It was a day with great folks, few costly mistakes and eerie surprises. With temperatures 12F at the start (and 8F in low valleys) this run bid as the coldest start I had. But it being Texas, I knew it will warm up some. Besides, there is no bad weather – only not enough clothes. That said, I was bundled up and a Popsicle at 7am for sure, with little socializing.
I had made a few new year resolutions. I know, lame, but I figured, what the hell, gotta do it some time, even if never before. Well, let me just say, one of the front resolutions had gone to dispose. Ha! But I am quite happy nevertheless...
I wanted to break 13 hrs. I didn’t study the course or the times much, but, per usual, I “felt” I am capable of going under 13. Even with it being a training run, what means I didn’t taper. The only thing I allowed myself to miss was a second run on Thursday. The rest of the week (and the previous weekend) went according to full schedule. And I still knew I can do it. I was confident in my ability at last in a long time...
Joe and Joyce put up hell of races. Just like Sarah and Wendall from PCTR, these two of Tejas Trails made it their business – and their pride, heart and soul. With Bandera 100k becoming a Montrail cup race this year (with points to score, as well as coveted 2 top spots for WS100 race), the numbers of registered runners shot up, and 3 distances (100k, 50k and 25k) had combined over 600 folks. Joe and the Crew did an impossible – not only did they handle the sheer number of people in a not-so-huge park, somehow we practically never saw runners from other distances, and when we did, we were totally spread out, thinned out and taken good care of.
As I said, it was a crisp morning, to say the least. But it insured a beautifully sunny day with no wind and the views I could proudly call my new home. With quite a few of my friends from PNW coming to test this Texas gem I think I was surprised to find myself showing off these hills covered with shrubs (they call it "trees" over here), sage brush, sotol and rocks. Yes, I miss soft dirt pine-needle covered single track with views dropping down a few thousand feet. Columbia River Gorge, my Cathedral, will never be replaced. But there is a certain beauty in Texas hill Country that grew on me, slowly. And the day was perfect to see it.
I ran with so many on the first 15 miles. As I usually do lately, I had no clue of the aid station names, distances between and terrain/elevation change. I just ran. With Dr. Drake, Rich, lots with Big Chris, Naresh (who promised to stay behind me on the first loop in attempt to have a more evenly spaced race), a guy from my first NYC running club VCTC, and a pleasant surprise and gift of sharing trails with Dan Brenden. The air warmed up, as did we, and in 30 min I was shedding clothes off and packing them into my Nathan pack. Chris commented how much stronger I seem to be comparing to Cactus Rose 100 – and I can’t say I felt bad there either. I surely felt pretty darn good right now. I was drinking Perpetium, and that was something I shouldn’t have done – there was a reason I gave it up after trying for 6 months some 5 years ago. My stomach doesn’t handle it at all, even if I make it 1/3 strength. But I am a cheap gal, I had it as a left over from another race, and figured to save a buck. I felt things getting uncomfortable, but my HEED was in a drop bag at the end of loop 1, and so I went. That, and 2 gels per hour.
At about mile 20 my legs got a bit tight and tired. Nothing serious, but simply a reminder that some taper might have been a good idea. I kept powering, along with Dan always within earshot. 50k front-runners were passing us, and it was fun to encourage them. I knew Larry will be coming soon – and he did, somewhere a mile and half before mile 25. It was a perfect spot to have happen. I was somewhat at a low point – nothing unusual, miles 20-30 are bonky, just as they are for marathoners. The good thing is, with experience you know it will pass, and I knew that too. But having his company was awesome. We don’t run together, unless it’s a traveling pleasure time – our paces are completely unmatched, and so are our personalities (I tend to talk my running partners ears off when with somebody, what I did here as well on those first 15 miles, I only run serious by myself, and Larry is more like a normal guy, quiet). Here, at this particular point, there was noone I rather be with – and he stayed with me all that mile and half into an aid station. That was a highlight, and I am not one of sentimental people.
We got into Last Chance, kissed goodbye, and he took off for his last 0.5M of a 50k race, while I had 5M for my first loop end. Things were looking better now...
I finished loop 1 in 6:30. I was hoping to make it in 6:15 to make my 13 hr goal, but I didn’t. I can’t really point out why, I wasn’t struggling at all, I took it easy, but not walking turtle, I only pee’d once per 5M stretch between AS’s (unlike my latest races where the stops took me out every 5 minutes and wasted loads of time), I am through AS’s in 30 seconds on the dot, and I ran well and hiked well. So, I can’t point my finger, but I had to accept the fact that 13 hrs is not happening, and the next closest goal now is 13:30.
Larry was waiting for me to exchange my supplies in the pack. So was Sean Meissner, who finished his 50k. What a crew! Who can possibly dream of a better one? I spent 4 minutes talking and drinking my V8 juice, and I was off.
My legs were making a complete turn-around for the better within a mile. I was elated. I knew it, I knew it! In fact, they were feeling so light, it was weird. But some 30 minutes after leaving Lodge, Perpetium finally plugged my intestines, and the pain became from uncomfortable to downright bad. What did I do? I was a smart ass. Like a first time ultrarunner, instead of getting to water only, I had half a cup of grilled cheese (liquidy kind of stuff) to drink at the next AS (chased with a sip of beer) – and whatever in my colon was still breathing stopped. There was no passage. The attacks of pain made me walk a lot, and at times have sudden stops and shout-outs. It felt like diverticulosis. All that while my legs felt better by minute. And I mean – better than I ever had legs. Not only at this point of the race, or at the race - simply ever. I was mad. But the good thing I didn’t allow myself any pity. I accepted the fact that even 14 hrs could be lost now, and kept moving.
