Apologies as I have no photos for this post. Tragic, I know.
Crawling along in tortoise speed traffic, I was trying to get on the exit ramp to I-10 as a big semi truck was trying to get into my lane. The whole front of the truck was covered in ice. Gee whiz, I thought, did this guy just drive here from Canada or something? Two hours later, the front of my car would be similarly covered.
After the two hour drive, I arrived at Camp Eagle in Rocksprings. The weather was cold, wet, and miserable. And soon enough, I’d be running 50 miles in it. That evening there was a nice pasta dinner. I was hungry and the food was surprisingly tasty so I had two huge plates. The brownies were especially awesome, I had three of those!
I stayed in a dorm with 5 other runners. Before lights out, my friend Julie joked she was in trouble if anyone snored because she had only one earplug. And wouldn’t you know it, one of our runners did snore. LOUDLY. It seemed to get louder with each breath until he gasped or moved and the snoring finally stopped…. until a few minutes later when the cycle restarted.
I have a hard time falling asleep as it is, so this was just torture. The worst part was the fact that he knew he snored but didn’t warn us. He offered a limp apology the next morning. As such, he is now on my list of non-approved bunk mates.
Considering the night’s sonic landscape, 4 am came way too early. But once I accepted that it was “Go-Time,” it was business as usual. Waiting under the pavilion at the race start, we found out another member of our group had just gotten off a plane, drove here two hours, and signed up for the race. Oh, and he was working off 2 or 3 hours of sleep. All I could think was, “You’re nuts! But in a good way. Sort of.”
And so the countdown, the race starts, and the running begins…
It was cold and misty, but at least it wasn’t raining. However there was ice everywhere. The ice made for very slippery footing. The loose rocks were like oiled marbles. Going up hills was really frustrating; much of the first lap was an exercise in patience and curse words. Later, I put that practice cursing to use.
I was running along, and came up to a wooden bridge I had to cross. I stepped on the landing, slipped, and dead chickened, landing flat on my right side. I lay there for a second, blinking. I was literally and figuratively stunned. I had just totally wiped out.
My wrist sort of hurt, but otherwise, I seemed to be okay. I got up slowly and gingerly made my way across the bridge, which was coated in ice a quarter inch thick. I could have skated across. Safe on the other side, I found a new respect for those highway signs that say BRIDGE MAY ICE IN COLD WEATHER.
During the second loop, I came into the aid station that we hit twice per loop. Chris (from my running group) says, “Cara was bummed she didn’t catch up to you. She wanted to run with you for a bit.” Half joking and half serious I said, “Cara’s not going to catch up to me!” Cara’s a strong runner, but I know I’m faster than her.
During the third and final loop, I see a girl behind me that sure looks like Cara. I yell out “CARA!” No response – must not be her. Few minutes later, the same girl and a guy I know come bounding up behind me. Wouldn’t you know it, it IS Cara. (Earbuds!)
I’m feeling low energy, so she takes over the lead. We run together and chat for a few miles. I tell her what I’d said to Chris, (lest she hear it from him first.) When we get to the aid station, I say ,”Hey Chris, look who caught up to me!” It was pretty amusing, we all had a good laugh. Leaving the aid station, my energy levels had picked up. I took over the lead and eventually dropped Cara. She would finish only 4 minutes behind me, placing First Female in the 50M.
Speaking of awesome female runners, I remember seeing Melanie pass me on a hill. Her bangs were little icicles. I wondered how on Earth could she dress like it was the middle of summer and not freeze to death? She would go to place Overall Second in the 50K. (Overall First was a female as well!)
And the last strong runner was a dude named Dana. This guy and I had been leapfrogging for the second and third lap. He would slowly but consistently jog up the hills and pass me as I hiked. Then later on the flats, I would bomb past him. We traded back and forth like this at least 8 times.
Every time I passed him, I hoped he would stay passed. But when I’d stop at an aid station, it would be just a few seconds later and he’d come trotting into view. I kept thinking of that scene in the Terminator movie where the bad metal cop guy turns his arm into spikes and he stabs the trunk of the car and they can’t shake him. Yeah, that was the guy following me.
