“Most of all, the ultra distance leaves you alone with your thoughts to an excrutiating extent. Whatever song you have in your head had better be a good one. Whatever story you are telling yourself had better be a story about going on. There is no room for negativity. The reason most people quit has nothing to do with their body” ~Scott Jurek
I’ll let you in on a little secret: leading up to Bandera, I didn’t completely trust my training. My lack of trust had absolutely nothing to do with the plan that my coach had laid out for me. My lack of trust rested solely on ME, and it had become a raging fire, fueled from the guilt and regret of missing workouts. Yes, I managed to get the majority of my workouts in, but I did miss some strength and mobility and I did miss some mid-week runs. I felt like a complete and total failure. I felt that I had let myself down, my coach down and my team down. Plus, it was just scary to race after a year of nothing. Did I still have a competitive spirit? Could I still run that far? It’s just crazy where the mind will go if you let it.
A lot of people dread taper, but I don’t. There’s a point during the week when the nerves melt away and I am forced to accept the reality that what is to come is what is to come. I cease to fret about performance or pain or fatigue or results. Taper is when you have reached the point of no turning back. In other words, you no longer have the time to train in order to change the outcome. Or, you have no more time in which to screw it up. I find an eerie comfort in that. Taper week, for me, is accepting my fate then tying up loose mental ends so that I can race in the best mental shape.
Going into the race, I had a few goals:
- Complete the race in 15 hours (Greg thought I could run in 14:30 – I thought he was insane)
- First and second loop splits with no more than an hour difference. (Also thought that I would not be able to pull this off.)
- Remember that racing is a celebration, not a test
- RACE, not run
Due to COVID protocols (Tejas Trails did an EXCELLENT job, by the way!), the race started in a wave format. I was in first wave, which was 6:30-7:00AM. The wave start is awesome, becuase there is no pressure to arrive at a fixed moment in time. We were heading to the start and I decided that I wanted to change shorts, so I went back and changed shorts! That level of chill could never have happened in a mass race start. I started around 6:42AM. The weather was PERFECT! It was in the 30s but there was virtually no wind and not a cloud in the sky. The forecast was upper 50s, cloudy in the afternoon and low 40s that night. It just doesn’t get any better! Most of the first wave had started at 6:30, so I was by myself, except for a few people that I caught and passed early on. The wave start worked really well for me because I didn’t get caught up in what everyone else was running and I could focus on maintaining the level of effort that I wanted. When the faster runners in the group behind me started catching up, it wasn’t that mental blow that you sometimes get because I knew those people would have been far ahead of me if we had all started together. Plus, if I had 30 minutes on them and they caught me – it’s not like burning matches to keep them from passing would have done any good….because they already made up 30 minutes on me! I did miss trying to chase down women to better my position, though. Chasing people can be fun.
Everything was clicking along really well, until I got to the Lollipop. I ended up somehow getting a cactus needle jammed through my shoe into my second left toe. I tried to pull it out of my shoe, but needed tweezers. I wasn’t about to waste time pulling off my shoe for one stupid cactus needle, so I carried on and decided that if the poking became unbearable, I would address it at that point. Around this same point, I started feeling a sharp pain in my left ankle. Just one mile prior, I had been thinking about how much stronger my ankles were compared to the last time I ran in the Hill Country. Wow. What in the world could have happened? I realized fairly quickly that the pain in my ankle started at exactly the same time as the cactus needle in my toe, but it seemed unlikely that would have caused the issue. Again, I decided not to think about it until I needed to think about it. Even then I was resolved to keep moving, however that might look. Luckily, I only felt it off and on for the next 5 miles or so, then nothing! (By the way, it ended up being a large cactus needle stuck in my ankle. I suspect that it punctured a vein, which caused the pain and the large bruise afterward.)
