It's interesting how some races are star-crossed in some way or another such that some circumstance or another always lines up so as to keep me from attending. Well, its that way with Flat Creek Ranch. I've wanted to see Flat Creek for many years, and even now, I may miss again.
Joyce wants me to go with her to Hebbronville this weekend. She's taking her horse and dog and me to go play on the ranch while she gets to ride and herd cattle. I've managed to talk her into waiting until I've run this race before we go: the race being on Saturday, and we can leave on Sunday, even though she'd as soon go sooner.
The 50 miler starts at 5am, and its about a 2.5hr drive from my house. I know this distance will make the drive home difficult, so I attempt to hook up with somebody else going, but there's not many people in the race. The 13hr cutoff has chased many of the people I might run with. They know they cant make that time, so they don't bother to try. I'd rather not camp the night before right now, so I stay home and try to get some late evening sleep. Unfortunately, I get no sleep at all, and decide to just pop in my truck and drive out at midnight instead. Maybe I can get some sleep when I arrive.
So, I make the drive, arrive at 2am, find the race, but cant figure where to park or where to drive so I park right at the gate. Again I attempt to sleep, but again it's not happening. Each time, I'm close, another care drives up, as confused as I am. Jason shows up at some point and shows us where to park.
4am, I get out of my truck and haul my gear over to the start, setup my gear and check in. It's not long before Mallory does the race brief and the 24 of us are sent off.
It seems a shame really, making all this effort to come out here to see this place, and starting at 5am and seeing nothing at all. Our group quickly parts in two: the fast guys and girls gone quickly, and the rest of us. Like so many times of late, I line up with Nancy and Bill, and we're not far back of a couple of women. I cant tell young or old in the dark, but they sound young. The two ladies, me, Bill, and Nancy, in that order. B&N run together a lot, so I expect they'll lock in with each other. I can hear the two ladies chittering away, so they are quickly aligning up as well, so as usual, I'm the odd man out and just fine with that.
I can see lights all around me, off in the distance, and it quickly becomes apparent this is a typical mountain bike trail system that simply wanders about randomly to use every square inch of the real estate it exists on. We turn back on ourselves numerous times to pass just yards away but in the opposite direction. Sometimes we climb a bit too, but never in a direct line, but tracking way left only to come all the way back and just above where we'd just been. At first it's disorienting, but eventually I get used to it. Makes me think of a bowl of spaghetti and trying to stay hooked to just one strand as I ride the entire bowl.
We're not in very far before the girls run up a short steep climb, which I'd rather not. So, I walk, but Bill and Nancy fly past and track on the girls. I fall back just a bit, connect again on the next downhill, but at each uphill, they pull further ahead, and I wonder what the hell Bill and Nancy are thinking? Bill's not that fast usually. Nor is Nancy. She'd run the same dang 100k I did just one week ago. Running a 50mi just a week after a 100k is a damn fool idea regardless, but Nancy does this sort of thing regular. And the girls, I suspect are both excellent runners and will hold just fine well ahead of us. I don't expect this 50mi today to work well for me, but I figured I'd give it a try anyway, and see how it falls out.
I knew the aid stations where 3 to 4 miles apart from one to the next from start to finish, so I carry just a single water bottle. The very first aid station is the water cooler I just passed, I realize well after I've passed it. One of those "Oh Yea" moments. Not a worry though, as its still early dark and I'm not going thru my fluids as quickly as I will be later. The second aid has a friendly guy standing behind a table to assist me with my refill. Soon after, I catch up to Bill and Nancy. Bill says, "Wow, you've really picked up your pace!". "Well no Bill, actually you've finally slowed down". So, now after some 7 miles, I'm in front of them again, and the girls are long gone, way in front of us. I can hear snippets of their voices now and again on the long out-n-backs. I have no idea how far they're up, until I've run the same long out-n-back.
