Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Run to the Hills.....in Waco?

One thing running teaches you is to hate your alarm clock, so when the damn thing started chiming at 2:30am on a cold Austin morning, I staggered into the shower wondering why I signed up for the Waco 50k.

The journey up was pretty uneventful. We stopped off at McDonalds when we got into Waco so Nancy could get some breakfast, then we set out to find Cameron Park. After a few wrong turns, we found the pavilion and I picked up my race packet. As I'd forgotten my hat, I was very happy to see there was one in the race packet.

The race consisted of 3 laps of twisty, hilly trails within Cameron Park, and pretty soon race director Tim Neckar called the 50kers to the start line. There were less than 50 of us shivering in the early moning cold – perfect running weather. I was standing there in my road shoes because I'd sprained my ankle pretty badly at Ken's Loop the Sunday before and my foot was still too swollen (and colorful) to fit in my trail shoes. I spent the first mile protecting my ankle, but it was holding up really well and I soon forgot about it.

After about half a mile, we hit the first of many hills and I started walking. This was the first race I've run that contained “unrunnable” (for me) hills. They made Decker look flat and fast. What I really liked about this course is that it kept changing direction and zig-zagging. This kept the run interesting and felt a lot like a treasure hunt. On the other hand, you had to be alert in case you missed a turn or lost the trail. Several times I called back runners who had gone “off track”. The loop passed quickly enough – I tagged in behind a group of three runners and before I knew it we were at the bamboo grove – my favorite part of the course (also very close to the end of the loop). Not long after this was “Jacob's Ladder” - a series of stone steps built into a cliff face, right at the end of each loop. Some of those steps were knee high and I quickly found that the best way to get up them was on all fours. The steps were hard, but oddly satisfying.

My race plan was to run loops of 1:45, 2:00 and 2:15 with my goal being to finish under 6 hours, so I was happy to finish up loop one right at 1:45. After a quick bathroom stop (I still can't quite bring myself to pee in the woods) I started out on loop 2.

I ran for a while with a guy called Matt who had nearly done a year studying in Cardiff (capitol of Wales). We talked for a while about the City before going our own ways. I would have several conversations stemming from my accent.

About half way through this second loop, Joe caught me. He didn't recognize me at first in my cap (“I'm in disguise”) and it didn't take long for him to leave me for dead on the downhills. He just flew down those hills while I was just trying not to tumble headfirst. My wife is the same way on those downhills – she just flies – either no fear or no common sense!!! Hopefully this is something I can improve on as I'm sure I lost a lot of time on these things. Nevertheless, Joe was the last person to pass me.

I came through the bamboo grove and up the steps again to finish out loop two right at 2 hours. I stopped for another bathroom break, handed off my extra shirt and gloves to Nancy and picked up my ipod. She had set up a camping chair by the start/finish line and was having a great time cheering on all the runners.

So I headed back out for the third and final loop. From the previous two loops, I knew there were specific parts of the course where I would feel good and other parts where I wouldn't. I determined to push the good bits and grind out the rest. I was still feeling pretty good and had my sports beans to graze on. I was very grateful for the mile markers posted at each mile and started trying to figure out my projected finish time – not so easy since the course was so up and down, but I figured I still had a chance at the sub-6 hour goal.

When I hit the 7 mile aid station, I knew I needed to kick it up for the final 3 and a bit miles to get that goal. I hadn't seen another runner since the second loop and I'd started running a little too lazy – not really pushing myself. I still felt pretty good though so I decided to go for it. I hit a rhythm on the flats, started running some of the uphills and even pushed it a little more on the downhills. I sailed through the bamboo grove and popped out of the woods onto the road. I scrambled up Jacob's ladder and checked my watch at the top – it was going to be close. I knew if I didn't break 6 hours after getting so close it would bug me all year, so I pushed a fast pace. This is where my road shoes were an advantage, as I was back in my familiar environment on the road. I ran that last half a mile or so at a 7:30 pace and crossed the finish line in 5:57:54. Very happy with that time on that course.

I was also very happy to discover beer on ice for the finishers. As I sat there in the warm sunshine, drinking my beer and eating my hamburger I noticed Nancy was still wearing her hat, coat and gloves. “Ok”, I asked, “what's the weather really like?” She confirmed it was still cold. I'm so lucky to have her.

Things I learned from this race. I had plenty left in the tank at the end, so maybe I should have pushed a little more earlier. When running by myself, I have a tendancy to take my foot off the gas and coast along in la-la land. I used one handheld bottle which I refilled at each aid station – this worked really well. My nutrition plan was pretty much non-existant. I wanted to see if I could complete the race on one packet of sports beans and whatever they had at the aid stations, and that worked well too.

Overall a great tough race. I was sore for a few days afterwards, mostly my quads – I suspect from applying the brakes on the downhills. I'll be back next year to try and improve on it.


GandaMan said...

Nice run, amigo.

Have you ever given Bandera a try? It's like Waco only tougher.

Mark said...

No, I haven't run Bandera yet, but the 100k is on my radar for January. I probably need to get out there sometime over the summer and run the course.