Thursday, April 13, 2017

Brazos Bend 25k Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 5th Edition 
82.4 miles runs in 2017 races
Race: Brazos Bend 25k
Place: Needville, TX
Miles from home: 161
Weather: 70s; sunny; humid

I signed up for the Brazos Bend 25k the week before the race.  Mainly, after my last race's debacle, I was looking for a little redemption.  I had also heard good things about this race prior to even running the aforementioned debacle, which was put on by the same company: Trail Racing Over Texas.  Note, my calling the race what I did had nothing to do with the way the event was put on, which was top notch, but rather some strange breathing affliction which hit me partway through making it almost impossible for me to finish.  Read more about that here.

But with the Salt Flats 50k coming up here in three weeks, I did not wish to go into this race without something good under my belt. I hoped the supposed flat and very runnable course touted here would do that for me. The weather wasn't going to be much better for my racing tastes than it was at the other race but it didn't seem like it would be worse. That's saying something for Texas.

I stayed in nearby Rosenberg as I did not want to make the 2.5 hour drive the morning of and am not nearly hearty enough of a soul to camp out the night before a race. I can run a long way and do things others cannot, but I also want a nice comfy bed, my own toilet, and Pawn Stars on History Channel the night before a race. I did still get up earlier than I would desire just to make sure I made it through the gate of the park, the walk from the parking lot and setting up my chair to sit down and wait out the start. I made it to the park just fine, used the facilities, milled around a bit as I cheered on the 50k starters and tried to get psyched up. I wanted a top 5 finish but more than anything I wanted a good race.

First Aid Station: 4 miles

When the gun sounded two guys shot out of the gate. I knew if they were keeping that pace, I
wasn't catching them. If they weren't, well, they would come back to me. I initially let them go not because of any major design by rather because, as has happened in probably 99% of the races I have run, people were starting in front of me (and others) who should not be starting there. Until the very last race I run, I will never understand why people line up in a place that all but guarantees that dozens of people will be forced to immediately pass you. Never. Will never, ever understand that.

Two women I recognized and a chap I ran against at the San Felipe ShootOut (Brett) also were in front of me, after I finally extracted myself from the slowly flailing arms and legs of the out-of-place. Up ahead was one exceedingly tall chap (named Tim) who I immediately felt some sympathy.  Not just because of how hard racing with that much frame much be but just day to day life. I am 6'1'' and the world isn't really built for me.  He was 6'5'' if he was an inch. Just not fun.

For the first half mile, as the course did some small twists and turns to get out of the starting area and skirted through the two Horseshoe Lakes, I fell into a rhythm. As I hugged the curves and cut the tangents, I didn't even hear a young guy come up from behind me. Wearing Vibram Five Fingers he passed me and I swore a bit. I hate when anyone wearing those shoes passes me. This distaste is irrational but it is my pet peeve. Now, from my count, I was in 8th place. And *spoiler alert*, that is where I would stay for the rest of the race (even though the end results say I finished 7th, for some reason they do not list Tall Tim.)  You can now stop reading if the end result is all you came here for. 

Still here?  I will continue.

My biggest concern was how shaded the course would be during this race.  To say I was nervous given my previous race is an understatement. However, for this time of day, I would say that 75% of the course was under some canopy of tree. I knew this may change as the day went on but if I could get an hour or so under shade, I could power through the rest. The other runners in front of me quickly spread out to their respective positions and once there, stayed almost the exact same distance in front of me the rest of the race. I almost think that if I had just matched their initial bursts I would have been close behind them at the end. (I was able to see a couple of their Strava splits and this bears out. Interesting that the first few miles more or less decided the entire race. Just two people changed positions after this first mile.)  But truth be told, I was concerned about how my lungs were going to work, my legs were going to function, and I just decided I was going to let this race come to me. Whatever it gave me, I would take.

There were no mile markers to mention and not much to go off of with regards to pace. As we quickly began passing runners doing the other races, it was a confidence booster. Granted it does nothing for your overall standing but passing anyone always helps you mentally.

At 1.5 miles we had a 180 degree turn for an out and back and I got to see how close other runners were behind me. Some I recognized from the Shootout were in positions I assumed they would be in and a few others I did not recognize. I think I saw virtually every other runner behind us and a few shouted my name. I returned greetings and tried to stay as far right as possible. For some reason, even though I was the 8th person to pass people, some were still running three abreast. The looks of "Yeah, but why?" I would give them if I wasn't wearing sunglasses would probably be meme-worthy.

