Nueces 50 Mile Race Report

It’s funny how you look forward to a race for so long and then when it finally arrives and you’re in the thick of it, you can’t wait till it’s over. At least that’s how I felt running my first 50 mile race.

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Rode up with Chris and Anabelle on Friday. I’d not really talked much to either of them before, but got to know them a little more which was nice. The 2 1/2 hour drive flew by. A very pleasant drive, except for the time that we spent driving directly into the sun – that was awful.

Nice sunset - as long as you're not driving towards it.
Nice sunset – as long as you’re not driving towards it.

Shared the Dave Brown Suite dorm with Anabelle, Scott and Melanie, Dave and Kim, Tom, Larry, and Cara and Alex. With so many people, I was worried that it would get rowdy and be hard to fall sleep. But being out in the middle of nowhere, it felt later than it was. Everyone settled down, and it wasn’t an issue. And surprisingly, neither was waking up. Someone placed their very loud alarm in the windowsill, and when it went off, they struggled to climb down from their top bunk to turn it off.

No one else seemed to notice, but that really woke me up, so I got dressed, went and got my packet and dropped off my drop bag. It was pretty dang chilly outside. The race start was 6 am. I hung out and waited in the coffee shop with Stefan and Larry.

I was slightly nervous about a few things: my right hamstring had (and still is) not feeling 100%, the mystery pain in my right foot that appeared after pacing Rachel and then running at Government Canyon, but most worrisome was my poor nutrition planning.

Starting with yesterday’s lunch: a spicy Chic-Fil-A sandwich that was actually spicy. Spicy enough to worry me about possible consequences during the race. Last night’s dinner: half of an Italian BMT Subway footlong that probably had too much roughage. ( I guess I hadn’t consumed enough calories that day and was just plain hungry.) But most troubling was not having a real breakfast. I didn’t bring any breakfast food with me because I thought there was a breakfast event at the cafe, but I didn’t get up early enough to investigate. (!) Had it not been for the samples of some Power Bar type thing they had at packet pick up, I would have had no breakfast at all. Not a good way to start a race!

And the race seemed to start abruptly. Having left the warmth of the coffee shop two minutes before 6, Larry and I were towards the back of the back. All of a sudden the countdown started and we were off. I was not as excited as I should have been. I had to force a “woo hoo,” which is pretty sad.

Off we went into the woods, this little train of runners. As to be expected, the start was slow going since it was single track. There are a bunch of switchbacks the first few miles, so it was funny to see this little parade of bouncing headlamps heading in the opposite direction. It would be several miles before the course opened up.

Looking at the line of runners ahead of me, I was annoyed when I saw gaps. I felt like that one person was holding up traffic. I know it’s not good to start off too fast, so I tried to convince myself that this would be good to cool my jets. But I wasn’t buying it. If I go slow it should be because I choose to, not because I’m forced to. I don’t want my pace to be determined by someone else. So there were a few instances where I had to make some difficult passes.

Once I got away from the clumps of runners I had a little more breathing room. I then set my attention to the horizon. There was a faint glow that promised a nice sunrise, and possibly some much needed warmth. I kept checking every few minutes, but nope, not yet. Meanwhile, my stomach was making threats and demands for action.

It was tough looking for a proper spot to go, but eventually one was found and corrective action was taken. What was upsetting to me was the clumps of runners I’d passed earlier ran by during my transaction. I would have to pass them all over again.

I kept watching the horizon, waiting for the sun to show itself so I could get a photo. Somehow I missed it, but at least the daylight provided an opportunity to see and appreciate the scenery. I took what photos I could during the first loop and some of the second, while I had the energy and brain capacity. Unfortunately, these photos and videos don’t do the course justice.

The Dam
The Dam
The cliff
The cliff

I had had a month to train for the race, but never felt really confident because I never got to run the full course. Training four weekends at Bandera (where my last race was) gave me tons of confidence because I knew exactly what to expect. At Nueces, I had only a rough idea.

