I was really excited (and nervous) to race a new distance and to do it primarily in the dark as training for the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler in February. I honestly didn’t know much about the race or the location, but I have heard nothing but great things about Tejas Trails so I knew it would be well supported, and well, the terrain will be what it will be (this would come back to bite me).
The race itself was full of lessons for me and while it took much longer and I did far more walking than I wanted or expected, it was a success because we finished and walked away (pun intended) with invaluable knowledge.
The race was 3 loops of 12.4 miles and it started at 7 PM. The short race recap is below, followed by a more lengthy lessons learned.
Obligatory Before Photo
Lap 1: Holy terrain, batman. Hills, roots, granite rock, oh my! Beautiful course. Heart rate spiked early, which is common for me as I settle into the terrain. It was really warm, even though it was after 7 PM. 3 unexpected visits into the woods (GI issues) and nauseous (both firsts for me in racing, or even training). Worried about ability to race with tummy distress. Wow, it got dark fast. Rock in shoe? No that’s a big ass blister. Handheld flash light died. 3:06:34 for Loop 1, time to adjust expectations. 10:00 PM
Lap 2: Major morale boost thanks to seeing hubby and amazing volunteers. Feeling MUCH better, attitude and tummy! Running and walking, good tempo and mix. Met Haleigh on the Dome. Ankle roll #1. Ankle roll #2 (and #3 maybe?). Nervous feet after multiple trips. Blister growing. More walking than running. Met Danny. Lots of stories and laughing. Ankle roll AGAIN. Seriously?!? Pick up your damn feet! Headlight getting dim. Battery change. 3:47:52 for Loop 2, time to seriously adjust expectations. 2:15 AM
Lap 3: Time to start worrying about cut off times. Still more walking than running (ankle). Less talking and laughing. Counting down the miles. Popped blister on fourth toe of right foot on a rock – yowza! Limping. Pain assimilation and back to (almost) normal gait. Counting down the miles. Met someone who was doing an extra lap (so lapping us). Blisters on both feet. Mark decides it is time to roll. Let’s finish this thing! Running feels so GOOD. Cheers! 4:15:31 for Loop 3, so happy to be finished. Major mental victory. 6:10 AM
Summary: 11:09:57 for 37.2 miles. Or 5 additional hours for 5 additional miles from my 32 for 32. What a difference terrain can make! 85 people entered the 60K and 66 people (78%) finished, of that there were less than 15 women.
My Personal Lessons Learned
1. Respect the terrain – Long ago when I first started racing, I learned the hard way about respecting the distance. After running two marathons and doing an Olympic distance triathlon without following proper training plans, I learned how much a finish line can hurt. I was probably lucky to finish at all. I have been fairly smart about picking races with terrain that is similar to the terrain on which I normally train. The terrain at Reveille Peak Ranch was quite varied, but the majority of it was vastly different than anything I have run before. Rooty and rocky (and hilly) single track and large granite, hilly rock. I was physically ready for the distance, but definitely under-prepared for the terrain.
2. Be prepared for anything – this one goes without saying. Extra batteries. Baby wipes (thank God I had those!). Enough nutrition that if your race falls apart and you are on the course longer than expected and the aid stations are running low you are still ok.
3. Don’t wear new shoes – I know, I know, I know … I know better. I really thought switching to the trail version of my normal running shoe would not be that big of a deal, and maybe on a different course it would have been ok. Heck, my blister problems (back of the heels) and ankle turns may have happened in my other shoes because of the terrain. Running and walking / hiking up and around uneven rocks moves your ankles in different ways and I think this contributed to my problems. I will definitely be experimenting to determine what shoes will be best for me for the 100 miler.
4. It’s all in your head – I would not describe myself as having a high tolerance for pain, but I am stubborn as all get out. The first lap I questioned whether I could keep going with my stomach problems. Mark even asked if I wanted to quit (actually, I stopped him before he could finish his sentence and told him I was not quitting). Mentally I was not in a good place. The ankle turns and blisters did not feel good. Every step starting at about 10 miles in, I could feel the blister on my right heel. Then, at mile 17 (I am guessing here), after turning my ankle again and again, every step I could feel the tweak in my ankle and the blister. Then at mile 31, I inadvertently popped a blister on the pad of a toe of my right foot and I thought I was going to have to limp the rest of the way … BUT for as yucky as I felt on the first lap, I was a different person on the second lap. Amazingly, for as bad as my feet were hurting, my body seemed to assimilate and after a bit the pain became more manageable. I think that with even more trail running experience, I may even be able to shake off ankle turns and not let it affect my confidence as I am running more technical sections.
I have heard from a lot of experienced endurance athletes that you can go from feeling like crap to feeling like a rock star to feeling like crap to feeling like a rock star over the course of a race. I have experienced this a bit in training but not much in racing. It was good to experience that during this race as I will be able to draw on it in the future. I definitely drew on the experience from my ankle turn at the Rocky Raccoon 50K last year to remind myself that I had been there, done that and overcome it before. I am listening to Chrissie Wellington’s book right now and she discusses GI problems she has experienced during races and I definitely drew on that during this race.
I am not saying that there are not injuries that cannot be overcome, that is obviously not the case, but I think those types of injuries are less common.
5. Be flexible / adaptable – adjust expectations when necessary; don’t mentally beat yourself up if your race is not going as planned.
6. Hubby thinks I need cooler, brighter lights. I think he just likes getting cool gear :)
7. Remember to look on the bright side – 11 hours moving and on my feet is good training for the 100 miler! Obviously our pace will need to be faster, but the weather should be cooler and the terrain far more manageable!
Overall – great, well supported race. I loved the location, even though I was not prepared for the terrain. My hubby mountain biked the course the next day and loved it and came back saying he had a new respect for us after experiencing some of the terrain first hand. Side note, he saw lots of wild animals (road runners, wild boars, a dead rattle snake, a doe) – so glad I did not know about the wild boar ahead of time (we were cautioned about the rattle snakes). The spiders and scorpions and tree roots that looked like snakes were scary enough in the dark.
The volunteers were FANTASTIC! Top notch service. Example - at the end of both loops, a kind volunteer took my sweaty Nathan vest and refilled my pack with water and ice and wouldn’t let me help him at all (first lap, I kept trying to take over and he kept telling me to do other stuff; second lap I just gave it to him while the medic bandaged my blister).