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Ryan's First Ultra Was a Success!

6/1/2019 | 50 Mile Trail | 7:51:41 

Ryan Clifford successfully completed his first ever ultra, placing 4th at the USATF 50M Trail Championships, in Ithaca, NY. The first of many yet to come!


Where do I even begin...Well for starters, this was obviously my first Ultra marathon race ever. Before this I have done one marathon (which I injured myself during), one 25 mile trail run, and one 32 mile trail run. All in the last 2 years. My philosophy for the race, was to go totally based off of how I felt, and not worry about places. Despite some opposition from the fam about my preparations for the race, I thought I equipped the team quite well. There were little baggies I created which has an assortment of gel, pretzels, fruit snacks, peanuts, and m&m's. Every hour or so, the plan was to get them from my support crew, in hopes of being well fed and nourished during the earlier portion of the race.


I also has a running belt which housed a water bottle, and 50% gatorade water mix inside too. For saftey purposes I carried my phone (in case I died) a back up gel, and for entertainment wireless headphones. It was quite the hoot, and most things went off without a hitch. We got up at 4am and left from the hotel and traveled to the Robert H. Treman state park, where packet pick up was. After arriving around 5am, I got my bib, race swag, and did my final preparations. With the most chill start ever (from one of those viking vuvuzela's), we were off. The first 1/2 mile was flat on a field, and allowed me to establish a comfortable position and pace. I sat in 8th for that section and then after a mile crept up to 6th. We kept a pretty easy pace and effort heading up towards Old Mill (the first aid station), and I remain relaxed. There were a lot of steps, and the guys ahead of me were running up them. I lunge walked and kept the same pace with half the energy. It should also be noted that these early miles in the race were all about saving energy, so I put a huge emphasis in going nice and easy on steep pitches.


At 4 miles in, at the first aid station, I switched out my drinks, which I took slugs of periodically throughout the whole race (until right at the end, but you will have to wait for that). The next section was out to the underpass (the next aid station), and had a pretty steep uphill, and a very gradual 3 mile downhill. I followed closely behind, and kept up with the group maintaining my position. Shortly after Old Mill, the lead pack made a 10 second wrong turn, and I turned after them finding the trail back. At this point I was in 1st for about a mile, and it kind of felt like a group trail run. We were all becoming familiar with each other, having a grand old time. After I realize the pack liked cooking the downhills, I eased up, letting them pass me so they could waste some energy. They gained a few seconds on the steep downhill pitches, but I just kept my groove. Eventually around underpass which was 8 miles in, I was only 10 seconds from the front, and already finished a whole pre made baggie. I believe this helped me later on, since I was burning the food I was eating apposed to stored body fat. We did the water bottle, snack exchange, and then immediately crossed the knee deep stream. After that was the Lick Brook climb which is this gnarly snaked trail that climbs around 400 feet in .3.


The lead pack was running up this and I was in 5th maintaining about 15 seconds behind with my power hiking lunge technique. I followed behind, found an apple pie tag (these tags were hidden throughout the course, and if you found one, you could redeem it for a raffle) and kept it cool. It is interesting looking at the splits because the paces were pretty fast considering I walked a good part of each section uphill. The next section was through mud, and grass fields, which had mud, and we kind of just maintained places. The guy in 6th was cranking the sections of single track trail and catching up to me on those sections (this is what I think did him in). We get into buttermilk state park, and there is a nice open road with a huge vantage point to see places. I was still in 5th, but a downhill was approaching where the leaders excelled at cranking. I slowly went down into the falls section and made it to the Buttermilk aid station which was 13 miles into the race in 5th. I swapped out another snack baggie, water, and used the bathroom (#2) for about 2 minutes. 5th place turned into 6th place, but I was making headway on the climb up the falls. The lunge technique was working.


