Monday, March 12, 2012

Prickly Pear 50km - 2012

It was a hard rain and it had been that way for awhile. Friday night and SXSW was just getting cranked up, so I waited til after 7pm to head south. Didn't matter! Bumper to bumper stop and go traffic took me an hour just to get through Austin, and I live in Austin. Neither the traffic or the rain cleared up as I finally made it out of town. Over 2 hours later just shy of San Antonio, I pulled off in Selma. I met John and a few of his work mates at a pub just of the highway. We shared a beer or two and a few lies then headed over to John's place nearby. My legs were still cramping from the 2 hour stop and go traffic as I lay down to sleep. I thought that if I just pounded the water, it would stop... but all it did was make me get up constantly all night to pee.

John needed to drop by his workplace in the morning, so we drove over to get what he had in his car that he left there the night before. When we arrived at the McAllister Park, we had about 10 minutes to pick up our packets, gear up, and go. Didn't really have much time to think about options, so I simply went with what I already had on, including rain jacket, Tilley hat, and gloves. Didn't take me very long to realize it was way too much, so I stripped off all the extras and left them at the first aid station.

It was raining pretty good, coming in waves of mist at first. If you can imagine what its like to run with the deer, this is what I imagine it would be like. Just following your instincts, taking the path of least resistance. Bodies lined up in order with some being passed and passing others as we snaked through the trees. Because of the crooked path we took with our large pack, we must have completely surrounded a small herd of deer that tried to wait us out, but then freaked and simply took off strait through our congo line. One barely missed colliding with the woman in front of me, but besides everyone being startled, nobody missed a beat and the deer were gone... for now. There was very little talking and the little said was muted by the rain and the sloshing of the mud.

I could run along the main track at first, but then it got so messy and slippery that I switched to the side berm of grass when I could. Sometimes this required that I ran side to side for aways. I know it was longer, but if I went down the middle, I could never count on my foot landing and staying where I put it long enough for me to get the next foot down. Because the mud was as slick as ice, I had to take short rapid baby steps. But, on the sides, I could open up and run. I knew this was going to take forever if I didn't get my speed up, so I gambled now and then... and on one of those gambles, I slipped and performed some acrobatics. Somehow I managed to not go down, but I almost wish I had as my performance stressed the limits of the shorts I was wearing and ripped out the inseam. Well, the reason I wear tights is because my legs slide against each other every stride I take... and without the material there for protection, I would chafe my inner legs bloody. I have done it before, so I know. And now I have a real problem and there is nothing I can do about it til I get back to my truck for the spare pair I always take with me.

Running like a cowboy, legs wide apart, sliding out on every step, and laughing like a fool... I was enjoying the tough time I was having. I considered packing it in for a moment, but these sort of moments always come to test my mental and emotional strength. I like to think that you really never know what kind of character you have til times are hard. How you deal with it defines who you are. I recalled a friend who died from Lou Gehrig's Disease, another drowned, a brother stabbed to death, a daughter with cancer... and I begin to laugh quietly at first and then loudly at how simple and easy my issues are in comparison. I am alive and I can do this, and they all wish they could be right here right now if they could. Just thinking about it lights me up. And I begin to love every damned slip and slide even more than I already did.

Thinking back a few years ago, maybe the first year Bill added the 50km to this event, I ran a 4:25 on a very dry day that was crisp and cool. I have slowed way down and wonder if I can complete two thirds in of the race today in that time. As slow as I seem to be going, very few people are passing me. Its just me and the rain at this point. I see a few others in the areas where we switch back and forth a lot... and you can see somebody a ways ahead or behind. Occasionally, I see somebody come off a side trail that I know isn't part of the race and then they disappear ahead of me. I don't know if they are cheating, in a different race route, or just out for a run, but it surprises me each time. Most likely it was just my imagination or the spirit of D.Keitz messing with me like he always loved to do. It was always his way to force me to think in a profound way in the simplest of settings.

