Last year, I ran Ragnar Hill Country and fell IN LOVE with the trails at Flat Rock Ranch. I wasn’t an experienced trail runner, at all, and I wasn’t nearly as strong of a runner as I am now. The trails left my body a little battered and my ego severely bruised. At the time, I was still building strength after a psoas injury and I had been forced to ask my teammates to pick up my last miles so that I could recoup and focus on qualifying for Boston at the Houston Marathon. It was absolutely the right call but runners like to feel strong and invincible and I felt anything except strong and invincible.
I’m not really sure when I decided that I would run a 50 miler in 2017, but I had already signed up for Brazos Bend 50 by January 11. One day, I happened across Rawhide 50 miler and was immediately intrigued because it was at Flat Rock Ranch. A chance for redemption AND my first 50 miler?? It was too much temptation to resist. But…the cutoff was tight. The race was small. I remembered how my legs felt after 23 miles on those trails and I would be doubling that. I genuinely didn’t know if I could do it.
I revisited my word of the year (suggested to my by my Soul Sister Jenn), which was “CONQUER”. I though about what Jenn had said to me when she suggested that word: “You need to conquer self-doubt, second guessing and feeling inadequate.” Part of being able to conquer those things was to put myself in situations where I wasn’t guaranteed success and being OK with myself if I didn’t “succeed”. So I decided to go for it. I would attempt something that I really didn’t believe I could do (and at that time, I really did not believe that I could do it).
The storm before the race
Shouldn’t that say, “the calm before the storm”? No. No, it shouldn’t.
The last couple of races, I haven’t fretted at all. I packed the day I left, hoped I didn’t forget anything and rolled up to the start line without a care in the world. This race wasn’t like that at all.
A couple of weeks before Rawhide, I started to fret. I hadn’t been having the best long runs and my confidence was a little cracked. I started worrying about the weather. The realization hit me that I was about to run 50 MILES on some fairly tough terrain with a very tight cutoff. Panic set in as I started realizing that I might not finish.
And then, allergies happened. Even though I am on allergy shots and take allergy medicine, I always find myself in a battle during peak Ragweed season. Monday night, I didn’t sleep much. I felt achy and I had the post-nasal drainage which made my throat sore. I had to work really hard not to panic (and I still did, kind-of). I changed allergy meds, got my next shot as soon as I was able and started using the neti pot again. All this helped but I still wasn’t sleeping well. I didn’t feel like myself. All I could think about was how hard running 50 miles would be if I started out feeling well. I wasn’t sure I could do it if I started out feeling like crap.
Renegade sisters head South
Carmen and Jen reunited again!!! Carmen and I left around noon on Friday. We were going to drive down to the ranch, grab our packets, eat and head to our Airbnb. We took the scenic route, meaning we avoided I-35, and had a wonderful drive. I miss getting to see Carmen and love our adventures together.
I still felt terrible. I was exhausted. But I tried to act like all was well.
We made it to the ranch and got checked in then set up our canopy and unloaded the stuff that we could (which was a huge weight lifted for race morning). I don’t think either one of us could believe that in less than 12 hours we would be out on the course!
We decided on pizza and headed to the restaurant. I felt like I walked into a twilight zone. We didn’t quite fit in. There were ashtrays on every table. People were at the bar, hanging all over each other and acting a fool. LOL. We sat at a table without anyone acknowledging us for about 5 minutes, so I started looking for other options. There was another pizza place, so off we went! It was so cute and just our style and I’m so glad we made the decision to switch.
After eating, we made our way to our Airbnb, which was a little apartment over a garage. It was so cute and cozy. We turned the AC on high, crawled under the covers and the next thing I knew, my alarm was going off. I SLEPT SO WELL!!! I felt like a new woman and was so relieved that I could start the race feeling halfway human. I might have a chance!! We had our breakfast and got ready and were off to the ranch!
The journey begins
The challenge of a long distance race is not to go out too fast. I struggle in this department. It is difficult to hold back in the beginning when you feel so fresh. Plus, since the race started at 5 AM, the cover of darkness and cool air caused me to feel even better. I settled in to a comfortable pace right behind another woman. In the dark, I was more concerned with keeping my light and eyes on the trail in front of me than I was concerned with checking my pace. I stayed right with her until after we passed through the first aid station. When my watch signaled the next mile marker, which was around 7, I realized that I was WAY ahead of even my best case race scenario. When we hit the next hill, I stopped to hike to slow myself down and let her go on her way. I was more interested in not blowing up my race than I was in keeping up with her.
