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2010 Cactus Rose 50-Miler – Race Report

October 31, 2010

A bit (ok, a lot) more about yesterday’s race for (a) major running nerds, (b) fans of tales of self-imposed suffering or, (c) Mike Randall voyeurs.

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Cactus Rose 50-Mile Trail Race recap – October 30, 2010

[Copied from email on 10/31/2010]

Since you expressed some interest in my first 50-mile race effort, I’m sending you this lengthy but not-at-all-comprehensive race report.  My race was yesterday, out in the Hill Country State Natural Area in Bandera, Texas, population 857.  Located a few hours southwest of Austin, the area is sometimes referred to as the “Cowboy Capital of the World”.

Training leading up to the race went well, with quite a few long runs, including weekly runs between 24 and 31 miles.  But, more than logging miles for the sake of a big total, I opted for much more speed in my training, in large part due to the recommendations of Martin Hyman.  Most weeks during my 4-ish month build-up included intervals (typically mile repeats) and either a solid tempo or hill-specific run.  I also added in some random workouts for fun, like a hard 5-miler and a 10k trail race (placed 3rd overall in a very weak field).  More than anything, I remained flexible during the training block and worked a LOT on taking in more nutrition on the run (which was a notoriously difficult part of my longer runs).

I went into race day well rested and feeling strong.  My good friend and frequent training/racing partner, Andres, had a very erratic and rough build-up to the race.  He is normally a stronger runner than me at every distance regardless of terrain but my ability to train more and rest consistently was not available to him.  He had worked 8 consecutive days leading up to the race and missed a number of key workouts earlier in the training cycle due to circumstances outside of his control.  In the week prior to the race, as part of his SWAT training, he had massive required physical training as well as the very unpleasant experiences of being tasered, gassed with tear gas and pepper spray, and bouts of sleep deprivation.  Just getting to the starting line was an effort and every bit of his renowned toughness and overall fitness were called on.  Though he was originally shooting for a top 5, he instead asked to run the race with me, which I eagerly accepted.

The course is notorious for its difficulty, from the constant steep hills to the countless hazards ranging from loose rocks and chunky roots to leg-slicing plants to overgrown single-track where the ground isn’t visible through the foliage.  The race started at 5am and we really lucked out with weather.  When the sun came up we had clear skies, with highs reaching the 80s.  Aid stations were roughly 5 miles apart on the 25-mile loop, with the second loop reversing in direction.  This eventually made for some interesting times, as runners from both our 50-miler and the concurrent 100-miler crossed paths regularly over the course of the day.  Turns out there were many runners who inexplicably didn’t start, and many others who DNFed, both of which seemed odd to me given the nice, dry, relatively comfortable racing conditions.  For the 50-miler there were, I believe, 90 signed up for the race and 75 starters.  Final results are pending.

The 2.5 hours of running in the dark were wonderfully cool, probably upper 30s, but slow going due to my low-power headlamp and the pitch black night.  We ran conversationally for most of the morning, power hiking the climbs, running smoothly on the somewhat rare flats, and taking the downhills as quick as we could safely handle.  There was a water crossing I didn’t see until I was knee deep and I fell one time, fortunately on a stretch of dirt covered ground.  No damage done.  We wasted little time at the aid stations and I was happy to take in about 2 gels per hour, in addition to lots of sports drink and an assortment of whatever other high-calorie foods I could stomach.  Potato chips, which I almost never ordinarily eat, became my immediate go-to at most stops.

All was going really well through about 30 miles.  At that point, it was warming up and I actually had some of my strongest-feeling miles of the day.  But, coming out of the 35-mile aid station it was becoming clear that Andres was starting to hurt.  Over the course of many, many 20-30 mile runs, as well as other grueling non-running workouts, hard labor days, and multiple races together, I’d never seen or heard Andres complain about physical discomfort.  But, as we kept moving Andres was showing uncharacteristic signs of fatigue and additional aid, food, pace changes and my dorky attempts to raise his spirits weren’t doing the trick.  After hours of an increasingly alarming downward spiral that included nausea, general weakness, a loss and mental acuity, and blurred vision, he expressed his concern that he’d DNF.  The trek from between 40 and 45 miles became painfully slow and I am pretty sure we both were quite concerned about him doing long-term damage to himself.

There have been many times Andres has pulled me through rough patches and I was eager to do whatever I could to help him out.  The whole situation was quite a turnabout – I was actually feeling stronger as the miles ticked off, really eager to run harder for miles at a stretch relatively late in the race.  As we approached the 45 mile aid station nothing was certain but I just couldn’t imagine us not both finishing.  After a slightly longer than average aid stop – where Andres was able to get off his feet for a while and get an earful of encouragement/shaming from a super-volunteer named Olga – it became clear that we would finish the race together.  We were even able to pick up the pace a bit out of the aid station and finish with a reasonably strong final mile.

We crossed the line together resulting in an identical time of about 11:32 that was good for a shared 10th place.   I don’t think there was anyone close to us, either in front or behind.  Without the unexpected bonk, I know that we have the skill to have caught/stayed ahead of at least one or two runners who finished faster.  But that’s what keeps us racing and I am happy to have been able to share this one with a friend.

I’m not sure precisely what kind of racing I’ll be doing next.  I am confident that I could have gotten through another 10-15 miles so I’m curious about an attempt at 100k.  100 miles still seems very, very distant and, really, I’m not sure if my passion for that distance is there, given volume of training and recovery time necessary for the effort.  My interest right now is more for triathlon and much greater speed at distances up to the marathon.  In any case, I need to let my body rest for a bit and, while that doesn’t sound like much fun right now, I’m really glad my enthusiasm for training and racing hasn’t waned.  The more I see the accomplishments of “masters” runners, the more I realize that my best running is very likely ahead of me.  And, even if that isn’t the case, it can be a part of my life for a long, long time.

Thanks for your interest in my pursuits and I hope you are doing well.

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