I am now officially a special kind of idiot

9 Apr

Ten years ago, I took up marathoning as a physical challenge. This year, as I celebrated my 50th birthday, I wanted to take that challenge to another level. And thus was born the idiotic idea of running a 50-mile race in my 50th year.

Buckle and QuoteActually, everyone around me thought it was idiotic. I thought it was pretty cool. I liked the symmetry of the thing. And since, at heart, I’m a stubborn guy, I stuck with my idea.

That stubbornness paid off when, after 15 1/2 hours on the trails on Saturday, I completed the Potawatomi Trail Run 50 in Pekin, Ill. (The race features 100- and 150-mile runs, too, but I’m not that crazy.) The race takes place in McNaughton Park, a large forest preserve on the edge of town, and features a 10-mile loop that I would have to complete 5 times.

It was an amazing experience — definitely one of the most memorable events I’ve participated in. It started before the sun came up, and for me, it didn’t end until 2 hours after sunset.

Barb and I pose before taking off on another lap. I've completed 30 miles at this point, and Barb is getting ready to pace me for her first lap.

Barb and I pose before taking off on another lap. I’ve completed 30 miles at this point, and Barb is getting ready to pace me for her first lap.

Along the way, I met a lot of neat people, runners and volunteers alike. And the support I received from friends and family made the difference in my completing the event. I got texts and messages from all kinds of people before, during and after the run. Knowing I had so many people pulling for me made it that much easier to finish the race.

But I couldn’t have finished the race without the love and support of my wife, Barb. She planned on doing one lap with me — probably starting with mile 30. But she ended up doing two loops, and in the dark of night, her gentle encouragement and first-hand support was invaluable.

I am admittedly a neophyte at ultras, so take the following lessons with a grain of salt, but here are a few lessons I learned at my first ultra:

  • Traditional road marathons and ultramarathons are so different that it’s hard to even compare the two. I’m sure some trail runs don’t have as many hills as this one, but I think many do. And the extreme ups and downs on the trails first strain your hamstrings and then shred your quads. And I’ve never stepped around roots, balance-beamed over a log or arrested my descent on a nearby tree during a road race.
  • There are standouts in every sport. When I first took up marathoning, I was awed by the runners who could pound out 4:45 miles over and over again. I still am. At this weekend’s race, I watched another breed of outstanding athlete. I saw runners churn out 150 miles over the span of 48 hours, pausing for little more than one brief cat nap. (Mad props to Spencer Swearingen of Morton, Ill., the son of my colleague in Carthage, Joy Swearingen.) And I watched some young studs finish the 50-miler in just over 8 hours, 17 minutes.

See this post for pre-race insights on the park and the trail.

  • There’s a different vibe to the participants, the spectators and the organizers. I get the feeling that trail ultras attract the outdoorsy crowd. The parking lot was filled with Subarus and the finish chute was lined by tents — by necessity. Admittedly, this was a relatively small race, but most everyone seemed extremely friendly; slower runners would concede the trail to faster runners, and I never failed to hear a “Good job” from any of them. It just had a very collegial feel — except for the one bitchy runner who wanted everyone off “her” balance-beam log NOW. Oh, well, there’s one in every crowd.
  • Blisters truly are the enemy. In the couple of dozen road races I’ve done, I’ve never had a serious problem with blisters. I battled a half dozen on Saturday. From my research, I knew blisters could/would be a problem. I taped my heels beforehand because I had gotten some blisters on training runs, and my heels stayed good the entire run. But I developed blisters on the ends of several toes and one on the ball of my right foot.
  • A headlight that’s fine for the roads may not be up to snuff on the trails. I do many of my training runs in the dark, and I’ve got a couple of headlights I use for those. But it’s twice as dark in the forest after the sun goes down, and it only gets worse when it starts raining. (Yes, we endured a few sprinkles, a 10-minute downpour and a whole lot of lightning.)
  • Chicken soup is not only good for the soul; it’s good for the ultrarunner. Although the race featured a smorgasbord of foods – boiled potatoes, potato chips, GORP, licorice, Gummi worms, bacon, PB&J sandwiches, energy gels, oranges and on and on – nothing sounded very good after 30 miles. But a slightly warm Campbell’s chicken noodle soup hit the spot, and I ate a couple cups of that at the aid stations every 5 miles or so. The sodium and the broth proved to be a perfect elixir. I’m trying to figure out how I can adapt this to my road races.
  • You can’t be held to any promises made on the trail. Barb did two laps with me, and somewhere in the middle of those she extracted a promise that I would never again do another race this long or this crazy. And I kind of agreed. But I was thinking today, if I had just done a little bit more hill training…

