Pandora's Box o Rox
5 Mar 2016
Reveille Peak Ranch, TX
Back in the old days, I could just show up and run a race, which had enough adventure all in itself, but now-a-days, the adventure is to mark a race course, then run it, which is exactly what I did at Pandora. For those of you new to this event, its important to understand that a large portion of this race is on one big rock. About 4 miles of course is one huge granite dome. Running it is tough enough, but marking it is another challenge all on its own. The route was most likely created by a lost fire-ant that wandered over the rock face for days until it finally got from one side to the other, turning a mile wide rock into a 4 mile walk-about. It was necessary to create a series of chutes in order to keep a runner from stepping a dozen feet to one side or the other to skip ahead or jump back a mile or more in more than a few places. All the markers were kept as near to the ground as possible, to keep from seeing from anywhere except where we wanted you to see it from. So this took a long time, or about 8 hours on a fine sunny Wednesday to just mark the 4 mile section of rock dome from one aid station to the next.
We had to go back on Thursday to mark the rest of the course, or another 8 hours. So, it took 2 days of solid humping. Back packs full of signs, ribbons, stakes, staple guns, sledge-mallets, as well as some food & water. We could actually drive some of the wooden stakes into crevices and cracks of rock if you know exactly what to look for. Also had to move a few good sized rocks, tie off a ton of tear-proof caution tape from rock to rock, and clean up some bits of trash now and again as well.
Two solid days of marking from 8am til 5pm was how I set myself up to run. Of course, I'm not a complete idiot, so I avoided the double-marathon and even the marathon. Rich Mihalik was given the ok to start an hour early, and I took advantage of this opportunity to go check the course while visiting with Rich for one full loop (a half- marathon). Because of the damage the wildlife and weather can play on a course in the wilderness, I really wanted to make sure the course was still good before the mass of runners got going. There was no way possible for me to see the entire loop before the leaders caught me, but at least I could check the entire rock dome, and anything more would only be bonus, but that's what I had to work with, so off I went at 4am.
Rich's friend, Michelle would also go with us, well before anyone else had shown up, we began our trudge around the lake and up the fence-line to the gate. We were startled more than once by a scattered bunch of cows that were as dark as the night. We'd be right beside one when the entire bush would suddenly move and snap as they would surge through the brush. The Mile 2 ROAD aid station was already there and ready for business, but the early starters were warned to prepare for no service for a few stations, so we planned for nothing and needed as much. Rich went though a series of adjustments with his gear before he was really ready to get rolling, but once he was set, he was hell-bent on making good time.
I never did forget that I actually had a job to do, so I kept falling behind to untangle a ribbon or re-adjust a bit of caution tape that had come undone. Each time I made the correction, I would bust my butt to run as quickly as possible to catch back up. Each time, I would get near Rich & Michelle, I'd have to stop and adjust something else. This pattern repeated over and over for the entire 4 miles of rock dome, such that I was with them for just moments before I was working again. The bright bottom sliver of moon sat just above the truck sized rocks, offering quite a serene setting for our trio of quiet nomads. Rich crabbed foreward, trekking poles tic-tic-ing constantly, while Michelle poured herself gently behind him, while I surged and stopped endlessly for the length of the dome.
Clearing the dome, we rolled into the ROCK aid station, where again nothing was needed, but the generater wasn't working, and they asked me to help fix it. Took less than a few minutes to get it going, but then again, I had to surge to catch up while I kept an eye on anything else that needed attention. Getting off the dome was good for all of us. There was less heavy pounding on the hard rock and less attention necessary for the ribbons and tape to be fixed. We were well past the creek, past the old Creek aid station, and past the ALMOST aid station, when the first runner caught us. We were roughly 9 miles into the 13 mile loop when Nicole caught us. It was still dark, but her smile and voice were easy to recognize. We stepped out of the way and looked for who-ever was next, but It was a long time before then next runner. Actually, the sun came up before the next runner went by. By the time we reached the FLOW aid station, a half-dozen had gone by, and the sun was full up. We were just 2.5 miles from the loop's end.
FLOW aid station sits on a small island in the middle of the most idyllic creek. Water flows over a series of tapered rocks with a rhapsody of water on rock that is near impossible to simulate outside of nature. The sound and the setting are hard to beat and one hell of a grand location for an aid station. Still, Rich is on a mission and far from done, so he slips strait on though and out the other side. I kept on with them and rolled along to the gate and back along the strait-a-way to the lake. Around the lake this time with the sun up, we can see the full splendor of the bridge hanging just inches above the level of the swollen lake. Back to the front side and on in. I'm done, while Rich has to reload and ready himself for the 2nd of 3 more loops for 39 more miles.
With the 4am start and 3+ hours of running, we arrived a half-hour before the marathon & half marathon start. I clean up a bit, find the ATV and speed out to the 8 mile turn-around spot. CJ & Dan are already there as course marshalls to make sure the blockades are removed and adjusted for the 8 milers. By the time I get there, everybody else has already started, and the 8 milers are now on their way. Nicole goes past for the start of her 3rd loop, while Brenda & Manny go past as early starters in the 8 miler, and now, everybody is here all at once. Care has to be taken to sort out just the 8 milers to turn and head back the same way they had come out. Everybody esle is doing some variation of the full loop: 1, 2, or 4 of the same thing.
After the first 8 miler is turned to head back, I run back to the ATV and drive back to the finish, where I am finally done with all my course marking and managing job. Plus, I did manag to sort-of run/play for a half-marathon. My day is far from done, but at least thats how it began. Everything else is all in the results.