2018: Jemez 50km

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Its a skinny little trail where we stack up like lemmings on the other side of the horse stables. Fine dirt powder rises from the dusty trail, stirred up by a couple hundred sets of feet. No room to pass, or even step aside, so we each and all, go at the pace of the person immediately in front of us, which is mostly just walking. Can't be more than a couple hundred yards before we drop into the valley below, where the trail opens up and people begin to pour past me. Not that its me in particular holding anyone up, as much as its just all of us squeezed into a bottleneck that has just released. With so much open space available now, people have become impatient with the line of lemmings, and finally cut loose. Adela was with me for a bit, but then she's gone, then Marcia, and the rest, or so it seems.

Before I even started, I knew this was going to be a slow and easy run. Its just the way its been lately and I see no reason why it should be any different today. Especially between 7000 and 10000 ft of elevation on a rather hot and sunny day. I usually start rather laid back and easy, because it takes so long to get the generator cranked up, but also, this course does a fair bit of climbing. We get about 3 miles of sissy trail, and then it begins the 9 mile climb, or maybe more. Sure as hell feels like it.

I've run this course 5 times already, but they've all been in the other direction, so I'm a bit turned around and confused, especially in reference to the up and down location and distance. I guess I never really knew that all this part was one big long up, until now. As the trail climbs the mountain from 7000 ft to 9000 ft, so do the temps from 55 to 80 degrees. I think about running, but it after all just a thought. I walk! Funny thing is: aint all that many people behind me, so I never get the taste of how slow I'm going.

To go from Rendija to Cabra is to climb out of a canyon, not that its a nasty climb, but it is up. Big boulders, single track, and trees fading to scrub as we head north of Los Alamos. Actually, we never do see Rendija. I won't find out until later, the aid station isn't even in the same place it used to be. Typical New Mexico look and feel, which my spirit is particularly attuned to. I like it here much more than any reason I can figure out. It just suites me. Cabra is an aid station and also a reference point for a change in terrain. Its wide open here, partly because its higher up, but also because this area was burned out a few years ago. It begins with a wide dusty jeep road that turns into a single track trail. All the green is from young trees only a few years old, and it's enough to hide the worst of the burn, but not all of it.

Guaje Ridge is where I expect it to be... at the top of the initial climb. But as is my trend today, I'm not even close to right about this being the end of the climb. I had packed a trekking pole to use for the climbs, but forgot about it until I reach Guaje. But then I compound my mistake, thinking the climb is almost done, and keep on it. Over the next 3 miles, I keep questioning myself if I should stop and take the damn thing out, but don't. Now I figure it'll be foolish to take the time if the summit is just ahead. Three more miles and a lot more time and I'm calling myself stupid at least a hundred times.

The landmark I'm looking for is the pipeline road, which I also thought was downhill, but I'm wrong again! How can I possibly have so much of this so wrong? It's up and down, but appears to be mostly up, until I'm within half-mile of Pipeline aid. As much as all this climbing at altitude has knocked me off any suggestion of a fast run, I'm still enjoying the beauty of this magical place. The high desert mountains covered in pines has a humidity so low, I can only dream of it back home. But even the low humidity is causing me problems: my lips are drying up and starting to crack, my throat so dry, I can't drink enough water.

My memories of the trail between Pipeline and Ski Lodge surprisingly match the pastoral setting exactly and the shade from the tall trees are a welcome relief. I can see the ski runs on Pajarito Mountain a long time before I arrive at the aid station. This is the big one: the monster climb and the last climb of note in this race, so I'm impatient to get to it, and aware of the challenge. I need to get some calories in me, so I have a few bites as well as some orange and watermelon slices. I've been carrying an empty water bottle in my pack just for this next section, so I have that and my standard bottles filled with cold water. I even remember to pull my trekking pole out before I start.

On the wrong end of the laundry chute going up and being particularly lousy at climbing, I do the best I can, which I'm certain is pitiful and sad to watch, but I never give up. I can see a number of small colorful spots on the slope above, on the route I'll soon be on. The damned thing goes strait up: no turns and no switchbacks. One baby step after another in a nasty old granny gear trudge. There's a rare few people who go up surprisingly well, but at this point, I've been on the ass end of the race, so it surprises me there are actually still more behind me.

There's a bike race going on at the same time as our run race, and they're using the ski lift, so we get a good look at the lift-chairs filled with bikes and people, just above our heads. I want so bad to go back down and hitch a ride to the top, just as they're doing. It just doesn't seem right: them having a race going down while we have a race going up. I know I chose the wrong one. There's a place we cross each other and I wonder if anyone might have had a collision or near miss yet. I suspect most everyone at this point is near braindead and a bike coming down at speed might be a problem. A woman in black slowly marches past and stops a moment to say something and then passes. All she says is: "Those are the biggest damn feet I've ever seen".

There's another woman, who seems to match me on the climb. She takes as many breaks as I do, and seems to stay just a bit below and behind. When I finally do top out just under the lift, I take a moment to repair: empty my shoes, fetch the other water bottle, and eat a bite. Valerie comes up on me just as I get up to continue, so we continue together. I hadnt hooked up with anyone today for a lot of different reasons, but mostly because I'm just too damned slow today, so it surprises when she hooks on. As fast as I walk, she walks. When I slow down or take a sit break, she does too. Mostly she stays about 10 or 12 steps behind, but every now and then, she gets close enough to talk, so I get a few snippets of information. The route for the remaining part of this climb wanders about, but eventually does reach the landmark ski chair in an open meadow. The chair marks the high point, which I am so damn happy to finally see, because it's now time for some down. I don't really get into much of a running motions so much, but do manage an odd stumbling fast falling walk for the next 6 miles down off the back side of the mountain.

At one point, we're in a huge open bowl of a valley with mountains all the way around, and its breathtaking. Somewhere along here though, we find and follow some of the ugliest jeep rut roads, full of dust, and reflecting the heat from the cloudless ski, and I once again begin to melt. I stop to sit under a tree in the shade once, but get up and go again. Its not long afterwards, we reach Camp May, where its time to lube up. My crotch rash is getting to be a problem, but I have the Desiten and the time to make the repair. Watermelon and orange slices seem to be the thing today. They're nice and cool, even if they're light on calories.

The next section is a mess: road crossings, neighborhoods, swingsets, and all sorts of odd connectors. We even pass through a part of the Los Alamos lab area, drop into a deep cut, cross a road, and climb out the other side. I wonder many times through here if I'm actually on the trail. It just seems so odd, this route we are on. We do a bit of bouldering here and again, going up and down again and then we think we might actually be lost. There are no flags, the trail no more than a trace, crossing over a very rocky area, with lots of easy options, but I just keep on following the meandering trace of trail, hoping I have chosen correctly. 

My stress level goes way up right about now: I'm not sure, the sun is up and cooking, I need to sit down a few times, and even lay down once. I must be looking pretty bad, as I watch Valerie pass me for the first time. We do find a flag to confirm we are going the correct way, which makes me feel much better. A short time later, I take time to lube again, and again, Valerie takes lead. I'm quick about it and catch back up, and I tell her she doesn't need not wait for me. But she defers, saying she's ok and willing to stay as she is, and so we continue.

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The trail has a bit of roll along here and I'm fine on anything down, but the tank is empty: any up and I hit bottom. We connect with the 50 mile return point, where a course guide woman sits and watches to make certain all of us go the correct direction. It's just before the trail drops into a dry creek bottom and climbs back out the other side. Soon after we stumble into Quemazon for some very welcome relief, where I consume generous amounts of orange and watermelon. This is teh decision point for the 50 milers and one of them sits here now trying to decide wether to go on or drop to 50 km.

This landmark seems to breathe new life into me in some deep emotional way I would have never expected, but I no longer feel as bad as I have been the last few miles. Maybe part of it is because we're down to the final 5 miles, but heading out, I get going and realize I'm starting to put some distance on Valerie. Mostly I stay ahead, but do stop at intersections to make sure she's still on. I still aint running, but my walk's in full power mode now. Maybe it's just me smelling the barn, but we're on the edge of town and I can see houses and the water tower by the finish. I keep pushing, busting at the seems to be done. Its all down now and we drop into a creek bottom where we find Rendija... and a beer. My goodness but it tastes good. 

Leaving for the final bit, I'm once again confused because Rendija is not where it usually is. So there also isn't the climb up and out that I expect. Instead, we march down along a dry creek bottom, and I just hope were going the right way. I get faster with impatience, because I don't know for sure, and if I go faster, I might learn sooner. Eventually we reach the trail split and the climb up and out that I've been looking for and relief washes over me. I now know for certain we're just two miles from done, and I'm ecstatic. Valerie continues to lose ground, so I wait now and again. We've been together for many hours today already and we havent really had much to say to one another, so I figure I'll slow and maybe have a visit now that we're almost done. But when I slow to wait, she slows too. I speed up and she does too. Well ok: maybe she just wants to leave this just as it is and I can respect that, so I pull ahead once more and remain there.

At the tunnel finally with just 1 mile to go and I don't slow. Reaching the split for the rock drainage climb up and out to the finish, a guy's sitting on a rock. As I go bye, he says: "There she is". You mean Valerie, I ask? He asks if I know her. I tell him no, but we've been together pretty much all day. So I climb up and get to the top of the chute where a few more people and a few kids are waiting for Valerie. It's all her peeps! I watch one of the kids hug her as I turn and head to the finish. When I get there, I stop and wait. I can't cross just yet, so I wait. Valerie walks up with one of her kids and as she crosses the finish, I turn and cross with her. I'm sure I ruin a dozen or so photos, but what the hell. I figure I have the right. Anyway, I'm done. Time to get these damn shoes off!

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2018: Texas Switchback Half-Marathon

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I'd run these trails a few years ago, biked them too, and had a pretty good idea of the terrain. So today's race for me was a refresher, yet there's no way I can know the route or what exactly was going to happen next. Mostly, I just want to check on my old friend Erik Stanley and see how his Trail Roots race is run.

The half-marathon pack is somewhere above 150 strong when we start at 7:30am, and even with a wide area to spread out, the bottleneck comes way too soon. It takes me way too long to warm up, so I'm mid-pack with another 100 people when we get stuck as soon as we hit the single-track. The race has just started, so the only thing I can figure is a tortoise or two are blocking our progress. I'm used to slow, but standing still during a race is new for me, especially just minutes into the race. The pack around me is starting to grumble and some try to surge around the hangup, only to be squeezed back into place by the abundant prickly pear. We open up and surge again, only to stop again, surge, and wait some more, then surge and wait... and finally I pass the first bottleneck: a woman walking up the middle of the trail, oblivious of all the chaos she's causing. Then I pass the 2nd, the 3rd, and finally we're set free to abuse ourselves as it suites each of us to do on our own terms, with only 15 minutes of official time delay. No big deal really, but I tend to roll with this sort of stuff. There are a few around me that had worked themselves into a big energy surge by the time we break free, and they sprint off with willful abandon. I hope they have enough sense to spin down before they burn themselves out. Oh well, but we will see. All I can do is the same as everybody else: take care of myself.

It was 75 degrees when I drove in at sunrise, and I suspect nothing less than an increase of temp to go along with the abundant humidity: the hallmarks of a really nasty Texas summer day. As has become my standard method when the weather and my clothes reaches this point of sweat saturation, I power down and tend more to a walk than a run. I save my better running moments for the downhills and cool shade areas, if any! I can tell, most of this crowd appears to be more road runner than trail, because most of them are running the uphills. They scamper around me as I walk the ups, which is no concern of mine, but then they clog up the descents with their tentative concerns, as I attempt to bomb through them, and this is just too much. All in all, it makes for some interesting looks from the dozen or so I tend to go back and forth with. They pass me on the up and I pass them on the down, with the result being we simply stay all together through the balance.

Another odd thing, not many are carrying water bottles or hydration packs. Standard operating procedure for me is with a water bottle in hand, and so it is right now. The aid stations are close enough from one to the next, that a single will do, so I skim the aid at mile 3, while all the others around me stop for a drink or two. So the aid station serves as simply another downhill for those around me. 

It's a rugged course, rocks everywhere, with quite a few hills, and a few really nice rock chutes that switch down along creek bottoms. These are quite a bit of fun to run, whether they're up or down. This place is typically used as a mountain bike ranch, with more than a few structures made just for a bike. I can avoid most of them until I get to the mountain bikers jungle gym section of chutes and bridges, where I'm herded over the first big one, but find a way to skirt the edges of the other 5 or 6. But all this jumping about stirs up an awful rumbling in my tummy, to the point where I have little option but to go off into the woods to visit the bears for a bit. I can hear a good number of runners pass by, while I slowly try to relax and unwind.

When I get back at it, I've lost my herd, but I've had a bit of a rest, so I spin up a bit and run for a while, wondering if I'll find a new pack. Seems as if I'm between packs now as I'm alone mostly. There are a good number of people around I keep seeing, but the course is such that we're on drastically different sections of the course, yet within a stones throw of each other. Its hard to know who is in which race, going on who knows what direction, and how far form anything. There's more than a few trails on this course that are so typical of mountain bike ranches, ,that go a long way in one direction only to switch back and go a long way in the other direction right next to the same trail, and then reverse again. It seems the designers of mountain bike ranches do not wish to ignore any of the real estate whatsoever. Reminds me of how I mow my lawn, making certain I hit every blade of grass.

Rolling into the 2nd aid is a bit confusing. I see people coming in to it from different directions and going out in different directions. I ask which way I need to go, but the two ladies are overwhelmed and don't understand me. One of them glances at me for just a fraction of a second and points at the water cooler. Wasn't what I asked for but I figure I might as well top off. The trail in and out of here are not much of what I'd call a trail per se. It's just flagged and easy to follow, but no more than a clearcut through scrub on the edge of where flat land tips off the edge of a hill. I'm used to this kind of shit, so I catch and pass a few people in here, who are struggling with the terrain. The thing about it is it's very irregular, rhythm destroying, and awkward: run a few, hop a few ledges, walk a few, and repeat. There's no way anyone can hold a rhythm in here, but hell, thats the way I run all the time.

Again, we go a long way one way, reverse for a long way, then again, and again. The last reversal drops us onto an old pot-holed paved road that eventually reaches up and touches the aid station I was at a while ago, but didn't understand. Now I understand, but I had to see both sides for it to make sense. This time, I'm at mile 9. Again, I don't need water, so I roll off the right side and continue.

