12hr Solo Run
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.