While we didn’t exactly chat, we did speak to each other. We were both running our own race, neither of us were concerned about “winning” the duel. Sure, I would have liked to have finished one place better, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. The whole back and forth was rather comical.
Coming into the final few miles, I was ahead of Dana, but running out of gas. I knew there was a small hill coming, so I stopped and waited for him. I told him I knew he was going to pass me, so go ahead. He finished 3 minutes before me, placing Overall Fifth in the 50M.
I crossed the finish in 9:21:02, placing Overall Sixth. Dana came up to me and shook my hand and gave me a bro hug. Since he’s a local, I’m sure I’ll see him at another race.
What did I learn?
**DO NOT ROOM WITH PEOPLE WHO SNORE. You might say use earplugs, but then how do you hear your alarm?
**GIRLS ARE FAST. Also, I am not as fast as I think I am.
**BE ALERT,ICE CAN BE DANGEROUS. We don’t encounter ice very often on our trails in Texas, so when the conditions are right for ice, pay attention. This is even more important while driving.
**I LOVE SNICKERS. Bite size rule! Sweet AND salty! Actually, I already knew I loved Snickers…
**SOMETIMES IT’S MORE ABOUT THE PEOPLERUNNING THE RACE THAN THE RACE ITSELF.
The only goal I had for this race was to “channel my inner Mario and enjoy the race.” Alas, Mario was not channeled, there was no floating. However, that did not stop me from enjoying the race.
I drove up the night before to camp out. As soon as I arrived, I cooked up some turkey sausage with onions and peppers on my new camping stove. That worked out nice; when you’re camping, hot food seems like a luxury. Afterwards, I got my drop bag and cooler prepped.
Since there were two aid stations, I didn’t have a solid nutrition plan like I did for the last race. I didn’t do any calorie counting, I just brought a bunch of stuff I might like to eat. Gels, these little date energy bite things I made, cola gummies, pretzels, beef jerky, string cheese, pickles, and the liquids – coconut water, coke, V8, a protein shake, and chocolate milk. Mainly I planned on taking in calories via Hammer Perpetuem. I’d tried it on only two previous training runs, neither of which were very long. My stomach handled it fine, but it remained to be seen if it could handle it for several hours.
And taking a step toward freedom, I chose to forgo my Camelbak and use just my handheld bottle. As much as I hate wearing my Camelbak, it does provide a sense of security. I can carry plenty of water and whatnot, whereas the pocket on my handheld is only big enough to cram in two gels. But since I would hit an aid station every 3.5 miles, this was a perfect opportunity to ditch the pack and go all handheld, like the big boys and girls do.
At 5 I picked up my packet, and pinned my bib to my shirt. Making sure the bib is on nice and straight has become something of a ritual for me. Trying to find just the right spot so the number hangs level and doesn’t pull on the fabric… A little OCD, but hey, you want to look good for the race photographers, right? (Even though I’ll probably never buy one of their overpriced images…)
Fed and prepped, I tried to sleep. It took forever since 20 feet away from me was a group of at least a dozen people (with children) that were up relatively late drinking and having a good time. Eventually, though, I did fall asleep, and woke up at 4:45, 15 minutes before my alarm. I didn’t see any lights on or headlamps moving about, which was good because it meant there wouldn’t be a line for the port-a-potties.
Race start was at 6, it was cool and misty. Of the 80-something people registered for the 50M, only 69 people made it to the start line. But it seemed like fewer than that. Inside a horse stable / barn / house thing, we waited for the countdown. We would do a short 3.2M loop that brought us back to the start, then do 6 full laps of 7.8 miles. The countdown commenced and there I was, about to embark on yet another race.
Two miles in, when I turned around to look, I saw maybe a dozen headlamps behind me. I was at the rear of the pack, so there was definitely no chance of going out too fast. A few people in front of me, I could hear a conversation between two folks in my running group. The conversation was comforting in the darkness. Otherwise, I was fully focused on the foot placement of the guy in front of me.
