2017: Rawhide 50mi (25mi)

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It's interesting how some races are star-crossed in some way or another such that some circumstance or another always lines up so as to keep me from attending. Well, its that way with Flat Creek Ranch. I've wanted to see Flat Creek for many years, and even now, I may miss again.

Joyce wants me to go with her to Hebbronville this weekend. She's taking her horse and dog and me to go play on the ranch while she gets to ride and herd cattle. I've managed to talk her into waiting until I've run this race before we go: the race being on Saturday, and we can leave on Sunday, even though she'd as soon go sooner.

The 50 miler starts at 5am, and its about a 2.5hr drive from my house. I know this distance will make the drive home difficult, so I attempt to hook up with somebody else going, but there's not many people in the race. The 13hr cutoff has chased many of the people I might run with. They know they cant make that time, so they don't bother to try. I'd rather not camp the night before right now, so I stay home and try to get some late evening sleep. Unfortunately, I get no sleep at all, and decide to just pop in my truck and drive out at midnight instead. Maybe I can get some sleep when I arrive.

So, I make the drive, arrive at 2am, find the race, but cant figure where to park or where to drive so I park right at the gate. Again I attempt to sleep, but again it's not happening. Each time, I'm close, another care drives up, as confused as I am. Jason shows up at some point and shows us where to park.

4am, I get out of my truck and haul my gear over to the start, setup my gear and check in. It's not long before Mallory does the race brief and the 24 of us are sent off.

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It seems a shame really, making all this effort to come out here to see this place, and starting at 5am and seeing nothing at all. Our group quickly parts in two: the fast guys and girls gone quickly, and the rest of us. Like so many times of late, I line up with Nancy and Bill, and we're not far back of a couple of women. I cant tell young or old in the dark, but they sound young. The two ladies, me, Bill, and Nancy, in that order. B&N run together a lot, so I expect they'll lock in with each other. I can hear the two ladies chittering away, so they are quickly aligning up as well, so as usual, I'm the odd man out and just fine with that.

I can see lights all around me, off in the distance, and it quickly becomes apparent this is a typical mountain bike trail system that simply wanders about randomly to use every square inch of the real estate it exists on. We turn back on ourselves numerous times to pass just yards away but in the opposite direction. Sometimes we climb a bit too, but never in a direct line, but tracking way left only to come all the way back and just above where we'd just been. At first it's disorienting, but eventually I get used to it. Makes me think of a bowl of spaghetti and trying to stay hooked to just one strand as I ride the entire bowl.

We're not in very far before the girls run up a short steep climb, which I'd rather not. So, I walk, but Bill and Nancy fly past and track on the girls. I fall back just a bit, connect again on the next downhill, but at each uphill, they pull further ahead, and I wonder what the hell Bill and Nancy are thinking? Bill's not that fast usually. Nor is Nancy. She'd run the same dang 100k I did just one week ago. Running a 50mi just a week after a 100k is a damn fool idea regardless, but Nancy does this sort of thing regular. And the girls, I suspect are both excellent runners and will hold just fine well ahead of us. I don't expect this 50mi today to work well for me, but I figured I'd give it a try anyway, and see how it falls out.

I knew the aid stations where 3 to 4 miles apart from one to the next from start to finish, so I carry just a single water bottle. The very first aid station is the water cooler I just passed, I realize well after I've passed it. One of those "Oh Yea" moments. Not a worry though, as its still early dark and I'm not going thru my fluids as quickly as I will be later. The second aid has a friendly guy standing behind a table to assist me with my refill. Soon after, I catch up to Bill and Nancy. Bill says, "Wow, you've really picked up your pace!". "Well no Bill, actually you've finally slowed down". So, now after some 7 miles, I'm in front of them again, and the girls are long gone, way in front of us. I can hear snippets of their voices now and again on the long out-n-backs. I have no idea how far they're up, until I've run the same long out-n-back. 

Its hard to tell which way to go more than a few times, such that I stop to check the signs. My terribly poor vision can't make out the white arrows on the colored paper. The white light washes everything out, and with splits to spin off the 10k, Half-Marathon, Marathon, and 50mi, I'm worried I'll miss my turns. With the twisting and winding trail, I cant trust the lights in front of me are actually in front of me, so I cant just blindly follow the lights. Being alone in the dark and struggling badly trying to find my way, I trust I'm on the correct path, and just keep on until I find another sign or flag. I suspect the others are doing better than I am. It's just my eyes are so bad. I know the main split for us 50 milers is after mile 10, so I'm pleased to reach it and make the turn. I think about it for a moment and decide to wait for Bill and Nancy. I want to make sure they make this turn too. Its well marked, but I hate for them to miss it, so I wait.

The sun comes up soon after, and now I'm much more comfortable finding my way than I had been in the dark. It's not long after, I run into the start area, which is also the main transition from the Lower Loop to the Upper Loop. I'm just under 3 hrs for the first quarter, but I take the time to change my soaking wet shorts and shirt before heading out again. Bill and Nancy come in just as I head out.

It's so much more enjoyable now that I can see the trail, where I'm going, and the terrain around me. It's an interesting place, big hills, long sweeping switchbacks, plenty of trees, and the prototypical layout of a mountain biking trail system. Whatever direction I'm going in, it will change quickly, and if there's another trail right next to the one I'm on, it could be 100 yards ahead or 5 miles behind. Never having been here before, there is no way to know. Now and again, I can hear Nancy behind me, but I can also hear the girls in front of me, and it means nothing reference to distance.

At the 15mi water cooler, I fill my water, then allow a small bit to pour on my head for a cool-down. There's a lot more climbing on this side. We go higher up, drop down, and climb again. Its insane how many switchbacks there are for no other reason than to just get more distance. It's not as if it makes for a more docile way to ascend the high hills, as much as it just insanely goes a long way left and then a long way right, and repeat. At one point, I see Nancy and Bill behind me, and I'm not certain, but they might be a mile back. 

There's a woman and a young guy working the 18 mile station who are both friendly and talkative. He spots my hardrock shirt and asks me about it. I see some people a few switchbacks ahead and across the valley who are all running rather quickly and wonder if they're the 50 mile leaders, but cant be sure until later, when I merge with the 10k course, and then I'm mixed in with quite a few people, none in the 50 mile.

According to my GPS, I'm almost done with this side. I've been looking down into the compound where I parked and started for a while, but I can never tell which way I'm going to go next, if I've been there or it's my next destination. I'm completely clueless, except for the milage on my GPS, so I can only assume I'm almost back at 25 miles. I can't be more than 20 minutes out when my right quad decides to quit working correctly. Not sure exactly what it's doing, but I suddenly find it difficult to step off my right leg or even land on it. It doesn't hurt so much as it just isn't doing what it usually always does. Odd! I find it quite awkward and difficult to run, so, now I'm walking even on the flats and downs.

I come in after 25mi in 5:45, and sit down to think about it, hope the leg muscles loosen up, get something to eat, maybe change into some dry clothes. Sitting still, in the shade of huge oak, drinking a cold soda, I realize just how sleepy I am. Rob's finished his race and is sitting there talking with me and I suspect I could close my eyes and nod off in nothing flat. Its around noon, and a 2 hour drive home, with Joyce wanting me there so we can drive south to the ranch. Hell, I could probably go on and finish the race. I have the time, but not certain whats going on with my leg right now, but it might work itself out. I cant imagine how hard the drive home's going to be after 13 hours, no sleep, and exhausted. I better start for home now. It would be less dangerous, and Joyce would love to see me home sooner and in better shape than the next 6 hours will make me. Nancy and Bill come in some 30 minutes after I did and it surprises me how far back they were. Just cant tell out there on those trails where anyone else is reference to you. I visit with them as they load up and head out for the second half.

I turn in my chip, pack up my stuff, hop in my truck and drive home, and it's a difficult drive. I struggle to stay awake and so thankful I started home when I did. I'd have never been able to drive home later, and into the night as well. It would have been foolish, maybe as foolish as attempting a 50 miler the week after a 100k

2017: J&J 100k

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Nueces changed her name to J&J and added a 100k, but its still the same drop dead beautiful landscape and setting. I'd run the 25km last year with my wife and daughters. Before that, I'd created the course, laid out the route, cut a few trails, and explored almost every part of this camp, but I had never run the 100k, which included the Elephant in the back closet.

The ground is wet and muddy from four days of continuous heavy rain, the rocks puddled with water, and slick with mud. My hope was that it would continue to rain, for a cooler temp, a more comfortable run. I dread the humidity more than the high temp, so the air filled with humid mist dampens my high hopes of a great run. The double danger of tough course and high humidity leads me to a much more cautions start than I might have done otherwise

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loop one

The field of runners is quite small, we start in the dark, and the course begins with an uphill, so it's no surprise that I have no idea right off the bat, where I am reference to anyone else in the race, except Joel, who is close behind me, and Ryan as well. The three of us remain near at hand thru the two immediate climbs, but Ryan stops to tie a shoelace and we lose him just as we start the easy part of the trail. So easy such that we pick up pace and move quickly down and around the next few sections.

Sometimes, a passing motivates a bit more speed, and so it does when Joel & I pass Nancy, George, and 5-fingers. But, the mud is sloppy and slippery, and the rocks just as slick, enough to give us pause about sliding, so it's not as if we're full on sprinting as much as maybe we're going just a bit faster than we had been. We're both wearing headlamps, but I've just moved mine into my right hand, water bottle in the other. I believe I see much better, trip much less with my light help low. We make the turn on top, and head down towards the Texas aid station. It's a skinny, muddy, rock filled single-track that requires constant attention, and I am paying attention, but suddenly, both feet slide out and up sideways. Flying off a slick rounded rock surface, I come down hard and heavy on my right elbow. Joel barely stops in time without tripping over me.

I get up and carefully back on my feet, continue to run. I can feel mud all over my arm and side, but I can't see a thing in the dark. Nancy and George caught us while we dallied and the lot of us roll into Texas aid, but they keep on while Joel and I stop for a moment. I reach across the table for a cup, and when I draw my hand back, I realize I've splattered the entire table surface with blood. Wow! Not only am I shocked to have ruined everything on the table, but what I thought was mud... is blood. Joel told me I was bleeding while we ran, but I didn't think much of it. I ask Donna (at the aid station) what she thinks: she says it looks pretty bad. I have a buff wrapped around my wrist, so I slide it down my arm to cover the cut and also to hook on my elbow so it might stay in place. I can't tell how much it's bleeding and don't how much blood I'm slinging on the trail, but Joel does remind me now and again: You're still bleeding a lot, Joe!

"All we have for medical supplies are some gauze pads and bandaids." The band aids aren't going to cut it, so he hands me the gauze pads and goes off to find something else that might work to hold the pads on my injured arm. I pulled off the blood saturated buff and dropped it on the table and watched the blood drain out and streak across the table. Damn! Thats two aid stations I'd polluted now. I picked it up, wring out the blood on the ground, and hang the buff across one of the tent poles being used for the Wall aid station.

I wasn't thinking clearly when I planned my equipment at this point. I already have a flashlight in one hand and a water bottle in the other. How the hell am I supposed to use 2 trekking poles. I need two more hands. As much as I prefer to have my headlight in my hand, I needed to put it on my head so I can use at least 1 trekking pole. I'd put my pack and both poles at the Wall with a desire to use the poles over the next 6 miles of brutal climbs. The pack is for nothing other than to store the poles, so it's light enough. Figure I'd shove a 2nd water bottle in the pack later, when the sun comes up. Anyway, all my thoughts are a jumble for a wide variety of reasons. I have a clean buff in my drop bag, so I use it to wrap my arm and hold down the bloody gauze pads, and leave the Wall with pole in hand, and excited to use it. I pop it out and lock it in place just as I start up from the river. Can't be more than 100 yards when it snaps. Not sure exactly what it broke on. I've been using poles for years and have become quite comfortable and careful with them. I'd never broke a pole over years of Hardrock or months on the Appalachian Trail. This day just isn't starting well for me.

The climb from the Wall begins with the prettiest view of the suspension bridge over the Nueces River. Breathtakingly beautiful is my opinion of this area leading to the Gorilla Trail. This is the section where we begin our punishment in uphills and difficult rock graveyards. The route tracks alongside a perimeter fenceline in what must have once been a jeep road, but now shows no sign of track, trail, tree, or shade. There is some thorny scrub, but mostly its rock and prickly pear. I take full credit for being the designer of this course, all of it, and especially for the back side valley we now call The Elephant, because the outline of the route looks like the legs of an elephant. I have been back here many times, up and down these hills, clearing brush, moving rocks, hanging flags, but I've never run this part of the course. Last year, we were told by the handful of people who attempted the 100k just how brutal it was. The word was out, and so it was told, that this course was a beast, but hearing it and running it are two distinctly different things, akin to describing the Grand Canyon or the Ocean to someone who has not seen either.

Its Joel and me, but with George and Nancy orbiting in and out of our space as we start up the first of the Elephants three legs. In the dark, I struggle to see any course marking flags, but I do know we stay to the fenceline until the backside fence. George, Nancy, and Joel all ran this last year, so they already know as much as I do, and we are evenly matched thru here. It's a deceptive climb thru a wide cut, filled with Texas scrub (cactus, thorn bushes, & loose rock). It's not that big a climb, but the terrain and the dark makes it awkward and uncomfortable. On top, it keeps on going back much further than expected. I keep expecting to hit the back fence, but there is more of the same, until finally we see the arrow turning us right and down. The rough scramble of loose rocks is tough to navigate carefully without sliding out. I've learned to simply run it out, keeping my feet moving quickly on down to the jeep road where we track on an easier path back over to the main big valley. The single steepest climb on the course begins here at the second ascent: up and over to the back fence line for leg two. It's not long, but it's a slow brutal climb regardless. At the back fenceline, we turn and stay up high for a longer distance than we did the last time.  Again we descend another rough loose scramble much the same as the previous, to another trace of old jeep road back out to the well worn trans-valley jeep road. Once on road, we see Prospector Aid above us, but its still another leg to do before we get there. Just under it, we turn away for our final beating from the Elephant. This time, we begin with a jeep road to the back fenceline where we begin our uphill scramble over and around more of the same Texas scrub. We lose the flags and get turned around near summit for a few moments until we figure the route leading out. The downhill is another bed of rock landmines which is difficult to avoid tripping or sinking into mud, all much the same from back fenceline to jeep road at the bottom. After all the previous madness, the final climb up to Prospector looks worse than it is. It passes behind us rather quickly before we top out into the aid station.

Somewhere between Texas and Pavilion, on 2 miles of the easiest course, Joel disappears. Not his body so much, but Joel, nevertheless! Never mind, it's still very dark and he mostly remains behind me, I realize he's no longer communicative. Not that we talk a lot, but after a bit, I realize he's no longer responding. Taking the time to study him a bit, he no longer seems capable of running, so we walk, while George and Nancy move on ahead. I'll be in this same state a bit later, but for now, I just need to help get Joel in to the Pavilion so he can reload his nutrition and get going again.

Finishing loop one around 2am in the morning, I roll strait thru the pavilion to my room. On the way, I ask Chris if he can find Becky and send her over to fix my arm. He's already heard about the blood, and goes to find Becky with her medical bag. I'd already pre-staged my room, laying out my gear and supplies for easy use. I'd a change of clothes in the bathroom, so I could shower off the sodium buildup (to avoid a rash), the mud, and even the blood. So, I shower and re-lube with Desiten, and put on a clean set of clothes. Becky comes over to patch my arm while I eat. All in all, the delay cost me 30 minutes before I'm back out again. Ryan comes in as I'm heading out, but I don't see Joel when I go thru the Pavilion. I've been in the room for a while, so he may have already gone

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loop two

Its around 3am and still pitch black when I walk out, alone, nobody in sight. It's not until I top the second pitch and begin to descend, when I start to run. Boot Trail is easy with a few dips and rises, so I run most of it, but not all. Before I reach Texas Trail, I catch Nancy again at about the same place I caught her on the first loop. Well, I've already figured Nancy for one of those types I can't just run by. She always picks up pace, hooks in, and hangs on. And so I end up running with Nancy again, and so it remains, as we up and over and down into Texas aid, where we find George. Its odd how many times I come into an aid only to find George sitting half asleep in a chair. It doesn't take much to nudge him awake and into our wake. The three of us are once again together, minus Joel, as we cross up and over again. We pass 5-fingers as we enter the Armadillo Trail, and I seem to get my motor going again, but with hiccups. I run and run well for long stretched then feel the urge to sit and rest a moment. Once when I sat down, I hear Nancy say, as she's passing: "Lets hurry. He only sits for a few seconds and then he's up and running again". I catch them again, and lead for a while, then sit again, and repeat. Usually it's the climbs that knock me a bit, but now its just about anything. I've inverted my standard strengths and weaknesses somehow, as I seem to be climbing well. Back to the Wall, I pick up my remaining trekking pole. After last loop's miss (the broken pole) I again have high hopes to effectively use the pole this time. I also take my second water bottle full of water and shove that into my pack too. George starts up Gorilla first, but I quickly catch and pass him, and leave both he and Nancy behind. The trekking pole is obviously a huge success. I keep checking behind as I walk, but I lose track of them both. Can't believe I've climbed faster than George, but I can't know what all he's dealing with. The climbs all come and go quickly, as do the descents and I'm quickly, to my great surprise, into Prospector early in the morning. Sunrise came while on the Elephant.

