Finally, it was here. The day I had been anxiously awaiting for weeks. How would it go? What would it be like? Would I be up for the challenge? Was I ready? So many questions and it wouldn't be long before I found out.
I packed my suburban up Thursday night so that I would be ready to head out just after lunch on Friday. While going out of town to race is always exciting, it's always with mixed emotions as my family usually doesn't go with me and I'm always sad to leave them behind, even if only for a couple of days. This weekend would be no different. I had a late lunch with Gina and then hit the road for my 270 mile drive.
The drive itself was a bit nostalgic as it had me on the same road our family made for many trips to the in-laws house when they used to live on Lake LBJ. That home had been sold about 3 years back and we hadn't been to that area since. Wow, I sure do miss that place.
Pulled in to Inks Lake State Park about 7:30 and already I was getting anxious as I could see a small crowd at the park check-in station. Luckily I had made reservations and wasn't too concerned about a camp site. Within minutes I had my permit and was on my way to site #325.
Even though I have a smaller 2-man tent, I also brought a much larger tent as I figured I wouldn't want to be cramped in a small space for two nights. Good decision. Other than setting up the tent by myself as the people next to me sat there unphased as I battled the wind and my tent rainfly. I finally said F it and put it away. No need as it wasn't going to rain anyway. That ended up making for a nice night when I went to sleep. the moon and stars were quite visible through the top screen of the tent. Really nice.
Before I knew it was 6:45 a.m. and I was awake. Well, might as well get up. I headed over to the bathrooms showered and decided I would go hang out in the race start/aid station area before the 10K and maybe get a bit of a feel for the race as well as introduce myself to Joe and Brad, the race directors. On my way there, I came across another runner named Curtis and we ended up walking to the start together. Immediately I tried to size up the competition and it didn't take long to figure out that he had done several 50k's as well as a 50 miler through the Tejas Trails group. He was registered for the 60k as well.
The 10k was small, just under 30 runners, and the start was rather informal and simple. Just what I had expected from what I had been told. Brad and Joe took turns warning the runners of various hazards on the course including snakes and then it was 3, 2, 1 and they were off. The handful of us not racing the 10k decided to get comfortable and take a seat. Joe thought it would be just under an hour before the first runner would come in so I decided to take a seat and wait for the leaders to come in. They were running the same exact loop that the 60k racers would be running 6 times later that night.
The goal that I had concocted up in my head for this race was 6 hours. Not sure why especially when I knew that last year's winner was 6:00:20. Actually, maybe that was why, but honestly I had no idea what to expect. I didn't know what the course would offer up. Joe's email to the runners indicated that it was pretty flat, but that it was pretty rough with rocks and cactus and he suggested leg protection such as calf sleeves. Well either people are pretty hard headed or they don't read their email because I only spotted a couple of runners with calf sleeves on for the 10k.
While sitting there pretty relaxed and shooting the bull about who knows what, we hear "runners" and there they are. They don't come into sight until about 20 yards away and and before we knew it 3 of them rounded the corner and came down the chute. Runners 1, 2 and 3 all came in within 3 seconds and the winning time was 53:15. These dudes looked like solid runners and all of a sudden I was starting to re-think my goal. Okay, maybe not 6hrs after all? The second place guy was in need of medical attention as he had a couple of cuts on his head and on his knees. Apparently he was the leader before overshooting a turn and crashing hard. I just sat there looking at this guy bleeding, breathing hard and just dripping as if he had stepped out of a pool. "Shit, what was I in for tonight" was all I could think. This might be more than I bargained for?
As it turned out, I had been standing by the time clock when the first 3 came in and the guys seemed short handed so I asked if I could help. Someone handed me the list of runners and asked if I would keep time. Doh! The other runner that I met on the way in ended up "spotting" runners numbers as they came down the chute and I would mark their time. Unlike chip timing to be used in the night race, this was a manually timed race, old school. This went on for just over an hour as the runners made their way across the finishline. At some point I overheard Brad tell one of the female runners "check with that guy in the blue shirt, he's the official timer". Uh yeah, that was me, the official timer, nice. The last runner came in just under 2 hours.
