I mean, who wakes up at 4:30 in the morning for a group run and winds up running almost a marathon ON SAND!? I guess me!!
Jupiter Ridge Sand Spur RD Test Run
This morning was the Jupiter Ridge Sand Spur Ultra’s race director test run. Our esteemed RDs are none other than Jen Quellhorst and Michael Brown. But they’re not the only ones who went the distance, a third honor goes to Marcella Robins!
Of course, not everyone planned on running 50k today-this was really the opportunity for the race directors to prove that this crazy idea they had last year-to plan an ultra-marathon, 31+ miles, on pure sugar sand with a few dunes thrown in for good measure was actually humanly possible. Today we found out it was.
The pictures say it all. Jupiter Ridge Natural Area is truly one of the most beautiful places in northern Palm Beach County. The sunrises are spectacular and the sugar sand is so white in some places, you’d swear it was snow! The first time I visited (years ago) to hike the dunes was a memorable experience, but at the time, I never thought I would ever be able to run there. My how things have changed!
A Quasi Race Report
I arrived at the Ridge, as I like to call it, around 6:40 AM and found that most everyone else had already arrived. We had been reminded on more than one occasion that the run would start promptly at 7. For me, arriving 20-minutes early was the best I could do (I am NOT a morning person), considering it was a whopping twelve-minute drive.
At first I thought we might need headlamps because it was still dark, but the sun started to peek out from behind some clouds as we were lining up so I knew we would be OK without them.
At 7:00 exactly we were off! The original group consisted of about ten people, but some only did two or three laps (each was ~3.5 miles), and others came later to pick up where they left off. At this point I still didn’t know how many miles I was going to run. Having completed my first ultra-distance four weeks ago (50k) and having run ten miles two days ago, it was anybody’s guess for how long these 55+ year-old legs would be able to move. But somehow running with friends makes the seemingly impossible, possible! So this would be a good place for me to plug how fabulous it is to join a running group and run with friends! A huge thanks to Andre & Ludi Chaves for welcoming me into the Down to Run tribe a year ago and for starting such an amazing group. I see it expanding every day and it’s all because of the fantastic job they do.
But I digress…
So, we’ve started the first lap. So far, so good. Despite being one of the slower runners in the group I was able to keep up with the pack for the first 3/4 lap really only because I wanted to take some amazing sunrise photos and actually have some runners in them!
The first half of each lap is by far, the hardest, because that’s where you’ll find the majority of the sugar sand dunes to run both up…and thankfully…down.
Around the half-way mark the trail turns into a gravel road that runs by an FPL power station, and then through some beautiful grassy wetlands as the loop traces the edge of the Intracoastal Waterway. Jupiter at its best!
By the time I hit the 3-mile mark of the first lap, the pack was well in front of me. In fact, I honestly couldn’t see most of them from that point forward. I did have some company for some of it, though, as Mark Huberti was injured and was running at my pace for awhile (although he did blow by me at one point and that was “all she wrote”!) As an aside, I usually wind up running with the injured…they’re the only ones who run at my pace!
After one lap was over, I decided to try another and after making a quick stop at my makeshift aid station (the trunk of my car) I was off for lap two. This time I would be running by myself!
Laps 5 & 6
So when I was getting ready to start my fifth lap, our leader, Jen, was coming in from just finishing hers. Yes, I was about to get lapped! As it turned out, Jen had some late-comers running with her to keep her spirits up and to motivate her (to quote Jen as she was getting a drink out of the cooler after that lap “This is hard!” was what she managed to muster up!). And it was. So I took off for lap #5 a little before she started lap #6 but after about a half mile, Jen and her entourage were at my heels. This was great for me, because not only was I able to run with some company for a few more miles I was also able to take more photos of real people!
We both struggled a little during these laps as we had been running at that time for more than three hours and it was starting to get the better of all of us. Towards the end of that lap, however, Jen (the amazing super-woman that she is) somehow found the strength to not only overtake me (remember, she was already a whole lap ahead of me!), but as I neared the end of the lap I couldn’t see her or anyone up ahead! It was time to put the headphones back in.
OK, I know this is starting to get a little long so let’s fast-forward to the end. All in all, I ran six laps, for a total of 20.8 miles. I am feeling very accomplished not only because I was able to complete those laps, but also because I know I could have done the entire 50k (although there would have been some walking involved, for sure!). And just knowing this is good enough for me…for now.
Tips for Long Distance Running
Here are some tips I either taught myself or learned from my running friends that I implemented today, which helped me finish:
- Carry a micro-fiber cloth with you when you run in warm, humid weather. Even though it was a coolish south Florida day today with a lot of cloud cover, I still sweat like a ______________ (fill in the blank with whatever noun suits your fancy, but mine begins with an “m” and is six letters long.). And because of this, I carry a small towel with me every time I go out for a run-I have a ton of them! I use it to wipe my face, dry my nose, even protect myself from those horrible black flies when they’re out. I literally use it like a horse uses its tail, to swat them away when they start swarming around me.
- Take electrolyte tablets regularly before and during your run, and drink crap-loads of water. The tablets I use have sodium, potassium, and a few minerals like Calcium and even Vitamin D. You need to replace your electrolytes while you run long distances, especially if you sweat like a _______________!
- Bring your phone. We all have one, so bring it with you. I have earned the nick-name “Jenavigator” when we’re out in the middle of the wildness wondering which way to turn…Google maps is my best friend and I wouldn’t be caught dead without my phone while running…there’s just so much it can do for you, especially for keeping you safe.
- Know your desired pace and stick to it. When I ran my first 50k last month my friends were all around me, especially on the first lap, reminding me not to start out too fast. There’s nothing worse than a DNF! Start slow and run smart, and increase your pace only when you know the end is in sight. You’ll thank me later…
- Have fun. I am a math person and a runner. It always cracks me up when someone says to me either “I’m not a math person.” or “I can’t run because of my knee.” Running is supposed to be fun (as is math) and we all can give it a try. If your knees hurt, figure out what you’re doing wrong that’s making them hurt-it could possibly be poor running form, the wrong shoes, you’re trying to run too fast, or you need to switch to trails or SAND! Also, I find a daily glucosamine/chondroitin supplement does wonders for achy joints. Whatever you do, don’t give up on it because it truly is supposed to be fun.
At the end of the day…
…everyone who made it out to the Ridge had a great time. I’m very grateful I was able to be a part of it. And if you live in south Florida or decide to come for a visit this winter, you can too!