Click on any photo below to launch the photo gallery.

25 Responses to “I am now officially a special kind of idiot”

  1. PDX Running Chick April 9, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    Super duper congratulations!!! I thought running a 50k was crazy until I signed up for one! Just as I thought running a 50 miler was crazy. . . until I signed up for one! I’ll be running my first 50 miler in October, also a trail, and I’m incredibly excited to give it a try! While I’m running one, possibly two marathons before the ultra, I cannot imagine being able to pull out 50 miles, but I have every intention of doing just that! I loved your post and look forward to reading about your next ultra! Get to that hill training! 😉


    • msmidt April 9, 2013 at 4:32 pm #

      Good luck on your 50-miler! Between the hills and the extra distance, I just had to readjust my usual goals for races. There’s another ultra in the area in October, but I’m not sure I’m up for that distance again so soon.


  2. blueollie April 9, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

    I enjoyed your post and concur with your observations. I’ve done a few ultras but was only 49 years old when I did my last long trail ultra (the early start 100 on this course). Congratulations on 50 and 50; that isn’t easy to do!


    • msmidt April 9, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

      Thanks, BlueOllie. I’m not fast but I’m persistent. 🙂


  3. janeyand2bigwhitedogs April 9, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

    Awesome job! Last year I did 50 when I was 50 also and this year i am registered for a 100. Next year do 100 too! (Just don’t tell Barb quite yet.).


    • msmidt April 9, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

      Thanks, Janey. That’s funny. When Barb was wanting me to swear off ultras, I told her that the only one that now would make sense would be a 100 at 100. But I don’t know … 🙂


  4. Jim Brennan April 9, 2013 at 6:26 pm #

    I love reading about young guys competing in endurance events. Great job!


    • msmidt April 9, 2013 at 6:37 pm #

      I’m just treading water for another 30 years until my race times will qualify me for Boston. 🙂


      • Jim Brennan April 14, 2013 at 7:53 pm #

        Ha, ha. That’s funny. I tell people the same thing, wait it out.


  5. Allison April 9, 2013 at 6:51 pm #

    I love reading about your exploits!! You know what Steve says about idiots & Iowans!! My question to you is how did you feel on Sunday? Any lingering ailments?


    • msmidt April 9, 2013 at 6:55 pm #

      You tell Steve: Anyone who enjoys playing golf is the crazy person.

      I was sore as heck on Sunday, and pretty sore Monday. Today, just a little sore, and the blister on the ball of my foot is still tender. But I think I’ll probably run this weekend. 🙂


  6. Anna Westermeyer April 9, 2013 at 7:26 pm #

    You should read Dean Karnazes’ books… they sound like something you’d enjoy if you haven’t read them already! (PS – I found this through Megan Spees’ Facebook page, so you can blame her for this random comment. :))


    • msmidt April 9, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

      Thanks, Anna. I’ve listened to Dean in a lot of different places but I never have read any of his books. I think I’ll have to. And I love random comments.


  7. spottedimages April 10, 2013 at 6:25 am #

    I am so excited for you!!! The pictures are fantastic and your race recap makes me want to run RIGHT NOW!

    Did you find anything that worked once you got the blisters to protect them or did you just say screw it and left them alone?


    • msmidt April 10, 2013 at 7:53 am #

      Thanks, Heather. Achieving a new, bigger goal certainly brought back a new level of excitement for me, too.

