Hell’s Hills 25k, or what happens when you don’t pay attention

image

 

So the week after TIR, I decided I wanted to run the Tejas Trails race Hell’s Hills for the first time.  I’d never done this one before, and heard that it was a much less technical course compared to something like Bandera or Nueces, so I was hoping to get in a good training run for some speed (in preparation for the Brazo’s Bend 50k at the end of the month in Houston) and have a blast in the  process.  Me and a friend talked to Joe (the race director) the night before the race, and he mentioned that the first and last miles of the race were particularly gnarly, with some nice speedy flatland in between.  Contrary to what the name suggests, the course is not super hilly – the ranch is named for the couple who founded it (their last name is Hill) and for the fact that it’s usually one of the first hot races of the year in Texas before everyone has had the opportunity to acclimate.

 

Knowing that the race was not actually as devastatingly hilly as the name implied in addition to the forecasted weather looking BEAUTIFUL, I decided maybe this would be a good race to try and beat my 2:49 25K PR I’d set at Big Bend.  The day before the race I returned home after class, packed my stuff and headed out to camp the night before.  The weather could not have been more amazing for camping as well as racing – it was a cool 56-60 degrees during the night and well into the morning.  I planned out my breakfast, set all my stuff up, and set my alarm for 0600.  Turns out the 50 milers were starting at 0500, and the 50k at 0600, so I really didn’t need any alarm clocks between all the hooting and hollering that was occurring at the start line at that time.

 

Before the race I decided that it would be a good idea to not worry too much about my Garmin.  I wanted to run this race mostly on feel, to try and get some good speed but at the same time be careful to not lose all my momentum before the last quarter of the race (a frequent issue on my part).  After hearing Joe talk about how gnarly the first and last parts of the race are, I had settled for a goal of sub 3 hours, and if I felt super awesome I would try to PR my 25k.  I had still been filling a bit stiff from TIR (mostly my hamstrings have been stiff as hell all week) so I knew that just going by feel would be my best bet.  It’s sometimes a bit disheartening to go from road to trail racing for me – when at TIR I was running 8:30 m/m-9:30 m/m, it’s pretty rare I run anything even slightly resembling that sort of speed on the trail.  So feeling like I’m running fast and looking down at my Garmin telling me I’m running slower than a 1o m/m normally gets me frustrated during races.  Hence the ditching.

 

There were a TON of people signed up for the 25k.  This was super obvious to me in the beginning of the race when tons of people were pushing (no, really) past me and others to try and run up all the hills to the front.  Those first few minutes of the race were probably some of the crappiest (in terms of fellow runners) in any trail race I’d ever done thus far.  It’s probably old hat to blame the road runners at this point (sorry, guys!) but when I see behavior like that in trail races I can’t help but always think that.  Double sorry to all you courteous road runners – I know you guys exist!  It’s just kind of annoying to have a bunch of people push past you to get by even when you’re trying to stay out of the way of the “faster” people, but then several people want to go passing you on both sides so you’re technically in the way of everyone.  And then they pass you to run up all the hills only for you to pass them again a mile later because they gassed themselves.  Silly.

 

Lucky for me most of that nonsense dispersed within the first fifteen minutes or so.  I got a really bad cramp in my left calf during this first mile or so of the race, which is exactly what happened at Big Bend (only in both calves).  I’m beginning to think that starting off the race with steady incline is what makes this happen – though Big Bend was far and away the flattest race I’ve ever ran, the first mile was a steady incline the entire way.  Since it was only one calf this time, I resolved to try and run it out as opposed to walking, and after about 20 minutes it had disappeared completely.  So, warming up more/differently next time before running a race that starts off with incline?  Not sure what to do about that.

 

Though the race was mostly flat, it still kept me engaged and having a lot of fun with the way the course winded around quite a bit, lots of switchbacks and pretty fun forest scenery.  There were some “water crossings” (more like puddle crossings) in a spot or two, but most of the mud on the rest of the course had dried up.  Eventually we came out of the woods and out into the back fields before the second aid station, and oh my god:

imageimage

SO MANY WILDFLOWERS.  Pictures can never ever do it justice.  The wildflowers were straight nuts here.

 

I am pretty proud of my steady pace throughout most of these miles – often times I find that the less I think about the pace the less I start to kind of get frustrated/grumpy/hate running (not really, but yes really).  I ran into some people and ran with them and chit chatted for a while, played back and forth with one woman (pet peeve – being passed by someone I’ve already passed…uuugggh) and generally cruised and enjoyed my time.