Theres a bazillion intersections all over this course, but Erik did a great job using caution ribbon to herd us through all of it as good as he did. The course is one twisted up mess of intersections and caution ribbon that I see from one side of the caution, then the other, and sometimes yet even another. There are runners and voices everywhere, but they offer no confidence I'm going the right way. I find another chute that spins me up, but before I reach the bottom, I pull up to an intersection that seems to want me to go left, but a sign that tells me to go right. Yea, I know this is real simple, but I'm at boiling point now and ready to be done, so I'm second guessing everything. I just stand there and study on it, think a bit more, and as simple as it is, I'm stumped. My body wants left, the sign says right, so what do I do? I go right, but it just doesn't feel right.

There's lots of great deep shade now, and as much as I'd like to sit here and just chill for a bit, I don't. The trail goes up and comes down, so I walk a bit, run a bit, but keep at it, now that I've got past my mental hiccup. Coming to the river, I can now hear the finish line noise, but know I still have a mile or more remaining. I'm about to pass a kid, but I'm going so slow, he gets tired of waiting for me and decides to keep on, and runs ahead. And he does stay ahead for spurts, but I'm hell bent on getting done and stay on him for long enough that he steps off again and this time lets me go by.

The final bit along the river is soothing to my soul, hearing the water first, then seeing some people playing in it. I'm under a bluff, between the river and the plain, a wall to my left and trees between me and the river, offering their cool shade. Such a beautiful and calm setting is a wonderful way to finish out this race, and the tunnel we pass through on our way up to the plain is cool looking as well as cool temp-wise.

Nothing left but for the field now, but even this is another of those same old back and forth affairs that insists on once again mowing all the grass. The finish line chatter pulls on me while my body demands I stop and the ensuing argument turns into a bog war where I indecisively just slog along. There is of course always one last hill and I know it well. I laugh when I see it, because it only makes sense that there is always one last battle before the war is over. No choice but to up the beast and get it done where there is always somebody at the top telling me what I already know.

Damn but it's hot today. A sunglasses, sun hat, and bandana kind of day. It does get up to 90 degrees and everything I have on is sweat soaking wet. Tom's at the finish and like the good friend he is, offers me an ice cold beer. I am done. Life is good

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2018: Pandora's Box o Rox Half Marathon

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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!

2018: Wild Canyon 50k

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Caprock Canyon SP has all the mystique and majesty of any western topography filled with bison, red rock canyons, and thunderous weather changes. Today is no different, with 20mph winds blasting us from the East and a storm approaching from the West. In a gale, Jimmy attempts to put up his tent while I try to sling my hammock. Jimmy's having a problem hammering his tent pegs into the ground behind a wind block, and I get one side of the hammock up but can't get to the 2nd tree. The hammock parachutes out instantly and pulls me off balance. I give it 3 or 4 tries but when the rain and hail comes on the 5th try, I quit. I wait for the hail to stop, then go find my tent and put that up instead, under an overhanging tree next to a dirt bank serving as a wind block.

I have discovered a new joy in camping the night prior to trail races, regardless the weather, but there are circumstances that need to be dealt with. Today, it is the wind, but we get it done. Once the tent is up and loaded with pad and bag, I settle down to read a bit and enjoy the storm as it rages. Bill and Nancy show up and go through their own processes same as we did, but eventually they also have a set of tents up. By the time the sun sets, there a dozen tents and a few others sleeping in their cars in the overflow parking area next to the lake. By dark, I've put away all the distractions and settled in to sleep. Nothing quite like the white noise of rain on a tent roof and wind blasting the tent walls to rock me to sleep.

I wake to the sound of coyotes yipping and checking my phone clock, find I'm 30 minutes shy the 5:45 alarm. My stomach reminds me to visit the bathroom before all else. I have everything already pre-set and ready for the day's adventure, so I pull on my shorts, shirts, socks, and shoes... and gather up the little I'll need for the first 15mi loop. Basically, its just a water bottle with tailwind mix and a pocket with toilet kit, foot repair kit, and a few gels. I have another complete change ready for loop two, as well as all the other what-ifs, dependent on how things go.

It's not raining when I visit the bathroom, but a rain cloud settles into us by the time I get back to the tent. It's a comfortable 50 degrees even with the rain, so its right on the edge of too cold and too hot, depending on the wind. Everybody at the start seems undecided whether its rain jacket weather or not. Some are completely covered in layers and jackets while others are in t-shirts and shorts. The spartans appear to be way too cold shaking in the wind while the multi-layered appear a bit too warm. I can't decide, but by the time we move out into the rain cloud, I simply leave the jacket on.

Jimmy went out yesterday to have a quick look at the trail and told me it looked to be a bulldozed jeep road, and so it is. Its wide, flat, and manicured enough to drive a jeep for a good part of the Eagle Point Trail. The dirt trail is a bit sloppy in places due the rain which makes for a bit of slipping and sliding. Jimmy goes on ahead, while I keep reconnecting with the same guy over and over, until we start talking and swap names. Paul's a triathlete from Lubbock in his first 50k, and after a good bit of random discussion, he clicks into my odd rhythm of mixed walking and running. We pop onto a paved road and run down it, until we see the turn on the right side for a bit of lively up and down on the Lower Canyon Trail. This rolls us into the Double Aid Station

By this time, I am way beyond wanting the rain coat and leave it here. While I'm sorting this out, Paul refills his water, but Nancy and Bill pass us along with a couple from Puerto Rico. Back on more paved road, I naturally tend to slow down while everyone around me goes faster, such that I get rapidly left behind. Paul looks like he can roll along and I suggest he take after the others, but he says he's hanging with me. Damn but I hate the road and I'm on it way too long, but this road ends at the South Prong Tent Camping Area and we spin off the right side to the Upper Canyon Trail. Its another bulldoze jeep road, but at least its dirt. It rolls along, up and own, left and right within a rock throw of a big mountain wall on our right, and a very shallow South Prong River. Eventually, we cross the river a few times and then hike directly up the middle of it, hoping from sand bar to sand bar.

Then I see the Bison and a handful of others, all standing and talking, trying to figure how to get around the big animal. I am not one to idly sit and wait, so I immediately go off into the brush on the right. I figure I either get around him or get him to move, and so he does. He moves towards me, off the path, into the prickly pear and scrub. The others get past him and I back up and go around the same way they do. We're not far from the base of the big climb and I end up in front of this small pack before we arrive, so I start climbing first. It's an extremely steep and rugged 2500ft ascent that requires both hands and both feet to push and pull from one rock to the next. Oh hell yea but this is the stuff. I wasn't too terribly excited about the course until just now. Paul stays on me, but we pull well ahead of the others, going from ledge to ledge, rock to rock, up into the clouds where the wind coming over the summit begins to hammer on us once again. The climb takes the wind right out of us, and also it exhilarates to the point that we begin to run and keep running across the top and down the rugged descent into a slot on the other side. 

I would have run right past it, but Paul sees the unmanned aid and stops for water. While we're there, our Puerto Rican friends catch us and pass by. This is still the Upper Canyon Trail but it's completely different from the South Prong side. This has the look of New Mexico with hoodoos and striped red rock mesas. Each time we drop into a depression and top out, we see another one just like it again, and again. Suddenly, it's hailing  marble sized ice pellets, popping us on the head and shoulders, and heavy rain mixed with the hail drenches us. I start looking for any sort of cover and find a steep drainage slicing in from one side that offers just a sliver of cover, but not enough. Paul stands with me for a moment, but we're just going to get cold standing there so we decide to suck it up and deal with it. Five minutes later, we're back to the Double Aid where I pick up the rain jacket I left here a few hours ago.

The rain stays with us, but its on and off, so I'm glad to have my jacket back. We return the way we came down the Lower Canyon Trail to the road, and Eagle Point Trail.  When we get to the out-n-back to Honey Flat, the route follows the edge of the bluff, with numerous splits going off in so many different directions, were it not marked, I'd have no idea. Onto the road, pass an aid station that I have no reason to use, back onto another trail, another road, another trail loop, then back the way I came. Back to the beginning point of the out-n-back, we go left and find the road just down from the start.

I tell Paul to have at it. I plan to go to my truck first where I'll change out all my wet clothes and eat some lunch before going after loop two. And so I do: change all of my soaking wet everything for dry everything, except shoes. I make myself a turkey and cheese sandwich, drink a coke, and head back up. This time, I have a small pack with a few odds and ends, but no rain jacket. 

I head out alone this time, with cloud cover and wind, but no rain. When I run, I feel I run well, but I still walk the ups. The wind and the running traffic have dried and pounded the mud into a path that is easy to manage without any sliding. Where I not already tired, I might have run this 2nd loop rather well, but the wear and tear of running abuse keeps me going pretty much the same as I did the last time around. When I reach the climb, I take a short break. After all, this is all I have been thinking about since I began loop two. I drink the pickle juice I carried with me and chase it with a bit of cold gatorade I'd also brought. Not sure if it was the juice or just my excitement, but I take the climb quickly and easily.

On top, I take another breather before rolling down the other side. I stop at the unmanned aid again, but not for water. This time, I just want to wash the salt off my face and out of my eyes. I start pushing a bit harder now, wanting to get done. The endless ups and downs that all look the same beg me to keep my head down and not think about it, but I can't stop. Each time I top out, I hope to see the aid station, without seeing what I want. So I try to not think about it, but it's not any better than telling myself to go to sleep, and not sleeping.

The aid station does come to me, but it seems a lot further than I thought it should be, and I quickly continue to the next section. For the first time I start thinking about how long this is going to take, and then I see a big old Bison just ahead on the trail. He's looking right at me. I stop when I first see him about 30 feet out, but then I take a step towards him, and he rumbles a few steps towards me, not that his feet are noticeable. His entire front end looks like a huge black mass from horn to beard, and I'm not sure I can make out his hoofs at all. I take a step to his left and he goes left, so I stop and make a move to his right and he doesn't react, so I keep going right, through the prickly pear, thorn bushes, and tall grass. Finally past the big animal, I stop to take another look. He couldn't care less what I'm doing, and thats just the way I want it too.

Ten minutes later, I get to the out-n-back turn, and follow the Bison track. This is the flattest and easiest part of the entire race, and it is my nemesis. I try to push myself to run, but the wind pushes back. I cannot get myself to change now what I have been doing all day. I walk some and run some, all the way out and all the way back. The final turn and then the road and I still can't force any change, and so it is that I saunter on in to the finish for pretty much the same time I ran on loop one. If nothing else, I am consistant

2018: TNT 20mi

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Henry and I are just having fun getting in another run, so there's nothing serious about our agenda. If we hadn't run Hells Hills last weekend, I suspect we might be a little faster, but not much. I'd run this race eleven times already and know the trails well, but this trail is a first for Hobbs. We did talk about it, but seeing it with his own eyes is a lot different than hearing about it. There's only twelve of us in the 20 miler, five guys and seven girls. So when the lead three guys take off immediately, Henry and I know right from the start: we'll be last and 4th/5th too. One of the girls appears to be tracking on Henry and I, or more correctly, we may be blocking her way.

So, we're trolling along, running the one and only flat trail until we pop into the hills, and then switch to a walk/run, running the downs, walking the ups, and let me tell you: Henry can walk faster than some people can run. Candace and I get to talking and I learn this is her first trail race and Tim (the RD) is her coach. I figure she's a load faster than either of us and cant imagine she'll stay with us for long, but we'll see.

Turning onto steep leaf covered Arroyo Trail to begin the roller-coaster going up, then down, then up, down, and repeat. Sidewinder snakes into sweeping switchbacks, then winds about until we pop up onto a road. Twenty yards of pavement then a rapid descent on Speed Run to Edge Trail and back to the River Trail past a paved parking circle and pavilion, and back up to an unnamed set of switchbacks. And thats pretty much how it goes: up and down.

Never far from the river, we pass through Twin Bridges to the infamous Bamboo Chute near Drain Pipe. This little beastie isn't all that long but does take what wind I have and a bit more. I'm careful not to grab any of the busted and shattered bamboo as I climb this nasty tunnel of pain. The green mess is all around: under foot, across my path, and drooping down as well. Escaping the jungle into a large open field big enough for a soccer match, I stop to catch my breath before beginning to wade the healthy green spring grass, a paved road loop, then round a copse of trees to the double aid.

The Highlander / Hail Bopp loop is just a pinch under 2 miles and loaded with big hills. There are little ones too, but mostly, it's a lot of butt dragging in a short bit of time. We get turned so many different ways, I lose any reference to direction or location. Beginning with Highlander and finishing with the Bopp right back to where we started the loop at the double aid. Mariela and Adelaide catch us just as we come into the double aid around mile four and then the 5 of us yoyo with each other for the rest of the loop. The girls go ahead, but we catch them waiting for us, unsure of course direction. I smile as I pass and then hop on, and so it goes. 

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I'm really good at remembering trails and routes, but all of these hundreds of intersections, drops, climbs, turns, and such all start to blend together until I have no earthly idea of anything other than following the faint blurring wet flour arrows soaking into the ground. Passing Rinky Dink for Baseball, Cedars, and eventually Outback to the Powder Monkey. Weber Run falls into Torquer, and then the Vortex which can only be taken at a run down to a paved road. Ascending Colorado to another paved road or maybe even the same road, but how the hell would I know.

Life is good until I swallow a bug, a big one, and it gags me. I start coughing and spitting, trying to clear my throat. The others are offering advice, but I can barely see from gagging. I pour my drink down my throat, but It does nothing. Maybe the tailwind just powers its wings more. I figure if I guzzle a beer, maybe I can get it drunk, but you can never know for sure. If it's Irish, it might start singing too. I even bust my ass and roll up like a pillbug, but that doesn't help either. Jumping to Johnnie, then Kidney, and back to Johnnie, Its all ups and downs. After so long, it all looks the same and feels the same and if not for the occasional paved road, I'd think I was going in circles. A bit of Rio Perdido, then Act of Faith until popping up to Tar Hill, then it's a Picnic until another paved road where we find the 8mi station where I smash a banana down my throat and guzzle a coke. Between the two, I finally clear the bug.

We're in an area with a lot of awesome downhills now, so Henry and I manage to stay in front on the girls. Pipeline to Shyst and no matter where we turn, its all Shyst until we arrive at California 56. This might be a dream, but nothing changes except we're closing in on the end loop, marked by another bamboo grove and another paved road. Root Canal used to be our end route, but Tim decides to punish us further with Jacob's Ladder instead. Can't imagine who thought it was a great idea building a set of concrete stairs strait up a 100 foot wall with 100 steps: not sure exactly, but it feels like forever. They had a problem creating a form for the steps, each one a different height, and some so tall you have to climb to the next level. When we arrive at the base, there's a crowd of people, but the girls go up front and we never see them again. It's a short slide down Sturgis Rd to my truck and cooler, but I was out of breath well before Jacob's summit, so its rather difficult to run. 