Well, that was fun. Time to get back to the camp, make breakfast and then take a nap if possible. Before the nap I was actually able to get the rainfly on. The sun was pretty brutal so this would help a little with the heat, but I still woke up lying on sweat soaked sheets that I had placed over my sleeping bag. After waking up I was somewhat unsure what to do with myself. It was still quite some time before the race so I walked down to the lake and sat by the water for a bit, but I was really concerned about being out in the sun and being drained of any energy. I decided to go ahead and get in an early meal which was oatmeal, raisins and almonds. Not really what I would want on hot day at the lake for lunch, but I thought it would be good for me. In addition, I had made a pretty concious effort to hydrate with PowerZero the last couple of days. They were going down at record pace. I was done eating and cleaning up by 3:00 so now only 4 more hours.
What now? I decided to make a quick trip into town to load up the ice chest with ice so that I didn't have to worry about anything going bad or floating around in a huge chest of water. By the time I got back to the park I could see that it was buzzing with runners and it was time to start getting excited, as if I wasn't already.
I decided to get my gear bag together and head down to the start to drop it off. I brought two bags from previous marathons and a backpack. I put as much as I could in the backpack, but brought the gear check bags just in case I need something with my name on it. I had no idea of the protocol for this as they did not provide specific gear bags. As I walked that way and other runners were also doing the same I could see I was under prepared. They were toting boxes, ice chests, all sorts of stuff with everything they owned in them. I went ahead and got checked in, claimed my spot by a tree with my backpack and headed back to grab a few other things just in case. A folding chair, a small ice chest and a couple small bags of "stuff" later and I was ready. Again I noticed the lack of calf sleeves and gaiters. I was surprised due to Joe's email. I felt rather goofy in my calf sleeves, gaiters and little bitty Brooks Elite ID shorts, but at this point I didn't want to mess with taking any of it off. And I was trying to convince myself that the sleeves would prove to be valuable over the 37.2 miles that I was about to encounter.
Well, after all of the waiting, I hear Joe call out that the race is about to start in 12 minutes. People start meandering over to the road and as I do the same I realize I hadn't turned on my Garmin. I also wanted to clear some history. Well, as luck would have it, it took FOREVER to locate a satellite on my 305. In fact it went right down to the wire before it did and I was a wreck. I had situated myself up front behind the first row of guys. There were two women next to me that I took were pretty fast. They were both Team Traverse members and had tons of trail racing experience. I was feeling rather inferior due to my lack of experience, but still had some confidence that I could do well. Of course as usual, I was sizing up the competition again and just hoping I could finish in a respectable placing. After pretty much the same spill from the morning's 10K, it was the same unceremonious start and we were off. That moment of "here we go" as we headed up the road.
Loop 1 - miles 0 - 6.2
Within 50 yards we were off the road and up into the trails. We were told is was going to be pretty much single track with a bit of service road coming up and then back to single track for the duration of the loop. Just 6 of them, not too bad.
Not sure what I was thinking (actually I'm not sure I was), but there was a lead group of about 8 or 9 runners that took off. Since I was behind them I couldn't tell who was a 30k runner and who was a 60k'er by their bibs. I just decided to go with them. While I don't recall looking at my Garmin the first loop, I knew we were moving along pretty quick. I was right on the tail of one guy with my foot literally hitting the ground where his foot was just as he moved it. There was someone behind me doing the same. I just focused on his feet until eventually he passed the girl in front on him and then I was focusing on her shoes. I'll have to say I was surprised by the amount and size of rocks on the trail. A lot of loose rocks on the downhill section that made footing tough at times. I just knew there would be an ankle injury by the time I was done.
