The Algonquin 50K: My longest run ever!

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Here I am checking out my newly-earned mug after finishing the my first ultramarathon, the Algonquin 50K, on Feb. 11. Race “dictator” Trent Swanson is at right. (Sam Gibson photo)

After seven hours and 48 minutes of running and walking, I crossed the finish line and happily accepted my finisher mug at the Algonquin 50K.

I hadn’t expected to get so close to the eight-hour time cutoff at the race, but I made it. Any participant on social media had probably heard that the runners’ mugs were going to be smashed if they didn’t come in within eight hours, and I certainly didn’t want that to happen.

Here I am about to finish the Algonquin 50K! (Jill Fears photo)

I crossed the finish line in 7:48:46.

The first Algonquin 50K, held not too far from my home in Salisbury at the Pocomoke River State Park, marked the longest distance I’ve ever run at once — more than 31 miles. This included a decent amount of walking. The course, in the Pocomoke City-Snow Hill area, includes the Algonquin Cross-County Trail.

I had run marathons before, but my main motivation for signing up for this 50K back in August was because it seemed like so many of my friends were running it. The race was organized by friends including Trent Swanson, the aforementioned “race dictator.”

After running The Louisiana Marathon in January, I wasn’t so pumped about running another long distance race a little less than a month later, but of course, I was still going to do it. It almost didn’t seem real until I was on my way to the race with Sam, who would also be running the race, and Lisa, who would be volunteering.

I’d picked up my packet at 1400 South in Salisbury the evening before. The awesome swag included a long-sleeve tech shirt, trucker hat, water bottle, calendar and information about upcoming races (along with an Eastern Shore Running Club membership form I’d printed out). As secretary of the Eastern Shore Running Club, it was awesome to see our logo on the back of the shirt as a sponsor. The Eastern Shore Running Club was one of the groups that had an aid station on the course (runners hit this aid station at approximately miles 4 and 28).

Here are my Algonquin 50K trucker hat and bib on top of the race map I got at the packet pickup (Vanessa Junkin photo)

The weather for the Feb. 11 race was unseasonably nice for February — much to Trent’s dismay — but I was happy that the weather was expected to be in the 50s during the run. I wore my short-sleeved Eastern Shore Running Club shirt along with arm sleeves that I could tuck into my Camden Gear hydration pack once I warmed up. In addition to carrying water with Nuun in it for the race, I also packed some Clif Shot Bloks (which I purchased the night before the race at DICK’s Sporting Goods after realizing I only had one pack left) tucked in an extra pair of socks and some Body Glide, after suffering through chafing at the Louisiana Marathon.

I was a little intimidated about running for such a long time — and I wasn’t listening to music (I don’t think I’ve ever listened to music during a race, although I have on runs). Surprisingly, the time seemed to go by quickly, at least at the beginning, and I was able to enjoy the run and the scenery. I tried to give myself as large of a cushion as possible to meet the eight-hour time limit. Although I didn’t expect to get as close as I did, I didn’t want to get anywhere near eight hours. We started at 7 a.m. and had until 3 p.m. to finish.

Here’s the 7 a.m. start of the Algonquin 50K. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

I had a warm welcome at the first aid station, four miles in, which was being run by the Eastern Shore Running Club. People greeted me excitedly by name and I got some water and a little bit of trail mix. My boyfriend Mike, the ESRC president,was at this aid station the whole time. I also used the portable toilet, which was the only bathroom stop I would have to make.

I probably spent a little bit too long at this aid station, because I remembered when my boyfriend Mike and I did the Phunt Run back in 2011, we had spent a decent amount of time at each aid station. At that race, I had planned to do the 20K but we had gotten lost, so I stuck with him and our friend Lucia, and I ended up doing something like a marathon distance — I am really not sure because I wasn’t wearing a watch and we’d gotten lost.

There were signs every 5K on the course, along with one to let runners know when they’d completed a marathon. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

Having not fully studied but having looked at the map, I looked forward to the next aid station as the time went on. The next one would be the Athletes Serving Athletes aid station, and after that came the Pemberton Running Club and the Midshore Multisport stations, before reaching the ESRC aid station again. It was fun to see people I knew at the aid stations, and everyone was upbeat and motivating. People referred to me by name, which is always nice during a race.

Here’s a photo taken somewhat early on in the race. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

When I was around Mile 13 or so, I started seeing runners who had already completed the two turnarounds heading the opposite direction as me. Since I had a good amount of friends running the race, it was fun to see a bunch of people on their way back. Everyone I saw was so friendly and encouraging, saying things such as “Good job!,” which I would say to them as well. I also met a couple runners along the way who were near me.

My watch died around Mile 23, but I saw that I had reached the halfway point in approximately 3 hours and 33 minutes. (I think this was about 16 miles in since I expected the course to be a little long.) That gave me longer to complete the second half than the first — and I would need that time.

A 50K is about 31.07 miles, but from the races I have seen people post about, it seems like the courses are rarely (if ever) exact. The general consensus seemed to be that this race was 32 miles or more. For a 50K, my final pace was just more than a 15-minute mile; for 32 miles, it would have been a little under that, according to an online pace calculator.