At the end of the loop, Henry and I work out of the trunk of his car as our personal aid station. We have a cooler with cold drinks, extra clothes, some food and water, and a hell of a lot more gear than we could ever use today. We take a few minutes to get situated before we head out for another loop of the same damn thing we just did. The temp is in the low 50s and its windy as hell, but real comfortable in so many different ways. No soaking wet sweated thru clothes, no chaffing, no dry mouth, and oh but its almost perfect.

Going out on loop two, I realize my body is getting a bit tight and maybe it's not going to go as smooth as it did last time. We were not in much of a hurry last loop and now it seems we will go even slower. Now that this has become our current status, we do pick up our pace now and again, and then drag along now and again too. We didn't realize Marcia had come through right behind us at the turnaround, but she buzzes by rather comfortably soon after the double station. We seem to be doing ok, but my calfs are getting tight and starting to cramp. 

We're starting to have problems following the course now that the flour arrows are beginning to fade. All us runners plus the mountain bike traffic are slowly rubbing out the arrows, and that's the only course marking being used. I feel sorry for the 3-loopers who have another round to go. The almost invisible flour arrows will only add to their difficulties.

Henry has some pickle juice and asks if I'd care for some. Says its great magic for healing cramps, so I give it a try. Can't be more than ten minutes before my calf cramps are gone and I'm simply amazed how quickly it works. But now, Henry's quads are cramping and he's already used it all. We ping along with our irregular walk/run for the rest of the loop and get it done, although our 2nd ascent of Jacob's Ladder almost rolled Hobbs up. We end up finishing in 4th & 5th as well as last 2 men and 2nd and 3rd masters

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2018: Hells Hills 25k

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This being the time of year when I typically back off, I signed up for the 25k. I devolve into a water buffalo or blind cave cricket when the temps ratchet up along with the humidity, so this was just part of the bigger plan. Even after 18 years of historical weather data with the lowest high being 67 at Hells Hills, you cant ever really know. As it turns out, a cold front blows through overnight dumping a load of water in a short period of time and dropping the temp down into the 50s and then 40s. For me and all my odd picadillos, this is a blessing. Henry and then Lar both know me well enough to send me texts to tell me just so... it's a joe day!

Lar picks me up and drives us there in time to pick up packets and make ready to run. Henry finds us and we load up about mid-pack. It's chilly here in the open as the sun rises and the wind cuts into us. Lar is dressed for a snow storm, which is typical for her. If I didn't know her, I'd say she was way over-dressed. But I do know her and know she is good to go as is. For me, I have a lightweight long sleeve under a lightweight short sleeve with shorts and gloves, but I discard the gloves and long sleeve rather quickly. Once we get into the trees, which isn't all that far, my body heat and the wind block is enough to keep me rather comfortable for the duration with standard summer wear.

I had no idea until after I was done, but we have 142 souls in our herd of 25k runners. The combined groups of 50mi and 50k already on the trail is less than our count and another 118 wait behind us to start 15 minutes later for the 10k. All told, there's about 350 sets of shoes sliding through the mud and churning up the water. The first mile is rather hilly with a lot of mud and all those unfamiliar with mudding simply bog down. All three of us have more than a few rounds in these conditions, so it isn't far before we start passing. We know to surge on the downhills and quick march the ups, avoid the trees, and take the mid-path water instead of the shoe-sucking mud perimeter. By the top of Fat Chuck's, we'd separated ourselves from many of the others and continue without a crowd much sooner than I expect. By the time we reach Off-the-Lip unmanned aid, we'd been passed by a few small packs, and the first 10k runner. We stop to top off and properly tie my long sleeve around my waist.

The first mile is the toughest, as is the last, but everything in-between is a slightly rolling fun and fast course. The course pops in and out creek beds, which are usually dry. Today, with all the water, it's an endless sequence of water crossings. We barely get moving when the 3rd 10k runner weaves though us and he cant be older than 10 or taller than 4 foot. He's the last of the 10k runner's we'll see as this occurs just before we pass the 10k turn. Of late, I have taken to walking more early on in an attempt to not purge all my energy before I'm done, so thats what I do now. I run for a few, then walk for a few. This makes for an interesting rhythm to those who don't know what I'm doing, as I pass and get passed constantly. More than once, Henry makes noises that leads me to believe he wants us to drop him. Says he can't hold our speed, but then we walk and he catches up. He seems to think I'm waiting for him, and I'd love to do this entire run with him, but it's not about him at all. This is just my new pattern and if it seems to work for Henry as well as me. Lar's fine with whatever, regardless of what Henry does, so she is locked in. At one point during a shift between walking and running, a woman gets in front of us, so we tuck in behind her. When she asks if I wish to pass. I tell her no. She asks again, and I say no again. I tell her I'm fine right here as long as she keeps on at her current effort. She starts talking about her being over 50 and knowing she isn't fast and makes up for it by being consistent. I agree with her and tell her Henry and I are in our 60s, which seems to surprise her. Soon after, she misses a turn and we don't, and even though I tell her, we end up in front of her, and slowly pull ahead. Funny thing is, for the rest of the run, she's within sight either just in front of just behind us, and becomes a reference point. Where is she? There she is! No, she's over there.

And so on it goes, with us pulling in one after another as people seem drawn to us for a while before going off in front of us. It seems we are having so much fun with our odd conversation and laughter we attract those who are struggling and re-energize them. We drop Henry again at Bottle-in-Front-of-Me aid, where we get hugs from Melissa, but as has been the trend, he catches us again and remains. I get the Gu farts and Lar equates them to Dinosaur noises and somehow lost through interpretation becomes Dinosaurs-in-my-Pants, which only leads to more laughter. My dexterity seems to be fading as quickly as my eyes now-a-days, such that it has become normal for me to bust-my-ass at least once at every run. I seem to have adjusted to running with my poor vision over the last few years. One of my new totems is the bat because I seem to be able to navigate rough terrain even in the dark without my glasses or a light. But, of late, my reflexes have dimmed to the point that I no longer seem to be able to repair a trip or a stumble... and I hit the ground more often. So it is not surprise when I hit the ground yet again. Thankfully, everything out here is soft and forgiving. I get up and dust myself off while the others wait, take maybe 3 or 4 strides and I do it again...  the ground. This time, I start laughing before I touch down and continue to laugh for another ten minutes. Actually I find it hard to get started again because I can't stop laughing. Hell, I don't know why... but so it is.

Lar stops to take care of some personal things and tells us to go on. Lots of creeks, water, and mud back through Tris Cross and Omar's Howl. The final creek is knee deep where there used to be a bridge just before the giant wooden rabbit. We're in the back field now where we once again feel the hard cold wind cut into us. Lar catches us as we walk into Tunnel-of-Pines aid where we visit with Nancy and Bill. With only five miles to go, you'd think we might feel some urgency to pick up the pace, but it's not what we do. If anything, our conversation gets more humorous, at least it is to us. Although we're now at the furthest point from where we started, because of the circuitous route out, it is much more of a strait line back, except for Blak Trak. After leaving Tunnel of Pines, we wade a wide creek, then take a track I haven't used in ten years, over to a large retention pond and then down Pine Pin to the Avenue of Pines. All of this between a tall stand of pines and a quiet bed of pine needles and nobody else around. The end run takes us down Miracle Mile and then finally Blak Trak. 

This last bit is an entertaining roller-coaster ride without the mud. But, with the mud, dexterity and aggressiveness are required. The least bit of tentative nervousness and I'll be on my butt or clinging to a tree. As it is, we apply the happy feet philosophy of quickly running down each muddy downslope followed by a quick and carefully aggressive slow grind up the other bank. We pass a few people hanging to trees or going off into the surrounding woods to find a more desirable route. Ours is not a fast pace, but a careful one in which none of us falls or slides out. Its about a mile of this stimulating slip and slide before we pop out at the campground.

The final segment is anti-climatic in it's boring jeep road and fenceline, as we slowly drift home. Past the big work shed, round the pond, and the final chute to the finish, Henry says we need to stop before the finish to make sure we all finish with exactly the same time, inadvertently giving Henry a one-second finish ahead of Lar and I. The timing matt sensors reach out and find his timing chip first. As much as we had been so comfortable and laid back the entire race, it's so damn cold here in the open by the saloon, that we quickly head to our car to get out of the wind and into something dry and comfortable.... Before we have a beer

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2018: Tinajas 100k

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You gotta help me out with this Joel. I want you to grab hold of it and pull as hard as you can. Damn Joe - thats F-ed up! Not sure if we can pop it back in, but I'd at least like to get it strait. It doesn't hurt at all right now, but once the shock wears off, I'll not be able to touch it again. He does manage to pull it a bit straiter, but the crook in my finger is still not right. Looks like Stonehenge: the tip of the finger laying partially on top of the next one down. I'm done Joel. Hell Joe, you don't need your fingers to run! Joel has a great laugh and usually laughs at everything, but he's not laughing now. The fact he doesn't makes me worry. I think, what I've done scares him more than it does me. Well, I need to have somebody who knows about this kind of shit to take a look at if right away. Pisses me off I have to stop to deal with it, but the race isn't in the same priority level.

I'd just left Cedar Chop, so it's not that far back. I ask for a ride from some people sitting in lawn chairs, and got an immediate response once I show them my finger. It's only a five minute ride and I arrive in the middle of friendly chaos. Quite a few friends have recently finished the Half-Marathon or the 50k, so they gather around to see why I'm here instead of out there.

Lar checks my finger, asks JoAnna and Henry to help, just to hold me still, while she pulls and turns just enough. We all hear the pop as the finger slides back where it belongs. Up until the pop, there was no pain, but at that moment my knees buckle and I start to black out as the blood rushes into the displaced joint. You're pasty white and look like you should sit. No, I can't sit. When I fell, I rolled into some prickly pear. There's a lot of thorns stuck in my butt cheek. JoAnna goes off and comes back quickly with some small surgical looking pliers and proceeds to pluck the thorns while I drink a beer. She says there's just as many in my shorts as in my butt, so I change shorts and she renews her hunt. In short order, I've been weeded and splinted, but I'm still dizzy so they give me a chair and I put my feet up while I finish my beer and try to clear my head. My timing chip has been turned in and I am done. DNF.

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But, way before all this happened, I had a plan, and it had nothing do with all this. I was going to run this 100k, Lar was going to crew, and Joel was thinking about running with me. The 50k left at 7:30am. We'd start 15 minutes later, the 29 of us. I like to start in the back, but with so few of us, I was not far from the front either. 

I have a great love for interesting and rugged trail, so it's understanding that I have no fondness for boring flats. I used to think this particular peccadillo of mine was an emotional one, but lately I'm beginning to believe its physical. More of a repetitive motion where my foot-strike is the same for each step, and because I avoid flat routes, my body is no longer comfortable on flat surfaces. My back, hip, feet, and everything else just seems to whine at me every time I spend more that a few minutes in this detestable circumstance. Because the course is not exactly the perfect distance, we must begin with an out and back for a mile of the most lovely perfectly flat section of river trail. Most people would use this opportunity to run a bit, to get loose, to get some distance in the bank, and use this time to get ahead, but I tend more to a fast walk, almost run, sort of glide. Our small group, a collection of older runners, including a group of five over 60 clump together at the back. On the out-n-back, I get to see each and all, and realize that none of the local running studs have thrown in with us today. 

After the initial doldrums, the out-n-back-n-back again to the Spicewood Springs Trail, I find my cavalier attitude has me lined up with all the regulars I usually find myself with: Joel, Axel, Bill, Nancy, and Rich. This section is beautiful and calming, a flowing stream and waterfalls. Last year, when I did the 50k, I ran right through the water to get past all the runners hopping from rock to rock in a slow moving assembly line. Today, there is no need. Nobody's in the way and I'm in less of a hurry than usual, so I hop from rock to rock to cross the streams. Must be 4 or 6 crossings and its easy enough to keep my feet out of the water without much effort, so I do. I have some fun with the route selection and rock dance to the effect that Joel makes a comment about it. He says I have a good eye for a great line. For being a near-blind person I do rather well with seeing what I need to see. If anything, I actually pick up speed and pass through this section faster than I did the flats and lose everybody but Joel. The water music fades as we climb up out of the canyon and reach the intersection of Spicewood Canyon Trail. Joel and I get into a comfortable rhythm now that we're past the water crossings and its less hilly.

Lemon Ridge Pass is a trail of shattered rocks tangled up with a lot of trees, uniquely different such that it's not hilly and not flat. I scan constantly, to void tripping over rocks, or getting  poked by a branch, while finding course markers. The best possible landing pads for my feet are the big flat rocks, my rhythm and stride dictated by the distance between one and the next. As we constantly change direction and frequency of pace, my feet and Joel's paint a staccato sound in the air. I don't feel we are moving fast, but neither are we slowing down. Our steady crawl appears to be eating away at the distance as we pass a few others. Larry catches us right about when we pass a few 50k runners, near the park road crossing, which is odd, because he passed us earlier. Not sure what he's doing, but I know he's passed us a few times now. He hangs back to talk with us for a bit while we carry on a conversation about coaching, training, and the cost of running. And when we talk about the cost, it's not just about the money. At the Windmill, we stop to reload our bottles while Larry moves on. This next section, a combination of Windmill Trail, Dry Creek Junction, and Lively Loop, is mostly flat and boring jeep roads, albeit in a lovely pastoral setting. We cross paths with a few deer, rabbit, and armadillo while our conversation wanders as well. Once we turn and bump back into more of the shattered rock trail, I know we're close to the next aid, across the park road, and Gorman Falls aid.

Joel has been telling me about his coconut water and had been planning a refill here, but he made a bit of mistake in his understanding of the drop bags. We put all our own bags out except the one by Gorman Falls. Funny thing is: Gorman Falls aid is not at Gorman Falls! The actual Gorman Falls is down in the canyon by the Conference Center. And to further confuse, this aid is split in two, the nearside aid is three miles from here, and the farside aid another five. They did rename the nearside aid to Tinaja and the farside remains Conf Center, but at this point, Joel does not know where his coconut water is. I suspect it's the farside one in another eight miles. I give him a bottle of Gatorade out of my cooler, but it's a sorry substitute.