At this point, I knew that I was sitting in 3rd. At the race start, I had counted the females – there were only 6 – and I knew that 2 of them were behind me from the beginning. Plus, we had passed another female at the aid station so I was confident that I was sitting in 3rd. I slowed some but still ran faster than I should have. I justified this by telling myself the more miles I could cover before the head of the day, the better off I would be. The last forecast I had seen predicted sunny skies with a high of 85 – I expected a struggle.
I rolled off the first loop, feeling good in 2:28, which was, um, about 20 minutes faster than 11 hour pace. Going in, I was hoping to get better than 12 and, in my opinion, getting 11:00 would have been nothing short of a miracle. Carmen was ready and waiting. She helped me refill my bladder and confirmed to me that I was 3rd female. I was feeling good, it was still cool and I didn’t want to waste any time at camp. (Another one of my goals for the race.) I ran back out, only to realize that I hadn’t grabbed any gels for the loop, so back I went to grab my fuel.
Loop 2 – Struggle bus loop
It didn’t take me long on loop 2 to start feeling fatigue. Thankfully, there was cloud cover, but the humidity was so thick that it reminded me of the 97% humidity at Houston Marathon. I felt like I was sucking air through a straw. This loop was also much more technical and rocky than loop 1 and that slowed me down some, but I still kept a decent pace in the runnable sections. Midway through the loop, I encountered huge, flat boulder-size rocks that were slick from the humidity. I stopped to text Carmen and Tim to let them know that I was slowing down because of that. I really struggled from miles 18-when I came in at mile 25. I was getting a little achy – I had been a little achy from the allergy mess the past few days – and I realized that my calories were low. I decided that I would take some time when I came off the loop to force some calories down and recoup before tackling the second half of the race.
I suffered A LOT of paranoia on this lap. I knew I was 3rd female going into the lap, but I had no idea how close 4th place was. Even though I only ran into a couple of runners on this loop, I kept hearing what I thought was a woman’s voice in the distance so I naturally thought it was #4 and that she was gaining on me. (Later I realized that the “voices” I heard were either the 10k’ers or goats, or maybe a mixture of both.) The volunteers at the Loop 2 aid station were ROCKSTARS! They cheered me on when I rolled into camp and told me that I was 3rd female (without me even asking). I only stopped for a moment before rolling on.
As the loop went on, I felt more and more fatigue and achiness, but I was determined to keep moving as fast as my legs would allow. I stopped to text Tim to ask him to make me some oatmeal, if he arrived at camp in time. I knew it would be close and was kicking myself for being so far ahead of schedule early on. Thinking about the possibility of eating oatmeal was the carrot that got me through the end of that loop. My mouth was watering thinking about oatmeal those last 3 miles. I finally rolled into camp at 10:25 (Tim was hoping to arrive by 10:30) and Tim wasn’t there. I grabbed some pretzels from the aid station and a peanut butter and jelly wrap from the cooler, sat down and started force feeding myself. Man, all that stuff tasted horrible and the last thing I wanted to do was to eat but I knew that I had to get some calories down. I also made the decision to take Ibuprofen for the aches. I never take it and I have it available in my pack for emergencies. It’s a once-per-race Hail Mary and I had already been weighing the pros and cons to taking now or at mile 38. I ran to the restroom and as I came out, Tim was walking by! We went back to camp and he got to work refilling my bladder while I started grabbing my fuel for the loop.
I used all my will power to get myself moving and out for the next loop – I had already spent a good 15 minutes in camp and needed to get back out. I just wasn’t feeling it. I was disappointed due to having these issues so early in the race, but I knew that I had to deal with whatever the day threw at me. So I forced myself to get up and back out I went.
