2017: Capn Karls: 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.

2016: The Circus 12hr

12hr Solo Run
McKinney Roughs
Bastrop TX

This may be the first time ever for me at any race in which I have a choice, 3 to be exact, of the route in which I should start. 6:00am on a cloud covered no moon Texas December morning is decidedly dark, adding a steady downpour of rain, and visibility is not favorable to this poor-sighted 60 year old. Even if I were to wear glasses, the rain and foged lenses would render them useless, but as is typical for me, I’d as soon go without glasses and run by brail. I know this park semi-well: McKinney Roughs is an old haunt, one I learned to avoid when it rains. The park abuts the Colorado River and its well known to avoid the low lying trails near the river. We used to park at the back-side equestrian gate, which is part of todays 7 mile loop. If even the smallest amount of rain merges with this riverside dirt, it becomes nothing but shoe sucking un-runnable mud. It is raining now and has been raining for the better part of the night. I have no intention of entering the 7 mile loop, and its not required, so I make it known to those who will listen to avoid this loop, if they can. The other two loops are a 5 mile loop and a 3 mile loop, which I'm not so sure how they are in regards to the mud. I know the trails but not so sure of the exact route layout.

Besides my standard shorts, shoes, and socks, I wear a long sleeve shirt, short sleeve shirt, rain jacket, and Tilley hat. I dont bother with gloves, as the rain would soak them quickly. All my gear is stacked up against a wall under a patio cover out of the rain, and it was more gear than usual. Knowing the many loops and the 12 hours being run potentially all in the rain, I brought a hell-of-a-lot of extra shirts, shorts, socks, rain jackets, and what-not. My signature cold-cut sandwiches are already pre-made: raison bread with turkey & cheese, plus a dozen packs of cliff bloks, and more than a few ready-to-use bags of Tailwind. The loops are short, so all I need is a single water bottle, not to forget my 700 lumin hand-held light.

Coming into the race, I wasn’t certain, but soon enlightened, we're forbidden from running the same loop twice in a row. By removing 7 from my options, I'll be rotating between 3 and 5 til done. If I do run 7, I can reset this sequence to 5 and 3, but thats not going to happen. This dynamic seems trivial at first blush, but will become a major point for the final loop. There might be time for another 3, but not for a 5. Lose the ability to notch another loop and you earn less milage, and this simple start loop decision decides the finish place. Maybe it doesn’t matter and maybe it does.

I don't know why I chose 5 first, I wait for the crowd in front of me to move out in 3 different directions, and simply follow the person directly in front of me. There is no decision, no thought, no hesitation: I become one of those people I have teased for so many years: a lemming! As solid as the rain has been, it suddenly gets heavier, and as it’s been raining for many hours already, the trail is now a creek, full of water with a steady constant flow. The lights from the runners in front of me reflect and highlight the many difference colored panels of rain jackets and reflective tags as well as the billions of sparkling rain drops that catch the lights and confuse the holy hell out of my eyes.

I’ve had a bum hip for more than a few years now such that the idiosyncrasies of it are part of how I run and treat myself during a long run. I cant help but start slow, very slow, and it takes a long time to warm up to a point that it quits hurting and I begin to forget about it. With the rain coming down on the dark muddy trail of a course I don’t know, and the runners in front of me quickly disappearing into little flashes of light and color, I hope for a course that is marked well enough for a slow blind man to follow. My hip hurts and I slow even more and wonder when this will subside because I do plan to be out here for awhile. I told Lise I was going to stay on the course as long as she did, and she only has intentions for a 30 miler today. My truck is in the shop with a shattered windshield and dented cab, which came from a 70 mph ceiling fan. Its damned funny if not damned lucky my wife & I survived the freak accident without injury. Lise picked me up and brought me to the race, and we're both running the 12 hour solo, with me having one expectation: to be home by 7:00pm for my daughter’s birthday gathering. When Lise stops, I stop: thats my plan.

I am completely alone before a single mile and rather regret it when I turn a corner to see a wrong sign directly under a few contradicting green flags leading past it. Unsure, I stop! Maybe there's a loop around where we come back from the other direction. There are a few out and backs on the course. Maybe this is one of them. I turn and go to the right a 100 yards or so, but its only darkness and nothing else: no flags! I turn and go back the other way past the wrong way sign and immediately regret my decision. I didn't go far enough the other way to know for sure, so I turn and go back, further this time, with the same results. I’m confused and maybe its just my own damned fault, blaming my bad vision, but it has to be the other way, so I turn again and go back and keep going and going, deciding to trust my instincts, because the wrong way sign is what has me all messed up and I’m just going to ignore it 'til I know for sure. I'll give it a bit more time and distance.

Besides the running water and puddles of mud, the running isn't too terribly bad. There's one pond that fills the road that surprises me as I turn directly into it, but mostly its fun running in the rain. When I finally get to a sign that marks the out-n-back section, I see some of the other runners who were in front of me, returning, and I relax again, knowing I have gone the right way. This is also where the trail gets slimily more treacherous, with numerous slick patches and slippery cedar crossbars, one sending me flying onto my back. Oddly enough, this unorthodox therapy solves my hip pain and it bothers me no more for the rest of the day. The entire section is a playground of bridges and stairs, running streams of water, still pools of mud filled footprints, and one deceptive little mud chute that throws me to my back again. The more than necessary extra amount of beef on my body provides sufficient padding though and might also be the reason I am more than comfortable in this constant cold rain. Anyway, the falls continue, and besides the mud coating, I suffer not at all from any of it. Matter of fact, the circumstances become so comical to me, it makes me laugh instead of getting angry. The shame of it is there are no witnesses or video footage. It must be hilarious to see!

Each loop is marked with different colored ribbons, this the 5 being green, and a big green production at the end of the out-n-back, wrapped all around and through a milk crate with green wrist bands in it. I take 1 out and try to put it on my wrist, but with all this soaking wet clothes, cold hands, and rain, I accidentally break it, and shove it into my pocket instead. With the out-n-back is done, I start back the way I came, only to be surprised by a few others coming towards me. Each of them had gone the wrong way some place or another, corrected their error, and are now behind me. Being alone for awhile, it feels good to have some others around, providing some confidence I might really be going the right way. Going back through the playground alongside the river is every bit as messy and entertaining as it was coming out, both directions being equally troublesome and slow.

Reaching the end of the out-n-back is rewarding in an odd sense, knowing I have solved this particular puzzle and proceed to the next. More cedar stairs, but now we're higher, much less messy, and it feels particularly good to be on solid footing for awhile, even if it is climbing. Once on top, its all good running for the rest of this loop, with a few good swells and rolls but not all that much mud. The ground is solid enough even where the water is standing, its not sloppy and muddy. Jon surprises me by coming up from behind. I knew he was ahead, so he also had made the wrong choice somewhere back there. He tries to tell me about it, crossing onto a blue trail, but it makes no sense. We run together to the end of the first of many 5 mile loops.

Everything I have on is soaking wet and extremely muddy. I know I'm just going to get wet again, but I have plenty of gear and I'll feel much better with a clean dry change, so I take the time to change shorts, shirt, and jacket. I consume a sandwich and refill my Tailwind while I'm going through this trouble, and all this takes me more time than I'd usually take, but then again, I'm just running til Lise is done and I might as well stay comfortable.

Per race rules, I cannot run 5 again, because I just ran it, and with no intentions on the 7, I’m left with the 3, which I soon learn is BLUE. I never do run the 7 trail, so I never do learn what color that one is, but from all I hear, it should be BROWN for shoe sucking mud. My assumption is that 3 doesn’t go down to the river, so it should be less muddy, but it does go down to the river and if possible, its even muddier than 5. I seem to be handling the slop ok. I dont feel bad, but I'm certainly moving very slow. Slogging along, I'm looking at the river on my right, thinking I shouldn't be seeing the river on the 3 loop. The river section is short, but the mud from this lowland seems to want to follow the trail back up the hill. So, it does not get more solid and easier as we climb. The channel of mud that pours down the hill becomes the best path to climb up the hill. Its more difficult to manage than the flat muddy section. I have to be careful to keep from spinning out or sliding backwards so I slow to a crawl and the hill goes on even further than I expect, especially with all of it being the same slick muddy slime. Its all the same all the way up to the overlook where the milk carton with the blue wrist straps are. I don't realize we were on an out-n-back til I stop to figure out which way to go from here.

Its impossible to avoid the muddy swimming pool before the wooden posts. I have to wade through it just to get to the crate, and back again to get out. Back the way I had come and hopefully not back down that same slick hill. The split is only 30 yards back, and even more surprising is that theres a good bit more uphill as well. All of it being the same sort of mucked up mud. Its hard to understand why its still this muddy this high up. The 5 was only muddy down by the river, but the entire length of 3 is a wreck. I was not expecting this at all. The overlooks are beautiful, but being ever in the rain and the mud, makes it less likely to stop and enjoy the view. Happy to finally reach the top and shocked I’m again heading downhill and dreading more river mud, then relieved to see this section is mostly solid ground and easy to run. The final traverse is surprisingly pleasant and flips back up into another climb thats hard ground again and good enough to bring me up and out of the mess and back to be done with the 3 loop.

Again, I take the time to change, but the rain seems to be easing, so I decide to go without a rain jacket. My 3 mile loop took an hour while my 5 mile loop took an hour and change, so the 5 is certainly the faster loop and its too bad I cant just repeat that one over and over again. It is interesting to see that the only people I have any clue about are the ones who started on the same loop I did. I certainly get lapped by the leaders and the relays are always a confusion. As is normal in most races, everybody around you tends to slow down at your same level or run off and leave you to not be seen again. But this intermittent release of fresh legs on the course who sling themselves along, thrashing the mud and water all about, forces me to climb up off the trail every time I hear another one coming. I dont mind getting passed, but I do mind the shit-storm of flying mud.

I know the entire course I intend to see and only 8 miles banked: what can be run, what cannot, where the really bad sections are, the stairs & steps, which ones have solid ground behind them and which don't, almost exactly where to put my feet on all the really important places. Least ways, thats what I'm thinking, and of course it doesn’t work like that at all. it is only left for me to run the same sequence a few more times: 5 and 3 til done. I am really bad with names and numbers, but for some damned reason, I am really good with finding my way, remembering a route through the woods, trails, and even roads, so I am relatively certain I will no longer have a problem going the right way for the rest of this run, but what I dont count on is how much the trail conditions will change. Its still raining and we are all making a mess of the trail, the muddy sections get muddier, wider, longer, and deeper. The hard ground sections fill with water, but at least these are still easy to run through, as long as I dont mind slinging a load of water all over myself. My feet are wet the entire time and I dont bother with changing my shoes or socks until after the 2nd set of 5s and 3s. The mud filters through my shoes and into my socks to cake up on my feet and saturate into the threads of my socks.

