Category Archives: Race Reports

Best Race I Didn’t Finish

I am medicated at the moment, so now is the best time to get this out there before I go back to bed.

A lot of race-specific training and preparation went into Franklin Mountains 50k.   The last time I raced on the Franklin Mountains was a week after coming home from Kuwait where I had been running at sea-level for four-months;  no trail work; and definitely not any climbing!  This time things were going to be different!  My race plan had me finished almost 2-hours faster than my last race!

Leading up to this race, my coach and I were looking at FMTR 50k as two separate races.  The first 15mi of the race was front-loaded with a lot of vert and this ended with the climb to the North Peak.   While we did hill work to prepare for this, the greatest focus was on the second half of the race.  Taking on the rollers after the first 15mi of climbing.   We would work dedicated hill work followed by several days of 10+ mile trail intervals and put this on repeat!   Leading up to this race, I felt GREAT and felt stronger than ever going into the technical trails at Franklin Mountains!

Like all races, I watched the weather like a hawk as the date approached!  The last 50k at this mounted had 50-60mph winds!  The wind was so strong coming off of Upper Sunset that you had to walk!  Not because you were fatigued, but because the wind wouldn’t allow you to do anything else!  The weather this year was the complete opposite!  Less than 5mph winds were on the forecast!  This was going to be a much different race!

The morning of the race my oldest son Peter dropped Anthony and I off at the start line.   Given the parking at Franklin Mountain State Park, this approach was PERFECT!    The race started with the climb across Upper Sunset.   For the start of the race you either push out with the lead pack or you stay with the large group and take part in the FMTR Congo-Line climbing Upper Sunset.   5, 4, 3, 2, 1… GO!   As we all took off towards the trailhead, I tucked myself in just behind the lead pack.   This was going to be my race.  I wasn’t there to race anyone, nor was I chasing Maggie up the mountain.  The only thing I was racing against today was my “personal” cutoffs that I established for myself (see figure 1).

Figure 1. FMTR Race Plan

 

There is so much I love about this race.  For me, it is knowing so many people along the way.  At each checkpoint or aid station there was an amazing volunteer that I knew and called my friend!

I started the race with a headlamp since the sun was just beginning to creep over the horizon.   I knew what Aid Stations I was planning to stop at and that was the ONLY place I was going to stop; By the time we came off Upper Sunset there was already enough light that the headlamp wasn’t needed.  Since I wasn’t supposed to stop yet, I just kept on rolling through the Main AS.  Just as I went through, Marco and Mike were there that kindly took my headlamp from me so I could keep moving!   Just two of the many angles I would encounter today!  After getting rid of my headlamp I raced down the hill towards Schaeffer’s Shuffle.   While Rob talks about how bad this section is, I really enjoy it!  It is a great section to wake up legs up and prepare for the climb up Aztec and eventually up to the North Peak!   As in years past, I couldn’t successfully make it down Schaeffer’s Shuffle with a bit of butt-sliding action!  It just never fails!   After completing this first segment I rolled into the Main Aid Station at 7:06 AM (2-min ahead of schedule).   This first 15mi were to be conservative and focused.   I knew where my fitness was and knew exactly what I could pull off without impacting the 2d part of the race!    I passed through main AS only to drop my morning jacket in my drop bag.  I didn’t wear it while running, I just wanted to be comfortable while waiting!    I ran through, stuffed it in my drop bag and noticed that Anthony had already passed through as well since we were sharing drop-bags for this race!

Without delay (and without stopping at the Aid Station) and took off up the road towards Aztec, which I think is the worst part of the course!  Scree fields coupled with rock climbing, definitely makes this next three miles to Trail Head Aid Station pretty crappy!   As I made my way to the trail I had a quick chat with Mike, although he wasn’t willing to share a beer with me that early in the morning!   Little did I know that we would spend some quality time wheeling in his Jeep before the day’s end!    I began the climb towards the Aztec Caves and Mile 7 before dropping down into the evil scree field.   Climbing up Aztec Caves is just that.  CLIMBING!   As I approached the caves I once again heard a familiar voice!  Jennifer was on the top of the caves yelling for me to run!   Keep in mind, you don’t run this section.  In fact, as I approached the caves all I kept thinking about was announcing “On Belay”…”Climbing!”.    Just thinking that I will have to come DOWN this during Lone Star 100k has me wondering if I do need to bring a harness!

Climbing Up Aztec. PC: Jennifer Caitlin

After a very brief chit-chat with Jennifer I continued scrambling up the rock face towards the top!   Shortly after making it to the top I encountered yet another familiar figure!  I stumbled across Tyler (Jennifer’s other half), making sure no runners thought it was a better idea to jump off the cliff instead of following the trail!    While this next stretch is down hill to Trail Head Aid Station, this is also the section of the course that I have NEVER made it through without rolling my ankle.  Saying the scree field is evil would not do it justice;  Instead, it is the crappiest section of this entire race!  #FUROB!!!

