How To Survive Graduating & Running Your First Ultra: Born To Run Ultra 50K Race Report

By Crista Tappan - May 21, 2013

Because I like doing things differently, this race report and weekend recap will be organized into "steps", similarly to last year's Ten Things I Learned at the Born To Run Ultramarathon. Also, the majority of the later pictures were taken by my dear friend Michelle Evans. ...Thanks Michelle! :)

Step 1: Accept the situation for what it is. Accept your training. Make a realistic game plan,  and think positive.

Two weeks before my first ultra, I was feeling good but still pretty nervous. My training was not where it was suppose to be. I should have been averaging 40+ mile weeks and was topping out around 20 (if that).  When the race finally approached,  I just smiled and accepted where I was at. I had set goals for myself at the beginning of the year, and had no intention of breaking them.

I accepted that I might have to push through pain and discomfort. I imagined myself becoming a zombie, marching across the miles. I expected screaming muscles, possibly tears, wanting to quit and having to push against negative thoughts.

What I didn't prepare myself for, however, was feeling fine the whole time.

In fact, feeling good the whole time. Laughing. Talking. Eating. Drinking. Constantly moving.

No low points, no thoughts of quitting, no tears.

I expected the worst, and I got the best.

I was so surprised, that when I finished, I looked my friend Kevin in the eye and said, "I'm really done now?"

It's no secret that I didn't train enough for this race. How I would hold up across the miles was a mystery to myself as well as my friends. Depending on the person, I would either get: 1) A concered look followed by a lengthy discussion on why I should drop down to a shorter distance. Or 2) I would get a motivational and inspiring speech, followed by detailed instructions on taking salts, hydration, eating, pacing...

I'll let you guess which of the above were ultrarunners.

Sometimes it really takes experiencing something to truly understand it. Actually, I believe that most of the time you do have to run those miles, ask those questions, and dare to explore those curiosities. It's hard to believe someone when they tell you they've ran more than 31 miles, let alone 100+. It seems impossible. Not to mention, seems even more impossible when they turn around and tell you that you could do it, too. At that point, you're pretty much convinced that they are in fact crazy and you should probably run away now. No pun intended.

The allure of ultrarunning is intoxicating. What if I tried that? Could I do it? If they could do it...I could do it. Asking yourself these questions is the beginning of becoming an ultrarunner. It's a snowball effect-- at least it was with me. I was hooked, and before I knew it, I had signed up for my first ultramarathon: Born To Run 50K on May 18th, 2013. The morning after I was set to graduate.

Over the last year I have researched, written, and physically prepared myself for ultrarunning. I took everything I learned, and everything I believed in and just...compiled it. 

And look what happened.

Step 2: Don't "Break A Leg" walking to receive your diploma.


On Friday, May 17th, instead of driving up to Los Olivos to camp out for Born To Run like everyone else, I was in Thousand Oaks, CA, waiting to graduate. Instead of running a beer mile on friday afternoon, I was walking half a mile across a football stadium to get handed a diploma. Which really wasn't a diploma anyway, but a piece of paper tied with a ribbon that said mine would be mailed to me in the summer. 

Before I walked, I hugged my mentor goodbye, and she said, "Break a leg!"



The pun sat oddly in my stomach, considering I'd be running my first ultramarathon the next day.

I was pretty nervous already about graduation, let alone thinking about what I would be doing in less than 24 hours. My cohort would be going to their respective dinners, celebrating with their families their achievements over the last two years. I, on the other hand, would be running my first ultramarathon and camping out for the weekend.

My good friend Amy and I. I'm trying hard not to think about running ;-)

My Grandpa and I! Such a happy moment for us!

My graduation, in hindsight, felt like a split second. The next thing I knew, I was on my way home and frantically packing for the race. I had done a pretty bad job of organizing my things, and my friend Alexis had to help me pull myself together. "I can't believe I'm about to go run a 50K," I told her. I had a moment where I wondered to myself if I was absolutely crazy. I brushed it off, reminding myself to stay positive and not dwell. 

Step 3: Bring your friends. Or your dog. Or your friends AND your dog. Having emotional support is a huge bonus when running your first ultra.

The face Penny made when I told her what time I'd have to get up for my first ultra!

We made our way up to Los Olivos with our car packed full of gear, sleeping bags, and snacks. Meaghan and Nick, took up the back seat, and Penny, my five-month-old dachshund/yorkie mix puppy, slept in my lap. 

Bobby and Michelle left earlier in the day and set up our tents for us (to save us the struggle from trying to in the night). When we arrived, I was shocked by how many people were there. Last year, it was a single row of cars surrounded by a cluster of tents. This year, it was spread out, cars and campers everywhere. I felt a little disoriented, but eventually we found Bobby and Michelle at the edge of the camp site. 

