Monday, April 23, 2018

Do Stop 3 Hour Trail Run Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 2nd Edition 
33.1 miles run in races in 2018 races
Race: Do Stop 3 Hour Trail Run
Place: Bremond, TX
Miles from home: 113
Weather: 50 degrees; partly sunny; VERY windy

I like running loops. I liked timed races. Running a certain time rather than a certain distance is a different type of racing which requires a different mindset. (I wrote about that here.) When I saw this oddly named race relatively nearby in a part of Texas that I wouldn't necessarily have any other reason to go to, I checked it out. When the weather looked positively delightful for race day, I was sold.

My training has been very much off this year. For well over six weeks in February and March I was either sick or had the flu or was coughing or whatever. I don't know what I had and it doesn't matter. What matters was I was barely running and when I was it was utter crap.When I looked at the three-hour option for this race I knew that was the absolute most I should attempt. Glancing at my trusty Dane Running Spreadsheet™, I could see that the longest I had run all year was 97 minutes on a 12.6 mile training run in the second week of January. Yes, I could probably hobble through six hours or more on such minimal training but it would be a disaster. Three hours was plenty.

The course was deceptively tough. I mapped it out myself to try to get a sense of the elevation and I saw there were virtually 50 meters on the two mile loop we would be running that were flat. The rest of it was undulating in one direction or another. In addition, upon checking it out the night before I ran, I could see there was a creek crossing we would have to make twice per loop and a lot of the course had little twists and turns in it. Without a doubt this would be no walk in the woods.

Race Morning:

While the temperature and humidity were both to my liking, what rolled in the day before the event was a hellacious wind. The race itself started at 7:30 p.m. Friday night for those doing the 24-hour edition. Also, for about half an hour in the middle of the night, rain absolutely poured down on the runners. When I woke to race in the morning, the rain was gone but the wind, gusting well over 40 mph and making life hell for the organizers of this race, was ever present and swirling.

Setting up at the starting line was an easy task for all four races going on (3, 6, 12, and 24 hour) as there were only about 25 competitors. When I went to collect my bib to pin, they told me it was on my chair. As I held my chair in my hand I was a bit confused. Then I saw, as part of the race premium, there wasn't a t-shirt but rather, your own folding chair with your name on it. Now that is
pretty damn cool!

The wind was whipping around something fierce and as I was down to my customary shorts and shirt with nothing else on (I knew I would be way too hot with anything else once I started running) I alternated between using the Porta-Potty and a last-minute reprieve in my car to stay warm. This race truly was set up about as easy as possible for anyone wanting to run it.  The land owner had recently built a beautiful home with a pool and hot tub and what appeared to be more than a few rooms in a line all with separate doors. Sure enough, it was almost like a hotel. If they want there is no way they couldn't sell these out next year to people wanting not to camp nearby or in a hotel 20 miles away (like I did). Before too long, it was time to line up and go.

First Four Loops:

I had no idea if the other seven or so people would present any challenge for me today but I intended
to make them work for it if they did. I shot out of the gate and immediately plunged down a hill before going back up again. Through a small cluster of trees the trail led us to the steepest downhill of the course and then through a cattle fence.

After that, I saw the creek crossing ahead and realized that it might have been more of a puddle. There appeared to be at least a small portion on the righthand side where I might be able to skip the water entirely.  Granted it was rocky and partially covered in slippery mud but that was better than wet feet. Half way across, however, I noticed some bushes protruding and before I could avoid it, I took a few of them right to the thigh. Literally two minutes into this races and I was bleeding already. Then I took two full steps each in the water soaking my feet for good measure.

He's a big dumb animal, ladies and gentlemen.

Next we went over a quick bump with some white, fist-sized rocks which were very loose and hard to navigate, through an easier to avoid puddle, and then back up a small hill. After that we weaved through a forest with quick turns and a few ankle-breaking turns as you tried to swiftly navigate the terrain. After sliding through there, an opening appeared and we entered the field we would run through later in the loop. This small section was the flattest stretch of the entire race.