On Belay! Climbing! PC: Jennifer Caitlin

I ran into TH Aid Station at 7:50 AM!  This was dead-on with my race plan!   While I was not personally tracking this along the way, it was interesting to see the post-run results and see where I was in respect to my race plan.   From here on out, I was pretty much hiking.   My goal was to hit the North Peak in 3hrs.   The year prior I made it there in 3:02.   Like I mentioned, the first half of this race was all about being conservative!  I wanted fuel in the tank to finish this race STRONG!    I ran past Mundy’s Gap, waved to Luisa, and continued the final 2-mi climb to the summit.   My plan had me stopping at Mundy’s on the way up, but I was good on my hydration so there was no need to waste any time, so Off I went!  Up to this point, another runner and I flip-flopped back and forth.  On the climbs, I would push by him, but he FLEW downhill!   If I attempted running close to this speed on these technical trails I would have likely ate a rock (or two dozen).    I hit the North Peak in exactly 3:00:18.      12 miles into the race and my race plan was spot on!   I grabbed my band by Trigger and wasted no time heading back down the mountain!   Currently in 14th place, the next part of my race is what I had really prepared for and was so excited!   On the way down towards Mundy’s Gap I finally passed Anthony as he was making his climb up the North Peak.  Anthony  was beginning to have GI issues, but still moving!   I finally stopped at Mundy’s Gap Aid Station to refill my flasks, grab a quarter of PB&J, and I was off!   The next section of the race is where is starts to be fun!  These are nothing but rollers; the same rollers I run each time we visit our family in El Paso.   This is the part of the mountain that I LOVE and the part of the mountain that would bring me my greatest gains.   My next time-check was going to be at East Aid Station, which was at mile 20.40.   According to my plan I wanted to arrive at this Aid Station at 11:06 AM (just over 5hrs).   I pulled into the Aid Station WAY ahead of schedule and I was feeling amazing!  I ran into the East Aid Station at 10:37 AM, 30-minutes ahead of schedule!   This was going to be my longest AS stop.  Here I was going to grab my 1L bladder for my Orange Mud pack and a fresh soft flask of Tailwind that was going to likely get me all the way to the finish line!  I loaded up my pack, talked with Jessica and James for a bit, and headed up the switch backs out of the Aid Station.   I felt absolute amazing at this point!    I left the Aid Station 20-min ahead of schedule and was well on my way to a sub-7hr finish!   I was imagining running up the stairs to the finish line telling Rob that I took 2-hrs of my Franklin Mountain 50k time from last year!!!

Leaving East AS! PC: Jessica Pekari

Around Mile-21, something happened that was going to change my day completely.  Something happened to my head.  It felt like someone put my head in a vice and just began squeezing.  I was getting sharp pains down the left-side of my body, fingers where tingling, and the pressure in my head wouldn’t let up.    Every time I tried running I ended up sitting on the side of the trail to get some relief.   No matter what I tried to do, the pain increased.  My surroundings were spinning, the trail was getting blurry, and I continued to have these sharp pains down my arm and leg.   Never did my head hurt so bad that it brought tears to my eyes.   I was at the point that I would walk, as best as I could, before laying down on the side of the trail.  Many runners passed me offering me food or drink, but I was perfect on that front; what I needed wasn’t on that mountain.  I needed to know what was wrong with me.

The pain at this point was worse than I had ever felt before and no matter what I tried I couldn’t get any relief.  When I would come across the slightest shade on the trail I would lay down and sit on every rock that I cam across.   It didn’t matter what I did.  The intensity increased with each passing step, I began getting dizzier, and the every few minutes I would get the sharpest of pains shooting through my head that would bring tears.

Somewhere around Mile 22, two runners passed me and I asked them to tell the Aid Station that #53 needed to be evac’d.   Something was wrong and it was only going to get worse.  Based on my sudden symptoms, I was scared to death that it was a stroke.   I was 7mi away from the closest road and still 3 miles away from the Aid Station.  I needed help.  The only reason I made it off the mountain approached me while I was laying on the trail.  Thomas became my trail angel that day and will never forget what he did for me.   Before him, I told everyone I was fine.  When he approached I knew I was no longer fine.  With tears in my eyes I told him there was something wrong.  This is where the trail running community outshines every other sport.  At that moment, he threw his entire race away and shifted entirely over to making sure I was taken off the mountain safely.  Every time another runner would pass he would have them take word to the Aid Station that there was a medical emergency.   The longer we moved the more intense the pain was and the weaker I felt.   There were several times that I had lost my balance and he was there to catch me.   Along the way, he even recruited the assistance from other runners.  At one point, we had 5 runners helping me down the mountain.   Along the way, Thomas was recording information about me in his phone in the event that the terrible happened and he needed to relay it to medical personal.   The final 5miles to the West Aid Station took 3 hours.  This was a mix of sitting on the side of the trail, stumbling down switchbacks, and fighting the pain as much as I could.   I had one runner soaking my head with cold water while Thomas led me down the hill by my hand and another runner behind holding onto my pack to prevent me from falling.   Several times along the way I felt like I was going to pass out but they were there to catch me.   About 1/2mi from the Aid Station another of my friends from the Aid Station came running out to me with Pedialite.  I took the Dixie cups of Pedialite without hesitation but I knew it wasn’t a hydration or heat exhaustion issue.  Something happened to my brain.   I did discover that Grape Pedialite was HORID.  We were finally off the switchbacks and walking along the jeep road.  It was then that I saw a familiar Jeep approaching.  Mike and Hiemi (sp) had arrived to get me off the mountain and back to the finish line.   It was time to go wheeling in the Jeep!  My race ended with 27.8mi.

