Pete Tanguay

Tailtwister 50k

by on Jun.05, 2011, under Races

After I finished the Vienna Marathon in April, I realized I had done one in March (Little Rock) and if I did another one before June 6th that would be 3 in 3 months and I would be qualified for Marathon Maniac status.  Part of me said,  “so what” and another part said, “do it or you’ll regret it”.  If you don’t do it now you’ll have to run 2 marathons again to be in the position to make this decision.  So I did it.  I signed up for the Tailtwister 50k that was held at War Eagle State Park, Arkansas’s largest state park (12,000 acres).  I’ve often thought of trying a 50k, I couldn’t find any marathons before June 6th that were worth doing (or close) and I have a lot of friends who really enjoy running trails.

The week leading up to the run I was feeling really fatigued.  Couldn’t understand why.  My runs were difficult.  I felt tired a lot.  Work has been very busy and I was a little scared of the upcoming 50k.  To top it off, I end up getting these sores, like spider bites, on my arm and go to the doctor and find out I have shingles, something you get when your immune system is down.  She gave me some medicine and I asked if I could run the 50k while taking this medicine and she said, “I guess so but it may not help your immune system get strong”.  That’s all I needed was a yes and I was out of there to get the meds.  It was the ticket to run and the ticket to taper and rest all week.

Ultra races (races over a marathon distance) are as different from marathons as cross country skiing is from downhill skiing.  Once you get past the fact that you are running in both, the similarities fade fast.

As my timing chip crossed the start mat and we headed down the trail into the woods, my primary goal was to finish.  Other than that I wanted to experience the woods, have some time to think and see what this ultra running was all about.  The first 7 miles of the race went by quickly, running up and down the trails.  I got going real fast down, then tried to find the “pace I could run forever” on the flats and did whatever my body needed on the uphills.  I walked the steep uphills when I felt it was taking me too much energy to run up them rather than to walk.

First aid station at 7 miles was my first experience coming into an ultra aid station (I’ve worked one before).  Instead of running by and grabbing a cup and throwing the liquid down your throat without losing pace, someone meets you and “gets your order” – I’ll have one filled with water and one with gatorade, and they were off.  There was a buffet of sugar, salt, fruits and starches.  Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pretzels, jelly beans, oranges,  etc. After a couple of minutes I was off down the trail again with ice water and gatorade.  This happened every 3-4 miles for the rest of the race.

In a marathon, you have a goal pace you try to maintain.  On the trail, the goal seems to be to keep moving forward, keeping in mind the faster you run, the sooner you are done.  But the faster you run is more dependent on how energy efficient you are as you cover the miles on the changing terrain.  I worked to keep the best pace I could as I ran.  As the race went on I walked more and more the uphills, and they were uphill!!  I focused on power walking to cover them quicker.  I counted my steps and tried to get back to a run by 50 steps unless the hill was real steep.  I didn’t want to walk too much but I also didn’t want to burn too much energy on a hill without corresponding distance gain.  Mostly I was in a “whatever it takes to cross the finish line” mode.

In a marathon, the course is clear, lined with people and you never have to worry about tripping or falling.  It is all about keeping that goal pace and going for the kick at the end if there is gas left in the tank.  On the trail, falling is a constant concern.  I was always focused on the trail ahead.  A couple times when I put my head back to drink I almost tripped.  The further I got into the race, as my legs and mind got tired, the danger of falling increased.  At about mile 23 I was coming down a windy hill and I got going too fast.  Early in the race I would have braked with my legs but they were not quite as responsive now.  I took a corner too wide and almost ran right into a tree, back on the trail and the next corner I went off into the woods but everything was fine.  In mile 27 I was picking up my pace on a gradual down and feeling good.  The trail was nice so I let up my guard and the next thing I knew I was on my way down.  Fortunately the water bottles broke my fall so all I have are bloody knuckles and a skinned up shoulder and leg.

