Paul was planning to pace our friend, Pete, so he was there for the long haul. He hadn't been out to Huntsville for a race for a few years. I think he has been best enjoying my ultra career from the house in Austin...he gets the weekend on his own, and I go play in the woods. That and the last time he crewed for me in Huntsville, I might have left my pleasant manners at home?? I was excited for him to see how much I enjoy the 50 mile distance, during a race, and just having him out there was fun!!
I told Paul that my plan for the race was to go 2:40-2:45 a loop and just take it easy....always the famous last words. Then once I finished I would be helping out at the Lodge Aid Station and wait for friends to come through, and then wait for Paul and Pete to finish. I had spoken, via email, with a friend, Larry, who had asked to me to pace him. I told him that I didn't know what I would feel like post-race, but if I felt good I would definitely try to go with him.
On Saturday morning, Paul was sweet enough to drive Pete to the start and then come back to the room and pick me up. This way Pete and I weren't competing to get ready, and I could rest until they left. It worked out perfectly, AND Paul came back for me with McDonalds meal #1...he had hot cakes and a hashbrown.
We got to the start and I set up my transition area near the turnaround. It just makes my life easier to have my things set and ready for each loop. I headed toward the start line and chatted with my original trail running partners from Houston. I used to run with them and two other guys every Thursday afternoon on the mountain bike trails. I fondly remember our 4:30 starts in the middle of August, 7-10 miles, and NEVER a water bottle...I guess we were tough then?? Anyway, it was good to see Carol and Jeff!
7AM, and off we went. The weather was perfect...40s and warming with the sun coming up! I headed out behind the first pack of guys. Noone was particularly chatty so I put my headphone, I only wear one on the trails, on and off I went. Because of the light rain, the trails were so soft, and everything felt sooo good! Before I knew it, and quicker then planned, I came to the Dam Aid Station. The gang from the North Texas Trailrunners were manning the aid station, and were in great spirits. I said my hellos and off I went. As I hit the out to Far Side, I saw Jorge the 100-mile leader coming back...he was flying as usual. Before I got to the Far Side Aid Station, I got to see all my friends running the 100 heading back; they had an hour head start. Granted it was the beginning of their race, they all looked great and happy! At Far Side, it was a quick hello to Diana, Robert, and Mike...I love having friends at the aid station!! Back I headed, so that I could cheer on all behind me. I will mention this more than once, but heck the way back from Far Side sure seems shorter than the way out??? Back to the Dam Road, and a quick refill and good morning to Letha and Mark. I headed toward AS 174, and got to catch up to and chat with George and Barbara and others. I was LOVING this! The 100-milers were much more excited to chat with me, so I took it in as I could get it. A quick swing around 174, I only stopped there on the 3rd loop, and back to start/finish.
I guess I haven't mentioned that my pace was out of control, and even with a few walk breaks, I could reel it back in...something I knew I would pay for later. Oh well, I was enjoying it for now. I headed into the start/finish and didn't see Paul anywhere. I went over to my little area refilled my bottle and was getting my food together when he comes running up. I told him that I was too fast on the 1st loop, but I felt good. He headed out with me and my Mountain Dew...not quite the Mountain Lightening of Virginia but it would have to do. As I was heading out, the girl behind me, Jackie, was coming in. She and I always finish close, and I know she is strong so I told Paul that she would probably catch me.
On to the 2nd loop. I still felt good, and had my favorite lemon-poppy fuel with me....YUM! I would have to say that the highlight of the race for me was during the 2nd loop. Matt, a friend from North Texas, caught up to me and we ran together from Far Side in. We had fantastic conversations! Once we got to the Dam AS, he got in front of me and I had a bit of a low patch. I could see him in the woods right in front of me but couldn't quite catch him. I figured I would just follow his ease and hope for the best. He stopped for water at 174 and finally I had caught up...I think I got a little in front of him because when he caught me he hadn't realized that I had been behind him and was startled to see me. Back to start/finish area we went.
At start/finish I was thrilled to see Paul and his friend, Rob, from his Army days and his family. They had driven over to spend the day with Paul, and see me for like a minute...it was awesome to have the cheering section!! The kids looked at me like I was CRAZY! To my sadness, Pete was also with them. His day had ended early due to injury....such is the beast of these races, not everyday can be great. I re-loaded my fuel and off I went.
