Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice. - Fire and Ice, Robert Frost
I've now ventured out to Bandera State Natural Area which lies west of San Antonio on two occasions to run ultras. And while the races have only been 2.5 mos apart, the contrast between the days could not be more stark. In October, the trail was dry and dusty and the day was scorching hot, exactly how you would picture a trail outside of an old cowboy town to be. This past weekend in mid-January, it was frozen, muddy, and grey with freezing rain, fog, and even a little snow. Each day led to its own unique challenges and hells to overcome, and the first time out here - I lost. I DNF'd at mile 65 due to some tendon trouble and a bit of a wounded pride. Thus, this past Saturday was a bit of a rematch.
The day started later than usual, with a 730am start, I was well rested and alert; but also fearful. In the few minutes I stood outside earlier to get a cup of coffee and some breakfast, I had froze and had a hard time getting warm again. Fears of hypothermia set in and I had added what under normal circumstances for me, would have been far to many layers for doing anything physical outside at temps hovering around 30F. At 730, the race started and we were off. I tucked myself into the middle of the pack and hung back to chat a little bit with the excited mid and back of the packers. They were all going on about who wanted a Western States lotto entry, who was just trying to finish, and who was just trying to have an enjoyable day. I found myself in that last category.
As planned, after spending most of the day hating life during my last ultra, this one was for fun. (Yes, I do find running all day on trails "fun", even in freezing cold wet weather.) And I was determined to enjoy the day. In the early miles I ran for conversation and warmth, stopping early to remove and stow my extra layer before continuing on. Around mile 2 I was lucky enough to run into Rob and soon thereafter my teammate Matt. This was fantastic. Time on the trails with friends is the best way to spend time on the trail. We sped along, moved up in the pack, and enjoyed a little banter before Rob slowed down a little bit and we hit the first aid station. From there Matt and I continued on and ran together as the field spread out and we found ourselves running alone for decent stretches at a time. The way hills stretch out a field is one of the most incredible things about ultras. In most marathons, you always have a sense of the race; but in ultras, you can truly lose yourself in the peacefulness of being alone on the trail.
Matt and I continued along until somewhere around mile 12 where I noticed I was trying just a bit too hard to keep up, and told Matt to go have a good race. From there on I ran mostly by myself a side from a short comment here or there from another runner as we passed each other. A few miles down the road I was feeling chipper again and tried to catch him; but I spent a minute or two too long at cross roads aid station getting situated to go pay The Sisters a visit. (The sisters are a series of short steep climbs riddled with rock and Sotol - sort of like the rest of the park ;) .) After a cup of broth that I traded a fellow girl runner who was hoping to get some noodles, I was on my way. The next 5 miles went down easy. I noticed the hills; but they felt much easier in the cold than they had in the 90 degree temps of October. Before I knew it I was back at the Cross Roads aid station and had caught another female runner. In 9 more miles and I would be back at my drop bag prepping to start loop 2!
The last 9 miles were the hardest of each loop for me. There was a LOT of rocks, and mud. Mud to the point of having to scrape my shoes so that they didn't fall off my feet, mud. And the last 5 had some of the steepest climbs on the course. Which was fine after having several runnable miles; but the climbs were rocky, and the descents were very muddy and riddled with slippery rocks. I found myself walking more than I would have liked to be for so early in the race.
Around 6:15 into the race I completed loop one and by 6:17 I headed out on loop two. My mantra for loop two was "this is the last time I have to..." every time I came to a section I disliked. My other mantra was "run the runnable" as 1000 runners had done some damage to an already muddy trail, and with the on and off rain that had started the trail was anything but dry and fast. In fact, there were several sections, some of them quite long, that I walked mainly for safety. Since my goal was to have a good day, I had no problem NOT falling in the cold black mud because I slipped on a frozen rock, or the peanut butter mud. Plus, with the ankle tendon problems I had last fall and after Brazos Bend, I wanted to play it safe. As loop 2 began to unfold I found myself catching people. Between nearly every aid station I was able to rope in another runner or two. This really helped to keep me motivated. Around 10:30 in I clicked past the 50 mile mark. From here, I started estimated how long it would take to finish and focused on trying to keep my speed up. This was most challenging when I again hit those last 9 miles. But eventually, I made it past the last few climbs and steep descents and was able to cruise back into the lodge with a final time of 13:36. Not good enough to come anywhere close to placing; but this was after all the USATF 100K championship, so I can't say I'm not happy to have come in 13th female, and well within the top 25% of all finishers. :)
All in all, I had a great day. I had done exactly what I wanted to do. I nailed my nutrition, I got my Western States lottery ticket for 2016, I beat the trail that kicked my butt a few months ago (granted the course is different, but still!) and more importantly I finally had a race that I really, really, enjoyed - something that hasn't really happened since last April. I can't wait to see what 2015 holds with my renewed love of the game. And I really can't wait to go back and see what I can do on a day where more of the course is runnable, and less of an mud run!
|The aftermath on my shoes / gaiters|
A big shout out of thanks to Trail Racing Over Texas for their continued support and to Rob Goyen who was at the finish line to watch me come in. Ya'll are like a trail family, and I'm thrilled to be a part of it. And of course a big thanks to my husband who supports all of my crazy ideas like running all day in the freezing cold. Love you!
Some notes on nutrition and gear:
Vest: UD Ultra Vesta. First time racing in this vest. I really liked the bottles. I had a hard time getting in and out of the front pockets; but hopefully that'll get easier as I use it more.
Fuel: Hammer Perpetuem stayed in 1 10oz. bottle the whole day, and Heed/Water was in the other. I also consumed quite a few Hammer gels, and 2 lamb flavored Epic bars. I really think the protein of the perpetuem and epic bars is a big help while competing for so long.
Shoes: Brooks Pure Grit 3. These are my go to for technical trails. Light, good lugs, snugger fit, and just enough protection with the rockplate. With the soft ground they also were all the cushion I needed.
Headlamp: Petzl Tika R+ (great light, small on off button that gave me a few fits to get on)
Clothing: A lot of people wonder how to dress for runs like this. So here's how I dressed:
-3/4 The North Face tights
-Zoot compression calf socks
-generic technical longsleeve (race shirt)
-Brooks thin, water resistant, wind resistant jacket (unlined)
-1/2 zip thermal (for first 1.5 miles, then stored in my UD Vesta)
-gloves that convert to mittens (Brooks)