Here’s another view from the Algonquin 50K. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

At the suggestion of my friend Mark, I started walking a little bit not long after that first water stop. I had certainly planned to walk some during the race, but not quite this early. I ran a little more after the ESRC aid station because I spent a little while at the stop, but around Mile 6 or so, I started walking when I reached each mile. My walks each mile also gave me something to look forward to.

Here I am posing for a photo around Mile 19. I think I was happy to be still for a second! (Jill Fears photo)

There were not too many people behind me in this race, but I could hear an enthusiastic group of runners, who I either knew or at least knew from social media, during different parts of the race. Around Mile 20, they were very close to me, and I decided I could really use the group support and that it would make the rest of the race a lot easier. I asked if I could join them, and the group of Athletes Serving Athletes wingmen — Tori, Kerri, Diana and Colette — welcomed me into their group. I stuck with the group for the rest of the run. For several miles it was four of us, but all five of us finished within a minute of each other.

At first, we were doing a walk-for-a-tenth and run-for-nine-tenths, which was similar to what I had been doing before, except I was walking a little more than a tenth at each mile. As we got further into the race, the run-walk intervals changed and included more walking. I was happy to do whatever intervals the group was doing, and the group was so encouraging and motivating. It was so helpful to have someone else telling me when to run so that I didn’t walk too much, and to feel like we were all in it together.

Here I am, in back, with the group I am thankful to have joined for the last third of the race. From front are Tori, Diana and Kerri. (Jill Fears photo)

By the time we got to the ESRC aid station at Mile 28, we had about an hour and 10 minutes to run about four miles to the finish. Normally, this would not be a problem, but this was not a normal situation. I had already run further than I ever had at once, and I was sore. I was also having breathing issues, which had started many miles before, probably at least by the halfway point. I have had breathing issues in long-distance races before, but the breathing issues didn’t come up at all during The Louisiana Marathon.

I was still worried about the time limit, but having an hour and 10 minutes to run four miles definitely sounded doable. Even despite a good amount of walking (fast walking!) in those last miles, our group all finished the race. I had at one point thought about and briefly mentioned seeing how fast I could do the last mile (partly to ensure I hit the eight-hour limit), but I ended up being the last of the group to actually cross the finish line by a couple seconds.

This is a photo I took soon after the second turnaround point, which was around Mile 16-something. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

The pain during this race was completely different than in the marathon that I ran less than a month ago. During that race, I had horrible quad pain starting around Mile 19. In this race, my butt and the back of my legs hurt, and I ended up with plenty of blisters on my feet. I also had a runny nose, but that was the least of my problems.

There was some water on the course. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

This terrain was tough for me — someone who did hardly any trail running ahead of this race. There was lots of mud, and some areas that were covered in water (I tried to go around these, but sometimes it was impossible to avoid the mud/water). There were dirt trails, some of which had what looked like pine needles on them. There were areas of sand. There were rocks. There was a small portion of road, and there was a longer portion of a dirt-like road. There was grass. I ended up tripping and falling two times in the first half, although thankfully, neither created any problems for me.

Here I am just about to cross the finish line. (Sam Gibson photo)

As many others have said on social media, this race was extremely well organized. The course was well-marked and easy to follow. The volunteers were awesome, helpful and motivating.

I thought it was awesome how many local businesses and organizations were involved in this race. As mentioned earlier, aid stations were manned by local groups: the Eastern Shore Running Club, Athletes Serving Athletes, the Pemberton Running Club and Midshore Multisport (I’m part of ESRC, PRC and Midshore). The finisher mugs were made by Salisbury-based Amused Studios. Bibs and signs were made by DiCarlo Digital Copy Center in Salisbury. The shirts and hats were made by Sportz Tees of Laurel, Delaware. The arch and clock were from TriCycle and Run in St. Michaels, and people who forgot certain running-related items could even have them delivered to the race by TriCycle and Run. There were VP Shoes bags and coupons. The race photographer was also a local, Mike Perry. And there were plenty of other sponsors, too.

Here I am with my mug after finishing the Algonquin 50K. (Michael Piorunski photo)

After finishing the race, I enjoyed two pulled pork sandwiches along with cole slaw and Doritos, a couple cookies, a few carrots, water and beer. I wasn’t fast enough to get to the Smith Island cake. During the race, though, I enjoyed trail mix, M&Ms, a banana (in two halves), and half a doughnut.

I only ran with Nuun one other time, and while it was probably helpful to have the electrolytes, it was flavored, and I found myself craving plain water, which I took advantage of at the aid stations and the end of the race.

I am normally a middle-of-the-pack type of runner who can place in my age group at a smaller race. In this race, I was very close to the end, which was a different feeling. My goal was to finish in the time limit, so this wasn’t a problem — just different. According to the results, I finished 107th of 113 finishers, and two of those came in after the eight-hour mark. (There was no number 105, so maybe I was 106th, but either way, I was pretty close to the end.)

I couldn’t be happier that this was my first ultramarathon, and all the people who were a part of it made it an awesome experience.

Here’s my finisher mug with the race shirt. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

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Updated 2/15: Check out my BibRave review for this race here

This post has been updated because I had said this was the longest time I’d ever run, but I do not know how long I was out there for the aforementioned Phunt Run. My longest time for a marathon, though, was 5:18:04.

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