Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast late last night, but it does not appear to be moving up into the hill country. The storm is hammering the coast and the edge of it has sent cooler temps and a bit of rain this far out. Joyce & Ryan volunteered with the Red Cross and will be working all weekend, but I've been looking forward to this race, so I drive to Reveille Peak Ranch. Also, we have our Texas Trail Champ Series awards ceremony in which I need to present some 100 awards.
The 60k runners cross the levee at 7pm, and we do the same in the 30k at 7:30pm. The 30 minute head start is just enough time for the 100k runners to do the extra dome loop and merge back in with us as they come off the 3mi dome. I lay back, being careful, and its enough for most of the more aggressive 30k runners to move well ahead and out of sight. It's not long before the 60k runners merge back into me after the dome and I'm once again in a big crowd of runners.
The trails have gone thru a huge change since I was last here. Wide swaths of tree and dirt had been bull-dozed into big ugly cuts. Some of this was to create a couple of retention ponds, but some was just for the creation of bigger mountain bike course. A sky full of clouds brings on the evenings night much sooner than expect. Diffused light filtered thru the clouds is good enough most of the time, but in the areas under tree cover, its too dark to see well. Many of the runners already have their lights on.
Crossing the road aid station and up a new and very muddy jeep track, I see the first of the new ponds. I remember how pretty this creek used to be, now under a lot of water. Again later, we take the shortcut skipping the dome loop. I pass another retention pond behind a levee. Even though we miss the crux of the dome, there's still a bit of rock to run over, thru, and around. Not much out here is flat, and much of it has dark slick moss that requires my complete attention.
Getting on to full dark now, it's becoming much more difficult to see anything, route, turns, or rocks. Thankfully, I know this course semi-well. It is the remnants of what I created a few years ago. For the most part, I know the turns and general idea of direction, which is a huge advantage. I pass a woman who has slid out and is climbing back up behind me. Another guy I pass over a large rock section. I know where I need to connect on the other side, that he does not see, so he wanders about, while I cross directly, and he ends up behind me. This is seriously rugged trail, wandering about in very unpredictable directions, between cactus and thorny juniper. I start passing people in here, most who slow because they are not certain which way to go. They work it out, just not quickly.
The Dome aid station is a transition point where we switch from rock to dirt. Its easier to run but for a downed tree or two. The creek crossing is preceded by a good bit of slippery rock, and the foliage overgrows the trail to the point of irritation. I run into one overhanging shrub after another. The main bother being, it blocks my view of the trail on the other side. I cant see anything for a few strides, which is enough to miss a rock or a turn in the trail. At first, I plow thru, but after kicking a few rocks, and missing a turn, I back down and begun to edge thru more carefully, and much slower.
On the long sweeping switchbacks that slowly climb to the overlook, I miss a turn, along with a few others, but realize in just a minute or less. I turn back, check for trail on the right and find it quickly, and resume the correct route. By the overlook, I have an entourage who now know that I know this course, so they track on me, even though all of them can easily go faster. At one point, I have to duck down to crawl under a low hanging branch. I cannot see that a trail exists on the other side, but for a single flag and the knowledge the trail must go in this direction. It's a lovely route, even though I can't see much of anything in the dark. A fire ant's route, wandering left, right, and random, unpredictably going off in the least expected direction.
Dropping into the Flow aid station down by the creek, I've finally run empty on water, slow for the 5 seconds it takes to get my bottle refilled. I have the top off prior to running in, and screw the top back on as I run out. I lose my entourage, crossing the hump-back rock across the stream and into the woods on the other side. I'm looking forward to the next section that rambles over rock and root, but surprised to see a new route marked, avoiding the old path and taking a new one made for the mountain bikers. Either way, it's not all that far, but does slowly climb back up to the gate.
