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.