Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Because in Texas, Four 100-milers Just isn’t Enough for a Grand Slam

From October 2014 through February 2015 (3 ½ months), I raced 512 miles in just over 100 hours. In addition to that, I ran 670 ‘training’ miles between races. I thought I’d interview myself and let you know a bit about the races, why I did it, how I got ready for it, and how you can do it too. After answering the first question, I decided not to post all of it at once. So I will periodically post new segments.

1.       Which race was the hardest?
·         Cactus Rose 100
It’s Cactus Rose, and if you’ve ran it before, enough said. If you’ve only looked at it on paper, it doesn’t seem too difficult. There’s only about 7000 feet of elevation gain. It’s basically at sea level and although there are some steep spots, they are short and there are plenty of relatively flat spots. The webpage does mention the race as “A very nasty trail race...where everything stings, scratches, or bites.” It also states that there are “bonus points for blood, cuts, scrapes, and puke.” It may even mention that there are rocks on the course as well as a cactus called sotol along the trails. You might have even read someone’s race report about how tough the course is, thinking “Yeah, but I’m sure I’m tougher than them.” But you have to experience the course yourself before you really know what a toll it will take on you. And I’ll go as far to say that you have to do the 100-miler, because I still feel pretty good after just 50 miles. I’ve never been as sore after a race as I have been after Cactus Rose. Though I must say, it seems I have been less sore in recent years. However, that may be due to forgetting the pain fun I had after a year or two had passed.

·         Big Cedar 100
A very beautiful course. There are wooded sections and open grassland sections. The wooded parts had numerous switchbacks, and it was fun trying to imagine how they’d look from above. This inaugural race was turning out to be a great race with some super weather, in spite of the forecast. But then the rain came. And the race as we had so far experienced it—was over. The wooded sections were still fine and very runnable. But the open grasslands turned into the stickiest shoe-sucking mud I’ve ever had to run through. And by run, I mean trudge, because there probably wasn’t a single person on the course that could run for more than a couple steps before their shoes were three inches higher and they had to stop at every tree along the trail to kick off the mud, only to do it again ten seconds later. What helped me not even consider dropping out was that I was already about 72 miles into the race and I only had a little more than a lap to complete in the mud (whereas others had 2+ laps still to go). I was on pace to finish in about 18-19 hours, but the fun in the mud turned that into a 22-hour finish. I don’t think I had ever been so happy to be done with a race.

·         Brazos Bend 100
A flat race. Literally. There was one “hill” that might have been fifteen feet tall and a tiny valley that was about as far down and up. I had no idea as to how to approach this race. Usually there are hills of some sort that I can walk. But this race was going to be entirely runnable. And this meant going fast—for 100 miles. I wasn’t sure I could competitively complete 100 miles of non-stop running. And it didn’t help that I went into the race wanting a really fast time. The whole race was nice and smooth, except for the beginning of the fourth lap. I just wasn’t there mentally and it took me seven miles to get back into it. A tough course if you’re looking for natural breaks from running. You have to be disciplined to not go out too quickly and burn out (though this is true of all races).

·         Bandera 100k
The whole day was gonna be cold (30°F). I had, for the first time ever, had a slight injury (my right knee was hurting a bit). And I was a few days past having been fake sick (I don’t get sick) with some throat illness. My original goal was to finish in the low 10-hour range. But the conditions just didn’t help with that. My knee had a dull ache almost the entire race, but it never got worse. That made me happy and so I just kept running on it. There were a few spots that were muddy, but it wasn’t anything compared to Big Cedar mud. I kinda laughed as I went through it. The weather was cold, but not so cold that I would freeze. I just had to keep moving and not let the cold set in. Upon finishing, I quickly found a heater, some clean and dry clothes, some food, and headed out. Not the best conditions for a fast race, but the course was good enough. And even though the park is full of sotol and rocks, somehow running only 62 miles through it all just doesn’t faze me much.

·         Rocky Raccoon 100
This is my favorite race. It’s nearby our house. We’ve camped there numerous times. I have the course memorized. And it was my fifth time running it. I always get excited when it’s time for Rocky. The only hard part is that it’s five laps. And sometimes it’s hard to run yet another lap. But I made an effort to prepare myself mentally as I completed each lap so I would not hit a low point at the beginning of the next lap. I might be biased in saying this, but this was probably the easiest of all the races.

·         Rocky Raccoon 50
This was just a fifty miler, but recovery time was limited to only one week. I needed to do this race. Not so I could show off, but so that I could be better mentally prepared for what lie in store for me come this fall when I attempt to run Cactus Rose 100 followed six days later by Big Cedar 100. But back to this race. I wanted to run this race in seven hours. My first lap was right on schedule for that pace. A few miles into the second lap and I knew that that pace was gone and it was replaced by a slower let’s-just-make-it-to-the-end pace. There were a few times when my legs/tendons really hurt, but I was still running the whole course (more or less). I wasn’t too happy to start my last lap, but 8 miles into that lap and I was starting to get happy (and teary-eyed at moments). I was walking more than I wanted to, but I was still moving and I had a great friend with me to keep me company and a lot happier than if I’d have been alone. I don’t know if my mind set aside 50 miles of energy for me, but I was definitely out of gas when I crossed the finish. My legs hurt. My feet hurt. And I was done. That race hurt the most.

·         So, which race was the hardest? Normally I’d say Cactus Rose without a second thought. But I think that the mud at Big Cedar may have edged it out this time.

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