Saturday, December 20, 2014

Brazos Bend 100

Brazos Bend 100
13-14 December 2014

“Stay on Target” or “I Gotta Pee”
-Gold Five (Star Wars)  -Forrest Gump (Forrest Gump)

I had been looking forward to this race for quite some time. There really isn’t a race I’m not excited about, but this one was going to be fast. And I was certain that I was going to run my best time on this very flat and very non-technical gator infested course. Slight were the worries of going out faster than I’m used to, but I planned on actually carrying a water bottle during this race and carrying some Gels to keep water and food intake more steady throughout the race (instead of just gorging myself at each aid station).

Seconds before the race started, fellow teammate Melinda Coen showed up and we ran together for the first 14 or so miles. Some of my favorite memories of running ultras include running with someone, especially when it lasts for a long time, such as this two and half hour stretch. You get to know people-what they’re really like. And it’s so much fun just cruising along at a slow jog and conversing. Before you know it, huge pieces of your super long course have already been put behind you.

After I left Mel, I was pretty much by myself for the rest of the next two laps (miles 15-50). You’d think that it would be boring spending that much time just running by yourself. But I do enjoy it (though not as much as having someone there). It’s like my brain gets to think about whatever it wants to. I don’t have to constantly think about how I’m going to get these students to understand this physics concept and all the different angles I can approach the given topic. I don’t have to worry about if the blooper at the fire station is going to go off and what I’m going to do for whatever possible scene we are called to. I don’t have to worry about how close that car is to me while I ride my bicycle home from work or while I’m out on my daily run. I just have to run and let my brain run wild with whatever comes to mind. Maybe that’s why I don’t like running with headphones. It’s not so much the safety issue. I just like to be able to think about stuff without any distractions. And running a race that literally takes all day gives me plenty of time to accomplish that. (And perhaps this is why, when I do wear headphones, I’m listening to audiobooks. Although I’m not free to think about whatever, books do allow plenty of imagining to take place.)

I finished my first 25-mile lap in 3 hours 42 minutes. This was basically the plan. I really wanted to finish in less than 16 hours (my best time was earlier this year at Rocky Raccoon-17 hours flat). I know that most people typically slow down towards the end, so I wanted to be closer to 15-hour pace for as long as I could so that if I slowed down, then I could still reach my goal. And if I didn’t slow down too much, then it’d be bonus for me. The second lap was finished in roughly the same time (3 hours 46 minutes) and half of my race was completed in 7 hours 29 minutes. Still on target.

At this time, 50 miles into the race, I was feeling alright. I’ve never run this quickly before and then still have to run another 50 miles. I was in uncharted territory and didn’t want any ambushes. I kept taking the Gels and water throughout the race, and I really think they helped keep my muscles fueled. If I could change one thing, it’s that I would eat more solid foods, such as pbj’s or the little burritos at the aid stations. I think they would help a lot and then I wouldn’t be cursing at eating yet another Gel. (I was sick of eating them, but continued doing so throughout the race.)

About three miles into my third lap, I saw Thomas Orf again as we crossed paths. He seemed to be in the same spot, roughly a mile and a half or so behind me, for the last two laps. We slapped hands and tried to pump each other up as we went in opposite directions and then were both back to being alone. During this third lap, my mind started slipping. It didn’t have the firm death grip on my legs, keeping them strolling along the smooth trails. I started walking different sections. Twenty, nineteen, … one, GO! Sometimes I count down with every right step. Sometimes every breath. Sometimes I pick a tree or course flag that’s up ahead. And my brain is pretty good at putting its foot down and getting me running again. I did this up through the half-way point for the loop.

I started my third lap at 1:30. Three and a half hours later is when I expected to finish this lap, which would have me back at the start/finish a little after 5 pm. After I finished about seven miles, I started to realize that I was probably going to need my headlamp before I finished this lap. It gets dark around 5:30, and I had already been walking too much. And the back section is all woodsy, which means it would be darker earlier. This was so not good. And I had no way of communicating to Amy that I was really going to need my headlamp.

So I’m at the half-way point for the loop. There are still about 12-13 miles remaining. It’s still relatively light out, but I can see my shadow getting longer and longer, and it wasn’t pushing me forward like it should have. But then my savior comes up. Good ol’ Thomas Orf. He caught up to me. We talked a bit. “You have a light?” “Yeah.” “Sweet. You care if I run with you? My light’s 13 miles away.” “Sure, but I’m not much of a talker.” Not much of a talker. We talked almost the whole time. He told me how he’d, up to this point, run every step (minus the stops at aid stations to eat and fill up water). I was amazed at this. And at the same time, I was very worried. If I was going to run with him (he had a light for when it got dark), I was going to have to run. He wasn’t going very fast, but we were going to be running the whole time. I had to get it straight in my mind that walking was not in the foreseeable future. Thomas and I kinda knew each other; we’d run a lot of the same races. We finished ‘together’ just a month earlier at another 100-miler in Dallas. But we had never talked much. And once again, we’re back to what I love about ultras: talking with other ‘crazy’ people. As we ran, I noticed that my legs weren’t really hurting at all. Yeah, I wanted to stop. But that was just the lazy part of me saying ‘You’ve been on your feet all day. Take a break.’ But I was feeling ok. Actually, I was feeling better than when I started this lap. It’s all in your head. But it’s really hard to get your head to convince your body of this.

