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