Loop 3 – Riding the wave
Early on in loop 3, I changed my fueling strategy. I was using Vfuel gels without any stomach issues, but wasn’t able to sustain my energy levels. I knew that I needed to try to maintain 250-300 calories per hour, or 60-90 grams of carbohydrate. Luckily, I had remembered my Mas Korima corn cookies and thrown some in my pack for this loop. I started taking a gel at :00 and :30 and two cookies at :15 and :45. This got me to my target of 300 calories/hour and 61 grams of carbs, so I was right on the money. It didn’t take long for me to feel like I was on top of the world. I could not believe the energy that I had. It was AMAZING! The miles started clicking away and I kept feeling better and better.
I wasn’t far from the mid-loop aid station when I got a text from Tim. I decided to check and see what it said – I had asked him to find out where F4 was, because I was REALLY paranoid about whether or not she had passed me during all that time I spent in camp after the second loop. I was not prepared for what I read. Tim told me that Carmen had fallen close to the end of the 10k and was almost certain that she broken her ankle and was going to go to the hospital – that news hit me like a ton of bricks. Dumb me – I assumed that she would to drive my car (why ambulance transport never occurred to me, I’ll never know). I told Tim to GO WITH HER and he responded that he had already tried and she wouldn’t let him. She was making him stay to be there for me. When I made it to the aid station, I mentioned it. I had to tell someone – and there was no one on the course with whom I could chat it up. They had heard all about it over the radios. I was so sad for Carmen. After a couple sips of Coke, I moved out of aid quickly. This is when I had a complete and total meltdown. Physically, I still felt fine and was maintaining my energy but emotionally I was crumbling. I cried for a few minutes over Carmen and then decided that I had to pull up my big girl panties and run the rest of the race for her.
I had already passed one guy who was struggling early on in the loop and I passed another one after the aid station. I figured they would get their resurgence at some point, but I wanted to put as much distance between us as I could until that happened. I fully expected that I would hit another low spot in the later miles.
As I came off the loop at mile 38, I still felt incredibly amazing. Tim had made me some oatmeal, which I ate as quickly as possible. It tasted so good. In less than 5 minutes, I was heading out for my last loop, almost literally skipping. I felt so fresh and was ready to tackle the end of the race. I made a terrible mistake in rushing through, though, which would come back to bite me in the rear.
Last loop – I CAN DO THIS
Dang. Back on the slower, harder loop. I was cursing the RD just a little bit. Why couldn’t we have run the course in the opposite order so I didn’t have to fight for my last 12 miles?? LOL Amazing the things that go through your brain when you are out there ALL ALONE. Just so you know – I didn’t see one runner on the final lap.
I was *maybe* a mile out of camp when I realized something – I HAD FORGOTTEN TO GRAB MORE COOKIES. Geez, Jen. What the hell?? I had plenty of gels, though, so I knew I could make it through. I decided to try doing a gel every 20 minutes to see how that went. It was OK, but I just didn’t have the same energy level as I did on the previous loop.
I remember making it to mile 40. While I realized that there was a lot of race left, I also knew that I was getting so close!! Right before I got to the aid station at mile 43, I was passed by some mountain bikers (they let the bikes back on the course in the early afternoon.) Seeing as how I was STILL paranoid about F4 and those guys that I had passed, when they passed, I asked if they had seen any other runners back. They had, but said they were “WAY back there.” YESSSSSS!!!!!
I rolled into the aid station and stayed just a couple of minutes. Dude asked if I wanted to refill my pack, but when I felt of it, it felt like I was still half-full so I declined and headed back out. I pretty much hiked the next 1.5 miles – the horrible, rocky, huge boulder rocks section. I knew it was slowing me down but I also knew that my quads were tired an any misstep could spell disaster. So I hiked as fast as I could, but it was still slow going.
The day had been mostly cloudy, but in the afternoon the air really started heating up. (I can’t even tell you how many times I said prayers of thanksgiving for the cloud cover. The clouds really did save my race.) I think it was around mile 46 that I ran out of water. Apparently we didn’t get all the air out of the bladder, so back at the aid station when I was checking the level of my pack it was apparently mostly air. I knew that there was a water stop near the end of the loop and I was reasonably certain that it was at mile 48.5. I was hoping against all hope that I was wrong and the water stop was actually earlier than that. I hiked the ups just because I was so low on energy at this point. I kept forcing myself to run because running would get me there faster than hiking. At about mile 48, the RD comes running up behind me with flags in her hand. She remarked about how good I looked and what a great pace I was keeping up. I asked her if she was sweeping. LOL!! She was just out grabbing the flags from the 10k course, THANK GOODNESS. I told her about the water situation and she said that we were only 1/2 mile away!!! I was so thirsty.