I’m an old school trail runner who knows to repair foot problems when I recognize they exist, so when I feel a lump on the bottom of my foot, I stop where I am to see what it is and it just happens to be dead center of the long river bog playground. Leaning against a skinny tree, I stand one legged so I can remove a shoe, then a sock, and rinse them all in the muddy water I’m standing in: the shoe, sock, and foot. I should do the other one too, but this is no easy task, so I continue on 'til I get back to the compound, where I stop to clean the other one just the same. Even though I rinse them both, there is no way to get all the silt out of them. Being no better than sandpaper and a high likelihood of causing blisters, it seems to be a good time to change my socks. I still see no good reason to change the shoes and simply slide my nice clean dry feet and fresh socks into the same old sopping wet and muddy Akashas. I have a few pair of shoes handy if needed but the shoes I have on are working great, so I let ‘em ride. I know better than to change what works. While I'm at it, I go ahead and change all my soaking wet clothes as well, thinking that I have so far avoided any chafing issues despite being soaking wet for many hours already. I figure to go about 6 or 7 hours at most and net somewhere around 25 miles to Lise's 30 miles.

The rain picks up again and remains reasonably hard for the duration. Its hard to believe but the trails are actually getting worse each loop. Race management does close 7, deeming it totally worthless to attempt, validating my belief in avoiding it from the start. 3 is quickly becoming the next worst loop, having less than a mile of runnable trail, while 5 with all its nasty riverside playground crap, still holds the most amount of runnable trail. My pile of wet and muddy clothes continue to grow and Lise continues to run. I see her once in passing with enough time to learn she’s at mile 25 while I'm at mile 21. I'm starting my 3rd 3, while she's heading onto 5. Her distance doesn't make much sense to me for where she is, but I can only assume its some madness of the GPS tracking. I wont learn til much later that she had gone over to run 7 once before they closed it. Anyway, I expect she’ll stop after the next loop or two with 30 miles done. Nyleva’s there also, running with her relay team and I see her after each loop, so she keeps me up to date how Lise is doing and where she is, except when she occasionally goes off to run a loop for her team and loses track for a bit.

My stomach's doing great, as is my hip, and my energy. I’m waddling thru one of the long bogs and doing a self check, only to realize I'm doing better than reasonably well. Who the hell knew? I dropped out of last Thursday’s weekday run with a wonky hip which was a very bad indicator for this weekend, so I certainly wasn't expecting to be doing this well this far into this mud-fest. Especially with all the slipping and sliding, and landing on my back and all the other lateral muscle shocks and everything else that should be thrashing my muscles and joints. I just didn't expect this. I'm soaking wet and loving the rain. It feels good: the rain, my muscles, and my mood. It’s all in tune and I'm loving all of it.

Lise doesn't stop! Nor, does the rain. Each time I come in and look for her and ask Nyleva, who says she’s doing great and on 3 or 5. I only see her once more before she's done, and I know she's in fine spirits, so I don't say a thing about her 30 miles. I ask her instead for something else that I dont need just because I dont want to say what is on my mind. I already know, so she looks at me funny, asking her for my ice tea. I just kept going as well. My concern at this point is to be cleaned up and in the car by 6:00pm at the worst, and the race is over at 6:00pm. By now, we both know how long the 3 and 5 take us to run, such that we’ll finish a loop and see we dont have time for another and stop then, well before 6:00pm. As it turns out, Lise and Marcy and another are in a tight race for 1st thru 3rd and if they each kept running, the winner might just win because she chose the right trail to start with way back in the beginning. They might have time for another 3 but not for another 5, and thus take the better place based on that. The same circumstance exists in the men’s race too, so it's kind-of odd how it all comes down to these circumstances, or appears to.

After finishing my 5th 5, I have 1:45 remaining, and I know this is it, my final loop, so I’m surprised to hear Mallory tell me 'another 3 & 5' to go. I think she has me figured for somebody much faster. I know damn well, that’s not going to happen. Besides all that, I need to plan my escape. Lise is still going too and I have no idea where she is right now, but I need to get my 5th 3 done and cleanup as best I can so I can get ready to blast home. The final 3 is the worst by far, not being much left at all that can be run, so I pretty much surf the entire loop and happy to approach the finish. Doubly glad to see Lise standing there, cleaned up and ready to go. It is done. I get 40 miles to Lise’s 47. She takes 2nd place to Marcy's 1st, while Thomas wins the men's race. I find a garden hose nearby and clean up as much as I can, stuff my heavy load of soaking wet clothes in a bag, and on the road soon after 6:00pm to arrive home by 7:00pm.

2016: Big Cedar 70mi

Dinosaur Valley SP
Glen Rose, TX
4 Nov 2016

My patience virtue has slipped off its pedestal and I'm sadly content about it. I even brought a book I've been wanting to dive into: 'Bleak House' by Dickens. But, for now, I just don't feel like waiting... to run! 

The Big Cedar 100mi start is this morning at 9:00am and the 50mi start is tomorrow morning at 3:00am! With miserably worthless vision, learning a new course in the dark and the rain does not appeal to me. I actually love running in the rain and I love running in the dark too, but the combination of both, while trying to keep myself on course causes me some concern. I’d prefer to have a one complete look at the course in the daylight first. I’m known for my bat vision, being able to run in the dark, without any glasses or contacts, without a light. My kids think I run by brail, reading the trail with my size 14 feet. They tell me my feet are so big, my toes will bump into anything important long before the rest of my body gets there.

I can start in 2 hours or wait another 18 hours, while Ryan runs. I rode up here to Glen Rose from Austin with Ryan, and he’s in the 100mi, so he'll have a huge time jump on me. He could be well into the race and might even be done before I even start. The more I think about it, the more it seems foolish to wait. I had not planned to run 100mi, nor do I think I’m in shape for a 100mi, but I can simply start with the 100mi and run the 50mi anyway. I wont get an award or credit for a 50mi finish by starting with the 100 milers, but I don't care. I’d just like a good solid distance run and I'm curious about this park and this race. So, I do it: I switch from the 50mi to the 100mi without thinking too very much about anything much beyond 50.

Logistically, it's a 17mi loop, or 3 loops for 50mi, and doubling that again for 100mi. The mile splits from aid to aid are: 3.1mi from Cedar Break (start) to Fenceline, a 4.3mi loop out and back to the same station (Fenceline), 6mi from Fenceline to Pavilion, 2.9mi out and back to the same station (Pavilion), and 0.4mi from pavilion to the Cedar Break (end of the 17mi loop). In easy to remember terms for later when I go brain-dead from too much time out there, its 3, 4, 6, 4, with both 4s being loops. Two aid stations on course (Fenceline and Pavilion) plus Cedar Break at the end of loop. With Cedar Break & Pavilion being just 0.4 apart, once of these is pretty much useless. For my planning without really knowing, I chose Pavilion to be a drive-by. Another major note is the twice river crossing, both in the last 5 miles. Once before Pavilion-1 and the other after Pavilion-2. Without ever having seen the river, I don't know what to make of it, but I do know I’ll be getting my feet wet every loop, and that does concern me some.

With all this in mind, I thought about what and how to manage myself during the race. I only brought with me what I would need for 50mi: 4 shirts, 4 shorts, 4 socks, and food split up with 50mi  in mind. I did tell Ryan I was thinking about switching to the 100mi, but I don't think I really planned on actually running 100 miles. I may have thought about it, but I certainly didn’t bring enough gear and clothes for 6 loops. I sent a drop bag to Fenceline, thinking to have it about mid-loop each time, but there was not much in it: a light and some food, but no clothes. With Pavilion being a short hop from the finish, I chose to ignore it as a drop bag location. We parked in the field, about 50 yards from the start, so we set up the truck as our own major aid station. I had an ice chest full of ice, Izze, Coke, Gatorade, Ginger Ale, Arizona Ice Tea, and a few beers. The back seat of my truck is cavernous, with enough room to lay out all my gear, shirts, shoes, socks, supplements, hats, bandanas, jackets, gloves, and plenty space left for Ryan to use the other side. We also set out our lawn chairs behind the truck with the tailgate as a table.

It had rained fairly well last night so everything is soaked, the grass is wet, and the trail is mud, but its still overcast with the sky full of clouds. Its noticeably cooler than usual too: what we call ‘Runners Weather' as opposed to 'Volunteer Weather'. With the distance between aid being what it is and the weather being this nice, I decide to go with a single water bottle and no rain gear. The idea being: to go as light and as comfortable as possible, for as long as I can. If the weather goes bad, I'm just 17 miles from my gear.

9:00am is such an odd time to start a race, but it's a hell of a lot better than 3:00am, so I’m more than pleased to start with the 100mi group. Only 50 odd souls and we have the park to ourselves for 18 hours before any of the others start. It feels strange in some odd way, giving us tortoises a head-start before the rabbits jump in and run us down. We move out rather tentatively, sliding a little in the mud, crossing the low water dip. I begin my adventure from the very back of the pack, along with Ryan and a few others I know. There’s a bit of chatter between groups around us and I get drawn into some of the small talk: races and shoes and rather inane worthlessness not worth remembering.

I had just run 50mi at Cactus Rose 2 weeks ago, which went much better than I expected, and I wasn’t sure exactly how this run would go for me. With the exception of CR, I had not had a very good year: typically bringing up the rear, I’m usually the first one back to the beer truck, not from being fast, but knowing shortcuts and dropping out early. An excellent example of a well used and thoroughly beat up old trail runner, after 20 years of running ultras, I was starting to think I might be done with the long stuff. Anyway, so CR surprised me, and a few others, I don't doubt. Not that I was fast, but because I did it. This race, Big Cedar is another test, I suppose, to see if CR was a fluke! Mind: I love being out here, regardless the outcome. Being on the trail for an awful drag-ass run is still better than sitting in a cubicle all day. I plan to enjoy myself, no matter how much it hurt. The experiment is to see how I do! I truly had no idea.

Some of us walk from the start, and it does begin with a bit of hill, so I'm ok with it. But once it flattens out a bit, I start to run. Ryan walks faster than me and not just a little bit. He can walk as fast as my easy run, so he stays with me, just walking, while I mix walk and run, and thats how it goes up the jeep road to the first turn onto single track. Well, single-track is where my soul loves to be, so I naturally run a bit more and little faster once I leave the road for the trail, and I lose contact with Ryan. I’ve never been to Dinosaur Valley before, and I didn't spend much time studying the course, so I quickly disorient myself and have no idea which way the course will turn next. I fall in with another guy and then 2 more join us for a quartet by the time we reach Fenceline. We continue out the other side for the 4mi loop, which quickly surprises me with awesome overlooks, sweet rocky climbs, and an unbelievable overlook well above the river and valley below. The sound of the rushing river merges with the sound of the wind in the tree tops for a lovely natural symphony. The four of us, talking the entire time, roll up and down along a single-track rollercoaster traversing a tree covered hillside with occasional peeks at the valley below. I had to pay attention as the guys in front of me would occasionally guess wrong at a turn which propelled me into the front a few times while they reconnected. All three of them were certainly quicker than me, but it's early and I had yet to wind myself back down to earth. I suspect this will be my fastest section each time because I cant imagine not feeling good through here, and if I feel good, I will run good. I do so much love this particular loop.