Sitting at Prospector, I can see a whole lot of the valley and trails behind me, and spy George coming down the trail to the main valley below. I yell and wave at him before I head out and start for home. George must be really moving well, because he catches me well before I make the turn for the long descent down to Texas. Together, we walk/run the long descent and few rises into Texas. George pulls ahead on the final set of loops, but I can see him now and again on some of the switchbacks before coming into the Pavilion. Once again, I go in for a shower and change, get a bit to eat, reload, before heading out again

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loop three

I began the final loop just the same as I did the first and second, walking. Certainly, there are flat sections, easy enough to run, but mixed in with a climb or two that'll slap any delusion of speed, it never crosses my mind too run. The 50mi, 50k, and 25k have merged with my 100k, such that I don't know who is running what distance. Some I know, most I don't, but many slow to wish me well, and ask if I'm the guy who's marked the trail in blood. Maybe it's my lazy walk, or maybe it's the bright blue surgical wrap on my arm, but they all seem amused I'm still alive and on course. I visit with Chris Russell for a short bit, and then he's up the rock scramble and gone.

My rhythm is a meandering one: a walk or a stumble of sorts, generally in the forward direction, with way too much wasted side to side. The Bear crawl after Texas seems to go forever and as pleased as I am to pop out on top and done with the beast, there's no enlightenment on top. As much as I continue to move at a snail's pace, I do continue to move. A couple who seem to be running the 50mi talk about their own DNF so I can only assume they're still on their second of three loops (seems really odd to me). They're not talking to me at first, but are right next to me, so I hear without really processing. Then they take a look at me and began to offer some unwanted advice: "Are you ok? You need to stay hydrated! You need some calories! You look awful." and so on. Thankfully, they begin to run and go on ahead. At first, I'm relieved, but then it all starts to sink in and I get really worried and confused. I must look really bad. I must be on the edge of timing out! What the hells the matter with me?

I knew I'd run the 1st loop in 6hrs and my time at the end of two loops had been 14hrs, which assumes I'd done loop two in 8hrs. Thats about all I can remember at this point, and all my thinking spins on these minimal amounts of times I recall. Checking my watch and doing the math, I deduce I'd already been on loop three about 5hrs, in a zombie state of stumbling wander-about, and haven't even got to the midway point yet. I need to pull my head out and get myself moving, or I'm on a certain DNF pace. So, I begin to run! Not pretty, for sure, but still, more than I'd been doing. Using my arms, I begin to pump my body forward, and force my legs to come dragging after. It hurts, but I feel better knowing I'm at least trying now. I keep it going, to the downhill, which does help me go faster. Down the steep jeep road hill, onto Armadillo Trail, I keep pushing until I have an honest to goodness run going (at least from my perspective). So it continues through all of Armadillo, to the HILL, and up to the overlook. No, there's no running here, but I do force myself up as good as I can in this dopey state. Once on top, I run again, over the top and down the other side, picking up speed until I catch my un-asked for coaches from earlier at the WALL. George is sitting in a chair taking a break, which really shouldn't surprise me, but it does.

Completely depleted, I run into the Wall. Used up, not thinking correctly, and so far out of my understanding of what's going on with myself, I simply get back up and walk out without eating anything, or taking anything from my drop bag, which I'd put here specifically to assist with this next section for all three loops. George gets up and comes with me, and proceeds to walk me into the ground. It's not so much as he's walking fast as I'm crawling. I struggle to keep up with him from Wall to the suspension bridge, and by the time he starts up the first climb out of the river, I'm losing ground. My legs are fine and so's my stomach, but my energy is null. I get near George at one point and ask him if he'd mind pulling my ball cap out of my pack and handing it to me, which he does. I'm too damned lazy and punched out to do it myself. We pass thru the deep creek cut which climbs a flight of natural rock stairs before it turns and begins the fence line climb (Gorilla Trail) in earnest. I sit on a rock, toasted, and get up in time to see George pass over the big long climb and gone. We're in such opposite states right now, with him moving so well, and me not moving much at all, that it fairly looks like he's flying. The sun is raising the temp a good bit now. I stop a few more times on the climb when Penny hooks up with me as I finally top out on the first big ascent. She appears to be particularly concerned about me, and I agree with her. I'm not doing well, but there is little can be done about it right here and now. My trekking pole saves me so many times as I use it to row myself forward, while Penny talks to me. She tells me about her group she has out here running their first ultra, and her intention of submerging herself in the water tank by the windmill. We both know my route doesn't pass near the water tank, but I'm overheated badly and begin to think I might just as well go and get in the tank as well, because I'm not going to make the cutoff. When we get to the split, she goes right, and I take a few steps to follow. Damn but that water's going to feel good. But, I cant do it! I need to keep on, if for no other reason than to see how this ends. So, I turn and head left, towards the back valley and the Elephant. After a bit, I catch George and it just doesn't make sense - me catching him. He was well ahead and moving fast. After a bit, he tells me he'd stopped for a moment and set his water bottle down, forgot it, had to go back to get it, which is why I'm once again with George. Together we drop into the back valley, and pass Axel, who's sitting in the shade, taking a break.

We start up leg one, and from my misfiring perspective, George sprints up and gone. I sit down, then back up again, and continue slowly, to the back fence, drop down the loose rock chute where I catch George again. I can't quite fathom how it is I keep catching George: he's flying, I'm crawling. We repeat this same process at each leg, with him moving quickly up and me slowly with an occasional sit break, such that I can't understand why I'm anywhere even close to him when we drop down into the valley the final time. He flies up to Prospector and is having a lovely time with the volunteers when I arrive much later. I ask him, "Are you waiting for me?" He says no, but I don't believe him. His rock star is smashing the holy hell out of my falling star.

It's here at Prospector when I finally realize I'm going to finish and have no worries with cutoffs, and have been nowhere close to the cutoffs all night and day. How could I have been so far off? I have no idea why or how my reasoning had gone so far off, but it most assuredly did. I finally relax as George and I walk up and began our final descent. George is certainly at a much better place than I am energy-wise, so I tell him to go ahead and get after his PR. He agrees and takes off and again it surprises me how quickly he disappears down the road. I can see a long way and quickly see how much ground he puts on me rather quickly. I keep walking, try to run, but without much luck. I sit at Texas to visit with Donna one last time and then get up to go as I watch the 10k leaders sprint thru the station. Ed Easton visits with me a few moments from his 10k and then he too is gone. I cut back to do the last short loop alone before rolling into the finish for a surprising finish, at least, for me.

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SECTION 1: Pavilion to Texas has two good climbs near the start, but the rest of it is pretty easy and fun to run. The trail leading up to the top is a lot of fun and narrow, but not that bad. The trail leading down to Texas is also skinny and fun, with a few very slick and slippery places.

SECTION 2: Texas to Wall starts with the rugged and nasty Bear but follows with a lot of fast easy trail, up until the climb to the overlook, which is recovered with the awesome descent off the cliff down to the Wall.

SECTION 3: Wall to Prospector is where the Devil lives. Its all nastiness and pain. Numerous nasty rugged rock climbs followed by just as many nasty rugged rock descents. Even the flats are near impossible to run thru a battlefield of rock and cactus.

SECTION 4: Prospector to Texas is all hugs and kisses. A small bit of uphill jeep ascent followed by a very long jeep descent, Minus the 3 short up-bumps coming into Texas.

SECTION 5: Texas to Pavilion is an interesting mix of this and that, but nothing for long as the entire end is very short. Down to the river, Up the zip-line stairs, across the suspension bridge, thru the trees, a bit of single-track loop, down the road, across the field, and it all seems so much longer than it is, and it aint no big deal.

2017: Sky Island 25k

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I have no idea where I'm going, on a high desert mountain, in the early morning dark, but I am in the Davis Mountains, and I am running. The Sky Island Trail Race cut us loose at 6:30am, the 50k heading up onto the 7mi Skyline Loop, while our 25k group of 100 are off to run the 12mi Primitive Loop in the opposite direction. We start on a paved road down then up. David starts next to me, surges ahead, which is what I expect, but I didn't expect to pass him soon after, still on the pavement. We turns onto the highway access and quickly over into the grass leading to a concrete drainage. The drainage becomes a low ceiling tunnel under the highway, where we each stoop low and straddle leg to the other side. Pavement to grass to gravel to dirt to water as we wade the first of 3 streams, each one soon after the other.

From the start to the last water crossing, our path is wide and our flight of night owls shifts and changes like oil in water, each with a light that defines the drifting flow of one and all. While the track remains easy, I continue to run, but its easy and unforced. It's a comfortable effort where I can look about and watch the ebb & flow. It's a pretty sight, bright fireflies in the darkness, racing around each other in a surreal stream. My vision, so poor, allows my mind to run away with my imagination, inventing all kinds of realities I know are not true, but I enjoy nonetheless. I know there are course markings, but I don't see any, don't even try, and become a lemming, simply following the light stream.

The 3rd creek crossing is where the climb begins, and the groupings change, The wide flowing stream morphs into broken arcs of curved lines of light that join together and disconnect as we move up the mountain. Pace lines of five and twenty, as far as I can see, before and behind. Early on, I connect with Ashley, and we merge with a group of women, with me on the end. As the hill undulates from flat to steep to steeper, our group drops me off the back over and again as I walk the hills while they run, and run the flats to catch back up. Each time I fall behind the group, I get close to a very long pace line behind us. But, before they swallow me, the path flattens again and I begin to run, escaping back to the group ahead. Its hard to tell in the dark, but it appears all the lights nearby are more consistent in their movements than I am, so I can only assume they're mostly running a slow steady effort up the hills, while I'm out of sync with the lot of them. It’s likely just my imagination again, but in this dark world of moving lights, I'm having fun playing these mind games.

I hold my headlamp low in my hand, to throw a bigger shadow, hoping to trip a little less. But, I'm not looking where I'm going and still trip a good bit, paying more attention to those around me than what I'm doing. I never do fall, but do stumble now and again on the rocky path. My focus is less about the trail than it is to remain laid back and easy, running and resting. At the 3.5mi aid station, the girls all stop for water, while I turn and pass the lot of them. The next 6mi are a fast and easy rocky path filled with land mines. Sunrise renders my light useless at this point so I take it off and wrap it around my hand. Now I can see the course markings. Last nights heavy wind gusts must have knocked some of them over, but I can now see the blue flags here and there. There's enough for me to track on and the course is easy to follow now. Soon after, I catch the guy in front of me as he stumbles and run with him for a few. Trey pulls ahead on a slow rise while I back off and walk. I chase Trey for a while, keeping the same gap when 3 fast moving girls go by. They may be part of the group I was with earlier, but not sure. I hook on and go with them, losing them on the rises and catching back on the flats. One of the girls steps out and then another, so I'm now bouncing back and forth with the remaining tall girl who stops now and again to take pictures. She probably doesn't realize her picture breaks are rest breaks in disguise and its whats keeping her running strong. The tall girl, Trey, and I bounce around each other for the remainder of the 6mi loop, all coming in to the 9mi aid station (same aid station as earlier) one after the other.

I stop for water for the first time and top of my bottle with ice cold water, so cold in fact, I need to keep changing hands. The next 3 miles of downhill are in my main stream of likes: rocky & rugged downhill, so I bust loose and begin running hard again, eventually catching up to the tall girl and passing Trey. The streams end my romp, flattening out and allowing Trey and the girl to go by, while I back way down and run easy again. Back to the concrete highway under waddle, which is much harder to squat and run than it was earlier. 

The grassy patch next to the highway is walkable for me while the others run. The next aid is just inside the park entrance gate, but again I need nothing, so pass the tall girl who has stopped for a refill. Across the road and onto the Indian Lodge Loop, I find it flat and fast for about a half mile, before it turns decidedly up. I pull in right behind a big tall blonde dude, who is walking, but so am I now. I find it odd that I'm right on his butt, as his long legged walk is slower than mine. I stay on him as we slowly climb, and every so often, he'll run a few yards to create a gap, but then I'm quickly on him again. He never does offer to let me pass, and I never ask. I suspect he thinks he's going faster, and I have no idea if I'm moving fast enough to move ahead, so we remain just so for a few turns.

One of the many false summits offers me the opportunity to go by, as he steps out wide and I keep on going strait up and over. It quickly rises again, but now I'm ahead and pulling quickly away, walking. I pass by a photographer and see Trey up ahead, moving slower than I am, so I slowly close the gap on the next climb. Its hard for me to believe I'm passing or catching anybody on a climb. I have a long history as a turtle on climbs, but I'm obviously moving better than usual on the ups today: an old dog with a new trick. A few flat and downhill spots allows me to run a bit, but Trey runs these as well, so I don't gain any ground here. I'm catching him on the climbs.

One of the final false summits, a stack of rocks on top, I come across to see Trey standing there. He wishes me well as I pass. I run the next descent and the final climb. The competitive genie who rides my back, and I ignore most all the time, suddenly climbs into my psyche and impels me keep running from here on in. I cant pass Trey now and let him pass me back again, this close to the finish. I suspect we're about 1.5mi out or near to it, but its all rugged nasty fun stuff, so I keep on pushing, running, hopping, skipping across the rocks, and down finally.

I pass a tall young woman who is not enjoying the rocks at all, struggling badly through a rocky graveyard of a descent. As I go by, she hooks on and says something about using me to motivate herself to get the hell out of this awful place. She stays with me for a few moments, and then I'm well ahead and into the Indian Lodge parking lot. I slow for a few, trying to figure where exactly to go in the parking lot and driveway. As I bumble about, the girl I passed, passes me back, full on sprinting and saying: 'This is my stuff' or something of the sort, as she goes by quickly.

I hate road, and I especially dislike a great trail run like this ending on a stinking road. I don't run road much at all anymore, once I realized it was hurting my right hip and back. Not that I don't run it at all, but I do try to avoid it as much as possible. I make myself run, and I can feel the burn creeping into my hip, but I cant stop now. The road section to the finish is further than I expect, and I grit my teeth and grind it out, but now I can hear Trey coming. I feel him getting closer, so I make myself run harder. It's really rather silly, this arbitrary competitive mission to beat this one guy I just met and actually like. Its odd how he's become the driving force of my desire to get in before him, not that it makes one bit of difference if I do or don't. So, I run, past the woman with the sign that says SLOW, then down the dip, and up the rise to the final turn and across the finish, uphill. Trey finishes seconds behind me, and Ben Martinez, who I had no idea was chasing me down also, is right behind Trey.

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We arrived at the park Friday evening, I put up my tent, and we drove into town for dinner. A storm was brewing, intermittent wind gusts were blowing, and the sky was a turmoil of clouds. We had previously paid for a star party at the McDonald Observatory and drove out there after dinner, but a storm settled over the exact same mountain just as we arrived at 8pm, so we turned and drove back to our camp instead. For the moment, our site was dry, so we settled in for the night, hoping to get some solid sleep before the race in the morning. The wind came in like a train right at midnight, shoving over and breaking some of the race tents in the process. My exact spot was just under the edge of a tall tree right next to the start/finish, and I only hoped the tree and all her branches would remain in place. Besides that, I laid in tent and enjoyed the show. It rained hard for a bit, then easy, then off, and the wind did the same, changing gust velocity and sound amplitude as the wind plowed thru our site from midnight til 5am. I fell asleep now and again, I suspect when the storm backed off, and woke again as the side of my tent was blown into my face or a thunder boomer bounced off the canyon walls. I drifted in & out of sleep, and may have missed some of the best stuff, but the tent held up well: no broken poles or wet spots within. The race didn’t take all that long, and with the best part of two days to play, we had time to check out Balmorhea (which was closed), Fort Davis, and Alpine. All in all, a great race and a glorious weekend

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2017: Paleface Trail Marathon

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Unexpectedly & Surprisingly, this somewhat minor blip on my radar, turned into a much bigger event than it should have been. Initially, I had signed up for the half-marathon, same as I did last year. Mark Lindsey, who had created this race and the course, was supposed to mark the course, same as he always does, but a family misfortune was such that he had to leave town, and a big 'ask' from him was for me to mark the course in his stead. Mind, I don't know this park all that well, and I certainly don't know the course, certainly not enough to mark it. But, I had 2 weeks, so I came out as soon as possible to learn it. Mark was to meet me at 2pm on Monday, but I was worried, so I arrived 2 hours earlier to get ahead of the curve.