Into the forest we went again for another twisty-turny portion, also with a small climb before leading into a fast descent with another quick climb again. through another cattle guard and now we were in the field for the longest downhill of the race. Unfortunately, what goes down comes back up in this loop and around a cluster of trees, and through some low-hanging branches we went before cresting this hill and rejoining the trail we ran on previously to once again navigate the two bodies of water.

Then it was up the steepest uphill of the race before a spin around a field leading to a downhill and then an uphill which brought you to the conclusion of the loop. As I said, this was not an "easy" course. I was hoping to get these loops in around 15 minutes or so to attempt to get 24 miles in for the three-hour period. When my first loop took 17:08, I realized I was probably going to have to re-evaluate my whole plans.

As I began the second loop, the landowner's blue heeler dog decided that I obviously needed to be herded. For the next loop, Emma, the dog, would run right next to me until such time as she saw someone else ahead of me. What was really nice about this race was at virtually no time were you alone. When Emma saw someone else she would sprint ahead to guide them. Then I would catch up and she would look at me like "Oh! You are the pack leader. My bad!" and stay with me until another person appeared. Lather, rinse, repeat. I ran this loop in 16:56 and I credit Emma for helping me.

On the third loop, I finally felt like I was catching my wind. With Emma by my feet I started to pick things up. She would cut through the forest where I was sure she was going to go chase a squirrel or something and then somehow always ended up in front of me. She obviously knew the lay of the land and was looking at me like "We doing this, biped?" When I came in with a time of 16:28 for the third loop I thought maybe I could still get those 12 laps and 24 miles.

Emma decided to leave me here and grab a drink of water or scratch herself. To be quite honest I was a little bummed. Even though she had twice run into my foot and almost tripped me in a wooded section, I was loving her company. She had helped take my mind off the wind which was truly one of the top three windiest races I have ever run. On this fourth lap I assumed I would slow a touch without the aid of my illegal pacer but coming in at an exact 16:28 again buoyed my spirit.

Next Two Loops:

I grabbed my first swig of a drink of any kind after these four loops. I didn't feel like I necessarily needed it but I knew I was already eight miles in. The wind was still gusting and had made me a little parched. As it was a feed-yourself kind of race, I simply grabbed my water bottle, stopped to swig it, and then kept running. I came in at 16:38 for this lap and the only difference in time between the previous two laps was essentially the time I spent stopping and drinking.

By now I realized I would not be running close to 15 minutes per lap no matter how hard I tried. As such I was in a bit of a dilemma. Five loops done put me at 1:23 on the clock. If I equaled that for the next five loops I would have 14 minutes to complete one loop before the three hours was done.

Now, each timed  race is different and some count partial loops, some mark exactly where you were when the time is up (usually a track race) and others say any unfinished loop doesn't count at all. So if I equaled my time, I wouldn't really have enough time to do a full lap. The next loop would tell me what my fate would be. As I barely broke 17 minutes with a 16:57, I knew it would be next to impossible to get an extra loop. I would have to settle for ten loops and 20 miles run.

I drank heartily from an electrolyte drink and the race director appeared next to me. He must have seen exactly what I saw and told me that any loop that starts before the clock hits the hour can be completed. They just tack the time on. So if I ran what I was running, I could finish 22 miles in three hours and two minutes. I told him it would give me something to think about and took off.

Next Two Loops:

By now I had gotten adept at prancing across some rocks which had been placed in the puddle in order to help keep feet dry. They weren't the most stable but they were better than nothing. As I entered the forest after this water hazard, I ran straight into a branch. It took a sizeable chunk out of my neck and hurt like the dickens. I actually had lamented that being tall in trail racing is a big pain in the butt. Most shorter runners never take out the obstacles which end up wacking me in the face!