Had it not been for Thomas and the trail angels, I don’t believe I would have been so lucky.  The pain was so severe. I’ve never felt anything like that and was expecting the worse.   I don’t willingly go to the doctor.  EVER.   This time, the only thing I wanted was the hospital.

After what seemed like an hour drive, we finally made it off the mountain and onto I-10 where Mike took me straight to the finish-line.   The pain still hadn’t subsided and was getting sharp pains in my head that radiated throughout my body.  We finally arrived at the finish-line and I saw Liz and Tinsel approaching the Jeep.   Without thinking I opened the Jeep door and tried to get out.   Next thing I knew Mike and Elizabeth were picking me up off the ground.

Mike and Hiemi loaded me in the truck and Elizabeth took me straight to the Emergency Room that wasn’t even 2-mi away.  We went to Providence Medical Center just outside of the Franklin Mountain State Park.  We pulled into the front of the ER and when I looked up I knew things were going to be ok.   My nephew, Matthew, came out of the hospital with a wheel chair to bring me inside.  I never saw the waiting room.  We went straight into and exam room and began a series of tests.  I was hooked up to an EKG, a series of labs were taking, and seemed like everyone in the hospital came through to ask questions.   It was those questions that began scaring me even more.  I couldn’t answer them.  They were asking me personal questions and didn’t know the answers.  The pains through my head where getting more frequent and more severe.   Every time I would get the pains I would get tingled sensations in my head.   The doctor that was there told someone in the hall that I was experiencing signs of a stroke and they needed a CT scan immediately.   I was immediately wheeled to the CT scan room and they kicked another patient out of the room so I could have my scan done.   The first CT scan didn’t show any bleeding or blockages.  After another hour of evaluations and labs they ordered another CT scan with contrast to make sure there was nothing additional they could see in my next or brain.   Yet again, there was no evidence of bleeding or a stroke.  Hearing those words took a huge weight off my chest, but that still didn’t explain what was going on.   I was slurring my words when talking, I couldn’t focus, couldn’t answer simple questions; I was afraid of what was wrong.  After what seemed like a few hours they finally administered morphine to relieve some of the pain and about 30min later the pain finally reduced to something manageable.    Throughout the entire time at the hospital they did a full series of labs and determined that I was not dehydrated nor was I experiencing any heat exhaustion or heat stroke.   The CT scans ruled out the possibility of bleeding or a stroke, and they did some test on my heart to look for residuals of a heart attack.   What scared me the most had been ruled out.  Unfortunately, there was still no answer as to why I was in the ER at Providence Medical Center.   The Dr came back in and after a review of the CT scans by the radiologist they determined that what I was experiencing was a Hemiplegic Migraine that mimics the symptoms of a stroke.   I was given the option of being admitted to further monitor or be released.  My BIL, who is the CEO of a different local hospital, said there was an ER just up the road from the house that if something were to happen I could go there.   I was finally discharged from the hospital and returned to the house.  That night was better in terms of pain, but I slept very little.  I still had a headache and my body was crazy itchy from the dye used on the contrast.

A day later I feel very run-down and have still have what I would call a minor headache.  I have been prescribed meds that allowed me to sleep a little bit and luckily feel 100x better than I did in the hospital.  That was hands-down the worst pain I have ever felt and nothing that I ever want to experience again!

After all is said-and-done, my training was spot-on for this race.   I have zero physical pains in my legs or feet, was 30-min ahead of my goal pace when things went south, and my HR was below 150 the entire race!  I was well on my way to an amazing race!   My hydration and nutrition couldn’t have been better!  I stuck to a strict 250-calories per/hour regimen with Tailwind and it was flawless!  Even though this race went perfect up to mile 21, I learned several lessons that I will bring with me to Lonestar 100k!  I will be back on this mountain in 3-months!  I will not only get redemption, I want an epic finish!

FMTR Race Bling!

I have the absolute best support team in the world.  So many people contributed to getting me off the mountain and there is nothing I can do to repay that.   Thomas, Rob, Rachel, Mike, Heimi, West Aid Station workers, and countless runners along the way.   Thank you for all that you have done.  Had each of you not been there to do your part, this could have turned out significantly worse.

Last but definitely not least is my amazing Wife for being by my side with Tinsel.   On top of that I have an absolute amazing family.  Thank you, Robert and Matthew, for everything you did and for being there.

While this race ended in the hospital, this race was a success from a performance perspective!  My training leading up to this race was on point and my performance up to mile-21 couldn’t have been better!  Special thanks to Karen, my amazing coach, and the great companies that have supported me along the way!  Thank you Rob and Rachel of Trail Racing Over Texas!  You continue to put on the best races in Texas!  THANK YOU!

Gear Used:

Orange Mud 1L Pack

Hoke One One Speedgoat 2

Goodr Glasses

Trail Toes

Xoskin

Tailwind Nutrition

 

Lighthouse Ranch Trail Run Race Report

Through Trail Toes, I had the opportunity to toe the line at Run in Texas’ Lighthouse Ranch Trail Run 20mi in Johnson City, TX with two of my fellow Team TROT Ambassadors!

