By Relena Del Toro Ribbons
On a toasty morning, I toed the line for my first crack at the Titletown Ultra Series 15.5-hour event on June 30. There are three time lengths to choose from: six hours, eight hours, and the summer solstice challenge where you run 15.5 hours from sun up to sun down. The trail is a mixture of crushed limestone and wood chips, with a small stretch of pavement. Runners are treated to some gentle uphill and downhill sections with a few bridge crossings, and traverse prairies and forests as they wind around the 4.75-mile loop in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
The RD, Ann, gave us a few final reminders. Especially pertinent for the day was the notice to “Respect the heat and look after your fellow runners.” This is a typical sentiment embodied by the ultrarunning community in practice, but often not verbalized at the starting line. This is just an example of the type of event I was running: a race filled with strong camaraderie amongst runners, volunteers, and race personnel. It was a day filled with a vibrant supportive community wanting to ensure everyone reached or surpassed their goals. Given the unseasonably high temperatures for Wisconsin, this reminder stuck with me throughout the day.
At 5:10 a.m., with a starting temperature of 85ºF, the conch was blown, and off we went. At each passing loop the sun rose into the sky and the temperature soared a bit higher. By 8 a.m. it was over 90º and the humidity was thick enough to feel as though you needed to claw your way through it. Each aid station held much-needed supplies of ice and water to cool off runners, with a large spread of ultra staples at the main aid station. I was fortunate to have Doug – an especially dedicated and supportive running buddy – crewing for me for the first 8.5 hours of the race. Like diligent crew, he kept reminding me to drink and eat more, which was critical for all runners on such a hot and humid day.
By noon the heat index was at 106, and the sun was beating relentlessly down on us. I had to remind myself I was running this for fun. As the day wore on the field thinned; much of each lap was run without seeing many other runners. After 2 p.m. Doug joined in the fun to pace me for the remainder of the day. Chatting with him was a welcome distraction from my aching shoulders and blistered feet. The afternoon wore on into evening, with no relief from the oppressive heat or humidity. With diligent pacing from Doug, I found myself crossing the finish line sooner than expected.
A neat perk about the way Ann has set up this race is that you can finish at any of the aid stations. Doug, in cahoots with my family, gave me a rousing pep talk and some food. After a brief stint relaxing in a chair and a long overdue change of clothes, I was up and heading back down the hill one last time. For me this meant I went from a mentality of “I’m finished!” to “Just one, maybe two more miles!” which was a fantastic mental challenge and also helped me increase my total mileage for the day to 73.85. Considering the challenging weather conditions, this felt like an unbelievable feat at the time. This is the longest distance I have ever run. Compared to my initial goals of 50 miles, or possibly 100k if I was having a good day, I felt really stellar about the race as a whole. I can’t wait to run the ring of fire again next year!