For our SECOND 50-mile adventure, Lucy and I joined our friend Ramon to travel to Texas for this great race. The Texas Trails Endurance Runs takes place in Huntsville, TX in the Huntsville State Park. Loops consist of the Chinquapin Trail, and the Triple C Trail. We roughly followed the Relentless Forward Progress 70-mile week plan, and training seems to have gone well for us. That is to say, we went into the weekend feeling like we had done the proper preparation, and the training load seems to have treated our bodies well.
In the week leading up to this race, I actually had a strangely calm feeling. I felt at peace with the distance, and at peace with this race. I am usually very anxious, but I somehow convinced myself that although this race was important… it also didn’t really matter all that much. What matters is the journey, and the journey never ends. We have to respect the distance and the race, but we have to also respect what we have done to get to this point. So in that sense, we are never racing, or not racing… Life is constant, and it is what we make of it. In any case, my seeming nonchalance made a huge difference and traveling was easier and less stressful that it has ever been before. I took an extra day to pack, and make sure we had everything we needed. As always, I used Eagle Creek bags to separate things out, and keep our bags organized and ready for the race. I also follow the rule that all race essentials are CARRIED ON the plane… That is a big one. Nobody wants to have their shoes end up at the wrong airport.
Once we arrived at Houston from JFK, we drove about two hours up to Huntsville and stopped by the race encampment to get our packets and bags. It was pretty dark, so it was hard to get a real feel for the park… We would have to wait until the next morning to really see what we were in for. After that, it was off to the hotel to unpack and do a final check of all our gear. By this time it was already around 8:00pm. Luckily we had already eaten dinner on our way from the airport. The three of us decided to head down the street to Target and get some last minute essentials for the morning… We found some Gatorade, bagels, and peanut butter. Gatorade is VERY cheap in TX, by the way… 99¢ for 32oz?! We were able to
steal acquire some honey packets from Starbucks to avoid having to buy a whole squeezy-bear thing and headed back to the hotel.
We spent the next couple of hours sipping Gatorade, and snacking while we snapped pictures of our RunNYC gear, posting on Facebook… You know, the usual stuff. After completing one last check of the gear, we packed our bags to take to the race, laid out our morning clothes and called it a night.
We woke up around 4:30am and immediately started smacking the coffee machine into submission. Mission successful. It was a bit early to be up, but we like to have extra time to get organized again, and try to wake up/use the bathroom before heading out. It definitely helps reduce the anxiety level, and something that we learned the hard way a few times is that you definitely don’t want to show up to a race at the last minute! With ultras, it is not such a big deal because they tend to be smaller, but with more commercial races (marathons/half marathons/triathlons) it can be a huge stressful headache trying to find parking and get to the start line! Anyway, had a few mini bagels w/peanut butter and headed out to the car. We were about half an hour away, so we left the hotel around 5:30 so we could be there by 6:00am for the 7:00 start.
We got to the race start around 6:15. A running event is never hard to spot… people anxiously shifting around in spandex. I usually look for the porta-potties, but we were parked next to a REAL BATHROOM! Celebration was in order. And celebrate I did. Or, I guess you could call it that. We met up with our buddy Scott Towle and chatted a bit about his upcoming 100 mile race. It was a short walk from there to the start, where we were able to set up a bit of a base for our fuel and extra clothes.
After we got things set up, the race started in typical ultra-marathon nonchalance, and we were on our way! I love this about Ultras… no starter pistol, or any of that crap to get going. No Eye of the Tiger. Just some dude saying, “ok, go.” Perhaps a buzzer, or a cowbell. Good times.
Loop 1 (Mile 0-12.5)
The first loop was lively, and I got to chat with Scott and pick his brain about Lucy and Mon’s upcoming 100miler, and some of the training we had been putting together for that. It’s always good to get some new ideas, and since Scott is preparing for his own 100 miler in a couple of months, I figure, he knows a thing or two about ultras. At this point, we’re feeling great. Personally, the reality of the situation doesn’t really sink in for the first 20 miles or so, and so I was just cruising along at this point just happy to be running and hanging out.
We finished this loop just over 2:20, and that’s not bad for basically the first of four half-marathons of the day. We took a bit longer than we probably should have in this “transition” just figuring out what was working, what fuel we wanted more of, filling up packs, etc. It’s something that I want to work on for future races, and I have a plan for this, which I will put in a forthcoming blog post. I think it could be helpful information for everyone! EDIT: See THIS POST for some great tips on race fueling, and organization!
Loop 2 (Mile 12.5-25)
We headed out for the second lap, and it just felt a bit slower than the first loop. I was trying to push the pace a little bit, but it felt like Lucy was dragging behind a bit. This was strange to me, because Lucy LOVES to be out front, and is never one to drag the pace back unless we are going way too fast, which we weren’t. Let me say this: The three of us have done quite a bit of distance training together, and we have one simple rule above all others: NO NEGATIVITY. One person says, “I’m tired,” and the whole group gets a free pass to start the bitching. So, when you run with us, unless you are about to die, we don’t want to hear about it. Even if you think you are about to die, better just STFU and keep running. We’ll let you know if you look like you are about to die. And you look just fine to me, so keep moving!
This was one of those times where we noticed what Lucy didn’t want to vocalize, so we had to assess the situation. Lucy admitted that she was having a bit of an issue with her hip flexor on the right side, and it was making strides painful. This is one of those situations where group running helps us: Mon is a Physical Therapist, and Lucy has a Graduate degree in Physiology, in addition to being an R.D. So, when it comes to health issues… I feel like we are mostly covered. Lucy agreed that there wasn’t much that we could do about it, and it wasn’t really getting worse. Since we were now about halfway through the loop, we decided to keep moving as quickly as possible, and reevaluate when we got back to the start/finish line.
