30 miles. 30th birthday. January 30. The perfect set up for reaching a new decade and attempting a first ultra marathon. Four months of minimalist-inspired training and after quick hugs from Cristina (mega-talented sister), Rachel (a close friend since college), Jackie whom I know through Rachel, and Jen (wife extraordinaire), off I ran from Franklin Steele Park in Minneapolis. Although the sidewalks were slick on the walk to the park, I managed to stay upright as I propelled forward, careful not to push the pace so early in the day. Fortunately the warmth, a lovely 35 degrees day in January, quickly turned any icy spots to slush and water.
My first running buddy of the day, Danika (a friend of my wife’s since birth), found me via bike and sped ahead to lock it up to run with me for a mile or so down the Greenway. The first example of Garmin live tracking working like a charm and how motivating running buddies were going to be on this very long run. Jen biked up next to us and the three of chatted while I felt a huge smile on my face, appreciating the great company so early in this unofficial ultra.
I turned off the Greenway at the lakes, headed around half of Lake Calhoun, and made my way to Lake Harriet. The first five miles were a breeze. I tried to focus on that–small segments of the run and not the full 30 miles. Another mile or so in, I heard MASSIVE amounts of honking…my mom of course! My dad and sister were down on the bike path and I stopped to give ’em each a hug. I waved to my mom and continued on.
Lake One and Feeling Fine
The three laps around Harriet were the perfect start… spotted my parents a couple more times on park benches and in the car waving frantically, my friend Sarah–decked out in doughnut-printed spandex–ran a lap with me, Kyle (a good friend and our wedding officiant) and her sister threw bread at me (the most delicious slightly cheesy, little French biscuits), snapped a photo with Hannah (we ran her first half marathon ever together) and Erin (one of my first ever friends in the Cities), and ran into a Fleet Feet Marathon Sports co-worker who wished me well. Around mile 10 I reminded myself that at some point during this run, it was going to hurt (it did), and that was okay.
Lake Two and Fancy Hats
Onward to Lake Calhoun for 2.5 laps, clockwise. Rachel and Jackie drove past and honked (this was one day where I was delighted to have cars honking at me… because I knew the drivers and passengers). A fellow Winged Foot run club member turned as he passed me asking “What are you training for?”
“Today! I’m running 30 miles for my 30th birthday.”
He wished me well and took off at a much faster pace than my cautious 10:30 per mile pace. At that moment Rachel and Jackie slowly drove past and yelled “You’re half way done!” I glanced at my watch and was pleased to see 15 miles on the face.
It was a nice day for a late January morning in Minnesota, so there were plenty of walkers, runners, and a few bicyclists trekking around the lake. I could tell fairly easily when Jen rode up behind me, the single studded tire giving away the ‘surprise.’ That, and her announcing her presence with a sweet word or several of encouragement. Mile 18 was my only significant stop, just a couple minutes, where I was immensely grateful for a clean portapotty. Sarah, a professional dog walker, joined me again for my final lap around Calhoun. She provided entertainment by commenting on every dog we passed (I suppose I have a tendency to comment on stranger’s running shoes…) Midway through the final lap, Jen biking as slowly as she could behind us, we saw a young woman ahead with a fancy hat and waving excitedly in our direction. Turned out to be our friend Leah, decked out in the fancy hat, jeans, and a cool pair of Pumas as took off running next to me. If you’re ever in need of an ego boost, this is the woman you need in your cheering section. Later on, Jen informed me that she and Sarah started in on the Forrest Gump references as I ran in front of them. Leah departed the bike path, and I continued the final lap around Calhoun with Sarah.
Lake Three… “This is it!”
I trudged into mile 22, under the bridge that connects Lake Calhoun to Lake of the Isles. My trail shoes took no issue with the only section of this run covered in packed down snow. At this point, I was three miles past my longest training run and eight long miles from fulfilling my goal. Thankfully, Kyle (wedding officiant/bread thrower) was just up ahead waiting for me in her running gear. One of so many special moments encountered on this run was not much further away, as we heard our friends hooting and hollering from across the lake as they spotted us making our way around. As we moved closer toward the group, a few strangers walked past and yelled “Happy birthday!” (Thanks to my friends for announcing to any passerby that’d listen I was in the midst of running 30 miles for my 30th birthday). We reached the group, Matt (husband to my first friend ever in Minneapolis) taking photos, Sarah (donut spandex), Cady (a Pilates instructor that showed me how to work muscles I didn’t know existed), my parents cheering, plus my new running crew including Natalie (very first friend in Minneapolis), Hannah, Erin, and Cristina ready to run another lap around Isles.
I was exhausted. All I wanted was an ice cold glass of tart lemonade and thoughts of simply stopping raced through my mind, fleeting and of course not a real possibility. However, we (amazing friends and family) were in this together and at mile 26.2 I proclaimed “We’ve just run a marathon!” A couple friends dropped off for the final lap, and Cory (a friend Jen and I met through rock climbing) joined Kyle, Hannah, and we made the FINAL loop around the FINAL lake.
Disaster struck. Okay, not really a disaster but Kyle suddenly got a bloody nose and although I won’t go into details, something very odd (and painful) happened to my toe a mere mile and a half from the finish. We kept going.
And then, finally! I could see the finish! Sooner than I had originally mapped; marked with a friend on either side of birthday balloons, the ribbon stretching across the bike path. I motioned for my friends to run forward a little more to be sure my mom (she had to wait in the car due to the slightly illegal parking spot after only a quarter mile’s notice that’d I’d be finishing in a different location down the street from the originally planned spot) could see me triumphantly crossing the made up, and most rewarding, finish line.
Five hours and 19 minutes after I started I WAS DONE. Wow, was I happy to be done running. I caught my breath–I hadn’t been moving fast but a few hours of physical activity will likely leave you winded–before thanking these wonderful friends and family members for not just cheering me on, or running with me, but for making Ultra Birthday a success. I probably could have done that unofficial ultra completely on my own, but at best it would’ve been excruciatingly boring looping around the lakes 9x and at worst, I would’ve called it a day early on or just walked.
So how was Ultra Birthday? The BEST birthday, EVER.
I’ll share more specifics about my first ultra, e.g. nutrition, training, and gear details in a near future post. Until then, check out this awesome video my sister shot on the run!