From Left: Me, Debbie Bush, Victor Valenzuela. PC: Victor

This was definitely not something I was planning for as I am deep into my training for Franklin Mountain 50k, Bandera 100k, and Lonestar 100k.   I registered for the race 2-days before so my taper consisted of speed work!   That makes expectation management extremely easy.   Since my schedule already had a long run, the only difference was I was going to push the pace slightly and get a chance to run on new trails!  After a chat with my amazing coach Karen Kantor, I had a plan.  lol

With the race only 1 1/2hrs away, the logistics for this race were simple.  Wake up at 3:30am, eat my customary Chobani yogurt and enjoy my morning coffee (or 3) and hit the road.  I arrived at the race venue for packet pickup around 6am which gave me about an hour to screw around, socialize, and of course drink more coffee.  By now, many of you have come to realize that my racing is fueled by COFFEE!!!

The 7am start consisted of the 20mi and 50k runners.  As we approached the starting mat I tried to get a feel for who all was running the 20mi vs the 50k.    The “plan” that I worked out with my coach was to take it semi-moderately and hold on to an 8:40 pace.  It would be comfortable enough given the training so far during the week while still landing a sub-3:00 finish.    I told my coach before this even started that I wanted (for a change) to be mindful of my pace and not go out trying to light the trail on fire.

As the gun went off, that is exactly what I did.  Knocked out the miles one by one and felt GREAT.  The splits where well ahead of where I wanted them and my body showed no signs of of slowing done.   Throughout the entire race I not once stopped at an Aid Station and blazed through “self-supported”.  I did slow at one of the Aid Stations to fistbump a good friend from Project Phoenix.  As I ran through each Aid Station I yelled out thank you to the great volunteers and continued on my way!

Mi 1: 7:35 /mi
Mi 2: 8:00 /mi
Mi 3: 7:53 /mi
Mi 4: 8:00 /mi
Mi 5: 8:25 /mi
Mi 6: 8:28 /mi
Mi 7: 8:01 /mi
Mi 8: 8:37 /mi
Mi 9: 8:29 /mi
Mi 10: 8:14 /mi
Mi 11: 9:47 /mi

Around mile 11 is when things started turning South quickly.  My legs and body felt great but  I started getting a real sharp pain in my stomach that just didn’t seem right and had the urge to pee… A LOT!!!   Up to this point I had not been passed and was holding onto 2d place.   Once the pain started setting in, that is when I finally got passed.  I ended up getting passed by Meg (who went on to break the women’s CR!)  Meg was running super strong and looked awesome!

Cross the finish line of the 20mi Race. PC: Run With Texas

As I made it to the top of the climb I pulled off the trail to visit the trees and that is when I realized I was going to have some problems.   The urge to pee was there, but nadda.  Back to the trail I went and continued with the pain.   As I ran, it actually reminded me of the E.Coli that I had the year previously, but that couldn’t possibly be the case!  I hadn’t been to El Paso recently (inside joke).   On and off throughout the loop I had to walk until the pain subsided, tried visiting a tree, and still nothing.   It wasn’t until mile 18 that I was finally able to painfully relieve myself and push into the finish.   Oddly enough, despite the issues I had with the final loop, I was only passed by one other person!

While the race definitely didn’t end the way I had planned, I am actually pretty happy with the end results.    I ended up finishing in 3:04 (just shy of my 3:00 hour goal time) but also ended up 2d Overall Male and Top Master Male.

 

Top Master Male?  First I became a grandfather and now I am in the “Master’s” category?   Well actually I have been in the master’s category for 3 years.  I have just been too slow to actually doing anything productive with it!   There definitely weren’t any land speed records, but I walked away from this race smiling!

Top Masters Award. PC: Run With Texas

Special thanks to Trail Toes for the opportunity to race and to Run in Texas for putting on a great race with amazing volunteers!   I am already planning to come back next year, but this time I am going to do the 10mi with “Fluffy!”

Gear Used:
Hydration Pack:  Orange Mud 1L Gear Vest w/15oz soft flask
Shorts: Xoskin Pulse Compression Shorts 4.0
Shoes: Hoka One One Speadgoat 2
Fuel: Tailwind Nutrition
Glasses: Goodr

Serendipity

Another great recount of Tammy Tucker’s amazing Bandera 100k adventure! I know I personally look forward to our next exciting adventure!

run4seven

This is a long one so if you aren’t ready to read almost 3000 words you might want to look at a different blog post (race report)! 🙂

There! Finally, I was headed into the tree line about 10 or 15 minutes behind the very last person who started on time. Could I have started on time? Yes! Unfortunately for me, my brain took a detour before the start of the race as I was putting on all the layers of clothing I’d need to survive the cold, and I completely forgot to attach the timing chip to my ankle. Duh! Such a newbie mistake and one that cost me time. Time is a precious commodity out there when you are running against the clock!

Allow me to rewind the clock a little bit for you to the day prior. I had arranged to have a substitute take over my…

View original post 2,830 more words

From my DNS to an American record all in a single day!

Robert Goyen, Race Director for Trail Racing Over Texas, announced over the loudspeakers “…cheering in the American Record for the 50 miler, great job Caroline”.

carolinefinish

Caroline Boller, 50-mile American Record Holder!   (PC: Anthony Stasulli)

This epic adventure began three-weeks prior at the Wild Hare 50 which was to be my last big training run prior to Brazos Bend 100mi.  While Wild Hare 50 was only to be a training run, the target was actually a top 5 finish.   31 miles into the race I began noticing some significant discomfort in my achilles and made the decision to end the race with a 50k PR rather than to risk injury that could potentially take me out of my BB100 race.   As expected, I kicked myself the entire way home knowing that I would have gotten a 4th place finish at Wild Hare and a new PR for both the 50k and 50mi (all while on a training run).