Why I pride myself in being a second half runner is all mental. In second half, every step you make brings you closer to the finish. I call it “negative miles”. Dan Brenden was around me, and I was thrilled to be in a company of this man (who, at 58, finished 13 100M races last year...I think not any different from many years before and the years planned). He was understanding of my problems, and when somewhere 15 miles into loop 2, shortly after Crossroads AS (and as the dusk fell and temperatures dropped back to teens again) my colon started moving things, we both smiled. It is going to be a good day...
If my cheapness wasn’t costing me another mistake. As I said, the dusk fell, and in Texas it means dark comes almost immediately. I reach for my headlamp, put it on, tun it on – and realize I took that one I hadn’t replaced batteries in since Cactus Rose 100, the one I described in one of my long runs where I could hardly see my hand 2 feet in front of me. The one that got only worse since then...
It's rocky, and I can't see a squat. My legs, on the other hand, are doing fantastic. I can't run either flat or down, but I can shuffle up because the visibility is a bit closer on the uphill. So I shuffle, trying to resolve to the idea that if I can't figure out the light issue at the AS, I may have to stay there until I do - either that, or crawl to the finish at the speed of a worm...and probably the way worm moves too.
But I make it, somehow, in some insane time I don't even want to realize. I turn to a volunteer (God bless his soul, because while he knew me, I don't know his name) and ask for a fresh battery - and he finds it! And changes it in my headlamp! And it's like a day-light all over again! I give him a kiss, call him my angel and swear to NOT be cheap for the race prep ever again. Too costly in the end of it is to not pay a few bucks for a fresh pack of batteries - and for a jag of HEED.
So I take off. Finally, I can fly with these weird legs of mine! Because it is weird, and eerie, and freaking me out big time how good my legs feel, how fresh, and light (the word I haven't used for my legs more than a handful of times, as in, probably can count fingers on one hand how many times). It feels like I haven't run a step - no, better than that. Feels...well, you get it, I am freaking out, yet taking advantage of it. Because now 14 hr is back in business, if I run like that.
I pull away from Dan and run every flat, incline and whatnot. In fact, if on the first loop I'd be dreading flat sections because it means I have to work, here I am thrilled about opportunity to run, and choose to do so unless it is very steep - what only happens 3 times on this section. I also know I will see Larry volunteering at Last Chance, and it's a goal, to come see him. I had been drinking water and eating 3 gels per hour now since I left on the second loop, and my gels are done. I need to re-supply. And I need to run fast.
I make it in 55 min. First loop this section took 5 minutes longer. I am on a mission. Enter, shove my bottle to Larry - "HEED, please", have a sip of coke and ask for gels. It doesn't register right away what my friends at this aid station responded, and I ask again, and again, furious that they keep offering me soup. What soup, gels! Finally, Larry drove it to me - they don't have any. I mumble a swear, and then quickly thank them out loud and take off. I wanted to give Larry a kiss, I swear I did, but I was in a hurry - my mind narrowly focused. Larry said I was at the AS all of 15 seconds. No time. I got no time to socialize. I have 5 miles to go, with 2 big climbs.
What big climbs? I am flying. I really am. At the end of a first climb I see a man, and he notices me and takes off. Silly, it won't help. I keep even, without any acceleration, and eventually he gives up fighting. I pass him and announce we got 30 min and only a downhill to the finish sub-14. He doesn't respond. I fly. I am not trying to push anymore, I am certain I got my goal, but I am still freaking out of this new legs of mine. It's like looking at them from aside and assessing somebody else's ability. Because this is not me. I don't use words "light" and "fast" for my legs. This last section went in 1:06, what is 10 minutes faster than on the first trip in day light. The whole second loop got 48 minutes of positive split (4 of which include stop at the mid-way), and according to Pam Smith who researched the times, only a handful of folks were able to do it 40 minutes apart. I guess it ain't that bad after all:)
Last turn to dirt road, and, arms in the air, I cross the finish line to a hug of Joe. The eerie legs of mine is all I can talk about. I even dance for him. I bubble way too much, and reluctantly leave Joe, and Larry takes me to the warm tent for a full strip change. Shivers start in about 10 minutes, and as excited as I am, it's time to put 3hr drive home - where Stephen is waiting for us. It's late enough already, an hour later than I anticipated and promised him. So we go...
It was a superb event by all means. 2 top guys broke CR, so did 4 gals. 2 girls shared first place - and one of them, Jill Perry, is a mother of 5 (!!!). My dear Pam Smith from OR came 2nd (or is it 3rd?) 3 minutes later, holly cow! 50k male CR was broken as well. There were so many friends there, both times as I went through the finish mat (1st and 2nd loop) the cheers were deafening. Larry ran a fine time in his own training run, even though he tagged along various friends at various sections (including yours truly). Neither one of us felt sore the next day. I was drained of adrenaline and tired, but legs were fresh as new. Just as I had no taper, rest wasn't assigned either. Monday included regular 3 workouts: morning spin class, evening hilly road run, and a yoga class. Today's tempo run bettered my 6M road loop by 45 seconds...
I still have no clue what happened. I can assume of 2 causes, one of which would be finally training a bit more diligently, but I would have never expected this myself. And I don't know if it'll happen again. The memory of those light eerie legs will stay with me for a while. And if there is any chance of them coming back, and me not making stupid scholar mistakes, I might go for another goal - sub-24 at RR100. A girl gotta dream, right? And this year I plan to actually go after it.