      I definitely had to mitigate the blisters in order to keep up any sort of pace. After the first lap, I had a blister between the toes on my right foot. I taped these and it helped. After the next lap, it was the toes on the left foot. The biggest problem with taking care of these was making sure the taping didn’t worsen the toe next to the bad one. The tape made the toes stick to each other, and this was bad. I had to keep working on these throughout.

      After the third lap, it was a blister on the sole of my right foot. I had to walk practically all of the fourth lap because every step caused shearing forces on that blister. After taping that one and switching to my Hokas, I was able to run again on the fifth lap.

      I have an earlier post on blisters and it lists some references for taping. That certainly helped, but I think it’s just something you have to learn.

      I have used Injinji socks in the past, and I think I’ll give them a try again. They may have helped avoid the blisters between the toes.

      Best of luck on the trails!


      • spottedimages April 10, 2013 at 11:48 am #

        Did you use any particular tape? I need to pick up something for my marathon and 50K.

        I am running only in injinjis now and LOVE THEM!!!!


      • msmidt April 10, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

        In most cases, I applied moleskin, surrounded that with benzoin tincture (which super-sticks the next layer down) and then finished off with Leukotape P.

        Bandages or tape have a habit of coming off very easy when you are running, but the benzoin tincture will make sure the tape sticks. But if you don’t cover it all up or remove any excess, it will also cause your toes to stick together, which is really bad, too.

        I did the above to the bottom of my big toes, and I ended up putting toe sleeves on my second toes. This made sure they didn’t stick to the big toes.

        For the heels and the sole, it was moleskin/benzoin/Leukotape. And I didn’t have any problems with them after the first application of bandages.

        In the post below, I give the link to the good directions on taping from fellrnr, and I give the link to where I bought my supplies, which was Zombie Runner.


        I had never had to tape my toes before, so it was a learning curve for me.


  8. gallivance.net April 10, 2013 at 8:23 am #

    Incredibly impressive Mark, and huge congrats on the ultra! I’m 59, and have been a runner for over 30 years. Not in your league for sure, but a plodder that can appreciate the type of effort and determination that this event took. I did a 1300-mile solo bike tour and camped all the way, so I have a bit of an idea about long-term effort. I’m sure that you’re proud and you should be. Great photos as well. Well done!! ~James


    • msmidt April 10, 2013 at 8:40 am #

      Oh, I am definitely a plodder, James. I can just plod for a long time. 🙂

      I’m amazed by long-distance bicyclists. I did two days of RAGBRAI, and that was enough for me. If you like biking and don’t know about RAGBRAI, look it up. Definitely a national draw, and it ends this year in one of my towns. Maybe you and Terri should check it out.
      — Mark


  9. Dan April 11, 2013 at 10:31 am #

    Love the title — drew me immediately to your post. Congratulations on finishing an insane distance to contemplate. I’m doing my first 50 in August and I still haven’t quite processed the idea of running or at least being on my feet for 11-12 hours straight. What’s wrong with us?

    I liked your lessons learned. This is exactly the kind of post that I will need to read several times going into the summer as I prepare for the monster distance. Thanks for the inspiration!


    • msmidt April 11, 2013 at 11:15 am #

      Thanks, Dan. I’m a newspaperman, so I know a bit about headlines and stories. I love Alan Cabelly’s quote about ultramarathoners being special idiots.

      Best of luck to you this fall. For me, I had prepared for a lot of eventualities before the race, so during the race it was a matter of not going out too fast and then just moving forward. And a great pacer/crew is invaluable, too.


  10. runnerstrailspin April 14, 2013 at 8:56 pm #




  1. Daily News, Wed, Apr 10 - April 10, 2013

    […] Race report from a first time ultra idiot. […]


  2. When is an ultra run like a prize fight? | in the deed - October 13, 2013

    […] And if you haven’t read my post about the 50-miler I did earlier this year in nearby Pekin, Ill., here’s a link to that article. […]


  3. Finally, Bighorn ultramarathon is within sight | in the deed - May 9, 2014

    […] completed my first ultramarathon last year when I ran the nearby  Potawatomi Trail Run 50. So while I was sitting around this winter, it seemed like a good idea to tackle another 50-miler, […]


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