I was feeling good, but definitely feeling all of my training and lack of taper in my legs. And, let's be honest, I was feeling the effects of the pace of my first loop...no excuse can erase the fatigue I created there. After the Interpretive Center, about 1 mile into the loop, We hook up with a trail that takes us to the jeep road. This is the same EXACT trail I have run on for many years now. It is the exact same direction in EVERY race, and somehow at an intersection I took a wrong turn. I veered to the right at some point, and the only way I know I went wrong is because eventually I ended up in a parking lot. Are you kidding me??? I turned around to re-trace my steps and saw Matt far off in the distance...now back in front of me. I had to wait for someone to approach to find my way back to the trail, and noticed somewhere between 7-10 minutes gone...arghhh. Now I had to get back in my rhythmn and pull it back together mentally, so annoying. Off I headed to finish up this race... I saw Matt on the out and back, and he was totally confused on how I was behind him. I explained quickly as we passed. He was moving toward his goal for the day, a sub-8 hour race. I am so thrilled for him!
I made the turn around at Far Side, and on the way back I saw Jeff catching up to me. He looked great and so I knew it was just a matter of time. He caught me right as we were heading back to the Dam. He told me that he was having a dream day, and felt great, but he said that we could hang out and catch up. I told him that I was just going to keep running at my not so fast pace as this point, and that he needed to go for the strong finish. He didn't want to leave me, but I wouldn't let him stay...this is a race and I would see him at the finish!
I went through the Dam AS with my stomach a little yucky. Nothing specific, but drinking water was making feel sick, and every time I would pick up the pace I feel my stomach turn... so I needed a plan for these last 7 miles. I made a deal with myself that if I walked the incline to keep my heart rate down, I had to run everything else. Funny thing about that is that there is VERY little incline. So off I went, not feeling great but getting closer and closer to the finish. Fortunately, right before I got to the 2nd long bridge on the way to 174 I kicked a stumped so hard with my toe that my stomach settled. Literally, contact, unbelievable pain, settled stomach. My toe hurt like hell. I probably was about 45 min from the finish at that point. I thought, "screw it...I'm getting to the finish sooner rather than later." and I picked up the pace. I got to 174 AS and gave my waist pack to this couple from Austin who were cheering for their friend doing his first 50. I was kind of hoping Paul would be there and would run me in, but I probably should have mentioned that to him??
I was thrilled to be heading into the finish, but tried to reserve my excitement as I knew everyone around me was going to be out there much longer. I finished well, and felt ok. I had a good laugh at the finish telling the story of my toe jam fixing my stomach, and was happy that my purple toe matched the painful description.
As I was sitting around recovering, I asked Paul what he wanted to do. I knew he had come to pace, so I didn't want him to leave disappointed....he has a history of me not getting to the spot where he needs to pace me. I encouraged him to see if Jorge needed a pacer for his final loop. Although it would be slow to Paul, it would the fastest possible match for him. He found Maria, Jorge's wife, and he prepared to go out for a 20 mile jog in the woods. She encouraged him to get infront of Jorge and push him. He was off of record pace, but she thought at least he could have a strong finish. It was a great experience for Paul. They had nice conversation, and Paul noticed, "What I took from running with Jorge is how quiet his feet are out there, even on the last loop. Very smooth, very even, nothing unnecessary." I am glad he got to have such a great experience. After some pics and good-byes, we headed back to Austin...
On the drive back, I MUST mention McDonalds stop #2, as Pete was kind enough to GIVE me his #10 chicken nugget. I still feel very honored!!
As always, things happen for a reason...and the decision to head back to Austin was a good one as my parents had left a message that my Great Aunt had passed away on Saturday, after a very long struggle with painful illnesses.
There is an unbelievable irony to it all, Matt and I were talking about this on the trail, while we are utilizing the most of what our bodies can do others are struggling to move. Here we were running all day, and someone I know was dying. Matt and I spoke about reflection, and how these precious moments on the trail give us this amazing gift. He said that without reflection he couldn't do his job. I am thrilled to sit back and have a chance to reflect on a wonderful day, time with friends, support from Paul, and a chance to do what I love.
Time for quick recovery, so that I can pace at the marathon in less than two weeks!!