My leg is bloody raw when I arrive back at the end of loop one. John has just retired even though he was way ahead of me. Says this will screw up his entire week of training if he continues. He offers to go find my gear and extra shorts while I refuel. My stomach leads me to the bathroom first, then I put on a dry shirt, eat some food, and then John comes back empty handed. There are no spare shorts. I'm not sure what to do. I try some duct tape but it wont stick with everything already soaking wet. Bill Gardner (the RD) says he may have a pair in his truck, and brings back a pair of clown pants... but what they hell. The entire thing is a circus at this point and I am done without them, so I slip them on... and go!

Not sure how fast I did the first loop, but add another 30 minutes for the wardrobe malfunction and its looking like a very long day in the rain and the mud and the joy. I surprise myself by passing 5 or 6 people right away. I suppose they came in and went out while I was killing time back at the main station. I visit with a few different people but pretty much maintain a good slide, constantly moving, even if it is baby steps. I pick up my dropped jacket, hat, and gloves... just to take them back home with me. I don't need them, but I don't wish to leave them either. The mud and slick slime is even worse this time around. With a couple hundred runners in the 10 miler and then all the 50km runners in front of me on their 2nd loop, all the grassy side bars and now as slick as the main track. There are no dry places left. Its all mud now. Regardless of where I try to go, I slide down to the lowest point in the trail. After just a bit of this, I learn that I simply have to remain in the low rut which is a shallow stream of mud and debris. My lower legs were already covered in mud, but this new tact now adds mud plashes all the way up my back and chest. And oh hell yea, I am still going slow. We do pass through a few streams which I could wash off in, but it seems such a waste of time, when its all coming right back on.

The end of loop two is no more than the beginning of the final loop. I drop off my extra gear with John and he hands me a beer which goes down oh so good. Off for the final go round, it starts so well. I suspiciously think I can even run for a bit, but the mud soon destroys any thought of that. Still, I keep trying to push it and I'm quite surprised that I still have plenty of run left in my legs... if I could just plant and push off. I try this one too many times when I suddenly find myself airborne in the inverted superman position.... or maybe a flying casket... my feet level with my head, looking up at the sky. I hit the ground butt first and slide for another 10 yards before stopping. My entire back side slathered in mud, my right arm completely coated from finger tip to shoulder. What a great fall and slide. No blood, no bone, no harm! I get up and laugh at the thought of dusting myself off. If I touch anything, its gonna be mud. Mud from mud gets mud.

As slow as I'm going, I secretly revel in the thought that nobody has passed me.... until the running preacher blows right through me and disappears ahead. Oh well. I certainly have persevered through an interesting day, but speed has nothing to do with it. This one was all about bullheaded refusal to quit. I finish finally and find a nearby water-fountain with a dog faucet and wash myself off. John brings the truck around so that I can climb in and change out of the soaking wet muddy mess I've been wearing for 7 hours.

My inner leg is bloody as hell, I have the shakes with a bad cold coming on, and every muscle in my body that I use for balance is screaming in anger at what I just did. I think I needed that. I do love running in the rain. John and I go to a nearby burger joint for a cold beer and a greasy burger with fries. I think I had the start of the cold before I left Austin, but the all day wet run kicked it into high gear. I thoroughly enjoyed the run, never once hating the mud or the rain. All the hurdles that I experienced made it what it was and I do love a bit of variety. This is probably the best place and time for me to quote an old friend: Red Spicer: "Life is a headlong rush into the unknown. We can hunker down and hope nothing hits us or we can stand tall, lean into the wind and say, 'Bring it on, darlin', and don't be stingy with the jalapenos."

Life is good

Sunday, February 12, 2012


2012 USA 100km Trail Championships
Bandera, TX
7 Jan 2012

The annual winter gathering of the trail running tribes continues to grow each year to all new attendance levels. With the 2012 USA 100km Trail Championships offering accolades and cash, and the Montrail Ultra Cup offering points and Western States entries, Bandera attracted a quality list of entrants and quite a few others as well. Three separate races for 100km, 50km, and 25km all on the same course totaled 754 starters.