The final 1.5mi is no more than a reversal of the first 1.5mi, and the most boring part of this entire course. In short order, I'm back to the pond, over the levee, and back to the Pavilion. I'm soaking wet, so I extract a change of clothes from my bag, and hide around the dark side of the pavilion to change into dry togs. A get a fresh refill of water, and start back out. Over the levee and entering the woods, I cross paths with Richard and January, just finishing their first of 3 loops of the 60k.
I run, and keep it going for a bit longer than I expect. With a loop done, and one to get, I have less need to be conservative. I push myself just a bit and feel the energy wash over me. It feels good, the weather is excellent, a bit of rain now and again, a cool breeze now and then, and a very fun technical course. The rocks insist I dance, for fear of tripping, so I oblige, high-stepping, and always moving forward. The momentum carries me thru the gate and down to the first aid station down on the road. I take a slice of orange and banana, then continue up the same ugly trail as last time, over a new levee of hard packed dirt and mud.
The course tilts up thru the trees, crooked and rocky, past another new levee, and onto the big rock, albeit just a slice off one side. This one mile side loop is a part of the rock dome, not as majestic and insane as the big dome loop, but just as fun and awkward. A runner just in front of me slides down sideways off the wrong side of a slanted rock, and I run past as she scramble back up. The same woman I ran with on loop one. I have caught her again. I push myself up and over the rocks, she follows close behind, around the end and back. The course loops back on itself time and again, nothing strait and a load of fun.
We close on another group as we reach the dome aid, and they all pull in for assistance, while I accelerate out the other side. By myself again, I feel a surge, as I usually do when I separate myself from a crowd. Where I with the others, I'd most likely run this section easy and relaxed, but thats not what I do. I surge, pick up my effort, and flit thru the next area rapidly, enjoying the play of it. This is what I like the most about running, when I push and it works. My body responds without much effort or pain which certainly isn't how it usually feels now-a-days.
The trail wraps around as before, back and forth thru the trees. Around a downed tree, and turning at places that are hard to see, unless you know where... across a huge slab of slanted rock down into and across another creek. The trail narrows in onto itself, little rollers, no more than a few feet of up-roll and down. Across another road, and the trail narrows more. The girl catches me again. 'Is that you, Joe?' and drops into my slip-stream. I tell her to go on by, but she says she prefers to track on me for now. While we take the long sweeping switchbacks that climb up the ridge, we pull a few others into our pace-line. The climb slows me a bit, and I switch into a walk/run. By the aid station, our group has grown to 6 or 7. Once again, I approach the aid prepared, bottle open, filled in seconds, and heading out the other side alone. But, my buzz is winding down, so I find it more difficult to run the slight uphill to the gate. I hear a few others closing on me, then just one. It's the girl again, and she tucks in. By the time we reach the gate, I'm about done in. It's only another 1.5 til done and easy too, but I'm no longer at the same level of energy as I had been.
I tell the girl, who I never do see - in the dark, to go on. I tell her she doesn't need me anymore. This next section is pretty simple and she should get after it. I'm slowing down, and I know she just passed another woman, doesn't have time to slow down now. She goes and I keep on, but it's a mix of walk and run now. Not working very hard, just coasting and comfortable with it, when I realize somebody is closing on me fast. Funny that! I have no energy and no motivation til I see that light coming. After getting damn near this whole race done without any thought of competition or concern, I'll be damned if I want to watch somebody else blow past me within sight of the finish.
I pick up the pace. I push myself. I begin to really work hard to make myself run faster. Until now, its been fun, easy, and comfortable. Suddenly, its none of that. It hurts to push this hard, but I can feel the light behind me getting closer. I push harder again. I just need to get across the levee now. I push across and look back to see a big guy with no shirt sprinting towards me. I rush around the pond, and realize I'm about to catch the girl I sent on ahead of me. She's going faster also, not knowing who it is thats rushing towards her. Shirtless is just about to catch me, so I surge again, across the narrow slot between the ponds. We are all 3 very close on each other as the girl crosses first, me just seconds later, and shirtless just a stride behind. Damn!