No sooner had I laid my head down on my pillow did I awake to a familiar sound: Shot guns and loud, blaring music. I heard the faint groan of disapproval from my friends in their tents. I turned over in my sleeping bag, desperate for another ten minutes of sleep. I snuggled against Penny, feeling the warmth of her fur against my face. 

But the music was too loud, and the anticipation was already too much for me to handle. I wrapped a blanket around my shoulders, grabbed a flashlight (it was still dark out) and went off to the runners' check in to pick up my race bib. 

By the time six AM rolled around, the sun was partially up. We all made our way to the starting line, and I held onto Penny as I scanned the crowd for my runner friends. I spotted a few, but for the most part, it seemed like a sea of new faces. 

                           Nick, Bobby, Michelle, Myself and Meaghan: Six AM and freezing!

I would be running three loops of ten. The start and the finish sat in the middle of the course, and we would run around the figure-eight course for our respective amount of distances.

Penny was in parrot mode!

Early on in the race, Nick took off running. He is one of those people who can sign up for a race, and do exceedingly well, just on the fly.  He didn't train at all, and I believe he ended up getting 10th place overall in the race. Bobby, Michelle, Meaghan and I ran together for the first few miles. But knowing that Bobby and Michelle were only running the 10-miler, we all agreed that they should pull ahead and give it their all. I needed to conserve my energy. Meaghan hadn't trained too much for the 10-miler, so she hung back with me, taking in the miles and pacing herself.  It would be the furthest distance she had ever ran, and wanted to make sure she could finish strong. We power hiked the hills, ran the downhills, and ran as much of the flats as possible. 


                  April VS May on the Born To Run course. What a difference two months makes!

Meaghan and I chatted about the ultrarunning culture, a festival (Lightening in A Bottle) we have plans to go to this summer, and how the next two loops might go for me. The early morning on the ranch was beautiful, and we were serenaded by the mooing cows eating their morning grass. Before we knew it, the loop was over and Meaghan had finished her very first 10-Mile race.

One of the highlights of Born To Run? The creative aid station themes. This one: Entering Barbie-Land.

Meaghan and I at the end of the first loop.

Step 4: Bring a change of clothes. Have some puppy-time. Take a sip off your friend's beer. Smile.

I even got to cuddle with Penny in between my first and second loop. I was a happy girl!


Michelle snapped a shot of me changing into something lighter.  This always makes me feel fresh and clean!

I was also happy to know that Penny was being well-loved by Michelle :)

I went to my tent to drink a whole blue gatorade (it tasted incredible) and change out of my long-sleeve.  To me, having these breaks in between the loops were a huge part of what made me feel strong enough to finish. I gave myself time to collect myself, pick the thickets out of my socks and talk with my friends. I went off into the second loop feeling good, refreshed, and positive. I felt so good, in fact, that I took a sip out of my friend Kevin's beer before I hit the trails.

                                                                      Mmmm, beer!

                                                              And then I was off again!

                         Ran into my friend Jenn Brown on the course, made me smile like always!

On the way out, my friend Kevin mentioned to me that another one of my friends, Dawn Marie Burke, was only ten minutes ahead. It gave me motivation to push a little and I took off running, hoping to catch up with her.

I was by myself on the trail for a while, so I put on my headphones and enjoyed some David Bowie, Modern Love.  Twenty minutes and four songs later, I found myself in a part of the course that was very different from the rest. The trail led along the back edge of the farm property, and came up to a fork in the trail. Instead of continuing on into a clear trail, it dissipated into a stream of several trails leading in different directions. I stood transfixed, half-staring at the trails like they were Medusa's hair and if looked any longer I'd turn into stone.

And then I got lucky: I spotted another runner in the distance, on one of the many winding trails in the area.

She called out to me at the same time I called out to her.

"I'm lost!" -- "Is this the trail?"

We made our way towards each other, unplugging our headphones.

Step 5: Find a running buddy if you don't already have one. You're always better off talking and laughing on the trails!

It was funny, because although we didn't say it outright, we both decided then that it was a good idea to continue on together. Kind of like, if we are both lost together, let's go get un-lost together. Power in numbers is always better in this sort of a situation. While some people might see their fellow racers as competition, I see them all as potential friends. We made our best educated guesses about which path to take, and continued on looking for the course markers.