During the group practice run a few weeks ago, four of us got separated from the main group and were totally lost. We ran what we thought was the course, including a very steep hill. I ran it three times to overcome any anxiety this hill might produce. I was waiting for this hill to appear, ready to take it on again. Turns out that hill wasn’t part of the course.

The hill that was part of the course was worse. We had run this hill in our lost adventure, but I assumed because there was no defined path, it wasn’t part of the course. Wrong.

You couldn’t slowly chug your way up this hill, you had to think your way up. Sometimes you can just follow the clues left by previous runners footsteps, no such luck here. The ground was littered with rocks. You had to figure which way to go, what rocks do you step on and which do you avoid; it was a choose your adventure sort of hill. And there were at least two false peaks. And I’m pretty sure by the third lap, the hill had doubled in size. (Again the photo does not do the hill justice. It’s much worse than it looks.)

Start of the Fence line hill.
Start of the Fence line hill.

On the flip side, there were two sections of nice and easy loooong downhills on wide open roads that were a fantastic change of pace from the narrow, uphill brutality. Just look at how long this stretch is!

And then some of the fun stuff! (These are out of course order, but that doesn’t matter, does it?)

There’s a nice section right a few miles before the finish, that goes across and beside this small river, very scenic. The guy ahead of me was filming himself with (I believe) a Hero cam. So I thought, “Heck, I should do that with my dumb phone.” I bet his footage was way better.

Right after was a long suspension bridge that just sapped the energy out of your stride.

That was actually the second bridge, here was the first, which I felt was worse.

The most curious part of the race: running across these stepping stones. This had slip and fall written all over it, but I managed just fine. It was warm enough on the last lap that I could have just run through the water, but didn’t. (Apologies for the sideways video.) Later someone mentioned that finishers were using the river as a natural ice bath. I wish I’d thought of that!

And perhaps the best video of the day: after shooting something and then realizing that I wasn’t actually recording then, but now

I was surprised when I finished the first 16.7 mile loop, it went by so quickly. I was feeling great. I was feeling more confident now that I’d seen the whole course and knew what to expect. Now it was just a matter of consuming enough calories and drinking enough liquids.

The rest of the rest was sort of jumbled, so here are notes by topic.

FOOD: The first gel I consumed was a Chocolate Power Gel. They contain caffeine, which is good. And normally I like chocolate anything, but these were thicker (than my preferrred Vanilla flavor), almost paste-like in consistency, which made them really tough to swallow – literally.  They seem stickier and messier, and you really have to make sure to wipe your mouth so you don’t have any “mystery brown” around your mouth / face.

After I’d consumed all my gels, I resorted to scarfing down Pringles at the aid station, and grabbing other nibbles to go. At one point, I arrived at the Wall to fresh cheese quesadillas and grilled sausage! Perfect timing and simply amazing! Also, Coke and Mountain Dew are so freaking good after drinking nothing but water and Gatorade.

I had a bag of beef jerky in my drop bag, but never touched it. And I forgot to grab my Vanilla gels. And I forgot my running sunglasses. In fact, the only time I used my drop bag was when I finally remembered to ditch my headlamp on the last loop. I definitely need to work on using a drop bag more effectively.

I came up with a little trick that whenever I saw another runner drinking, I would drink too. But alas, I didn’t drink enough. The consistency was good, but not the quantity. At one point, I tried eating some beef jerky that was leftover in my pack. It must have dried out a bunch because even after five minutes of chewing, I was unable to generate enough saliva to be able to swallow it, so I had to spit it out. Later, the same thing happened with a mouthful of Pringles.

I now realize the reason I’m not hydrating properly is my Camel Back. When I wear my Camel Back, I cannot accurately gauge how much water I’m consuming because there’s no easy visual aid. With a handheld, you can easily tell how much water you’ve consumed.

GEAR: Instead of using the brand new handheld I bought just for the race, I opted to wear my Camel Back. As much as I hate wearing the thing – it’s heavy (I carried more water than I needed, yet still didn’t drink enough), it makes my shoulders ache, and gets really sweaty –  it gives me some peace of mind knowing that I have plenty of water and room for snacks and stuff. My other excuse is the shirt pocket pouch. I put my iPhone in there and can listen to music without having to futz around with earbuds. And I can easily remove it and take pictures and videos.

