining a sub 10 minute pace.

Going through my mind? Hell YES! I AM doing this! I WILL finish and finish strong. Bite me, Leona Divide!

Brady told me that he wanted to hold my hand until 10 feet before the finish. I was confused because we usually finished our races together. His response, “I want you to beat me. You need to finish first.” Not sure if he noticed, but that made me a slobbering mess.

The last 3 miles went by pretty quickly. Other runners were coming back up the road to find their friends and bring them in. One guy told us, “100 yards to go!” What, really? REALLY?

The most glorious sight came into view the Lake Hughes Community Center and the finish. We turned the right corner and saw the banner, the clock, and our friends. The choir was back. The tears were back. Brady dropped my hand and I crossed the line. 12:22:24 official time. Maniac friends were all over the place to welcome us in. Priceless, amazing, supportive moment.

Just in case you are wondering, more than one barrier was broken this day. The ultra chick that can go when and where she needs to? This girl just may be getting there after all!

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2 Responses to Becoming an ultra athlete

  1. Karen Klasi on July 30, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    I started bawling at the chocolate covered strawberries, and continued right on through the end!

    Congrats, Dr. Shawna. You rock.

  2. Lew Ashworth on July 31, 2012 at 1:51 am

    Great story! What an eventI was out of breath, just reading the experience and was, for a moment or so, right there!

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