We eventually get onto an open road which we had to run on for .75, and I had not seen anyone for a while. I see 5th place about 30 seconds back, and start catching on the open road. I go back into the single track trails (which he excelled in) and start loosing some more time. The Lick Brook Climb is now in reverse, and I am still going slow downhill to conserve myself. I also see a RNR tag, contemplate swapping my apple pie for this one (but don't because I want my damn pie) and then ease my way downhill. We cross the stream for the 2nd time, and hit the underpass aid station which is 18.2 miles into the race. I have a piece of watermelon whilst chatting it up with Matt for a bit. I tell him what I need (tums and vaseline) and he then relays it to the support crew for the next aid station. On the climb back to old mill, I walk up the steep pitches and continue to run up the flatter hills. I catch 5th place, ask how he is doing, and he says that he thinks he tore his calf. I said well that sucks, passed him, and took back 5th place (I should have made sure he was ok in hindsight). I also catch up to "John Hopkins" aka Tyler and ask if he is ok. He said his stomach was hurting. I caught him because of the efficient hill walking technique I employed (and because of his stomach problem). We chat for a bit, and make it to old mill. He does a grab and go for the aid station where as I walk and go, putting on vaseline and eating some tums. Switched out water, and this was about the 22 mile mark. I end up catching him a minute later on the climb of the lollipop loop, stop in the woods to use the bathroom, and continue. I had him in eye site the whole time, but once we hit the downhill he cranked.


I conserved my energy and went easy all the way to the next aid station, which was the start/finish. Upon entering the grass field, I see 1st place is about 4 minutes ahead, and 2nd is nowhere to be found. What happened? At the aid station I realized he dropped. That puts me from 5th to 4th. Sweet! I also see the new 2nd place guy about 3 minutes ahead of me, and Tyler, about 1 minute 30 ahead of me. At 26.2 I turn around for a terrible decision of doing it again (minus the lollipop which was just for the first section). My dad joined me fo this next part. I know at this point I can catch this guy because I was doing much better up the hills. Sure enough, 3 miles later (29 miles in) I caught John Hopkins and was ahead by about 20 seconds. I also dropped my dad about 1.2 miles after the start/finish. I fuel up, ate a phenomenal strawberry, and threw in the headphones. He caught back up since I was letting Matt know what I needed for the next station, passes me, and I attacked. 4th place turns to 3rd, and I left him in the back burner after the first hill. Unfortunately I took advantage of the fact he was climbing hills slower. I did think he was going to catch me shortly afterwards. However that time never came. Right around here my philosophy of going easy on the downhills changed (or I was getting slower on the uphills) and I opened up my stride. I was in 3rd! Nothing could stop me. Except of course I was getting a little sleepy.


This was 4 hours into the race, and I had already been up for 6 hours, running on empty. Since I brought my phone, (genius, I know) I was able to send Rachel a text saying I needed Red Bull pronto. Note on the GPS, the giant line. This is where the watch lost signal, skimping me of some milage. It also proves this because I did not do a 23 minute mile downhill. Regardless, at underpass part 3 (33 miles in), the support crew hit me up with that good stuff. Mmmm. I had about 1/3 of the can, and was ready to roll. I also let them know about Tyler and then got through the stream. The Lick Brook Climb for the second time sucked. It was all walking. Fast walking, but there was no way to go up that quicker. I scurried up best that I could and started to notice the calves cramping. It wasn't bad, as long as I didn't lift my feet about a foot. The muddy section was so much worse the second time, after the whole pack of the race went through so I walked through it. I also managed to snack on a small section of the protein bar I had but was grossed out by the chocolate in the heat (race started off around 58 and reached 80 by the end). Instead I had a gel. I saw the squad at Comfort Road, and let them know I was in need of some mountain dew. I also mentioned the calve cramps to Matt (this is about 35.6 miles into the race). At this point I was 23 minutes ahead of finishing at 8 hours (my goal time).