The 100km is a twice repeated 50km loop over some of the most rugged terrain in this country. T'was a near perfect morning at 7:30am when 215 100km runners took to the trails and quickly broke into packs. The first loop was uneventful except for the overall speed. A pack of 10 completed the first 50km split faster than the winning 50km winner: all under 4:04. Timothy Olsen led the pack and never lost hold, staying constant, rolling in for a very respectable 8:28:40 to win the men's 2012 USA 100km Trail Champion. Dave Mackey, Joe Uhan, and Dylan Bowman battled throughout for the next 3 positions, changing places a few times, and finishing in that order. Dave Mackey 8:38:30, Joe Uhan 8:38:55, Dylan Bowman 8:40:07, and then Nick Clark 8:57:06 for 5th.

The Women's 100km had a stellar field of competitors as well, with the reigning champ, Liza Howard leading from the start. She was passed on the 2nd loop by Cassie Scallon, who held on to become women's 2012 USA 100km Trail Champion in 9:40:20. Liza Howard took 2nd in 9:56:30, with Pam Smith 3rd in 10:04:51. 154 of the 215 100km starters finished the 100km for a 72% finish rate.

The 50km started 214 with 204 finishing (95%), and then adding another 56 who DNFed from the 100km. David Brown 4:04:56 won the 50km men's title, with Jason Brooks 4:16:12 2nd, and Sean Meissner 3rd in 4:19:14. Melanie Fryar 4:24:47 reset the course record and won the women's 50km title, with a couple of Albuquerque ladies, Jean Herbert 5:00:20 and Molly Roberts 5:25:49 rounding out 2nd and 3rd.

The 25km sported the largest field with 325 starters and 317 finishers for a 98% finish rate. The city of Austin took the top 3 spots in both the men's and women's fields, with all three men under two hours: Erik Stanley 1:39:08, Jody Broccoli-Hickey 1:59:05, and Jamie Cleveland 1:59:24. The 25km course records have been hard to beat because this course has become increasingly more difficult each year. So it was a welcome surprise to see Sara Hickey 2:12:20 knock it down after it stood for 9 years. The next two women, Andrea Fisher 2:21:00 and Julie Cattell 2:29:53 also ran great times to finish 2nd and 3rd.

As the day ran down and the 25km runners went home, followed by the 50km runners soon after, we settled into a long night. The Comanche Moon delighted us with a lunar halo and brightened the trails for the runners who continued all night and into the morning. The course profile at Bandera might suggest something much easier, but it is known locally for its nasty ruggedness and fantastic panoramic views. The late night crowd celebrate sunset from the Sisters or Lucky Peak, and a rare few get to see a 2nd sunrise. While many of the elites have come and gone, Deborah Sexton, Jeffrey Linwood, and Shannon Mitchel battled each other for the illustrious DFL award, with Shannon taking the honor for her first 100km finish. We celebrated her finish about as much as we did the first finisher. It was all good.

Rocky Raccoon 100mi & 50mi

Huntsville, TX
4 Feb 2012

It was epic! Rumbling thunder boomers, lightning flashes in the clouds, rolling sheets of rain, and a thousand people gathered under the tall pines for the annual gathering of the trail running tribes for Rocky Raccoon. Race staff, park staff, volunteers, runners, crews, families, photographers, sponsors all made for a large collection of energy on the ground to match the energy in the sky.

For the first time in 15 years, the rain poured upon the runners of Rocky Raccoon. 376 century runners burst from under the tents where they had huddled to stay dry at exactly 6am. The lead pack included Ian Sharman, Hal Koerner, Karl Meltzer, and Oswaldo Lopez. Liza Howard was part of the group just back of them. An hour later we repeated the same start under the same conditions for the 50 mile race with 298 more runners. All told, we now had 674 runners on the course. The 100 course is five 20mi loops and the 50 mile course is three 16.7 mile loops. The two courses are the same for both groups except for a shortcut on the back side of the park.

