I made it to the 50K today. I finished. It was a very tough day. here’s the scoop…
Background: I ran my first 50K in 2005. I ran ultras of all distances over the next 4-5 years. In Texas, all our ultras are on trails for the most part, and most of our trails are very rocky and rugged. I trained at least one day a week for a long run on these rocky and rugged trails. When I had Jasper I gave it up mainly because I didn’t want to waste lots of weekend time driving to trails and waiting until it got light to run. Sometimes I missed it, but most the time I didn’t. I had some wonderful times at ultras, but sometimes there were runs that were all about gritting my teeth….for 20 or more miles.
The 50K distance seems short when you run 50 milers, and long when you run marathons. But since I had done it before, I knew I could do it, so I decided to go through with running Prickly Pear. I remembered it as being easy. Remember what I mentioned about our trails being rocky? Well, Prickly Pear probably is easy compared to what I ran on 5 years ago. It was not compared to what I run on today. More on that later…
I woke up at 3:45 and left the house at 4:30 to drive to San Antonio. It was a steady drizzle the whole way, but I kept telling myself I could run it without being miserable….if it didn’t let up. I really never thought the trails would be muddy because it wasn’t really raining that hard. I also forgot my breakfast on the kitchen counter. So cup of coffee and a granola bar it is…
Ultra starts are pretty uneventful. The joke is always “Off like a pack of turtles!” It’s a long day, and very few people are really running all that fast. Right away my mind was saying “F_ _ _! F_ _ _ _! F_ _ _ _!!! I don’t remember this course being so rocky!” Yes, I’ve officially lost my trail legs. Next my mind was saying “WTF with all the mud!!” You know the sticky, stacking mud that quickly turns your shoes into 10 pound Frankenstein shoes? Crap, just a couple of miles in and I’m running like I’m wearing platform heels. As in my entire gait is off, my ankles are rolling and mud is flying into my shoes. About 5 miles in I met a super nice lady named Lupe and we decided to run together for a while and see how it goes. We hit a section where the mud was so thick it was barely runnable. We were stopping every mile to scrape our shoes off but it was a completely futile effort. The course is 3 10 mile loops plus a little add on, and after the first loop Lupe and I confessed to each other we were panicking that our legs were hurting so early from the mega mud, and we both readjusted our goals (mine was a 5:30-5:45 based on previous times on the same course). I also thought that if the next two loops were that bad, it would be a pretty miserable experience.
Starting a new loop is always energizing. Lupe and I agreed to stick together some more. I felt better…the rocks were more manageable now that the runners were spread out more. I also new where the really hard sections were. The most horrible mud section was actually better now that it had been packed down by the much larger group of runners doing the 10 mile race. Part of loop 2 was pretty fun, but in my head I knew this would be a pretty hard earned finish. I could also tell Lupe was fading a bit, and I wasn’t optimistic that I would have a buddy for loop 3.
Another 10 miles done, and just a 10 mile home stretch remaining. Lupe had a friend to pace her the last 10 miles named Claudia. They invited me along with them, and Claudia was just what I needed. She was a strong runner who gave us both tough love and pushed the pace hard. It got my out of the ultra shuffle and before I knew it I was a couple of miles into loop 3. Unfortunately, about this time I lost Lupe for good and Claudia left me to find her friend. But I was moving quite good, and so far had taken no walk breaks. I just had to maintain. I met up with some really nice guys from McAllen and ran with them a few miles and chatted. By far the best thing about ultras is meeting so many interesting people and having an instant bond with them. I was moving good though, and soon left the boys and just had about 4 miles left on my own.
Trail miles are not like road miles. They take a lot longer and the difficult terrain means that some miles will really be slower than your “regular” pace. So I still had a decent chunk of time to be out on the trail. My feet were toasted from sliding on wet rocks and sticky mud. I don’t think I would have had blisters had it not been for the trail conditions. I was hanging in there, but ready to be done!
But here comes the finish! First ultra in a very long time….done. 6:20. Rice, beans, and tortilla in hand. Super nice etched glass finisher’s medal. Life is good. Now time to rush home. Ever run 31 miles then go sit in traffic? Take my word for it…it hurts.
The verdict: Not sure if I want to jump back into ultras. I would do this race again, but maybe try just a few rocky trail training runs. But I’m pretty stoked. I EARNED this finish. I would guesstimate the poor trail conditions added about 30 minutes more to my time….but not for lack of effort. 10 pounds of mud per shoe just slows the over all pace.
My feet look and feel like crap, but we went to Austin’s vegan ice cream parlor tonight (only in Austin!). And I’m healthy with a great family who support me pursing my goals, no matter how stupid they may be. Life is good….but so are toenails. 🙂