My First Ultra Marathon - Skydive Ultra - January 28, 2017

There comes a time in a runner’s life when you begin thinking about the next big race or the next big challenge.  The normal 5Ks, 10Ks, and even half marathons just aren’t enough to get your endorphin fix anymore.  Most runners who reach this level will begin training for a full marathon in hopes of the feeling the pure satisfaction of completion will allow them to satisfy this huger…and then there are other runners who get a thrill out of living on the extreme, borderline crazy, and who love pushing their bodies to the limits.  These people are called Ultra Runners.  They are the people who make an entire day out of running, some make the entire day, night, and next day, or more, depending on their distance goal.  As a not so typical runner, I wanted in to this unique crowd.  I wanted to do an Ultra Marathon and experience the satisfaction of completing a distance in which even people who drive it will typically complain of how far away it is.  I had already done a few extreme Obstacle Course Races and had completed an Ultra Relay Team race so I figured, what the heck, lets sign up for a real Ultra Marathon and see how I do.  After doing some research I decided I would start out with a 50K, aptly deemed the beginners “ultra marathon.”  For those of you who don’t know, a 50K is about 31.06 miles of running.  My thought process was “hey, why should I go and do a marathon when in just a few more miles I would have done an ultra-marathon,” so I began looking for my perfect race.  I remembered last year on Facebook a few of my friends had done a race in which you skydived first and then ran your miles.  After asking a few questions and finding out more about the event I knew that not only did I want to run my first ultra marathon, I wanted to go skydiving for the first time too.  It all made perfect sense in my head. 

That’s when I signed up for the Skydive Ultra hosted by Eric Friedman in Clewiston, Florida.  You may call me crazy, but this kind of stuff is perfectly normal in my world.  The race featured a flat course which provided the runners with various terrain including gravel, pavement, grass, hay, and some brown dirt which resembled sugar sand.  It was a 7.5 mile looped course with a strip of road at the start/finish and tent city area which then turned into alternating terrain.  Depending on your mileage you would go around the loop once, twice, or more, and sometimes have to cut a lap in half by taking an alternate route found at the halfway point.  For my 50K I was supposed to complete 4.5 laps.  

My husband was invited to compete in a special relay event put on for the VIP Warriors during this race.  These are a local group of Disabled Veterans who support each other in their physical fitness as well as personal lives.  We have the pleasure of being friends with many of them, and my husband is a disabled Veteran himself so he is always proud to represent the team.  The race director Eric had them running a half marathon which consisted of 2 laps in a relay type of event which equaled to an entire half marathon.  So although my husband was not jumping out of a plane, he was participating with an awesome group of people and getting the opportunity to run the course.

Both of us were getting excited about the event and the adventures we were about to undergo so the weekend of the race, my husband and I decided to make the drive down early and arrive the night before.  We loaded up the truck with the tent, camping supplies, and our dog Sophie and headed down south to Clewiston, FL.  Pulling into the parking lot for the Skydive Ultra was such a surreal experience.  We had some truck issues driving down, and ended up getting there around 10:00PM to set up camp.  The field was being used for parking, and camping, which made it appear as if there was a little tent city surrounding the race route and start/finish line.  As we pulled in, music was blasting and, although late at night, the energy was incredible.  You see, there were runners who were doing 150 & 200 mile distances who had started Thursday night to ensure they would be done by Sunday.  Yes, you read that right…There are people in this world who actually will run 200 miles, in a row, all together!  Very few of them, but yes they do exist! Throughout the night the race director Eric ensured these runners passing through on their laps had encouragement, dance music, and anything else they needed to break up the monotony of traveling in what seemed like endless 7.4 mile loops.  We successfully set up our tent that night near the start/finish and ended up vaguely sleeping in very cold temperatures, while the next day promised out adventure!

The morning of the race we were awaken by the Skydive Ultra’s alarm clock, also known as Eric Friedman.  He was on the microphone debriefing runners, encouraging people still racing, and giving everyone race briefs by telling people the place and time people needed to meet.  The communication of this race was phenomenal.  The race director made sure everyone knew where they were going, what time, when to start, and still managed to go around to campsites checking in on everyone.  His fun and excitement set the tone of the day and as athletes and pit crews started waking u,p the course became alive.

My race started with my skydive so I reported to the hanger a little earlier than scheduled, checked in with ease, was able to run back to the tent, change, then grab my husband and make it back just in time for them to call my name.  I was introduced to my instructor who would be the guy strapped on my back during this tandem jump.  Essentially he was the guy who was responsible for my life.  His name was Tommy.  I asked Tommy if he had a good night sleep and how was his breakfast that morning, I had to make sure he was feeling great.  After he assured me that he only needed a little whiskey to take the edge off, I suited up for my jump.  The employees of Skydive Spaceland operated in a very professional manner.  You could tell they took their work seriously yet had just enough humor to take the nerve off of nervous newbies like myself.  As I boarded the plane I was nervous but my excitement for the jump overrode the feeling.  The sky dive in of itself I have no words for.  It was amazing.  Even now looking back on my video I have tears in my eyes because of all the emotions I was feeling.  It by far was the most exhilarating experience I have ever done in my life.  I had no anxiety, I had no worries, I felt like I was flying and I loved every second of it.  I am not a scary roller coaster person either, am generally scared of falling off heights, cringe when I have to go on an airplane, and sometimes chicken out on Obstacle Course Racing jumps that are too high, but this, this felt so natural.  I encourage everyone that if they have not jumped before, do it.  You will amaze yourself and will walk away stronger with a new outlook on life.  If I had to do it again, I would in a heartbeat.

