This week hasn't been good. Not at all. And I am not even interested to give details. Just take my word that the trip south-west of Austin to run a 50 miler wasn't ringing any bells. I did all the prescribed workouts, passed last Swedish massage class test (with 98%), prepared my first presentation for work (highly accepted), we had a pizza dinner with all 3 of my boys - and I was driving on some peach-dark rural roads to this camp Eagle, wondering why am I even doing it.
I arrived at 9 pm, falling asleep on my feet. The park/camp is perfectly set up with a few bunk-housing options right at the start. 12 people per room. Well, I am never, ever bunking again! Everybody talked loudly and milled around (I was holding back till 10 pm, but at 10:15 I simply yelled to shut up, and yes, I didn't even said "please", you know, when in communal housing, have some respect and obey communal rules with lights and noises out past 10pm), then we still had people arriving till midnight, and when finally I shut my eyes - at 2:30am a loud snoring woke me up. I never went back to sleep. When Joe saw me in the morning at packet pick up, he figured I am tired and pissed to no extent. This run was not going the way we want those to go...and I lost my headlamp somewhere in the car. Thankfully, John R. gave his spare to deal with first 40-some minutes of darkness on trails.
When someone emailed the local trail group what's the course is like, Joe responded" think Bandera with ledges and river crossings". This description (it's a first year for the race) and pictures on the website determined my "goal" of sub-11 (Bandera time minus 12 miles minus stomach issues, hopefully). Most importantly - run a controlled effort and figure out fuel for the future. It's a training run. I did check out the field, and as few as there were girls, 3 of them were with significantly faster times very recent, so I relaxed and forgot about all of it.
6 am, and off we went. When the course is 3 identical loops, not much is to say, besides that it was pretty, extremely technical, with over 1/4 of each loop being "a la Charlie Torn (HR100 RD)" cross-country (Joe kinda tried to make new trails, but the effort was futile and too fresh), with barely a flat section. Longest uphill about 1.2 miles (per time), and longest downhill at about the same. The rest - rolls with rocks, rocks and more of that.
My mind, as well as my heart, wasn't in it. I donned my i-Pod and shut out the world. I wasn't my usual chatty self, nor did I smile. I would refill my water in a bottle at each AS and quietly say "thank you" - and take off, all in 20 seconds per stop. I carried all my gels (and some extra dead weight, as it turned out) in a Nathan pack. The idea was - water, a gel every 20 min, a salt capsule every hour, a can of V8 between loops. Repeat.
The weather was perfect for running. Mid-60's and overcast, with some wind on open sections and a few drizzles occasionally. 3 loops allowed for little thinking, and I needed it. I started passing folks at around mile 7...something that has never happened before. I wondered if there was an early start (there wasn't). I checked out how I felt (great, controlled effort, no hard breathing). I shared a few miles with Gordon, the left him behind. I shared a few miles with Steve, and dropped him too. In fact, in a second half I haven't seen a single soul...
What can I say? The weirdest thing was happening on second and third loop, when at every section I kept thinking Deja Vu, like I was on it just a couple of minutes before, not a good 3+ hours. I couldn't shake the feeling. My plan for 11 hrs called for something like 3:20, 3:40 and 4 hr/loop, giving me time to naturally slow down. It wasn't meant to be...
I ran 3:08 first loop. Resupplied (took 3 minutes), ran second loop in 3:22. Resupplied, contemplated not going out again, telling Joyce I don't feel like doing it, but really, body felt awesome, and it was silly to drop without a single excuse. My left ankle was giving me trouble (one of the twisted from RR100), so at mile 39 AS I asked for Advil, which I got. I noticed that my splits are as close as they can be, and figured 10:30 is a given, may be 10:15. For the life of me, I never timed last 4 miles (in various sections), and when arrived to the ledges along the river, couldn't figure out should I fight for 10 or not. So I ran. At last AS I had 15 minutes left - wonder if it's enough? I pushed, but at 12 minutes, still not seeing the camp, gave up and walked a bit. As soon as I did, the gate showed up. I thought to myself if I should bother (there was no real goal, besides, sub-10 was planned for Leona Divide), then I ran.
I crossed the finish line in 9:59, and walked away - to cry a bit, for the emotions held inside, and for my first sub-10 since 2004. Without even planning. Or pushing hard. Controlled effort, that was all there was. Joe opened his arms and said I won...
