Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Cactus Rose 100 (27-28 October 2012)

Amy’s mom offered to fly in to town to watch the kids for the duration of the race. That sounded great. It offered Amy and me to have a whole weekend together with no kids. And Amy had a surprise for me (she had already told me): She was going to be my pacer for 20 miles of the last 25-mile loop. I guess you could say it was my birthday present for her (and who wouldn’t give a 20-mile run for a present?).

We cleared out the back of the minivan including the seats as that was going to be our sleeping quarters. After four and half hours, we arrived in Bandera, TX (actually the state park just outside of Bandera). We had just bought our dinner/breakfast: two pizzas from Little Caesars. We found a spot in the huge field next to the starting line and rearranged the back so we could sleep (it was after 9:30 by the time we got there and we didn’t have any kids to get ready for bed.).

I couldn’t sleep for awhile. I tried to listen to music on my phone, but that didn’t help (Thanks a lot Garth!). My alarm woke me at 4:00 a.m. After finding some super nutritious race prep food (the leftover pizza), I walked over to check in and get my race number. Amy was awake and I double checked to make sure that my drop bags had the correct things in them. I got my race number on and was finishing some more pizza when I looked at my watch. 4:55! Ok, I have to really get over to the starting line ‘cause I have 5 minutes ‘til starting time. Amy came over with me and took my picture (the race had just started as I finished tying my shoes). You might think I’d be worried about not starting right when the gun went off (though there was no gun), but when you run 100 miles, two minutes of lost time translates to a 1-second time difference per mile by the end of the race. I had to sport my fire department shirt because the guys at the station said I needed to better represent them. And I figured that it’d be a good conversation piece as I met various other runners on the trail.
 
The weather was around 46 degrees and cloudy, which I was more than happy with. Since this race is nowhere near as popular as the other 100-mile race I do (2-300 people are on this course compared with 750 at Rocky Raccoon), the start was really smooth. There were no huge bunches of people that slow you down, though I never complain about them as they help keep me from starting too fast. It’s hard to make sure you go slowly enough so that your legs aren’t out of energy when mile 75 comes around. So I went at a pace that I felt was slow enough. I would be in a small pack for a bit and then leave them and find the next pack of runners until later in the morning I found myself basically alone for the rest of the race. Back in the morning, I came up on a runner whose light had died. So I shared my lights with her until we got to the next aid station (which was only at most a mile away).
 
As I got up to the top of one of the hills (mountain if you’re from Texas), I looked out across the valley below and thought how beautiful it looked. The sun was up, but it was cloudy, so it was still kinda dark. There was a guy up there at the top with a camera and he was taking pictures of everyone as they came by. I stopped, said “Hi,” smiled, and continued on my way.

Right after I started, Amy drove to the aid stations and left my drop bags for me and then went back to bed. I knew could do better than last year’s race (27 hours and 11 minutes) and felt that if I could run close to five-and-a-half-hour laps, then I would finish under 24 hours. That was my only goal: sub-24. I felt fine during my first lap (who doesn’t?) and came in around five hours. It was a little faster than I wanted, but oh well. What’s done is done and I’ll hope it doesn’t come back to haunt me later on in the day. 
 
The second lap is backwards from the first lap. I like this because I quickly finish the 10 miles of the race that I hate the most. Amy met me at every aid station all day long starting with my second lap. It was great. She got my drinks ready and had food out of my bag for me and put it away to save me some time (which adds up after stopping at aid stations all day long). After those ten not-so-fun miles at the start of the second lap were completed, I had an “easy” fifteen miles ahead of me.
















I was more or less by myself for this lap and for most of the rest of the day. And at some point (on my third lap) I decided to have a friend with me. I got my mp3 player and listened to Interview with a Vampire. People frequently ask me how I can run without listening to music (or at least something). I used to run with music, but after I drowned an mp3 player numerous times with sweat (to the point that it no longer worked), I decided to not run with music anymore. I was free to think about things I needed to get done, how I was going to accomplish them, what to get Amy for her birthday (or Christmas, Mother’s Day, etc.), random parts of various songs that continuously repeat (such as things from Backyardigans, other shows my kids watch, or a song I recently hear while driving), or just nothing at all. I found that I really enjoyed running headphone-free and have never thought twice about trying to find a way to make it work. The only time that I now run with headphones is during our “winter,” but only because I don’t sweat nearly as much. And I never listen to music; always audiobooks.