After a few minutes of chatting, I learned her name, Trisha Reeves, and that she also has a running blog called The Barefoot Monologues. It never ceases to amaze me at how small of a world it can be sometimes. Cool thing was, when I told her the name of my blog, she said she had come across it before. I hadn't seen hers, but I did read her poem, which was featured in Vanessa Run's The Summit Seeker, which I read and loved. Knowing she was a fellow writer made me like her even more. The things we had in common continued to pile up, and I was ecstatic about finding a new friend.

She was a Boston-transplant. "I've wanted to move to California for years," she told me.  Currently residing in the sunny San Diego, she told me about her hash-running club (drinking beer and running, does it get any better than that?).  We talked about everything from our mutual lack of training, to our love of trail running and barefoot shoes, to personalities of ultrarunners. You name it, we talked about it. We talked so much, in fact, that we found ourselves lost on the trails, again. This moment was really important, because in the past I may have given up from such a set back. I may have even cried. Being with Trisha gave me a positive attitude.  She even said the same thing-- that being together made us face the situation differently.  I stole a line from my Grandpa, and repeated it over and over as we corrected our mistake and backtracked a few miles, uphill, in the middle of our ultra. Nothing to do but do it.

The end of the second loop soon approached, and I was surprised by how good I felt. Talking and story-telling really helped distract me from the pain of the miles. After we crossed through the start/finish again, to get ready for our third loop, Trisha and I agreed to give ourselves a ten minute break to freshen up.

I went off to my tent for another bottle of gatorade and to see what my friends were up to.

I was equally parts amused and jealous. They lined up at the edge of the course (which was a few yards from our tents) with their chairs and bottles of alcohol. As runners passed by, my friends would cheer them on and offer them shots of bourbon or whiskey. They also had strawberries, "for chasing it with." I was shocked when they told me that some people actually took them up on the offer!

 See! An intrigued runner!

Alexis came up to me and told me she wanted to run/ hike the last loop with me. She had hip surgery late last year, and this would be her longest distance ran since then. I was excited for her to join Trisha and I, and nervous for her hip. But I knew we would be taking it easy, and in the very least we could all speed-walk the last loop. It meant a lot to me that she wanted to be out there with me, and I think Trisha and I needed someone with some fresh energy to encourage us along.

Step 6: Forget being competitive for your first ultra. Pace yourself, enjoy yourself, and take your time. Unless you're the next Pat Sweeney, chill out. 

Pat's going in for the kill on his 50K first-place finish.

This is the point where I should probably state that I am not a competitive person, at all. I create goals for myself, and myself only. I try my best not to compare myself to others because it simply serves no purpose for me. For this race, I had three goals, in this order:

 1) Finish un-injured.
 2) Finish in under 24 hours.
 3) Don't get last place.

So far, I was exceeding all my goals. I didn't care if I needed breaks to walk, so that removed a lot of extra stress. I know a lot of people will disagree with me on walking during a race. Some might say that if you walk, you technically aren't running an ultra. And to them, I'd say being outside, covering the distance in whatever way possible, is what matters most to me. I don't claim to be fast. I am not trying to place. I am simply trying to complete the miles. If I pushed myself to run the entire time, I guarantee I would have not lasted past 20 or so miles. Because I was conserving, I was able to keep running on and off the whole time, and do it with a smile on my face. That's more important to me.

Step 7: Listen to what other ultrarunners have told you. Compile your knowledge. Take it seriously. Don't blank on race day and just "wing it".

When I started this race, I told myself that even though I didn't train as hard as I should have, I still needed to stay on top of my nutrition, my salt intake, and my hydration during the race. Pace myself. Eat a little bit, often. 

Can't tell you how many times I'd heard ultrarunners say: Power walk the uphills, run the flats and downhills.

So when the race day approached, I didn't just "wing it". In the past, I have been known to head out on long runs on an empty stomach and with no food. Allowing myself to bonk during my daily runs is one thing, doing it in an ultra could be disastrous. So I ate a decent breakfast, had lots of water, and packed my vest full of gels, shot blocks, and salt tablets. I made sure that every 45 minutes I would be taking in calories, drinking a certain amount of water, and stuffing my face as best I could. I normally hate eating when I run, so this is something I struggle doing.

And you know what, I've said it once, and I'll continue to say it: I love blue gatorade. And drinking coke during a race. Find a drink that has sugar and quenches your thirst. I don't know if it's because when I run I get dehydrated and crave water and sugar, or if it's because I feel like I earned it, but coke tastes absolutely aahhhhhmasing after a run. Or in the middle. Whatever. Do what makes your stomach and body happy.

Step 8: When in doubt, sing Disney songs. Or 80's songs. Or any song that will make you yell out at the top of your lungs and forget whatever is bothering you at the moment.