On November 29th I visited the doctor to check my achilles (at the direction of my coach) and there was significant concern by the doctor that I have a potential tear in my achilles that would block me from making it even half way through BB100 without serious injury.   So I left the doctor with an MRI appointment for December 16th and chalking up a future DNS at BB100.  The previous year of training was leading up to this single race and in an instant, it was taken away.  The announcement of me dropping from the race put a plan in motion that was going to introduce a silver lining that I could have never possibly imagined and looking back I am so thrilled that everything played out the way that it did.  On November 30th I was asked to crew Caroline Boller on her 50mi American record attempt!

Now for those that know me, I am probably borderline OCD when it comes to planning, data analysis, and tracking “stuff”.  I began working with Caroline right away to make sure that she had absolutely everything she needed to make her record attempt a success.  Together we worked through her nutrition plan, race goals, likes, dislikes, what has worked and what hasn’t, and every little bit of detail I could possible learn about her in just 9-days!   (Did I mention I am borderline OCD when it comes to planning?)  I even had a lengthy discussion with my coach Karen Kantor just to make sure there was nothing that I may be missing and to hear her thoughts and perspective on things!

So over the years I have crewed a lot of different runners and I have learned so much about crewing from watching Meredith Terranova crewing her husband Paul (and vice-versa).  They are so in-sync when it comes to crewing because they KNOW one another.  They know how to pull each-other through the lows, how to keep one another focused, and how to get one another through a race seamlessly.   In my eyes, this was the standard when it comes to crewing and I had to do the same! (OCD again…)

For the next 9-days leading up to the race I monitored the weather models and provided continues updates to Caroline on the condition of the trails, weather, and any and all course changes.   Once we were confident on the weather and course, Caroline put together her final race plan.  It is at this point that the OCD REALLY kicked in!  I began detailing out the race and the aid station transitions down to the minute to include determining the time that I had to transition between aid stations with the 10-20mph speed limits that are enforced within the park.   Once my planning and analysis was completed I printed out numerous “race cards” to put in the drop bags and in the vehicle (which my wonderful wife Elizabeth even laminated), so there was always a point of reference along the way.

These details are what made me realized that with Caroline’s planned pace I would not be able to make it between two aid stations (which was the start/finish) before her and the start/finish aid station was a major transition point.  My son, who was going to originally be pacing me at BB100, offered to assist!   In order to do this, it means that at 3 points during the race I had to run from one aid station to the next carrying her drop bags and get everything ready for her arrival before she made it there!

The last few days leading up to the race I mentally rehearsed the entire plan to make sure everything was accounted for.  If myself (or my son) were off in the slightest, it could have resulted in minutes being taken away from Caroline’s finish time and people that know me, know that wasn’t going to happen!    With 11 aid stations even just 5 seconds per aid station was going to be an extra minute!   My goal was 0 seconds per aid station (yes ZERO!).   Like I said, one of my goals was to exceed the standard!

Friday we made arrangements to meet at the packet pickup to do one final walkthrough of the race and make sure we both had everything we needed, hand-over drop bags, and make final coordination for race day.   This is when yet another silver-lining presented itself!   While I was at the registration table, Caroline told me to pick up a pacer’s bib to pace her on her final loop.   Really!?  Without a single sliver of hesitation, I gladly signed the waiver and picked up my bib.  Really, I was going to pace Caroline as she set an American Record!!  My plan was to only go out with her if things were looking bad and she NEEDED a pacer.  I knew how my achilles felt and I knew what distance I could cover at a sub-7 pace before pissing it off really bad.  I knew exactly what was on the line for Caroline and what her goals were going into this race.  I had determined at what point I was going to push that threshold and pace her.  My job was to get her across the line and set an American record and that is what I wanted to do!  While she never needed me to pace her and was WELL ahead of the goal, I do regret not taking her up on the opportunity to pace her on the historical event.  That’s ok though!  Next time I WILL pace her!  J

The 50mi race was going to begin at 7am but I had plans to be at the start line at 6am to see off the 100 mile runners.  As I had done the year prior (and will do for every year hereafter) was to come to the race as The Grinch and lead the runners across the start line!   Every race that I volunteer at for Trail Racing Over Texas, I come in a costume!  For me it is a way to motivate the runners and make everyone smile!

img_5518

The Grinch is ready!

Shortly before 7am Caroline arrived at the start line ready to go!  We synced up briefly just to make sure there were no changes in the plan and to see how she was feeling and if there was anything I needed to know about.  She was rock solid and ready to go!  The only thing left to do was hammer down the trail!   At 7am, like I had done with the 100mi runners, I took off down the trail with some amazing runners in tow; it was officially time to put the plan into motion!

Caroline was going to be running three 16.67 mile loops and the plan was to meet her at 3 aid stations per/loop (in addition to the start line).  Do that math; that meant that in order to make it around Brazos Bend State Park (with the 10-20 mph speed limit) and her planned pace, we were going to be moving!