Now, I don't know what else to say. It was a good lesson. Quite a few of them. One - glad to have stopped experimenting with liquid calories and to stick with gels only. No bloating, no gas, no puking, no gut shut down. Worked like a charm. I don't know if it'll hold for a full 100, but 50 was a bliss - and an easy packing for the future. Two - take salt. Not only it helped my gut (probably, rumor is), the crust all over my face proved I had a big loss of it, and - I wasn't peeing every 5 minutes like a camel! I stopped taking salt a couple of years back (common sense is to take it to prevent cramps, but I don't get cramps), and that's when my bladder issues went nuts. Saved a lot of time today too. Three - run your own race, always. To begin with, I always did just that. Each of us is out there to do our own best on this given day. You can only control what you do. So, that's what you do. Four - don't give up. If you focus, things happen. While I truly wasn't having fun today the way I normally do, and questioned myself of why I even continue, the point is, not every day is the same - or it should be. Some days it's just pure work on details, nothing else, and that's ok too. Five - don't underestimate the benefits of correct rest. The fact that I didn't run a double-long-run the previous weekend played a big role, I believe. And last - get shoes the right size, what for me means a half-size smaller. You know how we keep saying in ultras you need bigger shoe to account for feet swelling. Well, we don't. This pair, as good as Fireblades are to me, is half-size bigger, and I will loose 2 toenails due to downhill bombing and sliding foot forward. It didn't happen at Bandera when I had shoes normal fit.
And lastly - I feel great. No soreness, no pain, no hunger, no dehydration, feet are in perfect condition (thanks to Drymax socks and Fireblades - with the RIGHT insoles if I may add), mild chafing from the bra (the usual - can someone come up with one that doesn't cause the problem without putting a lube on, like Drymax socks operate?), not even sleepy (drove 3 hrs back with no coffee, no food, and no music - I think I was fed up with 10 hrs straight of my tunes).
Check out the course. It is beautiful. I didn't carry a camera, but the website has plenty of shots.
From the recap of a local runner:
As far as the comparison between Bandera and Nueces courses, Nueces is a tougher course for several reasons.
- Nueces has more rocks… just like Joe said… no BS! He also said, quote in Joe’s brutally honest way, “Anyone who wears those little Vibram foot–gloves out here is dumb.” and “Anyone who wears a racing flat out here is dumb.” Robert said “There is a reason they call it "Rocksprings"… as in rocks come out of the ground from nowhere.
- Climbing at Nueces is similar to Bandera only longer. The major climb at Nueces up to Windmill is quite entertaining… a combination of Boyle’s Bump and Ice Cream Hill rolled together. Endlessly long like Boyles but steep and rocky like Ice Cream.
- There are several “springs”… as in rocks come out of the ground from nowhere. At Bandera there are at least several miles of dirt between Chapas and CR, and many places along Three Sisters where the trail is semi-smooth caliche. Nueces is an endless ocean of unavoidable fist-sized jagged limestone and flint EVERYWHERE.
- Climbing at Nueces is similar to Bandera only longer. The Bush-Whacked” miles of new trail on the course bearing the signature of J.P. A few places had me thinking “No sane four-legged animal would’ve chosen this route.”
- The “Mind-Tease” factor. Every aid station along Nueces is situated where you see the aid station. You get within 100 ft, then the course jags left, sending you another few miles. The final station running you 15 feet past a raging party in the Pavilion only to send you back out another 2 miles before you finish.
- Water crossings… Nueces has several. Unless you have legs 4 feet long and willing to skip across small rocks risking a broken ankle, you WILL get your feet wet.
There is NOONE who marks his courses better than Joe. The turn streamers, the confidence markers, and - even the "wrong way" signs...if you get lost, it is totally your own fault. I don't even know how would you get lost on his courses, no excuses. You would have to literally jump over the big red "wrong way" sign. I came 7th overall - no wonder I haven't seen a person in second half. My splits were 3:08, 3:22, 3:27 - can't get much better than that. Next year there planned to be a 100 miler there in conjunction (as a 4x25M loops), and as for 50M - ladies, 9:59 is yours to beat, it's a soft record and won't stay long:) Oh, the benefits of a first year race...
This one is for you, kiddo.