Ya know, it aint like it was a last minute decision, but everything about this race was transitory. The original date I signed up for (Nov 3) was postponed to Dec 1 because of flooding. Then because half the course was still a mess, Libby sliced the 17mi loop down to 10mi. The remaining aid station on the course was moved in, creating an odd aid station split (2.5mi, 5.5mi, and 2.5mi). But that was all race stuff and fairly insignificant to me as a runner. I had no control over any of that. At home, my daughter's birthday is on the 2nd of December, but she decided to celebrate it on the 1st (race day). But then she cancelled her party. No, not for me to run. There's always something else. So, I told Libby I was in, then out, then in.... and so it went. And then I just forgot about it, because it just didn't make sense anymore. Besides, I was feeling a bit tired, and low, with a bit of congestion. Anyway, two days before the race, I get a text from my friend Laz, basically telling me he's bored and needs something to do this weekend. I ask him: You up for crewing Dinosaur Valley 100k? He says yes, and that's it, so I talk with Joyce to make sure I haven't forgotten anything else. It's a four hour drive from their home to mine, so Laz and Crystal show up at my home the next day at 10pm. We all get what sleep we can between then and the 3am alarm. At 4am, we head north, arrive in Glen Rose with enough time to have breakfast, but we have to wait a few minutes for the Big Cup Cafe to open up for us.
The Dinosaur Valley SP is subdivided by the Paluxy River just before it merges with the Brazos, and if you use the GPS, she gives great directions to the main part of the park. But, the start location and the entire course now sits on the other side of the river, so we need to drive around to the back entrance. We work it out, and arrive at just the perfect time to sequester the best damn parking space available, directly across from the start & finish. This will come in very handy all race long for a lot of different reasons. I wont have so far to walk to my gear, Laz can stay warm in the truck while he sits to wait, and then Richard & January move their gear to our location, so now we have a party.
There's a slight chill in the air, but it's going to get warm, so I'm not fooled into wearing any extra clothing. Shorts & short sleeves with a single water bottle. The 100mi, 100k, & 50k all start together at 8am. The half-marathon and 5 milers start later, and run the 5 mile shortcut as part of their route. Thing is, I have no idea who is in what race now or even later. Plus, the 100 milers start with a 5 mile abbreviated course as well. So, I never have a clue which loop, race, or iteration of anybody but me.
I figure out pretty quick I have no energy. We drop down a short hill to cross a creek, then up the other bank, and I have no strength to push myself back up. I run down and then I walk up, just like so many others, but I suspect they're doing this to be smart. But me? Hell, I just don't have it. So, here it is, right off, within site of the start and I begin to question why I'm doing this. The whiney ol bitch of a conscious skips direct from a whisper to a full on screaming tirade into my mind's ear. And it's not sweet and sensitive at all. No, it's a filthy mouthed sailor's angst she screams. Like so many trail races, people are chatting each other up, smiling, hopping about, and all that grand cheerfulness so typical at these races. They'd be shocked if they could hear the language of my conscious.
After the creek crossing, we turn left onto a jeep road that continues to climb. It's rutted here and there, with a few ledges, rocks, mud, and what have you... but it keeps going up. I walk with Crystal for a bit, but at the first little dip, and it aint much, I push off and try to tighten up the jello in my legs. It aint far, but its enough to motivate me. And so, it continues with me walking and running, but mostly walking. Thing is, when I make myself run, I try to hold onto it for as long as I can. The jeep road route goes for about a mile to the bench intersection, with a caution tape separating the cross-roads, suggesting I go left... onto singletrack. The reason I love trail running so much is because of singletrack. It sure as hell isn't because of jeep roads. If trail running meant jeep roads, I'd have stayed on pavement. But anyway, now here I am, onto singletrack and going downhill, and I instantly unleash the younger joe that lives inside of me. He's always there, but wont come out to play unless He feels like it, and this feels like it. I bound past a few people, shutting down the old whiney conscious as I do so. Yes, my legs still hurt, and no, I do not discover some new source of energy. I simply find a way to hide the pain inside the joy. I wish I could say this lasted the entire run, but Its just not how these things work. My negative-minded self conscious: she comes and she goes. She’s certainly there for every damned climb, but keeps her disgusting thoughts to herself on the down hills.