At some point before the end of the first loop the girl in front of me pulled over and for what I assumed was an unscheduled bathroom break, that sucks. Not long after that I could see a couple of guys coming up the hill towards me, oh, 3 guys actually. Then I realized they were the leaders and had just gone through the start/finish area. Within minutes I was on the road and into the start area myself. I quickly dropped off my first handheld, grabbed my second one along with my headlamp and flashlight and was headed out. At that point I looked at my Garmin and could see that my split must have been 51:xx for the first 10k. About 6-8 minutes faster than what I wanted. Damn, what a mistake. As irritated as I was I tried to convince myself to slow it down. Let those lead guys go.
Loop 2 - miles 6.2-12.4
Starting the second loop I was right on the heels of another runner. We chatted back and forth a bit and I got the impression he was yet another seasoned veteran of the trails. When he asked about my trail racing experience I once again stated "this is my first" and then admitted that I had gone out too fast and was now feeling the effects. I told him that I was going to back off the pace a little. He told me to run my own race and not to try to race the other people out there. While I felt like I already knew that, I certainly opted to ignore it, at least up until that point. Before long he was gone and out of sight.
Somewhere in the 2nd loop I started getting a little concerned that a DNF would be a possibility. How in the world could I feel so bad already and not even be done with my second lap? I'm not sure if it was before or after those thoughts entered my head, but the first time I looked at my Garmin to see total distance was at 8.9 miles. What??? That's it? Geez! Just keep moving and listen for footsteps in case I need to move over for someone passing me. One possibility was the girl that was right behind me earlier and had pulled over. I had seen her coming in on my way out on the short out-and-back section early in the lap. I was sure it would just be a matter of time and I would get passed by a chick.
As it stood, I trudged my way around for lap two and came across the matt in just over 1:48:xx. About 56 minutes for that split. Felt slow, but still a bit too fast. Unbeknown st to myself, I hit "stop" on my Garmin at that point. More on that later. In the aid station I refilled on Gatorade, grabbed my second handheld and decided to go with two for the 3rd lap. I had to ration my liquid towards the end of lap 2. I figured that this way I could forgo stopping at the aid station that was about 2.6 miles out in attempt to save time. I grabbed a CarBoom gel, downed a S cap and headed back out. I felt pretty good about the fact that I wasn't wasting much time at the aid stations.
Loop 3 - miles 12.4 - 18.6
Not a whole lot that I can remember from this loop other than I'm starting to feel some serious chaffing inside the thigh of my left leg. I know for a fact that I am no longer concerned with my pace or mileage as I never once looked at my Garmin in that loop to realize that it was still "stopped", stuck on 1:48:xx.
I do notice on this loop that I'm starting to lap quite a few people. There were plenty in loop 2, but they were coming pretty quickly now. I was really amazed that the runners did a great job of pulling over and letting me by without me ever having to saying a word. I was surprised they could hear me or see my lights because all I could hear was myself hurting. I was sure to shout out a "thank you" and "keep it up" to every runner I passed and asked anyone stopped and seated if they were okay. It appeared to me that the course and heat were taking its toll. The carnage was evident throughout this loop.
Coming in to the finish area after the third loop I was feeling confident that I was somewhere up in the top 6-7, but not exactly sure. I had lost track of the leaders as they came out. I later realized that it was a couple of them where 30k'ers and at least one of the 60k'ers had dropped.
I decided to go with the 2 handhelds one more time. A great volunteer asked what I needed and filled up my bottles with Gatorade and water. She then asked if there was anything else I needed. A dry pair of shorts would have been nice, but I asked for something for the chaffing. She found and handed me a tube of Vaseline. I figured it would be best if she just squeezed some onto my hand rather than apply it directly to my leg. I'm sure she appreciated that as well. I totally loaded up the inside of my legs, but at this point it was too late. There was some severe burning going on down there on the left leg. Aaaggghh, nice!