Its hard to tell which way to go more than a few times, such that I stop to check the signs. My terribly poor vision can't make out the white arrows on the colored paper. The white light washes everything out, and with splits to spin off the 10k, Half-Marathon, Marathon, and 50mi, I'm worried I'll miss my turns. With the twisting and winding trail, I cant trust the lights in front of me are actually in front of me, so I cant just blindly follow the lights. Being alone in the dark and struggling badly trying to find my way, I trust I'm on the correct path, and just keep on until I find another sign or flag. I suspect the others are doing better than I am. It's just my eyes are so bad. I know the main split for us 50 milers is after mile 10, so I'm pleased to reach it and make the turn. I think about it for a moment and decide to wait for Bill and Nancy. I want to make sure they make this turn too. Its well marked, but I hate for them to miss it, so I wait.
The sun comes up soon after, and now I'm much more comfortable finding my way than I had been in the dark. It's not long after, I run into the start area, which is also the main transition from the Lower Loop to the Upper Loop. I'm just under 3 hrs for the first quarter, but I take the time to change my soaking wet shorts and shirt before heading out again. Bill and Nancy come in just as I head out.
It's so much more enjoyable now that I can see the trail, where I'm going, and the terrain around me. It's an interesting place, big hills, long sweeping switchbacks, plenty of trees, and the prototypical layout of a mountain biking trail system. Whatever direction I'm going in, it will change quickly, and if there's another trail right next to the one I'm on, it could be 100 yards ahead or 5 miles behind. Never having been here before, there is no way to know. Now and again, I can hear Nancy behind me, but I can also hear the girls in front of me, and it means nothing reference to distance.
At the 15mi water cooler, I fill my water, then allow a small bit to pour on my head for a cool-down. There's a lot more climbing on this side. We go higher up, drop down, and climb again. Its insane how many switchbacks there are for no other reason than to just get more distance. It's not as if it makes for a more docile way to ascend the high hills, as much as it just insanely goes a long way left and then a long way right, and repeat. At one point, I see Nancy and Bill behind me, and I'm not certain, but they might be a mile back.
There's a woman and a young guy working the 18 mile station who are both friendly and talkative. He spots my hardrock shirt and asks me about it. I see some people a few switchbacks ahead and across the valley who are all running rather quickly and wonder if they're the 50 mile leaders, but cant be sure until later, when I merge with the 10k course, and then I'm mixed in with quite a few people, none in the 50 mile.
According to my GPS, I'm almost done with this side. I've been looking down into the compound where I parked and started for a while, but I can never tell which way I'm going to go next, if I've been there or it's my next destination. I'm completely clueless, except for the milage on my GPS, so I can only assume I'm almost back at 25 miles. I can't be more than 20 minutes out when my right quad decides to quit working correctly. Not sure exactly what it's doing, but I suddenly find it difficult to step off my right leg or even land on it. It doesn't hurt so much as it just isn't doing what it usually always does. Odd! I find it quite awkward and difficult to run, so, now I'm walking even on the flats and downs.
I come in after 25mi in 5:45, and sit down to think about it, hope the leg muscles loosen up, get something to eat, maybe change into some dry clothes. Sitting still, in the shade of huge oak, drinking a cold soda, I realize just how sleepy I am. Rob's finished his race and is sitting there talking with me and I suspect I could close my eyes and nod off in nothing flat. Its around noon, and a 2 hour drive home, with Joyce wanting me there so we can drive south to the ranch. Hell, I could probably go on and finish the race. I have the time, but not certain whats going on with my leg right now, but it might work itself out. I cant imagine how hard the drive home's going to be after 13 hours, no sleep, and exhausted. I better start for home now. It would be less dangerous, and Joyce would love to see me home sooner and in better shape than the next 6 hours will make me. Nancy and Bill come in some 30 minutes after I did and it surprises me how far back they were. Just cant tell out there on those trails where anyone else is reference to you. I visit with them as they load up and head out for the second half.
I turn in my chip, pack up my stuff, hop in my truck and drive home, and it's a difficult drive. I struggle to stay awake and so thankful I started home when I did. I'd have never been able to drive home later, and into the night as well. It would have been foolish, maybe as foolish as attempting a 50 miler the week after a 100k