I know the course somewhat. I had helped Mark once a few years ago, and I had run the half marathon last year, but understand: running a course and knowing a course are not near the same thing. I start where we always start, and took off on foot, working out the first 4 or 5 intersections half-heartedly. I wasn't sure, but followed what felt right. I was good til I got to the 1st split, and then the 2nd both on Wookie Way. I took the long way at both splits, but filed them both in mind to ask Mark about later. Another split at Rock Garden of Greatness, I remember we skipped, so I dodged it. I cross Abby Road to stay on Wookie to the next left on a jeep road that I guess on. At this point the trail is so much easier and non-technical: what I suppose would be a very fast bike track. The next intersection is marked with an arrow to turn right onto a ghost of a trail, so I stay strait instead of taking the ghost. Five minutes later, I know I'd guessed wrong, so I leave the trail to cut over onto the main park paved road.

I call Mark, and he's just entered the park, so he drives by and picks me up. Well, I got about 6 miles of it right, and he tells me what to do about all the questionable splits on Wookie, so I now have half the course in my head. We drive back to the start, where we reset. We drive down and park my truck where Abby Road meets the paved park road and hike in from there. Just to be sure, we go back directly to where I knew I'd gone wrong earlier. This time we take the ghost trail which is soon onto the nasty big powerline hills. We follow course around to the place where the trail drops down to the 2nd aid and comes right back up again. We start down, but only for a few minutes. Mark attempts to describe the stop point, so, we don't go all the way down, but turn around and head back up. We cut over to Well Rd and back up to a quarry area. There appears to be 2 quarries in the park, but I never do get the two of them sorted out.

We bounce back and forth along here as Mark cuts over at intersections to show me as much where not to go, as he shows me where to go, and also the track where we cut back later. So, we don't follow the course strait away as we had been doing earlier. I hear what he says, and it makes sense, but I'm still not sure I'll remember each point as they begin to stack one on top the other to the point I'm certain a few will slip out and get lost.

We skim the turns of South and North Croton but don't enter upon either one. We turn back and pass a whole set of trails each with the same name: Chicken Foot, then reach an intersection where I understand the 5k to go left, but the 13 miler to go right. Immediately we're at an intersection of 5 trails we go strait thru, then another intersection and another and now I know I'm lost. Mark points out where the 5k joins back in and soon after we're back to the start. He walks me thru the first part of the 5k and explains the rest, but we don't walk the whole thing, and soon after he's taking me back to where we left my truck at Abby Road.

Two days later, I drive back to the park. I get my friend Fumi to go with, with the intention of running the entire 13mi loop. I drop a cooler with drinks just off the road where the 3rd aid will be on South Croton. We start off well, and manage all the turns as I've been told by Mark to and thru Wookie with each of the correct splits: left on the first split, right on the 2nd, skipping the Rock Garden. I take the ghost turn correctly this time, all the hills, and even the drop down to the aid station. This time, I head all the way down to Well Road, before heading back up. Now on to the parts I kind of know, but not well, and all this I do from cross correlation of what I recall from Mark, my memory of running last year, and instinct. I think I get this all right, but I do have my GPS on, so I'll cross check when I get home. About mile 10 is where the 5k merges in, and I make the turn, pass by all the intersections I came at from the other side with Mark the last time, pass by all three Chicken Feet, and on to where the 5k cuts out. I cant say for certain if I'm at the correct place for the major 5k in & out, but do know the 13 miler keeps on strait. I make that big turn where 5k and 13mi split, scoop on down for all the turns correctly back into the finish and done. Anyway, Fumi and I are done fro today.

I plan to go back to the park again, but due the storm damage down in Houston, most of the gas stations in Austin have run empty and there is no gas to be had, so I don't go back again until its time to mark the course, which is the following Wednesday.

I get Joyce to help me and also an old friend of Marks: Steve. I get to the park early, and sit one cooler full of drinks at aid 3 (mile 9) and another at what I think is Abby Road on the other side of where I'd gone last week. I go back to the start, where I open up Chris's trailer to collect the marking materials. I take all the wooden stakes, load what I can in a pack, then take the rest to the same place I put the coolers to split out the rest of them there. None of the marking materials are ready to be used. I have to put together a pack full of signs and I fill it with as many as I can of arrows, wrong ways, and the distance signs of 5k,10k, half-marathon, and marathon. Also load in a staple gun, staples, mallet, and a quadrant of water bottles. I load a 2nd pack full of all the  ribbons for both courses, being different colors for each route. The 3rd pack is crammed full of as many wooden stakes as will fit. Its about all the 3 of us can carry. I look around for caution ribbon, but all I can find are five 50-gallon trash bags full of unrolled ribbon crammed in each. Aint no way we wish to carry all the extra trash bags, so I decide to do what I can to mark the course without then. Just like the old days, before we got started using the caution tape. And so we go, overloaded and ready to hike one big loop with a bit of side extensions here and there to do the 5k as we do the big loop.

I send Joyce up to mark the short 5k out n back leg, just so I'll know when I get to it on the other side many hours later. That done, we start off, tagging every turn with arrows and wrong ways while Joyce hangs confidence flags. Its slow work, stopping at every cross trail to pound one or more wooden stakes in the ground, staple the correct signs on each, then pack up and move to the next. There are places on the course where this is done every 50 yards, and there are others where we walk for a quarter mile with nothing to do but hang flags. Usually, we use the caution ribbon to block major turns and sort of herd the runners into chutes to control the direction, but without the caution, we take more care with each sign and flag. By the time we got to Well Road on the other side, in the middle of the hills, we check over at the road for where I left out stash of cold drinks and extra stakes. I cant find it at first, and soon realize I'd missed my mark by a ton. We all hike down the park road 3/4 a mile before we find the stash. Damn, I don't mind being off a little with this, but it really pisses me to realize how far wrong I guessed. This costs us an extra few miles and a good bit of wasted time.

Back on, we finish the hills, and then pay a good deal of attention creating a chute of dead tree branches at the intersection of the long out n back to the aid. This takes awhile, marking this major turn at the hike down to the aid, which I'm still not sure exactly where it is. We stop at Well Road, and cut back to the intersection we'd already grown pretty damned tired of. Over to the next major intersection where we'd hit Well Road again, I'm uncomfortable marking a route to this road and then turning back without any caution tape. I see no way to mark it clean enough to not get people lost, so I back the route up about 30 yards off the road and cut thru the trees, bushwhack to the other trail heading back up. It works out well and so we leave it.

The next 2 miles are easy enough to mark, but murder to hike and run. Probably the most rugged and technical part of the course, but pleasant being out of the sun in the shade of the trees. This is the area of 3 or 4 cut thru sections I mark easy enough. By the time we reach the 9mi aid stn on South Croton, we're about done in. Steve is having some issues with his medicine to keep his diabetic sugar balance, having had no idea how long all this was going to take us. We'd already been going for 6 hours and expect anther 2 to get done. We take some time to refresh with my stash of ice cold gatorade, coke, and water, plus a new load of wood stakes and good to go. At the 5k/13m merge, I have Joyce flag the 5k section down the way we're not going, but the 5k will come from. At this point, the 2 courses merge, so its time to hang both sets of flags for a few miles. Joyce takes one bag of flags, while Steve takes the other to hang separate flags, each specific to their separate courses, while I walk ahead to each intersection to pound stakes and staple signs. And so we march past the Chicken-Feet to the major 5k crossroads which Joyce had marked at the beginning of our day. We spend some time here making sure we mark it as good as possible for all the comings and goings that will happen here during the race. The 5k will come up and turn right, make the big loop, then turn right again to go down the same trail they had come up to start. Also, the 13 mi loop will simply pass strait across without hiccup or turn. This takes a lot of signage and time. 

Another quarter mile and we have to mark a similar intersection. The 5k goes left to where Joyce had hung flags earlier down from South Croton, but the 13mi course turns right, and so we mark it with posts, signs, and ribbons. More time! Just off this, we reach the intersection like a train switching yard, with trails heading off in 5 directions. It's too much for what little I have left with posts and signs, so I simply post one arrow to go strait across, with nothing else at all the other trail heads. The 5k has such an odd and convoluted finish that it's hard to explain it cleanly. It gets back within a 100 yards of where it starts, turns left, crosses quite a few intersections and reconnects with the 13mi course just before the finish. Its important to know exactly where it reconnects, because of the flags we need to hang.

And so we finish up the 13mi loop, take a short break, cut Steve loose to get his levels right, then Joyce and I head back out to finish the 5k loop. We'd already done most of it, but, it's a confusing finish we have yet to do. But, we have no stakes left, but for a few nubs of wood. And so we mark it, without wooden stakes or caution ribbon, but we get it done. All in all, it takes about 8 hours, and we still have to go back around and collect our coolers and drop off a tent Mark wants me to leave at the mile 9 aid.

I call Mark on the drive home and thats when I get wind of a minor change at the end of the 5k that I may have done differently. I call Chris and tell him about the bags of caution flags I didn't use. He's surprised. He wanted me to haul them as is. There was some concern the course might not be marked good enough. I go home anyway. Joyce and I are wiped out.

I drive back out to the park again the day before the race, on Friday with my mountain bike to finish the 5k. This time, I find a few rolls of caution flag, so I load a pack again for marking, and go in. I ride the 5k loop, using a liberal amount of caution ribbon at every intersection I come to. I keep my GPS on just to make sure I have the 5k loop distance. I take the new trail at the end of the loop and mark it, then go back and take down the part I'd marked wrong a few days ago. I then bike over to check a few other major points and see that Chris has already patched up with caution ribbon plus pins and posts to make the major intersections clean. I'm done, so head back to my truck and home.

If that's all of it, it would have been well enough already, but I come back a day later on Saturday to run the marathon. With 2 more complete loops, I'd have close to 6 loops out here in the last 10 days. Fortunately, it's a lovely 66 degrees on race morning. Hobbs and I plan to hang together for a bit, both of us needing a long run today as a trainer for a longer run later in the year. We walk out easy, and start to run once we top the first short hill. Ryan's behind us, starting easy as well.

Hobbs has rabbit in him and as expected, keeps surging ahead, then pulls off and waits for me. And so we roll til we both hook onto a group of 3 led by a very strong consistent woman, and there we stay til the hills. We each walk up at our own best effort, and run down with varying skill for the first hill, but it was on the 2nd hill descent, that Hobbs and I go past the others. They're all most likely better runners and more consistent than either of us, but we know downhill running better than most and so we cruise on by and up the 3rd hill just ahead of them. Again at the downhill into the 2nd aid, we add more distance and thus go back up ahead again. One more downhill to Well Road put us well ahead. The next 2 miles, as I already know, is a very fun rough and tumble path of rock obstacles that is pure fun to dance thru, all of it under shade. Still, we have 2 loops to run, so we back off and walk now and again, when we could easily have been running. A few of those we passed earlier pass us in here as we intermittently walk. I don't need anything at the aid, so I slow here but don't stop.

At mile 10, we turn off the North Croton trail onto a wide open and completely exposed track which is part of the 5k loop. It's smooth, flat, fast, and boring. I find myself going a bit faster now and again, with Hobbs beginning to lag behind. By the 5k spin off point and a mile out, Henry is starting to cramp and walk a bit more. I wait now and again such that we come in one right behind the other but I'm worried about his chances at this point. We talk about him getting out, but when I get up to go, he comes with me.

We walk a good bit right out the gate and beyond. I make sure to run each down tilt, but the rest of it we walk. I sure hope Henry gets his bearings oiled up and gets right after a bit, but as we roll along, I walk less and less. Henry tells me to go on and he'd work it out, but I have a hard time cutting loose. I don't stop at the 1st aid and Henry is a few turns back by then, plus I think he might take a long watering break, so it's here I cut loose. It's also where Nick Draper hooks on, replacing Henry. Nick starts talking and I reply all the way through the hills and into the next aid.

Joel Olivares is sitting here when I come in. He's giving me some playful grief, so I reply in kind til he leaves with hopes to never see me again. Nick stays with me and we find Joel again sitting at the 9mi station. I don't need anything, so I keep on thru and Joel pops up and comes with, joining our train. And so the 3 of us continue together onto the wide open sun baked track with no shade. We're all motivated to get it over with, but it's Joel with the energy to push up on the only slight rise on the loop, and so he separates from us, and soon after goes Nick. It seems like a good time for me to take a walk break and never do get my wind back up, nor feel the urge to push the pace from here on in. I take a lazy saunter in and damned glad to finally be done.

We, Henry, Ryan, and I had talked about possibly going back out when done to get another 5k just to get some more distance today, but only if we weren't trashed when done. Well, I wasn't trashed, but I'm rather enjoying myself sitting in the shade with Henry, Kuss, JoAnne, Joel, and others. I simply sit and give up on any more distance ideas. It's done. I'm done. Henry had stopped soon after I left him and walked back for a clean 20 miles, while Ryan came in soon after me. It was good. It was done.

2017: Reveille Peak Ranch 30k

Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast late last night, but it does not appear to be moving up into the hill country. The storm is hammering the coast and the edge of it has sent cooler temps and a bit of rain this far out. Joyce & Ryan volunteered with the Red Cross and will be working all weekend, but I've been looking forward to this race, so I drive to Reveille Peak Ranch. Also, we have our Texas Trail Champ Series awards ceremony in which I need to present some 100 awards.

The 60k runners cross the levee at 7pm, and we do the same in the 30k at 7:30pm. The 30 minute head start is just enough time for the 100k runners to do the extra dome loop and merge back in with us as they come off the 3mi dome. I lay back, being careful, and its enough for most of the more aggressive 30k runners to move well ahead and out of sight. It's not long before the 60k runners merge back into me after the dome and I'm once again in a big crowd of runners.

The trails have gone thru a huge change since I was last here. Wide swaths of tree and dirt had been bull-dozed into big ugly cuts. Some of this was to create a couple of retention ponds, but some was just for the creation of bigger mountain bike course. A sky full of clouds brings on the evenings night much sooner than expect. Diffused light filtered thru the clouds is good enough most of the time, but in the areas under tree cover, its too dark to see well. Many of the runners already have their lights on.

Crossing the road aid station and up a new and very muddy jeep track, I see the first of the new ponds. I remember how pretty this creek used to be, now under a lot of water. Again later, we take the shortcut skipping the dome loop. I pass another retention pond behind a levee. Even though we miss the crux of the dome, there's still a bit of rock to run over, thru, and around. Not much out here is flat, and much of it has dark slick moss that requires my complete attention.

Getting on to full dark now, it's becoming much more difficult to see anything, route, turns, or rocks. Thankfully, I know this course semi-well. It is the remnants of what I created a few years ago. For the most part, I know the turns and general idea of direction, which is a huge advantage. I pass a woman who has slid out and is climbing back up behind me. Another guy I pass over a large rock section. I know where I need to connect on the other side, that he does not see, so he wanders about, while I cross directly, and he ends up behind me. This is seriously rugged trail, wandering about in very unpredictable directions, between cactus and thorny juniper. I start passing people in here, most who slow because they are not certain which way to go. They work it out, just not quickly.

The Dome aid station is a transition point where we switch from rock to dirt. Its easier to run but for a downed tree or two. The creek crossing is preceded by a good bit of slippery rock, and the foliage overgrows the trail to the point of irritation. I run into one overhanging shrub after another. The main bother being, it blocks my view of the trail on the other side. I cant see anything for a few strides, which is enough to miss a rock or a turn in the trail. At first, I plow thru, but after kicking a few rocks, and missing a turn, I back down and begun to edge thru more carefully, and much slower.

On the long sweeping switchbacks that slowly climb to the overlook, I miss a turn, along with a few others, but realize in just a minute or less. I turn back, check for trail on the right and find it quickly, and resume the correct route. By the overlook, I have an entourage who now know that I know this course, so they track on me, even though all of them can easily go faster. At one point, I have to duck down to crawl under a low hanging branch. I cannot see that a trail exists on the other side, but for a single flag and the knowledge the trail must go in this direction. It's a lovely route, even though I can't see much of anything in the dark. A fire ant's route, wandering left, right, and random, unpredictably going off in the least expected direction.

Dropping into the Flow aid station down by the creek, I've finally run empty on water, slow for the 5 seconds it takes to get my bottle refilled. I have the top off prior to running in, and screw the top back on as I run out. I lose my entourage, crossing the hump-back rock across the stream and into the woods on the other side. I'm looking forward to the next section that rambles over rock and root, but surprised to see a new route marked, avoiding the old path and taking a new one made for the mountain bikers. Either way, it's not all that far, but does slowly climb back up to the gate.

The final 1.5mi is no more than a reversal of the first 1.5mi, and the most boring part of this entire course. In short order, I'm back to the pond, over the levee, and back to the Pavilion. I'm soaking wet, so I extract a change of clothes from my bag, and hide around the dark side of the pavilion to change into dry togs. A get a fresh refill of water, and start back out. Over the levee and entering the woods, I cross paths with Richard and January, just finishing their first of 3 loops of the 60k.

