This is a long one so if you aren’t ready to read almost 3000 words you might want to look at a different blog post (race report)! 🙂
There! Finally, I was headed into the tree line about 10 or 15 minutes behind the very last person who started on time. Could I have started on time? Yes! Unfortunately for me, my brain took a detour before the start of the race as I was putting on all the layers of clothing I’d need to survive the cold, and I completely forgot to attach the timing chip to my ankle. Duh! Such a newbie mistake and one that cost me time. Time is a precious commodity out there when you are running against the clock!
Allow me to rewind the clock a little bit for you to the day prior. I had arranged to have a substitute take over my classroom for the afternoon so I could make the three – hour drive to Bandera. As luck would have it, my substitute did not show up which meant I had to wait a little bit longer before I could leave since it’s not prudent to leave a classroom full of fourth graders unsupervised. Luckily for me, I work with a fantastic group of people who covered down and took care of my class so I could leave!
Once I left work and loaded my race gear into the car, there wasn’t much else for me to worry about other than getting to the race site. Off I went to make the drive down there over the winding back – country roads of Central Texas. I knew once I arrived the only worry I’d have would be…..finishing what I started. How’s that possible you ask? Well, I’ll tell you! Not only do I have some of the best co-workers, I’m equally blessed to have a few close friends who are oftentimes more like my family than anything else. I was racing the clock to get there before the sun went down in order to get my race packet. There’s not much worse for me than driving to a new location, in the dark.
Except in this case, there is one thing worse than driving on unknown roads in the dark and that is arriving at the race location after dark to stand in the freezing cold waiting to get your race packet. I didn’t want to do that. Timing is everything! In fact, I could probably start this story much further back than simply the day prior and really set the stage, but I won’t bore you with all those details!
To make a long story short, I arrived before the sun went down, met my good friend John, retrieved my packet and listened to the race brief while trying to stay somewhat warm. You see, a cold front had settled into the region and though we are accustomed to their scattered arrivals, this one was a doozy and may have broken some records in the state of Texas. As soon as the race brief was over it was time to head to the camper for some of John’s tasty white chicken chili and wait for another runner to arrive from the Austin airport.
I have to tell you that there’s something wonderful about the simplicity of a friendship that allows you the ability to know, with absolute certainty that you don’t have to worry about anything. Running these events can be pretty stressful if you allow it to be which is kind of contrary to the entire purpose for me. Knowing that my singular purpose was just to finish this race that I’d trained five months for was more helpful than I can verbalize.
I mentioned the other runner John and I were waiting for. That other runner happened to be Gordon “Gordy” Ansleigh!! The father of endurance running and the originator of Western States Endurance Run was going to be sleeping in the same camper as me, a mere mortal! This had to be an epic weekend! I wasn’t sure how it was all going to go down but I knew that it would, without a doubt, be educational at the least.
Despite the excitement, I put my head down around 8:00 to relax and visualize finishing the race. I had no clue what I’d signed up for – only what I’d seen on the videos and word of mouth from my friends. This would come back to bite me later as the race progressed.
Race morning started off just fine without any hiccups at all. I woke up early, ate my breakfast…all the usual stuff. We arrived in plenty of time to sit in the nice warm truck and wait for the time to start. You see, it was about 18 or so degrees outside, so there was no way we were going to wait outside for the gun to go off!! At around 7:20 we got out of the truck to head to the start and place my well packed drop bags in their appropriate places and then get in line with all the others waiting to head up the hills and through the sotol cactus forest.
Everything was perfect until the gun went off and I started my watch, looked down and realized CRAP!! I forgotten my timing chip. Without the chip – there is no race! Back to the registration table I went!! Now you’re caught up..As I said, time is precious and things happen for a reason and all those other cliché’s we often hear and don’t think much about.
The great news is that the benefit of starting after everyone else already had was that I was forced to run MY pace. You see, when you start with the rest of the pack you tend to get sucked into running at the pace of those around you for as long as you can hang with them. This is NOT a good thing for someone like me who needs to keep their heart rate low for as long as possible.
