It's going to get hot today! So glad I'm not doing the marathon or worse yet, the double marathon. One time around this 13 mile loop is as much as I can handle today. Another benefit is I can drive in late and park after the sun rises, so I can see where I'm driving and parking.
There's a ton of us in the narrow start chute between the pavilion and the lake. We bump and stumble into each other as we use the skinny land ridge between the lake and a smaller pond, along the shore, past the adult playground, to a stop where we bottleneck into the trees by the campsites. Its just a momentary delay before we bust free and a good many of those behind us, take off to sprint on down the road. Around the lake and over the solid steel bridge that is constructed to look like it's old, with wood shingles.
The road of little rollers for just a bit longer until we enter the woods proper into what is locally know as the "L". It's a long section of land that connect the lake to the main body of the property we're using to do this race. As much as I'd like to think of this section as being easy, Its got a slight tilt to it. Its also full of cattle and prickly pear. The cactus roses are in full bloom by the thousands today, as well as the small barrel cactus. Its all bright yellows and deep purples surrounded by the red and orange Indian Paintbrush and others I don't know as well. This brutal piece of landscape disguises all her thorns in a field of uncommon beauty.
The shorter distance is not my strength or my specialty, but once it warms up to these levels, I drop down into a field of runners I have no chance against. They wash around me, passing me for a few miles, before I find my equilibrium, and reach a place where I hold my place. I go out slow and easy, which is not a good choice in a short race. There is no getting even in a distance where I find my balance just before I finish. Still, this is where I have evolved to.
Once past the gate, I quickly realize the new order of things in the trail route. Chris has been forced into some major changes by the ranch owner due the addition of a new retention pond. We do a set of unnatural switchbacks, going from main road to single-track trail to bulldozed jeep road and back again. I follow the pack as they loop back over some rocks, then down to a main road where an aid station is. The route out is a deceptive track over solid rock and suddenly we are on the dome. The dome is a one huge single big granite rock that is littered with more rocks on top of it, some the size of houses.
We wonder about until we route back onto the old course and now I know where I'm at. Its still nothing more than rock, but it's a wonderful playground of obstacles and hurdles. I'm reminded to never fall on this stuff as I watch a woman bust her tuchus not just once, but twice in a matter of minutes. This granite is like sandpaper to the skin and it doesn't take much to leave one hell os a nasty scrape. After her second touch down, I decide to call her Touchdown, but I never do see her again. I suppose she decided to back off after her second slide out. There are another two guys who I keep bumping into, one wearing grey, the other blue, so I call them together, the Civil War. Of course, all of this is done out loud, and they like the name. The next half hour, they shift into a sporting discussion of the civil war, about who kicked who's ass and the like.
The dome is huge, covering a 3 mile section of the course, that is fun for a while, but I can't imagine coming back for a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th loop over this unforgiving granite. The route over the rock was most likely created by fire ants searching for food, as there is no rhyme or reason to it. I have run here many times and have a good idea of what's next, but few of those around me have a clue. I watch those in front of me miss a turn now and again, and a whole group of lemmings head up a dead end box slot, before returning back the way they came. I stop at one point to look around and see people all over the place, many of them on course, but some who I know are most certainly not.
Tom's doing the double and started 3 hours before me, so it's no surprise when we match up, him on his 2nd loop, and me on my first. We chat for a good bit around the dome, but he stops for water at the Rock aid and I continue without him. The marathon started 15 minutes after us, but they are just now merging with us, and a group of them almost runs me over as I leave the aid. It's a narrow slot through the rocks here and no room for more than one at a time, so I get brushed aside. Soon after, the same guys slow down for a rugged descent, so I go around them in my typical downhill fashion. I need to pay attention, as these guys will be right back on me as soon as the course settles out, but it's not going to be right away. This section is a rock-n-roll kind of place, with a good mix of single-track and wide open rock, that I like to push a bit. Also, I think the rude dudes that pushed me back there have me spun up a bit, so I use it now.
I marked a good part of this course a few days ago, and the creek was dry then, but a good hard rain last night has done more than just raise the humidity, its also put some water in the creek. I hop over the water and enter the next section of the course, which leans more to shady single-track than it does to what we just did. There is more rock, but we are done with the main part of the dome. This used to be a really sweet section, plain old single-track, but the owner has created a weaving wide cut that crosses over the single-track again and again, basically smashing the single-track into a poor afterthought. It looks like a new construction project gone bad. I used to mark this with nothing but confirmation flags, but now, its loaded with directional arrows and caution chutes to make sure the road is crossed correctly each and every time.
I like to call this area, the Switchbacks! It slowly drifts up as it goes left and right, until eventually up on a high overlooking bluff that looks back down on the land we've just run. Some of the rocks are stacked up to give the impression of windows presenting a vast panorama of natural green wilderness in a lovely viewing area of natural rock benches. My wife had decided to come out to the ranch with her horse and I wondered if I'd see her while I was running. She had done this separate from me, towing the trailer and horse from the stables, and I wasn't sure if she had made it here or not, so I'm pleasantly surprised to see her now up in this high bluff area. Her horse is pitch black and Joyce leans more to bright colors so they are quite the dazzling look above the rose covered prickly pear and scrub. I steal a kiss and use the energy to get down to the Flow aid by the creek, where we meet again.
From this point on, about 2 more miles, Joyce tracks on me without being on the run course, staying just one jeep road over at best. This next section is brutal rugged up and down through cactus and scrub. I hurry by a tree with a swarm of hornets to get as much distance as quickly as I can at this point in my depletion. Soon after a few more rock ridges, I'm back to the "L" and heading home. I can see Joyce over on the road in my peripheral vision, but try to stay focused on keeping my ass off the ground. Tom finally catches back up to me and together we head back to the lake and pavilion, crossing the final slow between lake and pond to the finish.
Badly overheated and sweat soaked, I immediately head up to my car to change into something dry, swap the shoes for sandals, and get an ice cold drink or two. I'm sitting by the car when Joyce shows up to leave her saddle with me, then she goes off to cool down her horse with a water hose, before walking her up to the trailer to make ready to head home. Both Joyce and I had a great day in drastically different ways. Life is good!