Getting back to Fenceline means we’ve 7.4mi done, and the next section being the longest, I make sure I top off my water bottle. Without knowing the course, it seems odd to go out the direction we go, leaving here for the next 6mi. We stay together but only in fits and starts through here: two moving ahead, while I pull up the rear, as I expected. They’re all faster than me and I don't care. I'm going to shuffle my own deck and don't want to get sucked into anyone else's game, regardless. So, two pull ahead and gone, while the 3rd guy stays just ahead of me. I’m an old-school downhiller so I catch him back up on each downhill and he pulls ahead over the flats and ups. Not much scenery to talk about along here as we're surrounded by trees and it all looks the same. None of it sticks in my mind in a big way, but what’s interesting is how many small things stick in my head. I can tell you the exact place where the lead two pulled ahead, the exact spot where I pass the 3rd guy, and the exact spot where I catch back up to the two fast guys again. An odd shaped rock, a small creek crossing, where I almost ran past a wrong-way sign: I remember the exact same spot every loop. There’s a slight but longish downhill that gets me rolling such that I pass no#3 and then catch no#2 and no#1, just as we cross a culvert and run past a wrong way sign. I stop and point, saying ‘WHOA!', then turn around and go back 30 feet where we can clearly see the course jump trail directly into a shallow creek with high walls. Heading down the creek, we’re pleasantly surprised to find the river.

The river crossing is spectacular. I was so dreading it and now that I'm here, I'm loving it. No#1 and No#2, roll right on through and gone, but I stop mid-river to soak up the coolness and revel in being here in the middle of a river. Hard to explain just how much I enjoyed this. Eventually, I cross over just ahead of No#3. Just to be clear, No#1, No#2, and No#3 are not the first 3 runners in the race. I just cant remember their names, so I assigned them numbers just to keep track while we’re together. And no, I never did catch them that either. It was all very irrelevant soon enough, as they disappear soon after the river. This was just loop one and my fastest, so I'll not be seeing them again. They and I were on drastically different plans.

After the river, the trail became a sidewalk. A foot aching and leg killing pavement that hurt my feet and my psyche. As pretty as a circular sidewalk is that wanders through trees alongside a scenic river, I’d have preferred it was strait just so I could get off of it as soon as possible. This seems to be the main part of the park, where people park their cars and carry their picnic baskets down to the river, where campers pull their cars right up to where they pitch their tents, and everything is paved and marked off with lines and cement blocks. Its pretty in its own way, but after the overlook, I want out of here. The Pavilion aid is a pretty picnic area overlooking the river, and it has wonderful volunteer support. They’re so nice and I just don't want to stay, because we have a short loop and then the finish just across the river. 

Off I go, after a sip of coke, to run the loop. Impatient to get it done, and careful not to allow impatience push me. I don't run fast, but I never stop moving. I want to get it done, but have a long way to go still. It appears this route was created just for this race. After starting in the narrow space between the river and the road, then a short climb, I enter the Alice's Wonderland: a wide path that is never strait, cut by a huge lawnmower. It winds around trees and bushes, left and right, up and down, never knowing which way it will turn next, for a mile or two, until it finally dumps out on a strait path and back to where we started the loop. I see Ryan just entering as I'm exiting the loop, and soon after back to pavilion. I have no reason to stop, waiting to get back to my truck to reload, so yell out my number as pass by, and quickly down to the river.

The river's 100 yards across and only ankle deep but moving fast. It not only feels glorious, it sounds great too. I love the music of running water. Again, I stop in the middle to soak up the ambiance. My legs likes it too. Once across, it's not very far to where I began this journey. I run past a wide field, turn down the dip, and up the other side, where the race headquarters is at Cedar Break. I cross the timing mat and walk to my truck and sit down. Much too fast. I went way too fast that loop. I take off my shoes and socks with hope my feet will dry out before I start another loop. Sitting barefoot, I get a cold drink from the ice chest and eat a turkey on raisin bread sandwich. I refill my water bottle, clear the trash from the water bottle pocket, and stuff another coconut bar in. I’m soaking wet from sweat and the river, so I change shorts, shirt, socks, and bandana, but I put back on the same old wet and well worn LaSportiva Akasha trail shoes. All of this takes 15 minutes before I wave at the timer as I start loop two.

Loop two gets even with my too fast loop one rather quickly and silently shuts me down way too soon. I cant even get my self started. Every time I try to run, I have no juice. I need a jump start badly and rather thought I would have it coming out of my truck aid. Everything I could have done, I did. I took my time, ate, drank, fresh clean clothes on, and all of it comes to nothing. What the hell happened? I have no clue. Must be the old man limit! 17 miles and done. Hell, I should be happy with that, but I am pissed. So, I walk. I try to walk with meaning, driving myself as quickly as I can without actually running. I do try to run now and again, on downhills, but I just cant seem to get the blood pumping. Its basically the same issue I've been having all summer: no juice! I'm deeply disappointed. After CR, I had hoped I might have something going, but this is proving otherwise. When I get to Fenceline, I sit for a bit and drink some coke, eat some orange slices, and get out. I like these guys here. Good people, they are! The loop coming up is the fun loop, and I'm looking forward to it, but even this doesn't wake me up. I keep on walking and wonder why nobody's passing me. I suppose with just 50 people, we’d already sorted ourselves out pretty well early on. Back to Fenceline, I drink more coke, but don't stay long. I am soaking wet again, from sweat, and feeling pretty damn lousy.

I finally manage to run a few times on the long 6mi section. I can feel my body starting to come out of its slump. Maybe there's a chance I'll come out of this funk. It seems to take forever to get to the river and I'm so looking forward to it. Every landmark's a welcome relief as each one highlights my progress, going past each one, and eventually to the river, where once again I take the time to soak. The river crossings have become aid stations for me, bringing welcome relief, and lifting my spirit. It feels so good and there’s nobody else in sight to take away from the simple pleasure of it. Out of the river, back on the nauseating sidewalk to Pavilion, the pavement again sucks the life out of me. I take a long break at Pavilion this time for soup and coke, but mostly just to get off my feet for a few minutes. The people working here are becoming better friends with each loop.

Back on the 3mi grass loop again, I'm reduced to a more primal thinking process: step, step, drink, eat, step, step, repeat. I wake from my recessive thinking near the end to realize I’m walking alongside the same two people I had walked this loop with the first time. I don’t know either of them and it gives me pause: wondering for a moment if I'm still on loop one and just waking up from a walking nap. I feel as if I'm driving home drunk and wondering how I got here. Its odd, not seeing either of them anywhere else but here on this loop, as if they've been waiting for me to arrive, to escort me through the grassy wonderland. To further compound the weirdness of my thoughts, I also see Ryan again at exactly the same spot. Must be some sort of time warp on this coincidence loop, or I’m stuck, but Ryan does look at me funny, like there’s something wrong with me. He's not wrong!

Still feeling pretty low, as well as confused, I stop at Pavilion on the way back too. I need another kick of coke before crossing the river and walking to the end loop, crossing the mat, and my truck aid station. Well, that was painful. Thankfully, my 50mi is almost over. Just one more loop. Same as last time, I sit down and remove my shoes & socks to dry my feet. The river crossing soaks my feet and the sweat soaks everything else, so I need to change everything again. Also, try an ice cold Arizona Ice Tea tall boy and it's surprising how good this tastes to me right now. 15 minutes to take care of business before I once again head out, but now it's the final loop.

It doesn't take long before I come to realize I am back from the dead. I have some zing in my step. I start running, and running better than well, better than loop one. Oh my, but what the hell was in that iced tea. I don't know at first whats going on. After dragging my ass the entire 2nd loop, I'm confused why I'm running so well. I don't think it will last but it feels so good, I suspect it wont last very long at all. Just to be careful, I only run hard for 15 minutes, then I walk for a few minutes, then run hard again for another 15. I get to Fenceline much quicker than anticipated, and onto the 4mi fun loop, which I continue to bust for some crazy fast frolicking downhills. A guy I pass decides to hook on and tries to hang. I drop him with each burst and he catches me when I take my walk breaks such that he never stops running while I mix it up pretty regular. What a joy it is dropping down from the high overlook, through gnarly slick rocks and uneven steps. I'm in heaven, gliding along like I used to run oh so many years ago. I see Ryan on the loop at some odd crossroads in which I have no reference to where exactly I am on the loop. With darkness creeping in, I lose the sunlight somewhere in here, but I run without my light on for as long as I can.

Back at Fenceline in good time still feeling strong, I roll along on to the big 6mi section. Life is good and I'm enjoying the hell out of myself when suddenly my headlight dies. It's the only light I have with me. Thinking I’d only be doing half a loop in the dark and with a spare light at Fenceline, I thought I had made all the right choices. Life’s like that: waiting until I'm midway between my spare light at Fenceline and my other spare at Cedar Break. 3 miles either way, with precious little choice but to keep going forward. I'm very comfortable running without a light, but this is a route I’m new to, and without a light o reflect back the reflective markers, I'm concerned I'll miss a turn, especially the jungle jim turn that simply dives off trail down a hill side to a lower trail. There are a few other spots as well that I need to see in order to make smart choices. I try running without a light for a while, before I try the headlamp again, on the lowest setting, and discover it will stay on when I select the setting for a single LED light. It's not enough to pick out the reflectors or even bring out deviations in the trail, but at least I'm not in the complete dark. I keep sliding off trail and tripping over rocks, sliding into ditches and double checking turns. Basically, I go from a full tilt boogie to a stumbling bumbling gait. I just cant put two steps together in sequence with confidence, not being able to see where I'm going. My rock & roll died with the light and I'm left a blind man in a dark cave. And then it starts to rain! Funny how bad things usually come in sets. The rain feels good, and the light rain seen with a single LED light creates some stimulating visuals. Spinning streamers of light pass before my eyes to further confuse my already over-taxed senses. Another strange byproduct of the dim LED light, it lights up all the agave plants with a dim translucent or luminous glow that is creepy at first then fantastical when I see more than a few of them together. Its fun and it is funny, but I'm just getting slower. The rain is making the trail muddy and my already tenuous footing is getting worse. I knew to just keep moving forward, however slow, and eventually I reach the river. As much as I enjoy the river crossing, it is a little creepy crossing in the dark. Once across, it's much easier to follow the sidewalk, so I blindly drift forward and into Pavilion.

Coming into the Pavilion without a light, I’m offered a loaner light, but gave it back when Keith offers to put new batteries in my own light. I wait til he brings my light back to me and have some hot broth to keep the chill off. Once I have my light back, I immediately head out onto the grass loop. About 10 minutes out, my light dies again. The fresh batteries Keith gave me must have already been used. I already know the drill, so I just reduce to a single LED and kept on scrambling. I don't go fast, but I work it out. I'd already done this loop twice, so I have a rough idea, but I still cant see the mud slicks and water holes until I'm in them. I do the best I can which seems to take forever. Just prior to getting back to the Pavilion, I come up on a huge bonfire at least 20 feet tall, before which three young men sat and cheered me on. Twas a bit surreal in the rain to see a fire like that, so bright and blinding I had trouble finding the trail because of it. I was disappointed I didn't see Ryan this time at the usual place. I must have finally broke out of the endless grass loop. I'm starting to get cold as the rain gets heavier, but it's ok as long as I keep moving. My light is still worthless as I approach pavilion, but it’s only a half mile to my truck, so I just waived as I pass by. I'm sure they wonder why I've got my light out again. Once again, I cross the river in the dark. Before long, I'm back to the start, the mat, and my truck. I’ve gone 50mi at this point, but from race managements perspective, only half of the 100 miler i'm in.

