Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Wildflower 25k Trail Run Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 4th Edition 
50.6 miles run and 750 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Wildflower 25k Trail Run
Place: Bastrop, TX
Miles from home: 40
Weather: 60-70 degrees; sunny; 95% humidity

A few years ago a friend told me how the Bastrop State Park has been decimated by a fire. Starting to regrow, the park was something I wanted to see and had not taken the time to do so as a nearby resident of Austin. As I try to eschew driving to run, I hadn't made the trek out there to do so yet for  a training run. Seeing a friend who owns a great racing company (Trail Running Over Texas - one of his races is in my upcoming book of must-run races) had a series of events going on there, I put a pin in it in my mind. When this weekend's weather proved to be about the best one could hope for in the greater Austin area in May, I decided to pull the trigger on the 25km race.

Race Morning:

The park is just close enough that it I needn't grab a hotel but just far enough away that I still have to wake up at 4:30 in the morning to make it on time. If you are new to See Dane Run Dot Com, let me fill you in: Dane doesn't like mornings. Picked the wrong sport for it, I know, but one doesn't get to choose the talents the almighty gives you. All glory to God.

That said, I hit every single green light on the way to Bastrop, parked, walked to the shuttle which took us into the park, and grabbed the last seat on the bus. I was at the park, with my bib in hand, and my various race accoutrements set up with an hour to kill. Now what? I chatted with a guy whose chair was right next to mine whose wife was running the 50km race.  He was also running the 25km event as I. We both commiserated that even this "nice" weather was too warm for great racing.

As the course was three loops, two 6.2 miles(ish) and one 3.1 miles(ish), this allowed you to have your own little drop-bag station with all your goodies in one place. Normally, for a race of this distance, I wouldn't have single thing to bring with me. However, this was a cupless race meaning you had to have your own containers to receive fluids at the aid stations.  I understand the need and desire for these (cuts down on waste - yay!) but it is not my fave racing condition. So I loaded up a Camelbak with a 1.5 liter (mostly frozen) bladder and felt I should be fine without needing to stop once. Why mostly frozen? Because like the star in Avengers: Infinity War (*small spoiler*) my body heat could toast Thor.

Soon it was time to go.

Lap One:

The course started in a small parking lot and IMMEDIATELY went up a steep, single-track hill.
Watching the 50k runners go off at 6 a.m. showed me that if you weren't one of the first few through, you were destined to be walking up the hill behind a conga line of runners. That was after you got through a bottleneck to even get on the trail. This meant I had to start off sprinting, uphill - two things I do not do well in a race. Alas, it was a necessity. Hitting the trail, after the countdown, I was in third place. That's a good position to be in.

It had rained the night before and I am thankful for that indeed. There was a great deal of this course
which was sandy or other similar footings which, if dry, would have been a bear to run in. The rain undoubtedly helped pack it a bit and the 50k runners who had gone through an hour before beat it down a little more. As we started climbing, I had sunglasses on my head. The sun was just now creeping over the horizon. Its yellow tendrils were playing shadows between our feet and I wasn't ready to misjudge a step and break a hand or a face out here just yet. I mean, hell, the Austin police department wouldn't do anything about it if I did. (Oooh, thousands of dollars of medical bills from being assaulted burn! Take that APD!)

Within a quarter of a mile we crested this steep hill and me and the second-place runner (Tony) passed first place on a nice downhill. The first dollop of sweat dripped out of my hair and into my eyes. I was four minutes into this race. It was going to be hot.

We came to a footbridge crossing (one of half a dozen or so) and Tony went the wrong way. I yelled at him to correct his error and found myself, undesirably so at this juncture, in first place. I was not quite awake yet, I was not feeling my legs, and I did not want to be leading at this point. Fortunately, before another half mile or so, we came to one of many steep embankments and as I leaned to the right, he passed me on the left. I don't know what it is that makes people so much better than me on uphills (or me so much better than most on downhills) but I have no problem ceding way to those who are.

I knew we had a bit of a distance until the biggest hill of the course ending right around the second mile. There would be a few ups and downs, an area I would call the valley, and then some twists and turns as well. But before we got there, on another steep embankment, I heard an "on your left"  in my ear. Wasn't expecting to have to move for another fella just yet. Well, pooh. I didn't catch his name but he had a UK accent so I am going to call him Nigel.

