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Once a padawan, now a freaking Jedi. I run really far, I write a bunch, and have super powers that allow me to grow amazing facial hair.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Race Report: 2013 Nueces 50K

After setting a new PR in October at the Nothin's Easy 50K, there has been some what of a challenge in navigating through the new realities of my life. Finding out how my running and personal aspirations fit in with the arrival of my son Connor were at first daunting, but I think I have finally got the hang of it. Running in between classes instead of after, running as a family once a week with the jogging stroller, and as a whole, just being more intentional with my time. November, December, and the first part of January were all pretty dormant on the running front as I worked out the newness of being a parent, but that itch to run facilitated my return to training.

My newest training partner... his parents met at an ultra so I think it's

safe to assume he is going to tear some trails up in the future.

 Getting back on the horse in the dead of Winter historically is a difficult task... but down here in San Antonio a long cold Winter means 60 degrees... perfect running weather. I had ran a few miles here and there, including a half marathon with Wounded Warrior Project in January. I also got the opportunity to crew for my friend David who came down from Ohio to run the Bandera 50K. So I hadn't been completely off the grid with running. One thing I kept hearing, especially at Bandera, was, "You just HAVE to run one of Joe's races!" This, referring to Joe Prusaitis, the RD for Bandera, Rocky Racoon, and several other races under the Tejas Trails banner. I decided to take the advice and sign up for the Nueces 50K which was also doubling as the USTAF 50-mile championship. Gabe, my current ultrarunning padawan that I helped train for Nothin's Easy, decided to join me again on this adventure and registered as well.

We had about a month and a half to knock the rust off, train a little bit, and be ready enough that Nueces would be, if nothing else, a solid training run for a 50-miler in April. The preparation wasn't nearly as much as we had done for the race at Government Canyon, but we both felt ready. But maybe we felt a little too ready. Two days before the race we had done no scouting whatsoever... didn't know where this race was, let alone where we would stay or what the course was going to be like. You would think that the green gill would over prepare and the salty dog would know better than to walk into something blindly, but yeah, I guess we are lazy?

Finding the course map for this report is literally the first

time I've seen it... guess I'll know for next time?

We determined two days before the race that we would be camping at the location the night before as opposed to leaving San Antonio early on the day of. This decision was made pretty flippantly but in hindsight if we had tried to drive up the morning of, we would have never made it to this place to run.

It was about a 2 hour drive from San Antonio, but the last 45 minutes of it were spent in an area that gave the same impression I get when I watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre. No cell phone service, no gas stations, no anything, just Texas hill country. Even when we got to the access road for Camp Eagle where the race was being held, it was still another 8 miles back a very thin and unmaintained dirt road.

When we finally arrived, it was well worth the wait. I have been to a lot of parks and natural areas since moving to Texas, but this place is among the most beautiful I have seen. Steep cliffs, rock formations, rolling hills, and even a river that actually had moving water... a rare sight in these parts. As we set up our tent near the course, Gabe and I had determined that no matter what happened the next day that this trip was already worth it.

"I want to see mountains again

 Gandalf! Mountains!"

One criticism I have of the race in general, and I say this knowing that some of it is outside of their control... the additional costs on top of the race registration. There was a land access fee, camping fee with a two-night minimum, as well as a separate charge for each meal. It wouldn't have seemed so bad if some or all of that was either included in registration or at least to have an option to pay ahead of time. But I digress.

After the pre-race dinner, which was particularly good, night had fallen, but it was still much too early to hit the rack. To make good use of our time, Gabe and I decided to hike on the course for a few miles to get a feel for what we would be seeing in the morning. The short walk led us alongside tall cliffs, over a river via a suspended foot bridge, then up a steep climb to a giant steel cross overlooking the camp. By the time we headed back the stars were out and we couldn't help but to be in awe of the surroundings. Then we saw a freaking giant porcupine. This place was awesome.

Yeah... it's a freaking porcupine. 

 Back at the campsite we prepped our gear for the next day, pinning on our race numbers, filling up bottles, and pounding water. It was getting cold and it was time to rack out.

In the tent I got the best sleep I can remember having in the last few months, almost 9-hours solid, waking up about 45 minutes before the alarm. We changed over, put on some warm outer layers to brave the walk to breakfast, and tried to hold back the pre-race jitters. We watched the start of the 50-mile race before making the last minute adjustments for our own outing.

At the starting line I was freezing my ass off in the uncharacteristic 30-degree weather. Knowing that it would warm up, I wasn't going to wear more than a singlet, but looking around, myself and only about two or three others had the same idea. The countdown started as we waited under the pavilion which served as the start, finish, and half way point. Then the race began.

A short stretch of running and we hit the woods, climbing up a rocky single track trail. Runners began to bunch up as the "walk all hills" crowd slowed down. In hindsight I should have started the race further up in the pack, but easing into the day wasn't a bad idea either, just so long as I was warming up. I began passing on the wider stretches when the speed of the pack picked up and thinned. More than a couple of runners were having issues with the terrain and I was witness to some nasty spills. Within 20 minutes the sun was up, my muscles began loosening,  I could feel my hands again, and I was out of the herd. I could see a few runners ahead and my goal was just to keep them in sight without breaking out of a comfortable pace. The course was beautiful and technical, with rocky rolling hills and valleys that at times skirted some pretty gnarly drop-offs. At about 40-minutes I was on the heels of the runner in front of me. He was a better climber than me and overall a better runner, so I knew that this was only a temporary motivator. At the first aid station he stopped, I didn't, so I was briefly ahead of him before relinquishing the spot back to him. After a little bit longer in the woods, the course opened back up and took us to so amazing views of Texas hill country. The terrain became more consistent, with lots of loose rocks. The course was pretty challenging, but I managed to keep my pace, never needing to walk, and the weather was perfect so managing my water was easy. I bypassed the second aid station, even though the quesadillas looked pretty freaking good.
We were know coming through the area that Gabe and I had scouted out the night before, running alongside a huge cliff and then crossing a small stream via a suspension bridge before climbing towards the giant steel cross.