I don't know what I'm thinking, or if I'm thinking at all, but I know I need a good light, clean dry clothes, another iced tea, some food, and before I even process what I'm doing, I'm back out again on my 4th loop. It's still raining, so I wear a rain jacket this time, put a buff on my head, and carry a hydration pack. I don't even get a mile before I realize, all of it is too much, making me hot. I’ve really been quite comfortable for many hours now, in t-shirt and shorts and not much else. I had changed my shoes for the first time too, swapping out Akashas for Pearl N2s. I don't know why I did any of it. Don't know why I went back again either. Some kind of Neanderthal sense. I take off the jacket and buff, shove them in the pack. When I get to Fenceline I remove the pack too, and attach it to the drop bag I have here, which I never did use. I tell the volunteers to send it back with my drop bag, as I’d never used and would likely not be back again.

I feel good, but the rain, which had been going for hours, doesn't seem to have an end, and it's making a mess of the trail. It’s all pretty sloppy now and hard to push off without sliding out. My shoes start collecting mud and debris on the inside. My calves are  covered in mud and the mud's dropping into my shoes too. I cant seem to keep it out. I hadn't noticed any foot problems all day until now. I can feel hot spots beginning to develop on my toes and also dead center on the underside of both feet. I stop a few times to remove the debris, but after stopping 9 or 10 times in 30 minutes, I finally give up and just go with it. Of course, even that isn’t going to work. The hot spots only get worse. I've made it through Fenceline the 2nd time and on my way to the river and Pavilion. MY light’s working great this time, but now my feet are on fire, slipping and sliding in the mud. Last loop's demon was the dark, while this loop's demon is the mud. Funny thing, my legs are good. I feel good. I'm enjoying the rain, being quite comfortable soaking wet, as long as I kept moving. I have a good attitude on and enjoying myself, but my feet are crying.

The river is were I planned to stop and clean everything out of my socks and shoes, so when I get there. I sit on a rock in the middle and take off each shoe one at a time. I remove the insoles, rinse out the debris, then remove each sock and flush as much dirt as I can. I put them back on and know for certain there's no debris in them, but I can still feel the lumps. Now I know without a doubt that every lump is a blister under my skin and not debris inside my sock. It's an ugly feeling and one I know was not going to get better in this mess. I love the rain. I hated the mud. Such is life.

Approaching pavilion, I also start to feel the effect of chafing from soaking wet clothes hanging on my body for a little too long. In the current circumstances, with the constant rain, there is little I can do about it, so I plan my end race. At first I did not even wish to do the grass loop, but when I reached pavilion, I simply went right on by and started the loop. Simple programming, I was hooked into this loop and the only way out was to do it. Also being soaking wet, I was right on the edge of being cold, so it was just easier to keep on moving, and I sure as hell wasn’t thinking, so I simply follow my feet. I just need to get done and that is not all that far away now, in more ways that one. I'm well past the intended 50mi, and as much as I had minor thoughts of stealing a 100mi finish today, the mud has made this much more expensive than I'm willing to pay. Another day, another time, maybe yes. But on this day, under these circumstance, no! I'm done. All I need now is to get back to my truck.

The grass loop is more sloppy than it was the last time around. Still raining, it's only getting worse. As I approach Pavilion, I see headlamps coming from more directions than make sense. I don't understand at first, but realize the 50 milers are on the course and they may have got off course after the river and gone down the road. People are all over but all I can see is their lights, and very few of them are coming from where they should be coming from. For some odd reason, I am pleased to be getting off the course before they catch me. They have yet to do the grass loop, and I've only got a half mile to paradise.

I don't stop at Pavilion. There is no reason. I head on down to the river and wade across. Up the road, down the dip, across the mat and done. My milage total per GPS is 70 miles, and I'm pleased with that. Most miles I've done in years. I go to my truck were Ryan has been sleeping. He'd stopped 6 hours ago after 50mi and has been sleeping. He stopped after the 3rd loop around midnight and its 6:00am now. January is also here, come to pace Ryan, so she joins us for breakfast and follows us back to Austin

2016: Cactus Rose 50mi

It was my hope, mind you, nothing major, just a simple desire... to be able to run well for 20 miles of the 50 mile course. Figured I could walk the rest of it with a strong conviction and a very wide cutoff. I have not run well for awhile, at least, from my own expectations and memories that cant feel any of the pain. Funny that, I can still feel all the warm buzz from finishing, but the agony has all washed away and gone, like it never occurred. The sprit in me still thinks I can run what I ran 20 years ago. The disconnect between my reality and my 60 year old imagined expectations is huge. Sure, I know! I really do know what to expect now-a-days, but my dreams are not about reality. I still visualize the highest levels of what I used to do. Even during my prime years, this was so. But, you never know. As my buddy Kuss tells me, 'Even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and again'. So, I went out blindly searching.

Oh what a glorious morning! Sub-50 degree temps, no rain, and a bit of wind. It would not last long, but it was cool enough that many of us, me included, scrambled round for an extra long-sleeved shirt. I had spent the last few days marking the course, so being part of the work staff, Joyce & I had our RV within 30 feet of the start/finish line: a convenient advantage offset by the days of marking course.

Ultra-Run race starts are somewhat surprising in that the crowd usually moves away from the start line, leaving room for anyone who wants the line. Our group of 150 was no different this morning at 5am. I had to push through more than a few just to get to the rear end of the pack.

Having created then directed Cactus Rose for the past 10 years, it is funny that I have never run the race, yet I know every turn and rock. There is no one with more knowledge of this course that I. Understand, I do not think of this as an advantage. This course is brutal tough, so I selected the most rugged heavy-duty shoes I could find to run in today. I know I will trip many times, kick more than a few rocks, and most likely hit the ground with my body a time or two. On the other hand, I have no concerns about going the wrong way or getting lost. I also know where every bathroom and stream crossing is, as well as the exact locations of the stepping stones over each.

I go out easy, comfortable and relaxed, near the back side of the herd. Its dark, so most have their lights on, headlamps and hand torches. Having been to this dance a few times, I know the chatter and small talk tends to have many people blinding each other, so I leave my head-lamp off for a bit. I also have a hand torch pointed at the ground, that I expect to dump in my drop bag at YaYa. The herd shuffles like a deck of cards every so often, such that I'm with somebody different before each conversation gets past introductions and hellos. The leading mile is pretty convenient in that we are all together on a double-track jeep road, long enough for us to sort each other out, where we belong in the pace line. 

Luckily, I have the good fortune to sort into the deck between Tom Bowling and Julie Koepke from Lucky to YaYa. I have no idea how I'm doing and not too worried about it either, as I feel great and can't be working too very hard yet. I do need to stop at YaYa (mile 5) though, so I pull out of line to dump my hand light and refill my water bottle. I pour TailWind into my water, and it strikes me funny that I am the only person who stops here. The entire group looks to be a steady stream of light going past as I take care of my business. I'm sure I know more than a few behind the lights, but all I see are is the light stream. The next pack is still out of sight behind us, so that when I head back out, I am alone, behind the fading lights, between packs. I cant tell if they are going faster now, or if I am going slower. I feel the same, but they certainly leave me well behind and gone.

Mother Nature calls and a bathroom is not far ahead, so I pick up pace a bit and pass Axel. With 2 breaks inside the first 7 miles, I do believe I am comfortably in control of my laid back strategy and damn happy with it. Another creek crossing soon after my break and I hook up with Cris Strong for just a bit. I dont realize at first, she's in the relay, which reminds me I have no idea who is running what race. We have all started as one, all on the same course, and even if we were not in the dark, I'm still too blind to focus on any runner's bib number. 

The sequence of the aid stations are: Yaya(5), Nachos(10), Equestrian(15), Boyles(20), and Lodge(25), and this is a rough rounding of distances just so its easier for me to recall, as my logical thinking devolves to emotional mush. We start in cw direction, and then reverse to ccw for loop two. The 100 milers double up, but never mind that, as I've explained to any who dared ask: I am not dumb enough at this time to run the 100.

The creek paralleling the road to Nachos is a typical Texas creek, with more rocks that water, and the trail that winds in and out of the creek is all dust, rock, and cactus. it's too bad really! The water being softer than rock would be preferable. Alone again, I roll along easy enough, crossing the road and dropping into the 10mi station at Nachos. These aid stations are more simply landmarks where we have placed our own boxes and coolers for self-support. Cactus is like that: with no aid station volunteers and well stocked tables. They do provide water & ice, and for the average old veteran, its all they really need. Most prefer to use their own nutrition. And, the self placed drop bags means you always know exactly what is available exactly where you need it. Unless you make a mistake and put your crap in the wrong place.

All my drop bags are soft 6-pack size lunch coolers that I have S-clipped to the crossbar of each aid station tent. Most of us put our drop bags out the night before, and with the local critters having an entire night to choose, I figured I'd make it a bit more work for mine than all the other bags on the ground. Ants are bad here also, and that helped me decide on this method. The bags dont have much space, so the contents are basic and minimal. I'm running past each one twice: once on the 25mi cw loop, then reverse for the 25mi ccw loop. They're all pretty much the same: shorts, shirt, socks, bandana, buff, gloves, gatorade, coke, empty water bottle, 2 packs of tailwind, 2 cliff bloks, 2 scratch gels, 2 coconut bars. I figured I'd not use much of the clothes on the initial 25mi loop, but if I did need anything, I'd have it. On the return trip, I'd have most all of it to change as need be. For nutrition, I had 2 sets of everything, one going out and the other coming back. I started with 2 lights, with plans to leave 1 at 5mi YaYa and the other at 10mi Nachos. Regardless how slow I was coming back around, I'd haver a light at 5mi and 10mi from the end.

The sun was not up yet at Nachos, but the sky was getting lighter, and I do enjoy running in the dark sans lights. I was ready to run the next section in the dark for a bit, as I did intend to leave my 2nd light here at Nachos. I was about to leave when Joyce arrived with breakfast tacos. She had rushed here after collecting the breakfast tacos to provide a hearty calorie load to the lot of us: Ryan, Richard, January, Julie, and me. It was a surprise that I was here ahead of the others, as none of us knew for certain what the hell was going to happen today. I walked out with an egg & cheese taco, completely surprised, having forgotten Joyce had talked about meeting us here with the food. Thanks gorgeous! 

The first 10 miles was easy like that, mostly flat, big groups, lights in the dark, with lots of soft laughter and Charlie Brown voices. The next 15 miles is where the beast waited, in the hills, and rugged terrain. I had been patient with myself and hoped to continue as much. It was easy to do so far, but now it would require more patience. Longer hills would mean more walking, at least on the ups. It had been a long time since I had run well at any distance, so I was curious if I still had any ability to push the downhills as I used to.

