Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Franklin Mountains Trail Run

Franklin Mountains Trail Run
November 2015

From the peak of North Franklin Mountains
I’ve only run one mountain race before and I was so excited when the planets aligned and I found a way to get out to El Paso to run a mountain 50k in Texas (of all places). The 760-mile drive out there was long and with two people I never met before (but got to be super good friends with by the time we got home--thanks Robyn and Brian).

 Packet pickup was interesting. A ton of people came by to hear the legend Gordy Ainsleigh, who was going to be running his first ultra in Texas. It was way cool to hear him speak even though I had no intention of actually talking to him or anything like that. Just being in his presence was pretty cool.

The night before the race I went through my packet pickup bag and put whatever I was going to need into my race bag. I woke up around 4:30 am to make sure we got to the park by 5 am and got a close parking spot. I was just walking around by myself because that’s what I like to do before a race, and I realized that I didn’t have my ankle timing chip on. So I went back to my drop bag to get it. It wasn’t there. “Hey Rob? I’m a big dummy. I forgot my chip back at the hotel.” “Remind me when you finish. It’ll be all hectic, but we’ll make it work.” I kept wandering around ‘til we were told to move over to the starting area. I wasn’t anywhere near the front, which is fine for me. But I didn’t realize that the single track for the first few miles was unpassable single track. Cactuses (or cacti for you grammar nazis) and other pokey plants lined the trail. I was stuck behind a long and slow caterpillar line. I could pass the guy in front of me, but I’d have to do that again and again seven more times. So I just waited and crawled along with the caterpillar. The trail joined up with another and this was an ATV trail. I took advantage of the extra space and basically sprinted by everyone that was anywhere close so I wouldn’t get stuck again. Although I have come to enjoy running with someone and talking, I still really enjoy being all by myself during ultras. It’s so peaceful and I love the feeling of being alone with my thoughts for extended periods. All alone is how I spent basically the next 29 miles. I saw people, but ran alone.

At the peak. 7100 feet.
The trek up most of the mountain had a lot of switchbacks and was very runnable and I ran most of it. I had to walk as it got steeper because I was not going to spend a ton of energy when I had most of the race still ahead of me. Getting to Mundy’s Gap was great. After arriving at that aid station, I just had two miles of hard climbing to get to the top and then I was on easy street ‘til the end. The front runners started coming down as I was heading up. My lower back started to hurt, but I kept hiking up, knowing that the hard part was almost finished. Having counted the runners that passed me as I went up, I knew I was about 22nd (I lost track a few times as my mind wandered).  

Arriving at the top, I received my summit bracelet, shook Santiago’s hand, and began the fun descent. I stretched out my arms and pranced the whole way down.
Prancing downhill
Skipping back down to Mundy’s Gap, I passed about four or so people. I had such a fun time coming down. The rocks all over the path didn’t slow me down much at all; I just plowed right on down. I passed another couple and enjoyed that the downhill wasn’t over yet. But like all good things, the downhill eventually leveled out. The girl I passed a while ago (Alisha Edmiston) caught back up to me on this little hill. Once it leveled out, I passed her again. My water was getting low and I hadn’t eaten anything since before I left Mundy’s Gap to go up to the top. That was coming up on ten miles ago. I couldn’t wait to get to that next aid station. All I could think about was getting there, eating a bunch, refilling my water, pocketing some gels, and moving on. Finally it came into view. My passing buddy caught back up to me as I was leaving and then passed me again as we went up over the pass. Once I was over the pass, it was clear sailing for about four more miles. I finally caught back up to her and re-passed her again. Going up one last pass, she almost caught me again. At the top, I could see the next aid station. I just needed to go downhill--my favorite, minus the tight switchbacks.

Leaving the last aid station, the marathon was over. I had only six more miles. A few miles in I passed my new super friend Robyn on her way to volunteer at the aid station I just left. “Man! You look great!” That’s how I like to run though. I don’t consider myself a very big competitor. I like to do well, but I don’t like pushing myself. When I feel like I have to start pushing the pace into the uncomfortable, I don’t feel like I’m having as much fun, and that ruins the race.
Just a couple more miles
My key to every race is to go out at a pace that I will hold the entire time. It’s kinda hard at the beginning because you always feel great and that you’re going way too slow. But having to crawl the last half of an ultra because you spent everything in the first half is not the way I play. I had been feeling really well for the last many miles and I was fully planning on continuing this pace all the way to the finish and then sprinting downhill through the finish line. I finally saw what I figured would be the last runner I could pass before the finish. When I got up to where I last saw him though, I could see that the downhill finish turned out to be an uphill finish. Surprise! I tried pushing the rest of the way in, but no one was close to me and I didn’t really care if I saved twenty seconds because I ran instead of walking a bit.

When I crossed the finish line, I had to remind Rob that I was sans an ankle timer so that I could get an official finishing time. I talked with my other Team TROT teammates, all who had finished before me.
They all seemed beat up from the course, though. I was tired, but I had had a really fun time through most all of the course. The rockiness of the trail never really bothered me. The uphills were a little tough, but the downhills more than made up for that. The only thing that got me was the very beginning when I was caught on the single track trail behind a ton of other runners. But I had a great time during this race. Even though next year will have at least an extra 1000 feet of elevation gain, I can’t wait to come all the way to the other side of Texas to run this race.

After I finished, I ended up staying and helping hike out some of the aid station from Mundy’s Gap and it was dark by the time we were done.
Thank you for 100-mile ultras
We got back to the start/finish area and I saw a tall guy doing the I-just-ran-an-ultra walk back to a van and took a shot at shouting out ‘Is that you Gordy?’ I originally thought that just seeing him at packet pickup was going to be good enough for me. I shook his hand and thanked him for running that horse race so many years ago and helping to invent the 100-mile race. I don't know who I'd be if it wasn't for running these races. I don’t know if road running would have changed me (since I don’t do road races). But I feel like trail running is the best thing out there for whatever ailment you may have. As antisocial as I typically am, now I actually talk to people I don't know (at least at races). I love cheering people on whenever I see them along the trail. I love that my kids get to see all these crazy people that are doing something to make themselves better. I feel like I'm a better person than I used to be because I run. Other than my family, running has become the most important part of my life. Every next 100-miler is like Christmas to me. Thank you to my wonderful wife for accepting my lifestyle and supporting me in it. Thank you to Gordy Ainsleigh for providing just what every person needs in their life. Thanks to
TROT for putting on so many races all over The Great State of Texas.
Nathan hydration

Shoes: Altra Lone Peak 2.5

Hydration pack: Nathan Vapor Cloud

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