I run, and keep it going for a bit longer than I expect. With a loop done, and one to get, I have less need to be conservative. I push myself just a bit and feel the energy wash over me. It feels good, the weather is excellent, a bit of rain now and again, a cool breeze now and then, and a very fun technical course. The rocks insist I dance, for fear of tripping, so I oblige, high-stepping, and always moving forward. The momentum carries me thru the gate and down to the first aid station down on the road. I take a slice of orange and banana, then continue up the same ugly trail as last time, over a new levee of hard packed dirt and mud.

The course tilts up thru the trees, crooked and rocky, past another new levee, and onto the big rock, albeit just a slice off one side. This one mile side loop is a part of the rock dome, not as majestic and insane as the big dome loop, but just as fun and awkward. A runner just in front of me slides down sideways off the wrong side of a slanted rock, and I run past as she scramble back up. The same woman I ran with on loop one. I have caught her again. I push myself up and over the rocks, she follows close behind, around the end and back. The course loops back on itself time and again, nothing strait and a load of fun.

We close on another group as we reach the dome aid, and they all pull in for assistance, while I accelerate out the other side. By myself again, I feel a surge, as I usually do when I separate myself from a crowd. Where I with the others, I'd most likely run this section easy and relaxed, but thats not what I do. I surge, pick up my effort, and flit thru the next area rapidly, enjoying the play of it. This is what I like the most about running, when I push and it works. My body responds without much effort or pain which certainly isn't how it usually feels now-a-days.

The trail wraps around as before, back and forth thru the trees. Around a downed tree, and turning at places that are hard to see, unless you know where... across a huge slab of slanted rock down into and across another creek. The trail narrows in onto itself, little rollers, no more than a few feet of up-roll and down. Across another road, and the trail narrows more. The girl catches me again. 'Is that you, Joe?' and drops into my slip-stream. I tell her to go on by, but she says she prefers to track on me for now. While we take the long sweeping switchbacks that climb up the ridge, we pull a few others into our pace-line. The climb slows me a bit, and I switch into a walk/run. By the aid station, our group has grown to 6 or 7. Once again, I approach the aid prepared, bottle open, filled in seconds, and heading out the other side alone. But, my buzz is winding down, so I find it more difficult to run the slight uphill to the gate. I hear a few others closing on me, then just one. It's the girl again, and she tucks in. By the time we reach the gate, I'm about done in. It's only another 1.5 til done and easy too, but I'm no longer at the same level of energy as I had been.

I tell the girl, who I never do see - in the dark, to go on. I tell her she doesn't need me anymore. This next section is pretty simple and she should get after it. I'm slowing down, and I know she just passed another woman, doesn't have time to slow down now. She goes and I keep on, but it's a mix of walk and run now. Not working very hard, just coasting and comfortable with it, when I realize somebody is closing on me fast. Funny that! I have no energy and no motivation til I see that light coming. After getting damn near this whole race done without any thought of competition or concern, I'll be damned if I want to watch somebody else blow past me within sight of the finish.

I pick up the pace. I push myself. I begin to really work hard to make myself run faster. Until now, its been fun, easy, and comfortable. Suddenly, its none of that. It hurts to push this hard, but I can feel the light behind me getting closer. I push harder again. I just need to get across the levee now. I push across and look back to see a big guy with no shirt sprinting towards me. I rush around the pond, and realize I'm about to catch the girl I sent on ahead of me. She's going faster also, not knowing who it is thats rushing towards her. Shirtless is just about to catch me, so I surge again, across the narrow slot between the ponds. We are all 3 very close on each other as the girl crosses first, me just seconds later, and shirtless just a stride behind. Damn!

2017: Colorado Bend 30k

Its been awhile since I’ve run trail with Joyce. She’s a bit nervous, not having been to a trail race for some time. It's fun watching her nervousness, her smile, her cute quirks in what she might call, getting ready. We get there 90 minutes early, find a parking space not far from the start, and pull up our chairs next to our rockhopper friends. Joyce goes off for a last bathroom visit while I watch the 60k start. I only have plans to carry a single water bottle. The bottle holder has a large pocket in it with a few ibuprofen, some gels, and a baggie of Tailwind. We’ll start in daylight, but finish in the dark, so I wrap my headlight around the water bottle. Shorts, lightweight shirt, bandana, and a heavy set of trail running shoes is the crux of it. I'm carrying enough weight on my legs, and have no intention on adding any more on my back than I have to.

Joyce suggests we NOT start in the back, like I usually do, concerned we might go out way too slow, and get stuck behind the entire pack for way too long. So, we move further up than I usually have a mind to do. We begin on a flat and wide jeep road for a half-mile, that is typically enough for people to sort themselves out into the proper pace place. Joyce starts out ahead of me, then backs off and tucks in behind. These last few years, she has been out-running me by more than a bit. Her slim physique more than a match for my bigger and heavier mass. Used to be that she struggled to stay with me, but that hasn’t been the case for a while, so I suspect, she drops back just so she can stay near me for the start.

The transition from wide jeep road to rocky uphill single-track creates another sorting out. Those who wish to RUN up, and those who prefer to WALK. Joyce and I prefer to walk up, but due the narrow confines and few places to move off trail, we’re forced to run or create a bottleneck. So, we run! It's not a hard charging sort of run so much as a run strong enough to stay with the fellow in front of me. Joyce stays on me for just a few minutes when I hear her speaking to me, I’m gonna step out and let some people pass'. It's not a good place for me to do the same, so I continue for another few minutes before I can step out. Groups of 4 and 5 run past, but no Joyce. I start again, jumping back in, go a few more minutes, then step out again. More groups go by, but no Joyce. Finally I see her, and start back in just in front of her. Minutes later, I hear a voice that is NOT Joyce behind me, so I step out again. Joyce stops again and lets another dozen by. I wait for her before we get going again. The climb becomes less finally for us to continue together.

This trail is pretty nasty! How much is like this? Pretty much the whole thing, but for a mile down by the river. I know you told me it was pretty rugged, but I must have forgotten had rough it was. Yep, its nasty enough to keep us rock dancing til we’re done. And it'll be a lot worse after dark. Gotta pay attention. I trip just as I say this. I trip a lot. Being damn near blind and running without any corrective lens, my kids tell me I run by brail, reading the trail with bat-sonar. I can’t wear contacts and glasses cause so many other problems, I’ve grown used to running this way. Joyce lets a few others go by, so I wait again, and so this continues all  the way onto Lemon Ridge station. I top off my bottle, then Joyce's and make ready to go, but Joyce is not.

I start the next section, but stop over and over as I realize she's fallen off. She says she's overheating, which surprises me. She shoves a scoop of ice down in her bra to cool down. Usually its me who is overheating: not her. My 200 pounds typically has more of a heat issue than her 115. All of this is so abnormal in a reversal of sorts. I'm already soaking wet from sweat, but I feel great. Joyce trips and hits the ground, rolling over onto her back. The guy behind her helps her up and then goes past as we walk. We're just under 5 miles in and she's already fallen 5 times, and not feeling too damn good about it. I trip a lot more than she does, but usually recover. It's going to be dark in another 15 minutes and I tell her so. We talk about her stopping, she begins to cry, not wanting to quit, but worried about hurting herself. She’s exhausted and overheated, likely from being out in the sun a lot these past few days. She already has a huge bruise on one leg from a horse mishap the day before. She decides to head back. The road is just a half-mile back and she can hoof it back to the start on the paved park road. It's not the running so much as the rocks. And so she heads back.

I watch her go and when she's out of sight, I turn and start running. It feels good to just watch in front of me, to get into the rhythm of the dance, hopping from rock to rock, and starting to go faster. I pass a few people, then a few more, using the stolen energy, I get a buzz going. Joyce will be fine now that she’s out of the woods and off the rocks. I no longer need to worry about her. I can relax and simply flow with the wind and the rocks. Its dark soon, but I so much enjoy running without lights, so I go for as long as I can. The reflective ribbons that mark the course are hard to find without a light to reflect, so I’m eventually forced to click on my light if for no other reason than to find the course markings. 

Its funny though, I start to trip more with the light on. My peripheral vision is gone with the light, creating a small area just in front that becomes my new world of light. I catch an occasional glimpse or flash of light in front which spurs me to go faster and catch the next one. Many runners are starting to slow now that they've burned down a bit, while I’ve been set free and just now beginning to roll. One or two latch on as I go by and run with me a bit, but each soon after falls off while I continue to run. I so much enjoy this rock and roll trail dance. I don't always find the best foot placement, or dodge every low hanging branch, but what I typically do well is balance all of it. I usually recover when I trip, but not always. I'm telling another runner just that when I bust my ass. My hand swells up like a baseball with half the knuckles disappearing into the swell, but it doesn’t hurt. I run the jeep road into the Windmill station, top my bottle, and take a banana.

I see another flash of light in front of me again and increase my speed. Sometimes, these flashes are no more than a spinning reflective ribbon, but if even that motivates me to go faster, I consider it a good deal. Its pretty dark now so I can’t see any of  the people I pass, so I say something to each of them, and if they respond, and some don't, I might recognize their voice. Such is the case with Axel and again with Bill. I’m catching the back of the 60k pack now. This section from Windmill to Gorman Falls has more variety than all the rest. Rocky and rugged then some easy flat, then a rugged rock path thats flat but for the insane amount of rock obstacles impossible to avoid. I pass a guy thru here who I know is much faster than me, but I mange the insane chaos of rocks much better than he, and slowly slip ahead. Mostly down, but it's not always easy to figure which way to turn at so many points, so its more of a stutter, skip, and turn, half dragging a non-comital leg now and again as we drop over ledges of rocks, round and under ducking low oak branches, around dry creek arroyos which I do know are very pretty when I can see them more completely, and not in my minimized light tunnel.

Coming into Gorman Falls feels like I've reached a major goal. I take the time to empty my water bottle pocket: fill the bottle with Tailwind, eat the gels, and pop the ibuprofen, to help with my swollen hand. Gorman Falls is next to a building by a bridge. There’s a crowd at the tables, filling bladders and talking in hushed voices. With no light besides what we bring, its off that everyone coming in speaks quietly. Being polite I suppose, not wishing to wake the ghosts within. I walk out as quiet as I came in, turn down the river trail and then start up the next climb. Walking, I pass two people, and this spins me back up again. Not that I want to run up this, but my walk becomes more focused, faster, even hopping up a few ledges such that I move well ahead. It's mostly an easy climb, with only a few steep sections, but it's not long before I turn left, to twist about in the trees. Theres a few people in the trees ahead and their lights point in every direction, so the trail must really wander about. 

I go after each light again, catching and passing each, including Rich. The trail bottoms out at the river trail which is smooth, fast, and easy, but I can’t stand it. My nemesis is flat easy trail. I slow down for the first time since I left Joyce. Odd how the easiest part of this entire adventure is where I meet my match. I mix walking and running the entire length of this section, moving well for both, and liking none of it. I hurry myself just to get back to the single-track. Towards the end, I turn off my light. Its acting up and I wonder if it’ll last til I'm done. I find the turn and head back up into the rocks once more, and turn the light back on as much to find the trail as to find the reflectors.

I force march up the trail, moving well without running. I catch Nancy just as she trips into some cactus. I pass a woman who’s light is worse than mine and she hooks on just for the light, but struggles to stay with me. We both reach the Lemon Ridge station soon enough, looking for light more than food or water. I ask for batteries and she trumps me by asking for a light. One guy runs off to find batteries while the other volunteer simply hands the lady her headlamp. I don't want to just stand here with only 3 miles to go waiting for the guy to come back with batteries, so I march out and on down the trail, hoping what I have is good enough to last.

The last 3 miles are lonely, with nobody near but for 60k runners heading back out on loop two. All I see are spots of light passing in the dark. Some have a voice, but most don't. I’m tripping a lot more, tired to the bone, I cant get my feet high enough to clear the rocks. Not that I'm just tripping over them as much as kicking some with a good deal of force to make me cringe. No sooner than one ache begins to fade, when I kick another.

I'm ready to be done long before I am done. I can’t get my left hand into the water bottle holder any longer. My hand has swollen and I don't want to look at it just yet. My light is randomly changing intensity, such that I have an even harder time seeing the rocks well enough to dodge them. I feel like I’m stuck in a dream, wandering endlessly, no end, nobody else, just me and the rocks. No longer running, I keep pushing myself to get to the road, to get done.

The road is the final goal and it feels so damn good to finally reach it. As much as I want to, as much as I try, I just can’t manage a run for more than a few moments, before I walk again. I’m toast, done, empty, and all I need is to keep pushing til I get to the finish, which in time does finally happen

2017: Death March on Clarks Creek

There are only 12 of us in the box at the 7am start. It's groundhog day, and every hour on the hour for as long as we can stand it, we’ll be starting again. Everybody in the box is in 1st place, and we all remain in 1st place for as long as we continue. Doesn’t matter who comes in 1st or last, as long as we're back in the box at the top of each hour.

All of us have our oasis’s laid out within a few feet of the box, under the huge live oaks, on the grass, our chairs and ice chests near at hand. My ice chest has a wide variety of substances from which to cool me for a very long time. I brought a spare ice chest with nothing more than ice in it as well. I don't have a load of food, but figure I'll use the tailwind I brought, a few bars, and see what the race provides. I brought a load of clothes, thinking I’d sweat thru a fair amount: 10 shorts, 10 socks, 4 shoes, buffs for ice, bandanas for sweat, hats for shade, long sleeves, short sleeves, and more. It's much more than I’ll need, but I'd rather have it than not.

Mike & Tom park their gear under the same popup as I, each of us sharing a third. At 3 til 7am, John blows his whistle 3 times. At 2 til he blows it twice. At 1 til he blows it once. 7am sharp, he rattles an old cow bell, and we began. It’s only 2.083 miles of country road. 2.083mi out to the bridge, and 2.083mi back to the box, markers every quarter mile approximately. The dirt road was just scraped yesterday, so it's tolerable. At 1.3mi, it becomes a paved road at the only turn on the course, besides the one right at the start.

The temp today will rise from 80 to 100 while the humidity descends from 100 to 40. A touch of wind will ease the pain, while we will occasionally lean into the shade for a few seconds each lap on the shoulder of the road. The course is painfully boring, with the exception of the one lone ranch dog that barks at us til his barks slowly became dim and rough. I feel sorry for the dog, because we keep coming and he must feel it his duty to chase us off, the poor dog. I suspect he still has nightmares about us.

The dim dozen I called us. Too dumb to stay in the shade of the statuesque oaks. We spread out quickly, with Anthony, Ty, and Mike leading the charge, followed by the triathletes, then the Houston-ite, Monte, Tom, and last by me and Stephen, who chose me to use as his limiter. He decided, that I was the oldest, and most likely his best bet to keep him from going out too fast: imagine that. I have run for so many years now, and know what I can and cannot do. I know already this event is not the thing I will do well in. If nothing else, I can comfortably stay slow and steady til the heat eats me. It will eat me. I wanted to come and support John for this race idea of his also. I think its a great concept, even though I know it does not suit me.

Stephen does most of the talking, which is odd. Usually I talk too much, but Stephen takes lead in this regard and keeps on, telling me what he’s done and how he would like this race to go for him. I agree with him for the most part, going out slowly, and getting back to our gear just 10mins prior to each lap. Its enough time to reset and reload for another round. I also tell him I’ll let hime know when I think he should cut me out, and continue without me.

This first 4 loops are all much the same, with little variation on the positions. Anthony finishes first each time in little more than 30mins, while Tom, Stephen and I are always the last 3. The others mix about, except the triathletes which remain in a pack. The end of loop 4, I'm starting to feel the effects of the heat. I can feel the sun's rays burning into my chest, back, and arms. The clouds roll by and protect us a bit, but when the cloud clears and opens a direct path, I can feel the intensity immediately. My chest is on fire, so my heat rash is in full bloom. Suspect I’ve roasted the southern regions as well. I should know better.

I finish loop 4 knowing I'm about done. I'm ready to quit, need to get some Desiten on my body, but figure I'll do one more just for the hell of it: typical ultra-runner mentality. Pretty stupid, really. All of it: doing this race to begin with, and going on when I already know I'm done. I tell Stephen to cut the chain and go. I tell Tom as well. I walk a lot more on loop 5, knowing I’m done and couldn't care less if I get back in time. Nothings changes much except the fire on my body. Still groundhog day. I let it go, walk a bit, run a little, everyone passes beyond me and gone. I’m alone now, coming back down the road and around the final turn, I realize I've actually made it in time. No shit?! John, Gina, and Shannon are all there to help me get it together so I can go back out again, but it's not happening. I sit down for a beer first, watch them go out, then head into the house to get some Desiten on my body. The rash is pretty bad. One of the worst I've had. Now, its time for me to sit in the shade and cool down.