 

Joe was not messing around about the gnarliness of the last mile, though – the “rolling hills” on the course turned into death drops onto unsteady wooden plank bridges, dropping down and then immediately heading straight back up.  I am admittedly extremely reckless when it comes to running steep and technical downhill, but even these gave me a little bit of pause.  This was due in part to the appearance of instability in the bridges (planks with spaces in between them – I kept imagining myself flying down and tripping on the gaps in between planks) and just general distrust of the bridges in general.  I’ve been doing alright on the knee front lately, but running steep downhill kind of aggravates it so I didn’t want to throw myself straight down with abandon…but you know, sometimes you just gotta make up time.  😛

 

image

 

Eventually we came out of the woods again, and the frequency of the “motivational signs” posted on the trees was dramatically increasing so I figured we must be close to the finish at this point.  I kicked the pace up just a little, feeling a bit sore but overall still pretty good.  Eventually we were suddenly at the finish, and I kicked it up again a bit, still pretty comfortable but breathing heavier.  I crossed the finish line and hadn’t even thought about my time during that whole last part of the race.  After talking to a friend for a few minutes, I realized I hadn’t checked my time and finally looked at my Garmin – 3:00:41.  Seriously?!  I waited for the official results, in hopes that maybe I had started my Garmin a bit early and would be miraculously granted my sub 3 hour goal, but alas…it wasn’t meant to be.

 

Perhaps most frustrating about the whole thing was that I know I could have easily ended up with a sub 3 hour time if I had been checking my Garmin and knew where I was in relation to my goal, but oh well.  You live and you learn.  Maybe next time I’ll settle for only looking at my Garmin every half hour or something like that.  Or I’ll just go back to obsessively looking at it and then spontaneously die of frustration during some race one day.  Whichever.

 

Race equipment included Tailwind as always, my trusty Team RWB running shirt that makes me run faster, Pearl Izumi E:M N1 shoes, and my Ultimate Direction Jenny Vesta.  Full disclosure: I literally only wore this vest to hold my phone so I could log the Charity Miles for my local Team RWB chapter (I left my SPIbelt at home…)  I hate running with my phone, but I also hate losing, so I’ve been running with my phone so our chapter can log those miles!   😉  Luckily this vest is crazy light, so it didn’t even bother me in the slightest.

 

Coming up:  Fast 50k training, how yoga is hard, and my return to CrossFit.  Yikes.

 

image

Advertisements

Nueces 50k

You can tell this is the first loop because I'm smiling!  Yeah!

You can tell this is the first loop because I’m smiling! Yeah!

So, after my thrilling visit to Ragnar was the Nueces 50k.  This was to be my first 50k, and it was on 01 March – the day after I was slated to fly back to San Antonio from Ragnar HQ.  I was in a state of serious doubt about my ability to do well at this race because I had been incredibly sick during my visit to Ragnar, but decided to go out and run it anyways.  I was scheduled to arrive at the San Antonio Airport from Salt Lake City at about 5 PM on Friday, where my husband would pick me up and we would immediately make the two hour drive to Camp Eagle.  Unfortunately, every single flight I was slated to be on that day got delayed.  My original flight to Las Vegas was delayed about three times, until I was told I would miss my connecting flight and was rescheduled for Phoenix instead.  My flight to Phoenix was delayed.  After finally arriving in Phoenix, my flight to San Antonio was delayed about three times.  I did not return to San Antonio until about 1 AM.

We elected to stay in San Antonio and get up and make the two hour drive to Camp Eagle, not wanting to arrive at Camp Eagle at 3:30 AM and wake everyone in the shared dorm we were slated to stay in. My friend Meghann was crazy awesome enough to show up at my house at 4 AM for the drive to Camp Eagle.  I got about an hour and a half of sleep.  I was still quite sick – coughing, congestion, short of breath, the whole shebang – and though I had packed everything beforehand I still felt incredibly unprepared when we arrived to Camp Eagle.  The long and short of this is that the careful pre-race experience I had crafted in my head was a complete disaster.  I hurriedly filled the bottles on my vest with Tailwind and water, tried to allocate things like extra socks (didn’t happen) and my buff (also didn’t happen), while also having to hit the bathroom and pick up my packet.  In the parking lot, I could hear Joe (the race director) counting down to race start…10, 9, 8… I kissed my husband, waved by to Meghann who was urging me to GO, and ran to the start line.

All the frantic scrambling around made me forget that I was insanely tired and sick and did I mention tired?  Loop one is a go, all adrenaline, who needs sleep? Honestly, describing the first 25k loop of this course is probably an exercise in monotony – I spent most of it hydrating as appropriate, briefly visiting my husband and Meghann at the aid stations, and wondering at what moment the crushing tiredness and fatigue would set in.  It never happened on the first loop.  Everything went exactly according to plan – I never stopped too long, I hiked the hills, ran most of the way, chit-chatted with a person or two.  Near the end I started feeling a bit fatigued, but didn’t really pay too much attention to it, thinking I didn’t have too much more to go.  (The “just think about getting to each aid station” approach can backfire this way – eventually you realize you do have to go the whole 25k all over again…and become quite sad.)  Eventually I emerged from the woods to find Meghann and Russell waiting for me.  Meghann informed me that I was close to the start/finish, and now I “get to do it all over again!”  Then this happens:

leflop

This is my “are you freaking serious?” face.

