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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Brazos Bend, 50 miles of snake jumpin', gator watchin' fun!

Saturday, April 26 was my last weekend of a month of marathon+ distance weekend runs.  I opened the month with Hell's Hills 50 Miler on April 6, and then ran 27 miles the next weekend, and then did a 16 mile and a 31.5 mile long run over Easter weekend.  That said, I didn't have many expectations going into Brazos Bend.  I knew m legs felt good, and my feet felt tired - so tired in fact that I bought a pair of max cushion Altras to wear instead of my normal Brooks Pure Grit 2's. Yup, I committed the cardinal racing sin of racing in a style and pair of shoes that I had only worn on 1, four mile run prior.
Altra Olympus Gator Stompers still feeling good at 34 miles!
But sometimes the atmosphere is enough to change your outlook on your day.  As I checked in and saw the familiar faces of Rachel and Rob the amazing RD's, and started talking trail with some of the other ladies that were getting ready to run 50 Miles my desire to race started to come to the surface. I dropped my drop bag, sorted through my nutrition, put my Nathan Intensity pack on, and got ready for the day.

About 40 minutes to go until start time and I noticed that my back was wet and my pack was leaking.  Well crap. I found Rob and Jose and they helped me find secure some duct tape to hopefully keep the leak from being too quick.  It seemed to work, and soon enough I was back over by the start.  At 6 am sharp, Rob had us off and on our way.  Time to get moving!

I quickly settled into a group of 4 or 5 guys who were a bit chatty, and seemed to be moving at a slightly quick but comfortable pace. I figured that was okay, that given how flat the course was I wouldn't wear myself out too too much by going a little quick early, and besides ultras can be quite lonely so a little conversation was welcomed.  Not to mention that I have a large and irrational fear of reptiles, and I'd rather be in a group until the sun comes up and I can more easily spot all of the gators from a distance. True story.

At any rate, soon enough the sun started to come up, and I had settled in to a comfortable, yet quick pace with Brian Corbin.  I'd never met him before, but anyone that saw us would have sworn that we were old friends as we ran together and told stories for the rest of the first 16.7 mile loop.  I watched the miles click off on my garmin, and wondered if I would regret how quick they were later, despite how easy they felt now.  At some point our duo again became a group of 4-5 and we all enjoyed the early morning miles and saying hi and good luck to the 25 - 50K runners that were starting out on their journeys.  Around 2:20 we rolled through the first 16.77 mile loop.  Holy bejeepers! That is 7 hour pace.

After a quick refill of water and nutrition I was off again.  Due to speed of getting through aid stations, I ended up leaving the aid station on my own, despite rolling in with a group of folks.  Matt, the eventual 3rd place male, took off ahead, and I believe I made it out of the aid station second (of our little group). Knowing that maintaining that quick of a pace would not be wise, I decided to reign it in slightly and pulled back a little, but tried to keep my miles around 840-850...slowing down a little when I stopped paying attention and picking it back up after a slacker mile, soon enough I was near the first aid station and gaining on a girl that zoomed past me half way though lap 1.  I also had my first gator sighting.  A big 7 or 8 footer chilling in the water a little too close to where the gal ahead of hopped back on the trail after a little bathroom break. YIKES! Nothing will make you run down the center of a wide trail like being surrounded by gator infested water on both sides. Irrational fear realized, I wasn't in Kansas (er, Virginia) anymore.  At this point I started singing the song to the child's game 'gator golf' and had a nice little chuckle about the irony of the song. "What could be greater than playing a game of golf with a gator?"  Well, I could think of a few things. I'm pretty sure Mr. Gator wouldn't enjoy being shot in the mouth with a golf ball, and would take that as an open invitation for dinner where you'd be the main course! (There Liz, these are some of the things I think about while running!)