I go thru 3 beers, 3 cokes, 3 izzes, and then I settle into my hammock and really begin to relax. While I was out there, it seemed like each loop took forever, but sitting here waiting, it doesn’t take much time at all for the gang to come in again. But, it looks like I've broke the ice. With me finally stopping, nobody else has to worry about being the first to stop. 4 people stop on loop6: Mike, the Houston guy, one of the tri-team, and Monte. Tom barely gets back in time and turns to go back out again without break.

A few drinks later, and they're back again. Once again Tom barely gets in the box before he turns to go again. John goes out on the course to bring in the Houston guy who was late coming in, but comes back with Tom instead. They’re now down to 6 runners, and start out with Anthony and Stephen going out last, slow and easy. When they come back, it's the first  time Anthony does not lead the return. Its Ty, then a bit later, Anthony. The hour flips and the group of 5 heads back out before Stephen returns. Just as the next heat starts, John heads out on the ATV to find Stephen, but Anthony is the last to head out and he's rather tentative. For good reason too, as he doesn’t leave the yard before turning back and coming in to stop about the same time John brings Stephen back in. So the group is down to 4. Ty and the tri-gang. I think it’s the next loop when the next tri-guy drops, but I’m not so sure, as we head into the house to eat, and then I pack up and leave, with 3 people still going.

My Desiten has worn off, and I need another coat, because I’m walking like a cowboy and feel totally trashed. I learn later that its just Ty and the tri-girl for a few more, before Ty stops. So its done after 17 laps for 17 hours or 70 miles. But by then, I’ve made the 2.5hr drive home and gone to bed. So the last man standing is a woman. I think it’s awesome, but I suppose that having run with all of them, I’d have been just as happy seeing any one of them win.

The format is an interesting one, the course is boring, the camaraderie or phenomenal, but the heat and humidity was more than I could handle. I don’t think I'll do this again, but I am glad to have done it once. I don't have to run fast, but do have time limits. Its just me against myself. I attempted to walk 4mi in an hour and it can be done, but it's a pretty rapid walk: just a pinch under 15mins per mile. It seems so easy. It feels so easy. It aint easy! Especially if it means doing it endlessly over and over again.

2017: Pedernales 60k

Races I have run of late have been afterthoughts, no more! I run with people who are training, but I am not training. I just run! I used to love it, but now, I suspect its at a higher level: the way I live, my essence.

My son and I have a coaching business: TrailZen, where we hold twice a week trail runs, which we charge nothing for. Should someone want more, we ask for payment. We have fun with this and it does provide a never-ending twice a week run for me. We run most weekends too, usually long runs, but these are more personal (for me). On the weekday runs, we always go to dinner afterwards, so these have become a sort of gathering, even for those who are not running. We never go to the same place twice in a row: to run or eat. My son, Ryan usually picks me up in his electric car, and he being a lifelong student of music, always has something different playing on the stereo. Sometimes we don't talk at all, depending on the intensity of the music. Of late, I have bent his ear on my concerns about the upcoming race at Pedernales. Usually, I am pretty well locked in on my intentions, having thought thru my expectations and desires, so it rather amuses him that I'm in this personal conundrum. I know what I’m good at and what I’m not, and I suck particularly on hot & humid days. Typically I slip off early and take the short option when its nasty hot. Last Saturday, we ran part of the Pedernales course at 106 degrees, and it was enough to convince me 60k was not an option. I already have 3 Ultra Distance races from back in January/February/March when it was much cooler, but I’ve been off on a different adventure for the last few months. Coming back now to get my 4th Ultra was not in my plans. If anything, I’m capable of a conservative 30k max, and no more. The reason for the 4 races is for our team & personal competition within the Texas Trail Championship Series, which most of us compete in. We can score with 4 races max, and its rare to win without getting all 4. If I ran a 60k, I’d help my team and possibly solidify an age category win for myself, but I'm just not in shape to run a 60k in these conditions. My thought was to run the 30k this week and another 30k at the final race on the spring calendar. This would likely give me a 2nd place finish for both the Ultra and Trail divisions in the 60+ category. Ryan listens to my arguments and smiles at my confusion. He knows me well enough to understand my reasons. I suspect my turmoil humors him a bit, but I'm still out of sorts when I sign up for the 30k.

A few days later, I check the weather forecast and note a big temperature dip along with thunderstorms and rain. This forecast pushs me over the edge, so I ask to be moved into the 60k race. This is not going to be easy, but if I'm careful and conservative, I might possibly pull this off. Still, I don't wish to talk about this change to anyone, for fear of discussing the stupidity of my decision. Any debate might damage my marginal confidence, and I need every advantage to get this done, however minimal it is.

I prepare some foods and drinks for my race nutrition, put them on ice and put the cooler in the garage frig til later. I decide to take my hydration vest to carry an extra water bottle as well as my food, and the toilet kit. Besides wipes, this kit contains Desitin to combat the rash I always get from sopping wet clothes. I decide to take my trekking poles for the 2nd loop too, and change of clothes as well. I pick up Adam & Fumi, and later realize just as we enter the park, my cooler full of food & drink is still at home in the garage. Thankfully, Fumi always takes care of me, and had already prepared for me 3 rice & spinach balls soaked in salt. This will have to do. I feel like I'm sneaking into the 60k, with my name posted on the 30k list, and slipping into the back of the group just as we start. I just don't want to talk about it, only Adam & Fumi know. I even wore a hat with sun-flaps that wrap around my head and pretty much disguise me. I figure it will help with the sun til it goes down in a few hours, but I also like the idea that it hides my face too.

Pedernales starts with a bit of single-track that bottlenecks the crowd for 10 minutes or so, and as much as I try to begin at the back, there are others who come in behind me, and then bumble about in the rocks and high grass, passing me where there's no room to do so. McWatters is standing at his post, to send us down a mile out-n-back, that I was not aware of, til now, and this is a wide enough jeep road that finally allows all the poor trap-ees behind me to escape and sprint past. I take this opportunity to visit with Michael thru here, as our run is more akin to a walk. By the time we reach the fenceline, I cant imagine many are behind me. Not that it matters, as I'm determined to stay within my own means tonight. As much as I want to spread my wings and push a bit, I hold back. Not that I'm running slow just to go slow. More specifically, I intend to stay comfortably loose and relaxed.

It takes us about 30 minutes to do the 3mi loop around the duck pond and back to the bottom side of the field where we'd started, and the only reason I know this, I can hear the yell when the 30k starts, which was to be 30 minutes after we, the 60k had begun. By doing a bit of math, I know we’re 2mi from the 1st aid station, meaning we're 3mi into the loop. Its funny, how all this processing goes thru my mind in the moments after I hear the yell. I say its funny, because I know how quickly my ability to process any thought will diminish as the miles slip by tonight. I know, the longer I run, the dumber I get.

I'll usually make some comment to most of the people in passing during a race, just to be sociable. I don't even think much about it anymore, just habit. When I go past Julie, I say something, and she recognizes my voice. Is that Joe? So, she hooks on and continues just behind me for the next few miles, with a friend of hers in tow. I look back a few times, even though I know its foolish to ever look behind while running, and realize we have a tail of 5 or 6 people. I step aside to let them pass, but nobody does. They stop too. Julie and I are talking and we’re both a bit louder than most, so they must all be tuned into our conversation, and maybe wish to hear a bit more. I can only guess why they wish to remain behind us. I'm not running all that fast and I’m the lead lemming in this bunch. I stop a few more times just to check and eventually they all do go by. Maybe they just weren’t paying attention or maybe they remembered they're in a race, but in good time, I unload all of them including Julie.

I'm not sure where the unmanned aid station is located, because it was never listed on any of the race maps. I guessed it might be at the one spot I knew was within a few feet of the park road. Watching my GPS milage helps also, knowing it's a bit over 5mi from the previous station. I'm soaking wet by this point, just 10mi into the course, and all those around me are soaked as well. Also, quite a few of the 30k are mixed in with us now, so it’s hard to tell who's in which race. This merging confuses the hell out of more than just me, as I watch some in the 60k hook onto some 30k runners without realizing, I'd guess. Also some 30k runners hook onto me now and again. I step out of the way many times, and watch as they spin back up quickly and gone, when they were slowly trudging behind me without much thought to my slow pace. Mind, it's getting dark now, and dusk is causing some odd behavior. Some had not put on their lights yet and only do so when I ask if they have a headlight. It’s odd to watch some run full bore into the off-trail underbrush, only to wake up, back up, and continue on the correct course. There are more than a few places where the course turns quickly or passes between trees side-by-side.

Its pitch black well before the next station at Polly's. They have a huge RV that must be the power behind the loud booming hard-rock music. It screams at me long before I arrive, and I remove myself quickly just to ease my ears. Down the mile long park road and back onto Juniper Trail, getting quieter as I go. Every time somebody flies past, I have to remind myself to let ‘em go. Not that I could have hung on so much as to not get sucked into anything other than my intended lazy walking run. The Juniper Trail was created just a few years ago by the local mountain bikers, and I so much like what they created. It’s not all that hilly so much as it simply follows the contour of rocky ledges. It follows along each arroyo and creek depression so as to ride the same level, right on the edge of huge rocks. You almost have to hop now and again to stay on the level, with occasional spurs around depressions and slants between trees, and some rock humps. The park land is mixed oak and juniper mostly. The majestic oaks with their huge crooked arms twisting down to the ground seem to offer a playground of opportunities, while the Junipers simply scream: don't touch me!

Most of the runners don’t even realize the trail between the 1st and 2nd aid station is the same trail as the trail between the 2nd aid station and the 3rd. It’s a weird twist of the course that puts us on the Juniper Trail two different times in two different places, and they are both just as much the same. But, I know. When we turn off Juniper and drop into the old park trail, it’s a different planet: rougher, dustier, with more obstacles of root and rock to trip over. But mostly, it’s no longer even. Up and down thru creeks and divots, overgrown with grass that keeps me alert for snakes. I know this park is thick with rattlesnakes and it bothers me to run thru the heavy stands of grass overhanging the trails in the creek areas. It’s a wonder that I run faster in these hilly areas, more from trepidation than any other reason. Blind as a bat and dumb as a rock, I charge thru here nervous as hell. But, I don’t see any snakes, nor do I hear any either, and I am happier for it.

As I near the split marking the start of Juniper, I see the lights of some runners already well into their 2nd loop. I’m back to the 1st station soon after and then for the final 2mi back to the start/finish. Confused when I cross the timing mat, I wonder about trying to figure where I left my gear. Takes a few minutes and some help to find it. I change all my sopping wet clothes, have a coke, and a few Advil, before getting up and out. Fumi comes in just as I start out. I get a bit turned around again trying to leave and have to find somebody to show me the route out. Dang, but getting in and out of here has me a bit off. Its pretty simple, but having poor sight, being in the dark, and alone… are all working against me.

Back into the duck pond loop, I wonder if we'd again run the odd out-n-back. I figure McWatters will no longer be there. I see a light ahead, and hope to keep it in sight at least til I figure this out. I also have my trekking poles with me, which takes me a bit to figure out. Not that I don’t know how to use them, but what to do with my water bottle and flashlight. I don't have 4 hands. I stop to put up my flashlight and put on my headlamp. Then I attach my water bottle to my chest strap. I always trip more with a headlamp. My perception is always worse when my light is not held low. The shadows are shorter when the light is near my eyes, so I trip more, but the trekking poles gave me better balance to repair each mishap. The water bottle on my chest strap thumps me on the chest whenever I go faster, so I have to go slower or hold it in my hand along with the pole when I want to go fast. This is a problem til I drink it down enough that its lighter. It's an odd game I play for an hour or more as I work out the pole problem. It gives me something to think about. Early on, a few people pass me and I pass a few others, and then I’m alone for the duration. After the 1st station, I never see another runner. There’s one place the trail twists up real tight, that I see a light just to me left and another just to my right. This plays with my mind for a while, as the trail soon after straitens out and I never do see the person attached to either light.

Getting to the high-powered hard rocking station, the music is still booming, but the activity is all but gone. Besides all the lights being out, there are two motionless shadows in chairs, and one person standing to wait on me. He asks what I need, and I tell him water. I try to hand him my water bottle but he doesn't want it. He shows me the water pitcher, so I unscrew the top and he fills it. I screw it back on and leave. He says something to me as I'm leaving, but I can't hear anything other than the music. I flee quickly from the sound and blissfully drop out of range, down the road, and into the trees.

Now and again, I hear something and turn to look, but never do see another person, or even a  light. Each time I think I’m closing on somebody, it always turns into a reflective tag dancing in the breeze that gives the impression somebody is moving. But, nothing's moving but me, no snakes, birds, skunks, or even the expected rain that never does come. Odd as all that is, the temperature has dropped into the high 70s, and it’s that more than anything else that allows me to get this done. I’m soaking wet, and have been forced to stop a few times just to apply Desitin to a few very sensitive chaffed places. There's not a dry place on my body, which forces me to run wide legged at this point.

It’s quite a feeling of accomplishment to finally end the loop, arriving back at the 1st station, and knowing I've but 2mi to go. I want so badly to sit here awhile and relax with Bill and Axel, but Adam and Fumi are done and waiting for me, so I need to keep moving. I never once thought about the finish time til now, but as I start out on the final 2mi section. I try more than a few times to do some math, unsuccessfully. I think I'm about 1/2mi out, via the GPS, which I never trust completely, when I note the time closing in on 5am. I started at 7pm, so 5am would be 10hrs, and its quite amazing I can think this out. Given any fractions and I'd have failed. But I do work this out, and a thought crosses my mind: I’d rather finish in 9hrs than 10hrs and even if it's only a matter of seconds, still, I’d rather have a 9 than a 10. I know this sounds rather silly at this point, but I’m rather stupid, so I buy into this thought and start to run, and run hard, for the first time today. At this point, I no longer bother to check my watch or make any other adjustments. I know I’d trip or bog down or stop, so I don’t dare do anything other than run, and so I do. I’m sure I’m moving rather slow and feel rather comic about it, but my facilities are sleep deprived and dysfunctional, so from my perspective, I’m hauling ass. I cross the finish in 9:59:04 and stop, hyperventilating a moment, and hang my head, exhausted. It was all I had.

John, Brad, and Julie are the only ones there. Can’t be more than a few behind me on course, but I’m pleased with my sub-10hr run, even if just by seconds. I’m not capable of a summer 60k in Texas, so I feel as if I stole it. Once I get some sleep, I hope to work it out.

2017: Tinajas 50k

I tend to start well back in the pack. Started doing this long ago to avoid the high energy vacuum suck at the start. Too many times, I fell into somebody else's effort without thought, ignoring my own best interests. But now, I have more control and this is no longer the reason. Now, I do it because I'm curious to see who is here. Our trail community is one big family and I want to see who has showed up.

With 70+ family in front of me, I visit in a slow comfortable passing, until we reach the Spicewood Creek Trail. I'm sure, given the time and ingenuity, we could make all the creek crossings for the next mile without getting our shoes wet. It appears to me, most of those in front of me are attempting exactly that, as they all seem to stop and line up for the perfect rock crossing. The old trail runner in me simply changed gears, quickly shifting into 4WD and take off directly through the creek, passing people 20 at a time. There are 4 or 5 crossings and I repeat this process in the same way at each crossing. Somewhere in here, I hook up behind Richard and January til we stall behind a woman who stops all progress by stopping on a rocky outcrop with no way around. Somehow through all the chaos I end up in front of many I should be behind, but I cant help myself. Hell, I'm not even in a hurry, but I refuse to wait when there are intuitively other options. 

Once I clear the creek and its crossings, I drop out of warp speed and slow to watch many of those I had passed, pass me back. No worries here. I'm good at changing gears: Rabbit to Turtle and back: fast surge, slow down, walk, and repeat. Once I had finally flushed the road-runner out of my system, the trail runner got real comfortable with adjusting to the terrain and the nuances of my body. 

By Lemon Ridge, I'm once again behind Richard, January, George, and more. Lemon Ridge to Windmill is slightly rolling, if even that, but full of rock and twisted between the scrub of short stunted Cedars: Mother Natures joke, the mating of Tree and Cactus. I surf January's wake for a bit, loose here when I stop to eat, and catch her again when she stops to eat. Peter catchs me in here and decides to slow for a chat.

The main reason I gave up on road running is it hurts my hip. I assume it has something to do with repetitive motion, because it does not hurt when I run terrain that is technical or with climbs and descent. So when my hip begins to hurt, I realize how flat and easy the terrain is through here. Its 5 miles from Lemon Ridge to Windmill and another 5 miles from Windmill to Gorman. Its what many would call runnable! Its a flat and easy jeep road covered in grass that many might consider perfect, but I hate it. My hip is killing me when Chris and his entourage pass me. I hurt so bad, my hip has hiccups, and I'm surprised Peter remains with me.

The sky is all diffused light and mist, and with no wind, just hanging in place. The front of my shirt and shorts are soaking wet, the backside dry. At least the trail has finally turned more to my liking: downward and extremely rocky, which gets me rolling once again. Also, the mist appears to be getting denser and more wet. The clouds, wet with rain have come down to us.

