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It was Friday night, the night before my 50K (plus bonus miles) Winter Ultra marathon on the Watchung reservation in North/ Central New Jersey.    I could not sleep at all because I was so concerned about the bitter cold temperatures.  (I have issues with my circulation where my fingers turn white and numb when I get cold!) The usual remedy is running my fingers under HOT water!

I am training for my first 100 mile ultra (Umstead) in North Carolina in March so I signed up for this WINTER race to get the distance training in, as I only have about 7 weeks left of training.

A Cold and Blistery Day

On Saturday Morning, sure enough as predicted from the forecast, the temperature was 22 degrees; but, it felt like in the teens with the wind factor.   Though I was dreading facing the bitter cold temperature, I was excited about doing this race especially with a whole group of other crazy runners, including a bunch of my friends from the Jersey Shore!  It beats running 6 hours alone!

So the plan was to dress warmly and stay hydrated.   I packed extra warm clothes in case I need to change into dry clothes in between the loops.

The 50k (32 miles) consisted of 3 loops of 10.7 miles.  It was on the Watchung reservation in North-Central NJ.    There were about 100 + runners, about 1/3 did the full 32 miles and others did either 1 or 2 loops.

As I was registering, adding warm layers, and pouring water, and  packing my  Gu gel, I was mentally preparing myself to brave the cold, not even thinking  that I was about to run 35 miles (I ended up running  3+ “bonus” miles- more about that later)!

Ready Go… First loop (10.7 miles)

Finally at about 8:06, the race started and my journey through the trails began.    The first mile of the course was layered with a sheet of ice; it was treacherous.  I ended up wiping out on my hand (that I broke 6 months ago from a biking accident)!  I ran this section cautiously.

The rest of the course was hilly and rocky at certain sections along the lake, though not too technical.  During this rocky stretch, I really had to concentrate and pay close attention to my footing so I wouldn’t trip over the rocks.    The last part of the loop was covered with snow and was mostly a steady uphill.  This was my favorite part of the course because it was easy to get onto a nice rhythm.

Midway through the course, I met another runner, Frank, who I learned was also doing Umstead (the 100 mile run in March).   He has done a bunch of ultra’s including Vermont which is also a 100 mile Ultra run.   It was great having his company and made the run much more fun!

Second Loop (Miles 10.7- 20+)

After the first loop, I stopped at the well supported aid station and had Gatorade and refilled my bottle with water.   I was near my car and pondered for a second whether to change into dry clothes.  Surprisingly, I skipped the car and kept running, mainly because I felt great and I had a nice pace going (did the first loop at about 1:45) and did not want slow down my overall time.

I felt strong on my second loop as well.   I ended up meeting Frank again so we continued to run together.  We also met another runner, Joe Patanella, who was also a great guy to run with.  I learned that like me, he does triathlons and is the race director of Greenbrook racing.     I plan to race in a couple of his local events this spring/ summer.

Towards the end of the loop, there was a GIGANTIC water Tower, a landmark that represented were at the home stretch with just a couple more to go per loop.  Interestingly, I learned from Joe who lives locally (to the Watchung trails) that the Tower is called the suicide tower because people would climb the stairs only to jump off the tower … the town has since removed the stairs.

After finishing the second loop, I fueled up with a gel and water and decided to make a quick stop at my car.  My face was so cold and wind burned.  Fortunately, I packed olive oil face balm which was the cure to protect my face for the third and final loop!

Final loop (Miles 22-35)

So on to the final loop.  By this time, I was definitely feeling very cold from my wet clothes.  But I kept reminding myself, this will all be over less than 2 hours and envisioned the awesome feeling of finishing!  I continued on, though a little more tired.   One more time, I ran through the Icy stretch, the rocks, and the hills.

It must have been at around mile 25 when I ran into Frank again!  He was losing some stream by this time, but we kept moving forward.   At one point we came across the marker that divides the course into to marathon distance or the 50K.   For a split second, I thought Frank was heading towards the Marathon route.   Though it didn’t take much convincing, I encouraged him to finish the 50K…so on we continued.

We were closing in on the finish with about 5 more miles to go.  We stopped at the aid station and refilled our bottles and ate some frozen gummy bears.    I had a resurgence of energy just thinking about the imminent finish.   Frank and I kept are eye out on the water tower, a sure sign we were almost done!    We kept running and I was disappointed that I didn’t see the Tower yet.   We were running a solid pace and on track for a 6 hour finish time.

Just When I Thought I Was Almost Finished!

As we were running, we kept seeing other runners running in the opposite direction (that should have been the first clue).   I just chalked it off they were just running the course backwards!  But, when we somehow made our way back the aid station that we left 15 minutes ago, I was in total shock!–   I could not believe it!   We had gone off course and adding at least 3 + extra miles…   To think that I had an estimated 1-2 miles to go, then to realize it was now about 5 more mile to the finish– I was so crushed to say the least!

These things happen and you just move on.  Frank was encouraging and said to just stay “focused” and that is what I did.     I picked up the pace and ran to the finish in 6:30.    Even with the bonus miles, crazy cold temperatures, frozen fingers, ears and face, I had a great time!  The support and camaraderie along the way made a huge difference.


Why I’m Glad I Didn’t let the Conditions Stop Me

Going into this race, I was apprehensive and uncertain about running in the frigid temperature.  I considered running 1 or 2 loops and not the entire distance.  I could have easily made the excuse and blamed the bitter temperature (though it really is a reasonable excuse!).

If I did that I would never have felt the exhilaration and accomplishment of completing a tough 35 mile run.   My point is that in many things we do, we face levels uncertainty that may dissuade us from moving forward.    But we will never know our potential unless we face uncertainty head on.

I would really appreciate it if you could comment below and share with the community your personal experience where you “pushed” through sub- optimal conditions… and you were glad you did it!

Laura DeMeo

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