My experience at the Franklin Mountains Trail Run (FMTR) 50K… Where do I even begin? I’ll start with a little background information. Well, for starters the race is put on by the top trail racing company in Texas, Trail Racing Over Texas, which is owned by my good friends and Race Directors Rob and Rachel Goyen. Their races are top notch productions with spotless course marking, enthusiastic & supportive volunteers/staff, and always have an inviting community feel.
This is the first year for the FMTR which takes place way out in El Paso, a 9-10 hour drive from Dallas. I took Friday off from work and opted for a quick flight to the race, equipped with my Victory Sportdesign bag, and would make the drive back home after the race was over. I was hopeful for a good race, but the structure to my training and any hill work whatsoever has been nonexistent since I raced Tamalpa Headlands 50K back at the end of August. Rob always throws in something special at all of his races and FMTR was no exception. He came to the runner’s meeting in a full Dia De Los Muertos suit and introduced Gordy Ainsleigh who shared a few words before Rob briefed all runners on the race course and what to expect in the morning.
Fast forward to race morning… The anticipated weather wasn’t quite as chilly as I was expecting. This would prove to be a hazard later on in the day. I chose to start the race with short tights, arm sleeves, gloves and a buff. I had gotten a shakeout run on the course the day before and realized that these trails would be extremely rugged, so the Altra Lone Peak 2.5’s were my shoe of choice combined with Feeture! High Performance Socks to combat the mixture of rocks and rough terrain we would encounter throughout the day. For hydration, I wore a Nathan Firecatcher vest, equipped with (2) 10 oz bottles and carried a SpeedDraw Plus Insulated Bottle to minimize stops at aid stations.
The race started at 6AM sharp. It was just dark enough to require a headlamp or the first 3.8 Mile loop where we would make our way back to the Start/Finish area and head back out onto the trail. Unfortunately, I realized as we were counted down from one minute that I had not only forgotten some of my race nutrition, but I also left my iPod Shuffle in the car, so much for distracting myself from the pain. The gun went off and I settled into third place behind fellow Team Trail Racing Over Texas member Josh Pauley and his close friend Jacob Phillips and just in front of Zach Szablewski, who has been both a competitor of mine and teammate this year in several races, and from how he had been running as of late, I knew he was primed for a solid performance. The first 3.8 Miles were a mixed bag. We started down a super rocky trail before making a small climb as we hit the first mile. The second mile, we descended 450 feet down a loose rock/gravel trail with about 10 mini switchbacks before popping out onto a smooth/rolling trail for the third mile, then climbed back up a steep trail to the Start/Finish.
At this point in the race, Josh had put about a minute gap on everyone and I was running in 4th. Zach and Jacob were running together and I was only 20 seconds behind. I climbed up to the start and turned around to head back out. I had forgotten that I was still wearing my headlamp, so I turned around 15 feet out and threw it towards the timing mat. The next 3.2 Miles went along quietly as I enjoyed the sun setting and took in the views. My stomach had started to feel off only 2 Miles into the race and any downhills started to make me feel queasy, while the uphills felt great. On top of that, for some reason I felt zapped of energy. I just didn’t have “it”, but was still determined to put one foot in front of the other until I finished, hoping it would eventually pass. I’m still not sure why this happened, but the feeling remained the entire race.
Mile 6 commenced the biggest section of climbing along the race. We ran from 4,500 Feet up to the peak of Franklin Mountain at 7,200 Feet. The main section of ascent was comprised of a 4.3 Mile stretch with a cumulative gain of 3,180 Feet. Along the way up the peak I caught up to Zach and passed him, moving into 3rd, at the aid station at 10 Miles manned by Jeremy Hanson as he filled up with water and I topped off my handheld. He remained 10-30 seconds behind me up the remainder of the climb. I ran up to the peak and received my summit band from Trail Racing Over Texas Ambassador Santiago Morales and started my way back down.
Going up to the peak felt great, but as soon as I began my way back down my stomach shook around with each step. I started passing by people who were making their way up and shared words of encouragement which helped to take my mind off of my stomach. The way down was extremely rocky until we reached the Aid Station at Mile 14, then it turned into very runnable terrain for a quad beating descent until about Mile 17.5. This just so happens to be the point where Zach caught up to me and stated that this was the section where we could make up time on Josh and Jacob. I could see he was feeling fresh and encouraged him to press on as I felt completely spent and my early feelings of fatigue began to be compounded. As soon as he passed me I stopped to go to the bathroom briefly, hoping that would allow me a short break and I could start running strongly again when I started back up. This wasn’t the case and Zach was already 30 seconds ahead now. Mile 18 is about where my mindset completely switched from competing to finishing.
Walking became a very frequent occurrence over the next few miles and I was exhilarated to see John Stasulli manning the aid station I was approaching at Mile 20. He was taking the race theme seriously and was dressed up with face paint to match. The weather was starting to change and it was becoming a lot hotter now. I made the decision to toss my race pack at this aid station, which looking back was a bad decision as I could have filled up my 10 oz pack bottles with water to spray on myself to keep cool. After the pack was off, John helped me fill up my bottle and I grabbed some M&Ms and walked off. I chewed them for a few seconds, but my stomach couldn’t even put them down so I spit them out and slogged onward.
I started into a pattern of walking anything steep and jogging what I could. This continued for quite some time. Eventually, I started to run for longer periods of time and take short walk breaks until I saw a runner in the distance, but not too far away. This was around Mile 25 and I knew there was an aid station approaching and as I crested a 300 Foot climb, I could see the aid station way off in the distance. I knew it was in reach, but to get to it we had to traverse a 600 Foot descent that included about 30 rocky switchbacks that provided no solid footing. I eventually made my way down and hit the aid station at Mile 26.5. I grabbed a refill of my bottle from the very helpful Tina Barr.
I knew the finish was only 6 more miles, but was told the day prior that these would be the most runnable of the entire course. Little did I know that this wouldn’t be the case. This stretch was truly soul sucking, but I just kept telling myself to run one mile at a time and I would get to the finish eventually. About half a mile out of the aid station I caught up to Josh who was giving all he had to make it to the finish. We agreed on how brutal the course was and I continued on. For a while I was in a groove and managed between 8:48 and 10:19 for a 6 Miles span. The last mile was killer, but I gritted it out and pushed for the finish.
I don’t think that I’ve ever been so happy to finish a race in my life as I stumbled across the finish in 3rd with a time of 5:16:41. Although I encountered stomach issues from the start, the strangest full body fatigue, being impaled by several cactuses, and one clumsy fall, I absolutely enjoyed this race. There’s nothing like running in the mountains and knowing that you’re still in Texas. I would like to give a big congratulations to Zach Szablewski who completely dominated the last 15 Miles after he left me to take the win by 5 minutes in a time of 4:57:45 on a very tough course. Thank you to Rob and all of Trail Racing Over Texas for another spectacular race. I recommend this race to anyone and everyone, whether you live in Texas, California, or New York. The race will be part of the US Skyrunner Series in 2016 and will take place on September 10th. Rob is adding more vertical to the race and tougher sections of trail. You won’t want to miss it.
I’m looking forward to finishing out 2016 by running the Brazos Bend 100 Marathon on December 12th, I hope to see some of you there. After that, I am taking some time off and then starting to train for 2016! It should be another great year.