Loop one goes well enough. 2.5mi to Fenceline Aid, then another mile-plus some to the loop, 3mi on the loop, the same mile-plus back to Fenceline aid, and the same 2.5 back to where we started. The best part of the course is the balloon loop, along the river, on the edge of a ridge overlooking the Paluxy River, between trees, and no stinking jeep roads. A soothing balm for my soul is the sound of the river, merging with the wind that knocks about the trees. At one point, I recognize a familiar rattle under a bush, only to realize its the dry leaves being thrashed by a hard wind. I suspect the ratio of jeep road to singletrack is about 60/40, with the lions share of sweet singletrack being on the loop... so I love the loop.
I have no plans for a time, or a place, but I made a rough guess for Laz, so he'd have some idea when to expect me. The guess was about 2.5 hrs per loop, or 5 hours per set, which translates into 15 hours total. Of course, this is not where I'm at today. And I made the guess even worse by beating my loop one guess by 23 minutes. Oh sure, I still feel really bad, know I'm not running well, but I'm still way under the mark. And yes, I know this won't last. I'd recently switched my diet over to low carb, and besides cutting back on carbs, really had no idea how all this translated into anything besides loosing weight. I also know I need to eat what's necessary for me to run this 100k, so I have avocados, turkey rollups, and boiled new potatoes saturated in salt. So, my transition between loop one and two is all about avocado & turkey rollups with a few salt-saturated spuds… and certainly carbs!
Loop two goes pretty much like loop one, except it's warmer, so I walk more and take a bit more time, such that my combined time for the first two loops is just under 5 hours. Makes my foresight look intelligent, but the truth is hidden in my lack of energy. I'll not run another loop under 3 hours, and actually, I'm surprised I did each of the first two under 3 hrs. And my angry conscious berates me constantly, telling me I should not be here, this is stupid, I am an idiot... and I cleaned this up from the actual words because her language even offends me.
Loop 3 is probably my best loop as far as feel goes. Yes, I feel much better than I had, even if my time is over 3 hours, and I've calmed the noise in my head. I'm not cringing at every foot strike. Life is good. Richard and January are both done when I arrive, having completed the 50k. They're relaxing, soaking up what they've just done before they drive home. They ask how I'm doing, and I tell them, I only have 50k to do, and that seems so much easier than 100k, so I'll be fine.
Going out on loop four is not easy, but I don't hesitate, don't think about it, don't want to. I do remember to take a headlamp, thinking I'll likely not finish the loop in the daylight. Its odd though, because I'm thinking the sun will set around 7pm, when I already know damn well it's dark by 6pm, so its a good thing I don't try to overthink the light, or I'd have gone out without one and then been in a stink. As it is, the sun drops while I'm on the balloon loop. I even stop to have a good look at the reflected sunset colors on the river. Along the way, I pass by an old couple sitting side-by-side on a rock ledge, taking a much closer look at the same setting. It's a picture postcard moment. Even with adjusting to the headlight, my time's just a small amount slower than the previous loop. I am surprised.
With two loops to do, I know its a done deal, because I have successfully silenced my whiney conscious. I can fast walk the rest of it. It’s dark now, cooler, and more personal. Its colder here at the start than it is everywhere else, so I put on a long-sleeve shirt for the first time, then a light jacket, and gloves. I walk out and start down the road, and then remember a few things I want to take with, so I do something I rarely ever do... I turn around and go back... for my pack and trekking pole. And I am so glad I do. After just minutes of walking uphill to start the next loop, I no longer need jacket or gloves, so they go in the pack. I'm also drinking a bit less, so I put my water bottle in the pack also. This allows for me to walk with trek pole in one hand and my light in the other.
