Ultra Experience by Nicole Davenport

Right off the bat I want to start off by saying that if there is anything running has taught me it’s to never underestimate where it can take you. I mean that physically, mentally, and spiritually. Two months since earning the title “Ultra Marathoner” I STILL find it hard putting this experience into words. No matter what I  say, how I try to explain it, or piece together the words to write; it will never accurately portray the multitude of emotions, highs, lows, and utter glory of the experience. Simply because running has changed my life and means more to me than anyone will ever know. Something I had instantly deemed impossible when first hearing these races existed had become a reality. Another bib to pin to my, not so little anymore, race shrine and medal to hang from my wall. Just more proof that anything is possible and your only limit is YOU.

Let me start by saying that I’m a complete newbie to the ultra world. Speed and marathon distances have become my thing. Then, the infamous Coach Wai Law (Hi, Wai here’s a shoutout) sparked a newfound confidence in me. I started to wonder, “am I crazy thinking that maybe I could ACTUALLY do one someday?” Key word: SOME. DAY.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could run a half marathon. Then, I did. Never in a million years did I imagine running a marathon. 26.2 miles terrified me. Then, next thing I know I’m a part of a fabulous team called Team in Training and running distances I once cringed at. In January of 2016 I crossed my first marathon finish line at the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. Thanks to my coaches and teammates who have tapped into my true potential not only did I catch the “marathon running bug;” I started to set some serious goals for myself.  I am currently training to qualifnicole thumbs up!y for Boston Marathon and have a long term goal of running a marathon in every state. So far I have Disney, Anthem Richmond Marathon, Rock N Roll Nashville, Steamtown Marathon, and the NYRR (New York Road Runners) Central Park 60k (my very first Ultra Marathon) under my belt.  

Coach Wai has worked so hard with me throughout my last marathon training season. Qualifying for Boston is far from easy. Speed is the name of the game. He’s worked tirelessly with me and has become a huge part of my running journey, success, and overall well being. I was able to finish my last marathon, Steamtown Marathon, this past October with a PR of 3:45. Slowly creeping my way to that Boston Qualifier.

Wai first mentioned he had a “challenge” for me during one of our training runs. Side-note: He was telling me this as I was being tortured with “Tollbooth Sprints” at Sunken Meadow. So, not only do I feel like I’m about to hurl trying to keep up with him; now I’m thinking “dear lord what other torture could he possibly add onto this!?” I guess it takes two very crazy people for what occurred next to happen.

Two weeks after my Steamtown PR he messaged me on Facebook saying “I signed up for a 60k in Central Park. Care to join?” Fun fact: If you know me, then you know I NEVER turn down a challenge. Therefore, you better mean it when you ask me if I’m up for something. Whether he was serious or not, without hesitation, I went onto the NYRR website and was signed up for an Ultra Marathon. Here’s the catch: it was only a week and a half away, the most miles I had run since Steamtown Marathon was 12, and I had never run farther than the traditional marathon distance of 26.2 miles.

*I definitely do not condone signing up for an Ultra Marathon spur of the moment if you’ve never done any sort of distance running.* With my overall fitness level, the very physical demanding training I had just endured, and the strides made thus far in my running journey; Wai had all the confidence in the world I could tackle this. And apparently I was crazy enough to believe him!

Ironically, I found there were less pre-race jitters than usual. I’m assuming this is because unlike any other race I didn’t have a goal other than to just cross that finish line strong. And not be swept from the course - ha! The morning of the 37.2 mile race was a chilly one to say the least. With rain in the forecast, cool temps, and nothing but my own head standing in my way of this major milestone, it was almost like I didn’t know how or what to feel. I kept telling myself that I am physically conditioned for this, mentally strong enough to endure whatever this course has in store, and where there’s a Wai there’s a way!

