Tag Archives: Rockhoppers

THE FRANKLINS 200… AGAIN??

Bits and pieces as I remember two weeks after the fact.

My friends Dustin, Erin, and Ed ran the inaugural Franklins 200 last year. We ran together for a bit at the start, but eventually we all ran our own race. Dustin crushed it, taking a 6 hour nap and still beating me by like 5 hours. Erin and I finished within a few hours of each other. Sadly Ed DNFed around 120 miles. It was a freaking hard race and I could not imagine wanting to do this again. And yet here we are.

It might have been because we wanted to support Rob the race director. He is quite a character and asked for our feedback after the race. We gave him quite a bit of input and suggestions. Rob wanted to make it right. So he gave us a decent discount, and we, being the goombas that we are, signed up for the race again.

I guess it snows in El Paso?

The night before was the usual mild panic drop bag preparations and then trying to fall asleep. When the alarm went off at four am, we found out that we had gotten a couple inches of snow! We get to the start and everyone is bundled up. And yet Dustin is wearing shorts! I convince him to put on his rain pants. That probably lasted an hour because the next time I see him, he’s back in shorts.

We take a few photos, do the countdown, and the race starts. There’s a good bit of snow on the ground, but nothing crazy. The usual race start excitement wears off pretty quickly as the realization sinks in that I am going to be out here for a long fucking time. Worse, the field of runners is considerably smaller. Last year saw 35 starters, this year only 16. Even including the 8 runners in the 200K, there were only 24 people spread out on a 38 mile loop. We were in for a heavy dose of loneliness.

None of us -Dustin Erin, and I- had trained very well. Even though I finished last year, I was nervous about something happening and not being able to finish. My mindset going into the race was not a confident one and the inevitable first DNF was looming large. But I figured if there was a race to DNF at, a tortuous 200 seemed like an acceptable one.

I started out sort of running with Erin and Dena. It wasn’t really intentional, but we were going a similar pace and it was nice to have compan. I would scoot past them, slow down and they’d catch up. I was too much in my own head to talk much and eventually I lost them.

PHOTO CREDIT: LET’S WANDER PHOTOGRAPHY

The first 20 miles was a mental mindfuck of wanting to quit so bad. Why the hell am I doing this? AGAIN?? Freaking five loops! UGH! Eventually, my body felt okay running. Then my reptile brain settled in and grudgingly accepted what was expected of it.

The laps with the snow were visually sustaining. The Franklins are usually pretty boring to my eyes, but covered in snow, they seemed majestic. (Snow makes everything look cool.) The windblown snow on the bushes at the peak were really neat. As the days went by, the snow melted slowly. It was the perfect snow cone-y texture and consistency and as per my usual, I ate quite a bit of snow.

One of the highlights of the first lap was the sunset. As I was running, I could see the shadows on the hills around me. If I got to the end of this ridge, I would be able to see the sun. There wasn’t much time before the sun would set so I booked it and got to see the sun set.

On the second lap, I got into Bowen AS and it was dark, maybe 3 AM. I’m 70 miles in after 24 hours. I’m the only runner in the AS so I chat with the two volunteers and then try to rest. I laid down on one of the cots, using all four of the crappy felt blankets available, two under me and two on top. It was cold and the wind was blowing like the tent like crazy. There was a metal pole holding down some tent flaps that was banging against other metal. Once again, (like last year) the AS tent seemed like it could collapse any minute from the wind. Not conducive to sleep at all.

Another runner came in and I overhear that she wants to sleep / lay down. Obviously, I have to surrender some blankets. Sleep is impossible anyway; I get up and they take two blankets for her. I get off the cot and sit in a chair, pulling up the lone space heater. New girl joins me and we share the heater. Her name is Julie. We talk and have a pretty good conversation. We were both tired and waiting for the boost that comes with sunrise.

As we talked, we wondered about the other runners. I think both Jessica and Erin had dropped by this point due to rhabdo. We inquired if anyone else had dropped and where was Dustin? Turns out Dustin was asleep in a vehicle and had been for quite awhile. Keeping up with Trevor and Jessica must have been mega taxing. I chose not to go mess with him; I wanted to sneak ahead of him.

Julie and I left together as the sun came out. It was a great mental boost being able to see the trail and having someone to run with. Julie told me about her experience doing the Triple Crown, her and Jessica’s training for the PCT FKT attempt, and other interesting things.