The Overlook is one of many out-n-backs: a wooden deck overhanging the Colorado River. The dynamic setting is well worth seeing, muddy river well beneath high walls, encased in heavy mist. It was a drop-in, so we have to climb out, but this is not nearly as drastic or dangerous as the drop-in at Gorman Falls. Its really a cool place, but the wet rocks and cables made this little out-n-back a bit too much. The next out-n-back is the Conference Center where I have a drop bag with replacement nutrition. I have only been carrying a single water bottle with pocket, where I keep coconut bars and tailwind packets, and this is where I replace all the empties.

The next section is a new trail and namesake for the race: The Tinajas Trail which loops around a good sized canyon and oasis. It rolls upward for a few miles followed by a long and fun descent where I seem to break out of my hip problems. I tell Peter, I think I'm going to run, shift gears again and get after it: running. I think I'm as surprised as Peter. I've been yoyo-ing with January all day and continue to do so here. I catch her, she drops me, I catch her, she drops me, and then on the long downhills, I pass her, and repeat.

Back at the Conference Center after yet another out-n-back. Fumi catches us and rolls out with January, down the River Trail. Its a wide bench, but the actual dirt track is narrow and with the rain now coming full on, its slippery. To increase the entertainment value, the entire bench is canted just a bit towards the river, which makes us run a tad bit sideways to avoid spinning out and down to the river. Its not  big deal: something for us to laugh at.

Midway to the Cedar Chopper turn, we reach a ditch and a ledge where a large group of people are gathered. Many are in big camping backpacks, while others are just out hiking. There seems to be some sort of order to the ledge crossing, and a woman squacks at me as I simply plow thru with Peter in tow, onto the ledge, across, and gone. Peter's laughing and I ask why. He says, the woman seemed rather offended at me. The bull in the china store is best removed quickly, so I did.

I'm just starting to whine again about the long flat river trail when we finally reach the turn up and into my preferred playground. The rain is coming on good and solid now. The ground is all mud, rocks covered in mud too, and for the first time today, I am RUNNING uphill. I see Richard for the first time in a while, and many others too. This is the longest out-n-back, so it makes sense I should see so many as we pass each other. Cedar Chopper is the aid at the end of this out-n-back where we sign in and start back down, directly behind January.

A few minutes in, I ask to pass, so she steps aside. I tell he I am felling my mojo and need to go with it. We keep running, careful not to slide out on the mud covered rocks in the constant rain. I've been in a short-sleeved shirt all day and its been soaking wet for awhile. I feel a hotspot in the right armpit where the wet sleeve is schafing my skin and not sure what to do about it. As I'm telling Peter about it, I realize I have a tube of Aquaphor in my back pocket. I empty the tube and smear it on the offended skin with instant relief. Its not long before the spot begins to burn again. My wet shirt is simply wiping away the lube. The only thing I can think to do is to remove the sleeve, so I roll it up and tick the sleeve into my shirt, ala James Dean. Must look hilarious, but it resolves the problem.

Almost back down to the river trail, I cross paths with Ryan, who had missed a turn and added a few miles. More flat river trail, oh boy! The final turn up Lemon Ridge trail, Peter and I compare GPS readings, wondering which one is more close to the truth, and find when we reach the Lemon Ridge aid station, mine is dead on the posted measurements, so we have a bit under 3 miles to done.

The final out-n-back is the dual-Spicewood Springs Trail. About a mile in, we take the non-creekcrossing route back, which is just about the creek  we went up earlier today. Its a beautiful view of the creek and canyon, and a pleasure to hear the water running under us. I start getting a bit antsy, pushing harder than I had all day, before I remember to back off and relax. There is no hurry, and has been none all day. I have simply run well when I felt it, and backed down when I felt the need to. All day, I never felt rushed or hurried, never really pushed, but certainly struggled at times, especially up in the flats around Windmill. Even with the rain, I was never cold, and my stomach held up with just Tailwind and coconut. I do suspect my feet may have taken some damage in the wet socks and slippery rocks. All in all, it has been a superior day to run, and likely my last good running day until next winter when it cools again.

We finish together, Peter and I, about midway between Richard and January, and hoping Ryan would be ok for another loop in the mud and the rain.

2017: Rocky Raccoon 100

     Its been awhile, a long while... since I ran a 100mi race. It just hasn't been in me to do it and I'm not all that sure why. Older, heavier, less-motivated, lower priority, and so on, but there was a time when the 100 was my distance. Didn't matter when, where, or how: I enjoyed everything about it. The training, the funning, the pain, and the bloodletting: all equal parts of the key to reach my own inner peace. I directed Rocky 15 years and before that, ran it at few times, so why would I come back after all these years and run it again? A Don Quixote de la Mancha complex, or more likely Ahab in search of the white whale. This would be my 5th finish and good for a 500-mile jacket, but I dont need a jacket. Its also Rocky's 25th anniversary, but I'm not one for those sorts of things either. It is the first year in forever I have not been involved with directing Rocky, so my demons may be manipulating my reasoning so I'll suffer through all the races I've directed one after the other in retribution or spite. Most likely its a question I have asked myself: can I still do it? 

     We arrived a few days ago to mark the course, our RV parked right next to the start/finish. Can't be more than 30 yards away, so we can hear everything without leaving the comfort of our bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom. I am certain I've never been in a more convenient and advantageous location to run a 100 miler before. Of course, this advantage has the disadvantage of being convenient as well. An hour before start, breakfast done and dressed to run, I lay on the floor to wait. Nothing to make ready that hasn't already been done. I can hear the announcer and everybody else through the thin RV walls. Joyce is expecting little sleep til I'm done, so she stays in bed, trying to get as much sleep as is possible now.

     Its a balmy 45 degrees, which is what was forcaste for the entire day without change. I was not sure if this would be hot or cold, and learn quickly, its cold if standing still, warm if running. I should know better but chose the long-sleeve under the short-sleeve. With five minutes to start, I leave my cocoon for the chute. After the dark quiet of the RV, the din and the lights overwhelm my senses. A stickler for headlight etiquette, I am bombasted with too many high-intensity headlamps, and it offends me. I calm myself within the herd, try to remain relaxed and just let it be, moving further back away from the front line. 

     There's a bit of jostling when we start, sorting ourselves while we surge through the long cattle chute. There are a few sections of course that are root-free including the half mile stretching out from the start/finish, but when we're in the roots, we better be dancing. The roots require constant attention. A moment of mindlessness, a lazy low stride, and payment comes quickly. I'm very comfortable running in the dark, but usually I'm not in a crowd this large, especially on trails this narrow and full of obstacles. Moving bodies and shifting shadows skew my perception, creating a more difficult set of circumstances, so I back off right away. The potential to trip and fall is palpable. I doubt many are running the effort they'd prefer right now, trapped between trees within the herd. Some lose patience and surge through the seams, not realizing the seams occur where the herd is avoiding a more notable root. I try to warn him, but there is no time, cutting past me when I step aside to avoid a particularly gnarly root tangle. He falls hard, creating a log jam as people stop to help, trapping others coming along. After the 3rd such body slam, I get a short musical riff stuck in my head: 'another one bites the dust'. Before I've run 2 miles, the long-sleeve shirt is off and I'm still hot in just a thin short-sleeve.

     This course has 3 locations where extra attention must be paid, the first just ahead, which Henry refers to as the Kiss. From the start, we pass strait through on our way to Nature Center, but later when we are 3 miles from the finish, we come from a Park Road and turn right to reverse the route we have just run back to the finish. It looks simple enough, but add dark and 333 runners. I know of its existence before we get there and not a bit surprised to see a few lights shoot up the wrong way and then return. Our pack passes through just fine. The 2nd location is at Amy's Crossing, and the 3rd is on the DamNation Loop where the course loops back onto itself and reconnects.

     The chaos of lights, bodies, and noise rolls through Nature Center relentlessly intact til we reach Amy's Crossing. The old road running between DamNation and Park Road used to be a pine needle and shade covered quaint old jeep road, but lately has been smashed into a pasty white crushed stone Road blended with dirt and sand into an unattractive disfigurement. 'The Road' as told by Cormac McCarthy might have been speaking about THIS road. Its roughly 3 miles from end to end, but by slipping in at Amy's, its only a mile straitaway from here to DamNation. This is also the start and end point of what I call the Big Loop, because we are coming back to this same point after the DamNation Loop. Besides this Road, the rest of the route is a serene pine needle covered path through a growth of huge pines, tranquil and relaxing. Sunrise chases the dark prior to DamNation, so I drop my headlamp in the drop bag I have here. I'll use it again later, so this is a perfect place to leave it. Also in my bag are 2 sets of clothing for everything from heat to snow, including 5 identical bags of nutritional needs. I doubt I'll use much more than the nutrition, but Its always better looking at it than looking for it.

     We used to call this the Far Side Loop after the Far Side aid. Lynn Ballard renamed it DamNation during his many years running the station for NTTR. Its the only station on course that sees runners in both directions and gets double the work load of the other stations. Doing the math: every finisher runs 5 loops, passing through 10 times per. So, 333 runners multiplied by 10 equals 3330, effectively having 3330 runners passing through DamNation, and you begin to understand why Lynn called it DamNation. Now, imagine when the 50-miler was still run with the 100-miler and both races were bigger at 484 in the 100 and 222 in the 50 in 2014 and it was 6172 hits through DamNation. It starts to get mind-blowing for a single aid station at a single race to deal with that much in one 30 hour period. I want to hug a NTTR member whenever I see one.

     The Dam Loop is longer now and pretty much all single-track. Because of the dam project the park has been working for the last 2 years, they've closed this entire back corner for everything except this race, so its even more pristine and secluded. When I marked the course, I couldn't see any dirt or sand here. Nothing but pine needles piled on pine needles, gathering any noise and burying it. Besides the natural beauty there's also a warm relaxing feel. This particular loop does seem to go on forever. The back trail follows the border fence in a strait line that rolls up and down more than anywhere else in the park from DamNation to the long bridge. About a mile out, we pass the final point of contention, where the returning loop reconnects and sends us back to DamNation, but first, the loop! There are no bridges along the fenceline, but a few exist along the shore. Its odd how there are switchbacks where there is no hill, for a bridge where there is no water. I know this is swampland so it must be water sometime, but it still seems odd. The terminal point at the levee marks the right turn that crosses back over and reconnects the loop. My landmark that I'm getting close is a big fat tree leaning across the trail but not quite on the ground. The connecting turn is one of a handful of spots that become a major highlight for me. I don't know why but I stop and piss between the signs each and every time I get here... for the rest of race. Like any good dog, I keep remarking my spot. I must be hydrating well enough.

     After my sabbatical, I get right back to work, which brings up an interesting point of internal debate I had for way too long: every time I saw another person, they always said one of two phrases - 'good job' or 'good work'. Why was it everyone thought of this as a job or work? Certainly it's hard and takes a bit to do, but work? I'm not getting paid! I decide to have some fun with it: starting with my reply: 'have fun!', then just a plain old 'howdy!', then after a while... when we were a few loops in, I was curious to know: 'what loop' they were on, so I start saying 'loop 3' when I was on 3, and 'loop 4' when I was on 4, hoping I could start a new trend. What Loop are you on? Then we'd get onto 'name', 'state', and 'have you run this before'? This humored me for many hours in such a stupid sort of mindless way. I wasn't up for a nuclear physics discussion, being in an abyss of dull-wittedness.

     Getting back to DamNation I want to celebrate, but because we're still not done with the big loop, I restrain my euphoria! Instead, I reload my bottle, eat a bit, and walk out chewing a coconut bar. Aha, back to the Road, only now we get to enjoy the full serpentine length of it from DamNation to Park Road. Its all the same white rock, white sand, and white dirt, but at least it's not flat. My body does ok because my mind goes to sleep, but I wake for a moment as we pass Amy's Crossing, the end of the Big Loop. An uphill out of the hole starts us toward the other end of the Road, which is a fair bit longer. Its not much different, any of it, all the way to highway gate except for an occasional bend left or right! Left at the gate and another five minutes later, we turn onto a nice little connector trail over to Park Road aid. I have survived the Road... for now! I can hardly contain myself.

     This final split between Park Road and the finish can be broke into two parts: an ancient old pine needle covered jeep road, and the Mushroom in reverse of what we started when we came out from the start, joined by the Kiss. The old road has a few bends under a tunnel of tall pines and so much more comfortable that the Road we just left. We turn right at the Kiss and enter the 3 mile Mushroom back to the finish. Twisty and full of roots, bridges one right after the other, each different than the next. Some are low, some taper onto the crest smoothly, and others have an edge to trip onto the topside. A path leads around a few where runners grew tired of going up and over when they can go around. Turns everywhere, left, right, and repeat til the 50km spot. Yea, I know there's no 50km, but next week there is, and we marked if for the 50km next week as well as the 100mi this week. The 100 milers will never see or know, but its already done and I know where the 50km turn is, so thats what I call it. Its only a half-mile from the finish, but its another major reference for me. I make the 50km turn and head home, pass the ranger's house, cross a paved road and then another, to cross the mat in 4:10. Immediately, I duck under the chute and walk to the RV.

     Joyce sees me from further down the chute and angles to meet me at the RV. Refueling begins with a kiss prior the other less important stuff. How do you feel, she asks? Like I just ran a road marathon. I hurt pretty bad already. What are you going to do? Keep going, see how it goes. For some damn reason, it takes a solid 18 minutes to get back out again. And loop two begins. The exact same 20mi loop as last time. The same 3 mile mushroom to Nature Center, drop down trail to Amy's Crossing, then the Road to DamNation, the Big Loop out and back to DamNation, the Road to Park Road, then the old road to the Kiss and back around the Mushroom to the start. I talk to a few people, drink a lot of Tailwind, eat a few coconut bars, and repeat what I did on loop one, but a little slower. Loop two takes 4:30, but I used 20 minutes to reset this time and I feel the same: like I ran another road marathon. Hobbs and Kuss are both at the RV to observe.

     Not sure if its the 45 degree weather, the humidity, course marking a few days ago on the bike, or just plain bad luck, but the ache seems to be everywhere. I've been comfortably eating Ramen and grilled-cheese as well as Tailwind and coconut bars. My stomach feels fine. Its just an overall body ache, starting with my right hip and right leg. There is nothing I can think to do about it, so I keep on. I get into DamNation and stop to pick up my headlamp. I might have enough time to finish the loop before sunset, but I'm not sure and dont want to gamble, so I put the light on my head and take off. I settle in behind a guy with external speakers playing chicano music. He has a good constant effort going, while mine goes in fits and starts. I go faster than him and catch him quickly but then I walk again and he pulls ahead. His loud music provides a reference, even a good ways ahead. I finally pass him near the turn and when I do, it motivates me to keep pushing until I lose the noise. I'm making good time on the flats and downs and get a nice rhythm going, even after sunset.

     Its full dark at the cutback and I return to DamNation in the dark. The Road is hard to fathom in the dark. All I can see are spots of light at intervals appearing and disappearing as each group goes over a rise and drops back down on the other side. About as many are going away as there are approaching, until I pass Amys Crossing, and then we're all going in the same direction. It takes awhile to reach Park Road and I walk a good bit, talking with those I line up with. Some dont wish to talk but most seem quite sociable. A bit of refreshment at Park Road and on to the next. Alone, I slide down to the Kiss and then the Mushroom with all her turns and bridges. Wide awake and stomach humming, I'm surprised how good I feel in so many ways while I feel so bad in so many others. A walking contradiction! I go round all the turns and wind back to the RV with a 5:07 split. Joyce is ready to go on loop 4, but it still takes me 22 minutes to sort myself out. All together now, I have killed an hour just RV-ing. Of course, all this is just afterthought, because I'm not paying much attention to it as its happening. 

     Aches are starting to outnumber the non-aches, and my spin-cycle's stuck in a decelerating mode. I just cant get the motor spinning. Joyce tries a few old school pacer tactics, but we've both been doing this so long, I deduce her scheme and ask her to stop. I dont need a motivator. What I need is a new body. Because of the rain forecast, Joyce has rain gear, long sleeve shirts, gloves and such in her pack, but there is never a need for any of it. It does sprinkle now and again, but it's never enough to warrant any change. It does feel good for the few seconds of each misting.

