Sunday, April 20, 2008

Struggling in Smithville

Ok, this is the craziest thing I've ever done for a race. My alarm clock went off at 1am so I could leave the house at 2am for a 4am start at the Rocky Hill Ranch 50 mile race. Nancy came with me because she was running the 25k course as part of Joe's rogue trail series class. Along the way we stopped off at a McDonalds just off IH-35 and Hwy 71 to pick up another Austin runner who needed a lift to the race.

We got there early and checked in with race director Joe Prusaitis. As Nancy's race didn't start until 7am, she was swiftly put to work on check in. I got our ice box and camping chairs and set up our drop bag area near the start line. As I was carrying my camelbak to the drop bags, I passed a group of guys I knew and one of them called over "what are you doing, getting a few early miles in?" I laughed and replied "what do you think I am, crazy?". This cracked them up - after all, we were standing in a field in the middle of nowhere at 3:30am about to run 50 miles.

The 50 mile course was three 25k loops, with the extra 3.5 miles being made up by an initial out and back. The 25k and 50k races would be starting at 7am, but we started at 4am under a beautiful full moon. It was the first time I've run trail by night and my headlight worked really well. I enjoyed it, but running in the dark really does slow you down. From time to time I'd turn the light off, stand still and enjoy the moonlight. Absolute silence out there in the woods, punctuated now and again by the cry of coyotes. The initial 3.5 out and back loop was basically up Fat Chuck's Demise (ie. all the early hills), so we ended up running those four times.

I knew a whole bunch of people at the aid stations and looked forward to seeing them again at each loop. I finished the 3.5 mile out and back and the first 25k loop right at 3:50. That meant that the 25k and 50kers had a 50 minute head start on me as I began loop 2, but I hoped to catch up to Nancy somewhere along the route (I knew she'd probably started late as she'd been working packet pickup). I passed a few runners from the other races on this loop, and eventually caught up with her at the Tunnel of Pines aid station - she was chatting to Jeff and Ron who were running the station. Said hello to the guys and refilled my bottle, then we set off together. We walked through the water crossing before I said goodbye and told her that I'd see her at the finish line.

Got back to the lodge, recharged my bottles, picked up my ipod (which I'd forgotten for the second loop) and got ready to set off again. I had been leapfrogging with Gabe Ayson and Daniel Graves for the entire race, and Gabe and I left the lodge and ran/walked a large portion of the final loop together. We were both pretty beat, but he said that quite a few of the 50 mile runners had already dropped and the gossip at the aid stations confirmed that. Chatting with Gabe helped pass the time and I hit a purple patch about two miles into the loop where I felt really good. Decided to make the most of it and set off at a (relatively) fast run - I knew I would be walking later on. Stopped for a while at the Longhorn aid station where the crew did a great job of taking care of me and set off at a walk/run/shuffle toward the next aid station 5 miles down the trail.

Stayed at the Pines aid station for a while discussing Ron's quest to sample every one of the beers at his local pub and get his name on the wall. He called it a new endurance sport - classic stuff!!! Gabe caught up to me here and we walked off to the Pines Avenue together. By now I was pretty much done and ready to walk most of the rest of the way, so when Gabe took off I didn't make any effort to catch him. From time to time I would run a little and I passed a few of the 50kers along the way. Reached the finish line in 11 hours 17 minutes and Joe, Henry and co cheered me in. That was nearly 2 hours slower than my best 50 mile time, but you can't compare times across different races and I knew I'd given my all for that day and that race. I saw Ryan (the guy we'd given a lift to that morning) and he'd taken 5th place in the 50 miler - he'd had an awesome run but was also doing the Frankenstein walk. Apparently a lot of people had suffered out there. Henry came over to shake my hand and I congratulated him and Joe on designing a course that kicked my butt. Also thanked Gabe for making that last loop more bearable and said hello to a few friends before we headed back to Austin. I was pretty tired and fell asleep on the sofa until my dad woke me up half an hour later to watch the Joe Calzaghe vs Bernard Hopkins boxing match. To finish the day on a high note, Joe won (he's from Wales).

I'm not that sore today, just tired. I was going to get up and go run the Sunday morning Ken's loop, but I didn't wake up in time. Think I'll run it tomorrow morning with Nancy instead. I think I need to add some road running back into my regime as that helps maintain my pace. I struggled today, but so did a lot of other people. My knees hurt, but the Montrail Hardrocks helped a lot on the stony ground - I wouldn't have wanted to run that race in my road shoes. I didn't train specifically for this 50 miler - my longest recent long run of note was a 22 miler on the green belt about 3 weeks ago - and had no specific goal. Having said that, it was good to know I could still grind out a 50 miler.

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