We had just come down the ridge of switchbacks and dropped onto the road to West AS and I was thinking about Dustin. “I wonder how long he’ll sleep?” And LITERALLY as I finished that thought, I turned, looked back and there he was. I could not believe it.

I’m happy and surprised to see him and equally annoyed that he caught up. When he woke up and found out that we’d passed him, I guess he wanted to catch up. He told us he had already run to the ridge we just descended and THEN RAN BACK TO BOWEN AID STATION and slept because – not for inability but for seemingly logical reasons – he had mentally quit last night. But he hadn’t actually told anyone he’d quit.

It’s nuts that he did about 9 bonus miles + whatever vert, slept for like 5 hours and still managed to catch up to us. Dude’s a freak.

Photo credit: Let’s Wander Photography Funny story. Jesse the photographer was showing us photos and told Dustin that he got a good one of him that made it look like he was actually running.

It was great that Dustin had joined us, however now as we commiserated, both of us wanted to quit. We talked about it and there were some pretty sound reasons for throwing in the towel. But I did not want to DNF for a lame reason because I knew we would regret it.

We got to West AS, Dustin and I breezed through while Julie took a bit longer. Dustin was still in race mode and we basically left Julie. There was no way I could keep up with Dustin’s pace, and I felt bad that we didn’t communicate to Julie that we were leaving, so I fell back and waited for her. She and I had a similar chill pace that I was happy to keep. She caught up and we made our way to the Start/Finish.

When we finally got there, who else should be waiting for us? I guess Dustin didn’t want to run alone, so he waited for us. And from that point, mile 90 or so, we actually verbalized our plan that the three of us would run the next 110 miles and finish the race together.

PHOTO CREDIT LET’S WANDER PHOTOGRAPHY
PHOTO CREDIT LET’S WANDER PHOTOGRAPHY

Rob and the volunteers noticed that the three of us were running together and referred to us as the “Three Pack” when really he should have been referring to us as the “Bib Buddies”. I have to say that it is way more fun running with your friends than “racing”. The conversation / distraction is well worth the slower pace.

The last three laps Dustin and Julie got along famously. Both of them have outgoing genial personalities and they hit it off. I was happy to just listen in and occasionally chime in with my two cents. As the miles added up, I spoke less as my reptile brain went further into survival mode.

Some of the good things that happened: Rob had been getting us some great food. Burgers, BBQ, Chic-Fil-A, pizza, real breakfast foods, etc. Although my lips got “salt burned” from too many burgers. And I did again suffer one of the worst cups of ramen ever – lukewarm and with barely any flavor. But overall, Rob really took care of us in the food department. Huge improvement from last year.

After getting a night of sleep, Erin made the best of her DNF and joined Kyra in crewing for us. She seemed happier not running and instead taking care of us. (She is a natural caregiver.) The best was when Erin and Kyra woke us up with Starbucks. I’m not really a Starbucks guy but it was better than the AS coffee. Pretty sure that if Erin hadn’t been at Pavillion, Julie would have had to quit or we would have left her there.

PHOTO CREDIT: LET’S WANDER PHOTOGRAPHY

The weather got slightly warmer each day. The third day was perfect running weather. The last day was a smidge warm. Last year it was so cold that it was extremely difficult leaving the warmth of the sleeping bag and getting up to run. This year wasn’t nearly as bad, almost painless.

Because I felt like I was carrying them way more than actually using them, I decided to NOT use trekking poles after the first lap and it was totally fine. I did not miss them one bit. I ate very little the last 20 or so miles and felt surprisingly fine. I was fully expecting to bonk, but it never came. This was awesome because I was so sick of gels by that point.

Weird note that I did NOT poop at all the first day. Normally I poop practically five minutes into a run, so this was a little alarming.

We were starting the last lap and Julie had been dealing with a blister on the ball of her foot. She did some work on her feet and switched into her Olympus’. However, when we left and started climbing up the ridge, Julie was in tears she was in so much pain. I figured she was done, no way that she could continue. Understandably, she didn’t want to quit. Dustin and I talked about what we should do. It seemed cold, but we debated whether we should leave her to fend for herself.

We got to the Pavillion and fortunately, Erin was there. Julie asked Erin to drive her back to the start so she could switch back into her Timps. We all piled into Erin’s rental, went back to the start, Julie changed her shoes and Erin drove us back to the Pavillion. We unpaused our Garmins and started running from the same place. Julie’s shoe swap worked. She was able to run and we were all relieved.