Tony had pulled a way from me a bit as we hit that big hill at mile two, and ole Nige had split the difference between us. I ran this entire hill, without using the patented Dane HillWalk Method, and got to the top not in the worst shape. A nice downhill, followed by a series of switchbacks in a valley of sorts had me not too far back of the chaps in front of me. This vantage point also allowed me to see there was a relatively steady stream of other runners far too close behind me for comfort.

We crossed over a dirt road where we would turn right on our third lap for a shorter loop and went through a series of terrain and fauna that was rather surprising. I say surprising because we ran under and through a variety of types of trees, through a variety of types of footing, and altogether were presented with a variety of types of visages which I was not expecting. Without a doubt there was a plethora of things to keep your eyes on and your mind off your running.

At mile 3.8 we slid out of the woods and past the only aid station on the course and onto a dirt road. I had seen this on the map and thought this brief half-mile section might give me a chance to make up some ground, being that it was the closest to running on a road we were going to get.  However, it slopped uphill at a noticeable angle and all I saw were Tony and Right Good Chap staying just as far away from me as always. However, right before we turned off, I seemed to notice a small slowdown in Captain Britain. The game is afoot, Billy S. (That's a Shakespeare reference.)

Over the next half a mile I found myself gaining on Nigel and was soon in his back pocket. I thought about staying in there but I could no longer see Tony. If I wanted any chance of winning, I couldn't lose touch with the leader. So I finally passed Bowler Wearer and began my tracking down of Big T.

There were a ton of twists and turns on this course which blocked any long-term viewing of those in front of you. Just when I felt Tony might be out of reach, he appeared in front of me not too far away. We then hit a steep but short uphill that I had forgotten about and I walked just for a second. Then, knowing the vast majority was downhill until the cruel 100 yard uphill to finish the loop, I picked up the pace.

Screaming downhill, the route went over some washed-out ravines which I knew would provide for some sticky wicket of running on tired legs on the third loop. But here I could fly.  An abrupt turn onto a tiny trail appeared and I found myself ducking three branches as I accelerated at break-neck speed. Unfortunately, there were four branches to duck under.


The branch knocked my sunglasses clear off my head and I had to come to a screeching halt to try to locate them. Took me a full ten second to grab them and begin running again, completely throwing off all momentum. I have often said I learned that trail running when you are 6'1'' means you are going to take a lot of branches to the face that most runners will glide right under.

Over a log bridge which I knew would also cause some trepidation on tired legs, up a hill to cross a road, up some stairs, through the last bit of twisting uphill and one lap was done in 52:37.  Definitely slower than I expected (and I don't think this was exactly a 6.2 mile course but it's trail so, meh.)

The race director was standing there cheering people on and as he knows about my propensity to sweat, commented: "Sweating already, huh, Dane?!" If he had only known I was drenched to the bone three miles earlier.

Lap Two:

I looked to see if Tony had stopped to fill his bottle but couldn't see him around. I could also tell from the cheering that there was a runner right behind me as well. I took the hill at the start of the loop with less vigor this time but still felt decent. By now the sun was beginning to beat down on us all, not a single of those supposedly partly cloudy skies had a cloud in it, and I could drop my sunglasses down. As we were beginning to encounter other racers from the other races going on, we had to be a touch more careful where the footing was more challenging. I couldn't see Tony and thought perhaps he had stopped back at the finish for a drink.

Almost at the exact same place where Nigel had passed me before I heard footsteps behind me. The CamelBak I was wearing had, by now, melted most of the ice and was creating a back-and-forth swishing sound of ice and water. As such, I didn't hear approaching foot steps as far back as usual.  As a fresh-faced fella passed me, I assumed he was the one runner I had scoped out on the registrants list who appeared he might give me a challenge today. I fed off of his energy and allowed him to pull me along for a while.

Soon we approached the big hill at mile two and suddenly Tony appeared in front of us. First Young Buck passed him and then I did as well. This time, however, I walked a bit of the uphill.  Near the top, I heard Tony's footsteps and decided I would take off again.

I kept waiting to pass over the path which on the third loop we would take to the finish but it didn't seem to come. When I finally hit it I knew there was no way that the third loop was only half of the second. Even knowing this course was definitely on the long side, all I could think was "One more lap and I can take it." I thought I might try to grab some ice or something cool at the midway aid station on the road but when I popped out of the forest there was a huge gathering of other racers there filling their bottles, packs etc. I decided it wasn't worth the wait or effort to grab a drink here and just began up the dirt road hill.