In a marathon there are always runners around you and people on the sidelines cheering.  On the trails I was by myself 90% (at least) of the time.  There was one part when we were briefly on a service road where a runner ran up beside me and asked me what NF was.  He was from Peru and living in Arkansas and it was nice to spend a couple of minutes to let one more person know about NF and why we Run for A Reason.  The rest of the time I was making up songs about trail running and how I was just going to run all day, thinking about my friends and family, listening to the ice in my water bottle go up and down and trying to make my legs go up and down to the beat, noticing the deer run through the woods and being focused on what my body needed to get through this event.  I had planned to spend the time thinking through some things, since I’d have a lot of time on my hands, but I realized I needed all my concentration just to stay on my feet and to keep moving and “thinking through” somethings was taking too much away from the run.  Coming in to the last aid station (about mile 29-30) they saw me through the trees, someone yelled “runner” and someone else started banging a cowbell and they all cheered me in.  I asked one of the guys there to text Lynn to tell her I was ok since I thought this adventure would take no more than 6 hours and I was over 6:30 at the time.

One of the best parts of the race for me was when I passed the 26.2 mile mark.  I knew that I was in virgin territory.  I had never run more than 26.2 miles and I was about to run another 5 miles. I was still moving and running.  I believed I would make it.  I got excited and picked up my pace – yup, and stopped paying attention and met Mother Earth.  There were 2-3 killer hills in the last 5 miles.  I power walked every hill and committed to running as much as I could.  My legs were tender.  Although it was 95 degrees, the shade of the woods and the excellent job of the aid stations to keep me hydrated and my nutrition up, it was never a factor. Towards the end as I passed a few people I realized that my body and legs are well trained for distance running.  I especially enjoy passing runners who are clearly 10-20 years younger than me!

Although this event was really not about time, the Garmin came along for the run and recorded the facts.  Mine is set to auto stop when I am stopped so it looks like I spent some time stopped in the aid stations.  I really thought I was going to get in under 7 hours but it wasn’t to be and it doesn’t matter.  I did get off course once and got all the way down to the lake and had to go back to the last white flag to find out where I had gone wrong and “get it right”.  Fortunately it was not very far.  With the elevation changes being so drastic, the pace / mile is hard to analyze.  Basically, it is what it is.  It is 31.37 miles, 4475 calories burned and close to 10,000 feet of elevation up and down.  That’s what Mr. Garmin has to say about this race.

What a great accomplishment, a great day in the woods and honestly, something that I’m surprised, but happy, that I could accomplish.  One more thing.  In a marathon, the next day your legs are sore.  In an ultra run, the next day, everything is sore.  I’m sure I’ll run another marathon and I’m sure I’ll do another ultra.

6 comments for this entry:
  1. Michael Cook

    Excellent job out there. Way to go. Off course, “runner down!”, wildlife encounters, aid station buffets, that’s all part of the experience. Hope the road to recovery from shingles and the race is smooth and enjoyable.

  2. petetanguay

    Thanks Michael. You are definitely an inspiration to me. Just don’t be mentioning any 50 or 100 mile runs any time soon. They are not on my horizon. Ha! But I must admit, this was a wonderful experience. And I can see that ultra running will be fun since each course will have so many unique aspects about it.

  3. pt

    Pete, awesome job on your first Ultra, I wish I could have been there and run it with ya.
    Maybe on the next one, we’ll be able to share the trail.


  4. Dad

    Great accomplishment! I’m glad to see that you took on and enjoyed the challenge of “running in the woods”, one of my most exciting running memories. The soreness should wear off shortly but recalling the experience will last for many moons! Enjoy!

  5. Jeff Courtway


    You are a beast. I guess getting skinned up is part of the great journey. What an experience. That is an awesome job and great accomplishment. Here’s the deal: run a marathon and then slap another 5 on me!! Heck, 5 is a long run for me.

    Keep it up,

    Jeff Courtway

  6. brad

    congrats good story, you are again in a new class of awesomeness

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