Safe to say Erin’s excellent crewmanship saved Julie’s race.

We discussed how excited were were to be on the last lap. That every section we finished we would NEVER EVER have to see again for as long as we lived, because there was no way in hell we would ever run here again. So with each section we finished, we gave it the one finger salute.

The last time at Bowen we inquired about the other runners. The closest guy was Vermont. From what Jesse the photographer was saying, he was way behind us. We were thinking we would all tie for second place. But then someone was like, “Is he wearing a yellow shirt?” Jesse was sure it couldn’t be him and left the tent to see who was coming in. Sure enough, it WAS him. We were just about to leave, and this gave us a reason to hurry up. We hadn’t been racing at all, and now we sort of were.

We get going and start thinking race strategy. Dustin wants to book it, but that would mean separating. Neither Julie or I would be able to keep Dustin’s pace. And after running almost 90 miles together, it seemed a shame to split up. I suggested we stick together. Maybe Vermont wouldn’t catch us if we kept a good pace. He wasn’t some cocky jerk who we didn’t want to beat us, he was just a regular determined runner. If he did catch and pass us, good on him, he’d earned it. He might also blow up trying to catch us in the heat.

We found out from Kyra that he left the AS pretty quick. We could see him on the trail in the distance. It was crazy how he seemed to be moving slowly, but somehow covered distance crazy fast.

We stopped to take a sit break. And then Vermont appeared with pacer in tow. He passed us as we three sat in the shade along the trail. We tried to stay close. We tried to play mental games by staying close and Dustin clicked away with his poles extra loud. But Vermont was determined to be done. He dropped us, finishing almost an hour sooner.

As we got closer to the finish, Dustin reminded me that the bottom of his cooler was lined with Michelob Ultra beer. I am by no means a beer snob, but the one time I drank that beer was after a race when ANY beer tastes good, but that one did NOT taste good. Despite this, I was so looking forward to having a beer after finishing the race. Sadly, because alcohol is a no-no in the park, and we were to brain dead to figure out a way to drink it on the sly, I never did get to experience the Michelob Ultra.

We finished arm in arm just after sunset. Rob gave us our buckles. I always get emotional after a race and I shed a few tears, but fewer than last year. Finishing was super anti-climatic. But I was SO GLAD that we didn’t quit. Pretty sure Dustin was glad that he didn’t actually quit as well. And I was really happy that we had a new Bib Buddy, Julie.

While we were out there, we realized that over the course of Franklins last year and this year, the 100 miler, and the 50K, both Dustin and I had run at least 535 miles on this course. And I’m still not sure where Shaffer Shuffle is.

T-Minus 5 Days: March 2 = Nueces 50 Miler

Ran another early morning run with the Rockhoppers. For a change of pace, we were running on a paved trail, rather than a more forgiving dirt trial. We started by the Pearl Brewery. We ran south past the Blue Star arts complex and followed the river about 4 miles and then turned around and finished back at Blue Star. It was really great to see all the improvements the city was making along our route. I tried to capture some of the scenery on my iPhone, but had little success.

We started at the Pearl.
We started at the Pearl.

Flying fish!
Flying fish!

Total mileage: I think was about 11 miles. I stopped my watch at some point and forgot to restart it. This bummed me out because I threw in a nice sustained sprint, but won’t get to see the stats on it.

The restaurant wasn’t open yet, but they were more than happy to serve drinks. Blue Star brews their own beer, so everyone was pretty stoked to take in a well-earned pint. I had a coffee while everyone else had some wonderful sounding beers. Probably the most wonderful beer was Tom’s: the beer he was served had several lipstick prints on the glass! Gross!

Tom's beer featured multiple lipstick prints
Tom’s beer featured multiple lipstick prints

I ordered the pork belly and eggs and potatoes. My stomach was grumbling, and when I finally got my food, I was slightly disappointed. The food was okay, but not great. The potatoes had a bit too much thyme for my taste. Worst of all, the portions were too small. I was still quite hungry after I cleared my plate. I should have ordered the burger and fries.

