I had run this race last year, but only the 25k, so I knew the Primitive and Lodge Loops just fine, but I had no idea what the Skyline Loop was about in the 50k I was running today. The course description ran something like this: Skyline Loop (7.5mi), Skyline Loop (7.5mi), Primitive Loop (12mi), Lodge Loop (4mi). Well, this left a few details out that sure as hell confused my as I ran. Anyway, this is kind-of how it played out.
We started at 6am in the dark, just outside my hotel room at Indian Lodge in the Davis Mountains State Park. Michael and I had driven in yesterday, picked up our packets, had dinner into town for dinner, and got to bed early. It was a pleasant enough morning, but figured it to warm up, so I dressed for heat. I hate road races as well as any portion of a trail race that includes road, and I knew we'd be starting on a road, but at least we'd get that out of the way.
Because of the overcast skies, It was too dark to see anything but the roving spots of light on the pavement. Seventy-one of us ran down the road, and I knew only a few, including Michael and Bill. The thing is, I don't know the first part, where we start in the dark, so I have relegated myself to that status of lemming. For that reason as well as many others, I start in the back. I do have a rough idea where we turn off the road and up the mountain, but it's so dark, I can't see it, so I follow the rest of the field past the turn and on down the road. Fortunately, somebody up there figures it out and the whole herd has turned back, reversed field, and came back to me. I stop and watch as they pass me, then stop and gather around a sign that says second loop, this way. They're loudly discussing its merits, when a few people take off into it, and then the rest of the pack follows hot on their heels. What I figure is that it's roughly about a mile of road from lodge to trailhead, with a few tenths of bonus. And so I move onto the back of the buss with Bill and start up onto the Skyline Loop.
It's a nice steady climb, switchbacks, and single-track. Everybody's certainly moving faster than me, so whenever I hear footsteps behind me, I step off trail, wait for them to pass, and then start back up. Besides, they're all running and I'm walking. No way am I going to run up this mountain, especially with so much course more waiting. The night before, Michael and I had driven up to the summit to catch the sunset, and this same spot is where we run through before heading over to the other side. It's not all down though, so much as a bit of ridge running, fun stuff, over and around boulders, through a gate, and more. Now that we're going down, I quickly catch up to a ten person train which won't let me pass. I'm trying to get them to let me by, when somebody else comes up behind me and asks me to pass, and as I let him bye, I tell them I'd like to get by too. Anyway, not sure what he says or how he does it, but he gets a few to step off and as he goes to pass, I lock onto his heels and stick close to him so as to pass along as his shadow. Once he gets a few to move, he gets all of them to move, and so he and I get to pass the entire pack. I don;t know it at the time, but Michael is in that pack, but he's trapped behind as we go ahead.
I reached the Skyline Ridge Aid Station, refill my water, and go up a bit further before passing through the point on the trail where I'd come back from a 2 mile loop. This is where we enter the Fort Davis National Historic Site. We keep bombing down until near the bottom, and he pulls ahead, while I slow down, which is exactly the wrong thing to do right now. Basically, he's gone ahead and the pack is a ways behind me, such that I find myself alone with no idea which way to go. I'm in the middle of the old historic fort, buildings everywhere, and not much for signage I can see. I approach one sign which says, 'Enlisted Men's Quarters', then another that is a bathroom. The fort signs are easy to see, but not the race signs. I bumble about for a bit before I just stand and wait for the next group to show up. They can see much better than me, and I follow them through the old fort and out the back side. I'm looking for them, but can't see any of the signs.
Out back, we start up a rocky trail that goes up until we reach the intersection I was at just 2.2 miles ago. Its not a big loop, but I sure wasted my descent in the fort. Back at the aid station and it's 7.2mi, which confuses me somewhat. I though the entire lop was 7.5mi, but I neglect to add the milage on the road from the Lodge, plus bonus. I keep on going down, which is fun, fast, and easy all the way back down to the sign we saw where we huddled earlier. I stop to get some rocks out of my shoes, when Michael comes in from behind, and thats when I figure out I had passed him earlier. We're at 9-mi here and the 7.5mi loop thing sticks in my head, but nothing to do but keep going. At least I now know the loop. The sun came up on me during the descent, so its all sun and wind now.