Once I was settled and back on ground it was time for me to take on my next task which was completing my first ever 50K (31 miles) which was actually around 33 miles on this particular course…but who’s counting…  After a quick briefing from Eric the 50K wave was released and off we all went.  Like I had mentioned before, I was completing 4 and a half loops of the course so decided to take it easy the first lap.  It also helped that it was a very cold, and windy day in Florida which helped me slow down my first lap pace.  The first half of the Skydive Ultra loop was a mixture of grass, concrete, and dirt road.  The aid station on the course was set up at the halfway point and had any concoction a runner may need to continue on their run which included ample bacon.  Reaching the half way point for me seemed to be an easy task for all of my loops however, once I passed that mid-point aid station, and ventured off on the back end of the course, that is where I hit my struggle.  As the day progressed there was some black sand which began turning into black sugar sand as runners continued to race over it.  I don’t have a good history, with running in sand, therefore it was extremely challenging for me.  

Loop 3
By the third loop my legs were killing me, my knees hurt, and I could feel my ankles swelling.  Was it the 1 mile stretch of sand that did it to me?  Probably not, but that’s what I like to blame.  When I reached the start line to begin my forth and last full loop I was dreading going back out there.  The decision to quit never crossed my mind but Theresa my chief pit crew person was able to read my face.  Before I knew it I had salt tabs in my mouth, (I was leaking salt through my 2XU compression pants and didn’t know it until she pointed out the salt stains) a coke in my hand, Tailwinds to wash it all down, my water bottle filled with scoops of Rehydrate, and an Ultra Running Trail mix which consisted of banana slices, pickles, M&Ms and bacon.  At this point I couldn’t really even taste anything and my stomach was beginning to get upset from the stress I was putting on my body.  I kept going.  

My Husband Paul, My Rock
Around mile 2 of my 4th loop I looked behind me and saw my husband running to catch up with me.  I was not feeling well at all and seeing him brought tears to my eyes.  He had timed his relay event so that he could run the last full lap of mine with me.  With his encouragement he began pushing me through.  I hit my wall at mile 26.  This was just after the aid station, last full lap, and luckily I Paul was by my side.  I thought about running to the woods to vomit, but the energy it took me to do that wasn’t worth it.  I was turning pale and he could tell I was declining in spirit.  He stopped, looked at me, grabbed my hand and said “Babe, we are going to finish this loop together so let’s go.”  We walked for about a quarter of a mile holding hands until I could grab my senses, not feel like I was going to hurl, and picked up our pace.  We made it through the sand, down the road and before I knew it I had completed lap 4.  

In my brain I knew I only had a half of a lap left.  That half lap consisted of easy terrain and right at the midpoint aide station I could turn another way and finish the race on a paved road.  Once again my chief pit crew person gave me the nutrition I needed to keep going.  After asking me how I felt and me replying by telling her every curse word I could come up with (because at that point it was the only English I could remember) she gave me peanut butter & jelly, jelly beans, and more M&Ms and off I went.  The last half was not bad at all.  Somehow my body had rallied and I had enough energy to get me going.  I even had enough energy to run most of the paved road back through the finish line. 

Crossing the finish line was such an unbelievable moment for me.  There stood my husband Paul, my awesome best friend and chief pit crew Theresa, along with a bunch of other strangers who I’ve never met before.  These strangers were family members, friends, supporters of all the other runners who were out on the course, race volunteers, and staff who made my finish seem like I had won the race.  Looking back, without these people in my life, I would have never finished or even signed up for an extreme race such as this one.  I have an amazing group of friends and husband who want me to succeed and are there for me good and bad.  My first Ultra experience pushed my body and my mind to places I had no idea they could go.  If you had asked me 5 years ago if I would ever run a marathon I would have laughed in your face.  Now, after completing a 50K, I’m ready to begin training for a 50 miler.  The Ultra race community is an amazing group of people.  From the athletes who run 200+ miles all the way down to the beginners like me.  Not once did I ever felt not a part of the group.  I talked to dozens of people on the trail, each one of them offering advice and encouragement and each one of them telling me I would be back for more. 

 They were right.  Who will I see at the next Skydive Ultra in 2018?

To view my SkyDive video check out:  YouTube
Learn More about VIP Warriors:  VIP Warriors
Register for your next SkyDive Ultra:  Skydive Ultra


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