The first loop was nothing but twists and turns, and once we reached the first aid station (3.5M), we were routed back to the start to do it all over again as a full loop. Luckily, since it was still dark, it wasn’t a big deal. It started to get light just before reaching the AS the second time. My Perpetuem was doing me well, so I just topped it off with water.
It was a misty, dewy morning, and although I didn’t actually see the sunrise, the rest of the first loop was quite lovely. Even the stagnant creeks we ran by seemed somewhat magical. (Had to be the sunlight-through-the-leaves-thing that did it.) We ran along one fence line on the other side of which were a bunch of bemused looking cattle. There were a few sections that were fun to run, but only because I was on fresh legs. I knew that this was trail was really made for bikes, and only later would I fully understand what that meant. All those crazy back and forth spaghetti turns and loops? They are fun – if you’re on a bike. But they are maddening to run.
I finished the first loop and went straight for my drop bag: ditch headlamp, grab gel, stuff face with pretzels, go, go, GO! I was so focused on getting out of there quickly, that I took off and forgot to add more Perpetuem to my water bottle. It’s crucial to make sure get things right when you’re at your drop bag or an aid station. Fortunately, one of the biggest benefits of doing a multiple loop course is it allows / forces you to practice your aid station routine. On this day, I would have 12 more opportunities to get it right.
As I started the second lap, the pack had disintegrated and I had all sorts of breathing room. I hadn’t run in several days prior to the race and not surprisingly, my hip flexors (?) were getting tight, causing me to shorten my stride. I haven’t even run a half marathon and I’m already hurting? That is not good. If I manage to get through this, there is going to be some serious hell to pay afterwards. I looked at my watch and decided it was time for another gel.
When I reached the next AS, I again topped off with water. A volunteer mentioned that it was supposed to get up to 81 today. Later, in one of the sunny sections, there was a guy in front of me whose shirt was already drenched in sweat. I thought that poor guy was going to have a hell of a time if it did get up to 81… Fortunately, most of the course was shaded, and it was overcast the majority of the day. That was huge, as it was one less thing to battle.
I also settled on my nutrition strategy by the third lap, which was key. I added two scoops of Perpetuem to my bottle, topped it off with water, and crammed my mouth with pretzels. And was Once I reached the other AS, I topped off with HEED. Most of all, I consumed a lot of gels. I lost count how many, but at least about a dozen. That’s only 2 per loop, but that’s no easy feat.
The aid stations usually only have flavors like Apple Cinnamon, but this time there were actually several different flavors. Excited by this new development, I tried to grab something different each time. All of them tasted pretty good, none of them were overly sweet. Variety enabled me to consume more of them, and that really helped keep me going. Flavor fatigue is a real problem!
Later, I came up with a theory that Power Bar gels (which are what I usually buy) are not really made for endurance events because they are So. Freaking. Sweet. I am definitely going to switch over to Hammer gels. The only gripe I have is the package is hard to tear open. Late in the race I had to ask a volunteer to open a gel for me.
Speaking of trivialities, one of the most disheartening things was getting passed by so many runners from the shorter races. Really it doesn’t matter, but I wish that each race had a different bib color, so that it wouldn’t feel so bad to get passed. Maybe it’s a guy thing, but I know I can’t be the only one that feels this way.
At Mile 25, knowing I was halfway done brought a small ray of hope. 1.2 miles later knowing I’d just run a marathon also brought a smile. However, the fourth lap brought no joy whatsoever. All I could think was how I HAVE TO DO THIS TWO MORE TIMES???
The fifth lap was slightly less terrible. My brain kept thinking about what parts of the course were still coming up, and that I would have to do it again, but each time I would push that out of my mind and re-focus on what was right in front of me. At this point in the story, you’re feeling like I was feeling. This thing just keeps on going on and on in circles… When will it end?
But finally, I was on my last lap. Even though the lap was only 7.8 miles, something about the twists and turns made it seem infinitely longer. I tried to avoid getting caught up in this mental black hole and instead got caught up in a clump of runners.
