Before I started my career at hawkeye and joined The North Face Endurance Challenge team, I never imagined that I would run an Ultra Marathon, let alone an Ultra on trail. Now, I’m already beginning to plan my training for the next one! My entire reasoning behind entering into this race was to understand the mindset and thought process as well as relate to the experiences of participants in The North Face Endurance Challenge Series races, primarily the 50K and 50 Milers. I signed up for the July 13th race on June 21st and knew that I was going to suffer through part of the race since at that point my longest run in my life had been 30K (18.6 miles) and I had never run a trail race before. I had been logging 70-80 mile weeks for the past few months, but with no long runs over 16 miles. In the weeks between registering and actually running the race I cracked the 20 mile barrier and increased my longest run ever to 26.2 miles in 3:21:53. This run was a very light and easy long run to familiarize myself with the Enduro Plus Pack, practice consuming food while running, and give myself a little more confidence in my ability to cover an entire 37 miles. I completed the run on the 4th of July and decided to give my body a rest on the week leading up to the race.
I woke up at 10am on Saturday, July 13th and immediately whipped up my typical weekend brunch; French Toast. I was hoping that eating what I normally consume would give me one less thing to worry about. I then packed up everything that I was bringing with me and double-checked I had everything:
- Hydration Pack
- Energy Gels
- Clif Bars
- Head Lamp
- Other Nutrition Essentials
After I made sure everything was there, I jumped in my car and made the 4 1/2 drive to Muleshoe Bend Recreational Park, about 30 miles outside of Austin, Texas. I made sure to stop along the way to grab some lunch and stretch my legs out as I was a little afraid that if I made the entire trip straight I would have extremely tight legs before and through the early stages of the race.
I made good time and arrived at the Start/Finish area around 4:30pm. Unfortunately, it was 100 degrees out already and the park was extremely secluded with no buildings with AC so I grabbed a towel I had brought with me and spread it out under a tree with some good shade and relaxed/read Dean Karnazes’ Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runneruntil the pre-race meeting at 6pm.
After the meeting I made my final pre-race preparations; filled up my hydration pack, made sure I had my gels, food, and headlamp. I had no idea how to prepare my body for a 60k. Typically, I have a pre-race routine that involves a couple mile jog, stretches, and exercises, but all I did to warm-up were a couple of leg swings, figuring that the first few miles of the race would serve as my warm-up. I toed the line at 6:50pm and awaited the start of the race. The race director blew an air horn and everyone was off for the first of four loops (9.51 miles for the first loop and then three more loops of 9.09 miles).
Loop 1: The race started off with a .42 add on to the first loop. It was already clear at this point who the top runners were as I was running in the back of a 5 person pack and the rest of the field was broken out behind us. In races I become a hyper-competitive person, so even though we clipped off our first mile at 7:10, I was determined to stick with the group. We ran together for the first 4 miles, talking and familiarizing ourselves with one another until we hit the first aid station. The other runners I was with only had hand held water bottles and all stopped. I decided to continue on alone since I had my hydration pack. The rest of the first loop was pretty uneventful except for a small spill I took around mile 6 just after the course changed from having to leap large rocks to a short uphill path covered with a combination of sand and small rocks, but luckily it wasn’t too bad and I pushed on.
Loop 2: I passed into the start/finish (actually 9.93 miles) and over the chip timing mat in a time of 1:20:15, about an 8:04 per mile average. At this point I was feeling great. I stopped at the blanket I had set-up with gels, chews, Clif Bars, and water and shot a gel, splashed some water on my face and down my back and I was off again. Through the first loop I was 1 minute ahead of the pack and figured I would try to run roughly the same pace. My original strategy was to compete through 3 loops and grind out the 4th one if things took a turn for the worse so I figured I might as well stick to it. At 8:30pm, it still wasn’t all that dark out so I had left my headlamp back at the start/finish. I was able to enjoy the scenery a little more on this loop and felt in the zone. Again, I skipped over the first aid station since I still had ample fluids left in my hydration pack. I continued on, but when I reached the second aid station (16.47 miles in) I stopped for the first time. I opened up my hydration pack and asked for a 50/50 split of Gatorade and water, ate a couple of pretzels and Pringles and was on my way. Everything remained completely fine as I made my way through the slowly darkening Texas Hill Country, back to the start/finish. Again, I crossed the timing mat and was :55 ahead of the group which had begun to split up. I had hit 1:18.56 for the last loop and was at 2:39:11 total. My overall pace had slipped to 8:22/mile. Again, I took another gel, half of a Clif Bar, grabbed my headlamp and turned it on and I was on my way.
Loop 3: This was the point when I realized I probably should have gone out more conservatively on my first trail race/run over 26 miles, but I was still feeling full of energy. I continued to hydrate with my pack, noticing that I was drinking with more frequency as I continued through the night. When I reached the second aid station (25.56 miles), the second overall runner had closed the gap on me and was within talking distance. We began to talk and I was still feeling pretty good, definitely not as great as on the first two loops, but I still felt confident I could sustain my pace. The next thing I knew I had taken a wrong turn in the pitch black night and didn’t notice for about 10 seconds until the second place runner yelled out my mistake. I veered back up a hill of rocks, and found myself in second for the first time in over 20 miles. I don’t know if it was my unintentional route change or moving into second, but I could feel the wheels coming off as I pressed on at 27 miles into the race. I pushed my body the last mile until I reached the start/finish feeling completely defeated.
Loop 4: I had completed the last loop in 1:37:53 and crossed the start/finish mat (28.11 miles) in 4:17:04. I had now officially crossed into unfamiliar territory in both distance and time. My body felt like quitting, but I knew that I had to push on, and I did. I continued on at a pedestrian pace, close to 11 minutes for the next two miles and then everything came crashing down on me at once. I stopped and put my hands on my knees and stood there for 15 seconds. My quads were toast, what had felt like the starts of tendinitis in my right knee that I had been dealing with the week prior to the race started to resurface, and my stomach turned on me, not allowing me to take in any solid food. I told myself that I could push on and that it was all mental. With these 7 miles left, I started feeling like a zombie. I felt like I was in a fog for the rest of the race. I forced myself to walk and then run when I could manage in short spurts. This was my cycle until I hit the second aid station (34.65 miles) and made my final fill up of drink and what solid food I could stomach at this point. The volunteer at the aid station told me to sit down in a chair so he could evaluate me. I believe if there hadn’t only been 2.5 miles left in the race he would not have let me leave. I stayed in that chair, preparing for my final march to the finish for close to 10 minutes. I had never imagined that I would be reduced to feeling like this prior to the race. I dragged myself up and began to run again, making it only .25 miles or so before stopping again to walk. From there it was a slow forced walk for the next mile and a half or so. With just over a mile left I forced myself to continue running and I didn’t stop until I reached the finish. I crossed the timing mat, at 37.2 miles, for the final time in 7:03:39, an overall pace of 11:23/mile and in 8th place. It had taken me 2:46:35 to complete the final 9.09 miles, a disappointing 18:20/mile, and 7 minutes slower then my first and second loop combined!