Nachos to Equestrian is the longest section on the course between aid, and it includes both, Ice Cream Hill and The Sisters. This route is a completely new layout from years past and I wondered how it would play with the veterans as much as anybody. Ice Cream Hill by itself is more than just a rugged scramble strait up and over a high saddle. It finishes with a roller up and down a few more hills on the other side too, finishing where T6 begins a rugged bit of rocky trail at the Devils Intersection. Its an odd circumstance that Trail number 6 leads off in 3 separate directions from this point. The sign post has three 6s on each side of it. Its also a great landmark for a very rocky route coming up. T6 rolls onto T1, which is akin to a super-highway through this park, leading direct into Equestrian.

At each station, I take the time to pull out the tailwind and put in in my water bottle, which I fill with fresh clean water & ice. I remove my trash and take the available bar and bloks with me and walk out, usually eating. The sun had come up on me somewhere in the previous hills and its funny that being preoccupied, I didn't even notice til I reach Equestrian. I suppose, a good part of that was due to the temps remaining low still. Only thing that made me think of it was I was still running well, which was a lot more than I expected.

The next section is all about Sky Island, going up and around on T6 and then making the nasty climb from the other side to the saddle. The perimeter trail strolls around the top on the lollipop loop and back to the same exact spot I went up, before exiting via Big Nasty down and over into Boyle's. This section rocks you the entire way, but its fun too, and thoroughly entertaining. Go to sleep on this section, stop paying attention for just one moment, and it'll hurt. Pay attention or pay the price! I started sweating for the first time today on this section, and by Boyle's, my shirt & bandana are soaked, so I change them out. I hook up with George Blust coming into Boyle's, but I stop to continue my patient plan while George keeps on.

I can see George well ahead for awhile, but it takes me a long time to close on him. The leaders are just now starting to come back, on their 3rd loop between Lodge & Boyles, so there are 10mi between me and them. Doesn't make much of a difference, but I always seem to keep note on this sort of trivia just for reference. Many of them I know and wish them well. Most are quite generous in return: Scott Rabb & Lorenzo, followed by Kyle & Lise trade smiles and hugs. Everyone seems in high spirits, reveling in the best day we've felt weather-wise in 9 months. Off Boyles and onto Cairn's, I cross paths with Adam. I had just unwrapped another coconut bar, and I knew he likes them, having shared them with him during our training runs in Austin, so I hand it to him as we pass, going in opposite directions. I still have about 2.5mi to the Lodge, so Adam has about 5 miles on me. After Cairn's, its simple and easy, our route becoming a jeep road back to the lodge: the same half mile we started with going out at the beginning.

I'm surrounded by Joyce & friends as I come in, and pass through them to my drop bag and chair behind Pam's store. Loop one is done in 6:32 and a hell of a lot faster than I ever expected. Better yet, I still feel great, and its still cool. But its coming up on noon, and the weather is bound to warm up before long. I dont wish to rush, but I dont wish to dally either, but I do take the time to change everything I'm wearing except my shoes. Again, my shirt, shorts, and bandera were wet from sweat. Up til now, I'd been going with just a single water bottle and it was enough, but Its time for a second bottle. I'll start with TailWind in one and plain water in the other. 

Loop two starts good enough. Not that I'm running fast, but I'm running well enough. Going up Cairn's is when I know loop two was going to be a lot more difficult than loop one. I'm only walking the climb up, but it isn't easy at all. Patience was my plan and I resolved to run only what I could get easy and walk the rest. It was on Cairn's where I crossed paths with my training buds, and oddly enough at about the same place I had seen Adam earlier when we passed. I see Julie first, then Ryan, Richard, and January. We exchange greetings and keep on, none of us wanting to waste time when we'll certainly see each other again. Soon after, I cross paths with Rich Mihalik who makes a point of reminding me I'm welcome to the cold drinks in his cooler.

I hook up and disconnected with a number of different people over the next 10 miles, but I suppose, at this point, I'm starting to recognize in myself overheating issues. I make it to Boyle's ok and talk to Chris Russell, who always seems to be in the station when I get there. He points out Rich's cooler and I trade my warm coke with one of his cold ones. This would be a recurring them from here on out. I have a coke in every bag, but Rich has cold ones.

Boyles to Equestrian is ok, with me managing just good enough, but nothing to brag about. I'm actually pretty surprised I'm holding up with 35 miles under my feet at this point. I had seen Joyce at many of the stations on loop one, but not at all since the Lodge. She had informed me the gap between Ryan & me was spreading, and I had told her in advance to let me be, and focus on helping Ryan. I'm in the 50 while he's in the 100 and would need a good bit more support as they day continues. So, I come in alone, take care of what I need, and continue alone. Its not like I dont have company if I want it. There are others around and if I care to hook up, it would be easy enough. I suppose I'm enjoying the moment, the day, the run, just the whole damned thing, good, bad, or whatever. Come what may, it's a hell of a lot better than sitting in a damned cubicle.

With 35mi down, I have just one more section of hills, the longest section, with no shade, and the sun full up and cooking now. Its past 2pm and its time for me to melt. The long and winding jeep road is wide open, and quickly reduces my fast walk and mini-run to a grudging drag-ass. My over-heating problem is getting worse. Both water bottles are now full of water and ice. I'm done with the TailWind for now. I need to do everything I can to keep myself cool, but the only thing I can realistically do is get my ass to Nachos... where I can once again get more ice & cold drinks.

T1 is flat and fast. It is also wide open without shade. It turns onto T6 through Hell at the Devil's xSection which does offer up some shade, with reservations due to the ankle breaking rocks from one end to the other. This spins up onto The Sisters, which I kindly refer to as the Bald Headed Sisters, because there are no trees up there. Nothing but sotol cactus obscures the view, which is why its a great place to be at night. But during the day, especially a hot day, its just hot and open and numbing. This is where I have my first near black out. I start getting dizzy and seeing spots, so I quickly find a shady spot behind a bush and sit down. My breathing's rapid, hyperventilating, so I try a breathing control method I learned in the mountains and get it back under control. It doesn't take long, a few minutes maybe, and I'm up again and climbing. Nancy Marks seems to be around me at this time, before me, behind me, I don't know exactly where, but I kept hearing her voice going and going.

Leaving the sisters is a big moment for me, knowing all I have left that's nasty is Ice Cream Hill. Even the jeep road from Sisters to Ice Cream seems difficult now. The old route was clean and simple, while the new route is awkward and round-a-bout: left through a campsite, left again and up a hill, right down through a culvert, up over a road, and then right over to where I should have been awhile ago. Ice Cream Hill from this side is a roller-coaster: 3 hills and 3 dips, each one significant if you're me right now. I start spinning out 3 or 4 times through here, and I have little choice but to sit and control it. Reaching the base of the final climb in granny gear, I pick up a sotol stick to use as a trekking pole. Without it, the climb would be impossible. I use the stick to pry my ass up the hill one grunt at a time. Its slow and awkward and I feel in danger of passing out more than a few times. On top, I take my final sit down break, taking a bit longer than all the others to take it all in. I know right now that I'll get it done. I can walk the rest of this course. Not sure how long it will take and I dont really care, but I do know, I'm going to get the first 50mi finish I've had in years... and it feels good. I know damn well I just had my butt kicked and I'm far from done, but I know.

I walk slowly the rest of the way to Nachos, watching as a few packs of women run past. Of the 7 or 8 women, there is only 1 who acknowledges I exist as they pass. I'm invisible. I suppose it is partly my fault, being a bit delirious, I'm no doubt, barely even here. Even after pouring all that water in my mouth and on my head, I'm way ot of sorts.

Theres a party going on when I arrive at Nachos. All the girls have entourages and the place is hopping. I get another cold Rich coke, drink my own Gatorade as well, and fill both bottles with cold water and ice. There are only 9mi to the finish and most of that is flat and easy. The hills are behind me and I have survived the hottest part of the day. Approaching evening now, it'll start getting cooler, and with the sun lower, more shade too. I just have to march it in. I'd love to be able to run, but I doubt I'll get that going for a bit, so I just need to get up and go, so I do. I get up and walk out of Nachos.

At first, its not easy. Even with the flats, I'm still ruined. I wilt, balk, drag, and stumble, but I keep it moving. Back in the dry creek again, I come up on another guy who appears to be worse off then me. We start talking, hes going to drop soon, but he hooks on to me and stays with me. We reach the ranger station and cross over to T8. I tell him its only 2mi to YaYa, and he stays on. Not sure he even thinks about it, or just gets caught in the conversation, but we keeps walking, across the creek, past the shithouse, through the field, and drop into YaYa. 45mi in with only 5mi to go is a bad place to give it up. I have my last coke and give some of it to my new friend. It lights him up!

He goes out first while I put away my drop bag and it takes me a mile to catch him. His walk becomes an uber-walk and I have to run to catch up. He keeps walking and I have to intermittently walk/run to stay with him. And so it continues on up to Lucky and over. We see Jake heading out on loop 3 as we pass him on our way to the finish. He never does run, but I do. I have to... just to keep up. And so we dance on down the jeep road and into the finish. The 2nd loop takes me significantly longer at 8:06, but my glorious first loop provide enough cushion to get us home just after dark at 7:38pm or 14:38 runtime.

What did I learn or maybe just remind myself? You never know what you can do, or what you are capable of. If its what you want, its worth trying. I know I'd have never reached the finish line had I never started

2016: J&J

I dont believe I have ever started marking a course 5 days prior to a race. Yet, on Monday I was sitting on site for the J&J trail race, putting together marking packs with flags, signs, posts, and what all. Granted, Chris didn't plan on us actually getting on course too early this Tuesday, but we were there. Chris and I were certainly on que and had been for months, but Jonathon was a recent addition and a another welcome surprise was Kyle. With Kyle supplying an ATV to mule for the trail work, I made some suggestions that Chris agreed had some sense, and we went with it. We put together a standard marking kit for Chris, Jonathon, and Kyle, while I would work from the mule. We loaded an ice chest with cold drinks, extra stakes, signs, caution rolls, and such, so they only needed to carry the minimum and reload intermittently where I could find them. Knowing the property well, I figured I could find them when I needed to. I'ld mark the intersections they'd hike through, as well as the windmill section, which they would not pass through. It would save them time at these intersections which I could do instead of them.

We started at 7am. The boys drove a truck over to the Wall Aid Station to start from there, leaving the truck, and marking over the suspension bridge, up the Gorilla Trail, over the top and into the back valley. The idea being they would do the biggest and furthest away loop first. I drove the mule to the windmill, marked the middle section they'd not see, and waited for them to get to the fenceline intersection. Once they'd gone thru, I went back to the windmill and marked from there down to the Prospector Cabin Aid Station. I knew I had the time, so I also went down the long hill to mark that section and each of the turns as well. From there, I drove down into the back valley where I followed the old jeep road through to the other side of the property where I knew they'd drop into the valley, then sat down to wait. 