I wanted to get this over with, and just as I was about to make my move to pass the clump, the guy in front of me tried to do the same. It was awkward, but he let me pass. I picked up the pace to make some room. Then a good song came on my iPod, and I took off. Taking longer strides helped stretch my legs. It felt so good I played the song again and kept up the fast pace. After the song, I slowed down to preserve some juice for the rest of the last lap.
I settled on the plan that I would run the last lap, as much as possible, and walk any inclines. When I reached the aid station for the last time, I had only 3.5 miles to go; I was ecstatic! I hung out for a minute and stretched, something I’d been meaning to do all morning, but never did.
The last 3.5 were the longest ever, but it was it felt great to know that I was so close to finishing. Normally I lame-walk inclines at a normal walking pace. But I was actually swinging my arms and really taking the hills – I was power-hiking! Also, I had avoided looking at my watch most of the day, but when I heard a beep, I had to look – 49 miles. Only one mile to go! In about 12 minutes, all the tiredness, all the misery, all the stupid f*cking loops would be over. I would not have to run this again, this was it, I was done. Hallelujah!
And then, there it was in front of me – the finish line! I ran as hard as I could. I finished in 9:34:22.
The first step is admitting that you have a problem.
“Hi my name is ________. I have a problem: I’m addicted to racing.”
* * * *
The last two races have not gone as well as I’d hoped, and that has dampened my enthusiasm for racing and running in general. Or so I thought.
After the last race, I didn’t run at all for a week. The first few days I physically couldn’t. Once I could walk normally again, I felt like I had lost my mojo. I didn’t want to run. I wasn’t running and I didn’t care. It didn’t bother me one but. If you are like me, you know there is something seriously wrong when not running doesn’t bother you.
I managed a short run the other day, and then two days slipped by. Finally, last night I went for only my second run in two weeks. It was later than I usually run, but I was determined to get in a run. The temperature was absolutely perfect.
It was dark out, but I chose not to use my headlamp. It’s kind of hard to see, everything’s kind of grainy and dreamlike. What I see in front of me looks a lot like what I’ve seen in my dreams. I’m always running somewhere, and can’t really tell where I’m going.
I started thinking about what to do about this Wild Hare race, which is coming up quick – November 16. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to run it or not. Originally I assumed I would do the 50M, but after my poor performance in Chicago, I thought I would skip Wild Hare and try to redeem myself at the San Antonio Marathon (it’s the day after the Wild Hare), but then I realized it’s waaaay too soon for another marathon. So I thought, “Just do the 50K.” Then for the last few days I felt so burned out, I thought, “Just skip it entirely. Just focus on Bandera in January…”
A couple miles into the run, I warmed up. I started to remember what it feels like to really run, and I remembered why I like doing this. And then my brain made a crazy connection. In one of the old Super Mario Bros Nintendo games, Mario could jump and then gently float down for what seemed like forever. I’ve often had dreams that I could float like that, and that’s what I felt like. My legs were motoring away in a cartoon circle while the rest of me was completely still. I realized that I was floating along; I was Mario. I felt good. I felt happy. I wanted to run again.
Then the choice became clear: Which would I regret more, running a mediocre / bad race, or not racing at all? There are several races that I regret not doing, and I didn’t want this to be another. I decided that I would rather race and whatever happens, happens. But not racing? Well, that’s when you know there’s a problem. And not the good kind of problem.
* * * *
When I got online today, I looked at who was registered. Of all the people I knew, only one person chose the 50K, everyone else chose the 50M. At the Lighthouse race, I chose the 20M instead of the 50K, and I regretted that. My choice was made for me by indirect peer pressure: I signed up for the 50M. Like I had originally planned all along.
From what I’ve heard, the course is not technically challenging and there is not much change in elevation. It’s six 7.8 mile loops with a 3.2 mile loop. So it should be relatively “easy.” The only goal I have for this race is to channel my inner Mario and enjoy the race.
I’ve come to realize that during extended periods of running, my heart must be diverting blood and oxygen headed for my brain to my legs, because my mental capacity bottoms out. I made logistical mistakes that slowed me down, but one huge demoralizing blunder earned me the Einstein title: I took a wrong turn.