Once I got through the aid station, I was able to catch the girl ahead of me, and really get into a groove for the next several miles.  As I looped back around to the aid station, Jose told me I was in second as the girl 15 minutes ahead of me was hurting and had dropped.  I can't say that I believed him, as he has a tendency to lie about my position in races, but I couldn't be certain so I tried to pick it up a little to build a cushion between me and the girl I had passed, and to maybe gain on whomever was ahead of me.  Over the next few miles, I really started to enjoy the scenery.  It was getting late enough in the morning that the birds were all out, and with the overcast skies keeping the temperatures from rising too high I could really just enjoy running and enjoy the day.  I saw countless water birds, and several gators that all kept a respectful distance from the shore while trying to stay close enough to trick a non-suspecting bird that his nose is a great place to land.  I am also pretty certain that the quick splash, commingled with a bird's cry I heard while running by was the sound of success on one, now full, gator's part.

Eventually I made to the second aid station which marked the just over halfway point in the race.  I grabbed some watermelon and kept on moving.  The next section loops though some hardwood, and while it provides the most shaded section of the course, it also was in my opinion the longest and dullest stretch. Mainly because the section is so straight, and with the horse tracks you have to really pay attention so as to not roll your ankle, so it just seems to wind on and on.  But eventually, around 4:21 in, I hit the aid station at mile 30.  Here I had my pack, which seemed to be perhaps leaking a little more quickly now, refilled and took some Aleve to deal with the hip-flexor fatigue I was getting due to the lack of change in elevation, and grabbed a Hammer gel before getting on my way.
Gearing up for lap 3   -Photo Cred: Calum Neff
I came though lap 2 with a 2:30ish split, or 4:50 for 33.5 miles.  At 15 minutes ahead of my PR pace, I knew I had a good cushion to set another PR.  And as I approached the drop bag area Rob yells out that I am in 1st place, as the other girl also dropped and as rob said my eyes were like slot machines going, "ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!" After quickly grabbing a handheld out of my drop-bag, since I didn't  want to chance running out of water, I was off!  Goal for the lap was to maintain my position and not walk.  34 miles in I was feeling pretty good; but the legs were definitely starting to tire as was I.  And then at about 35 miles in, I got a big wake up call as I almost stepped on a big rat snake!  That'll get you moving!  At that point I really tried to focus on what was on or near the trail, as every stick started to look like a snake and I sure as heck didn't want to actually step on one.  Soon enough I came upon the first aid station of the loop, which meant I had 12 miles to go.  From there I tried to calculate how long it would take me to make the next aid station, and played this game the rest of the way in.  Finally, at 7:27 I crossed the finish line, and won my first 50 Miler. :o)  I was and am very excited about this race for a multitude of reasons: 1. I WON! 2. I ran an 18 minute PR on non-tapered, tired legs. 3. I ran every single step of this race - something I would have thought impossible 2 years ago. and 4. My final time of 7:27 works out to an avg pace of 8:56/mile, which equates to a 3:54 marathon.  I ran my first marathon in 3:54, and on this day I nearly ran 2 at the same pace. :)
Awesome huge finisher's medal, and a Karbach craft brew for my 1st place finish.
Some notes on gear:
Pack - Nathan Intensity Pack. I love this pack. I was disappointed with the bladder leaking; however, Nathan has already shipped me a replacement bladder free of charge.  So they get props for customer service and making things right. :)

Shoes - Altra Olympus.  Shoes worked out great.  I didn't get any hot spots or pressure points on my feet.  And it turns out that the extra weight of the cushion obviously didn't matter.  I also liked the rocker in the forefoot that kept me moving forward all day.  I can't comment on the traction though, as the course was flat and dry.  One thing to note is I usually wear a size 8 running shoes, and these are a 9.

Handheld - Amphipod 12oz. The only handheld I can comfortably run with.


  1. That's pretty amazing, Melinda. Congrats on the win! Makes me want to go run! Only with no tears on my beefy 6 milers. .. lol

  2. I love this race report. Awesome job on the win! It's great that the shoes worked out so well in spite of not using them before.