I was definitely feeling a bit knackered and when I came in this loop at a 17:24 (which counted the time of me drinking and talking with the RD) I realized I was only going to do ten loops. It actually made me feel good to know I only had three more to go. The next loop gave me a 17:16 and my legs were feeling weary.

A funny thing happened when I was looking at the pictures after the race. I detailed it in a series of tweets here but I would be remiss to not at least mention it here. I highly suggest you check it out.

In addition, I want to take the time to mention a father-son combo who were doing the six-hour race. Running side by side, Craig (14) and Jose (39 - damn, I am almost three years older than a guy who has a 14-year old?!) were in lock step the whole way. As you may know, my father was crippled in a hunting accident right before I was born. I never so much as played catch with my Dad let alone ran a race with him. Seeing families run together always gets me right in the heart. These two were exuberant and friendly and always had a good word for me whether we were going in different directions or I was passing them. I love the example Jose is setting for his son and I can only wish them the very best.

Final Two Loops:

Feeling quite parched as I finished my eighth loop I spent an entire minute drinking a Gatorade. The wind had really taken a great deal out of me, as did the up-and-down on the trail. I decided I would take this loop a little easy and then really pour it on for the last loop. Since I wasn't concerned about how much time I left for a loop I wasn't going to attempt, a few more seconds of reprieve here was appreciated.  The race has a side challenge I have never heard of before in timed races. In order to persuade people to be moving as much as possible, they have time limits for how long you can be sitting down somewhere. For the three-hour event, you only had twenty minutes where you could be lollygagging and not running. It wasn't exactly enforced per se but it was interesting nonetheless.

After traversing the loop and coming onto the fist-sized rocks, I could tell my legs were quite tired. I stumbled and barely had the proprioception and energy to keep myself upright. Falling down on those rocks would have hurt a great deal. Far and away my slowest lap of the day, even taking out the drink break, I went through the mat at 18:40. I then began to give it all I had.

It was quite clear that even though there was one guy nearly two laps behind me, no one else was going to challenge me today. I pushed hard throughout the loop, this time running straight through the water each way..  I hoped I might be able to get a sub-16 lap but fell just short with a 16:11. I sat down with ten minutes to spare and a total of 20 miles in two hours and fifty minutes. I was the winner. There was great rejoicing.

This marks the fourth straight year I have won some race outright which is pretty nice. Winning a race for some people is easy. I am fast but I am not fast. I've had three second places in just the last few years because of the fact that all it takes to not win is have one person show up who is faster than you. So I savor overall victories far more than I do age group wins as those are the same thing as overall wins but on a smaller scale. I never poo-poo any of them because your running days could be over any day. But winning a race?  That's pretty fun even if there are only a handful of other competitors. As I turn 42 next month, I might have to accept that many of my PRs might be permanent PRs.

I might have to accept that eventually, but I am not ready to do so just yet.

In total, I think this event could be a destination race if they promoted it a little better, came up with a better name (it is supposed to be almost a challenge, like saying "Go ahead. Stop." but really kinda falls flat) and worked out a few more tweaks. The organizers seem to be very affable chaps and I hope this recap gives their registrations a little boost in the future. This victory, and just my second race in 2018 (which is just mindboggling to me) really helped apply salve to a rough athletic start to the year. I am ready to use it as a springboard to a far better second half.

Hopefully with less wind.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series 1 of 7

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 3rd Edition 
35.1 miles run and 750 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 86 degrees; sunny

This was only my third race of the year. My second race of the year was three days ago at a three hour trail run in Bremond, Texas whose recap I have yet to write. The fact I made it to mid-April with one race under my belt is a testament to how "off" a year this has been for me. A sickness for the better part of six weeks helped nothing at all and it was only because I thought the weather was going to be nice for the trail race that I even attempted it. (More on that later.)