Up ahead, Young Buck (Alex was his name) was just turning out of sight and he was cooking. I looked down for a second and saw that my bib number with the chip on it was in danger of falling off my shorts. Near the top of this hill road I decided there would be no better time to fix it than right here. So I slowed to a walk and reached down to fumble with the safety pins. I had sweat so much that I dampened the semi-laminated type bib number to the point that the pin had pulled right through it. Bib reattached with a new hole created further down the paper, I began running again.

Even though I could tell I was slowing, I was passing loads of runners which always helps placate the
ego. I decided to purposefully slow just a touch more as I could tell the third loop was really going to take a lot out of me. Also, my legs were getting a bit wobbly. At one point, ascending some stairs to cross a footbridge, I stumbled a bit and almost smashed my face into a log.

I finished the second loop in 56:30 which was slower than I hoped but not as slow as I expected given a few walk breaks on the hills.

Third Loop:

I began this loop a little perturbed. There were a large number of runners sort of milling around in the narrow area where we went from the parking lot to the hill and none seemed too concerned about getting the hell out of the way. I mean, we ALL just came through there at one point, people. Come on.

As I began the hill climb again I let go of all pretense of shuffling up this beast and just power-walked it. I tried to drink heartily from my Camelbak but while not warm, the water wasn't particularly cold, either. I could tell all I was doing by drinking it was bloating myself. It stinks when you want to remedy the energy level of your over-heated body but know what you have won't do it. Yet, you drink anyway. Alas *holds back of hand to head*

I felt great on any downhills had but any semblance of an up brought me to a slow walk. You really begin to notice how many quick up and downs a course has when you are forced to walk when the path slopes at all. Realizing I didn't have a chance to catch Alex in first place took the wind right out of my sails. Would have been wonderful if there was some actual wind, I thought.

Passing runners and thanking those who went out of their way to step off the trail (I would tell them they did not have to do so and wanted to let them know that if they simply stayed where they were at the pace they were going it was easier to gauge where they would be — I had one or two close calls when someone just stopped) I got a little bit of a second wind. Then, as I approached the big hill at mile two I heard footsteps behind me.

A spritely young lass passed me and I hoped she wasn't in the 25k. When I inquired and she cheerfully said she was, my spirits sank. Not because I was being "chicked", mind you. Rather, in the late stage of a races, I have often been able to fend off many runners who might make a move too soon. But those runners are often male  If a female runner is with me at the end, chances are almost 100% that girl can fly and has properly paced herself throughout. As it stands, Anna had done just that. At the end of the first lap, she as in eighth place. At the end of the second lap, she was in fourth. And now, with ~two miles to go, she as in second. Solid run, Anna!

I will cut to the chase and say the remainder of my race was a war of attrition. It was walking up hills and wondering if I should just lie down and then hitting a downhill and feeling like a champ.  Undoubtedly this was part of being less trained than I would like to be at this point of the year, trail running being very different from road racing, and the fact I have Gilbert's Syndrome. The latter being where when I start to overheated and bake my insides, my body basically says "Yeah, you're done. Sit down, son."

But I pulled it together for the final surge, even running the last bit of up hill.  I was disappointed as heck with a 41-minute last lap (on a supposedly half as long loop — which there was no way it wasn't longer than stated) came in with a final sprint to go 2:29:59. This was good enough for third place overall and 2nd male. Tony had regrouped, came in fourth about a minute behind me, and told me after that he saw me walking the hills but I had put too much distance in between us in the interim.

Coming in third in any race is nothing to be bummed about, but just because it isn't doesn't mean I am not. Part of the reason I moved to Austin, Texas in 2016 was to try to get my body to the point where it can tolerate heat. So far that hasn't worked as well as I would have hope it had but I am still working on it. Running is a constant experiment and we must always tinker. I guess I will just keep on tinkering!

All told the event was extremely well-run with helpful volunteers. Rob Goyen, the RD, is as affable a fella as you will meet and he is seemingly at the finish for every single runner as they come through. He has created quite a company and I love telling people about good people doing fun things. If you are virtually anywhere in Texas, Rob probably has a race an hour's drive from you.

Go check them out.

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