We made it to the water stop. I nearly cried because I was so happy. She helped me refill my pack then I was on my way. That last bit seemed to take FOREVER. I had no energy. In fact, I probably should have taken a gel since I now had water (I had been unable to fuel while I was out of water). I just didn’t see the point with 1.5 miles left.
The monkey is off my back
The closer to the finish I got, the more excited I became. I was about to cross the finish line of a race that, 6 months ago, I honestly didn’t believe I could finish. I received my medal and headed to sit down a few minutes. As soon as I did, my emotions took over and I shed a couple of tears.
The RD brought me a beer and asked if I had checked the results. Sure enough, I ended up 3rd female!! She brought my finishers trophy – over which I am having to fight my husband!
Just so you don’t think I’m *that* amazing – I was 8th out of 11 finishers and 3rd out of 4 female finishers. There were six DNFs – only 17 started the race. I knew it was going to be a small race when I signed up, but I didn’t care. The course was the lure and I conquered the course – regardless of my finish or how many competitors there were – that is the most important thing!
Checking off my race goals
I pretty much met all my goals at this race. I wanted to finish and was hoping to finish under 12 hours (I finished in 11:56 :). I wanted to improve my efficiency in aid stations and not get caught in a time trap. While there is still work to do, I am very happy with how I handled them. I wanted to know my position, and honestly I wanted to finish top 3. Knowing my position was more important that top 3. I am pleased that I was able to keep up with it the entire race. The beauty of racing such a small race was getting to practice this.
Areas to improve
Aid stations are an art: I successfully sped up my aid station stops this time, but at the expense of forgetting things when I rushed through. I’ll be working on not acting like I’m in an emergency situation. It’s a 100 mile race. I can take a breath and actually look at my checklist and I’ll still be OK.
Low spots were calorie related: Some people may argue that the fatigue I felt late in the race was just that – race fatigue – but I still think it was somewhat related to not having those cookies. At Brazos Bend, I will have an emergency stash of gels and cookies in my pack. I’ll also have each loop’s fuel in one baggie so I can grab it and not risk leaving anything behind.
I’ve been much more emotional coming off this race than any other race I’ve done. I never, ever expected it to go as well as it did. I know a lot of that is due to the hard work I put in leading up to the race, but I also made good decisions on race day. I feel like evaluating my situation and coming up with good solutions during the race is one of my strengths.
Something that has overwhelmed me – once again – is the number of well wishes and congratulations received from so many of my friends. I can’t even begin to count the number of texts, Facebook and Twitter well wishes that were sent my way. I was absolutely blown away!! I am so blessed to have so many people who care about my crazy adventures out on the trails!
I have to give a couple of special shout-outs to my extra special friends, though. First, to my Homie for Life, Tim. Tim lives in San Antonio and gave up his Saturday to come out and see me run through the start finish line 3 times. I am so thankful he was there, not just for me, but especially for Carmen after she broke her ankle on the trail. Hearing the stories later about how he stayed with her in camp and helped her call and make arrangements with her family made me feel so much better about not being there with her when it happened. Tim is one of the most generous and genuinely kind people I have ever known. I am not sure how I won the lottery by earning his friendship, but I WON THE LOTTERY!
Second, regarding Carmen, one of my bestest friends. I can’t begin to put into words how much Carmen means to me. She has been one of my biggest cheerleaders and having her with me makes this crazy ride that much more fun. The tables have turned and for the past year, I’ve been able to practice my cheerleading skills for her, as well, since she started her own running journey. I am so freaking proud of her for taking on the challenge of Rawhide 10k, because I know how much courage it took. And I am even more freaking proud of how she acted like the break was no big deal while the rest of us acted like crazy people (even if I was out on the trail – I was acting like a crazy person). Then you add in the selflessness of her not letting Tim accompany her to the hospital because she wanted him to stay there with me – it STILL brings tears to my eyes. Carmen is the REAL MVP. Her bravery is much more of an accomplishment than me finishing a race.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep. ~Robert Frost
See you at Brazos Bend 100!