My timing was good. I could hear their voices well above as they dropped down, took a short break to sit and drink some cold drinks, before they head out. I marked everything between there and the first leg up, then head over to mark the next connector leg, then drive up a bit to find them. I gave them a ride back down and over to the next one, head out to mark the jeep road section and connectors to the final leg up. I wasn't sure exactly where they were popping out, so I sat again and waited for them. Once done, I haul them over to the final leg up, then mark the final descent over to the climb up to Prospector as well as most of the climb. When they get there, they decide to hike up as I drive around up out of the valley. Marked and done, the next section as well, having already done it earlier, so we simply need to drive out now, marking as we go down to the Texas Ais Station, with me and the boys all aboard the ATV. By the time we get to Texas Aid, its lunch time so we decide to take a break back at our rooms. Kyle needs to get back to work also. 

After lunch we drive back over to Texas Aid, where all three of us head up Bear Trail on foot. I carry two rolls of caution tape and use it liberally for this nasty yoyo of a route through mesquite and rock. Once we top out on the ridge, I run back to the mule while they keep going with their kits to mark from here to the Wall. Back at the mule, I drive around though camp and back up the other side where I connect them just down from the Windmill. They climb in and we mark from the mule down to Lisa Lane. The course goes back off road here again, so they again hoof it, while I mark this short section connecting Armadillo Trail. I'm just getting done when they arrive, take Armadillo around and gone. I leave the mule, walk to the bottom of the hill where Armadillo ends to mark the climb back up. Back on top, I mark this top and then mark down along the cliff trail towards Wall, where they meet me coming up. Having connected and completed this section, they head back to the truck where they left it tis morning. The ATV is on top, so I head up to fetch it. Done for the day, having marked the big outer loop and the middle loop. Its only Tuesday and we've marked the lion's share of the course already. Its getting on toward dark and good to be done. I'm exhausted and dont take long to eat a quiet dinner before bed.

Wednesday morning, we start at 8am. I go down early to sort out what we have left and get it ready for the day. This is when I discover we're pretty low on flags and stakes. I get the kit ready for Chris and Jonathon to get started for the start loop from Pavillion to Texas, while I make ready to do the last 1.5mi section of the 100km/50mi. Problem is, I have no stakes and not that many flags. Chris sends me over to find the storage unit in the maintenance area for the sticks before he leaves. I find the storage, remember the combination, but cant find any sticks that are not already loaded with signs. So, I go mark with what I have, which is no stakes and few flags. It actually goes better than expected, using trees and caution flag with strategically placed ribbons and I get it done, all but 50 yards leading to the final road crossing. At this point, I drive up to find the boys at the intersection where the zip line ends. I wait for a bit, get bored and start towards them with what little marking kit I have left. I get a good ways but finally run completely out, so I stop and head back to the mule. I still cant stand to sit and wait, so I drive back to the rooms, find Krissy and asked her if the has and fresh flags under construction. She had only a few, but has no reflective material on them. So, I go back to my same spot on the hill and wait for them again. When they arrive, I'm sleeping on the back seat.

After a short break, Chris decides to head off alone with the kit. He has enough to mark from here to Texas Aid, while Jonathon and I head back with a small part of the kit to mark the river section from the Zip-line stairs back to Texas. Its lunchtime so we take a short lunch break first and then work from the mule, mark the river and back towards Chris as he arrives at the Texas Aid. We're almost done but for a few minor points, which we go immediately to get done. We finish the few points I had left undone down at the amphitheater by the road crossing and the new bike cut that allowed us to bypass the big suspension bridge. Then we drive over to put up the Texas Aid station as well as all the chutes and signs for going in and coming out. The last bit is to drive over and finish putting up the Wall Aid Station and we're done for the day. Again, I have a quiet dinner and some time with a fat book written by an old Russian. We need to create the shoots and routes for all finishers across the fields and to pound in all the pins and posts related to that as well as the starting chute. Chris wants to let that be til Friday, so I have a pretty easy day coming up while the boys go off to take acre of all the other crap they have yet to do not related to course marking. Friday, I finish what Chris started with the final chutes. He laid them out and I finish off the final touches and that was it for the working side of my weekend.

I intend on running the 25km Saturday morning with Joyce and two of my daughters, Erica & Sonia, and also Kristen, a training buddy of Erica's. We watch the 100km runners head out Friday night at 8pm, and they look none too happy about it. Almost seems surreal with subdued mood in the dark. Its enough to send me off to bed to got a bit of shut-eye, then meet the girls in the morning.

I suppose they all thought I knew the way best, or more likely they all just defer to me for our initial effort level. as they all line up beside or behind me. Lots of chattering with us and quite a few others early on. That backs off a bit when we hit the first incline. A half mile past that, we turn again onto a new section of nothing more than rock scramble that shakes up the entire pack. Not much more than a slow climb til we top out and head right before spinning back down again. I tend to push these rough and tumbles, so I'm surprised to see all of them follow my leed, which for the first time separates us out from the herd. Now, its just me, Kristen, Erica, Sonia, and Joyce. After a good bit of easy roll, we start the next climb up the narrow Texas trail. We make great time with not much more than an easy push. The top end bends out onto a long ledge of rocks, where Erica busts herself good with cuts and blood. After we sort her out, Sonia, Kristen, and Joyce lead out, while Erica and I fall behind. Doesn't take long before they gap us. We can hear them but only catch glimpses now and again onn around and down into the Texas aid station. After a refill, the same trend continues except in this case, they disappear, leaving Erica and I on our own. 

This section is the nastiest and gnarliest of the entire course, over rock and root, ducking and bending, as we crawl up and slide down for awhile before tumping into an old jeep road. The road aint flat, strait, or smooth, but its still a hell of a lot easier than what we just did. It tilts up for awhile, levels for a moment, then tilts down a little, and then a lot. We slide off the right side into a skinny trace of trail that goes out a long way and then comes back a long way just under, such that we do see the girls again as they pass under in the other direction. And then we do it again on another longer out and back. Joyce has been holding Erica's water bottle since Texas Aid, and she tells us she's going to drop it, so that after a bit, we come up on it, so that Erica can have her water bottle again. The next climb is short but very steep, back up to the overlook before dropping over the cliff down to the Wall Aid down by the river. 

Joyce and the girls are waiting when we come in. I ask them not wait for us. Erica and I are taking our time. She's still a little shook up from her fall. By the time we refill and go, they're gone, not to be seen again til the finish. The next climb is so long and nasty, we call it The Gorilla. It begins in the river bottom, crosses a suspension bridge, then UP, and keeps going UP for awhile. Gorilla follows the property fenceline, over rock and ledge, for a mile or more to the top. We can see the landmark windmill just ahead and I have plans when I get there, so I run on ahead of Erica.

The windmill is a working pump which fills a large concrete container full of fresh cold ground water. Its been set up as a swimming area, with boardwalk, stairs, and floats. I had this in mind when I was course marking, thinking it would be fun to soak myself when I got here in the race. While the others have gone on ahead and Erica in not so much of a hurry, its a perfect opportunity for me to do just that. I peel off shoes and socks and leap in. I only have a few minutes though, with Erica coming on and passing by, so I hop out and get my shoes & socks back on, then race after her.

A long rolling downhill is next on the easiest jeep road on course. The road rolls through a couple of big rollers near the bottom. The last one rises directly into the Texas Aid we passed through much earlier from a different angle. We get through pretty quick and then on down to the river again where we cross over on some big river rocks. Coming back across on a plastic floating bridge equipped with a slide its too much for me to ignore, so I climb up and slide into the river. I dont bother with my shoes and socks this time, and didn't really need to at the windmill either, but I hadn't thought about it at the time. One more easy climb up the stairs and into the finish where the girls have been waiting for quite a while. Turns out, Sonia and Kristen never stopped pushing, and Joyce bounced between our two groups too many times to catch back up again, but the three of them did finish a good while infront of Erica and I, who come in side by side to cross the finish. Made for a nice photo too

2016: Badwater Crew

Badwater Crewing for Gina Fioroni

18-20 July, 2016

Having had a go at Badwater in 2003, I knew a bit about the gut-wrenching mess required to shove a body through all the levels of Dante's inferno and possibly Purgatory. It should be understood I am not partial to road races nor do I feel a need to prove my worth by running in extremely hot weather for obscene distances. I do love to run and don't mind running for very long times, but I would prefer something less nasty than what Badwater is known for. With all that in mind, I thought a long time before I agreed to crew Gina Fioroni of Colorado. I like Gina, but did I like her that much? This is a huge commitment.

She already had her boyfriend John of San Antonio and old friend Erin of New Hampshire for crew. She asked me and my wife (Joyce) to fill in the final slots, and after we agreed, we discovered a major change in the rules that I thought negated any advantage to having 4 crew members. Years past, most runners had 2 crews in 2 cars, to shift in and out with each other. This worked very well, allowing a fresh well rested crew at intervals, as well as an opportunity to refresh the stock of supplies (gas, water, ice, hot meals, and whatnot). Now, the 2nd car was disallowed, meaning, the crew was much like the runner, suffering all the thrills of sleep deprivation, heat, wind, and constant movement for the entirety of the time it took the runner to finish. We had incorrectly assumed we would work as a team and shift in and out, with just the 2 of us in a car. With this new understanding, Joyce & I decided she would not go. It would be tough enough with 3 personalities to grate on each other inside a convection oven that limped along at 1 and 2 mile increments for 40 mind-numbing hours. 

Gina wanted me to be the crew chief, whatever that meant. So, for the very first time, I sat down to read all the endless emails, website rules, routes, and restrictions. It was all more confusing than it needed to be. Some of it was very important and most of it was just all that CYA (cover-your-ass) crap for the idiots. I eventually had to reset and start over, so as to copy down all the rules, then delete what was unnecessary, and rewrite in a much less verbose manner what was relevant. Then I went to the next section and started over, and finally, through all the emails and found most all of it redundant. When I was done, I had a half page of what was really necessary, and each item in less than 40 characters long, so as to fit on a single line. All of this became more comical when we arrived at the required runner & crew chief briefing, where I was handed a single sheet of paper that looked pretty damned similar to what I had created over a full weeks worth of whittling on all the endlessly redundant data sent out as required reeding. So, for all you who have to repeat this process when you too have to wade through this, I feel your pain.

John and I drove from central Texas, leaving early Friday, and for personal reasons, John chose the more southerly route along I-10. We watched the temperature creep up as we rolled west: El Paso - 106, Tucson - 109, Phoenix - 112. We pulled up in Phoenix for dinner and sleep, and rolled out after breakfast for the final 4 hours to Las Vegas. We were carrying a wide range of items John had bought or borrowed, most specifically, two 50 gallon YETI coolers... and being very costly, hauled them both into our room with the luggage. 