I was able to cross the bridge just seconds before this asshole showed up.

The course stayed high for a long while after that, giving more scenic views, winding past a huge windmill and staying pretty open. Around this time I started catching a ton of runners which at first kind of concerned me. I have yet to get lost on a course, but it is always an underlying fear.  I eventually, to my relief, realized that I was catching back of the pack 50-mile runners. I ran on.

When I hit the next aid station I still had a little water in my handheld and all the bottles in my waist pack were untouched. I was having some stomach issues so even though I probably should have been eating, I hadn't touched anything since the unwise breakfast of tacos... complete with jalapenos and hot sauce, and coffee. To delve into the crass world of ultra running ailments for a moment... my diet from the night before and morning of the race resulted in incredible gas, which in turn contributed to even more incredible chaffing in an area I'll simply say that you don't want chaffing in.

The course from the last aid station to the start finish wasn't long, but it was certainly pretty cool. You winded through the woods and then down from them to the main road that we drove in on. At point of crossing there was a decent amount of water running across the road that we had to kind of hop scotch through to the other side of the river, run along it's far bank and then use stepping stones to come back across. The course then Y-ed off, left for the 50-milers that had the privilege of crossing a second foot bridge, and us 50K runners going right to wrap around through the woods. During all this time I had never once looked at my watch, mostly because of a conversation Gabe and I had the night before about being a slave to the device (he never wears a watch during training or racing, while I religiously document my mileage and pace).

I came back out of the woods, hauled ass across the grass to the pavilion and on through then looked up. I was looking for the Port-a-Potty mostly, but my eyes caught the timing device and I couldn't help but do the math. I did the first loop in 2:26, almost exactly my half way mark for Nothin's Easy, except on an infinitely more difficult course. The only difference was that at that point in Nothin's Easy I had a lot more gas left in the tank and I didn't hurt nearly as bad. I hit up the facilities, performed some routine hygiene that had some rather unfortunate pain and blood involved, and then headed back out on the course. The climbs I had mocked in the first loop seemed like mountains the second time around. I was trying my damnedest not to walk what was runnable, and having a hell of a time doing so.

No one had really passed me yet, so I figured I was sitting around teens or something near it. When I got to the first aid station I refilled my bottles for the first time, tried to eat, but couldn't. I was headed for a wall and I could see it coming, you can't run hard for that long without needing calories and I had foregone all nutrition and even left my chia seeds and goji berries back home, drinking only water.

I plugged along at a pace I knew wasn't close to that of the first half, but who cares, I was still moving forward. When I came to the second aid station, I noticed my nipples had started to burn... I forgot to put on bandaids... yet another of many  rookie mistakes I made that day. The quesadillas this time may as well have been diesel fuel and feces from Iraq, the sight and smell of them made me want to vomit... I skipped all the food again, but did top off my water as the temperature was rising.

I was feeling more and more like hell and it didn't help that I could see the edge of the field where my tent was staked. I had those stupid thoughts of just DNF'ing. I ran from the aid station, across the footbridge and then just stopped. I went to the side of the trail, laid down on some rocks, took a pepto tablet, and basically sunbathed. As I lay there, runners kept coming by, more and more of them, people I had passed early on, people that had been behind me the whole race, maybe twenty runners, maybe more. I drank my entire hand held while I sat there, my stomach cramping, my legs burning, and all the pain of a hard run descending upon me. My body was starting to move from racing to being done. Some climbers that were passing on their way to go up the cliff face just a few hundred feet away from me stopped and asked if I was okay. I told them I was and commented on what a beautiful day it was. It was time to man-up and get to running. I filled my handheld with two of my waist belt bottles, stood up, stretched, and took off. I remembered that I had said that after Connor was born that I would never DNF so long as I was able to physically complete a race, no matter how bad I was doing. I also remembered the last time I dropped out of a race and the unforeseen consequences of that day, it was the last opportunity my Mom ever had to see me finish a race and I failed to make it there for her to see. Perhaps I was being overly dramatic, but those thoughts got me off my ass. Besides, I have yet to drop out of any distance less than 50-miles, and I wasn't going to let my padawan make it to the finish while I sulked on the side of the trail whining about a stomach ache and some chaffing.

There isn't much to say about the rest of the race. After my 20-minute mental breakdown things remained pretty painful, but I kept an even pace, following my mantra of "just keep moving forward".

I crossed the finish line in 6:08:23, my slowest 50K that I have ever run. To be honest it was one of the hardest 50K's I've ever run, comparable to the demoralizing Capon Valley race a couple years ago that broke me off and spit me out. I had a breakdown during that race too, sitting on a log for what seemed like an eternity after I had been well inside the top 10 for the first half of the race. Gabe and I said that no matter what had happened that this was going to be a good trip, and it was. It wasn't a great finishing time, I didn't prepare like I should have, I certainly didn't race well in the second half, but I did something I love for 6 hours on a beautiful course.

Gabe finished an hour and some change after me, beat to hell. He had blood all over him and looked like he fought a mountain lion on his way in. He had a rough race as well, but shared my consensus, it was totally worth it. I imagine and I hope that running these crazy things always will be. Sometimes I'm pretty good, but I'll never be an elite guy. I want to get faster, but it's not why I do it in the first place.

Run Happy.