The Gorman Falls Trail and the Tile Slide Trail are a landmine of trip hazards and toe bumpers, but its also a bit of downhill, so its dangerous. Our momentum pushes us faster but I'm tripping more and ignore the danger. The constant cloud cover has been nice, but the heat and humidity are rising to the point that the rocks are getting slick and we begin to slide on the rock tiles. It is inevitable that I should bust my ass, and this is where it happens, driving me face first down onto some rocks, like a sack of something heavy. My natural instincts being what they are, I get my hands out in time to save my face, but I hit the rocks hard with both hands palms down. Besides a minor scrape on one knee, my hands took most of the punishment for my ignorance. Left thumb turns purple instantly, and the right hand receives a couple of poke holes, scrapes, and something that looks like a snakebite on the tip of my little finger. I like to think of it as a rockbite! Hurts like hell but no major damage.

I get up more embarrassed than hurt, but mostly it slows me down a bit, and forces me to think a lot more about the more difficult terrain coming up. The Overlook at the end of the Slide Overlook Trail is pretty and we quickly turn back up the out-n-back over the same jumble of huge boulders and busted rocks. Soon after that, we approach the next out-n-back down to Gorman Falls. Its nasty slick and we take our time sliding down the damp rocks, and then crawl back up the same trail to get out. Once out, it's only minutes before we cross the jeep road into the Tinaja aid, where there is NO coconut water for Joel. I don't believe I have ever seen Joel unhappy, but he appears to be less happy than usual right now.

The Tinaja Trail is one of the newer trails in Colorado Bend. It's a five mile loop that goes around and through a good sized canyon, with beautiful vistas, a gorgeous water tank (tinaja), as well as more than a few brutal rocky climbs and descents. This trail alone has more memorable settings and rock features than the rest of the park. It's a confusing joy to wander through something that beats the hell out of me this good, but it hurts so nice. We pass a few more people just before we top out in the area of Cedar Chop. We can hear people at the aid station we know we're not going to just yet. I'm all twisted up now that we're no longer on the traditional park trails. I know this park, and I know we're not on any trail that's on the park map. I also understand the race got approval to use some of the old abandoned roads, so thats what we're on now, the top end of the Old Gorman Road. It's not strait, but also not as crooked as every other trail out here, and it bends decidedly downward too. For the first time today, Joel and I actually get to running and running well. Even with all the rocks, we spin up to a descent stride, passing two people on the way down to the bottom, where we find the Conf Center and Joel's coconut water.

The River Trail is exactly that, an easy flat dirt trail with no rocks, but it begins with a 100 yard drop. The hills are all on the right, but on the left is the big muddy Colorado River, high and faster moving than I'm used to seeing it. Somehow or other, I've screwed up my GPS, so I have no idea about milage or time any longer. I must have accidentally stopped it while I was sliding around in the rocks by Gorman Falls. I start it up again, not sure why. So, we run/walk down the docile River Trail for some distance, then turn back up on the Dogleg Canyon Trail, heading to Cedar Chop. I've been seeing the signs all day for Cedar Chop, and now that I'm finally going to Cedar Chop, it's not on the Cedar Chop Trail. 

We'd passed Elizabeth running down to Conf Center, and she passed us back on the River Trail, so it's fitting that we pass he again climbing up again. She gives me a hug before we slip by, and minutes later, we see Michele Genereux going the other way offer up a kiss. My energy stores are topped out with all this renewal. If I can just use it wisely. Joel and I make the climb up to and past the intersection of the loop on top, scoop around the bushwhack back to the Cedar Chop aid. Just seven miles to the end of loop and checking the time, I realize we're actually doing quite well, with a potential seven hour first loop. We top off and head back towards the river. Can't be more than a few minutes, when we approach a confusing narrow slot through some scrub. I'm on the right, but forced to go left, onto some big flat rocks planted at an angle, and sure as shit, hit it all wrong. One foot on the ground and it slides out, throwing me face down once again. Thats the place where I jack my finger... and exit the race.


Lar is my daughter, and she's a PA (physician's assistant), and more importantly, my crew. What she has done to repair my finger is simply amazing, but after some time, my dizziness also passes and I get some color back in my face. I begin to think I might be able to get back in this thing. I talk to Lar about going on, with the understanding that she can tell me I'm done at any point. I'll see her at regular intervals, per each aid station. Henry goes off and comes back with my chip. I'm back in the game.

Two hours later, with my fingers in a splint, I'm back at the same place and running again, maybe even better. Hell, I had a two hour break, a bite of food, and a splash of beer, but I have no idea where I am in reference to all my brothers in arms. I see Mike Riggs first and he's confused, but I smile and keep going. I see Rich next and he's having a rough day with heat and cramps. I see a few others and enough to know I'm at the back of the pack, but these are all guys who usually finish anyway, so it gives me enough of an idea that makes me believe I should be ok with time. Down to the river, up the River Trail, and then Lemon Ridge Trail. I feel good, but for the aches in both of my hands. It's a new sensation. Usually it's my legs whining at this point. This might work for me. Once my hand stops hurting, maybe I'll feel the other muscles under stress. I cut through Lemon Ridge with joy, cross the road and begin the final three mile Spicewood Canyon descent back home. My GPS is stopped again, so I restart it and I don't know why I even bother at this point. My reference to anything is way off track. I see a few guys who were near me when I went down hours ago, heading out on their 2nd loop, who are surprised to see me. Larry says something about breaking things, but I don't see Joel. I have no idea where he might be and I suspect he has no idea I'm still going.

Back at the start/finish, I sit for a moment while Lar assists. I get my feet cleaned, add another pad to my heel, fresh socks and shirt, eat a hamburger, and head back out on loop two with my hydration pack on. Bill was heading out as I came in, and Nancy walks out with me. We stay together until we reach the creek. She's tentative crossing the rocks while I drive right though, and maybe even pick up speed again, like I did last time, and I continue alone. Lar is on the job now, waiting for me at Lemon Ridge, where she assists with a refill and writes my time in the book. She tells me Joel is one hour ahead which I'm pleased to hear. I'm glad he's still going. I lose the sun near to where I cross the park road and get my headlight on. It also starts to sprinkle too, but after some thought, It seems to be more of a rain cloud I run through than anything falling out of it. Its 100% humidity and it makes the rocks even more slick and slippery than they already were.

For all this morning and day, I'd been using the rocks as landing points, but now its impossible. With both hands a swollen mess, I can't afford to fall again, so I slow down and start looking for the in-between spaces to land. Its awkward at best, looking to land on anything except a rock. It's so counterintuitive for me, hopping from dirt to mud to grass and there are places where there are no good choices, so I slow to ease through as best I can. I'm moving damned well and still feel good enough to run, but I cannot fall again. I crawl for a bit, run when I can, and its all insane. By myself, no lights or sounds anywhere near. I see more deer and armadillo, almost trip over a rabbit and then get buzzed by an owl. It's stimulating to see so much wildlife, not that I'm sitting on a park bench patiently observing. I feel as if I'm part of it, just another wild animal looking for food, running to the feed stations.

Lar is waiting at Windmill and so is Joel. When Lar showed up and told him I was still going, he just sat down to wait. Must have been 30 or 40 minutes ago, and he got cold so he put all his cold weather gear on. It takes me a few minutes to reload, and when I go back out, Joel is once again with me. It doesn't take him long before he has to stop and get all that gear off. Its still too warm when we're moving. I've been in shorts and tee-shirts all day, and expect to stay that way. We walk mostly, but do manage to run now and again. But even walking, we're moving pretty well. It seems to be working for us. This is a long section and it's exciting to finally get it behind us and over to Gorman Falls aid, where we walk into a bit of chaos. Somebody down at the Conf Center has been hurt and Jimmie Phares has run up from there to find anyone who can go rescue her in a truck. He gets Lar on it, and she starts calling everybody on my phone she thinks might help: Brad, Chris, Kyle. Eventually she talks to the Park and they send someone to get her. Lar's busy with the rescue, so I take care of myself and get going. Before I go, I tell Lar the next section is the longest and I won't see her for three hours, so she should get over to Cedar Chop and get some sleep. When I get there, I can walk up the trail to the road and wake her. No need for her to sit in the weather for hours.

This next section is the appropriately named Slide Trail where I fell earlier, the first time and I'm a bit nervous about it in this weather. Everything is slick as ice and we're sliding out regularly now. We cant avoid all the rocks and it's a constant worry for both of us. Joel seems more worried about me than I am. What we do just for safety is to slow way down. We're more than just a little careful. Coming into the Overlook out-n-back, we pass Tara Woodard, who Joel had been with an hour ago. She started the 50k very late and is now imbedded with the back-of-pack 100k runners. We visit for a moment, then head to our next major worry, the Gorman Falls drop-in. We practically fall into it. The slanted rock is slick, the guide wires too. We take time to articulate our bodies about until its done and get the hell out. Its hard to explain exactly what we do, but it's not easy. My hands are not much use and it's just stupid going down the ice chute in these condition, but I will not be denied. Soon we're at Tinaja aid where Joel completely loses his shit. He starts puking and after he empties his stomach, continues to dry heave.

This is my bedtime, he says. I'm not sure he's even talking to me, but nobody else is here. He has his head on the table resting on his arms. Its time to go, so I get up, make a lot of noise, and he gets up too. I love this section, but in the dark, there's nothing to see, nothing to stimulate. I've seen Joel like this before and I hope to be able to help him. I tell him, we don't need to move fast, but we must keep moving. We've plenty of time, but cannot waste it. I try talking to him, but he's walking comatose and his response is null. All I get out of him is the need to sit, so we sit. A rock here and there,  a few minutes each, I empty the debris out of my shoes, wait a moment, then get up and go again. It goes like this all the way up to the pond, back round the other side to the place near Cedar Chop, and back again down towards Conf Center. We ran this descent the last time, but we walk now. I wish we could run it. We both have the legs for it and maybe it might help too, but the rocks are too slick. One of us would bust it for sure.

Walking into Conf Center ghost town is weird, the porch light's on, but nobody's home. Joel finally gets his coconut water, but he can't drink it. I feel like hell, suspect he feels even worse. He needs to lay down and sleep until the sun comes up, but doesn't have the time, and neither do I. Come on Dude! Time to roll the rock down to the river and out of this hole. He doesn't get up right away as I walk away, but he does eventually get up. At the steep downhill, his momentum pushes him down the hill a bit faster than he wants and I think he's gonna run into me. Hey man, you want me to get out of your way? And he laughs. It's a glorious laugh and I just love to hear it. So he's still in there. Moving down the long flat and easy jeep trail, I get my fast march on and I hope he hooks on, but he does not. It's a slow shuffle accompanied by constant and irregular dry heaves. My stomach aint no daisy either, and I've been holding it together, but his dry heaves are starting to turn my stomach. I decide to stay just far enough ahead so I don't have to hear it, to avoid harmonizing tummies. I march ahead, then stand and wait, watching his two lights shimmy towards me: the big bright 300 lumen headlamp and the dozen parallel waist lights. It's an interesting visual, next to the river, with all the lights from the houses on the other side reflecting on the water, and I can hear the fish jumping out of the water when I stand completely still. I want to run, I need to go, but I don't want to leave him down here alone, and oddly enough, all of this is beautiful in a long lasting sort of way. The sounds from the wind and the water, the lights and the shadows dancing together, and a couple of good friends just trying to get this damned 100k finished.

I stop and sit on a rock long enough for Joel to get next to me. I wait and listen to the voices on the other side of the river. Some people who are probably relaxing over beers and watching the river, same as me. This time, Joel lies down and goes to sleep. I sit and watch for about 10 minutes, then wake him, tell him its time to go. I don't think he'll do it, but he gets up, and starts walking again. I can still hear the voices from across the river, until he dry heaves again, and the voices stop. We stop two more times along the river and he sleeps each time for some five minutes each. By the time we reach the turn to Cedar Chop, I'm checking my watch more regularly than I usually do, trying my damnedest to figure out the timing. But I've messed up my GPS so badly, I've only a rough idea of time and distance. I think we have plenty of time... but not at this pace. The climb to Cedar Chop is not any bigger or nastier than anything else we've done today, but it feels like a big ass mountain right now and suspect its even bigger for Joel. Again, I move ahead, turn to check, and rarely get any further than to see Joel's light behind me. It all seems to go on and on, until finally I start thinking about Lar waiting up there for me, and I decide to go ahead, if for no other reason than to wake Lar and get myself resettled. She should be sleeping in the truck and it's not right at the aid station, so I need to find her and get back before Joel gets there. I push the button and go, a fast march and minimal run all the way up and around to the aid. Nobody's there, no lights, nothing. I grab my bags and head up looking for the parking lot, but I'm unsure which way to go. I head up the trail that says half-marathon, but after a few minutes, it curves the wrong way and I know its the wrong choice. I head back to the station and head another way, but still cant find the road. I come back to the aid again, go another way, and this time I find the jeep road and soon after the parking lot and Lar. She wakes quickly, sets me up while we watch for lights back down the direction of the station. She asks what I need, but I need nothing more than to keep going. I grab another of my spare lights out of my drop bag, dump the dying one, when we both see the lights near the station and head for it.

Joel is in the tent and so is another, both sunk down into chairs. Joel's lights are off, his eyes closed... but the woman in the other chair has her light on bright and looking right at me. Please, I ask, you're killing me! She doesn't react, maybe doesn't understand, still looking at me. I can't see a thing. Your light? I say, and then she understand and covers it with her hand, but leaves it on. Joel says, go on Joe, you don't need to wait on me any longer. You need to go. There's a lot I want to say, not that my conversational skills are all that grand, but now I have nothing. I want him to go on, but I don't want him to hurt. I want him to finish, and want for him to get some sleep. I'm a mess and he's a mess and I don't have a flippin clue how to solve this one. The only person here with any real sense is Lar and she tells me, you go on. I'll take care of Joel. We'll do what needs to be done, whatever that is, but you go.

Traumatized, emotional, hurt, angry, confused... I stumble out, not sure which way to go, figure it out, come back, leave again, and start running. I forget to fill my water bottle and its empty, don't realize until I attempt a drink. Go back? Ah hell no. I can't do that. I just need to suck it up and go. The only damned way I'm gonna feel any better is to be done. I run faster, then faster, then I slip, almost fall, and settle myself down. I can't afford to fall again. The splint on my hand is gone. All the moisture and everything else and its just gone. I see a light coming towards me and its Axel. He stops to talk and I ask if its possible he has any extra water. He fills my empty and wishes me well. I thank him and then take a big deep swallow. It's interesting how thirsty I get when I realize I have no water, when otherwise I might have run for hours and never taken a drink. Such amazingly contradicting impulses that drive us. Nothing but darkness after the trail angel Axel, down to the river yet again, and then Lemon Ridge Trail. I should feel exhilarated knowing I'm on the final trail, and feeling lots of different thing, but not exhilaration. Leaving Joel behind has simply removed that emotion. I am sure I'll be happy to be done, but it would have been so much more awesome had we shared the experience of finishing. My mind is spinning and I can't slow it down. Every thought lasts seconds, and another, and another. My light is almost completely dead before I realize its even dimmed. I'm stumbling about because I can't see. I have two spares, pull out a good one, put the dead one away, and continue a bit more gracefully than I was just moments before.