I got to the park, dropped off my stuff, and picked up my packet. I ate some food, pinned on my bib, got my clothes ready. Even though it was still daylight, I figured I might as well try and go to sleep. Later in the evening, it started to sprinkle. It was off and on for a few hours, and I was glad to not be in a tent. Then I realized that the drop bag with my change of clothes and my rain jacket were just outside of the aid station tent, exposed to the rain. Even though it hadn’t full on rained, I figured my clothes were soaking wet by now. The only thing I could do was to accept it and know that I’d be running in the same clothes all day.
As I lay there, tossing and turning trying to get comfortable, I remember thinking, “Jeez, right now I’m just laying here trying to sleep, but tomorrow I’ll actually be running.” And then bam! It’s 4:55 a.m. I’m standing in a small crowd and some lady is yelling, “It’s 5 minutes till the start!”
The countdown commenced 4, 3, 2, 1 and away goes the pack! The first 14 miles went by pretty quickly, as this is the easiest part of the course, and I was still pumped up. When I picked up my first food bag, I discovered that I put the wrong bag in the cooler, and so I had the wrong split information. No big deal. I ate up everything in my food bag and was feeling good about that. Extra bonus was being able to blast a duke while it was still dark. Fortunately, other than being slightly hungry, I had no stomach issues at all during the race.
At the second aid station, Nachos, I wanted some cold water. Three giant Gatorade coolers and I’m looking around for cups. “Cups?” I ask. Guy replies, “Not at this race.” I was at a loss, and was going to just open my mouth under the spigot, but thankfully the same guy let me borrow his cup. (I had no idea that they weren’t going to provide cups! And I thought that there weren’t any volunteers, but that had to be wrong. No doubt many of the people were spectators waiting for friends / family, but there were definitely some volunteers.) Next aid station: Equestrian B.
I had one food bag that was supposed to be for the Lodge aid station (Mile 25). In an effort to simplify the drop bag business, I decided to leave that bag at Equestrian B. My plan was to grab two food bags when I went through. No big deal, right? Well not if you remember to grab the bag! Which I didn’t! It would be much later until I realized I’d fudged up.
I start working on food bag #2. Power Bar brand gels are freaking sweet, and not in a good way. The vanilla tastes like vanilla frosting. And normally I like Chips Ahoy cookies, but they tasted extremely weird and chemically. The pretzels were pretty rocking, probably due to the salt. The tropical lifesavers were good for keeping dry mouth at bay and tasted yummy. But the big winner was the cola flavored gummies. AWESOME!
By this point in the race, the field of runners was spread out. It seemed like I was the only one out there. Somewhere in there I ran with Ed Brown for a little while. He, in his insanity, was doing the 100 mile. I thought he was going too fast, and so did he. But he was having a good time and was super upbeat.
Miles 18-24 were the big hills. Strangely, they didn’t seem so bad. I was pretty stoked around Mile 23, knowing that I was almost halfway done. And then I got to Mile 24ish. The course came to a tee. There were two signs, one said LOOP 1&3, the other LOOP 2&4. I stopped and looked at the signs, confused. I asked some runner, “Is this the way for loop 1?” I now realize he was probably just as confused as I was. He said, “Yes.” What I should have asked him was, “Which way to the Lodge?” Or better yet, the sign should have said (for the benefit of Einsteins like myself) LODGE with a big fat arrow pointing right. Instead, I went left.
I saw trail markers and thought that was a positive sign. But I didn’t see any runners behind me, in front of me, or coming from the other direction. (When you reach the Lodge at Mile 25, you turn around and go back. So there was two way traffic on the trail.) After 3.5 miles, I came across two ladies on horseback. They’d stopped because one of the horses was taking a huge dump. I asked them where the Lodge was and they told me it was behind me. My heart sunk.
Backtracking was absolutely dreadful because it was hard not to dwell on my mistake. I really wanted to quit. Why did it take me so long to realize I was going the wrong way? Why didn’t I figure that out sooner? Why didn’t I just ask that guy, “Where’s the Lodge?”
