It’s been just over two weeks since Bandera and I’ve already got my finish line goggles on. You know, like beer goggles, but instead of beer clouding your judgement, it’s that elation of crossing the finish line that fools you into signing up for another race. Sometimes I wonder whether I’ll ever have a hurt that’ll take off those damn goggles, but until then, I’ll continue making stupid decisions my body will hate me for later.
To get this out of the way, Bandera was really hard. It was like, really really hard. I was definitely undertrained. Despite having a fairly consistent training schedule, I just didn’t get enough vert training in, and I paid the price.
About a week before the race, we got an email from the race directors that the race couldn’t be held at the normal Bandera location due to the parking fields being flooded, but they amazingly pulled together an alternate location up at Camp Eagle. They even pushed back the start time because by that point everyone who needed lodging the night before had already booked lodging near where the race was going to be, and they wanted to give everyone enough time to get to the start without having to wake up super early. Tejas Trails is such an amazing group, and I’m so grateful that they pulled such a great race together last minute!
We were already pushing it by planning on leaving the morning of the race when it was supposed to be at the original location, so when they announced it would be an additional hour away we had to scramble to find a hotel somewhere on the way to Camp Eagle the night before. As if I wasn’t nervous enough for the race, now I had to sleep in a bed that wasn’t my own the night before, and I had no idea what to expect of the course. They said it was a similar course to Bandera but… everyone I talked to that had done both this year’s and a previous year’s races said that this course was SIGNIFICANTLY harder. Guess I’ve gotta come back next year to see for myself 😉
We got my sister to come watch the dogs Friday night, then headed out to good ol’ Kerrville, TX to our hotel. I had been having tummy troubles all day, so I just tried to get some calories in and relax as much as possible, as well as hydrate as much as possible so I wasn’t starting out the next day dehydrated. We got a mediocre nights sleep in our hotel and got up nice and early to make our way to Camp Eagle. Matt’s race (100k) started at 8am and mine started at 9am, so we got there around 7am so we could park, get our bibs, and get his drop bags set up.
The weather for the area said the low was around 40, but it was literally 28 degrees in the morning. What is this, BOSTON?! I was so cold waiting around for my start after Matt started, but I just tried to just stay calm and get some breakfast in. I ended up eating a banana, but wasn’t feeling super great so I couldn’t get much else down. SPOILER ALERT: this would come back to bite me in the ass.
Roughly 20 seconds before the start, I looked to my left and saw my friend Cristianna that I went to Syracuse University with! I knew she was an ultra runner and new to Austin, and I had let her know I was running this race, but I wasn’t sure if she had signed up herself. I was SO relieved to see her, and we actually ended up running the first 16 miles together and catching up! It was lovely, especially as I was struggling to get food down and keep my spirits high while I was struggling with nausea. I honestly don’t think I’d have had the will to keep going had I not run with her – I seriously owe her!
The course was actually a super fun layout that worked pretty well considering they pulled it together at the very last minute. You went out 5 miles to the first aid station, then had a roughly 10 mile “loop” where you went out a bit, did a lollipop loop, then went back to the 1st aid station on that same trail pre-lollipop. The next 10ish you did the same thing on another (much easier, IMO) loop, then ran the same 5 back to the start/finish. The first 5 was mostly just everyone spreading out and finding their pace, and was a fairly quick and easy 5 (at least it felt that way on the way out, didn’t feel that way the last 5 on the way back). I had already started to feel nauseous around mile 3, and think I even had a GU by mile 5 because I just wanted to make sure I got some calories in after a pretty pathetic breakfast.
Once we got to mile 5, I forced some PB&J sandwich squares down in the hopes I would feel better, stripped off my wind breaker (it was such a solid thing to start with, but the temperature warmed up quickly once the sun was shining on the trails) and got back to it with Cristianna. The first loop was very hilly. There was a lot of power hiking. And by power hiking I mean normal walking but telling myself in my head that it was slightly faster than normal walking. I ran every flat and downhill when I wasn’t feeling like I was going to hurl, saw a very freshly dead animal that I still cannot identify but it was massive and had horns, and made it through the first loop fairly unscathed. Cristianna ended up falling multiple times always landing on the same spot on her knee, and I’m fairly certain she even needed stitches post-race. But DAMN she finished that race while bleeding profusely from her leg and in need of stitches, and if that’s not impressive I don’t know what is!