Lar is waiting at Lemon Ridge, and again I don't need anything at all. Actually I dump everything out of my pack except the spare lights, and fill my bottle with Ginger Ale for the last three miles. I ask about Joel. She gave him a ride back to his van. I feel bad about that, but I'd also feel bad knowing he was out there alone. Nothing good about it either way. I need to stop thinking. I tell Lar I'll be done in ninety minutes and head on, walking mostly, with an occasional downhill run, but mostly just falling towards the finish, I cross paths with another armadillo. I start thinking about all the wildlife I'd seen today and it's a lot more than I usually see. I gave the GPS to Lar back at Lemon Ridge. It had already powered down, which seems funny to me. I've outlasted my GPS again. Now thats something to tell the grandkids. My mind wandering so much I begin to worry my legs don't wander as well... over a cliff or worse. Lar has been awesome. JoAnna plucking thorns out of my ass. Joel and Lar fixing my finger. Sliding down into Gorman Falls. How'd I get out of there, hugging the metal poles to keep from falling? I wake out of my mental meander when I hit the final jeep road. Just walking now, I reach up to turn off my light and realize it's already off. Don't remember turning it off, but sure as hell don't need it now. No run left in me and don't care, so I slowly wander down the last half mile.  When I see the lights at the finish, there is no buzz of excitement. I'm just glad I can finally sit down. When I walk in, there's nobody there. Without my light on, I suppose nobody saw me coming. Doesn't matter. I cross the timing mat, done, walk to the tent. Somebody sees me and gets up, so I sit in the chair they exit, and remove the chip. Brad hands me a buckle and offers a handshake. I reach out, then pull back. I should not be shaking hands or fist bumping for a while.

2018: Rocky 50

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This race was not in my plans, not even a week ago, when I was running a 100k. But Daran called and said she was flying in to run the 50mi and wanted me to join her. She even talked Lauren into going, and she hadn't run anything beyond a marathon. Granted, Lauren made a point she was just running for a bit and had no intentions to run the whole thing. 

And so we began our day with bibs 1, 2, & 3, pouring rain, and loads of mud. I tell Daran to get after it if she wants to hit her sub-12hr desire, but I have no plans other than to do as best my body can, starting on already tired legs. I figure, with Lauren running, she can hang with Daran for a bit, while I have time to shake out the rust. They’re both gone before we’re 2 miles in, and thats about when I run right out of my shoes. I'm slogging through a long mud hole, when my foot slips completely out of one shoe. Before I have time to react, I'm out of the 2nd shoe. In stocking feet, I turn around and go fishing in the mud and the dark for my submerged shoes. They'd already filled with mud and water, so it takes a moment to pull 'em out, rinse 'em off, and put 'em back on, while many others splash by. This time I pull the laces just a bit tighter, double knots, and continue to plow right through the middle of the mud bogs.

It’s dark under the pines and heavy rain clouds, but it’s not cold. The rain jacket is a waste of extra weight. I thought it might keep me a bit warmer should it keep raining, but the rain backs off, so it's worthless. After the initial mile long strait away, its endless turns. At the long bridge, we go strait across, leave the park and enter the National Forest. Right turn, up and down a few rolling muddy hills, then back into the park, followed by two more rights. And this is pretty much how it goes for the next 2 miles, turn after turn, mud followed by mud. By the time, we approach the Nature Center aid, the sky is getting light enough, that I decide to ditch my headlight, jacket, and buff. I shove the non-essentials in my jacket pocket and hang the jacket on the aid station tent. If my timing's good, maybe I'll use the light and jacket again later.

I connect with Joel in the early morning light as we slip & slide down to Amy's Crossing. This is the beginning of the long 3 mile out-n-back to the Highway gate on a very muddy jeep road that rolls a good bit. With the sun up, albeit under a heavy cloud cover, we get a chance to see who are all the other people in the race. I walk each wave to the crest and run down the other side as it rolls underneath, maintaining my casual easy rhythm from Amy's Crossing to the Highway Gate aid station. Lauren surprises me by coming up from behind, when I assumed she was in front with Daran. She had to make some adjustments at Nature Center, so now she is with me. At one time, this road was a long bed of rock. But nature has reclaimed the road and turned it back to dirt, and today it is mud. Granted, there are bits that are firm and clean enough to run, but mostly it's a lot of dodging about from one messy slog to another.

Returning from the Highway Gate is much the same as it was going out and reaching Amy's is always a good reference point, mostly because we leave the nasty ol jeep road for the easier to run single-track. The forest floor is covered with a prodigious amount of pine needles, which softens each foot strike and confuses the sounds around us. The tree cathedral has the feel of something majestic or magic. Joel, Lauren, and I talk a little, but mostly we skim along the forest floor, dodging roots and mud holes, and careful with each very slick bridge. My effort is easy, comfortable, unforced, and I wonder if it's the same for the others. I wonder if they aren't going slower than they should just to run with me. I'm still feeling last weeks race and want to be careful so I can continue for the entire 50 miles, so I'm being much more conservative than usual. Typically, I'd be pushing much harder right now, early on, and fresh. But, I skipped the fresh start already.

We pop out on the Dam access road and make the turn onto the perimeter road leading to DamNation aid. This part of the jeep road is nice and clean, no mud, relatively strait and slightly downhill. My GPS matches the expected distance at 9.6mi and its 8am, so we're doing well for not pushing the pace. The next long out-n-back is another 9mi or a pinch under, but I call it 9 for simplicity’s sake, so I expect to be back here in another 2 hours. This next section used to be a big loop, but now its one long out-n-back on the same single-track, all the way to the big bridge. It's a twisty-turny snake of a route, riding the crooked edge of the lake's perimeter. My favorite part of the course is beautiful in its remoteness. There's more roots and bridges here than elsewhere. With over 4 miles to the big bridge and all the variety between here and there, it's stimulating enough to keep me spun up. The old route was voided when the bridge at the first turn was picked up and destroyed during last winter’s tornado, pieces strung between swamp and canopy. We’re forced to the right where we pass another two misplaced bridges, sitting in locations that make no practical sense unless you knew they'd been picked up and moved by a monstrous wind tunnel. After the meaningless bridges, we cross two new bridges that allow us back around in a loop to where we had meant to go before the original bridges had blown away. Feels as if I'm in a giant toddler's sandbox. Back on the main perimeter single-track, including mud and roots, we keep along the fenceline until we get to the old cutback.

It's a half-mile hump over to the levee, then left onto the twisty-turny muck and mud, sand and root. I have some fun here, picking up my effort a bit, just because all this makes me feel better. Daran passes us going the other way, an hour ahead looking strong. Joel and I are talking and carrying on about a whole lot of nothing, but I notice Lauren is starting to lag behind a bit. She never intended to run the entire race and we did talk about the easy way out by the long bridge, so I can only assume this might be on her mind. At the aid station, Lauren tells me she's taking the quick way back, so I tell her the specifics and she heads home and done. Joel and I turn back. Somewhere along here we connect with Ian of Fort Worth, so the three of us head back, and make good time until I trip and go flying. I land hand first on a root and roll up on my back. I think I can roll over and back onto my feet, but end up with my feet strait up and my back in the mud. The boys help me back up, but the hard banging about on my knee keeps me from going right away. It’s only seconds before the knee-throb settles out and I can run again, but then I begin to feel my hand. I have a poke hole and some blood on the meaty part of my palm at the base of my thumb. It begins to throb as I run and worse when I hold my water bottle in that hand, so I take a few Tylenol and that does the trick. I stop hurting completely.

The three of us are having a raucous time joking and laughing about everything from me busting my ass to the mud stomping through each bog, which carries us all the back to the giant's sandbox and DamNation. We’re 18 or so miles in and roughly 4 hours, so even with the goodbyes and falls, we seem to be on a decent time table. We're 7 miles from the end of loop and I'm feeling pretty good about that. Running from landmark to landmark is working well for me today, avoiding any thoughts of the bigger distances. Hell, I'm just running to the next aid station and then decide what to do when I get there.

Its easy going from DamNation to Amy's, then up the root chute to Nature Center for 3 more with less than 4 miles to the loop end. Having gone through this section in the dark early this morning, I'm curious to see what it looks like: the place where I ran out of my shoes, the route through the National Forest, and all the turns. I know so much of it already, but the inside-out route is a half-loop inside another half-loop, so hard to tell what's next. The strait-line wide-cut jeep road through the National Forest is simply a rolling bog of mud, and the bridge is slick with all the mud drug in off the trail by hundreds of muddy shoes. The final long strait-away from the long bridge to the finish is kind of nice knowing it’s the shortest route to the finish. Joel and I are without Ian now, and we talk about hooking up again before heading out on loop two. He heads off to the left while I head right towards my truck and personal aid station.

Lauren’s here now and helps me with what all I need, bringing quesadillas while I change clothes, and patching my feet after I wash all the sand off. Last thing I do, is take my pack. When I head back over to the station to find Joel, I can’t find him. Somebody runs over to check the shitters and another looks in the tents, but I tire of looking and waiting, so I head out. Same trail we did earlier forward and reverse, so its all very familiar, except for the runners going in every sort of direction. At Nature Center, Jon Perz, waiting for his wife to come in, walks with me for a little. I turn at Amy's and head up the mud road. I don’t see Daran, so she’s cruising, at least 3 miles ahead. I do finally see Joel. He's ahead of me with Ian again. He must have left long before I did, so I was looking for nothing back at the start. I did take 30 minutes to get my feet and all else right, so a good many people had passed by while I was fussing about. I begin to catch and pass some of those people who had been behind me, all but Joel. He and Ian are going faster or at least, even with my effort, because each time I see him at the out-n-backs, the difference is about the same. As much as I’m disappointed we aren’t running together, I’m happy he’s doing well, and he’s also providing some motivation.

Back to Amy's and into the single-track woods, I realize its near 3pm, so we've got another 3 hours of light, enough to do the big Far-Side loop for certain. I make the turn at DamNation without picking up anything other than some Ginger Ale. I also hear for the first time that Daran’s having some problems: IT band, shoes too tight, or something of that sort. I begin to wonder how she’s dealing with it and start looking for her, hoping she’s ok. I snag my arm on some saw briars, which paints in blood some lovely calligraphy on my forearm. The blood mixes with the incoming mist, creating some gnarly looking red tattoo of red swirls. I get through the sandbox, the levee cutover, and then the single-track before I see Daran. I’ve closed on her some, but she’s still a good ways ahead, walking now, but in good spirits. She keeps on walking while I keep rolling in the opposite direction. I reach FarSide at 4pm, seeing Joel and Ian just before arriving, still maintaining the same gap. I turn for home and the final 11 miles feeling pretty damn content. I certainly wasn't confidant today, but it's beginning to look like it might happen.

Rolling back into DamNation is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment, the last time I need to see this landmark today. I love this aid station and I'm glad to be done with it. The Rockhoppers who manage it, are the most wonderful of people. Its 5pm and even in my depleted state, I suspect I might reach Nature Center  before sunset. It's all the motivation I need, however trivial, to put my mind in a mode to not relax just yet. The further I get before dark, the less trouble I’ll have to muddle through afterwards. The new goal: get as far as I can with whats left of the light. Within my own mind's view, I'm working hard, but from outside perspective, I'm sure the effort appears rather pathetic. I know I'm not moving fast, but it could be worse. I tick off the landmarks as I goodbye each one: Amy's, the root chute, and then Nature Center.

Its 5:50pm when I pass Nature Center for the last time. More than a little pleased, I make the first turn, then the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. Its 6:10 before I turn on my headlamp. Five minutes later, I enter the National Forest and slog through the muddy hills to the bridge leading into the park. The last mile is sort-of strait away, but more than anything else, its the most direct route to the finish. I feel as if I'm running now, and willing to bet it doesn't look like running. I make the final cut through to the powerline, s short riser, then I see the finish and hear it too. I cross in 6:45pm. Having already cared for Daran and got her comfortable, Lauren now takes care of me. Daran had finished 30 minutes earlier with Joel in between the two of us. Life is good!


aid    miles  runtime mile-gap time-gap /    miles   runtime mile-gap time-gap
nc     3.92    0:51        3.92         0:51        /    29.29     7:17     4.10         1:18
hg     6.68    1:28        2.76         0:37        /    32.05    7:56    2.76         0:39
dn     9.63    2:06       2.95        0:38        /    35.01     8:41     2.96         0:45
fs     13.95    3:09       4.32         1:03        /    39.38     9:49    4.37         1:08
dn    18.32    4:16        4.37         1:07        /    43.77    10:57    4.39         1:08
nc    21.26    5:02        2.94        0:46        /    46.79    11:48    3.02        0:51
s/f    25.19    5:59        3.93        0:57        /    50.66    12:45    3.87        0:57

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2018: Red Dirt 100k

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Jimmy and I arrived with enough daylight to put up a tent and a camp-hammock, knock down a light dinner, and tuck into bed by dark. It was cold, high-30s, with a bit of wind, but no rain. Nippy enough to appreciate the foam pad between my sleeping bag and the hammock. I set my alarm for 5am, with enough time to dress and lube, and have a light breakfast. I'd been having problems the past few months with my shoes and was going to try another new solution today. Yes, I'm taking a brand new pair of shoes out of the box and putting 'em on my feet. Good with Drymax socks, an extra thick long sleeve tech-shirt, a fleece half-zip, a wool cap, and gloves for the cold, but still enjoying my standard run shorts even in the 30 degree start. Only going out with a single water bottle with a pocketful of odds & ends: toilet-kit for my ass, repair-kit for my feet, and gels for my tummy. Not to forget, but I almost do - a good headlamp on my noggin, reloaded with brand-new fresh batteries. I plan to leave the light in my mid-loop drop bag to use as a backup on loop two. There's one drop bag station besides the start finish on the 50k loop, and I have it fully loaded with tons of extra clothes for cold and wet conditions. The weather forecast leads me to believe I may not need it, but Its better looking at it than looking for it. Its funny when everything goes right and all the drop bags come back completely unopened, but it aint so funny when I need something and I don't have it.