That’s how I rationalized it then, and I now see how silly that sounds. I will definitely go the hand held route next time, especially if the aid stations are so close together.

Had no real Garmin issues. Several times I thought I heard a beep and thought I’d accidentally stopped the timer. So I pressed the button start button only to find that I was mistaken. Once the timer stops displaying seconds, you can’t easily tell that it’s still going. I wish there was a little green light to indicate that yes, you are in fact still timing.

My $25 Drymax socks continue to make me happy. My feet stay pretty dry and blister free, except for this GINORMOUS UGLY BLISTER. When I finished, I wanted to inspect my poor toes. I took off my socks and HELLO! A giant blister in all it’s blood filled glory! ( I think Don took a photo of it with the Drymax logo beside it, but since I don’t yet have that photo, here is an after the fact shot. ) I don’t blame the socks for creating this little monster, I blame my shoe.

This is the biggest blister I've ever had. Pretty cool, right?
This is the biggest blister I’ve ever had. Pretty cool, right?

I wore my New Balance Minimus, which I was happy with, despite the blister. As the miles piled up, my form suffered. I wasn’t picking up my feet enough and I was catching all sorts of rocks underfoot. I almost fell a half dozen times, and stubbed my toes at least a dozen times. I felt it in my black toenails each time. Oh and I fell on my butt at one of the photo spots. And yes, the guy got a photo of that! I thought that was funny.

There was one unpleasant surprise: I pulled out my fashionable sunglasses out of my pack and one of the arms was missing! (One of the screws came out, if you can believe that!) I tried not to sweat it and wore them for several miles. Someone actually made a comment about them, and I was wearing them for the race photos. But I got tired of how unsecured they were, so I put them back in my pack. Worse was that I had my running sunglasses in a drop bag, but forgot to get them because I was so busy stuffing my face.

Brought my foam roller with me, but didn’t use it after the race. Dumb.

GOOD STUFF: I learned more about trail etiquette. It occurred to me that some people don’t realize that you’re right behind them and desperately want to pass. They might be  focused on themselves (and rightfully so), or wearing headphones or just don’t hear you. Whatever the reason, breathing down their neck and riding their heels is akin to tailgating and equally annoying. So just pass them already!

If you want to pass in a tight section, just ask: “Can I get a pass?” and let them decide where they want to step aside, or sometimes they’ll ask you where you’d like to pass. If there’s more room, just tell them that you’re passing: “Passing on your left.” That way they aren’t as startled. Most importantly, once you pass them say Thank You. By the end of the day, I felt better about my trail etiquette.

One of the things I discovered was how much your spirits can be lifted by seeing a familiar face, either on the course or at an aid station. Spotting people on the course can be more of a surprise. You’re more focused on the ground in front of you, then all of a sudden, “Hey, that’s Fumi! Or Jason Crockett!”  Seeing people at aid stations is cool because you know they’ll be there, you can look forward to seeing them. Chris is a great guy, hilarious as hell, and very positive. Rachel and Holly also worked the Texas aid station and were very encouraging. Jazzy, Doug and Emmett were very accommodating at the Wall.

Perhaps the best part of the run was that I never found “the dark side”. The last few hours were difficult, but aside from a brief episode of light headedness, I managed okay. I was very much looking forward to finishing, and felt like I was going to pass out once I finally crossed the finish line. I did start to tear up on the way back to the dorm because I was so happy to be finished.

SUMMARY: The day after the race my brain was effectively mush and I was walking “the walk”. After a full night’s rest, my brain is functioning better and my walk is getting better.

I’m super happy that I was able to get through the race unscathed. My official time was 8:34:56, 19th overall. Not bad for my first 50, but all I can think about is putting down a better time. I don’t want to think about training just yet, but Hell’s Hills is in a month.

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