     I manage to run down each of the descents on the Road and after DamNation, proving to Joyce I can still run on a few occasions when we find some long stretches of Down and Flat. My ability to run is decreasing rapidly at this point. My lower legs are in some amount of pain from what I cannot tell, unless its just the stress of time-on-feet. Stomach is still good and still marking the same spot each loop, so some functions are still in order. We clear the Big Loop and pass by Amy's Crossing, trudging up the long lonely Road to Hell. Joyce, who is only on her 1st Road loop begins to understand the complaints she has heard about it. Park Road is as good as always, offering a cup of ramen and some coke. My stops at all the aid stations on course except the RV at the start have all been reasonably short. We move on, heading to the Kiss and the Mushroom. The bridges, roots, and turns entertain us til we near the 50k turn. Joyce is a good bit confused and thinks two or three of the turns are the 50k turn, such that it becomes a good bit of comedy between us. Are you sure? Yes, certainly - this is NOT it! is it this one? No - NOT this one either! When we are within 20 feet of the actual 50k turn, I tell Joyce - THIS is IT, when she trips and smashes into the ground behind me. She's stretched out on her right side with an arm under and her eyes closed. She says my ear hurts, but she doesn't move, maybe she cant move! The way she's wedged up against a small sapling, she can't set up, so I help her move her legs forward so she can sit up. Once she's sitting, I check her ear. Blood is pooling in her lobe from a small cut across it, and she has 3 slashes across her cheek. She's disoriented, so I don't rush her, but people are going by in both directions and some insist on helping. I tell them to go on, she needs a few moments. After a bit, I get her to her feet. Somebody's pacer stops and waits to help and we slowly assit her up. But we're in a root filled ditch, so I hold her for a few moments til she can balance herself. We're just a half-mile from the finish and I tell her we need to see John. She understands that John is our friend, but also the medical support for the race. We take it slowly, not that its much of a shift from my already lethargic momentum and soon talk our way down to the finish. I send her to the RV while I find John in the aid tent. This go round took me 6:16, including the end crash.

     The medical area is packed, butt in every chair, Becky working on somebody, head down, John next chair over, eyes closed, resting. I ask for John, everybody looks, they think its me! I tell John, Joyce needs some help. She fell and hurt her ear. At the RV I tell him, so he gets up and follows. For the first time, my pit crew is otherwise busy: Joyce on the floor in pain, Hobbs taking a nap, and Kuss working on Joyce. Joyce did sit some hot soup out for me, but I need to lube, eat, reload my bottle, and change my shirt. Kuss is asking Joyce questions, trying to determine how bad she is: Are you dizzy? Yes! Do you have a headache? Yes! Well, you're done, he says. You need to stay here and let Joe go without you. I agree and this starts a debate about pacers and who can do it, but I tell her I'm fine and can do without, so I get my butt out of the RV and back into the circus. 

     FortyFive minutes at the RV, not counting the time I sat by the 50km turn with Joyce. Well, it was never going to be fast, but I'm throwing away time in huge buckets. Time to get going and keep going. About mid-way into the Mushroom I cross paths with old friend Bobby Keogh, and we both stop to chat. We talk longer than I expect and end up sitting down to get more comfortable. Turns out, it hurts to stand up, so I sit to ease the pain while we talk. A few people going by ask after us, thinking we're hurt. We try to explain, he's going this way, I'm going that, and we simply decide to stop and visit. Talk about not wasting time and already forgot. Bobby says he's done and he'll see me later, so I get up and get going, arriving at Nature Center. Joyce is waiting there with Richard, my new pacer. They got there just before I did, so Bobby delayed me just the right amount of time.

     Richard is a delightful person to hang with, so it works out. I try to run the root-loaded downhill over to Amy's Crossing but it doesn't amount to much: more of a stuttering awkward fast walk with occasional bursts of running for four or five strides each. It's really pathetic and almost embarrassing enough that I'd rather be alone instead of sharing this. Richard's cool about it though and locks in easy enough with whatever I attempt to do. The Road has more potential for me to run, but again I'm unworthy to the task and end up walking all the way to DamNation. As we turn to head out onto the Big Loop, I suddenly feel that my right shoe is too tight, so I stop to loosen the laces. I'm surprised how tight my shoe is and how constricting the laces are. It takes a bit of work to get them loose. My foot is so smashed into the shoe it feels odd to set it free. I just had my shoes off at the RV, so all this swelling must have just happened in the last few miles. Surprisingly, my foot does not feel any better. if anything, it feels worse. I'm now starting to weave as well as stumble. The legs that already felt bad are in more pain and it seems to be all over. I try to run more than a few times, but it never happens. Three or four strides and thats it. The pain has gone way up just now, and it hurts to drop down on my right foot so I stage each descent to lead with the left foot, and try to quick turn with the right. My speed just got a lot worse. Its a big deal for me to get to the end point of the Dam Loop and start back, knowing its the last time. I am so relieved to be heading back. Only 10 more miles.

     10 minutes later, I feel a blossom of pain scream up from my right foot, but its dark and I'm not sure Richard knows what just happened. Hell, I'm not sure what just happened. We keep walking as fast as I can, which is pretty slow. The only thing that will make all of this feel better is to reach the finish, and I aim to do just that. I try to talk with Richard but the conversation is becoming one-sided and Richard quits talking too. The sun comes up, which means its 7:11am, or 25 hours into the race. I know at this point I can walk it in leisurely to make the final cut, so I back off and begin to relax as much as I can, knowing I still have 8 miles or so. We make the turn back at the uphill shortcut and then back the final bit to DamNation, where I cross paths with the final half-dozen, starting the Big Loop knowing they'll be fighting the cutoffs and happy to see Michael Stanard in the group.

     DamNation is cleaning up. Their 1st cutoff has already passed, the 2nd and final one is in two hours. A woman there asks me why I'm rubbing my ankle and asks if she can help. She sprays some bio-freeze and then jams her thump into my ankle. I nearly scream! She does it again, and again. Richard and I start down the Road, and as much as I hate this road, I am so damn glad to finally be on it. I want it behind me. Three miles of nothing but trudge til we reach Park Road, the last aid before the finish and I want nothing more than to see it behind me as well. I walk strait through, feeling so good and so bad at the same time. What the hell is wrong with my foot? The pain in my ankle has dissipated, but now I can no longer pick up my leg, so I'm dragging it. Not badly really, just skimming the ground, not much different than the standard ultra-shuffle. Makes no difference at this point as I need to get to the finish where Joyce is and this is the way. The final Mushroom is a pain in the ass, and I almost fall off a few of the bridges trying to push up over the apex onto the top. Coming off is a bit more daunting with humidity's moisture creating some slick spots. Hobbs is walking towards us from the old campground, looking for me. He turns with us and chats us up as we walk the final bit around and in, texting Joyce the whole time, letting her know exactly where we are. The last loop was so slow, she had to be worried. The final turn and walk to the finish is anti-climatic. It is done. Jason Bryant hands me the 2nd place medal for 60-64 USATF. There were only 2 of us that survived. Chris hands me a 5 year jacket and then a 5 year buckle. I visit a few others at the finish for some time when Joel comes in to finish, then I drag my body off to the showers. Final lap was 6:50. Overall time 28:41:03 with 1:45 spent at the RV personal aid time sucker. The RV was a huge waste of time but the perfect personal aid station. Of course, Joyce was awesome as usual, and the boys, Hobbs and Kuss are always there.

2017: Goodwater Marathon

A couple of facts I've known for awhile have become more dominant of late: my ability to deal with heat and humidity has never been good, but of late, it has become worse. After having suffered through a miserable Texas summer and fall in which my energy and ability have plummeted to record lows, I have been relieved to feel a runner's high once again as the temps have dropped. A 50 in Oct at Cactus Rose, 70 in Nov at Big Cedar, 40 in Dec at the Circus, and then in Jan 62 at Bandera have all been above the level of my limitations. I have high hopes that Rocky 100 in Feb, and Tinejas 100k in Mar will also occur at a reasonable temp, but I know enough now to abandon the attempt if the temp rises. So, I seem to be able to run any damn thing I want... as long as it's not hot. With that understanding, I registered for the 50 at Goodwater. I wasn't planning on 50 miles today, but I need a run and the 5am start is attractive. The Marathon starts hours later and I don't feel like waiting. it's already understood, if the weather becomes non-joe-friendly, I'll pull the plug and wait for the rest of the family to finish the 16 miler. I have options.

The cloud covered sky at 5am casts everything darker than dark, and the fog cover lake saturates my clothes with humidity soon after. This is not a good omen. Without a quick cooling breeze or a rapid drop in temp, I may already be done. The evil conscious on my shoulder begins talking to me immediately: 'what they hell were you thinking? - signing up for this'. But, its early and I'm still strong enough to ignore the evil bastard.

Water bottle loaded with Tailwind and side-pocket with gels and bloks, I follow the pack of 15 people. Without a clear leader, Nancy moves out front and stays there til she misses a turn. When she does, all of us go by, and I lockup with 3 others and pull ahead. I carry my headlamp low in my hand. I feel I see much better and trip a lot less if I simply take the headlamp from my head and put it in hand. As rugged as it is and as slick as the wet rocks are, a minor slip could have disastrous results very quickly, so its important I see everything well. We're not running very fast, but all of us are moving efficiently, staying as constant on the descents and turns as we are on the straits and flats. I'm having fun with this, but I can already feel the wetness on my clothes and skin.

Our foursome loses the others quickly. I check behind me a few times for lights, and there are none. At the first water station. Joe and Randi stop while Chris and I don't. Minutes later, Joe catches us and passes, then Randi catches on and I back off. I need to be careful now and not get caught up in their rhythm. Michael catches me next and we both find the others standing mid-trail, uncertain about the trail. I roll past, thinking to solve the question by going a little further. As Michael and I pass a bathroom, we find an arrow pointing right, so we go right. We don't realize right away, but we went the wrong way while the others behind us, made the right choice. They tried to get our attention, but we miss the call, and kept on going the wrong way... til we bumped into Nancy coming from the opposite direction. We know instantly when we see her, but don't know how until we go back the way we came to the missed point. Turns out, our entire pack missed a turn just before the bathroom and cut the course, and by running the out-n-back, we accidentally fix what we missed. So, of our original 4-pack, 3 were gone ahead, and I'm now with Michael, Nancy, and another woman. We reach the aid station by the dam next, cross the dam, and another mile of paved road, which sucks the soul right out of me. Michael and the other go ahead, as I soak up the suck from the road, and Nancy falls back with me. She runs here all the time and knows the route, so I stick with her for a bit, especially after my recent mishap. It's not til we we're back on trail when I pull ahead and go alone for the first time today.

Its interesting how something so simply as a minor detour can screw with my natural rhythm and knock me completely out of what was so easy prior to the hiccup. I suddenly realize how tired I am, an uncomfortable chafing under my arms now exists and irritates, and more than a few body muscles start talking in a very unfriendly and demanding tone: 'my neck hurts', 'I feel bloated', 'my toes throb'. My legs suddenly realize the rocks are slippery and uneven, so I begin slide off and torque awkwardly. They begin to announce every tendon and muscle activation, yelling: 'hey Asshole - back the hell off', 'you should walk', and 'dump the debris out of my shoes NOW!' I try to ignore them, even try running longer, but they will not be denied, so I'm walking when M.J. catches me. I decide to hook on and run with her, hoping to silence the critics, but it doesn't last long, as I stagger-bonk down to the body complaints once more. 'Its a hill anyway', I use as my excuse, but it's total bullshit which I swallow whole. Last I see M.J. she's on the other side of a draw and not that far, til I figure the draw is tucked in a lot further than I assume and she's actually already a good damned long way ahead. I'm pissed now and for no good reason whatsoever. Logic and reason are getting their asses kicked by emotion and petty feelings. Fuck this! I start running again... for a hundred yards, and then a power outage. I try again... with the same result. Ok, so lets try to work with what I got, so I come to terms with a walk/run/stagger/crash/burn and repeat that seems to go surprisingly well.

Crossing over one pretty good-sized riser, I come up on a family, and as much as they yell at their little girl to step out of the way, she continues to run down the center of the trail away from me. I cant get past her so I slow to a walk behind her. They are apologetic and tell me more than a few 'sorries', but its kind of funny and I tell them 'its no big deal'. 'It aint like I'm moving fast' and it does make me laugh, so its good - right?! Its right about there, the trail finally decides to quit being a nasty bed of rocks, as if my laugh chases the rocks and leaves behind a sweet smooth surface. The trail is covered in grass and moss of different types and shades of green, translucent in the light mist. The trail straitens out too, going for long stretches of strait and flat. Hell, if I only had agreeable legs, this could be run, but my walk/run continues, more walk than run. I get to the 5mi-from-the-finish aid station, and they have a chair, so my body tells me to sit in it. I have a tall drink of coke while I eat a banana and they remove my trash, which is all I have left of my food. I ate everything and as much as I've fed myself, I suspect my legs didn't get a single calorie, all of it going to power my emotions.

I check my GPS for time and distance. Neither have changed in the last hour... it seems. More likely, it's only been a few seconds, but each time I check, the changes are minimal. My emotions which are now in charge start playing some sort of weird logic game with all this, which is funny, because emotions work logic like a 3-year-old. I quit checking the GPS after a bit because I cant understand what I read. Marathoners start passing and I know most of them, so I talk with each as they flash by. I havent seen any other 50 milers since MJ going in the same direction as me, but the lead 50 miler does pass me going in the other direction on his 2nd loop.

The sun has come out, been out for a bit, but I just realize it. I hate running in the heat, and this empowers my legs to completely cave: 'were walking this bitch in from here', and I dont even argue. The river crossing is so glorious, I walk proudly right out into the middle and stop. This water is damned cold. My legs begin to tingle, so I continue on across, but even this doesn't bust me loose, so I keep walking. 

I dont see the 2nd 50 miler til I'm inside 2 miles, but there aint that many 50 milers and only a few in front of me. Then I begin to see all of them, the ones I ran with, and all the others. I thought they were behind me. I see Chris, who I ran with for the first 8 miles and both he and I are confused by this fact. Only thing I can figure is, besides the little hiccup we did, which was such that I would have seen the others, is maybe we ran something extra somewhere in the dark, because everybody is in front of us and very few passed. The more I think about it, the more I think it must be so, not that my thinking is all aces right now: duces maybe!

Somewhere between me getting turned around and the last mile, I decided I was NOT doing the 2nd loop, which locked in the WALK status. It's rather easy to walk in, announce my decision, and then sit to wait for Joyce and the others. I'm happy! I'm done! I'm sitting in the shade drinking a cold beer, sandals on my feet, dry clean clothes on my body, and nothing to do or think for just long enough to convince myself: Life is Good

2017: Bandera 100k

Bandera 100k: Jan 7, 2017

I doubt there's another here who knows the course better: every turn and rock, up and down, where the trails used to be, plus every wet or dry creek bed. 15 years, I've marked this course, and trained here as well, but I've never run the race. I'm told I'm big for a runner, and at 220 lbs, I cant argue the point. I'd really rather be a thinner me, but the years have stacked on more than they have removed. This amount of mass in motion generates more heat, so you have to know I suck in any sort of heat and humidity. When I saw the forcaste for the race day weather, I begun to get a bit excited. Freezing temps and NO rain. NO rain at a Bandera race is a big deal. If you have ever run here during rain, you'll know its a lousy experience. A hot & humid day here is almost as bad, but rain trumps all other conditions at this locale. Granted, sub-freezing temps require a bit more care, but a cold and rainless day is perfectly awesome.

I'm a shorts and T-shirt guy most of the time, so wrapping a jumbo sized pair of tights around my ass is not my idea of fun. Its not the cold so much as my concern for a wind-burned chafe on my inner legs. Most everything else is simply a problem of layers: long sleeve under short sleeve under jacket, thick gloves, buffs over ears and neck, thick socks and my rock solid Akasha trail shoes. No pack or pole, just a single water bottle, pocket loaded with food. I wear glasses all the time, except when I run, but I've experimented recently with a pair of Julbo sport glasses and wear them today.

Walking through the crowd to my proper place at the back of the pack, in my run disguise, a few recognize me and wish me a good day, a handshake, a pat on the back. The pre-race jollies moments before the start is infectious, smiles, and laughs, a reunion of sorts. Its 17 degrees, and everyone is toffed head to toe in multi-variable layers and colors, trying desperately to keep the cold beast at bay. More than a few sport packs and trekking poles, and I have them too, but chose to delay their use til tonight. Dont think I'll need them for awhile, wanting to stay as light as possible for as long as possible.

Properly placed, a person could run the first mile on a wide track just to get ahead of the bubble, but I'm not of that mind. I prefer to use the mob to keep me from getting sucked into a too-fast start. Buried in the crowd, forced to walk each bottleneck, and even stop dead cold a few times as people sort themselves out now and again. The first of those is Big Nasty, and again above the saddle leading to Sky Island. Chris is standing here to make sure everyone follows the correct route, yells something at me, but the wind snatches it away. The lead pack is coming back down the rock bed chute as the bubble is going up, so they aren't too happy. On top, my heavy breathing fogs my glasses at about the same moment the sunrise sprays a billion lumens of light into my eyes, and I'm blind, more blind than I usually am. I stumble once, a rock I never saw, and the glasses come off. I feel good, better than good, I feel as I must have a dozen years ago. This cold snap is working its magic on me and I plan to go with it, knowing full well I wont be feeling this good the entire day.