Early on in the dark, I can’t see much, but I do feel I'm on a hilly beach. Running on sand is much the same as running on hills, to the point that I sometimes suggest beach running to simulate hill running. Adding sand to hills is like doubling down on hill running. Even in the dark, seeing nothing but the moving spots of light, I am already getting my ass handed to me. I had started about mid-way in the starting pack of 40 odd runners, but I quickly slide back to caboose position as I walk up one hill after another. I match up with William Sprouse, who is surprisingly consistent. I walk up and run down, pass and get passed to the point that we tend to balance into each other's rhythm. After a bit, we each modify just a tad to the point that we end up walk/run together for another 10 miles.

After the first station, the sand finally gives way to bigger hills and sticky mud. I love the hills but not especially glad to see shoe sucking mud. It builds up and gathers pine needles in huge clumps on each shoe. Its slick in spots, causing as much slip and slide as the sand did, but in a completely different exertion. Hard to say exactly how different, but my lateral muscles are getting a monstrous dose of work way too early in this race. My brand new shoes have a big deep tread that helps minimize sliding, but assist in gathering a lot of ground crap.

William's in the 100mi so he's actively looking for the turn to the add-on miles. He cant recall where it's supposed to be, and is getting concerned he might have missed it, so we both make a sport of looking for it. I'd read it was soon after the 2nd aid, and we're past the 2nd aid, so his concern begins to creep up as the miles do. The lead 50k runner passes by and says we’re not quite to it. He’s right and soon enough, Edie’s son is there to manage the splitting of ways. William runs off to the right while I continue on alone, the closing of one door and the opening of another. I don't know if I would have connected with the ladies had William not split off, but he does and we do. I can hear their voices for a while, like swamp birds chattering away, such that I can hear the pitch and pattern but not the words. At first, I did think they were birds, but then they fly in and carry me along with them. Truth is, after William leaves, I have less motivation to run, and with nobody to hold me accountable, I just kept walking. That is, until the birds pass me. Cy Nguy and Keilynn Hopkins sound like two best friends out on a stroll, so I glom onto the high energy wave wafting behind them, hoping they won't notice. I say nothing for a while and they keep on as they had been, but eventually I get sucked into their orbit. Cy stops to do something, leaving me as the receiver for a moment. By the time Cy comes back, I’ve been assimilated, snd so I continue on with them as if I'm part of the family. The topics range far and wide, but it's all fun and light conversation, laughter and smiles. We stop to take pictures, then a short go-pro video. Everyone who comes by is intrigued and curious what we're doing. They don’t seem to think we're in the race so much as maybe just three travelers out for a rousing good time.

Surprising the number of hills we've been through to this point. I had not expected so much variety, and happy to see it. Not much I like about a flat course, so all this is moving my mouth into a smile. With all the tall pine trees, I’m surprised there are no roots on the trail. Maybe because the ground is so soft and wet, the roots have no cause to grow to the surface, but after running in Texas for so long, it’s rather nice to not dodge any roots or rocks. It's easy to shift from my shuffle-slide power-walk to a run and back whenever the trail transitions from up to down, so I have some fun playing with it.

The aid stations at Edie Couvillon's Paix Running races are always well stocked and managed by experienced runners, so its hard to overstate how uncommonly friendly they all are. They not only help me, but I can feel the warmth of their whole attitude as they do what they can to help me along. I'm a lover of Cajun cooking, so it's a real treat to see what all they have to offer up, besides the quesadillas and grilled cheese. Suffice it to say, there was nothing I went without. I leave my headlamp & hat at the 3rd station in my drop bag, and continued on with my new friends. Our next favorite spot is known as Spa-21, a water crossing of large rock slabs that make for a pleasing water collection and drainage. Keilynn wants a photo of us together here, so she positions the camera and then we go back onto rocks for the shot. As I implied earlier, we’re certainly not in a hurry.

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For the first time, I begin to see rocks, first one, then more. It's not enough to bother about, but is notable in that it reminds me I had seen none before Spa-21. We run a bit, walk a bit, but the talk never stops for very long. We roll through the 4th station and I begin to realize I'm a bit wet from sweat. It's been nice and cool all morning, and as lazy as I've been running, I'm still working a sweat, it seams. I'm still wearing the jacket over my shirt, but I'm without gloves or hat and perfectly comfortable. It starts to sprinkle a bit of rain over the last few miles to the finish, but it's not enough to change the comfort level or my wardrobe. More than anything, it's refreshing. I finally find a water crossing I cannot cross dry, so for the first time today, I get my shoes and socks wet. Usually this is no big deal, but because of all the sand, the combination of water and sand is a rather nasty method to produce blisters. The last mile or so, we're back into the hills and beach sand again, and we'r back to where we started in just under 7 hours. We make plans to head out together again as we each head off to take care of our own needs.

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I go to my truck, which I'd already pre-set as my mid-race aid and changing station. My pack is already pre-loaded with rain jacket, food, gloves, and an extra bottle of gatorade. I change out shirt, jacket, hat, gloves, socks, and shorts, put the pack on and head over to find the ladies. I thought I'd taken a good bit of time, but they're still there messing with their gear. I eat a quesadilla while I regale them with some colorful commentary and get my picture taken by a park employee. Eventually they tire of my exuberance and leave just to shut me up. Back into the sand. Now that we can see, it seems even worse, or maybe it’s the rain, which is light but regular. It's not enough to put on the rain jacket yet, so I leave it packed, but the ladies both began this loop with their rain jackets on, and they regret it. It's a choice to be made: get wet from rain or wet from sweat. Eventually, they take their jackets off and pack 'em up. With one full loop done and the miles wearing on our legs, we tend to run less and walk more, but my walking pace is solid. This past year's 500mi hike on the Appalachian Trail has my hiking ability in rare form, so I keep walking away from the ladies. We manage well enough through the sand and the 1st Station, but once we get to the hills of mud, I lose 'em both. The mud is worse than before, as expected from the constant lazy rain. My shoes quickly load up to Frankenstein level, complete with pine needles and leaves, but I've been doing a good bit of mud running these past few months, so I manage quite well. I actively engage in the enjoyment and recreation of surfing the mud slopes. It's a bit exhilarating not knowing if I'm going to bust my ass or make it to the bottom without ending up in the sludge. I think about this for just a fraction, wondering what the downside would be if I fell. There's no rocks or roots. The ground is soft. If I end up all muddy, the rain will wash it off. What the hell and why not just go for it, so I do. I run, slide, and surf down and power walk back up. When I reach the bottom and look back, I see both the ladies hanging onto trees. When I top out, I check again and can't see them. I wait a moment, but then think better of it. I do another hill the same way, check again and realize I've disconnected. I had so much fun with them and they would be even better company after it gets dark again, but I should just keep on.

The rain does pick up and I put on my jacket, but maybe I wait too long. I’m really enjoying all of it, and especially the rain on my face, so I don't bother to put my hood up, and everything I have on gets soaking wet. Alone now and missing the good company I've had most of the day, I roll along without seeing another soul. Coming into the 2nd station, I refill my empty gatorade bottle with Ginger Ale and take another quesadilla as I walk out. The timing and milage is such that I should reach my drop bag at the middle station before dark. I'm thinking I should blow right through and make haste to get finished instead of killing time with a wardrobe change, but my inner thigh and nether region chaffing is causing me to rethink the idea. The rain gets harder but doesn't remain so for very long. The light drizzle from the clouds every now and then spills out some rather large dollops. All in all, the trail is not only getting more muddy and slick, but it's pooling up too, creating some good sized ponds on what used to be a trail. The chaffing has me coming into the 3rd station like a cowboy looking for relief. I ask for my drop bag and the whereabouts of a changing room, but there is no such thing. They suggest the port-o-jon, which is my last and only resort, so I head for it.

They have dressed-up the shitter impressively, with candles, floor mat, a book to read, and a candelabra. I lock myself in, and strip down nude, removing all my sopping wet clothes, to lube up the danger zones. Now, I’m completely covered in the dry clothing I left here in my drop bag specifically for this reason. Shirt, jacket, shorts, gloves, rain jacket, and super-heavy duty wool buff all combine to make me feel rather grand. All but my muddy socks and shoes, which would only be in the same condition in a minutes, and it seems rather silly to even bother. I feel a new man escaping the Shit House Changing Room, having readjusted my entire mood and bearing. Besides all that, I only need a Ginger Ale refill and another quesadilla. I was hoping my delay would allow time for my friends to catch me up, but no such luck. I leave feeling refreshed, dry, and still a bit lonely, heading into the dark. I already have a flashlight in my pack, but I take the spare from my drop bag just in case.

The light shuts down rather quickly under the tall trees and heavy rain, while the trail becomes a creek. I button up and cinch down much smarter than I had earlier, with hood up and pulled in taut. I stay warm and dry where I need to and the rest of me will just have to deal with it. There is nothing can be done to keep my feet and legs dry, so I don’t even think about it. There are places where the mud is abundant, and places where I wade from puddle to puddle, where the size, length, and depth are in question, but the circumstances that kick me the hardest are when I wade thru a muddy stream where the surface underwater is uneven to produce unexpected sliding. More than once I go down into the mud, sometime with just my hand, and sometime full body. 

I have adapted very well to my poor vision, but in the dark, rain, and fog, I bumble about pathetically. The course markings are mostly the Kisatchie National Forest green arrows which are well placed and frequent enough to keep me from being completely undone, but I’m more content seeing the reflective markers Edie uses. I know I'm on the course of the green arrows, but I still get unnerved now and again for no good reason other than I'm alone at night in a forest I've never been before, in the rain and completely exhausted. I stop now and again to check behind me just to make sure I'm not missing a turn. The conditions are such that I’m not certain at all times I'm going the right way. On some occasions, I'm blinded by my own breath-fog, until I step through it. The rain, when it comes down hard causes such a racket on my rain-hood, and also on the pools of water I wade through. I hear different pitches on each pool and wonder if its the depth of the water that causes the deviation or something else entirely. Sometimes I hear loud crashes in the woods only to think it's just another effect of the rain. When the rain is light, my headlamp beam shining out under the hood, refracting through every rain crystal passing in front of my face produces the same visual effect as snow. Its amazing how many over-stimulated senses my poor addled brain is trying to process right now. The feel of the cold, rain, wind, and pain on my face, feet, and hands. The sound of my breathing and the cacophony of rain crashing into me and the forest around me. Visions of mud, water, and dirt all merging and swirling about, the flashing of lights and reflections surrounded by darkness, and movement everywhere. The smell of fresh rain and wet earth, merging with the stink of my wet sweaty clothes. It's too much for one person to process while walking alone in the woods.

Spending so much time in water or mud, or water and mud, I begin to feel the assemblage of sand castles in my shoes. I stop once to empty my shoes only to realize the lion’s share of sand has actually saturated into my socks. I think of removing and wringing out each sock, but wonder if its worth the time, and never do. I think of an experiment where I’d fill a shoe with water and sand, add a wool sock imbedded with more sand, then insert a water softened foot and swish it around for maximum abrasive rub, and determine how long takes to generate one or a dozen blisters. In the end, I end up playing a sand-in-my-shoe game. If the sand lump accumulates in a good spot, I let it be, but if it collects in a bad spot, I simply step in another puddle, dissolve the sand lump, and let it redistribute in another random location. And then of course, when I get it right and can’t avoid the next puddle, I start over again. So much of the water is lukewarm and of little concern, but there are places where the water is cold enough to cause my feet to tingle like it does in snowmelt. Now and again, I leave the trail to avoid busting my ass on a slick descent or a deep pool between two ridges. I cut up between the trees as close to the edge of the woods as I can. This was easy during the daylight, but after dark, it’s a gamble and not always easier or wiser.

Finding the 4th station is relieving, not only knowing I’m on the final section, but to know I'm going the right way after all. Believe me, I was not always sure. All I want is a Ginger Ale refill and quickly continue onto the final section. This last bit has everything already, but now there's more. We had loads of hills, plenty of sand, and beaucoup mud, but now the stream crossings are huge too. Knowing I'm almost done powers me on. My forced hike gets stronger and I finally remove my hood to let the rain once more fall on my face. I was never really cold, but for a short bit coming into the drop bag station. I’m not sure how my feet are doing, but feel the blister pop and know there has to be some damage. I’m so glad to be nearly done, and not heading for another loop, like the poor 100 mile runners. I could do it, but my feet would be ruined by it. I’ve had enough. I hope the girls are ok and suspect they are. They had it going just fine before I hooked up with them and figure they should be fine. I cross the finish in 15:31. Jimmy’s been been done for over 2 hours and his tent was wrecked by the rain, so we decide on a hotel instead, but first he allows me some time to eat some good local Gumbo.

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2018: Goodwater 16mi

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The field of 16-mi starters seems very thin in the wide chute. Only 35 people, I learn later after I get home and check the results. The 54-mi and marathon runners had all started hours earlier at 5:30am. They also sent the 2-person team runners off at sunrise (7:30am). With 14 starters in the 54-mi and another 42 in the Marathon, wasn’t all that many runners on the course as it is. The 8-mi will start an hour after us. The timing of each is such that I’ll only see a few of the 94 odd 8-mi runners just before I finish. All of us began east, heading to the 4mi Jim Hogg aid station first and then the 8mi Spillway aid, before reversing back the way we come back to the finish: but thats just logistics.

Quite a good bit of the course is rugged and rocky, with not much for changes in topography. It does roll a little, but mostly the trouble is high humidity wet rocks. All but the last bit near the spillway is single-track trail. I wasn’t at all surprised to see the lead group take out from the start rather quickly with Josh Beckham running. Was only curious to see who'd go with him. I wait just a moment to make certain I don’t get drawn into the start-line energy-suck, and sort myself out behind a guy with a fishing hat and two ladies who seem to be talking to each other. Of course, my energy or patience is such that when the fishing-hat guy goes past the ladies at a point early on where they seem to slow, I simply stick to him and go along in tow. I stay behind for another few minutes as we twist about on the windy trail under tree cover with lots of rock obstacles. I suppose he might want me off his stride, because he steps off trail and stops so I can pass, not that I want to or need to, but now I am in front of him. And so our band of runners quickly spreads out in so many different means and ways.