I don't know any of their names, but by now, I know all their faces and their strides. I can tell as we approach each other in the dark, by the swing of their light, or the rhythm of their gate. Some of them, I give names I can remember, such as Kitchenware, Grumpy-puss, or the Old Twins, that made sense to me at the time. Funny thing is, I don't know their actual names. Some greet me each time, while others ignore whatever greeting I offer, but for now, they are each and all, part of one tribe. We are all still out here, doing a job, getting it done, staying in motion, with one simple intention: to get it done.
I've been alone for most of the day, and on into the dark, but I'm not the least bit lonely. And so, when I approach the high point overlook, and hear someone coming up on me, I don't even turn to look. But it's the high point with a bit of downhill from here, so I start to run... for the first time in a while. And I keep it going until it turns back up again. When I slow to walk up, I look back, but there's nobody there. I wonder at first if there was anybody behind me at all. I keep on, and after a while, somebody does come up on me. As he passes, he says something about my down-skills, and then he's gone... and I'm alone again, wondering the whole time if he was actually there.
Approaching the Fenceline Oasis this time, I can hear a party going on, people yelling and laughing and it draws me in. But then I realize all the noise is just before the station, off to the right, behind the fence. But there are no lights from where the sound comes from... just the party. Soon, after, as I approach and enter the aid station, the noise disappears and is gone. The people working the station are few and quiet, and are friendly, but certainly not a party. I ask them about it, but they don't know what I'm talking about. I can hear the party again as I walk out. When I finish the 5th loop, its quiet at my own little personal aid station. Laz must be asleep, and I don't want to wake him. In a few more hours when I'm done, he needs to be awake enough to drive us home. And I don't need much anyway. All I need is a fresh headlamp. My stomach has gone sour, so I don't want anything to eat. I'm there just a few moments, then silently walk back out again.
Final loop, number 6, and damn glad to finally be at this point. Walking now exclusively: fast, slow, hike, march, power, whatever you call it, it sure as hell isn't running. The friendlies are more friendly now, but the grumps are just the same, and there is one guy who has a light so bright, he removes it as he passes. With so much of the course being out-n-back, those with no headlight etiquette are sentenced to hell as they approach... and pardoned as they pass. Its best that my famous sarcasm is not spoken at this point, as it would most certainly be misunderstood. Instead, my inner rantings rage on, and they keep me awake. As I approach the fenceline aid, I can once again hear the party, and so can the aid station now. They tell me a bunch of kids are over there playing some sort of game in the dark. As I head out, some of them are close to the fence having a jolly time playing about. One of them says something to me and then realizes I'm not one of them, and the other kids laugh at him. After the loop, I'm sorry to hear nothing but silence. It's way late now, so I suspect they're tucked in by now, and I miss their laughter. My GPS dies one mile from the finish, on the final downhill, but it doesn't really matter at this point. I am done. Jake gets a good shot of me with my new buckle, and then Laz loads me up in the car for the long drive home.
There were only 16 of us in the 100k. 14 finished. I pulled down my finish time and splits from the race website. (1) 2:07, (2) 2:49, (3) 3:04, (4) 3:14, (5) 3:38, (6) 3:36 = 18:31. T’was a nice enough day, wind gusting cool at 10 to 15, but warm at 70 degrees midday, and warm enough at night that I was only cold when I stopped after the night loops to refuel and change gear. Mostly, I was just tired before I started, but I knew enough to run when I could and walk fast when I couldn't run. Laz was my crew. He drove me there & home, as well as crewed me between loops. I was never in a hurry and wasted plenty of time between loops. It would have been much worse without Laz. Crystal came with us, and she ran the 50k, so I got to see her twice each loop in passing (good for energy hugs), and I ran in with her at the end of loop 4 to see her finish. I'm not surprised to see I ran slower each loop, but was surprised it wasn't worse. It is what it is and I got what I got. I am pleased I am still able to do this, and none of it is taken for granted.