Call it the Accidental Ultra. As races were cancelled due to the coronavirus, including my 100K at Zion National Park, I looked for another challenge during the second quarter of this year.
I started looking into Fastest Known Times (FKT) that I could reasonably get to and discovered that the trail where I do the majority of my training did not have an official FKT.
So I worked toward establishing an FKT on the Wabash Heritage Trail, running alongside the Wabash River, which divides the cities of Lafayette and West Lafayette in Indiana.
I regularly run along the northern section, which is mostly dirt with some paved sections as it nears a pedestrian bridge that links the two cities. The paved section continues for a mile or so south of the bridge before turning into a combination of dirt, some sand and mud pretty much until it ends.
When researching the trail’s website, I discovered that one hiker had estimated the length at 12.5 miles. Therefore, I approached the run thinking it would be around 25 miles.
Instead, I got bonus miles.
History connects with history
I started at the trail’s south end at Fort Ouiatenon, which in 1717 became the first fortified European settlement in what is now Indiana. At that time it was used as a French trading post on the Wabash River. The halfway point would be where the trail ends at the Tippecanoe Battlefield and Museum. The national historic landmark is part of a 96-acre park and marks where the Battle of Tippecanoe took place between the United States and representatives of Tecumseh’s Native American confederation on Nov. 7, 1811.
My plan was to venture out around 6:30 a.m. as the new day broke. I correctly anticipated that I would encounter most other people on the trail around north of the bridge, so I wanted to put that section in the middle of my run to reduce the number of encounters I would have in this age of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a wise move since of the more than 30 people I saw, none were wearing a mask or other face covering.
The first several miles started out slow as I shook off the early morning cobwebs and eased into the run. After crossing the bridge and hooking up with the dirt section, I noticed a trail sign that indicated it would be 5.5 miles until the end of the trail, my turnaround point. Looking at my watch and seeing it said 7.8 miles, I quickly calculated this would be a little over a marathon — or technically an ultra.
I did indeed make it to the halfway point around 13.25 miles in a little over two hours. After a brief stop to document my time there, I headed back the other way.
Back to the start
With the sun rising, the temperature was also starting to increase. This turned out to be the first 80-degree day we’ve had in months. Fortunately, it did not get that hot while I was running; instead it peaked in the high 60s.
Even so, I finished strong. From Mile 17 on, I completed each mile in under 9 minutes. The miles just seemed to tick by quickly. It was a state of flow that I embraced as I weaved through the single-track without incident.
Once I left the long paved section just before Mile 22, I could feel how close I was to completing this challenge. Of the final 4.7ish miles, there is one small paved section that connects the trail to the dirt and grassy area leading to the official end of the trail at Fort Ouiatenon.
With about two miles to go, I knew it was in the bag and I kept chugging along. Soon enough I left the main trail, and picked up my speed on the paved section that would bring me to the finish. I had been looking forward to the slight decline once I entered the Fort Ouiatenon area and sped down it toward the end of the trail and the conclusion of my FKT.
My Strava recorded 26.5 miles in a time of 4:04:44, which is a little different than the 4:05:38 my watch showed and became the official FKT. In any case, I felt good about the result. When I thought the run would be 25 miles, I set an A goal of 3:45 and a B goal of 4:00, then when I realized it would be a mile and a half longer, I added 13 minutes (roughly a 9-minute pace) to the goals.
Bigger than the FKT
Last but not least this was not just an FKT attempt.
I challenged my friends and followers to donate to Bigger Than The Trail, a nonprofit organization that advocates for mental health through trail running. I am proud to be an ambassador of such an amazing group.
I’ve been inspired by some of the previous stories I have written about fellow BTTT members like Frayah Wasmund, who has battled depression and anxiety since she was a young child; Chris Paterson, who was formerly homeless and jobless; and founder Tommy Byrne, who lost his dad to suicide when he was 18.
There are countless stories of others coping with various forms of mental illness. They need our help. I was happy to assist with this fundraiser.
I am incredibly honored by the kind donors who pledged $290 to BTTT for my FKT attempt. I wooed them with the promise that I would match their donations — and double them if I failed in the try. (I submitted my FKT data to the website earlier this evening so we’ll see when they verify it.)
While my day on the trails is done, the work that BTTT is far from over. Please consider a donation to support them.