My Very First Ultra

On November 14, about 350 runners did the impossible: 37.2 miles in Central Park. That's 9 full loops, for those of you familiar with the park. We're super proud of everyone who was able to run a distance like that, but our hearts were extra full on the day of the NYRR 60K because our very own Captain Amir braved the elements, pushed through the mental and physical obstacles, & finished his first ultra! Read on to hear what the experience was like for him...

My goal for the year was to do two marathons. In 2014 I trained for the Miami Marathon this past January and I PR’ed. Thanks to our speed training at Harlem Gets Fit and my commitment to weekly morning workouts, I not only met my goal, but surpassed it.

I had put off signing up for a marathon throughout the entire year, but recently I had the Philly Marathon in mind. My only problem is that I like to wait until the last minute when it comes to signing up for official races. By the time I was set for Philly, registration had closed. I immediately started looking for what was next.

Then I came across the NYRR 60K (37.2 miles)…an ultra-marathon (i.e. any distance greater than 26.2 miles). All year I was ready for a marathon, but this would most definitely be a challenge. After hitting that 26.2 mile mark, I knew that my mind and body would be pushed. I signed up on the spur of the moment and started to prepare myself for what would be new ground for me.

I didn’t do much research because I’ve been running for 5+ years, have a great connection with my body, and really wanted to have my own experience of my first ultra-marathon. The night before, I attended a bikram yoga class with music, ate a seafood pasta, and hydrated until I left in the morning with a ton of rest.

Photo Courtesy of Javie Gomez

Photo Courtesy of Javie Gomez

The day of the race my method was simple...I’m a social person, and easily connect with others. The first couple of laps I started asking people what pace they were running, and clung to those running a 9-9:30 min/mile pace. When in conversation the miles go by without you even noticing. It wasn’t before long that I hit mile 29 and the cramping hit me. What was reminiscent of my first marathon back in 2010 when I cramped up the last 6 miles happened to me again on my first ultra. I sweat a lot and wasn’t replenishing the sodium I was losing from sweating so much.

Photo Courtesy of Javie Gomez

Photo Courtesy of Javie Gomez

The last 8.2 miles were TOUGH! It was great, however, to have a few of my fellow runners: Maurice (“Mo”), Javie, and Pedro, who were able to run some laps with me. I am grateful for Mattias (Spring Moves) as well, for biking a lap with me and providing some great tunes to keep my cadence consistent.

My first ultra was such an emotional roller coaster. From smiling and laughing, to crying and whining, and even anger with a bit of rage. I really enjoyed the long distance. The course may not have been the greatest--it was nine loops of Central Park excluding the upper loop with Harlem Hill--but I really enjoyed the 60K.

A few tips I would give to those contemplating running their first ultra-marathon:

  • Be sure to pay attention to the weather forecast. I was so cold afterwards, mainly because I didn’t bring more layers to put on me after the race. I was so focused on running that I didn’t even think about afterwards.

  • I also wouldn’t advise running in sneakers that are thinner than others. You want to have more support, so that you are accumulating multiple blisters on your feet.

  • Cheer squad is a must. I was so happy Alison was volunteering, which was a familiar face that I would see nine times. Along with Alison came more people to form the Harlem Run Cheering Station (Kayla, Raydime, Matt, Courtney, Mo, Javie, Pedro, and Mattias). Every time I saw them I stopped for hugs and snacks. It wouldn’t have been the same without them.

  • Lastly, there was a great set-up for food (protein bars, gu, bananas, pretzels, soup, etc) and beverages (water, gatorade, and diet coke). Be sure to always bring some salt packets. Javie gave me some good insight in that you should take some salt before you start, around mile 13, mile 21 and then as frequent as you feel is necessary. If I would’ve done that from the start I wouldn’t have cramped at all. You live and you learn.

There will definitely be more ultra-marathons in my horizon, but until then it’s back to training with Harlem Run. Monday night runs and Thursday speed work. Like the old adage goes, “iron sharpens iron.”

Amir FigueroaComment