Speaking of falling, I have failed to mention that almost the entire course was just covered in grapefruit-sized rocks. Like the kind that aren’t small enough that you can just ignore them/treat them like gravel, but also aren’t big enough that you can just hop from rock to rock. Like they were the kind that you really don’t like if you are at your first race back post-tendinitis because of an ankle twist. Really the opposite of what you’d want post-ankle twist, if I’m being honest. The whole time I was just trying so hard to not twist my ankle and re-injure myself, and probably walked a lot more than I would have if I hadn’t been so paranoid, but it worked out since I tripped a few times but never actually fell, and while my ankles are still sore, they didn’t take any real damage.
Once I hit mile 16 or 17, I ended up splitting off from Cristianna. I was feeling slightly better, and honestly just wanted to pound it out and listen to some Ariana Grande and get this shit over with. Luckily, the second loop was a little less physically brutal than the first, though I’ve gotta say the last 5 were mentally the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced during a race. It was starting to get pretty warm – the temperature swung from 28 degrees to 70 degrees, so I started the day shivering and by mid-day I was pouring ice water on me at aid stations. I powered through the flats and downhills, and felt pretty strong while I was running. I hit a few mental lows and had to walk a fair bit, but I was feeling pretty good through mile 26.
Once I went through that last aid station again and was in the home stretch, I felt like I was going to die on that course. It was not pretty. I wanted so badly to just be done running. I had a pack on for water, and I thought my pack was full enough to get me through the last 5 miles, but literally 10 minutes from the aid station I ran out of water. I have NEVER run out of water at a race or on a training run before. It nearly broke me. I was hot, I was exhausted, I was thirsty, I was hungry but also slightly nauseous, and I was WATERLESS for the first time ever. I contemplated going back to the aid station, but decided I could just suck it up for 5 miles.
The last mile was the most torturous mile I’ve ever run. I have never wanted to be done running more than in that moment. It doesn’t help that the first half of that mile were all uphill. I was so over it. Worst of all, I realized that when I got to the finish line I didn’t have anyone there to cheer me on and nurse me back to health. Matt was running the 100k, and he had our friend Trey come out and pace him for about 18 miles so he was on his way out to meet him by that point. I was pretty bummed out, and decided Matt’s not allowed to run any races that I’m running anymore so he can cheerlead for me.
I ended up finishing the race in 7:24:49. It was definitely not my best race, considering Bear Mountain 50k had over 1,000 more feet of elevation gain and I finished that one in 6 hours and 50 minutes, but I am extremely proud of myself for getting back out there post-injury and not letting the rocky terrain destroy me. I crossed the finish line with what I thought was a smile but I’m sure looked more like a grimace to everyone else, and tried to just be proud of my accomplishment. I just had to remind myself that even though it was my slowest 50k yet, most people will never run that far (nor would they even want to), and some people want to run that far but aren’t physically able to. I’m happy I have a body that’s gotten me this far, even if I’ve spent a lot of time injured over the years.
After I finished the race, I recovered with Trey’s wife (and my dear friend) Whitney, who went on a wild goose chase just to find cash and buy me some soup once I was finally feeling hungry. We waited for Matt and Trey to finish the race while freezing our asses off in our sleeping bags (seriously, the temperature swings that day were New England-levels of crazy) and were so happy when they rolled in around 10pm. We quickly got Matt changed out of his clothes and basically hopped straight in the car for a 4 hour drive home. Honestly, I could probably write a race report for just the drive home given how sore and tired and achy I was!
While it was an ugly day for me mentally, there was one particularly beautiful moment for me at the end of the race. When I ran out of water after I went through the last aid station, I thought I could handle the last 5 without it, but I got so incredibly thirsty. I ended up asking 3 different people for water – literally all of them said yes. Not one of them even hesitated for a second. One of them even offered me their entire water bottle. I teared up thinking about how much I love the trail/ultra running community and how we lift each other up and support each other. We all have this insane thing in common, and it’s such a beautiful thing to have people that understand your love and passion for trail running, and offer help you when you’re struggling even though you’re a complete stranger. I love this community so much, and am so grateful to be back at it in 2019.
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