Ian and Oswaldo finished the first 20mi loop side by side in 2:27, with Hal just 30 seconds back, and Karl another 30 seconds. Still pretty tight for 20 miles. Loop two had Ian and Hal cross the 40 mile point side by side with another 2:27 loop, with Karl just 95 seconds back, and Oswaldo 9 minutes behind Karl. Loop three saw Hal take the lead with a solid 2:37, with Karl holding steady just 10 minutes back, and Ian falling off pace and soon done for the day. Oswaldo lost 20 minutes, but was still running very well. With the course deteriorating into mud and bog from the mixture of heavy rain and 700 runners on a multi-loop course, it surprised me how well all these guys were doing. It was certainly taking its tole on the field with only 58% of the field finishing. Hal increased his lead on loop four with another solid 2:49, while the others slipped over the 3:00 mark. Understand that 3:00 is pretty quick for a 20 mile loop in these conditions, but Hal seemed to have it dialed in today. The final loop saw Hal's 1st 3:00 time, while Karl ran a 3:30, and Oswaldo still running well to close with a 3:10. And thats how it ended with Hal Koerner winning the 20th annual Rocky Raccoon 100 mile race on an epic day with a phenomenal 13:24:52 in the worst possible conditions. Karl ran a smart race as well for 2nd in 14:17:42. Both of them were faster than last year's near perfect conditions. Oswaldo was 3rd with a very solid 14:30:58.

Liza Howard ran just off the lead pack on the first loop with a very quick 2:35, with Sabrina Moran, Jill Perry, and Heather Mastrianni 15 minutes back in a pack. All the leading women backed off for the 2nd loop, with Liza and Heather both taking the best times with a 3:09. Liza led by 10 minutes over Sabrina and Heather, with Jill another 15 minutes back. Loop three saw everyone holding steady with each running a 3:30, but for Jill who withdrew. Everything flipped upside down on loop four with both Liza and Heather dropping from the race, leaving Sabrina up front with nobody close. Sabrina Moran closed out the race with a 17:06:10 to win the women's 100mi race, with Vikki Baylis (20:01:51) and Liza Canowitz (20:09:18) taking 2nd and 3rd.

219 runners finished the 100 miler for the worst ever finishing percentage in 20 years. The runners who took more time suffered the worst because of the wet conditions. The water and sand mixed to create a liquid sandpaper that slowly worked on the soft skin of everybody's soaking wet feet. More people dropped because of their blisters that mixed with more sand, mud, and water and the pain associated with sliding on the slippery mud. Those that persevered all night long and into the second day paid a heavy price, not to say that even the earlier runners didn't have the same issues... but for a much shorter period of time. It was about as emotional a finish as I have ever seen in 20 years... over and over again... all night long.

The 50 miler watched Gerardo Moreno lead from start to finish to win in 6:15:12, followed by David Brown in 6:31:51, and Olli Haavikko in 7:34:51. The women's 50 mile race was a bit more interesting. Amanda Ewing led from the start, taking loop one in 2:21, with Anabel Pearson at 2:23, and Lorena Devlyn at 2:25. But, Lorena Devlyn got some extra distance on loop two when she missed a turn and fell out of contention (it appeared) by losing 30 minutes. Amanda was still leading after loop two with a 3:00 split with Anabel closing within a minute, but Amanda did not finish the race. Anabel took the lead for the final loop, but this changed again quickly as the fading Anabel was passed by the hard charging Lorena and almost passed again by the even paced Rachael Blair. Rachel had simply run three solid and almost even splits of 2:53, 3:03, and 2:56 to take 3rd and within 30 yards of taking 2nd with the fastest closing split of 2:53. The best run of the day had to be Lorena's return to contention from her early mishap. From 30 minutes back, her anger pushed her through the field as she surged back and surprised everyone including herself with the win. And so it ended with Lorena Devlyn 1st in 8:41:38, Anabel Pearson 2nd in 8:53:38, and Rachael Blair 3rd in 8:53:43.

259 runners finished the 50 miler out of the 298 starters.

As difficult and awkward as this race was under these rough conditions, it was even worse for the volunteers. We had 150 people working aid stations, marking course, hauling supplies, working the radios, providing medical support, managing timing, packets, tents, and so on and so on. Some of the tent covers turned into swimming pools and we had to cut the tarps to release the water. Those hauling supplies dealt with muddy roads and poor visibility. Medical & radio people teamed up with a boat to ferry people and supplies across Raven Lake. But all the runners were tracked, the course was well marked, and the tear down was handled with care... til the ATV went through the back window on my truck. All in all, the volunteers rocked. They stayed and performed as well as did Hal & Karl.