Coming down Lucky’s Peak, I slipped and fell on my butt. I got up and two steps later fell on my butt again. I sat there for a minute. I felt like a baby. I thought for sure I was going to cry. I really wanted to cry, to get all the anger and frustration. But for some reason, I couldn’t. Since I couldn’t get myself to cry, I tried to push all the negative thoughts aside and shift my focus to the trail directly in front of me. That helped. My spirits were lifted when I finally reached the Lodge, but there was still plenty of running to do.
It was soooo slow. Now I understand what they mean when they say you have to train yourself to run on tired legs. It’s like your legs blow a fuse and refuse to run. As a result, I walked a lot. But you can push the reset / manual override and tell your legs to keep running. Provided you are consuming enough calories.
Ah, calories. I was very fortunate that they had gels available at the Lodge. I grabbed only two because I didn’t want to take more than my fair share, but I should have grabbed like four. As a result, Course Miles 25-35 were tough because I was short on calories. I was actually licking my arms for salt. It would have been way worse without those gels. And I will say this about Hammer Apple Cinnamon gels: as much as I’m not generally a big fan of apple cinnamon flavor, they are the perfect amount of sweetness.
When I finally made it to the Equestrian B aid station, I immediately went to my cooler and gorged: massive instant gratification by chugging a chocolate protein drink, then starting in on some watermelon, and a string cheese, a sip of coke, and chase it all with coconut water…. Glorious! There were several Rockhoppers there that checked up on me and offered assistance. Weirdly, I’d see them again at the next three aid stations. (I believe they were following a runner behind me.)
Having finally consumed some much needed calories, I was able to run some of the last 15 miles. They weren’t fast miles by any means, but speed was the last thing I was concerned with. It was all about finishing.
At this time I, came to the conclusion that I must have kicked every single rock in the park. Twice. I thought about coming back with a sledgehammer and smashing some of those damn rocks, a la Office Space. But rocks are like Gremlins, if you smash one, they turn into more rocks.
My toes were getting pretty beat up, and my shoes felt tighter than usual. Going downhill became a new challenge. I had to be very slow and deliberate with my foot placement, and it was still painful because my toes would get all jammed up in the toe box. I think the Cascadia’s I was wearing simply DO NOT have a large enough toe box. I thought for sure when I finally peeled off my socks, all my toenails would be black. Surprisingly, as of now, I have only one.
Amazingly though, I got not a single blister! I attribute that feat to my double sock method. Injinji toe socks “liners” with Drymax super trail socks. (The Drymax were like $25, but worth every penny.) And I’m not too big of a sweater, so normally chafing isn’t a problem. But I did chafe –ahem this might be TMI– on my nutsack. That has never happened before, and was quite unpleasant.
When I made it to the last aid station, all I could think was, “I’d be done by now.” I tried to enjoy the fact that the finish was close. Maybe an hour. Tim helped fill my Camelback and reminded that, “The rest of the course is easy, it’s all flat.” Except of course, for Lucky’s Peak. Criminy! Just when you think you’re done, the course gives you the finger one more time.
But I finally found my way to the finish line in 12:51. (By my Garmin, official results still pending.)
* * * * *
So what did I learn?
Planning & Organization = Success. The importance of having your ducks in a row before the race cannot be understated, especially with an undertaking so complicated. I thought I was organized, boy was I wrong!
Make sure your calories and hydration are positioned where and when you need them. Eating solid food early in the race was a little difficult. The food bag was a nice concept, and somewhat successful. However, consuming calories in liquid form is way more efficient. I didn’t drink the Perpetuem like I had planned, so I don’t know how my stomach will handle that. But now I can test it out in training. And I’ll save solid food for the end of the race.
Study the course. Bring a map. You’ll never regret it. If you do get lost or turned around, just concentrate on what’s 5 feet in front of you until you are back on track. Don’t dwell on mistakes and don’t let a time goal be the end-all; sometimes it’s just about finishing. Once you’re finished, you can think of your excursion as “bonus” miles.
Finally, your attitude makes all the difference. You might feel overwhelmed by the difficulties you are facing, but try and remember that it’s the difficulties that make you stronger. Get out of your head and focus five feet in front of you and just keep running.