As we approached Elm Lake, I saw a photographer taking pictures not of runners but rather the water. Could it be?!

This race is known for being in a park where there are active alligators. Apparently great pains are gone to make sure they don't bother runners but they are apex predator lizard missile and there are no guarantees. As I approached the man with the camera I looked in the water and lo and behold there was a little dinosaur sliding through the top of the morning stillness. I was so excited! I momentarily spaced out and my speed dropped. But it was worth it!

We left the lake, and went through a moss-covered tree-lined section and over a wooden bridge. The bridge was cool but a little narrow when more than a few people were on it. A little of trail etiquette goes a long way and at no point in any race should probably be running three abreast. Speaking of abreast, outside of Utah, I have never seen so many fake mammaries in an ultra race. I saw this proliferation of silicone at the Shootout as well. A curiosity to say the least. I think this is a sign that ultras are becoming more and more mainstream. Looks like the diehards are going to have to embrace some other ridiculous thing to move onto. (Oh, look.  Barkley Marathons just got unprecedented publicity in the past week or so. Total coincidence, I am sure.) But I digress.

The aid station appeared and I didn't stop. I looked at my watch and was happy. Not elated. I had forgotten to look at the exact miles for each aid station so I couldn't be too happy. If this was 4.5 miles, I would be over the moon. Varying degrees of moon overness would go down the closer I got to four miles. Regardless, in hindsight, seeing the first four miles were all under 7 minutes per, even on a "easy" trail, shocked me. If I had known how fast I was running at the time, I would have been happy. But as I couldn't catch anyone, my pace felt lackluster. But in reality, it was one of the better starts to a race I have had in a while, in conditions far from ideal for me.

Second Aid Station: 7.7 miles

This section had us backtrack around a totally awesome lookout post that I sorta kinda wanted to run
up. I know there is a marathon somewhere in Wisconsin or something where you have to ring a bell after climbing a fire tower.  I would never want to do that in a marathon but in a trail ultra I could see the fun. But as the race didn't call for it, I decided against it. Plus, I didn't see a bell.

We then we retraced our steps along the cool wooden footbridge (again, people not running single file) under the trees and back to Elm Lake, circumnavigating it the other direction from previously. I then saw not one, but two, gators! I was loving it!  I began to wonder when they would come out on the paths as was warned they might and if this would be the last I would see of them (unfortunately, it was.)

On this crushed gravel path, I saw I had gained a little ground on the runners in front of me. It was difficult to actually ascertain which runners were in our race as so many other runners in the other races were on the course. However, here and there, based on shirt colors and memorizing runner forms, I would catch a glimpse. As we ran nearby the starting point, and turned away, I was feeling fairly good. Then we hit the quicksand.

OK, not actual quicksand but for half of a mile we were running in cinders along a path that I had walked to the start early in the morning. It slowed everything down to what felt like molasses and right here the sun was beating down. I thought this might be the beginning of the end for me as I was feeling quite drained. But getting out of both the cinders and he sun, crossing a road and onto a paved path (with a patchwork of cracks filled with tar that was so extensive they should have just tarred the whole path) and I immediately felt better.

We crossed another road, did a sharp 45 degree angle, ran about a half of a mile and the other aid station popped out of nowhere. As I was sporting my Camelbak, I didn't really need anything to drink. If there had been less people milling around I might have grabbed a cool glass of Fanta or something but alas. The wonderful thing about ultra/trail aid stations is that they are smorgasbord.  They are also traps for grazers and tend to draw you in, making you unaware of someone who might just want to grab a cup and go. I skipped it all and kept going. Time wise, going by what I thought it would take me to run this race, I was slightly over halfway done. I was still feeling fairly decent.

Third Aid Station: 10.9 miles

There was no shortage of people around me here even if there wasn't a single spectator. Runners in all the different races were coming and going so there was always some activity. Nevertheless, it was easy to feel alone simply because, like repeating background in a low budget cartoon, the people you are not racing against can tend to fade off into the background. I tried to "goodjob" every person I passed but more often than not didn't waste my breath on those wearing headphones.

As I had more or less acquiesced that I was in the position I was going to be in for the rest of the race, I will admit I sort of fell a bit out of race mode. Without any mile markers I had no real idea of my speed but it didn't feel fast at all. As such, I was passing time looking at all the gear people had.  ompression sleeves, handheld water bottle, hydration packs, taped shoulders with fancy colors, knee braces, trucker hats, and every discernible shoe which has ever been made. It truly is amazing how much product is tied up into running - a sport which really doesn't need much product. But good for all these companies trying to make a buck.

