The main take-away from running my first ultra is this: PERSPECTIVE - the application of which is spread across racing, training, effort, mental toughness, injury and life in general.
First for racing - it is just an excuse for me to get out and run trails with a like minded group of people. I am by no means fast. When speaking with people about trail running and racing they like to think in terms of times, places, or records. For me it is about the experience, so the act of racing is to get out there and do it, not compete. I have no illusions of reaching the podium or capturing age group titles, however I do sometimes judge my effort by comparing my times to the oldest person(s) faster than me. Running almost 50 miles gives me an appreciation for the preparation of those who do compete at ultra distances.
Training - because of the previous discussed concept of racing, the role of training for me has been redefined. I will train because I want to enjoy the experience more. In the case of this race, it was only my 10th time running for the year. The fact that I was able to run for 11 hours and complete 42 miles is amazing to me. The fact that I didn't finish though has convinced me that training has it's place. I can race without it, but is the experience more complete when it is a capstone to dedicated preparation. My body is capable of extreme efforts of endurance, and training may prepare me for the journey.
Effort - it is difficult to run long and far, no way around it. Both physically and mentally.
Mental toughness - running an ultra distance is more an exercise of the mind than the physical. One may be the most well conditioned athlete, but without mental toughness, they cannot endure. The physical will only take someone so far. Maybe it's the farthest previous distance ran, maybe it's a perception of what one's body can do or is capable of. Mental toughness is what keeps you going after everything else fails. Going into this race I knew that I was not physically prepared, not even close. So I set my mind to be ready for the most difficult endeavor I've ever experienced. I even joked with those I spoke to before the race that I was excited to enter the "pain cave" and see what I found there. From reading numerous race reports elite runners, I knew this was going to suck, and I was ready...actually looking forward to it - the pain, hallucinations, fatigue - all of it. The race definitely didn't disappoint. It was interesting to be prepared mentally because when the emotions, hallucinations, and dispair were experienced I was able to see it from a third person perspective. I could reason that the emotions, etc. were irrational, but couldn't help from having them. It was like I was watching it happen and experiencing it at the same time. Definitely cool.
Injury - nothing serious happened other than the feeling that my entire left foot had fused into one giant toe, and that giant to hurt like hell. Only after stopping did I pull off my shoes and socks and discover that I would lose all the toenails on that foot, with the second and fifth toes actually losing the entire nail bed as well. I would also lose my right big toenail. Other than this superficial toe pain, I experienced no other lasting ailments. I cycled through hip pain (IT band) and intermittent ankle discomfort but nothing afterwards. In fact, my recovery was pretty breif - some latent soreness in the quads, right ankle pain and knee stiffness, and overall hunger and lethargy - but I ran an easy 2 miles three days later. I feel that with my lack of training it should have hurt much worse. Chalk it up to the wonder of the human body God gave us.
Life - Nothing I have done in my life has been this physically or mentally difficult...well, raising a 4 year old boy is mentally challenging but on an entirely different level. I dropped at 42 miles, however I am still unsure whether this was a mental or physical decision. I like to think that mentally I was ready to continue up the last 4 mile hill and back down to the finish, but that my body was feeling too crappy, especially my foot. More likely though this physical component paired with the thought of running for 2 more hours was too much to bear. The perspective gained has enabled me to see what I'm capable of, and what I can endure when I level mental preparation towards a task; it shows that I can run ultras with minimal preparation, but that I'll have more fun if I train; and injuries can be overcome, even nagging ones that need surgery.
Ok everyone, happy ultra running. I know you can do it.
I'm the surly looking one on the right. This is on the 12 mile road section after 38 miles on trail.