It’s go time again. Nerves! Anxiety! Excitement! Fear! Giddiness! And Delirium
Tomorrow I am running the Cactus Rose 50 Miler, which will be my second 50. Under ten hours is my goal, which translates to a 12 min pace. That seems downright slow after running 7 minute miles in Chicago, but I have to remember that this is a trail race, there are steep hills. And it’s fifty freaking miles. I fully expect to cry at least once. If not tears of frustration, surely tears of joy once I cross the finish.
In order to avoid bonking at the end of the race like I did in Chicago, the past few days I’ve been gorging on carbohydrates in order to fully load my glycogen stores. I’ve also managed to avoid alcohol, and tried to avoid caffeine. I’ve manged to forgo my morning coffee, but had a Coke yesterday. I’ve eaten a lot of quinoa and bulghur, potatoes, rice, bread… and I think I’m going to have some pasta before I head out.
I’m going to leave today and go get a camping spot at the park where the race is. (Well, really a parking spot, as I’ll be car camping since I don’t have a tent.) The race starts at 5am, packet pickup is 4am if you pick it up the day of the race, the drive is 45 min, so that would make for one hell of an early morning if I chose to stay home. The last race I ran at this park, there was a traffic jam getting in. Luckily my dad had driven me, because I had to jump out of the car and run up to the start to get my bib and get to the start line. Not going to let that happen again, no sir!
I’m not sure if this race is considered “unsupported” or not, but there are no volunteers at the aid stations, and no food at the aid stations. The only thing provided is water, ice and, at two aid stations, a portajon. You have to bring your own food. Which in a way is good, because it has forced me to pay more attention to a crucial aspect of running a good race.
Reading from a couple sources, I’m figuring on 250 calories per hour, and about 30 oz of fluids per hour. The sources are pretty far apart in their recommendations, so I’m taking an average. I made “food bags,” for lack of a better term, that contain various gels, cookies, chips, snacks etc that total at least 500 calories. I will pick up a bag at every other aid station. There enough calories per bag to keep me chugging along, and hopefully enough variety that I don’t get sick of any particular thing. (If you’ve ever had more than 3 or 4 gels in a race, you know what I mean.)
On the back of each bag, I attached a print out of the splits from that aid station till the next food bag. I plan to hang and clip this bag around the sternum strap of my Camelbak. I like the idea of having all my food easily accessible right in front of my stupid face. But if that turns out to be annoying, I’ll shove it all into the pockets.
As far as hydration goes, I’ll be relying mainly on water, with a handheld with Hammer Perpetuem. I haven’t really tried the Perpetuem in training, and I KNOW YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO TRY NEW THINGS COME RACE DAY, but I’m going to anyway. I’m going to rely on my “food bags” for my calories, so the Perpetuem is more of a supplement. Also, It may help to have something to drink other than water.
So that’s the plan to get through the race. Watch my pace, hydrate, and consume calories. Keep a sense of humour, talk to people, and most of all, remember that no matter how terrible you feel, this is fun!
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.
* * * * *
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
Yesterday, my usually cautious decision-making process was blind sided by over-excited enthusiasm. Now my brain is freaking out. And not in a good way.
For some reason, I thought the Nueces race was towards the end of March. Nope! I should have looked at the calendar. Then I would have seen that the race is a mere 5 weeks away. Now my brain won’t stop yelling at me, telling me what a dumb idea it was to register for a 50M without being able to properly train for it.
It might be disastrous attempting this run on such short notice: I could injure myself, or be unable to complete the run and DNF. The idea of a DNF is somewhat terrifying. I know there will come a time when I will have to face that, but so soon?
My brain knows at some point in time, I will be able to run a 50M. Possibly even in March. But it just wants to make sure that I am ready for it. My super logical brain really just wants what’s best for me.
At the same time, the (somewhat dampened) enthusiastic side of my brain is telling me, “Dude relax. Don’t be scared. It’s going to be okay. Just because you can’t train for it the same way you did for the last race, doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Just train the best you can. Lots of other people run 50M. You can too. That’s what this is about, to see what you are capable of. You won’t have a fast race, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about just finishing. And you will finish.”