This race sends you uphill pretty quickly so there’s not a whole lot of time to worry about pacing, though you can certainly expect the old ticker to get some good exercise. Due to the fact that I was far behind everyone else I was headed up Sky Island while the remainder of the field was headed down. This was a bit hairy at times since there wasn’t a whole lot of room to maneuver in spots. Imagine these human cannonballs barreling down this ankle breaking rocky landscape full of twists, turns, loose rock and trees while you are like a salmon swimming upstream going in the opposite direction.
Up and up I climbed then up and up some more until reaching one of the summits. What a spectacular view! I wanted to stop and absorb all the beauty, but I really did not want to mess around too long because, well like I said before, timing is critical. As I was hiking the up hills I caught up with some of the other runners, including Gordy who had stopped to take off some of his cold weather gear.
From the moment I passed him I made it my mission to remain ahead of him and not allow him to pass me!! It sounds slightly ridiculous to my own ears that I was making it my mission to not let this 60 something year old man get ahead of me, but I’d seen him in action at Rocky Raccoon 100 last year and knew he can make really good time on the trail.
It’s always a nice treat to meet up with others on the trail because chatting helps the miles go by so much faster sometimes than running solo. I am usually plugged into my music within the first mile but wanted to save my battery on my phone so I was thinking about my friends who talk about being in the MOMENT. Be right here, right now without tuning out via the music.
I played cat and mouse with several women off and on throughout the first half of the first loop. I only stopped at the aid stations long enough to top off my Tailwind with more of the same and grab a few pieces of something to eat. This too came back to bite me in the butt. I waited too long to start eating. It’s important to eat early and as often as your body will allow it because if your energy level gets too low it’s very difficult to come back with the same level of energy again.
By the time I saw John at the halfway mark of the loop at the Chapas aid station I was not a happy camper. I really felt like I bit off more than I could chew and was seriously underprepared for the terrain. Those hills chewed me up and spit me out like the rock dinosaurs that had left all those rocks for us to navigate. What I didn’t know at the time is that the hardest of the climbing was yet in front of me!! John did what he always does and laughed it off and told me that I would be just fine. Humph…
Shortly after that I ran into my old buddy Norma who I’d trained for Brazos Bend 100 with and hadn’t seen in over a year. It was good catching up. We went through this long field and she told me to save my energy for what was to come. WHAT? Oh yeah, there are some hella-hills that make our “hella-hill” on our home trails look like a baby hill. She was right too! These hills had steps built right into them, uh huh. Steps for giants and the grade……oh I don’t know – 17% maybe? Lemme assure you though that whatever they are in real numbers they FEEL 25% harder when you’ve already traversed approximately 24 miles and your quads are trashed.
No whining here though. I knew it was going to be a tough race for me. The first time up those enormous mounds of rock with Norma and several other women felt hard but manageable. Going down the other side was certainly interesting as well! Then you go through these mine fields (I kid you not!) of rock. It literally looks like a bomb went off and implanted all these rocks into the dirt and grass. Trip on one and find out! I promise it won’t move…nor will it feel the greatest either.
While we were moving I told Norma that there was no earthly way I was going to be back out for a second loop. HAH! Serendipity had other plans I think. Other than tripping on one of said rocks and pulling my hamstring enough to make me cuss….loudly there was no physical reason for me to stop. I was just being a baby and didn’t WANT to go up those hills again oh and it was going to be a night in the dark and cold too.
We pulled into Lodge, at the halfway mark (8 hours and 30 minutes later) and there was John with my headlamp just like I asked. He asked me what I needed or wanted and I told him I didn’t WANT to go back out. He basically laughed (again) at me and told me to stop being a baby (or something to that effect) and get back out there. So, after close to ten minutes (too long) messing around low and behold, there was Gordy pulling in. Dammit!
Out I went for the second loop thinking to myself, what just happened? Of course, John knew that once ON the loop I wouldn’t just stop – tricky guy he is and I kept thinking about Gordy catching/passing me. The section from Lodge to the first aid station (about 5 miles) went by much quicker the second time through and as I was trucking out after grabbing a quesadilla, here comes this young lady that I’d been back and forth with all day. She and I started chatting just outside that first stop. Rebecca is her name and as the fates would have it, we probably saved each other’s race!