I sigh, keenly aware at this moment that I’m starting to get tired.  And not just tired like “Well I just ran 25k probably a bit faster than I should have considering I need to do it again,” (I actually ran the first loop about an hour faster than I ran the 25k race last year)  but more like “Well, now that all the adrenaline has worn off I now realize I got an hour of sleep and desperately would like a nap.”  When I finally get back to the start/finish, I trudge over to the aid station under the pavilion and am greeted immediately with Olga barking “Salt!  Coke!” at me.  I immediately comply, and just as a side note from someone who has never drank coke during a race before, that shit was GLORIOUS.  I talk with Russell and Meghann for a second, then Liza comes by and tells me I am still looking good, though in retrospect I’m not sure if she was just saying that because it’s her coachly duty because I think I kind of looked like dirt.  I’m just starting to think that I’ve been standing for far too long when Olga tells me it is time to go, time to start running again.  Not really into defying Olga, I nod and start to trot off.

Please note the piteous, mom-like way Liza is looking at me.  Also, how freaking red my poor ginger face is.

Please note the piteous, mom-like way Liza is looking at me. Also, how freaking red my poor ginger face is.

As soon as I’m out of sight I start walking again.  It’s getting really hot at this point, but eventually I head back into the woods and start the run/walk, on again/off again routine that will pretty much become standard for (almost) the entire last loop.  Eventually I start a back and forth with another girl on the trail, her passing me, me passing her, going back and forth like this for a while until she is right in front of me and trips and hits the dirt pretty hard.  I run to her side and ask her if she’s okay, and she laughs it off a bit and tells me she had just been telling some friends the day before how she had never fallen on the trails.

At that point we run together for a while, eventually resolving to run together for the rest of the race.  Turns out Keri twisted her foot around mile 9 or 10 on the first loop and had to have it taped up because it was causing her some serious pain.  By the time she met up with me it was only getting worse.  So we ran on together, resolving to see each other to the finish line no matter what (I don’t think she knew what she was getting into at the time, haha).  Eventually we hit what was (I think) supposed to be the 10k self-service aid station (basically a few cases of gallon jugs of water that had been left on the trail).  I remember all throughout (and even at the end) the second looping thinking I had been paying pretty good attention to my hydration, but I very clearly remember how happy I was to see the water at this aid station, immediately downing one of my vest bottles and filling it up, then downing half of it and filling it up again.  In retrospect I probably shouldn’t have been that thirsty if I was keeping up with my hydration.  I helped Keri fill her bottle and we pressed on.

It was around this point that I started to feel like things were about to go seriously wrong for me.  I had a bit of trouble with my stomach, and getting to the next aid station seemed to take an eternity.  At one point me and Keri started wondering aloud how far we could possibly be from the aid station, as it seemed like we’d been running (and walking) forever.  At this point it was (for me, anyways) seriously hot.  I was super tired.  My stomach problems were only getting worse.  I was feeling a bit nauseous, something I had never, ever had to deal with in running before.  When we finally reached the aid station I dumped ice water all.freaking.over myself.  It was awesome for approximately five seconds, until the heat burned it that away.  I ate a few oranges and we started to trudge up the hill from the aid station, where we met with Meghann and Russell again.

woods_texas

Also this is where Keri displayed her superior photogenic qualities, and I displayed my herpaderp qualities.

Things pretty much only went downhill for me at that point.  I remember a lot of pitiful retching on the side of the trail on my part.  I was extremely nauseous for I would say about the last 10-11 miles of the race.  I remember several times wanting to just stop and lay down on the trail because my head was swimming from fatigue.  If Keri had not been with me, very graciously determined to get me to the finish line, I have no single doubt in my mind that I would have pulled a Liza and laid down somewhere to take a nap.  I’m sure there are many words in the English language I could employ to describe how incredibly tired I was, but I think just saying “I was tired as shit” will suffice.  Keri talked to me the whole way, and when we hit the fence line (the longest hill on the course) I had to stop constantly because I was either on the verge of puking, or had become nauseous to the point where I could hardly stand and was almost willing myself to puke.