My second lap ended in roughly the same time as my first lap—another five hours. Fifty miles completed in ten hours. Way ahead of pace (by two hours) and still feeling great. But fifty miles is just that. Fifty miles. There were still fifty more and those are the miles to be scared about when doing long races. I never run very long when training for these 100-milers (18-24 miles are my usual long runs that I do every few weekends when it’s cooler out). So it’s hard to gauge what pace you should be running at to make sure your body can still have something in store when you’re 50 miles farther than any of your training runs. But that’s how I learn—trial and error. Just about everything I know about my so-called crazy running habit is stuff I discovered by trial and error. I don’t read running magazines/web sites to see which food to eat or which shoes to wear. I don’t run with a running club to know how I should best train for ultras. I don’t anything. I just go. If it works, great. If not, don’t do that again. I feel I’ve learned quite a bit in the little time I’ve spent running ultras. And when I’m 60 and still doing this, I know I’ll be closer to being an expert.
My third lap continued in the same direction as my first lap, so the first fifteen miles were “easy” again. When I completed this lap, Amy would be running miles 75-95 with me. I knew we’d be going a bit slower than I’d like, so I made sure to keep this pace going to leave less energy for my last lap. It didn’t really bother me that my time with Amy would be slower; I was excited to spend 4+ hours with Amy (on her birthday) and all the conversations that we could have while kid-free. 
 
I was still feeling great as I finished my third lap. In fact, I didn’t need to use my headlamp/flashlight until well after I got passed this horribly steep (though short) hill. I did not want to “run” down it in the dark if I could help it and I was well passed it when night set in and I needed the lights on. I don’t know why I was feeling so good—maybe I drank more and ate more this year (compared to last year). I think that’s about the only difference between the two years. But I finished my third lap around 16 hours. 75 miles complete. Just one more lap. Amy was there waiting for me and we quickly headed out. “The first 10 miles we’ll just walk fast with a tiny bit of actually running as it’s rather hilly.” The sun was long gone and even though we both had headlamps and flashlights, Amy managed to kick a number of  rocks (they’re all over the trails). And somehow she used the same toes each time to kick the rocks. Funny how that happens. We got to the second aid station on that loop and completed those awful ten miles. I think I zapped Amy’s energy though. She usually runs a couple times a week and only 2-3 miles at a time. So ten miles (though there was plenty of walking) kinda drained her. And we still had ten more miles to go. The paced slowed considerably, but I still enjoyed our time together. We don’t get much time alone anymore and we talked the whole time. Even on the flat parts we walked and I could tell she was ready to call it quits. But we were getting sorta close to the aid station at mile 95 and we continued on our way. I don’t think Amy could’ve been any happier when we got there. I got a quick bite to eat and a small drink, kissed Amy, and took off for my final five miles. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
Amy jogged back to the start/finish (a mile and a half up the road) and I could see her light across the field that separated us. I yelled at her to keep talking with her, but she couldn’t hear me. Then I cut into the forest (These are the only pine trees in the area. Everything else is just mesquite trees, which are very short.). Every succeeding lap the forest grows longer and you’re sure that you made a wrong turn because it wasn’t this long last lap. I finally made it out and onto the last mountain. Just a couple more miles, literally. I was feeling wonderful still and pushed it, running as much as I could. Coming down the steep hill, there was just one more little steep part and then it was flat all the way in to the finish. Once again, I found the strength in me to really pick up the pace on that last mile. When I was in high school, I always figured that if you had enough energy left in you to have a super fast kick at the end of a race, you probably ran too slowly for the rest of the race. And maybe I’m still right but haven’t figured it out yet. In any case, I know I’m getting really close and the sheer joy of knowing that I’m almost done is really settling in. Just a quarter mile more and I’m flying. I cross the finish line and Amy’s there. I look at the timer—23 hours and 26 minutes. Hugs for everyone! I’m ecstatic. “I love you Amy!” The race director, Joe Prusaitis, and his wife are there for hugs as well. “Sub 24 on this course. Congratulations! That’s no easy feat.” “Thanks. That’s all I wanted to do today.” I received my belt buckle, though there’s not a sub-24 buckle for this race. No problem. I go and change into some dry clothes before Amy and I go crawl back into the back of the minivan to sleep. Amy got everything arranged and within a few minutes I was unconscious. 
 
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