We were on the final half mile when it was really dark. But we could still see the trail well enough. We came in a few minutes before 12 hours. A four-hour lap could still give me what I wanted. It was going to be close. And then all hell broke out. I had to get a warmer (and drier) shirt. I needed something different to eat besides those damn Gels. I didn’t want to go anymore. Thomas had already left. It’s not like I was exhausted and couldn’t run anymore, but I still had 25 miles to go. Basically another entire marathon. And I wasn’t looking forward to it at all. But with help from Amy and other great friends, they sent me off. “Ok. Calm down. CALM down. CALM DOWN. You got this. Let’s just run ‘til we get to [this one part of the course nearby].” And once I got there, “Ok. Good job. Now, let’s get to the next part where the trails cross and you can walk.” I was hoping I could trick myself into running that far, and then once I got there, skip the walk and just keep running. But the walking part of me won. I continued this ‘run until x and then walk for x seconds’ for quite awhile. I saw Thomas as he was coming in from one of the loops and I had to go out on it still (putting him about a mile in front of me). Encouraging words were exchanged, and we continued on alone.

At the aid station, I made sure I ate some peanut butter jelly sandwiches (among the oranges and bananas I always eat). I walked for the next five minutes while I tried to eat that half a sandwich. Once it was finally consumed, I continued with my running/walking stretches. Upon reaching the spot which was only 200 m from the finish (though you turn away from it to run 18 more miles), I was feeling much better. Time to get back on target. I still had a small loop to do before I got to the super long back section. There was an aid station back there and some much needed encouragement. “Is this your last loop?” “F*** yeah it is!” “Awesome! And it’s okay to say F*** out here. Go get ‘em!” High fives were exchanged and I was feeling really really happy. I was gonna go get ‘em. Back on target. When I crossed the road (in a few minutes) and go to that back section, I was gonna get a move on. I could just feel it waiting to come out. I must have run for ten minutes before I took a short walking break. ‘Ok, that’s enough. You can take a break when you’re done in a couple hours.’ So I picked up the pace again. I wasn’t going at any record speeds, but I was running. And the longer I was out there, the better I started to feel. And consequently, I began running faster. I was back! And now the B goal (which was just to be faster than my PR of 17 hours flat) was not what I wanted. I wanted my A goal (sub-16 hours). And with how I was feeling, and in spite of my little hissy fit an hour ago, I was back on target.

I hit the last food aid station, picked up another half pbj (and oranges and bananas) and was outta there. Once I finished eating that pbj I was running again. About five minutes onto the trail, I heard someone coming up behind me. ‘Awww crap.’ But he turned out to be a relay runner. So no worries. I just continued pounding out my last half marathon. And I started to think about how much my last lap was going to help me finish strong. A lap earlier, in this very spot on the course, I wasn’t in the mood to run, but was still able to run the next 13 miles. And here I was, a lap later. Would I run the rest of the way in? Hell yeah I would. Thomas was finishing his last loop through the woods as I was going out on it. We again exchanged encouragements and I screamed (though he didn’t hear me with his headphones on) “I’m back baby!”

That last loop through the woods seemed like forever. I kept expecting it to be over only to find another late-night-wormhole (many parts of the course seem to get longer at night). But I finally made it out. Now I just had to stay to the right side of the trail to avoid the hanging branch that was somewhere ahead on the left. And now I made it to the last water aid station. Just three more miles! There were five big turns until I got out of the woods. Four more. Three. Two. One. There’s the sign! Just two more miles!

The whole time as I was running through the woods I kept sipping water. I don’t know if I really needed it, but I was holding a water bottle and it gave me something to do. The closer I got to being out of the woods, the more I had to pee. But with as fast as I felt like I was going, I was under the impression that I was back on target for sub-16 hours. And with as much as I had to pee, I was not going to be a few seconds over 16 hours (like I finished 18 seconds over 17 hours at Rocky Raccoon) just because I stopped to pee. No. I was going to run the rest of the way in and then I’d relieve myself.

I crossed the road one last time. There was the windmill at the visitor’s center all lit up like a Christmas tree. It was just a half mile to the finish. Let’s go! I picked it up a tiny bit. There’s one little bump (almost literally) 200 m from the finish. I could see the green lights of the finish line and I ran with whatever I had left in me. The timing clock came into view. 1. 6. Crap! I was over 16 hours. Oh well. 16:33. A little more than I was hoping for. But still, I was happy. I was a half hour faster than my fastest time. I crossed the finish line to see my wife and friend, who both wanted to talk and congratulate me. “I gotta pee.” And it felt so good. So good to be done; so good to not have to pee anymore; so good to have finished strong (minus the 7-mile hiatus); so good to have friends and family at the finish who support me in my addiction.

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