Vegas is always a shock to me. The foul stick of cigarettes is so offensive, it even overrides the endlessly irritating noise pollution. John and I met Gina and Erin at the bar of the Palms casino, shared a dinner, then retired to our room. John and Gina moved most of the race gear to the van Gina had rented specifically for the race. In the morning, they all went shopping for Gina's race nutrition, while I stayed behind and read. Before noon, we rolled west into California and Furnace Creek. Should you ever find yourself here, you will understand the name immediately. The resort temperature gauge featured proudly out friend read 120, but it was the wind that got your attention: it burned. It was not the heat, but the wind that drug so many bits of sand across my sandaled feet. We ran from car to building and backed into the wind at times as well. We checked in for 2 days, but with a 9:30pm start on Monday, we really only needed half of the 2nd day. Gina felt it necessary to rent the 2nd day just so we could stay out of the worst of the weather during day two.

Before we picked up our room key, we stopped to check Gina into the race. Even the check in was such that everyone was treated to the heat and the wind: standing outside in a line, waiting to get inside to pick up the required bits and pieces used for identification as much as anything else. Soon after that, Gina and I were required to report to the briefing. There was nothing new to this. It was all the same info we were already required to read. This is where I picked up the handy single sheet of essential rules that was identical to what I had created on my own. Photos after that, and then done for now. 

John took charge of tricking out the race van as he thought it should be used for the race. I watched for a moment and then avoided, as he did not seem to care for any discussion on the topic. I stayed in the air-conditioned room intermittently reading and sleeping. The next day brought more of the same for me, knowing full well I would be soon missing a few nights of sleep. The last thing I did was to buy myself a rather expensive insulated flask to keep my water and ice cold for the duration of the race. The coolers were loaded by John with ice blocks and ice cubes in one and a mixture of cold drinks and foods in the other, also under ice. I wasn't exactly sure what all was bought but I would certainly know before we were done. The general idea was that everything would be easy to see & access at a moments notice. I had brought along a mesh net built for pickup truck beds to throw a good bit of stuff on the roof. Some things, we needed to take with but not necessarily for use for servicing the runner or crew during the race.

Badwater starts with 3 separate waves, beginning 90 minutes apart at 8pm, 9:30pm, and 11pm. A dark start made for a different twist than the sunrise start I had done, but the hard driving wind was thankfully at their backs. Check in, weight taken, SPOT tracker handed out, and pictures taken all before the on-time start to get them going. They held the vans for 10 minutes after the runners, then released us to begin our duties. We pulled off road onto the shoulder for the 1st of many times after 3 miles for the 1st servicing. I hooked an flashing ankle bracelet on Gina before she started just so we could identify her in the dark. It gave us a few moments to get across the road for the ice cold water bottle handoff. The visual was a bit surreal with a line of flashing lots on the cars to the right and the smaller blinking lights on the fronts and backs of all the runners on the left. Every runner was required to wear the blinking lights front and back, but some had other embellishing lights to add to the carnival atmosphere. The cars also had many requirements, which were also embellished. Gina had placed two different colored spinning lights with magnets on the  back of the car so she could also find us in the lineup of identical flashing cars in the dark. There were more than a few requirements for the van as well. While driving, headlights must be on & flashers off. While parked, headlights must be off & flashers on. We were not allowed to exit the vehicle from the left side into traffic. Nor were we allowed to be on the left side of the van. Only 2 crew were allowed to cross the road to service their runner, including the pacer, who could not begin until 42 miles in. There were quite a few other requirements, but most are not worth mentioning here, however relevant they may be for race management.

3:14 / 0:44am / 18mi / Furnace Creek

Right from the start, the wind drove Gina much faster than we expected, as I suspect it did most of the others. Still, she managed herself well by avoiding the mad early race suck to go out fast. As fast as she did go, she was well behind most of her peers for the 18 miles from the Badwater Basin start to Furnace Creek. We stopped her at the first time check at Furnace Creek for her 1st sit-down and rest. While we waited on her to arrive, we ran into the store and bought more ice to top off the ice chests and bought a few more jugs of water.

Next time check was 42.2 miles at Stovepipe Wells. Gina did very well through here, staying consistant throughout. She was always just after 'green-shoes' and 'slushy-pack'. In the dark, we could not identify anyone, but for the color and height of their lights. or the tutu they were wearing. John was her main support through here, providing calories, fresh cold bottles of water, or an ice cold mist spray on her neck and shoulders. Erin was our chaffer. I wasn't sure if this was by design or default and never bothered to ask, but it worked out pretty good having her own this job. It was much more complicated than you would think. Where you could park, where you could not, when the lights were on, the flashers, paying attention to the odometer endlessly and forever, tracking all of it, and staying awake for 40 hours. Erin is very New England pale, so keeping herself from getting burned would be a huge personal chore too. It was also pretty danged easy to burn your legs on the van seats by leaving them uncovered for just a few minutes. Pop out, hand out some water, pop back in, and zing... you just burned the back side of your legs. Being the crew chief, I simply needed to make sure it all worked smoothly, so I did whatever I could to fill in where needed, but mostly I needed to keep both Gina and the crew on task. Erin was on it. Gina did really well, but there more than a few times I had to remind John we were all here for Gina and could care less about him. He knows his shit, but still, he and Gina had a few conflicts, and I didn't care for anything that took Gina out of her comfort zone. She already had enough shut to deal with and basically, it was her race. We were just the frickin crew!

John had been coaching Gina for some time, and she was certainly fit. She had done everything she could to get herself ready for this race, and we all expected her to do well. Of course, we also knew some shit would happen, and it only remained to see how we all dealt with it. I wanted to make sure Gina didn't push herself too hard early on, and also wanted to make sure John didn't drive her too hard early as well. I wasn't sure how this would go, but it all worked out pretty well.

8:16 / 5:46am / 42mi / Stovepipe Wells

The next time break would be in 30 miles, or 73 miles onto the race, all of it under the hot desert sun. Coming out of the dark at Stovepipe Wells, the sunrise revealed one whole hell of lot of other runners and crews all around us. We stopped to use the bathroom and to give Gina another short rest. Death Valley doesn't warm up slowly. It goes from dark to hot real damned fast. John could now pace, so he was now on the road with her. For the first time, Gina was now dealing with the iBadwater inferno plus 42 miles of running. She was now getting slapped around and Iwondered how she would deal with it.

For a few miles, the road rolled a bit, before It started the big climb up to Towns Pass. Up til now, we had been stopping religiously every 2 miles. With the strain starting to show on Gina's face, I decided to drop our stop rate down to once every mile. She still had a long way to go and I did not want her to blow out on this early climb. John never argued the point with me, but I knew he and Gina had some big goals, and these additional breaks did nor factor into those plans well. Still I don't think it took him long to see the sense of it. Gina was now struggling, and this climb would take awhile. We saw more than a few runners speed by and gone, but who knows what damage this may have done.  It all made no difference to Gina or me as our intention was merely to survive this section as best we could, and save the best for later. There would be plenty more to do after this. This was also a time where all 3 waves were merged, so it was hard to tell who was 90 minutes ahead or 90 behind. John popped in and out with Gina for a mile or two at a time, and eventually, we did top out. We stopped one last time before the long and well earned descent.

One thing was understood by all of us before the start, and that was that Gina loved downhills, and planned to use them well. Knowing this, we told her we would not be stopping any less than 2 miles, and would be looking for pull-outs between 2 and 3 miles, figuring if anything to keep her from going too far too fast. Another grand discovery was that it was actually much cooler on the other side. Looking forward to the downhill, Gina took off quickly, and we barely did get in front of her for the next refill. But, from then on, we did fine, and she did too. We watched one huge guy blow past us at high speed with a tiny pacer in tow, and wondered how he could go that fast. We saw him near the bottom, bent over talking to his shoes, so maybe it was a bit too fast for him as well. Again, I cant possibly know what all he was dealing with, but I do belive it was the fastest running I saw the entire race. With 6 miles remaining from the where the mountain rolls out level to Panamint Springs, the run morfs from a thing of beauty to thing of pain. Most everybody I saw walked these 6 miles. The center section is a large space of dead brown dirt and dust. 3 miles to it and 3 miles across. Again, I had Erin stopping every single mile. Gina was walking, but walking fast.

17:04 / 2:34pm / 73mi / Panamint Springs

Waiting in the middle of the mile wide brown patch of desolation, I watched Dale Cougot run across the area. I am sure he wasn't the only one to run this section, but he was the only one I saw running. Everyone else was with pacer and every set of two walked with some effort, head down, runner leading the pacer, as per one of the bazillion rule requirements. One more time after the desolate patch, and then we drove ahead to the Panamint Springs gas station and grocery. We topped off the gas tank, bought 6 more 10 lb bags of ice, and John took the time to reorganize the coolers, as well as reserve a cot for Gina at the motel. All done before Gina walked the last 2 miles to us. John took Gina direct to the room with the cot, while Erin and I took the opportunity to walka cross the street for a free shower. There was no line, so we were in & out quickly. It didn't seem to make much of a difference though, as we walked out of the shower building, the extreme heat put our bodies back in  the same state as they were when we went in. It felt great while under the water, but once out, there really wasn't much of a difference. Gina was still missing when we checked the van, so we went into the saloon and bought a quick hamburger dinner with a soda on ice. As soon as we finished, we checked again and Gina was ready to go. But, John was not. He missed out on both the shower and the dinner, and none to happy about it. He didn't say a word about it, but was quite angry with Gina. She wanted him to pace her up the big climb to Father Crowley Point, and I dont think he was planning the same. He stormeed out onto the road yelling pretty loud, I am not sure exactly what.

So, Gina was now on the big Father Crowley climb, and it was a good long steady climb that twisted about with plenty of blind curves and dangerous places to get hit by a car, if you weren't paying attention. There were limited places for us to pull off and service Gina, so we were no longer on the 2 mile increment, bur more on whatever was legal per race rules and available. Each location was marked with race signes, so we had to drive by all the pull offs that were not marked. The non-legal pull offs did make sense to avoid, as they were on blind turns, dips, and other hard-to-see places. We drove up about 3 miles and waited at the first possible pull-off.

We had been bouncing along, hopping back and forth with quite a few other crews for 70+ miles, but never really connected with any other teams besides the Texans for some damned reason. We certainly were talking to everybody near us, but maybe it was only the Texan's and one crew from New Orleans who lined-up with our twisted sense of humor I suppose. The crews for Dale Cougot, Carl Hineline, and Frank Sizemore were all here with us now. Gina had caught and merged with the Texans. For Gina, this climb was brutal, but for the crews who had a ride to the top, it was not so bad. The views were lovely and picturesque. We all parked at an angle so we could sit in the shade of our own vans and wait. The runners were all taking longer to cover the distance and the breaks were longer, so we had more time to relax and visit with each other. The pull offs did not match perfectly with what was posted, or maybe we just didn't understand it exactly, but the end result was we couldn't tell our runners how far to the next point. They simply had to go til they saw us next. Easy enough for the crews, but tough on the runners. 