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Transitioning through 40-Acre Aid Station  (PC:  Anthony Stasulli)

At each aid station I was ready with her planned replacement bottle and everything extra (in-hand) that she may need along the way.  Luckily all of the aid stations where positioned in such a way that we had about a 50-100′ warning before she arrived.   As planned, each aid station transition went off flawlessly!   Caroline was able to move through each aid station and grab her replacement bottle and update on her time without breaking pace once.  With each passing aid station, the gap between her current time and goal time grew.  2 minutes ahead, 4 minutes ahead, 7 minutes ahead, and by the final few aid stations she was 11 minutes ahead of her goal time.

Aid Station Transition Video

After my last aid station transition I “ran” back to the start line with Caroline’s drop bag and warm clothes to prepare everyone at the start for her arrival;  based on her pace I had estimated her arrival at the finish around 12:47.   As the last few minutes ticked down Robert announced that Caroline was on her way in and would be, in a few minutes, breaking a 20-year American record.  Everyone with a camera began crowding around the finish line to include the camera crew from Sierra films to capture this historic event.  Luckily Anthony arrived just a few minutes before Caroline finished so he was also able to witness and take part in her crossing the line and take pictures too!

I grabbed Caroline’s finisher medal and Robert Goyen and I stood in the middle of the trail waiting as Caroline made the turn towards the finish line.   Caroline crossed the finish line at 12:48 and set a new American women’s 50-mile trail record with a time of 5:47:01 and also set a new course record beating Ford Smith’s 2014 time by only 9 seconds!

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Awarding Caroline with her 50mi Finisher’s Medal (PC: Trail Racing Over Texas)

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From Left:  Me, Robert Goyen, Caroline Boller, and Anthony Stasulli (My son)  (PC:  Trail Racing Over Texas)

It was an absolute honor to be asked to crew Caroline and the raw emotion that existed as she crossed the finish line setting the new American record is something that words simply cannot explain.

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Team Caroline and the end to an extremely memorable race!  (PC:  Anthony Stasulli)

Ginger Runner Post-race Interview!

Caroline, thank you again for allowing me to take part in this wild adventure with you!  You can call me anytime to crew you and next time, without a doubt, I am going to take you up on that offer to pace you!  One of these years when the lottery likes me at Western States we can switch places (although there won’t be any record setting for me!  haha)

 

That Mountain Race really “BLEW”!

The morning of September 10th,  my alarm went off at 3:45am and like all mornings I enjoyed my pre-run coffee and Chobani yogurt.  While the day started completely normal, I was about to toe the line at a race that was far from anything I had ever done before and was going to challenge me in more ways that I could imagine.   One of the most exciting aspects of this race is my son, Anthony, who was toeing the line with me and this was going to be his first ultra!

Flat John is ready!

Leading up to this race I had spent 3 of the last 4 months in Kuwait.  That meant the elevation was about 90′ and the greatest climbing I was going to get on any run was stepping onto a 6″ curb.  Put differently, my last 50k training run in Kuwait had 161′ total of gain.  Regardless of the environmental challenges, my coach did a phenomenal job getting me ready for this race on a treadmill!  We simulated the race (as much as possible) on the treadmill with grades from -3% to 15%.

Going into this race I felt GREAT!  My training had been spot on, had zero injuries, and this was going to be the race of my life!   With a gust of wind, that plan began to blow away…
“We started the race with 45-mile-per-hour winds and gusts of 60 miles per hour, which made many runners fight hard to stay on ridge lines and stable on the peaks. To say it was a wild start to the first Texas Sky Race was an understatement,” race director Rob Goyen commented.

I had run these trails around Franklin Mountains a lot over the years since our oldest lives there with his family so I was not a stranger to what I had ahead of me.  When we toed the line I didn’t start in the “front”, but I did start right behind the lead pack.  Not because I thought I was fast, but the first 2 miles of the race were through a section of trail that was going to end up being a lot of “stop-n-go” congo line type movement and I wanted to push through this section and get on with the race.

Rob Goyen sounded off with “GO!” and we began pushing towards the trailhead for the “Upper Sunset Trail”.   The winds that we had coming across the Franklin Mountains that morning were CRAZY!  We had 45mph sustains winds with 60mph gusts.  As we made the first small climb runners in front of me were literally being blown off the trail, runners were losing their hats, and I even say headlamps go flipping into the night sky from the wind.  It was at that moment I realized this was not going to be a normal race.    After 2-miles of a brutal cross-wind we finally turned and headed downhill off the ridge.   Usually running downhill is an opportunity to pick up the pace a bit and let gravity do its job;  this was the first time I HAD to walk because the wind was so strong.  Every step you took was a gamble on where the wind was going to allow your foot to land.  The first 5mi of the race looped around to the “finish line” where I had a drop-bag positioned.   I came through, dropped my headlamp, grabbed my second handheld, and I was off on the single 26mi loop up, over, and around the Franklin Mountains!

The first 12mi would take me to the North Peak of the FranklinMountains and I spent a good majority of this time running with Team TROT runners DB and MG, and a few others that I really look up to as runners!   I absolutely loved the first half of this race.

