This was to be my 4th and final summer night trail races this year, and it seems as if I am just now starting to feel more acclimated to the heat than I have been in many years. Also imbedded into the madness of this challenge is the occasion of Jimmy and Adela's wedding taking place tonight on one of the high points mid-10k, which me and the rest of us in the 30k will go nowhere near. They certainly have my best wishes, but today, I am in for the 30k and will share a toast with them after I am done.
And so we begin, across the levee, into the trees and, up along the fenceline to the big gate in the big fence. All of this in the late evening fading light, with plenty of heat and humidity, which tend to define these night races in the midst of a late-August Texas summer. The 60k runners are already out ahead by 30 minutes, but they have an extra 3 mile section over the rock dome, so it's no surprise when they merge back in with us soon after our shortcut. We replace their 3 miles with a 30 yard shortcut under the new pond, and so from this point to the finish, I never know if I'm running with a 30k or a 60k runner, unless I ask. Even though we skip the major part of the dome, we still get to sample a one mile scramble that wraps in and out and through all sorts of rock and twisted trees, the terrain so rugged, constant attention to every step is essential.
Its at one of the higher rock points in this mess of mangled scrub when I notice the sunset lighting up the clouds underside as well as the big fat full moon peeking over the tree tops. What a glorious setting for the wedding they must be having at just this moment, while I am sensible enough to just get a peek, before returning my attention to what I'm running through. Hell, I'm already bleeding from the nasty little bastard branches that reach out and scratch me as I attempt to slip by. But there is no way to avoid it all. If not the mesquite thorns, it's the pencil cactus with their deadly little hitchhikers, or the Prickly Pear. But mostly, it's the rock... hard and sharp, and unforgiving. So glad I don't have to run over the 4 miles of rock which the 60k runners must do 3 times.
I come into the Rock aid station in complete darkness, with headlight on to the sound of raucous laughter. This station is so appropriately named, here at the edge of the rock dome. I get a hug and a refill before heading back out, down on a twisting trail towards the creek bottom. I can hear voices everywhere, and the way the trail winds about, the sound could be coming from anywhere. With the sun down and the moon up, I sometimes find the moon in a direction I'm not expecting, which only confirms... I have no idea which direction I'm heading in. Certainly I know the trail, but I am lost to the direction it twists and turns.
I cross over the rock bottom of the creek, and head up what I suspect might be the wrong trail, or maybe it's one of the new trail cuts that the owner has recently bull-dozed all over the old trail system. I'm with a few others and we're all reasonably certain this is not the correct trail, but I can see the right one just 10 yards over, but on the other side of scrub and cactus in which I have no intention of crossing. And so we continue for a few tenths before we reach a connector that drops us right back on the correct trail. Pretty certain we actually did more distance, but whatever it was, it was not all that far, so we just keep on going.
We cross over one of the main jeep roads, and pop into the next section that has its own unique set of characteristics. Used to be, this section was pretty simple, but that was before the new bull-doze trail cut endlessly over the old trail, making it an endless set of decisions. I marked this section last year, so I know what a problem it is to mark all of these endless crossovers, and it is a constant concern to remain on the proper track. I can see runners left and right, picking one or the other, and they all pretty much go to the same place, but each a bit longer or shorter, or who the hell really knows. Even when we get higher up on the bluff, the same situation continues, but now it's up into the rocks, looking down into the valley.
I think this is up on the High Fence Trail or maybe just a trail under the road by that name. Not sure exactly, because this entire thing is now a spaghetti bowl of trails. There are even a few more odd reroutes up in here that I have no idea why they were done, but they are not the same as what we did last year. Reaching the Flow aid station is a welcoming sight for more than a few reasons. I need a refill and could use something cold, plus this station is not all that far from the end loop, so it feels like I am actually making some progress. Again, one big huge flow of rock fills the creek bottom, which we dance across and into the trees, scrub, and rock combination so typical of Reveille Peak Ranch.
The trail is a carnival ride of ups and down, while spinning left and right, and all on skinny single track. But it's a short ride back to the big gate, which we pass through, turn left and head for home. The faster runners are coming out, passing us in the opposite direction, moving at a much faster speed than I am. I think I recognize a few of them, but running without glasses in the dark tends to blur everything and everyone down to smudges of ideas. And eventually, I cross the levee, and back into the pavilion area where I have my chair, cooler, and gear. I'm also surprised to find my wife. Joyce was at the wedding, and it's a pleasant surprise to steal a kiss from her. I told her I might be about 2 hours for the first loop, and so I am, dead strait up at 2 hours.