Loop 4 - miles 18.6 - 24.8
As I headed out of the camp and up the road to the trail I was right behind another runner that had caught up with me. We exchanged comments and I proceeded to follow him into the trails. As soon as we got into the trails I peeled open a Snickers Marathon Energy bar and tried to wolf it down. I had no desire to eat, but knew that I needed to get some calories down or I'd end up paying for it later. Pulling into the aid station this time I had my first exchange with Joyce Prusaitis, the RD's wife. I was hurting at this point, felt a bit disoriented and wobbly. She had a look of concern on her face that concerned me. She quickly filled a ice and placed it on the back of my neck while instructing me to hold it there. She filled me back up with my drink of choice which had switched to a watered down Heed mix. I actually liked it quite well. I looked at Joyce and asked her when was it a good time to start drinking the coke. I don't think she knew how to respond to such a stupid question. She politely asked if I felt like I needed a change and I replied, "yeah, let's try something different" so I down a couple of small cups of coke, which I had not drank in 0ver 20 years, and I was off again. I left along with the same guy and we continued in that order for maybe the next mile or so until I decided to pass him up and try to get moving. Oh, and it was early in this 4th loop that I finally looked at my Garmin and freaked because it was still stopped. All I could do was start it and keep going right. Pace didn't matter and they would let me know how far I had gone. I really didn't need it at this point.
About 4 miles into this loop I came across the runner that had told me to run my own race. He was pulled over and hurting. I stopped to check on him and he indicated that his feet were swelling and that he was waiting for the salt tabs to kick in. He had screwed up on his electrolyte replacement. All I could do was offer for him to run with me and he did. After about a mile he had fallen back and I had somehow found a little life in my legs. I was tempted to leave him, but instead stopped and went back to him and asked again if he was okay. He opted again to try to run in with me and eventually we made it back to the finish area. I never saw him again, but was later told he took a seat and I don't see from the results that he finished.
Loop 5 - miles 24.8 - 31
This time I decided to drop a handheld and run with just one. The temps didn't seem quite so bad and I didn't drink as much on the last loop. I figured one handheld could get me from one aid station to the next. This time I grabbed a Cliff Chocolate Brownie bar, got refilled with Heed and headed back out for #5. And there he was, the same guy that I started loop 4 with. It was de ja vu all over again. Okay, only 12 miles I thought. I can do this. It was probably somewhere early in loop 5 that I thought I could finish. This time we stuck together for the entire loop and taking turns leading. It was great to have him there to keep me going and he later admitted the same to me.
While I had no idea what pace we were keeping by the mile or the loop, this guy, Derek, did. He was giving me the splits for the 10k, told me what his other splits were and it was also killing him that he couldn't remember his 1st 10k split. I didn't care. I just wanted to finish and I didn't want anyone passing me. We came through the 5th loop at about 1:07....I think? Load up on Heed again, I downed another S cap which I had been doing at the turn each time and I grabbed a Hammer gel off of the table. I was too lazy to walk about 20 feet over to my bag an get another CarBoom. At that point I figured to hell with it, a gel is a gel.
Loop 6 - miles 31- 37.2
One more loop, woohoo! I finally had the confidence that I was going to finish. Just cruise this loop and I could claim my first ultra. As in the previous loop, I was noticing that the other runners were few and far between. We'd come across a few scattered runners here and there, but I was really surprised at how few people we were passing now. As I look back I see that 76 of the 30k runners had finished by the time we started the 6th loop and 40 of the 86 starters for the 60k had DNF'd. That made sense. That meant there was only about 48-50 runners spread out over the 6.2 miles left out there on the course at about 12:30 a.m..