Michael follows me on the climb and catches me at the aid. It's 11.5mi now and of what the hell, if I can figure this out. I should just give up on any idea of milage. Michael and I stay close down to the fort, and now I can see the signs I couldn't see in the dark. The flags and all the other signs for the fort that I tried to follow on the last loop. A fellow named Al passes me as we start the climb out, saying something about missing the cutoff, and I ignore the though, but stay close to him. He powers up the climb as I stay near him through the aid station and down the long fast downhill. I start thinking about the cutoff and realize it just might be close. The cutoff is 10:30am at the park entrance which should be mile 16, but they neglected to figure in the road miles, so its more like 17.1. It seems so insignificance, but for us back-of-the-bus guys, its a problem. As it is, I arrive with a few minutes to spare. Al is there just ahead of me, and Michael comes in right behind me. But, I need to go to the bathroom, and its back in the building next to the aid. I rush over to find it, and a woman in a pickup wants me to answer a few questions, which I just dont have time for. So, I rudely ignore her and step into the mens room and lock the door. I'm well into my business when the lights go out, dropping me into pitch black darkness. Oh hell! I cant even find my ass and or paper and the timing is perfectly wrong. I do my best, then waddle over to the door to turn the timer back on, then settle in to finish. All this shit simply takes much longer than I anticipate, and when I escape, I check my watch to see its strait up at 10:30, the cutoff time, so I slide on through the gate and keep on running. I guess, I'm the last one who made the cutoff.
Well, I'm on the Primitive Loop now with no cutoffs between me and the finish, so I relax and start down the grassy highway access to the ditch under. There is one guy who ran through the aid just ahead of me and I pass him on the other side of the highway. He doesnt seem to be in any hurry and neither am I, but I do move ahead of him. I pass by a whole lot of emergency rescue vehicles, and know something bad is going down up ahead. I see them coming down the switchbacks as I start up. Its a woman on a flatboard being carried down by a whole herd of medical people. When I pass by, the trails ahead appear empty. I was hoping to see all those guys that were at the gate when I went off to the bathroom, but they've put some distance on me. I do catch Michael just before the Primitive Loop Aid, and the other 3 guys are there when I come in. While I stop to reload my ice water, Michael skips on through and keeps on going.
Its only a 5.5mi loop, from aid back to aid and its the easiest part of this whole race, so I get after it. I start walking, and Al tucks in behind me, but we lose the others when we start to run. When we catch Michael, he stays with us for awhile, but then we lose him on one of the climbs. Al and I continue, jabbering away the whole time, catching and passing a few others before we get back to the aid. Another reload and out we go, downhill now, chasing another guy we had caught just as we entered the station. Each time we get near him, he starts running hard again, but our constant easy downhill roll finally has us roll up on him just before we hit the bottomland. Off the hill, we switch to a fast walk, and keep on down to the underpass and back up to the Gate Aid.
My GPS says I'm at 29mi, so I suspect the last section is a but shorter than advertised. It has to be less than 3 miles from here to the finish, and I need nothing from the aid, so I cut on through the aid while Al reloads. I'm surging now, speed walking, and surprised when Al catches me. he had to have been running hard. The next turn starts up the beginning of a load of nasty UPHILL, lung-sucking, climbs. I'm familiar with this from last year, but its knackering the hell out of Al. I keep my breathing smooth and comfortable, short steps, constant spin, and try not to stop while I see Al sitting again. I slowly move up and away, as the climb continues. I make a few more turns, hit the first summit, over the top, down, and begin the next UP. About midway up, I look back to see AL has been passed by that fellow we passed earlier. We had talked about the idea of energy theft on the Primitive Loop, where when you pass somebody, you take some of their energy, and if you get passed, they take some of yours, so I know what he's think right about now, and it aint good.
I keep on pushing, pass another guy on the next summit, but dont want to look back again. I just need to hump on in. I keep surging, walking fast, and pushing over one rise after another, until it finally turn down and I let it go. This last half-mile is a deep rocky ditch with lots of ankle biters, but I'm good with it, and roll on down and round the last few turns and into the finish. 8:16 run time for a 50km aint nothing to brag about, but I'm quite pleased with it. Total distance turns up a perfect 31.2 miles.