All of my races up to this point have been multi-loop races.  That meant that the lead runner, at some point, was likely going to loop me!   You would think on a single-loop race I would be safe right?  No.  As I was making the climb towards Mundy’s Gap I turned around and guess what!  I was about to be looped on a single-loop race by Maggie! Go figure 😉   Oddly enough, that one moment was the most memorable for me.  I don’t know why I found it to be so entertaining, but it was!  So Maggie;  thank you for making Franklin Mountain so enjoyable!   Not only did Maggie provide a memorable part of the race, she also saved my life while climbing to the Aztec caves!

Maggie helping me up Aztec!

After passing Mundy’s Gap Aid Station, the climb up the switchbacks to the North Peak began.  Regardless of how many times I have done this climb, I still fall victim to the many “false summits” you pass along the way.   About a mile from the top I finally  began seeing runners coming off the peak.  The most unfortunate part about this section is I was in such a hurry to get down off the mountain and into the Sotol Forest that I didn’t even stop to look around.   Of course what would a TROT race be without an awesome photo by Myke!

Reaching the summit of the North Peak

Now 12mi into the race and really feeling good!  Once I realized my lofty goals where blown away at the start of the race I opted for a solid race with a strong finish but chose to not push into the pain cave!  My original goal was a top 10 finish (which in hindsight was CRAZY).   Coming down off of the peak I finally saw Mark Henn and Anthony (my son) climbing the peak.  Based on where they were I was guessing they were about 2-hr behind me.   Coming down off the peak was also when I took a nice dive down the rocks (which was oddly enough my only fall!).  Ended up with minor scratches on my hand and scratched my new Goodr glasses.  I am pretty certain I may have a slight fracture on my little finger too, but who cares!

Speaking of Goodr!  I ordered these at the last minute for my race!  They are a VERY cheap alternative to expensive running glasses but these turned out to be the absolute BEST running glasses I have used!   Absolutely zero bounce, light weight, badass colors, polorized and inexpensive ($25 each!)  Check them out at https://www.playgoodr.com/

Goodr!

Before I knew it I was down off the peak and tackling the rollers along the east side of the Franklin Mountains.   I have always loved these trails. Running in and around the Tin Mine and through the Sotol Forest while looking out across east El Paso and Fort Bliss.  I did get to spend a few miles with Katie G through here.  Katie, another Team TROT member, is yet another fantabulous runner and inspiration.  It was great to share some miles with her while we tried to figure out Rob’s marking strategy and made-up trails that he took us through!  lol

The miles ticked away and finally I came upon the East Aid Station (Mile 20.6).  This is was the only aid station on the course that I had a drop bag (other than the finish line).   I grabbed my Tailwind from my drop bag, another Epic Bar, and began the trek to the West Aid Station (final Aid Station of the course).    By this point the climbing was finally starting to take a toll on my thighs and quads.  Each climb and descent, regardless of how small, was noticeable.   From a positioning perspective I was still where I wanted to be so I began walking a bit more during the climbs.   This section of the trail was all new for me.  I had never run through the pass or on the west side of the Franklin Mountains.   I REALLY enjoyed this section!  My next time out in El Paso I will have to come back here and run this for fun!   Before I knew it I came across Mary at the West Aid Station.   Her and the team of volunteers went through a tough time.  They weren’t able to put anything on the tables due to the wind (yes…still windy) so this aid station was a “made-to-order” stop.   I grabbed some pickles, topped of my hand-helds, and took a Red Bull for the road (not sure why but it seemed good).

Glancing at my watch I had been running about 7hrs at this point and based on the pace I was anticipating a finish around 8:30 or so.  This, while the easiest part of the course, was also the most boring.  Really didn’t feel like running because it wasn’t fun so ended up doing a run/walk shuffle.  The last 6mi to the finish I ended up passing a few more people and chatting with some other runners.   Before I knew it I crested the final hill, turned the corner, and off in the distance I could see the line of spectators looking over the valley at the runners that were approaching the finish.

I couldn’t wait to get to the finish line.  Not because it was over, but because my family was there waiting.  As I climbed towards the finish line (yes…climbed) I could see my wife, son, daughter-in-law, and grand daughter all holding signs cheering me on.  No matter how many times I finish a race, seeing my family waiting for me is always the most emotional part.

Like EVERY Trail Racing over Texas Race, Rob was standing on the finish line waiting with my medal!   While I didn’t finish with an age group award, I did receive first place in a different (self identified) division!  I finished first in the gnome division!

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I finished with a time of 8:31.24 35/229 athletes!   It was an absolutely amazing experience and can’t wait until the Franklin Mountain 50k next year.  I gained some valuable insight into my training, what worked, and what I need to work harder at for next year!   I can honestly say that had it not been for my coach Karen, this race would have been pure hell!    Karen gave me everything I could have possibly needed to be successful out there and I was!  THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

I even got to meet another fellow Orange Mud ambassador Joel!

Fellow OM Am-badass-adaor!

 

After my race, all that was left was to wait for Mark Henn and our son to finish.   This was the longest race Anthony had ever done and this was to be his first ultramarathon.  At 10hr 42 min, Anthony became an ULTRAMARATHONER!  He did amazing on a super challenging course!

Leading up to this race I wanted to do something strange!  At all of the TROT races I have been in a “costume” of sorts.  This time I was going to run as a Garden Gnome.   My wife absolutely HATED the beard and once the race was over (and she made a donation to Septembeard in support of Prostate Cancer), the #Ultragnome took a break.   Not to worry, if I get into Western States 100 this year, the gnome is coming back!