I swear, that side of my brain is a really good salesman. And that last bit is the part that really intrigues me: Can I run my first 50M on 5 weeks of training?
Lesson learned: Always consult your calendar, aka Look before you leap.
I ran with a few of the Rockhoppers today at Government Canyon. Stefan, Cara, and Elizabeth. I talked to them about some of the races they’ve done. It seemed like they’d all done numerous “real” ultras, which made me feel a little out of my league running with them. I was envious of their accomplishments, but inspired to make my own.
“The Nueces 50K.” That’s what I told them I was training for. “My plan is to do a few 50K’s and get some experience under my belt. Then try and tackle a 50M.” Or that was the plan anyway.
About halfway through the run, Elizabeth had to turn around and head back. She was nursing a knee injury and had a half marathon the next day, so she wanted to take it easy. So the rest of the run was with Stefan and Cara. Stefan lead the whole way, with Cara following him and then me. He kept a brisk pace. There were times I couldn’t see him and I crossed my fingers I was following the same trail. I had no idea where I was so getting lost would have been super sucky.
Somewhere along the way, we ran into a runner who was kind of lost. He asked about directions and struck up a brief conversation about Bandera, Rocky, and Nueces. He said he’d just run Bandera and planned to do Nueces. We began to go in the opposite direction, and then Stefan said, “We’ll see you at Nueces!” a minute later, I heard Cara say, “You should do the 50 Miler.”
I was watching the ground, so I didn’t know who she was talking to. Was she talking to me? No, she was talking to Stefan. But then I started to think about that. What if she had been talking to me?
Stefan kept up the pace and if anything, got quicker. We were running well. The hills were cake, the rocks endless, and the temps perfect. I kept up just fine, but Cara started to slow down a bit, so she let me take over the second spot. I did my best to shadow Stefan, I wanted to show that I could run with the big kids. They noticed and gave me credit for keeping up.
We ran into Miguel from the R-U-N group. We stopped and (they) chatted. He asked how far along we were. Neither Stefan or Cara was wearing a GPS, and I’d been having trouble with mine -somehow the display had switched. Instead of showing the usual distance/ elapsed time/ pace, it was showing calories/ something else/ something else. I felt really dumb because I’m pretty sure Miguel noticed I was wearing a Garmin, I think the same as his, in fact, but he didn’t say anything. I put my arms behind my back. That was a lesson for the day: learn how to operate my watch.
We stopped at a crossroad. I asked Stefan how much harder it would be to do a 50M vs a 50K. He said, “If you’re even thinking about it, you should do it.” That was just the sort of crazy positive advice I wanted to hear. Despite the fact that he doesn’t know me or my capabilities (other than the run we were on), he suggested to just do it. I like this guy.
Later, I asked Cara the same question and I think I got pretty much the same response. So my brain started percolating crazy ideas… We eventually finished our run. My watch showed only 13.7 miles in 2:23 for a pace of 10.25. They guesstimated 15 or 16 miles. I had problems with the starting and stopping, so I know my data was short. Ugh! Nothing worse than being outsmarted by technology.
On the drive home, I thought to myself, I should do the 50 miler. Normally, I would take a more cautious approach. Like I said before, do few 50K’s and build up some confidence. But I already feel pretty confident about my ability to do 31 miles. What will doing another prove? Why not do a 50M? Are you afraid to fail? Maybe?
Well if I’m going to consider doing this, I need to commit myself to the idea of actually doing a 50 mile run. OK. And that’s when I decided, Fuck it! Why mess around with another 50K? I know I can do that. Nothing to it. Let’s bump it up and do what we came here to do. Let’s run the big stuff. Let’s start with a 50 miler!
I AM GOING TO DO THE 50 MILER.
I got goosebumps. Straight up gooses bumps, and not just once, it was a wave of them. Part of it was fear, part of it was excitement, but all of it was joy.
So that’s what happened today: I made a big decision. And it feels good. Now I need to sign up and start to figure out training…