Before I expected it, the two lead runners, separated by mere feet came back toward me. Either they were blasting it or I was slowing down as I did not expect to see them so quickly. It turns out they were indeed running fast but so was I. Next up were the overall female runner and Tall Tim. Thirty seconds behind them were the second woman and Brett. I could see up ahead was the turn around and Vibram guy was coming back to me. I wasn't really expecting to be turning around so quick and this gave me pause. Were we just going to run back to the start or were we going to pass it to add on some extra miles. No time to worry about it now. Turn around and head back.

Fourth Aid Station: 14.1 miles

Regardless of how much further we may have to run back to the finish, I at least knew how far it was to get back to the next aid station, time-wise. I felt like I was slowing here as I lost sight of all the runners I was racing in between the rest of the participants. I could have sworn I was running over 8:00 per mile but I only had one single mile above 7:30. Again, it was just the relative nature of running against fast people which made me feel slow.

As we headed back the way we came, I did not know it but I was shortening the gap between me and the other runners. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and my tired overheated body to cramp or tire. However, even though I felt I was slowing, I still felt good. In and out of the next aid station I went without stopping, again drawing from the ice cold reservoir of my Camelbak strapped to my

To The Finish: 

I was trying hard to figure out how much was left of the race based on runners in all the other races. It involved an elaborate using of the maths and who I saw where based on what race they were running, but in the end it did nothing but occupy my mind for a bit. My slowest mile of the whole race came after the aid station as I dealt with a dicey situation passing a few runners, and then making just a slight misstep in the wrong direction. A "wrong way" sign quickly put me back on course but this would be the only mile that wasn't under 7:30 for the whole race.

I passed a few runners doing the 50 mile race and I just felt bad.  They told me "Good job!" and all I could think was how happy I was to be running 1/3 the distance they were. As I got closer to where I knew we started I looked at my watch. I knew there was no way that we could just finish back at the start without making some sort of loop to add on some distance.

Back onto the cinder path I traveled, getting ready to push for what I thought was the last mile. Up ahead I saw other runners in all the other races simply heading toward the finish arch. It suddenly dawned on me that this was indeed the finish and  before I could even begin to muster some sort of a finishing sprint, it was all over. I finished 8th overall in a time of 1:46:34.

My time was exponentially faster than I thought it would be for two reasons:
1. The course was undeniably short. My guess is half of a mile.
2. I ran WAY faster than I thought I was running. I can't tell you how pleased that made me when I plugged in my data and saw so many sub-7 minute miles.

As I stated earlier, I was very worried how this race was going to go with my breathing problems at the Shootout two weeks prior. I was worried how everything was going with my training for the Salt Flats 50k. I have been home more these first three months of the year than any time in the past decade. As such, my miles are the highest they have ever been, even if I have not been putting in individual long runs. This all gave me the confidence I need heading into my last two weeks before Salt Flats to try and defend my title there.  Now, if I can just get some nice weather there, I should be ok.

I was beyond happy that I liberally applied some Body Glide as I was, per usual, sweating like a
whore on Nickel Night. A few weeks ago I went for a ten miler and forgot to apply the Glide. I ended up with some of the worst chafing you can imagine from such a short run. This picture does not even do it justice how I was torn to shreds on both sides of my body, around my torso, and in places that can't be pictured. So, to come out chafe-free from this race was a huge win.  I wore my Features socks and they kept my feet fantastically blister-free.  The aforementioned Camelbak Circuit continues to be an outstanding pack and I plan on using it for Salt Flats as well. I opted for the Julbo Aero sunglasses as they had a lighter lens and I wasn't aware how dark it would being in the park at the start of the race. All in all, my gear choices were all spot-on.

In spite of the short course, the race was once again excellently put on by Trail Racing Over Texas. There is indeed a nice festival atmosphere to the races they put on without being too much about not competing. They want you to have a good time, they encourage all types of runners or all shapes with very generous cutoffs yet at the same time they don't have disdain for those who have the gall to want to run fast.  That is a very nice and rare combination. Kudos to Rob and his crew at TROT for another well-run event. (Although, damn it, Master's Awards should start at 40, not 50. I am old! Give me a trinket when I am the fastest old guy!)

If you get a chance you need to put one of these events in your racing plans. You will not be disappointed.

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