I’m here to tell you that when it was all said and done, I don’t think that Lucy’s hip issue ever really got better. But, I gotta give it to her… We didn’t hear anything else about if for the whole race. If I asked, she’d tell me, “not much worse, not any better.” What else could she say? She gutted it out the entire back half of the race, and I gotta say that I admire her grit. And this is where the agreement we have as a group comes into play—knowing that she was hurting, I had no excuse. There were moments where my body wanted to quit, and I wanted to bitch about this or that… But knowing that she was hurting and hanging tough with me reminded me that I didn’t need to vocalize my problems. Unless you are going to die, STFU and keep running…
Loop 3 (Mile 25-37.5)
Since loop 2 was a bit slow, we wanted to see if we could try and make up some time this loop. We paused to give Lucy some stretching and a massage of the hip, and she managed to convince us that she was feeling better (even though she probably wasn’t). This time, instead of me going out front, I pushed Lucy to take the lead and get us moving as fast as she comfortably could. My thinking with this was to get her out front so she could feel like she was in control of the situation with her body and the race. I know that when I am hurting, being in the back can be frustrating because I constantly feel like I am trying to catch up, and never quite making it there.
We moved along pretty well. To put it in perspective, at this point we had already run a marathon, and were working on our third half-marathon of the day. A pretty daunting task, really, and this definitely felt like the ‘hump lap’. It really felt like we were running this loop faster than the previous two, but in reality it was a little slower than the previous one. No matter… Moving forward is what counts, and we were moving! We knew we had to complete this loop under 8 hours, and once it became obvious that wouldn’t be an issue, it was definitely a much more relaxed time for all of us. The pressure of cutoffs can be frustrating, and definitely something that we want to work on for subsequent races.
When we came in from the 3rd loop, I have to be honest and say that I really wasn’t feeling it. We had been out there pushing for over 7 hours, and I was starting to feel the effects of running 1.5 marathons. I was having a hard time figuring out what gels I needed and what food I would take, and I was frustrated that Lucy wanted to leave so quickly. But she had a point: At this rate, we would be finishing in the dark. We hadn’t put much thought into this fact, and we hadn’t prepared for that. I guess it just didn’t occur to us that the sun goes down early even in Texas! Lucy was able to borrow a light from a guy named Sean. Wherever you are, Sean, thanks for that! Mon and I would have to make do with our iPhones as flashlights. Definitely less than ideal. We already mentioned to the Race Director that next year they should put a little memo on the site that lighting should be on the race day list! I know that we should have done the research for that, and I accept responsibility, but a little note to remind people never hurts.
Loop 4 (Mile 37.5-50)
At this point we knew that we really had to hurry and cover as much ground as possible before we lost the light. Of course, that is no easy task when you have already run 37 miles, but surprisingly our bodies were mostly functioning well, and we were very grateful for that! By now, my toes felt like they were about to explode, but that didn’t matter. I knew Lucy was hurting too, and it wasn’t going to do any good for me to complain about it, and there was really nothing I could do about it.
We were able to move pretty quickly through the first half of the loop, and tried to really push as much as possible through the flat out-and-back section. I could tell at this point that Mon was hurting, but I also have to give it to him for just redoubling his efforts and giving it everything he had. We all knew that there would be a point where we were reduced to walking when it got too dark, and so we all tried to give it everything we had and ‘leave it all on the course’ as long as we had the light.
It started to get dark around the time we were approaching the final aid station, which is a little over 2 miles from the finish. By this time, we were able to catch up with a few guys that had also been pushing to get there before dark, and it felt really good to know that we were able to push and catch up with a few other runners. We often hear other ultra runners describe the camaraderie of ultra events, and this was a great moment that we were able to experience that first-hand. Knowing that it wasn’t really safe to run in the dark without proper headlamps or flashlights, we all sort of just kept each other company as we followed the glow-sticks to the finish line.
Thought we knew we had only a couple of miles to go, it seemed to take forever, and we were getting nervous about making the official cutoff of 12 hours. We had worked hard all day, and I think it meant a lot to us to be able to call ourselves official finishers. So, when we saw the finish line, I looked down at my watch to see that we had about 15 minutes to spare under that 12 hour mark. As you can imagine, Lucy and I were elated, and we started running it in to finish strong. We finished in our typical hand-in-hand finish, and got our medals and finishers hoodies.
I was also happy that we were able to meet up with Scott at the finish before he had to head home to Austin. We snapped a couple of pictures with Race Director Donny, and the fantastic volunteers that stuck around into the night to help take care of us.
Overall, it was a great race! We had a fantastic time, and found the race to be generally well organized, and the aid stations were amazing. I have a deep love for what the Brits would call ‘proper crisps’ and I found that the race had plenty of them! I am not much for HEED, but if you are into that there was plenty to be had (as there now seems to be at all Ultras). The volunteers were amazing, and I can’t say enough about the people who were entrusted with keeping us all safe, happy, and healthy on the course.
The course itself was also a nice treat. It was varied enough that it was fun, and allowed us to wear trail shoes… But there was nothing too technical and the terrain was more rolling than what some might call hilly. There are a few boardwalked sections that could be slippery in wet conditions. Overall, this is an extremely “runnable” course, and if you are looking to get a quick time, this is a very good course to get that on.
In the next post, I’ll talk about some of the things I learned nutritionally, and logistically and what I plan to do to deal with those issues!