Jimmy and Adela are most likely married by now. Joyce heads for home as I head out for another loop of exactly the same thing... but different. Now, I'm more tired, more wet, and more chaffed. Even though I have changed all my sweat soaked clothing, my body will quickly treat everything I have on the same as it did the previous set. Fumi has also provided me another riceball wrapped in seaweed and salt, which has recently (Fumi's fault) become a new race fuel for me. I walk out, eating, taking my time to getting readjusted to the mood and rhythm of this madness I have adopted as my normal.
I fall into conversation with James Askew, and our discussion carries us along at a fast walk, through the big gate and on into the Road aid station. Besides a slice of watermelon, I have no need of anything else, and quickly skedaddle out, while James falls behind. Soon after, I find myself in another conversation with a 60k runner who is training for a 240 mile race, in which I attempt to match walking pace with. Our discussion winds around these new longer races of 200 miles and more, in which very few people do more than walk, or at least, thats what he says. I have no interest in the 200 milers though, feeling that the 100 milers offer enough of a challenge as it is, for me. His conversation and his pace are both too much for me to match, and before long, he has out-walked me and is gone, soon after we pass through the Rock aid.
This is where I get reconnected with an interesting pair of women. The same two I had a couple of sets of passing and getting passed on loop one, and in the same place on course too. The young one was Layla, and the reason I knew this is because the older one kept saying her name. How are you Layla. Are you ok Layla, and so on and so on. It was easy to see that the older runner had the younger one under her wing and was helping her run this race. I thought it was pretty cool, but they were pretty aggressive and much too serious to waste time visiting with me. I attempted a few times, but we never did find any connecting thread. Although, every time I did pass them, Layla would always say something encouraging to me. I found that they made me feel comfortable, if not somewhat familiar, being around them so much. After so many passes back and forth, I wasn't sure where they ended up until I saw them cross the finish just minutes after me. I suspect we were within minutes of each other the whole race, even though they were rock solid consistent, and I carried on like a rabbit, with my fits and starts. Still, I realized somewhere along here that I had only been walking the entire second loop so far, and actually doing quite well with it. Me and Layla and her friend were always within sight of each other, even though they were running, and I was walking. I'm thinking maybe I might be able to keep up with my best bud and walking champion Henry Hobbs.
And so we roll into the Flow aid, in which I top off my empty water bottle with water and ice for the final plunge. Out we go, into the trees and I just start thinking I have not fallen today. I'm certainly bleeding from the mesquite stabs, but I have in fact remained upright. If anything, my walking pace increases with the desire to get this bastard done. By now, Adam has long been done and showered, so he and Fumi are now patiently waiting for me to finish, so they can go home. I walk faster! I make the gate turn, turn left, and go faster. I do believe this is the fastest I have ever walked, but it's a salient point now, that I should not run. Walking is good enough and serves me well right now. Still, I keep peeking behind me now. I am not very competitive, and could usually care less how I fare compared to those around me, but get me near the finish and I hate getting passed late in a race. So I keep looking back, and then I see a light. It's a ways back, but as I get closer to the finish, it gets closer to me, until I feel rather certain I will for certain be passed. I try an old trick, for some damn reason I am not certain why, but I do indeed turn off my light. I have always liked running without lights, but with other runners around, its rather difficult. But for now, with just that one light back there closing on me, I have no worries about being night blind. I know how it is, chasing the light in front of you, trying to catch it, using it as a carrot to pull you on. Well, I have just killed the carrot. If he's to catch me, I'm not going to provide the bait. And I also quit looking back. So I finally relax and keep on walking... in the dark, without a light, make the turn, cross the levee, and as I near the finish, within 100 yards or less, I look back, and can see him running fast... trying like hell to reel me in while the distance to the finish makes for a near miss on his part. And so it plays out, that I walk across the finish without a light just moments before he crosses just behind me. I find out later, he is the same age as me and would have certainly knocked me out of the top spot for us old buzzards. Even the finish line crew miss me, as I walk right through them unnoticed and have to come back for the finishers medal and turn in my chip.
My first lap was 2:00, and my 2nd lap, even though I walked the entire thing, was only 34 minutes slower than my first. I'm a full 15 minutes faster than my previous three 30kms, and though I feel I am finally getting used to running in the heat and humidity, I am glad we are done with these night races... and the summer weather