You see, the trail running community is almost like a huge extended family. We all have strengths and weaknesses and though we will pray on weaknesses (like slowness), we also know that sometimes we need to lean on others to get the job done. I told Rebecca that I was simply aiming to finish that blasted course so if she wanted to pass to let me know and I’d let her by. Nope. She sat there (not literally!) in my back pocket while we chatted off and on and both grumbled about how hard the course was and how much we were hurting.
As night fell it seemed as though the aid stations were moved further away than they’d been the first time through. That was not the case for sure, but boy oh boy did it feel that way at times. I wasn’t cold or injured. The borrowed jacket (Thanks T2!!) and three shirts plus leggings, hats, neck gaiter and mittens kept me warm enough but my right hip was really bothering me and it hurt to move a certain way. We kept pushing. We jogged where we could and then walked the technical stuff. Pretty soon it was more hike than jog but Rebecca stayed with me.
At some point we started looking for the headlamps of other runners. They were like magnets pulling us forward and then we’d pass them and back into the dark we’d go. At some point I could tell Rebecca was really suffering with the cold. I asked her about her hands and she said that the two sets of gloves were doing nothing to keep her fingers warm. I told her to take her gloves off and put her hands into the neck gaiter I wasn’t yet wearing. That made her feel moderately better and on we went into the night.
I too was suffering but with nausea and knew from previous ultras that it was due to not enough calories going in and the body expending a great deal of energy to stay warm. At one of the aid stations I grabbed another quesadilla but couldn’t get it down without gagging so that went into the trash.
Somehow we made it to Chapas!! There was John!! I was quite happy to see his scruffy face I must say! We’ve been here before and he knew what he needed to do in order to get us to the finish. Once he is on a mission you’d be hard pressed to deter him from it. We chatted for a little while as I choked down some food and then the chatting stopped and we just moved. Every now and again we’d have a spurt of talking but by now it was freaking COLD. The long field prior to the twin sisters or whatever they’re called (I have my own name for them!) went by much faster in the dark and we made it to YaYa aid station.
I don’t remember much here but I do remember the volunteer who asked my name then took my hands in his warm ones and said something like, “You’re doing a great job!” as we were leaving. John gave me some hand warmers and those were a Godsend as well!!
Somehow, we made it to Last Chance aid station. Here, there was an angel!! The angel (volunteer) offered me a PANCAKE…freshly made with syrup and then, there were little strips of pure heaven to stuff inside the pancake…bacon!!! I really needed those calories and a texture other than noodles or quesadilla. True story – I really don’t even LIKE pancakes but that one was a little baby miracle!! We were now somewhere around 5 miles until the finish, but still had to traverse the toughest terrain.
I digress for a minute….at the halfway mark I’d asked John to meet me sooner than Chapas because (in my infinite wisdom) I told him that by the time I left Chapas the worst of the trail was over and I wouldn’t NEED him……Hmmm…good thing he didn’t listen to my idiocy. Now, back on track….
My vision kept doubling and my feet continually tripped over the rocks that the dinosaur bomb had exploded all over the place; the moon seemed as though it had a double rainbow colored halo and was stalking us through the wood line and I was thinking…..absolutely nothing. It was a matter of just moving that much closer to the finish line.
I was still attempting to jog when the path was not strewn with jagged rocks but for the most part I was just working at staying within eyesight of John’s back and moving as fast as my legs would go. The climbs now were so difficult for my quads to manage I kept slipping and guess who was there to offer a hand to keep me from tumbling back down the daggone rocks and cracking my dome….that’s right. My friend. He was there on the way down the slippery slope made of icy rock debris, acting as a human break so I didn’t break my neck as well. A human speed bump he was! What a guy! 🙂
Nineteen hours and thirty minutes later we crossed that finish line and I was handed that beautiful, shiny belt buckle that signifies so much more than just this one race. Serendipity my friends…
I’d apologize for the length but guess what, I’m not going to. If you made it this far – Thank you for reading!
Until next time friends