Derek and I seemed to get into a pretty good grove and I felt reasonably good all things considered. We stopped at the aid station, drank some coke, topped off the Heed and headed back out for the final 4.6 miles. We had been trying to figure out where we were in the standing this last loop and we eventually convinced ourselves that we were 4 & 5. We both commented that we didn't care which order we finished, we just didn't want to get passed. There were awards for the top 5 finishers Male & Female. Then as if this guys was on cue, some runner yells out to us "good job, you're 5th & 6th". Huh? Oh well, whatever. It is what it is at this point.
Within the last couple of miles I thought to myself that we had both been pretty lucky since neither of us had fallen. Several close calls, but neither of us had hit the gound yet. Just as soon as I was about to say it out loud, I stopped myself because I thought it would surely be a jinx. As we moved along I felt like he was running stronger and I had convinced myself to stay with him. We may have both been thinking "5th & 6th"? I wasn't sure if we were setting ourselves up for a sprint at the end or what, but I wanted to be sure I was right there with him just in case he decided to take off. As we crossed a highway and made our way back onto the trail for the very last time we tried to decide how far we had left. I thought it was about a mile, but who knows. He agreed. I was just sure we were getting closer although with each turn or hill I kept thinking "oh yeah, I forgot about this section".
And then it happened, about a half mile from the finish I must have lost focus and my left foot clipped a rise in the dirt and the next thing I knew I was hitting the dirt pretty hard. It was a bit of a shock, but I gathered myself, picked up my visor, headlamp and flashlight and got back to my feet and moving. In what I thought was the utmost in sportsmanship, Derek had stopped to make sure I was okay and I was. At that point I decided the "race" was over and that he would be the 4th place finsiher. No idea if I could have caught him or not had I not fallen, but it didn't matter. He could have left me in the dust and didn't. There was no way I was going to make him work any harder. A few minutes later we came across the finish 4th and 5th and just as I expected it. No hoopla, no cheering fans, no one handing you drinks. Just satisfaction of knowing I had done it was all I needed. The RD gave us both a "good job" and directed one of the volunteers to get us the 4th and 5th place awards. Turns out she was Melanie Fryar, the early women's leader that dropped due to a foot injury. She's a little bitty thing with pigtails and legs that could outrun a deer. And just a few minutes behind us came the first place female, another solid runner, the same one that had pulled over on the first lap for a bathroom break. Nice job!
Now it was time to eat away and drink some of that cold Heineken that I had sitting on ice. The only problems was I had no desire to eat, at least not what was on hand and the beer didn't seem quite as inviting as I thought it would. I did pop the cap off of one and sat down for a visit with Derek and then with Joyce Pursaitis about the run, but that was it. I gathered all my belongings and slowly shuffled my way up the hill to my tent, tossed stuff everywhere and went to sleep. A shower would have been nice, but I barely felt like taking my shoes off. It would have to wait until the morning.
What a great experience! I loved every bit of that race so much, even when I was hurting and unsure if I could finish. That's what I was looking for in a race. A challenge and the uncertainty of not only my finishing time, but the ability to cross the finish line. The desire to test myself and see what I was capable of had been satisfied for the time being. The course itself was pretty tough, just as advertised by Joe and Brad. A lot of rocks, buried as well as loose on the track and plenty of cactus and tree limbs to manuver around. They did say the it was pretty flat, but I call BS on that one and I'm sure some of the other runners would agree. While there were no substantial climbs or descents, it seemed that if you weren't going up, you were gong down. As mentioned before, the DNF's were high. Only 53% of the starters finished. The overall winner was a 5:43:xx and 2nd place was 5:58:xx. Third place finished at 6:24:xx. Derek and I finshed at 6:33:46 and :49 respectively. The first place woman finished right after me at 6:37:xx and then not another finisher until 7:21:xx.
There are 2 more 60k's in the series in the same area so it is now to time reload and get ready. I can hardly wait to get back out there and give it another shot. When they are behind me I think I'll have a better feel of my chances my December 50 miler. As for right now I'm feeling a little better about my chances than I was before the weekend.
Sorry this was so long, but it was an ultra after all. Thanks for your interest and support!