I'm never certain which direction I will turn at any given moment. The trail is not always easy to see, it is rarely strait, and it changes direction so quickly and surprisingly that I must stay constantly tuned to all of it. Scanning constantly for rocks, low-hanging branches, and the constant turns, I tune in while I tune out. I hardly notice anything other than my little rock dance when I realize I’m again behind another runner. He steps off to let me pass, but I tell him I don’t need to, but in saying no, I pass him and he tucks in behind me. We talk for a moment, a few statements, nothing worth note, and then another and another join in. Now we are five, each add-on coming in singly, and I ask if they wish to pass, but they do not. It’s a quietly comfortable group who run without talk, breathing comfortably, each of us navigating the obstacles in our own way.

After another 15 to 20 minutes, I feel I'm being pushed along and decide to exit the pack. I need to re-establish my own comfort level, so I step off and let them go, walk for a few moments before resuming my run. I get back into my rhythm and after a few more twists and turns, watch the boys in front slowly pull away and separate into singles again. By the 4mi aid, I now have two new add-ons who have tucked into my flow. One of them (Shayna) starts talking to me, asking questions about trail running and she remains with me as the other falls off. I switch to a walk now and again, for slight rises and slippery slopes of wet rock, but she remains locked into what I do, at least for a while. On a flat and fast section, she goes ahead while I remain at the effort I've been. Even though the course is decidedly easier and faster here, I just don’t care to push the pace.

Two miles from the 8-mi turn-around, the race leader (Josh) buzzes by, heading home. In the next 2 miles, between here and the Spillway, another 20 runners file past, including the two ladies I passed soon after the start, still talking. The rain begins and comes down a fair amount for the next 30 minutes as I roll into the 8mi aid and turn to head home. Maybe because this being the most open area of the course, or maybe its just everywhere on the course, but the trail becomes a mess of mud, with my shoes picking it up and clumping on. Besides making the landings more uneven, and the rocks more slick, my hamstrings start complaining about the extra workload just lifting my heavier unbalanced feet. By the time I get back into the trees, the rain stops while the humidity maintains its already elevated funk.

Alone since mile 5 or 6, I feel even more isolated now, not seeing anyone except the occasional glimpse of a colored shirt well off in the distance. My energy on the wane, I'm working much harder now just trying to keep moving. I take more walk breaks, some for no good reason at all. At some point, I study my watch, the distance and time, and realize I can break 3:30 if I just quite screwing around. I love the mental games and dial one in. The humidity and the mud is messing with me and I feel I'm done, but I attempt to talk myself into staying on task if only to be done sooner. And so I manage a decent effort that lasts for 10 minutes, then a short hill to walk, then another 7 minutes to the next rise, and so on and so on. I think I may just pull it off, but my reasoning dies when my GPS shows 16 miles and I still have more to go. Not that I can absolutely count on my GPS being dead on, as I know it rarely ever is, but now I don’t know how much further it is and the timer is still flying. So, now, I am uncertain. More uncertain than I was a while ago, which is really odd, because I never really had any reason to be certain of anything. 

I start running, pushing myself more than I have done at any point today, and refuse to stop. I can’t know, I don’t know, and can only know when I see the finish and the clock. I am returning the same way I ran out, so I must eventually get there. I pass two women who are the last of the 8mi runners, and just after passing, I hear a crack and then one of them yells, or maybe both of them yell. I turn around and go back to see that one of them has her hands over her face. She has run her head into a low branch and it has split the skin on her forehead. She has a bandana or some such in her hands and applies it to her head. She has a nice cut, but I’ve seen worse. I tell her to keep the cloth on her head and keep going. We must be near the finish. So I turn and start running again. It's not far now. I hear it first, and then i see it, and cross the last paved road, and soon after, enter the chute, and see the time, and I'm amazed. 3:27:26

2018: Bandera 100k

The wide variety of clothing options on the people in the start-line crowd was indicative of the changing weather pattern. From thin teeshirts to heavy winter jackets, long pants or shorts, and all the accessories, people were trimmed down or overloaded. The temp was 38 and would trend up, which is what we call great volunteer weather. It'll be a bit warm for me and knowing this, I still start with jacket and gloves: a case of knowing and not thinking. Hell, I'm just here for a little all-day run.

As the herd squeezes forward on the tree-lined jeep road, we have little room to move about until we pass the old abandoned Boyle's house. The sudden single-track bottleneck stops us in our tracks as we sort into a single file. This done, we speed up a little until we reach the next squeeze point at the base of Big Nasty. The first of the tough technical climbs is not terribly long, but an eye-opener for flatlanders and smooth-trail runners. Like so many of the others, the climb is rutted, full of rocks, ledges, and sotol. Explains why I like it so much! The compressed pack of people remains tight from Big Nasty, across the saddle, up Sky-Island, around the perimeter, and back down. This is great downhill barn-storming if there's room to run, but I'm stuck in a long line of lemmings with no room to do anything but hold pace with the pack. If I was in a hurry, this would be frustrating, but I have no plan other than relaxing and enjoying the day. 

Down low, we pop onto another scrub juniper and mesquite lined jeep road. To be a tree in Texas, you must be short and have thorns, which works great to keep runners on trail. The main point about this particular section of jeep road is: we are finally sorted such that we can finally run as we please. All other excuses for me going slow from this point forward are my own. Less than a mile of jeep road until we turn back up onto the next single-track around a ripple of land below Sky-Island. One of the risers is a spiderweb of trails, where the people in front of me take the rightmost option even though the trail is marked up the middle. I choose the middle and find that I climb faster than the others in this group of lemming and pass quite a few by walking faster. Round the traverse, I pass through the lower saddle and high ledge before dropping down into the Equestrian Aid Station. I hang my jacket and gloves on a tent cross-bar, refill my water, and continue out the other side. Without much wind or humidity, 38 degrees is not cold enough to require much more than a tee shirt.

The route out is a flat and boring jeep road that does its best to avoid hills and trees. We had a wet winter, so there's more color in the leaves than usual but the tall grass is winter brown. I have a hard time making myself stay on the run through these flat areas, so I try my best to maintain an intermittent walk/run: walk for a bit, run for a bit, and repeat. The next turn leads to another technical single-track, a rare difficult section not on a hill. Not seeing an unoccupied inch of ground anywhere to plant a foot, there is no way to avoid the rocks through here. Surprising how few and small the hills are here where the ground rises up just to create a ledge more than a few times. It makes sense that this trail would terminate at what we so lovingly call the Devils' Intersection, where three trails come together that all used to be called trail#6. The park has recently renamed all the trails mostly I suspect to get rid of the Devil, but I do believe he remains.

The next section of trail is mostly flat and easy and then it's not just before getting to the big major course crossroads. We're to go up into the Sisters then drop down and around the other side and come back to this same spot. But first, the Sisters: three bald peaks with two saddles in-between and all of it covered in sotol cactus fern and rock: big rocks and little rocks, ones that roll, and some imbedded. I have a great pair of heavy duty rough country trail shoes, but there are times I wish I could attach additional padding to the front and sides like a little tug boat. I've dialed in a fast forced march for the climbs and bomb down each of the descents very comfortably with a controlled fall. At the base of the final sister, we turn back onto the boring jeep road and head back to where we started this loop. For the first and only time, the road ripples a bit over a few hills. After the back-country campground, where a few of the campers sit and watch us file by, we turn up to the intersection we had left just a short while ago, tying a nice little knot into the Sisters, which have tied a nice little know into me.

From here to Nachos is nasty piece of work. More rock and sotol for sure, but more than that, this bit of trail is more secluded, narrower, more opportunities for the sotol to cut on me, and more rocks I can't avoid. But first, the trail leading to Ice Cream Hill has more ripples of arroyos loaded with rock to crawl up and slide down before I even get to the main climb which tops out with a few ledges near summit. It's here the lead 50k pack blows by with Ford Smith. From Ice Cream to Last Chance, there'll be small groups of 50k runners that skim by, going a bit quicker than the slower stream of 100k runners. Its easy to see who's in each race without bothering to ask. They have five more miles and a faster stride than most if us. The descent off Ice Cream is a minefield of accidents and the section after not much easier. Some of the ruts are low enough and the sotol high enough to poke me in the face. By the time I get through the worst of it, I have bloody smears on my arms and legs. Nachos Aid used to be down on the jeep road across from the Park Ranger's house, but the park recently created a new trail higher up where there is no room for aid. The next convenient flat spot is another half mile down the trail at the road crossing. The temp has risen to 48 by now and my shirt is drenching wet with sweat, so I change it out from my drop bag. Still feeling pretty good, but a bit warm. 

Done with the hills for then next 15 miles, I'm now moving into my least favorite section of the course. The trail is single-track riding in and out of a two mile long section of dry creek bed. I might enjoy it more if it had water but its been a long time since I've seen water here. There's less rocks here in the creek bed than there was over Ice Cream Hill. This whole park is odd like that. I cross the road leading back into the main park HQ then cross it again to the old ancient road onto number 8. There's so many rocks, I cant help but think they all used to be part of a reclaimed road. Used to be, the grass hid all the rocks from my eyes and allowed my feet to find them as they might, but somebody has cut and worn a trail here that rarely ever exists. It's a pleasant surprise. Later when I come back through here in the dark, these hidden rocks are usually brutal, so it's nice to have a well worn trail. I find a few arrow signs that are knocked over and take the time to pound them back into the ground with a rock. Over the powerline hill and down the rock chute to the cactus garden at the base, I turn onto another jeep road, rarely used but functional. It's an easy rolling road until we reach the last bit which turns to the overlook and rides the bluff to the drop down to the park road across from Chapas Aid Station. The course wraps around and comes in to Chapas (a concrete floor barn) from the other side, passing directly through and turning back where we started this pretzel loop only to turn left again back to the old number 9 trails. Its in the 50's now and getting unpleasantly warm. 

More flat shit to do so I go to do it. Again, I'm surprised how much of this typically awful trail has been trimmed down and cleaned up. It's not nearly as bad as it usually is. I continue my run/walk for the entire perimeter loop around what used to be called 9a and 9b, then the new section of rocks that has not been cleaned or trimmed. Crossing the road at the front of the park, I pass the old barn that has been recently burned and then the most mentally debilitation section of the entire course, the Race Track. It's a one mile loop around a field and back to the exact same spot at the gate where it began. I can see and hear YaYa Aid Station on the other side of the creek and it generates enough energy to pull me the rest of the way round the field, over the dry creek and in. I get a hug from Liza Howard and also Dave Mackey who is in the 50k and coming thru just as I'm starting back out. Temp is in the high 50's now.

A bit more field, all on a strait flat jeep road, open field on the left, but creek and trees on the right. About a mile of this before we drop down into a dry creek and up the other side into the trees. Another creek crossing, and then it's a good bit of twisty turny single-track for a while, all under and in the shade of trees. The trail rolls a bit, goes flat, and rolls again, but generally starting to bend upward as we roll just out of sight of the Lodge towards Lucky Peak. We can hear the Lodge and the excitement of the 25k and 50k finishers. The closer we get to Lucky Peak the rockier it gets. Down the other side and thru the big ditch at the bottom, it's no time at all before Last Chance Aid Station. The temp is still in the high 50's.

One of the reasons I'm excited to get past Last Chance is now I know everyone I see is in the same race as me. From the point the lead pack of 50k runners went by until now, I thought I could tell but was never certain of the people I didn't already know which race they were in. Not that I cared for the competitive aspect of it, but more why some of these people looked so strong as they flew by. The last two climbs, Cairns and Boyle's, are the big ones, steeper, longer, taller, and closer to done. The 25k and 50k runners did these climbs first, while they're saved for last in the 100k.

Its slow hot work going up Cairn's and I sit once to get my wind back before continuing. Once on top, it's not all that difficult, but I'm a bit toasted at this point from the heat and the miles, so its slower than I might normally go. Going down is always easy, but the connecting trail from the base of Cairns to Boyles is tough work and also because I'm a bit out of it. I can feel a few hotspots on my feet, and start thinking about exactly where so I can patch them when I get to the Lodge. One more hill, Boyles, and this one the tallest. Its slow work and I switch to a lock-step march to rest my climbing muscles. It's slow, but easy enough to do when I feel overworked. I sit at the top of the climb. Not for long, but enough to get my wind back. Across the long ridge, past the high point overlook bench, and then down. Seeing the buildings at Boyle's house is a highlight, knowing the first loop is done. I downshift to a walk and coast to the Lodge. In the open field near the finish chute, Matias and then Vianey pass me, and then I see Richard and January. Most of my training buddies are here all at the same time and it's nice to see them, but wonder what the hell are they all doing here right now. I'd expect the lot of them to be well up by now. Still, I have things to do, so I do not stay around to visit. I head over to my truck, which is near the Lodge which I'm using for my own personal aid station. I see Peter Vroljik, who has already finished his 50k and he offers to help. I ask him to find me a few medical pads to cover the hotspots on my feet while I change my clothes and eat. He comes back with some adhesive stuff I put on both big toes and one heel. I then ask him to find some quesadillas while I repair my feet and get my shoes and socks back on. All this takes about 20 minutes to repair, change, eat, drink and get out. I already had my pack ready for loop two, complete with trekking pole and headlamp. Hottest part of the day at 3pm and the temp is just a pinch under 60. Good news is, in another three hours it'll cool down quickly with the night.

I head back out with Nancy Marks, walking and eating. Soon after Boyle's house, I switch to a walk/run to the Big Nasty. Its all rough country hiking and forced march up and beyond to Sky Island. We make the top loop and start down to the base where we cross paths with my compadres, Matias, Vianey, Richard, and January all in a pack going up. I tell them they need to be up here with me and Richard says something to the effect he intends to catch up. Well, I've run with Richard and January before and I know they are much faster than me on the flats. But in the hills, I can usually stay in front of them, and so I'm thinking I need to remain in front until Nachos, just to have a chance to hang with them thru the next 9 miles of flats afterwards. So I push myself just a little harder, run a little faster, less walk, more run, and get back to bombing the downhills and fast marching the ups. I hammer the descent from Sky Island and lose Nancy in the process. I manage the flat jeep road and again push the uphill traverse around lower side of Sky Island. This is where I first hear the music or maybe I should just call it what I think of it: Noise! It's irritating me for some damn reason and begins to mess with my head. I quit thinking about my buds behind me and start thinking about getting past the noise. It's a young woman with an external speaker playing a mix of electronics, rap, and occasionally some pretty vocals. It's driving me mad and faster too, which is not a good idea. So far, I've been managing myself pretty well, but I can blow it up really fast and easy if I'm not careful. When I roll into the Equestrian aid station, she's there with the music still blasting in the station. I bitch about it for a few minutes, and then she's gone and I begin to simmer down and take care of a few things I need to do. My stomach is starting to roil a touch and I have a spare empty bottle in my pack, so I ask them fill it completely with Ginger Ale and ice. On second thought, I put the bottle with water in my pack, deciding instead to carry the Ginger Ale as my primary. Its 4:30pm and still just under 60, so I'm still sweating my shirt soaking wet. I left my jacket and gloves here earlier and want to pick them up, but in my madness, I forget. I remember soon after leaving and with night coming on, I hope it's not a major mistake. I have a drop bag at Nachos, so I should be ok with the cold weather gear and light I have there. I already have a spare light in my pack, pre-loaded just in case.