I raced this aquathlon series last year, missing only one race after I was assaulted by two men whom the police never arrested and the DA's office never charged in spite of me jumping through every loop you can imagine for six months.  (Thanks, assholes!) I wasn't sure I would do it again this year, having not swam one meter since last October when I qualified for the World Championships in Denmark this July but won't be going. But after my race on Saturday I knew I had to sign up for these if only because of their convenience to my home and how I do best when I race myself back into shape.

The format for the event was simple: one 750meter (ish) swim in an unbelievable cool quarry that Pure Fitness Austin apparently owns as part of their gym (I am extremely intrigued how much that cost or how they came to own it) then three loops of a 1 km(ish) loop around the quarry. I say (ish) because, well, the race says so itself and without a doubt the 3 km (1.86 miles) is definitely 2 miles. Sounds nitpicky but .14 of a mile at 6:30 pace is another 55 seconds of running.


I got into the water where people were wearing wetsuits and other accoutrements and in spite of being a bit chilly it was not bad at all. I relished this as I remember how much it turns into soup in the later Austin summer months. As we started off, more than a little unnecessary pushing and shoving by people who had no business being at the front was a bit frustrating.

I could tell this wasn't going to be a fast swim but after say a third of the swim I finally started to feel good. I more or less stayed in the exact same position for the entire lap of the quarry with me passing one guy about half way through and a guy passing me with about a third left.

As I got out of the water, I looked to see my time and was confused. Something had happened to my watch and it wasn't recording. Then I pushed some buttons and saw it was recording the time but it hadn't grabbed the GPS. Some of the kicking at the start seemed to have clicked a button or two. Oh
well. I fiddled with that far too long as I climbed up the (now paved) ramp to transition.


I was a little slower getting through the transition than I would have liked but it still went pretty smooth.  When I hit the start of the run I was pleasantly surprised to see my time of swim and T1 was 12:50. I expected it to be much slower.

One chap had left the transition just a few seconds before I did and I assumed he would be easy prey for me to run down. I assumed incorrectly. He shot out like a lightning bolt and within half a loop he wasn't in sight anymore. He ended up running the fastest run split by a WIDE margin but only finished 8th overall because of his "pedestrian" swim.

As I approached the end of the first loop I prepared for the worst. I know I am capable of running under 4 minutes for each loop but the fastest I have achieved has been 4:18 or so. Here, however, I was fully prepared to see a 5:00 on my watch. When it came through in 4:38, I was pumped.

I began the second loop and I knew it was more than likely that the overall winner would lap me. I was hoping for that not to happen but given my overall time it was destined to be so. About halfway through this loop, sure enough he did. I tried to stay on his heels but he was just a superior athlete to me. However, on one section of this loop (which is a surprisingly difficult loop because of the footing and the tight corners and the small hills in it, not to mention the people who are also doing workouts and seem to care very little there is a race going on in tight quarters) I saw him veer off the path a bit and run next to it on the grass. How I had never thought to do this in a section that had the biggest hill, in the the loosest footing, is beyond me. I hit the second loop in 4:36 and was ready to give it all I had.

The third loop presented more of a challenge as now there were many more people on the course.  I had one woman who was passing more than a few people who seemed to be unaware I was on her tail.  I finally had to cut inside to get around her. Then I saw a gentleman in front of me whom I was fairly certain actually was in front of me and not behind me by a loop. I passed him with half a loop to go and then set my sights on using the little footing "shortcut" I saw the leader use the last loop. It was a godsend.

Up ahead I could see I was closing on two runners but I was unsure if they were a loop behind me or not. As I hit the final stretch, which is a slight downhill with good footing, I gave it everything I had and passed them both. Then the kept on going as they had another loop to go. No worries as it helped spur me on to a 4:28 loop and a time of  26:35 and 15th overall.

This was actually the same time as one of my races last year and faster than another. I know the "cooler" temperatures helped even though this was one of the warmer days in Austin this year but it made me feel quite happy about what could be in store for the rest of this year.