Inspiration can come from the least likely moments. Elizabeth Wren trained this past winter for two marathons. When an IT band injury struck, she dropped out of one race and then gutted through the other, the Flying Pig Marathon. Midway through the race, she started chatting with a few strangers who were pacing alongside her. " I talked to so many people about trails and decided, before even finishing the Pig, that I wanted to do a 50k," Elizabeth says. That random conversation in the middle of a race set her on the path to her first ultra.
We sat down with Elizabeth to learn all about her experience and what advice she has for aspiring first time ultra runners. Enjoy!
Elizabeth Wren: With the help of my coach, Run of 1, we developed a plan to get me across the finish line. I picked Oak Openings Stampede because it was a Sunday, which I need as I have my kids on Saturdays, and it was early enough in the season that I could do other races, long or short, after. I learned a lot about myself during the training runs! That speed isn't everything, and listening to the body is highly important. Realizing that I am doing more than anyone sitting on the couch. The training was met with many ups and downs, "failed" runs and experiences that I never imagined.
CRC: What was the switch like when you went from road marathon training to trail ultra training?
EW: The switch was easier than I expected. I actually went from 5 days to 4 days running and did my long runs on trail. We wanted to make sure I didn't re-injure or aggravate my IT band. Building a base for the trail was the hardest part. Getting the little muscles in the ankles and feet strengthened was very painful but has proven to make trail running easier.
CRC: Can you tell us about one of your long runs in training? Any crazy stories?
EW: I would have to say my best and favorite long run would be either 20 miles at the Athens Thunder Bunny trail or 22 miles at Mohican. Athens was fun because we had the kids. They made me pb&j's for when we circled around for water, and they swam and fished and hiked with my significant other. The 22 miler, we got lost, almost ran out of water, finally found our way, and then really wanted to stop because it was 1:30 in the afternoon, we had been running since 9am, and I still had 8 more miles! I was SUPPOSED to run 25 miles. When I got to mile 19.5, my hip started hurting and I wasn't sure why, so I walked/jogged slowly for another mile then decided to turn back and call it a day. Twenty-two miles at Mohican when the race is flat in Toledo, yeah, it was fine! Plus, I wasn't about to be injured again.
CRC: Did you take part in any races during the buildup to the 50k?
EW: I was part of a 4-person 100 mile relay team at Burning River. I got thrown into that on a Monday and ran it on Saturday! I ran a total of 27.8 miles that day. The first 11.6 road miles at a sub 9 pace felt amazing. Then, about six hours later, I ran leg 5, 16.2 trail/road miles. This was a true test of what I was getting into. When I finished that leg, from 3pm to like 6:30pm, I KNEW the trail was where it's at, but I wasn't sure if I'd die yet or not! It was a complete spiritual experience because I wanted to quit by mile 3 of the second leg but I found myself continuing to put one foot in front of the other. I knew, with confidence, I'd finish my 50k.
CRC: After all those training miles, let's talk about race day. What was the experience like?
EW: Race day (was) absolutely beautiful out. A slight fog at the start line made it crisp but still slightly warm. The course is two 15.5 mile loops through Oak Openings Metropark in Toledo. It's a pretty flat course as well, because, well Toledo...
Anyway, the first loop was great. I met a new friend and ran with her the first 9 miles, then she went ahead as I stopped at an aid station for pickle juice and cold water on my head. My hip flexors started to get tight around mile 14, so I started intervalling at that point.
At the 25k mark, my boyfriend put ice in my pack/vest because my water was hot and I had some grapes. Then I set out for lap two. This one was considerably slower because my hips and hip flexors were extremely tight! Plus the temperature was about 75°-80° by that point.
I made it to the second aid station that had flat cola and pickle juice. I also took a few Advil to help with the hips. Then I set back out with 8 miles left to go. I walked about 3/4 of a mile until the Advil kicked in. I felt so much better by then! But the heat had kicked in and my heart rate kept shooting up if I ran for too long, so I continued to interval.
As I got to the last aid station, 2 miles from the finish, I was ready! Ready to be done, excited to cross the line, hungry and tired! I got to mile 30.5 and pushed hard. I "knew" what my time was because of my watch but wasn't really paying attention. You can see the finish line about 300m away and then I saw the clock: 6:24:03. I said to myself, GO!!!! YOU CAN BE SUB 6:25!!! So I did.
I pushed the pain away, the heat, all of it and crossed the line at 6:24:51. Thirty-one miles in under 6 and a half hours! This earned me 5th woman overall and 4th in my age group. I sounded the PR air horn and got my mug and woodle. The race director's wife was taking pictures and let my boyfriend put my woodle on me and hand me my finisher mug. It was the best experience.
CRC: How cool. What did all that feel like?
EW: I smiled for 95% of the race! The other 5%, I thought I was going to die in the heat and with my hips! I can't WAIT to do it again! There are a few on my radar, but have to create a plan with the coach first!
CRC: What's the one key piece of advice that you would offer to someone thinking of doing their first ultra?
EW: DO IT!!!! It is one of the best experiences I've ever had. But for real, enjoy it! Trail running has healed a part of my soul that I didn't know was broken, and healed parts that I knew needed help. Columbus MRTT/SRTT trail ladies have swooped me up under their wings and let me drink ALLL the crazy Kool-Aid! I currently have my eyes set on more 50ks, and pending some personal items, maybe further in two years!!
Congrats on the first ultra, Elizabeth!