I cruise of the road in buttermilk skatepark, and then the calve thing really starts hitting me right when I see Matt .25 before buttermilk falls. I grab a mountain dew, drink that (get yelled at for littering but Rachel is a life saver), see Cody, and let them know I need a salt tablet. I took 2 before the race, but at 5 hours and 42 minutes into the race, could use another supplement. This is also where I took Tylenol because of my back being a bit sore. I being my ascend up buttermilk falls (38 miles), and really notice how slow I am moving. Each step was like its own journey. Matt catches back up with me, hands me the salt tablet and I eat that so fast. I was still cramping hard in the calve region. 400 feet of calve cramp climbing. Geez. Matt ends up tagging along all the way up to the top, notices I am at the lowest of lows in the race, and continues with me up to underpass. Every root was its own challenge. I hated the feeling of going over things now. Oh how the tides have changed. Matt and I get to the next road intersection and I approached these foot and a half steps. I take one step and my literal calve stiffens up. I lift myself with my arms on a ledge, and Matt squeezes my calve to get the softball tumor back to attention. I manage to make it to the next trail system and I actually start feeling ok. This is where my watch dies (I have to turn off HR for the next long race) and turn on Strava with my phone. Matt also let the crew know that he was going to be with me till underpass. We get on the stretch of road that we run on for .75, and the 4th place guy is within striking distance.


At this point I just want to survive. We get back into the woods, and he passes me. Super nice dude, said that this was also his longest race ever, and cruised on down. By the time he made it to underpass, he had 2 minutes on me. I actually felt ok at the stream crossing part 4, and had a bit of an ice bath session going on (for like 10 seconds). This is also where I see Charlie, and get watermelon from Cody(watermelon tastes so good after 43.2 miles of running). Papa John hands me a banana which I proceed to throw half of it our because it was rotten, and we switch up the water again. I mosey on up the trail and know I have 4 miles of steady gradual climbing. At this point if someone was going to catch me, so be it. It was 12:45 and I had an hour and 15 minutes to get back to the finish to hit my goal. I walked up the steep, and yogged up the flatter parts. Matt left me and I was riding solo. We had good vibes going with the music, but my calves were seizing again. Before that happened I stretched them against a tree periodically, and kept moving forward. I got back into a rhythm and made sure to drink all my liquids before the final aid station. Sure enough, I made it to old mill. However Matt was not there. He missed the ride from the underpass. My message was not relayed.


I come in hot, screeching I need my arm band (for my phone which was playing music and recording strava). I eat a strawberry speed walking away, as Rachel runs to my mom to get the car keys, runs over to the car to get the band, and hands it off to my Dad who planned on doing the last 3 miles with me. Cody took my running belt, and my dad catches up with me and I begin my jog. I was told 3rd place was only a few minutes ahead, and I was not sure how far away 5th was. 47 miles into this, I was not going to give up a position. On the descent from old mill I start going, but have to be cognizant of my calves seizing on the steps. They do a few times, but I stretch them out real quick. I make my way with my dad down for 1.3 miles, but he begins to fade. Am I getting stronger at the end? I think so. I crank it (at this point in the race I would call it cranking) and am speeding up. I make it to the section which I know is about a mile away from the finish and open up my stride. I see Matt with .5 to go, and he offers so many supportive words. He jogs it back with me (well I feel like I'm sprinting) and I make it to the finishing line with the last mile being under 7 minute pace. That was also my fastest mile for my day. Talk about a negative split (Rohl made me do it). 7:51:41 for 4th place (9:26 pace), 12 minutes ahead of 5th, and 5 minutes behind 3rd. Maybe I will be back, maybe not, but I think I have proved myself once again. Stomach was rough about 1 hour after the race, and my lack of caloric intake for the last 2 hours probably had something to do with it. I also struggled for the next 16 hours post race taking in enough calories to supplement the effort I had just done.


Probably need to have calories I can drink Who knows, but it is something to keep in mind for my next Ultra (ya I am not done with these). Honestly 10/10 support crew, volunteers, and all around energy. The only thing that sucked was the calves. It could have been the temp/humidity (80% for a good bit) but I am just a rookie. The course was tough but very rewarding if you were able to finish, and very humbling if you were not able to finish. Flash forward 26 hours. Upper arms and shoulders are sore, back of quads wrecked, and quads wrecked. 5 blisters on my right foot, 2 messed up toenails, and sore calves. The plan is to run a 5k a day until the knees are 100%. May run a crazy trail climb race in late July, or I may just keep the clamshell routine up (that is happening regardless). Until next time Strava 😗

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