I don't know when I first started doing this. But a couple years back, when hikes or long runs became particularly uncomfortable or painful, I started singing. Sometimes it would be a tune from The Lion King, sometimes "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid. This time, I pulled out all my cards. At first, Alexis and Trisha just listened to me like I was mad. But after the first song, I think they both gave in and decided to sing along. There is nothing quite like singing Bohemian Rhapsody, drunk off the miles, in the hot afternoon sun with two friends.

"I really feel drunk," I told Trisha and Alexis. "I can't really walk straight and I keep on going in and out of concentration."

We tried our best to ignore our aches and pains. Trisha's knee had been hurting her for quite some time. I felt good enough to run, but finishing together was important to both of us. She told me to continue on without her, but I told her no, we had made it that far already.

So we sang, drank up the intoxicating waves of the sun, and enjoyed our last miles on the trail. When my Garmin reached 26.2 miles, I had a mini celebration for myself.

"I never even ran a marathon, but I guess now I have!" I told Trisha.

"Me too!" She said, laughing.

"I wonder how many ultrarunners just up and skipped doing a marathon," I said.

This brought us back on the topic of competitive marathon road runners and happy-go-lucky trail ultrarunners.

"Honestly," I told her. "I've never met an ultrarunner who was a complete douchebag asshole."

"I have," She laughed. "But they definitely aren't common."

"Right," I agreed. "The asshole ultrarunner is the outlier."

 So I guess, in a way, part of this lesson is A) Don't be afraid of singing Disney songs, and B) Don't be a trail douchebag.

Step 9: Finish strong and with a smile on your face (you never know who is taking a picture).

I'll let the pictures do the talking for this one. I think my friend Bobby was the mastermind behind these ones.

This one was special. On my last stretch of my ultra, I ran into Carolyn, my amazing friend and trail-mama! If any of you remember, last year I met her at Born To Run and paced her for the last 10 miles of her 100-Miler. It was an incredible experience and we have been friends ever since. I have learned a lot from her about ultrarunning and life in general, so it was awesome to get to see her at the very end! We stopped to take a picture, and she continued on. She was running the 100-Mile, again. Amazing!

Penny and my friends ran the last 100 yards with us!

Finished strong with my main girl, Penny! Photo courtesy of Kevin Cody

Receiving my special Akabill amulet!

Jacob "Skirt Guy" Hoffert gave me a giant hug at the end. I was ecstatic, in case you can't tell ;-)

The lovely Trisha Reeeves and I! Also, who wants to count Jacob's abs with me? 

Bobby, Alexis, Meaghan, Myself, Michelle and Anthony

Check out the awesome surfboards for the first place finishers in the 100-mile race!

Step 10: Change into something comfortable. Relax. Savor the moment, soak everything in, and don't forget to celebrate!


I was on cloud nine after I changed my clothes and got to lay down for a little bit. Nothing like running an ultra to make you appreciate being able to sit back and relax!

Meaghan and I let our hair down and the curls were everywhere! Festival or ultramarathon? You decide...

I also crocheted my friend Pat the logo/mascot of his blog, Bourbon Feet.

I think he liked it :)

My gorgeous, handmade finishers medal made by Akabill from Hawaii.

Got to add another race bib to the collection :)

Finishing my first ultra = bliss!

It's hard for me to find the right words to sum up this weekend and what it was like to run my first ultra. At the end, I was so shocked by what happened that I didn't know what to do with myself. In fact, I still don't know what to do with myself.

It's currently three days after running those miles and I feel great. My legs don't hurt, I didn't pull any muscles. I have a small blister on my left heel. That's it. I was even surprised today when I climbed some stairs that my knees didn't even hurt.


All I can say is I am thankful for successfully finishing my first ultra in good spirits and un-injured. I credit a lot of this to my amazing friends, my ultrarunning friends, and especially Trisha Reeves, for her friendship, support, and motivation in helping me finish this race!


Thank you knees for not failing me.

Thank you hips for not tightening up and causing me pain.

Thank you head for not throbbing from dehydration.

Thank you feet for carrying me 31 miles painlessly to the finish line.

So now that I've finished my first ultra... it's hit me again. That "now what?" feeling :) ....I guess the only thing to do from this point is to sign up for, and actually train for, my next ultra! Decisions, decisions :)

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  1. See you at Javalina come October for your first 100km or 100 miler. ;) A huge Congrats to you on your accomplishments, great race report and thank you so much for the little Bourbon Feet dude(it is one of my most prized possessions)

  2. What Pat said^... There will be several of us at Javelina. It was col seeing you out there. Sucks we didnt get to hang out more than we did. You did great! And thanks for the beer, it was awesome ;]

  3. I totally love this post! Thank you for sharing your experience!