*   *   *   *   *

This was the last long run before Nueces, where I will be running my very first 50 miler! I am looking forward to this taper because I feel plenty worn down. I’m definitely taking the next two days off, possibly three. And then just some easy runs on Thursday and Friday. My goal for the week is to get my nutrition squared away, which basically means eating a ton of carbohydrates all week. I thought I would try and keep a food diary for the week, but I’m feeling wishy-washy on making the effort. Maybe I’ll Instagram all my food! That would be way easier, and way hipper. Hmmm…

Role Models and Revelations

Speedwork course
Speedwork course

I didn’t see the email until late in the afternoon, so I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go. There was going to be a speedwork run at 6. But I’d already run in the morning, and  I didn’t want to overdo it. I was on the fence, leaning toward not going…

But then I thought to myself, “Uh dude? You can run twice in one day. It won’t kill you.”

Yeah, I know it’s possible and people do that. Other people. But what the hell. Go. Run. Hurry up, it’s almost time. So I drove out to Valero.

When it’s time to take off, there are 5 of us: Liza, Stefan, Elizabeth, and the guy who’s name I can’t recall. The pack is off with Liza and Stefan leading the way. I lag behind because I forgot to “acquire satellites.”

Once I get the beep, I catch up and chat with Elizabeth. She’s very friendly, but our conversation quickly evaporates. We pull up to the other guy. Thankfully, he starts up some chatter, and I leave the two of them to their conversation. Elizabeth runs at “her own pace”, and the guy is just recovering from the flu. I didn’t come here for an easy run, I came here for a speed workout! I hustle to catch up with Liza and Stefan.

I have a slight set back in that I have to ditch to perform a gastrointestinal transaction. I pop back onto the path only to see Elizabeth and the guy rolling up. I yell, “Spicy food – no bueno!” I’m not sure if they heard me or not, but I’m sure they knew what was up.

I push harder to make up the increased gap, and then I catch up…. because they turned around. We stop and wait for the other two to arrive to begin the actual speed work. The plan is one minute hard, one minute jog. Repeat 10 times. Sounds easy enough. Liza counts us down, and then we took off.

Fast.

It felt awesome. I love running fast.

But I’m huffing and puffing to keep up with them. Meanwhile they are just chatting away, telling jokes! How can they still have a conversation at this intensity? They must not even be pushing! STOP!

Whew! Catch my breath. That was a really long minute. Which is weird because the following recovery minute is really shor- GO!

It’s rough going at first. My legs are trying to settle into the rhythm. It’s been awhile since I’ve run this hard. Last time I ran this hard was last week at the Alamo Ranch Meetup. I was sort of racing Christian. We pushed up the pace the last two or three miles. STOP!

He was pushing it well, but I outpaced him just slightly. I am overly competitive and want to be the fastest. Which really sucks because now- GO!

Because now I am not the fastest! But I am determined to keep up. I am determined to show that I am worthy to run with the group. I am determined to not get left behind. I try to relax. Feel my form. Remember, rapid turn over. STOP!

I relax. I feel good. I am having a great time, despite how hard this is. And after a few rounds, all I want to hear is “GO!

We finish the speed work and head back. The “jog” back is pretty intense. It’s an effort for me to keep up so I’m trailing, listening to their conversation about their upcoming races. It amazes the races they’re doing – the big races, the “real” ultras. And this is only two people out of the group!

I think to myself how great it feels to run with strong, fast runners. I want to be fast like them; I want a 7:00 min pace to be cake, I want to run the same big races.  I really admire these two runners and want to be like them. Then it occurs to me – they are role models!

Role models? Hmmm… Then it occurs to me: in my life as an artist, I’ve never had a role model. There was never someone, that I knew personally, that I looked up to. No one that I respected and admired. No one to teach me or to learn from.  And after I left school, I didn’t even have any peers. It was just me, community of one. Talk about isolation! Furthermore, creating art never did anything for my competitive spirit.

But now, entering the ultra running world and joining the Rockhopper group looks to hold much more promise than my artistic life did. The people I’ve met so far are awesome runners. They run ultras on a regular basis. And they seem pretty casual about it, talking about 50 milers and 100 milers like they were 5K’s or 10K’s.  And some of them are fast.

I started to think, as sad as it is, maybe I should give up trying to be an artist and just be a runner. This is a pretty radical thought for me since all my life I have identified myself as an “artist.” But, if I really wanted to be an artist, I would throw myself into it. But I haven’t. I’ve been struggling with it my whole life. I haven’t painted in… three months? I’ve been working on my art website for how long? I am however, throwing myself into this “running thing.” I run four times a week and I started this blog for crying out loud!

In the future, I will come back around to Art.  But for now, I am going to focus on running. I have some new role models that I want to learn from, and there’s a lot of ground to cover.

If You’re Even THINKING About It…

logo_nueces_sm

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…