Bobby had come to crew and Baha to pace. They went for breakfast after the start, then met me at Equestrian, which was the second aid station. I shed my long sleeve shirt and headlamp, traded water bottles and was off again. My goal was to trade water bottles at most aid stations, restocking food at Nachos (mid-point of the loop) and start/finish. Efficiency was a must, especially during the first loop. I made it to Nachos quickly and easily enough and restocked nutrition pretty quickly. I knew I was ahead of the pace chart I had prepared, but couldn’t tell exactly because I refused to take the time to pull the pace chart out of the pouch out in my belt. Since I wasn’t exactly sure how the wave start was going to work, I had based the whole thing on a 7AM start, so I had to account for that 18 minutes as well. Run math….smh.
When I made it to Chapas, I was feeling good, but a little tired. Having the Big Ass Runner crew cheer for me as I ran through the barn gave me a nice shot of adrenaline so I had some energy going into the flatter, more runnable section of the course. This is where faith in your training pays off. Even though I didn’t have a lot of faith in ME for the overall race, I knew that I could get through these runnable sections. Greg structured my training around keeping my leg turnover for those flatter areas and I knew I was prepared for it. I made it to YaYa, tired, but still moving. Bobby and Baha didn’t make that aid because they had gone to grab lunch, but all I needed was water anyway. Now it was just a few miles to the start/finish where I would be half way done AND would pick Baha up to pace. I rolled into the start finish with a first loop time of 6:27, which was about 30 minutes faster than I had planned for the first loop!
It seemed like I spent A LOT of time at the start/finish before heading out on the loop, but the difference in Baha’s Strava for the loop and my chip time for the loop was only 6 minutes. If that’s the case, I’m really happy with that. Baha’s friend, Brian, started the loop with us and stayed with us until we arrived at Boyles. He certainly kept the conversation going! I needed Coke, so we stopped. Gah, I hate to waste time at aid stations but I was in a low spot. I told Baha that I was tired. I would have been happy to lay on that rocky ground and take a nap! No time for napping in a race, though, so off we went again. Stopping for Coke was a good decision because I did get an energy boost. Sometimes taking a little bit of time now of time pays big dividends later. I was feeling pretty good at this point, but had been doing run math in my head. (I realize how dangerous it is for me to attempt run math while running, but I threw caution to the wind and did it anyway.) If I was right and we could maintain just under a 15 minute average pace, it seemed like a 14 hour finish was possible. I asked Baha if I was correct in my thinking and he agreed that it was completely within reach. I told him that it would be pretty sweet if we could come in at 13:58 or 13:59. 13 just sounds better than 14, right?? That’s all I had to say – from then on, he had a new goal for me….sub-14.
Bobby was ready and waiting for us at Equestrian. This stop took longer than it should have….I feel this may become a theme. I had planned to arrive here at 4:30, which would have been just an hour prior to the sun setting, so I had also planned to put on a long sleeve, vest, headlamp and gloves. It was still “warm”, so I only put on the long sleeve and headlamp, stuffed the gloves in my belt and grabbed more nutrition. At this point in the race, I only had 22 miles left. So short, yet so far. I had fueled well in the first part of the race, but that stuff gets hard to stomach. I transitioned to getting most of my calories at aid stops through Tailwind Rebuild and Coke – which was my plan from the beginning. I’m going to keep doing it in all my races until it doesn’t work anymore! LOL!!
Heading out after what seemed an eternity, the miles started clicking away and it really didn’t seem to take us a long time to get to Nachos, even though it was 7 miles. In my mind this stop went really well – Baha might beg to differ. Baha stopped to use the port-o-potty and I downed my Coke and Tailwind and was waiting on him when he was done. Thats a win, right?? In my pace chart, I had anticipated making it Nachos around 6:15PM, which would have been close to the time that headlamps needed to be turned on. We rolled into Nachos at 5:15PM! Now the immediate goal in my head became making it to Chapas before turning on my headlamp. Of course, this was a very arbitrary goal, but sometimes all you need are a few mind games to keep you motivated in those last miles.