Eventually, we all ended up at Father Crowley Point (mile 80.2) and what a glorious spot to hangout and wait. Our first less-than-hot breeze since we started, a great view of Towns Pass, 20 miles behind us, and a bathroom. Father Crowley is a huge landmark for all of us: from here til the final climb is the easiest part of the course. Question is: can Gina still run? Also, it would ge getting dark soon, and the 2nd night is always tough. Even if she still has her legs under her, can she stay awake and use them?

One thing of importance to note here is that every person in the crew is committed to the run just as much as the runner. We finish when the runner does, we're in the same heat, the same sleepless state, the same level of mindlessness that occurs after too many hours awake. Granted, we don't have to run and suffered bo blisters, but we want this thing to end as soon as possible, even as Gina does. Because of the concern running the air-conditioner for 2 days strait and burning up the engine, we go without the air conditioner more than we do with it. We never have it on when we stop and we're stopped a hell of lot more than we're driving.

Gina left Father Crowley without a pacer. John took a break while she rolled alone into the late evening. She was running well again now that the going was easier and the temperature more tolerable. The shadows were laying over the mountains now, such that we were all in the shade of a wonderful evening. Joshua trees dotted the horizon and the crew vans began to spread out. We were still restricted by the pull off parking areas, but this area was easier to deal with than what we had just done.

We stopped at the park boundary next to the Death Valley sign and took some pictures, and Gina asked to have her feet checked for blisters. John had some trouble finding his kit, so we told her to run the next 2 miles while John looked for it. I made a bad call here. We should have stayed put and dealt with it immediately. As it was, we only drove a half mile ahead, but Gina walked the half mile very slowly. By the time she got to us, the sun was completely down and we were in the pitch dark.

John had Gina sit in the van while he sat outside on a bucket and worked on her feet. The back-n-forth discussion between John & Gina took on a distorted shade of doctor/patient I was not comfortable with. While John poked holes in here blisters and filled them with benzoin from a syringe, Gina cussed, cried, and screamed. With a strong desire to hear as little of this as possible, I stood well behind the van and observed the runners who ran by in the dark, listening to her screams. The fact is, I was getting a bit punchy from lack of sleep. Listening to Gina scream, while groups of shadows drifted by, and a full moon casting ghostly cutouts from the Joshua trees, my mind slipped into a surreal existence. This half-sleep, half-dream stayed with me the rest of the night. 

Gina eventually got her shoes back on and wandered back onto the road, and John with her. I had hoped the long delay would bring her mojo back, because this is where she could make some really good time. But, it was not so. Two miles down the road, Gina & John showed up in a heated argument with each other. It was my intention at this time to have John stay with the van and get some hot grilled cheese sandwiches made down the road, while I jumped in and ran with Gina, but I unknowingly miscommunicated badly. What I said was not what I meant to say, but I didn't figure this out til many hours later. What I said made no sense and both Gina and John told me 'Hell No'. I thought they were both telling me I was not wanted as her pacer, but it was just a huge misunderstanding. As I saw things, I thought they needed to get away from each other for a bit, so I told John it was time for him to get some sleep and he agreed. First, he should make some grilled cheese. Gina left pretty damned angry, which I hoped would wake her up enough to go a bit faster.

24:36 / 10:06pm / 90mi / Darwin

John made a few hot sandwiches, mixing in some thin-sliced turkey with the cheese, which were a big hit with Gina. Hell, I wanted some myself, but needed to make sure Gina got all she wanted. Gina stayed at it all the way to Darwin, where we gave her the van to sleep in for 15 minutes, while the crew waited outside. This was the 4th time check and there were a dozen cars parked here with runners asleep inside. The only thing here besides the vans and the time-check was the 2 foot tall concrete Darwin landmark and sagebrush. With the wind back up, we huddled behind the landmark where John made more grilled cheese sandwiches for Gina. We bagged these up for later, then John created a few quesadillas for the crew. This was by far the best food I had during the entire race. As much as we were working for the best interests of our runner, we were doing a foul job of taking care of ourselves. As much as Gina was running herelf into a state of oblivion, we were likewise, sleep deprived. We had been going just a bit over 24 hours by now. Our reflexes and verbal responses were sluggish and we were starting to miscommunicate with each other. I knew this for certainand could only assume the others did too. We down-shifted our conversation to just the essential stimulus and response: park here, get the chair, I got this, 2 more miles, yes, no, and so on. We still had a long night ahead of us... and the next day!

After the Darwin break, Gina got back on the road, and John went to sleep in the back of the van, partly on the cooler and partly on the chair. Erin was now napping every time she stopped the van. She would pull off the road, turn off the lights, turn on the blinkers, and go to sleep. As soon as it was stopped, I'd climb out of the van, pull the chair out, set it up, put an ice cold drink in one pocket and a few choices in the other. With both John and Erin asleep, and Gina barely awake as she ran/walked down the road, I knew how important it was to 'NOT ONLY' be ready for Gina when she arrived, but to NOT let her see how done-in all of us were. If we were all asleep when you came in, there is no way we could have kept het going. So, i tried all kinds of ways to stay awake til she arrived. I had a tennis ball with me which I used behind my back while we drove to ease my back ache. Now, I used it to bounce on the road and play catch with myself in the middle of the highway. I'd pace down the road, do jumping jacks, pushups, and as much as I tried to avoid it, sometimes I'd just sit in the chair and wait. During the 1st night, when we began, we had Gina wear an ankle light so we could pick her out as she approached. Now, she only had a small blinking light on her chest, which I could not pick out at all. Also, I was typically looking back into the headlights of the cars parked behind us. Many of them never did turn off their lights, leaving their headlights and emergency flashers on the entire night. Usually I am pretty good at getting comfortable in the dark and adjusting to the darkness, and especially with a full moon, but regardless of where we parked, there was always another van behind us within sight so as to destroy my night vision. The first night and day, the vans were hopping past each other at regular intervals, but tonight, we only had one or two others hopping back and forth with us, at a very slow speed. Until early morning, we saw very little regular traffic. Might have been just 3 or 4 cars go past as at high speed that scared the hell out of me and certainly our runners on the road.

Gina was an unconscious rock star all through the night, maintaining about 25 to 30 minutes every 2 miles all night. She also scared the crap out of me more than once... running up on me as I stood there behind the van, sound asleep on my feet. She also woke me from half-sleep a few times in the chair. Typically, she'd tell me she could not stay awake, in which I'd usually just hand her a cold drink, a bite of food, and send her back out. Other times, I had her sit in the chair for a 5 minute nap and tell her it was 15 minutes when she got up. We laid down a mat in the dirt once and she spread out on it and slept like a baby. One way or another, we kept her going all the way from Darwin to Lone Pine. She really impressed me how well she did under the circumstances, the time splits she maintained, while being exhausted, and sleep deprived. I knew she had blisters and her stomach was in a uproar. She never argued with me once. She told me what was bothering her and I would respond with some minimum amount of drink, food, or sleep. We would wipe the grime and the sleep from her eyes with a cold cloth, spoon some food into her mouth, wrap a jacket around her shoulders, and send her back into the ring for another round, over and over again. She simply did what was asked, and I'm so glad she did, because had she known, we were all as whacked out as she was, and pushed us on any point, I doubt we could have pushed back.

I was a little surprised when the temperature dropped to a point when I needed a jacket. It was in the 50s. but after the extreme highs, my body was no longer adapted to this level. For the duration of the entire race, Gina's entire wardrobe change consisted mainly with changing her baseball cap for a buff and having arm sleeves or not. But, just before sunrise as we rolled into Lone Pine, I was cold. The entire gang was awake now and we could see the car lights for the runner's crews on the road up Mt Whitney. There is something invigorating about seeing your destination after a long journey It was also a nice visual to watch the morning sunlight touch the tops of the mountains ans quickly drop down their faces and begin to approach us. The temperatures were as perfect as we could ask for, but the mountain shadows we were in would not stay with us much longer. One moment we were in the shadows and cool and in the next, we were in direct sunlight and the desert heat was back on us. It wasn't just the closing of a refrigerator door, but akin to dumping one from an ice tray into an oven.

34:08 / 7:38am /122mi / Lone Pine

We rolled into Lone Pine with the sun on our backs. At the turn into town, we waited on Gina once again, then raced ahead in the car to pick up a few more cokes at the store to put on ice, and also to buy us all a hot McDonalds breakfast sandwich. We all stood on the road, eating our breakfast as we watched Gina go by. She told me she needed to find a bathroom, so we were not in a hurry, but she did get ahead of us here to go through the Lone Pine checkpoint. Waiting on John, we lost track of her for a few minutes, and by the time we had the team back in the car, I wasn't sure where she was. I didn't know if she had turned and continued up the road or stopped at a bathroom. Not knowing which, I decided to drive ahead to check for her up the road, knowing if she was behind us, we would find out quickly and circle back. As it is, she had gone ahead and we were back with her, having lost her for all of 5 minutes and no worries.

This is it. The final section. We are finally on it. She has but a half-marathon to go, and its all uphill. Also, she is again in the direct heat of the sun. John took a couple of ice cold water bottles and jumped out to pacer her again for a bit, while Erin and I drive ahead to stop where we can at 2 miles increments. Gina is punchy but excited to be approaching the finish, as are the rest of us. I am not sure any of us could have an intelligent conversation right now, and not a bit surprised how little discussion there is at this point. Anything less mind-numbing than this race and we'd all be yammering away right now. Gina walks rather quickly up the mountain while it appears that John has to run now and again to keep up. We are 5 miles from the finish when Gina informs us she is sick of the coke and everything else. She is not drinking much of water now as well. Just 4 miles from the finish and knowing she is no longer drinking or eating, I tell her we are not stopping for her again. There is no reason for it. She just needs to get it done and we'll wait for her at the finish. She has a full bottle of water, but she wont drink even half of it. One mile from the finish, I tell John to get out, to go back to run her in. John doesn't seem to understand what I'm saying at first. He says he needs a short nap, and he actually closes his eyes and lays down in his space in the back of the van. I'm surprised but again I need to make it clear our ability to communicate now is not very good, and I know it. I don't know if I was not clear or didn't say what I intended to say, or if what John heard or planned, so I just sat there and watched him. He closed his eyes for 2 or 3 minutes, then got up, climbed out. He opened the back of the van and took a long time to fill his water bottle and adjust his clothes. I really half expected Gina to run up on us while we sat there. I was not in a legal parking place and was in a bit of a rush to get on up and away from this spot. Wouldn't it be a bitch for Gina to get DQed because of something her crew did just 1 mile from the finish. I was terribly impatient, but I held my tongue and waited. As soon as he closed the back, we drove ahead to the finish and found the one and only parking spot left in the upper lot.

37:14 / 10:44am / 131mi / Portal Road

Erin and I got out and waited. It took longer than I anticipated, so I started walking backwards down the road. I must have gone a quarter mile before I saw them approaching. Gina thought I was at the finish and wanted me to confirm. But, I told her I had walked down the road aways and didn't know exactly. She had her fast walk on and kept on marching. John and I tried to keep up with her and followed in her wake til we were 30 yards away, where we found Erin. Gina slowed down so that all 4 of us could cross the finish together. It was done.

38:22:36 / 11:52am/ 135mi / Finish