If you’ve never done or heard of the Central Park 60k let me take a second to describe this course. Hilly and loops. Yes, LOOPS. The first being a 5 mile loop around the perimeter of the park followed by NINE 4 mile loops within the perimeter of the park. Add hills on top of that along with some gnarly twisty, windy terrain and you’re in the middle of a mentally draining course. Honestly, I think this stands for most runs and/or races, the mental game plays a bigger role than the physical. Your body CAN do this. It’s your mind you need to convince at times, but it’s so much easier said than done. By loop 3 I was already thinking, “I have to do this HOW many more times!?” All Wai saw was a smile on my face as I tried to mask my doubtful thoughts.

Throughout the race each loop seemed to have different feelings associated with it. Going from one extreme of “Damn, I feel great! These loops are flying by!”  to “Holy hell I’m done this is so boring” and “WTF never again.” Then all of a sudden you hit a certain mile where you realize what you’re about to do. You tell yourself there really is nothing standing in the way of you and the title “Ultra Marathon-er” other than YOURSELF.

For me, that was at mile 30. When Wai and I split up I had an epiphany that it was truly all on me. He got me to my longest miles ever logged and sent me on my way as he was having some issues with the good ol’ knees. As soon as we parted I knew I needed a mantra. That mantra was “I AM an ultra marathon runner.” 

Miles 32-37 were by far the toughest. It was almost like my body came to the realization that it was still moving even though we had already ran 26.2 miles. It thought we should be finished and was confused as to why we were still moving! Physically, I wasn’t fatigued until around mile 34. Mentally, I was starting to wear thin by 33. Waves, more like tsunamis, of various emotions started to hit me. So hard, that I started to lose my breath from the raw emotion - not the actual running! Throughout these miles that mantra came into play. I started telling myself over and over again that the title of Ultra Marathoner is something that could never ever be taken from me. I deserved this title and I’ll be damned if I stop with less than a 10k to go.

2 laps to go. Thoughts, emotions, and of course my legs were a tad unstable at this point. Whenever I think of the last two laps a certain volunteer always stands out. I will be forever thankful for you, random bearded stranger. He was stationed about 1/4 mile out from the finish. The second to last lap he yelled, “Hey! I JUST saw you! Look at you lightning!” That was all I needed at that point. He got me to the last loop. I remember him running beside me to the end of this loop to start my final one. I told him “one more loop, but that’s FOUR MORE MILES.” He simply responded with “4 miles of YOUR glory. You EAT 4 miles for breakfast on any given day. I’ll be right here to run you to your glory!” I responded with, “You promise!? You’ll be right here?” And all he said was “PINKY promise.” He raised his pinky, and if you take promises seriously then you know you never mess with a pinky promise. Lord only knows what kind of karma is in store for you when you break one of those bad boys.

Nicole &Wai

I started the final loop. At this point I was taking it mile by mile. 4 miles to go. 3 miles to go. 2 miles to go. I can taste the finish. 1 mile to go. I can taste the metal of the medal. .5 miles to go. And there it was. The finish. I start bawling my eyes out. That volunteer who pinky promised me he’d be there was right where he said he’d be. He started screaming “I TOLD YOU. YOU’RE AN ANIMAL. YOU ULTRA RUNNING BEAST.”

I crossed the finish line. Hysterically crying, I accepted my medal marveling in what my body just did. What my mind just got me through. What my legs just carried me through. That by simply putting one foot in front of the other I just ran and completed my first Ultra Marathon. Let alone with a coach who never doubted me, my best friend at the finish line, and a new title of “Ultra Marathoner.” Being featured on NYRR’s social media was an added bonus. I will always hold the sweet sweet embrace of my proud coach Wai, after dominating that 37.2 mile course.

I hope to complete more ultra marathons in the future.  Now that I know I can run 37.2 miles I wonder how far my body can truly take me. Knowing now, anything is possible. At this moment in time, I’m still very hungry for the Boston Qualifying time, but the trails haven’t seen the last of me!

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