Heading up the same boring flat jeep road as earlier, as much as I want to, I find it difficult to run. I employ the walk/run pattern again, trying to run more than walk, but it's not as easy as it has been. But for the occasional blasts from the Noise-maker, I don't see anyone else. I navigate the rocks of old trail 6 to see the Devil on my way to the Sisters, when Vianey surprises me. She runs up, slows to chat for a moment, and then gone. Last thing she says is 'You told me I should run my own race and not stick on anybody'. I watch her summit the first Sister when I turn and start up after her. I summit soon enough and bomb the other side in time to catch her in the saddle. We start the 2nd Sister together, but I'm moving faster on the climbs and leave her as I pass over the 2nd and 3rd Sister alone, then bomb down to the old jeep road and make my turn. The jeep road has some climb to it, but its still not my cup of tea, so I get down it a good ways before Vianey comes by me again. She has a smooth easy glide for somebody 45 miles into a 100k and I'm envious as she spins by and gone again. When I pass the backcountry camp site, I can hear all the sounds of a huge group settling into a late dinner on a gorgeous night in the woods. It almost drowns out the sound of the lady with the boombox who remains in front of me. When I get to the crossroads, I see Penny Lane making her turn onto the Sisters as I make my turn away from them. We wish each other a good finish just as the sun begins its final goodbyes for the day. I push across the Ice Cream arroyos and up the final pitch on a gorgeous night, watching the sky light up with colors, as the temp finally begins to drop, all while listening to some hip-hop from a backpack boombox. Oh what a lovely sky, the beauty merging with the lower temp, and a pinch of irritation surges my body to the summit and down the other side to pass the Noise-maker. I cant hear it as much being in front of her. I suppose the speakers might be on her back. Hell, I don't know and don't care. I just need to run to get away. It's 6pm strait up crossing Ice Cream and pitch dark just 5 minutes later. Still, I don't turn on my light, wanting to just run and enjoy the quiet for a bit. I really think I'm doing well, but she's running better, catching and passing me a half mile before Nachos. Completely deflated, I start to walk. I just want distance between us and if I cant pass her, I can slow down. When I get to Nachos Aid Station, she's still there, and so is the Noise. I have a few things to take care so I take my time changing into a long sleeve shirt. I stuff a jacket and gloves in my pack, also an extra light. I eat a few quesadilla slices. My stomach feels better from the Ginger Ale so I get another complete refill of the same, minus ice. Now that its 6:45pm and dark, the temp has dropped down to 50. It still seems warm but I expect its going to drop more.

Now that its dark, I begin to trip more and my feet are really starting to hurt. This section us literally a bed of rocks and the Noise-maker is still ahead, so I back down and simply begin to stroll, being careful not to kick any more rocks. I don't hear any noise this entire section, so I'm good with my current plan. Up the dry rocky creek bed and as I cross the park road, a truck stops to fix a traffic cone. Its Jonathan and I stop to chat for a moment. I'm curious if Chris (the race director's) wife had her baby yet, who won the race, and if he would mind collecting my left-behind jacket and gloves from Equestrian. The next road crossing takes me back to the ancient road and grass covered fields. Besides Jonathon I hear and see nobody in front of behind. My easy saunter has me placed perfectly between those in front and behind such that I'm completely alone from Nachos to Chapas. Coming off the last few powerline hills and onto the rarely used jeep road, I drift in and out of old memories as I silently wander. At one point, coming out of a drifting series of thoughts, I wonder if I'm still on the correct path. Another mile down the trail, for some reason I don't even know why, I shine my light off to the side and see two big glowing spots. I know enough to realize they're the eyes of an animal reflecting my light. It's a good 30 or 40 yards off trail at the edge of the trees and tall grass. I cant see anything other than the eyes, no outline, nothing else. I keep walking, but have to move my light in front of me to keep from tripping, but it has me creeped out, so I turn it back to the eyes over and over again, in front, to the side, and back and forth until I get far enough away I cant see it anymore. Thats about where I turn left and bend up behind where I saw it. This is the cut over to the bluffs above Chapas. I keep looking left until I turn at the bluff and drop down to the main park road across from Chapas. I stop for a moment and realize I'm holding my breath and my arm hairs are standing up. I have no idea what that was. I keep telling myself it was piece of old machinery left in the woods, but I don't really know. A wild pig might not have stared at me and it was too wide to be a deer. I have no idea but it certainly gave me the willies. There's guy at the door of Chapas yelling at the top of his lungs over and over again. Not sure what he's yelling but he's happy to see me. I don't see any other runners, so it must be me he's yelling at. I sit down at a bench to get some hot potato soup when two guys come over to tell me the Noise-lady just left. They were at Nachos when I was too and remembered me enough to warn me. I thank them and ask for another Ginger Ale refill and more food. Figure I'll take a few more minutes just in case. I sure enjoyed the quiet of the last 5 miles and hope to get more of the same. Its 8:15pm now and the temp seems to have settled into a low of 46. Still too warm. 

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Immediately after leaving I put on my jacket and gloves but then not long after I roll up the sleeves, unzip the chest, and remove my gloves. I don't need the jacket but too lazy to remove it and put it back away after taking the time it took to take it out and put it on. I make the rounds of the number 9 trails. At the back side border fence between the park and ranch, I hear a group of people talking loudly, but never see them or any lights. I don't see anyone else either until I'm almost done with this section. Just before popping across the jeep road, a woman catches me, stays with me for a few, and then when another guy catches me and goes by, she goes with him. Across the park road and back to the Race Track, I pass a guy who begins Retching louder than I've ever heard anyone: his rolfing so intense it hurts to hear. Turning onto the Race Track, I hear a few voice behind me coming fast that sound like two men and a woman, who I think just might be Richard, January, and Matias. Well, its about time, I think. I've done enough to keep them behind me this long, but I keep on and push on around until I see YaYa off in the distance. I make the turn, cross the creek, and roll into YaYa just at the trio catch me. I turn to say 'Hi' and it's not them. I forgot about them but now the thought comes back and I begin to worry they are not out here on the course any longer. I've been dragging my ass for 10 miles. All I need is a sip of coke, so I stop to get it, remove my pack to take out my trekking pole, and leave, forgetting the pole. I could have taken off the jacket and should have, but my laziness has reached a new level of 'don't give a shit', so it remains on. Its after 10pm now and the temp has gone back up to 50. 

Five minutes is what it takes to remember what I forgot, but I'm sure as hell not going back to get it. My feet are hurting so bad and I don't wish to add one step in the wrong direction. Just keep on walking. One more time through the field, across the creek and back again, and I finally catch the Noise! She's with another woman, they're moving even slower than me, and they're chittering away like two birds on a wire. It's hard to believe, but as I pass by, I pick up speed on start a fast march again. I try a few times to run, but thats not happening. But I can without a doubt walk fast. And the trail begins to bend upwards again. Passing the Lodge around 10pm, there's still a good bit of people and noise over there. It's getting closer! Heading up to and on to Lucky Peak, I get a bit too ambitions and have to sit again. Not for long, but a few moments and then slowly down the other side. The pain in my feet hurts too much to bomb the downhill now. This doesn't happen to me often but it sure as hell is where I'm at now. Sliding down and into the big ditch, then up and in to Last Chance, I sit down to visit with Roger Davis, who has been managing this station for the last ten years. He says he's done and he'll be hard to replace. I for one will miss him. He offers me some hot food and drink, but its now 55 degrees at 11:30pm and all I want is something cold. I get up quickly, not wanted to get too comfortable, and head out for the final section.

Two more big honkin climbs, Cairns and Boyles, and I try to run but it's a farce, so I walk. The climb up Cairns leaves me breathless again and I make myself keep on moving until I reach the summit before I sit again for a breather. I get up quickly and get around the top and head towards the drop, where I pass a guy clicking along with two trekking poles. Once down, I get over to Boyles and once again attempt to push my body up. I remember to use the lock step again, but I'm slow. The clicking pole guy comes up on me and hangs on. After a good bit more climb I learn his name (Jose) and we continue together across the summit and over to the drop. I start to get excited now, knowing I'm on my way down the final hill. Jose and I stay together on down, past Boyle's house and across the final half mile flat. I tell Jose, no matter how bad I feel, when I get to the gate, I'm gonna fake run the last bit to the finish, and so we do.

Immediately after crossing the mat, Vianey comes in behind me, running fast. She had missed a turn and got lost for a few miles. We go into the Lodge to get warm, change into warm clothes in anticipation of our core temp drop. We're there for a bit, when the Noise lady comes into the lodge looking for medical... with her speakers still blasting. She's asked a few times to turn it off, but I don't know if she does or not. I get up and leave. I don't understand why people have to blast their music out to the world when it would have been just as easy to use an ear bud.

2017: the Circus

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I ran this same race last year. Similar format with a few changes. The old rule was: we were restricted from running the same loop twice in a row. Thats it! This year, the additional caveat was added that we must run the 7mi loop first, all of us, no exceptions. Not that I dislike the 7mi loop, but if its wet, the 7mi loop is a sloppy muddy mess, and I have always known this. So at the pre-race briefing, Mallory announces a new Joe Prusaitis rule. Yes, she even named it after me, as it is well understood that I would not run the 7mi unless I was forced to, so she forced me. And yes, it sucked. The entire seven miles was a complete messy slip-n-slide suck-fest.

At the 6am start in the dark, the lead pack pushes off rather quickly. Hard to tell how many are in the 12 hour race, and the relay teams starting with us further increase the confusion. Whatever my focus might have been with an early dark winter start, but with all the mud, the mud becomes the focus. I hardly notice the course markers, but at places where they must be, they are there. Not that I'm moving too fast to have the time to think about it, but with all the slipping and sliding, a few times to remove the mud from within my shoes, and another to find the shoe that was sucked off my foot, my mind was completely focused on my next step. Mid-loop, I pull my first wrist band and wrap it round my wrist, and soon after I cross paths my old friend Mike Riggs, who lives nearby and is oddly enough just out for a run. He didn't even know there was a race on. He walks with me until we get back to the headquarters, and thats the last I see of him. Takes me 2 hours to slide round the 7mi loop, so the sun's up when we do end this misery of mud.

Based on my experience last year, where I learned the 5mi loop was by far the least muddy and due that fact, the fastest, I choose the 5mi loop next, with no intention on running the 7mi loop again today. I learn later many of my friends chose the 3mi loop. The 5mi is clean and clear of mud, so I run and so does everybody else. Only takes one hour to cover 5mi compared to the 7mi of mud in 2 hours, which is not surprising. Certainly there is some mud, but it is of little significance. I collect my 2nd wrist band.

Starting the 3mi loop, I pass a few friends just coming back in from the end of the same loop. I know damn well they are not that much slower than me, so it pre-warns me of the difficulty ahead and I can only assume it is more mud. The loop starts well with a dry mile, but soon after the mile point, I am once again into the mud, and not much better than the nasty ol 7mi loop. This loop, the shortest, is also the hilliest, which is surprising so much mud would be on these steep slopes. It makes for some difficult climbing and descending, but mostly its just slow. I now have 3 different colored wrist bands.

I had set up all my gear next to the bathroom because of the seat nearby I wished to use during the race. I figured I'd need to change shoes as much as anything else. I had a tub full of extra clothing, another with food, and an ice chest with cold drinks. At 15mi, for the first time, I stop to change gear. The shoes are unrecognizable from the mud, so I figure I'll try the clean ones for the dry loop. Also I decide on a dry shirt, and I no longer need the jacket, buff, and headlamp. While doing all this, I drink a gatorade & eat a sandwich. With no intention on doing the 7mi loop again, and with just the fast 5 and the slow 3 on the agenda, I figure I'll be back here every hour give or take. So, I don't bother to carry anything more than a water bottle filled with Tailwind.

Another 5 and then the 3, brings me up to 23mi as colored wrist bands continue to multiply on my wrist, creeping up my arm, and forcing my watch to relocate. The day finally begins to warm up, insisting on a ball cap to block my eyes from the sun, and bringing a new sort of pain. A rash begins to develop, so I step into the bathroom to re-lube and make another complete wardrobe change, including shoes. The muddy shoes are my best shoes, so I switch back to them.

The 5 and 3 are now being processed in my mind as a set, and the next set brings me to 31 which is 50k, and into the ultra distance for the first time today. After all my years of marathoning, it still fascinates me whenever I run an ultra to the point I cant help but recognize the moment. But time has changed speed. Earlier while in the mud, it crawled, slowly inching forward as I dreaded 12 hours of this shit. But now, time is flying, and I try to do the math to determine in advance how many more loops, and miles I will be able to do. While the speed of time increases, the speed of my body is decreasing. Trying to determine where the two exponential curves will cross seems to be around 2 more sets, or more accurately, 3 or 4 more loops.

It is exactly the same path each time, the same loop, the same trail, roots, and rocks with one very significant change. The mud on the 3mi loop is slowly being pounded into a more dry and runable surface. So, as I slow down, the 5mi loop is starting to take longer and the 3mi loop is getting faster, but its hard to wrap my mind around it, because I'm getting damned tired and my mental capacity is now frayed. And so I run, and I try to do the math, and I try not to fall, and its all so utterly useless, but the attempt to think it out, even thought it has no real value, does keep my interested enough to keep on moving. I can still run the flats and the downs, not to be confused with the ups, which I have walked from the very first hour.

One more set gets me to 39mi with at bit under 2 hours remaining. Earlier, I could have done 2 more loops in 2 hours, but it's not earlier no more, so I suspect I'll get 1 more 5 in and then have not enough to do another, even if it's a 3. Off I go, and I do make an honest effort of it, or at least I feel I do. The reality is, I'm really dragging ass now and run my slowest 5mi loop to come in with about 3 minutes left. Not enough time for another and damned glad of it. I'm done. If I'd the time, I'd have gone, but I'm good with the 44mi I do get. Mallory takes a picture of me and another with both our arms covered in colored wrist bands