We rolled into Chapas at 6:22PM. At this point, I was sliding down into another low and I had difficulty getting all that shit down my throat fast enough for Baha’s liking. I haven’t a clue how long we were there, but regardless, it was too long! While we were there, Bobby said to me for the first time: “just run faster”. I thought, “Dear God, he has spent WAY too much time around Baha!” But he went on to say that we were gaining about 5 minutes between each aid station and that “all I had to do” was keep that up to come in at 14 hours! LOL!! Of course! No problem whatsoever! I finally got my ass up off we went. But a few steps later, we were running through the barn and saw the Big Ass Runners AGAIN!!! I can’t even begin to express what a pick-me-up that was! I was a little sidetracked by all the fanfare and Baha practiaclly had to shove me out the barn door to get moving again. We might have been 100-200 yards down the trail, which, by the way, was some of the smoothest and flattest this course had to offer, AND I TRIPPED AND FELL. (We all knew it had to happen!) I’ve never hopped up so quickly because we had NO time to waste and of even more importance: I only had ONE aid station in between me and that finish line!
This section went pretty well besides me being dog-ass tired. But we made it at least a mile or two in before headlamps were needed, and that excited me. My body was tired but my brain was still in it. I still hadn’t pulled that pace chart out of my pouch and was going off memory. Anyone who knows the brain fog of an ultra knows how stupid that was. I thought YaYa was 5 miles from Chapas at 57 miles, but it was actually almost 6 miles from Chapas at a hair over 58. I kept thinking we had to almost be there, but we never seemed to get there! More exhausted by the minute, I refused to give into the fatigue. I couldn’t let myself down. I couldn’t let Baha down. I couldn’t let Bobby down. I couldn’t let Greg down. Baha kept encouraging me by saying that all he wanted was for me to give myself a chance – a chance to meet this goal that I didn’t know was within my reach until this day. I didn’t fully believe in my mind that we could make it. We had this big climb at the end and by my superior run math calculations, I thought we were going to roll into the finish between 14:15 – 14:30. But Greg’s training had prepared me for this very section and this was where we HAD to bank time, if we were to make it. We blazed through that section, even if it did seem like an eternity.
We made it to YaYa at 7:40. With less than 5 miles to go, there was no reason to load up on calories. Plus, yuck. I drank some Coke, put my head on Bobby’s shoulder for 5 seconds (yes, Baha counted) and we were headed to the finish, baby!!!
I thought the distance between YaYa and the finish was 5ish miles, but it was actually 4. (Why did I carry that chart??) I really needed to go to the bathroom. And I really tried to pee while I was running. And I really didn’t want to admit to Baha that I needed to stop. Eventually, Mother Nature won the battle and I had to stop. Baha continued telling me that we were right there, but I still thought we were tracking a 14:15 finish. Suddenly, we were making our way up that gnarly climb and descent that was at the end….how were we already here?? We made our way through that – cautiously, because steep, rocky descents are my Achille’s Heel – and finally, the home stretch! My watch rolled over to 14:00 and I thought that we had a mile or so left to run. Well, guess what? We didn’t. We were literally THERE! We crossed the line at 14:02.
I am really proud of this effort. I wasn’t sure what to expect, not having raced a 100k before. I feel like my pacing was pretty even. My second loop was just a hair over an hour longer, and I’m really proud of that. A lot of that is due to race management by Bobby and Baha not letting me linger longer than needed. A lot of it is knowing that you have to keep moving and the knowledge that not walking is slower than walking and that walking is slower than the ultra shuffle. For me, it’s also important to know when to hike. There were several inclines I was able to run, but at some point the energy expenditure outweighs the benefits of attempting to run up something and hiking actually becomes faster. The catch is: you have to run again as soon as you are at the top. That becomes a mind over matter thing when you’re tired.
I can’t begin to express my gratitude to Bobby, for coming to the race and crewing for me. Having loved ones at aid stations is such a pick me up. Knowing they will be there gives you the will to keep moving through the rough spots so that you can see them sooner, rather than later. And I can’t express my gratitude to Baha for believing in me and getting me there. I cherish the memories that we have made on these adventures! And finally, thank you to Greg, for preparing me to tackle this course and helping me navigate the rough patches during training.
More adventures await, but for now, I’m going to rest and relax a couple of days and play Taps for my two big toenails. Guess I kicked one too many rocks out there….