IMG_0053

This. This was my favorite thing.

handsup2

Suffice to say this pretty much happened for the whole rest of the race.  We ran a little, I inevitably had to stop, Keri gently coaxed me on and we trudged along.  Let me just pause in this oh-so-thrilling narrative of my nausea to point out that Keri was basically the most amazing thing ever to happen to me during this loop.  Having to make that last 10 mile trek all by myself, slowly (seriously – it took way longer than the three hours of my first loop) would have seriously been an exercise in total suckage.  Keri let me stop to do my puke thing, she set little goals for us, and she was completely understanding of my melodramatic exclamations of being on death’s door.  She let me do my thing, while still keeping us moving.  Doing the fence line without her probably would have taken me three times as long because I undoubtedly would have sat down on a rock, puked on myself, and fell asleep in the sun until I got heat stroke or someone found me and put me in the ground.  (Or something.  I don’t know.)

So we hit the last aid station to some amount of fanfare, because Tejas Trails has the best damn volunteers on the planet.  Joyce (one of the race directors) was at the aid station and upon being told by Keri that I was having some serious issues, Joyce immediately descended upon me like a mother hen.  She asked me a few questions I can’t remember, took my bottle and put a little bit of blue something in it and filled the rest with water and instructed me to drink.  She took my vest and told me she would take it to the pavilion for me, saying if I was overheating the vest would certainly not help me in this situation.  I remember someone instructing me to sit, but I told them I didn’t want to sit because if I did I would never get back up again.  There was concerned talk of overheating, dehydration, this and that as Joyce had me put a bag of ice on my neck, head, underarms.  Someone asked me if I was feeling well enough to finish.

“Do you want to just go?”  Joyce asked me.

“Yeah.  Might as well.”

Joyce had me put the bag of ice down my shirt, and we took off.  Slowly.  We walked, tried to run a bit, walked some more.  We came around to the river crossing and I tried to pay no attention to the fact that I could practically see the pavilion from there, knowing that we still had to go around that part of the property and back through the woods again first.  When we finally came out of the woods and took the last of the course through the Camp’s buildings, we started to run.  I was seriously uncomfortable with how much more nauseous running made me in addition to the stomach pain every footfall caused, but we were determined to run through to the finish line.  All manner of crazy emotional thoughts ran through my head as we took those last few steps towards the pavilion, and coming down the incline to the finish I could see Meghann cheering and yelling while taking pictures with her phone.

If you look carefully, you can witness the beginning stages of my devolution into a blubbering baby.  :D

If you look carefully, you can witness the beginning stages of my devolution into a blubbering baby. 😀

So we crossed the finish line, and as soon as we do I fell into Russell’s arms and cried like a little girl as Keri explained to whoever happened to be near that I was having some serious issues and needed to be looked at.  They lay me down, give me something fizzy to drink, and Rachel later tries to feed me some ginger that she then prompts me to spit into her hand (because it was disgusting, how do you ultrarunning people eat that crap?!) because she has serious hardcore mom status.  I laid around on the cot for a while before I was deemed able to get up and run around shortly after, and we hung out at the pavilion for a few hours and drank beers and cheered on many of the remaining runners as they came across the finish line.

It was quite a few days after the race until I accepted the fact that perhaps I did actually do the best I could have done under the circumstances of one hour of sleep, serious sickness, rough weather conditions, etc.  I definitely did a lot of beating myself up about it, because it was the first time I’d gone that kind of distance (having only gone up to 20 miles in training) so I was seriously starting to wonder if it was just that I wasn’t ready to do it.  I’d been training for a while and was told by everyone and their mother that I was most certainly ready (and though I always appreciate the sentiment, most people just say that kind of thing so it’s not always easy to take it seriously when you feel like you’re at your worst).  I’m pretty sure my husband is tired of me randomly bringing it up.

Looking back, there were some things I could have kept up with more – the heat definitely made me underestimate my need for water and fuel.  At the time I was sure I was keeping up with it, but in retrospect I don’t think I was.  I can’t recall exactly how much Tailwind I took in, but I feel like no matter much of that or any supplemental VFuel gels I ate it wouldn’t have really mattered.  The complete and total lack of sleep was probably going to catch up with me no matter what.  I was seriously pleased with the performance of the shoes I wore – I wore the Pearl Izumi E:M Trail N1, a shoe I had bought only a few weeks before and kind of gambled with (I brought a spare pair of Altras just in case).  I never had any serious issues with my feet hurting despite all the rocks out there (and despite the mileage) and the shoes are still light compared to my Altra Lone Peak 1.5s (the original shoe I had planned to wear).  I was prepared as I could have been as far as my gear goes, but sometimes the cards just aren’t in your favor.  I was incredibly lucky to have Russell and Meghann there cheering for me and helping me out with anything I needed at all the aid stations, as well as Keri who stayed with me all those miles and pushed me to the end.  Though I might have still finished without them, it would have been a much more miserable experience.  So, until next time I suppose – Hell’s Hills 25k on 05 April and another crack at 50k at Brazos Bend on 23 April.

forrest