The descent off Sky Island is a good long downhill romp over a skinny rock filled chute that can be fun if you've a mind to cut loose and sprint. Still merged within the bubble, I'm a bit surprised I've enough gap to sprint down this lovely beast's back. It just so happens that every time I come up on another pack, there is enough room to scoot around, or maybe they hear this huge rock rolling at them and they make room for me to pass. One way or the other, I am not entirely sure how, I roll top to bottom without stop, popping onto the main big wide and flat T1 jeep road that runs through the park backcountry. I hate flat boring trail, and suspect, because I hate them, I run poorly on them. I slow, walk a bit, and more than a few pass, running hard what I do not. We're all on different wavelengths, what we like, what we run. They can have the flats. I donate all to them. I'll take the rocks and hills, which this course has plenty of. 

T1 turns up T6, a wonderful rock and roll, traversing under Sky Island and its saddle back round and into the first of the many aid stations. The sun is in my eyes again, blinding, tripping, I bring my hand up for enough shade to allow me to see. This part of T6 has a good mix of rock, hill, and sotol to keep me engaged. At Equestrian, all I need is a topper of water and gone out the other side, down a mile and a half of T1's wide flat jeep road. I try to run as much as I can, but can barely stand it, so I walk now and again. T1 turns onto T6 again, but in the opposite direction this time, less climb this side but more rocks. Lots of rocks, big and little, none of them stable enough to step on and remain upright. Constantly turning the trail drops off ledges, curves up chutes, generous with rocks, under thick cover of scrub trees typical of Texas, short and full of thorns. Staying on trail is imperative, to hold course, and avoid all the little stabbers: prickly pear, mesquite, sotol, hell.... just everything. The sotol will have their little stabs and there is nothing you can do about it, but the desire is to avoid any additional damage.

The Devil's Intersection is not much to look at, but for us old hands, its a key point, a place easy to get lost and confused. T6 points in three directions: strait, right, and back the way we came. The park's signpost has three 6s on it: 666! Right we go onto a docile single-track, terminating into a switching yard of sorts. Caution tape blocks some of the trails, creating a chute turning right. Another chute on the other side shows we'll be back. Up the first Sister strait-away like most of the climbs here, minus switchbacks, rock on rock, and easy to slide out. Odd how so much of this reminds me of climbing in snow: lean to far forward and slide out, lift one foot without the other having a good solid balance, and slide out. Of course, all similarity ends when you hit the ground. Turn right on top of the 1st Sister, drop into the saddle loaded with nasty surprises, climb the 2nd Sister, and repeat again for the 3rd, each climb a slow-march, each descent a free-fall. Coming off the final Sister, I see Lise sitting on the ground tying a shoelace. She'll talk about this later, me passing her, but its laughable: she's up and past me in seconds and not seen again. Back on the wide T1 jeep road once again, past Wilderness Camp back to the switching yard at the base of the Sisters.

Ice Cream Hill is not one hill, but a series of big ground swells. It begins with a rough scramble on all fours over a big ledge, then down the next wave and up another, and once more for the final ripple which is the beginning of the actual Ice Cream Hill. Strait up, one ledge after another along the fenceline, leaving me exhausted and excited to be in the saddle. The rock field downslope is a minefield of ankle breakers I've learned to sprint full out. If I go slow, I slip, so I run instead, and a full sprint carries me on a bit longer after the bottom from the blood energy pumping in my veins. Only a mile more to Nachos and none of it hilly, but it does have more rock obstacles requiring constant attention.

Nachos is a good place for adjustments. I have a drop bag here to dump my glasses and buffs, pick up more Tailwind, Gu, and coconut. I also hook up Rebecca Gartrell. She's much quicker than me, especially on the flats, and we're just now rolling into the flats, when she lines up next to me and starts talking. This must be her A section and its certainly my F section, so I wonder what she's thinking. T6 is a creek in disguise without water, a bed of rocks meandering amongst the trees, two road crossings to park headquarters. We cross the road to Tarpley and begin our journey on the long lonely Roman road, known as T8. At first glance, it appears to be a field of grass, but the difficulty lies hidden. To be more specific, its a field of rocks with grass. Awkward to run, impossible to keep a strait line, an open area in many places, including the powerline cut and a surprising descent through huge rocks for 50 yards of playful running which Ts into an backcountry intersection of water troughs and an old gate. We're introduced to a rolling jeep road that can be run, not entirely free of rocks, but a far cry from the grass and rock minefield, and it stays this way all the way to Chapas.

Keith crews for Rebecca, I go into the tent to top-off, and two minutes max, we're on the 9s. I still feel as if Rebecca's taking the edge off her run to hang with me and I tell he about it. She says she's good. Maybe she's trying to keep from going too fast on the first loop. The 9s are boring! Its mostly single-track, but there's no vistas, no climbs, nothing to take me out of myself. Thankfully, Rebecca's still running with me, so we entertain ourselves with conversation as time slowly thaws. At one point, we both trip over the exact same root at the same time. The field is no better, including the one-mile racetrack loop just before YaYa. I'm so glad to finally be here, with the last 2 sections behind me, and more hills coming. Keith meets Rebecca with both hands full as we come in, offers me the cup his wife doesn't want. I have another drop bag here, so I remove another layer, and get another bag of Tailwind, Gu, and coconut.

Rebecca is surging. I can see it in her every movement, so I tell her to cut loose of me, her anchor, and go. She says she just had some coffee and finally agrees to get going. As fast as she separates from me, I am amazed she stayed with me as long as she did. Soon after she's out of sight, I'm passed by a few fast friends in the 50km who are, by the lay of the course, actually 5 miles in front of me. Rachel sprints past me to win first female, then Tyler, and others. I'm not running alone after all. The trail gets a bit more entertaining after the creek: quick turns, slight rises and drops, and roots of all things, as we're in the trees again. My energy starts to rise, reflecting my joy of this area. I pick up the pace, push myself round to and up Lucky Peak. A moment to collect myself and cut loose, full of energy, slinging myself down the ledges and rocks, passing a few others who are descending much more carefully. You're insane, I hear, and I'm gone, keeping the surge down to the deep creek cut. I clamber out the other side, catch my breath and continue pushing to the Butterfly Springs jeep road. I slow a bit, maintain a sensible ramble on into Last Chance.

Roger manages this station and a great guy he is, so its a pleasure to visit for a moment, before I resume. Lodge Loop, the last 5 miles is called, which includes the last 2 big hills: Cairns Climb and Boyles Bump. Cairn's is first, ascending a single huge rock dusted with smaller rocks. Up slowly, hands on hips, heels on ground, achilles stretching, trying to control my breathing, forcing hard exhales, and trying not to look up. I dont want to know I'm not near the top until I'm on top. It comes to a point where it's not as hard, but it does continue to climb gently for a bit longer. The trail turns left into some trees, then again, and again onto a long flat track along a ledge. From here it remains flat for a bit, then drops down a series of ledges, flat again, more ledges, and drop over boulders down to the main track. Cairns is done. Boyles is next!

The route to Boyles is a rolling affair, fun and easy. Up the final climb I fix myself into a fast walking rhythm I manage to hold better than I expect. I pass a few people going up, which is rare for me. On top, a long sweeping jeep road beacons and i cant ignore, so start running as it wraps around a sweeping curve, offering a nice panoramic. I seem to have my wind up, so I keep on pushing, and a bit surprised at how well this is going. With the end of the first 50km loop about done, I can say without a doubt: I rocked the hilly sections and sucked ass on the flats. I can only hope to do the same thing on loop two. I catch Rebecca at the summit, surprising both of us. You been waiting for me? She laughs at me, telling me she fully expected me to catch her in the hills. Hell, she may have, but I didn't. That lady can run! But, for now, I have a long downhill and plan to run it, and after a bit, realize Rebecca means to stay with me on down. Its an easy descent, and then it drops off, and I get my wheels rollin. I keep it just like so til I reach Boyles' house at the bottom, where I back-off and start walking. I'll run the last bit, but from here to the gate, I'll take it easy. I see Keith again, with his video camera going as Rebecca sprints past me, and then slows. She hammered the downhill to catch me and we run the final bit to cross the timing mat together.

I walk to our RV to make ready for loop two. A few cold Izzes, turkey sandwich, and chips, A heavy coat of Desiten is applied to all the chafed and wind-burnt places of importance. Long tights and sleeves are replaced by shorts and a T, and lastly take my pack before heading out. The entire process seems so simple, but takes 25 minutes. Because of where the RV is, nobody sees me head out, and I find out later, Joyce finished the 50km 30 yards away as I walked out.

I feel great, like I'm just starting, which is fantastic. Maybe its due to less clothes, just having ate, or being on the final loop. Funny how this psychological edge, this feeling goes up and down like the hills. My pack is very light, a pound or two, a trekking pole and some food. I forget I have it on. Its 3pm now, dark is 6pm, so I have 3 hours to get to my next drop bag at Nachos: 10 miles from here. Gambling just a bit right now. I've been layered in so much clothes all day, I'm looking forward to running with just the minimum for a bit. Once the sun drops, it'll get much colder and I'll need lights too, so I must be there before sunset. I should be good, but shit happens. I've been removing layers all day and at Nachos this trend reverses and start putting back on. So everything keys on Nachos, my pack, and 6pm, where I'll move the clothing I need from my drop bag to my pack. 

Everything seems to be in order, no worries, no cares, time for autopilot. I take time ascending Big Nasty and Sky Island too. Was hoping to see Chris, but not surprised to find him gone. I'll see him somewhere else if only to remind me how slow I'm going. Thats where I see Rebecca for the last time, descending as I ascend. She took less time than me at Lodge, has already done the Sky-loop, and as the course goes, is a good distance in front of me. We had a nice bit of cat-n-mouse for many miles, it was fun, but I am so glad she is doing well and moving on. Of course, I'll use the idea of her to keep me going, but it aint going to happen again. I'm still hammering the downhills with abandon, getting around and down to Equestrian well enough. Out onto T1 jeep road, I run more than I thought I could, take the rugged T6 over to the Devil's Intersection, and then up onto the Sisters. I find a new target here, a new motivation to keep pushing as I top out: a guy with a bright neon jacket on the summit of Sister two. I surge downhill and up the next, only to top out and see the Jacket on top of Sister three. Down I go with some effort and cross to the third Sister, only to see the Jacket down on the T1 jeep road. He's running the flippin jeep road, the dog. Damn! I haul on down, take the turn, and head up T1. I cut through Wilderness Camp and wave at two guys sitting there at a picnic table watching me as I go by. I come up on the switching yard, turn down Ice Cream Hill trail, passing two others as I do. The Jacket must have passed them. The rock and roll hills that lead up Ice Cream are probably the toughest combination of tricks this course lays out, and it certainly slows my body down. As easy as I take it, I pass a few more on the hills and one more climbing the final ascent. I realize when we top out, the last guy is a pacer. I forgot you could have pacers, never even thought about all the sets of runners I've seen, who were matched as such. Joyce and I talked about this, I told her not to waste her time, go run the 50km, which she did. I stop to recover my wind for a moment, then bomb the last descent I'll see for awhile. The final bit over into Nachos are just a blur, except I finally catch the jacket.

I plan to take my time at Nachos, get cold weather clothes into my pack, lights, and food. John and Gina are there when I come in and they help me sort things out. I put on a long sleeve shirt and gloves, shove a jacket and buffs in my pack, then get on with it. Dusk is upon us, so its getting dim, but I like night running and plan to go a ways before I use my light. There's a 3/4 moon up and bright enough to light my path for a ways. These next 2 sections are once again my least favorite dogs in this pound, and I have a hard time getting motivated. Its a walk/run section for me, walking for a bit, running a bit, and hard to know exactly when I get the urge to do one or the other. You'd think I could run it more just to get it done, but I just cant get the motor running. T7 is the creek trail leading back to park HQ, then cross the road to Tarpley onto T8. I hook up behind another guy through here without thinking about it, I suppose its natural to not want to be alone in the dark, and It is finally full on dark. 

He turns his light on for a moment, then off, and repeats, leaving it off way more than on, but eventually leaves it on. At this point, I reach into my pack to fetch my good light, and its gone! My favorite big lumen bike light is not where I put it and I'm shocked. I do have a spare headlamp, so its not all bad, but still, damn - my best light! Together we struggle through the grass covered minefield of rocks, like 2 drunks heading home late from the pub. Every step is watched, every moment checked, I dont realize right away the other guy is gone and I'm alone again. Not sure what happened or where he went, but I cross over the powerline cut and drop to the fast and easy jeep road. Checking behind me a few times, I'm surprised to see no light or any other sign, can only assume he stopped for a break of some sort. Not sure why, but my disappearing friend has me buzzed, so I start running and keep on til I get to Chapas. 

Joyce is there when I cross the bridge just before the station. Her race has been done for hours and she just cant stand not checking on me, so she's there in the dark asking how I'm doing. Well, I'm surprisingly in great spirits and tell her so. I have everything I need, just need to keep rolling. I get some ramen, a sip of coke, and get out. Theres nobody near, no lights, no reference, just the spot my secondhand headlamp makes on the trail in front of me. My energy begins to fade a bit, but I do what I can to keep moving well. I so much dislike that tunnel-vision feeling, and even with the light in my hand, it persists. Despite the temps being in the teens today, I've been fine so far because my energy has been high. But there's not a hill in sight to help raise my heat level or boost my blood flow. It seems to take forever to circumnavigate the 9s, cross the main park road, and get to the fields. The one mile race track is so nauseatingly boring, I walk the entire loop. I am so happy to finally get done with this section, and twice pleased to see Joyce again when I walk into YaYa. I find a chair in the tent under the heater, knowing my time is limited here. The longer I stay, the colder I''l be when I leave, so I feel rushed as soon as I sit down. Joyce hands me my drop bag and a grill cheese sandwich that she has made to my exacting grill cheese standards: raison bread with butter and swiss melted into the bread. That and a hot cocoa do me so right. I put on another jacket, long pants, and take my fresh set of flashlights before heading out. 

I begin to cross paths with more than a few who all seem to be hell-bent on a sub-17 hour Western States qualifying time. I knew Bandera was a qualifier, but never gave much thought to the time. They're all walking, but I'd like to think I won't walk all of the final 10 miles. Once I get back in the trees again, I begin to run. Not a continuos all together thing, but in spurts: 30 yards, then 100. I run for a bit, then walk. I meet more guys chasing the WS qualifier. Getting to Lucky is a highlight for me. Its the end of flat-world. I've been looking forward to hills for a long time, but first, I need to get to the top. Rushing myself a bit, I trip and fall, landing on my water bottle, blowing out whats left of the water, but saving my hand. I really dont care about the water right now, so its no big deal. Starting the climb, one of my feet slide out and I end up on my face, but its not much worse than laying down slowly in a bed of rocks. Once again, I escape without any blood. Completely exhausted now and just below the summit, I trip yet again, going down into a 3-point stance. But, I'm on top and after a moment, I head back down. I know I cant be moving nearly as fast or clean as I had been earlier, but from my perspective, I feel like I'm flying down the hill. 

I'm again talking to Roger at Last Chance, the last aid station before the finals. I take a seat, while Roger hands me a slice of bacon to chew on. Its all I care to take time for. The last hurrah: the final two hills, and I'm on my way, pushing hard, and moving slow. Still, I'm on task, with nothing less than a finish on my mind. I have on a gps watch but its buried under the layers and I have no idea what time of day it is or my projected finish time. I know I should be under 17 hours because all those guys awhile back thought they were on track to make it and I think I'm still in front of them. Not so sure I care about the time at this point. I'll take what I get. I just want to be done. I'm thinking about a shower, brushing my teeth, and crawling into a warm bed. How I'd love to sit down right now. I start up Cairns, being careful after the 3 falls I had on Lucky not all that long ago. It goes slow but without issue. I catch and stick behind another who's walking quickly, but after a bit, I ask to get by. He stays close til the first set of down ledges, then the 2nd set makes his light disappear. Alone again, I hurry down to the main track. I'm starting to get a buzz on, knowing the last hill is close. I hurry to it and start up. One of the odd phenomenons here is you can hear everyone within a mile of this climb, a natural amphitheater. I am so glad I already know this, because I start to hear a lot of voices, and if I didn't know better, I'd think a lot of people were very close and getting rapidly closer. Not that any of that makes any difference, its still un-nerving get passed so close to the finish. Up I go slowly til I reach the long semi-flat jeep road on top. I start to run again, pass by the overlook bench, and one false summit after another, til it begins to bend down. I really get excited and start to move quicker, mixing the energy of the downhill with the smell of the barn into one big smile on my face. No more thinking, processing, wondering about times, or how bad I feel. I just need to run, and so I do. I take the turn at Boyles house and head for home on the final stretch, feeling so relieved. I'm just about to the gate when I pass a guy, who says to me as I pass: You mind if I run in with you? Come on man, lets get this done. So, he starts to run, pulls up next to me and we run it in together.