The end of the gnome!

 

This ended another absolutely amazing race weekend with my family and friends.  The TROT family has given me so much and I look forward to giving back to both Rob and Rachel whenever I can.   Until next time…

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Special thanks to my amazing wife Elizabeth, my family, and amazing friends that continue to encourage me along the way to craziness!  These races are strange for me.   Without my wife, none of these races would be possible.  While I know many of these races scare her, she always stands by my side!   My next challenge will be for her to hug me after a race while I am all sweaty!  Perhaps Brazos Bend 100?

Thank you Tailwind Nutrition, Orange Mud, Goodr Running Glasses, SKORA Running, INKnBURN, and Injinji!  We have been on an amazing journey together and you have all contributed greatly to where I am today!  😀
So what’s next?

Hill Country Ragnar – 21/22 October – Comfort, TX
TROT Trail Running Camp – 4-6 November
Wild Hare 50 mile – 19 November
Brazos Bend 100 mile – 10/11 December
Bandera 100k – 8 Jan

Until next time…

#Ultragnome

Stop and love the trails!

My running nearly always takes me to the trails.  Trails are always changing, take me away from the busy roads, and allow me to find a calm that I can’t find elsewhere while running.

This past weekend my wife and I hosted a “group run / product demo” at Reveille Peak Ranch in Burnett, TX.  My wife deserves so much more credit.  None of this would have been possible without her.   She did so much to make this a reality!  The plan for this event was to share those trails with others and give people a chance to try the products that I personally love and use.   For many, their exposure to different products comes at races and races are the last place you want to be trying something new.  This event provided a fun relaxed atmosphere where people could try many different products without worrying about any negative impact to their race.

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All of the samples and product demos for the run!

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A few of the prizes provided by the amazing sponsors!

A few of us arrived early on Friday to get the trails (course) marked for our group runs.   Tammy, Roel, and I set out around 2:30 to mark the 10k course while a nephew of the ranch owner set out on his mountain bike to mark the 9mi course.   I am so grateful that the ranch assisted us in marking!  We were actually going to start marking at 8am but there were some Airmen out on the ranch doing sniper training so we had to wait!   Had it now been for the ranch, we would not have gotten the courses marked!  It was during our course marking where a bit of realization it me. We have been running for years on such beautiful and miraculous trails;  we just never stopped (slowed down) to truly appreciate them.

The weekend started with a 5k night familiarization run followed by some time to relax around the campfire.  Unfortunately I didn’t make it out for this as I was assisting one of our runners get their camper situated.   The following morning we began the day with another 5k run followed by a door prize give away.  As soon as that finished, the group set out on a 9mi adventure around Reveille Peak Ranch.

As I logged miles Friday and Saturday on the trails of Reveille Peak Ranch something occurred to me;  I have never stopped to look at the ranch.   Much of my time at the ranch, prior to this, was during a race.  I have run a Captain Karls race on the ranch, which was during the night, as well s several other ultras on these trails.   Like many, my focus was on the trail in front of me.  Rarely did I get a chance to see what these trails offered to everyone.

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My typical view on the ranch; watching the trail.

 

This group run / product demo changed that!  I talked with another running in the group about this very thing.  It is amazing how much different these trails looked when you stopped to enjoy them.   The wild flowers and blue bonnets that riddled the ranch, the wildlife, the beautiful rock formations, and even the cactus.  When you stop to take it all in, it is like you are running someplace for the first time.  This is exactly how I wanted to spent my weekend;   Sharing that experience with friends.

So while this weekend was about giving others a chance to try out some amazing products on the trails it actually did so much more!   For me, this weekend was about finding something on the trails.  This weekend gave me a chance to really enjoy the trails, spend some time with some amazing people, and enjoy life.

Once I stopped to love the trails, this is what I really found…

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Our Saturday morning 5k to start the day!

 

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During the morning 5k I had to take a break to take in the view across the water from the rustic bridge!

 

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Another shot from the rustic bridge!

 

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T.R. discovered an amazing waterfall that we used as a backdrop for our group photo! Thanks T!

 

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When you cross a sign that says “Epic” it demands a group photo with an Epic Bar!

 

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Running up the granite on the way to Decision Point (The cross)!

 

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Some of the cacti out on the ranch looked absolutely amazing! Hearts and flowers… Simply had to take it! One of the runners made a comment. “This is a reminder that love can be prickly at times!” 😀

 

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This cactus actually made me laugh; I call it “Cyclops Mickey Mouse”

This was going to be my last big group outing until September when I make an appearance at Franklin Mountains 50k.   In a few weeks I will be headed across the pond for four months.  I will miss you all!

This turned out to be such a great event!  Next year it will be a “Product Fat Ass”

Here are the amazing sponsors that made this event possible.  Be sure to visit their site and show your support!

At the end of the weekend it all came down to friends, family, and the trail community!

Our group photo before our 9mi run! PC: T. Roen

Our group photo before our 9mi run! PC: T. Roen

Naked Bavarian (un)Race Report

As with all of my races, there is a race report tail that goes along with them.   While this race was far from what I expected and prepared for, it is the race report that allows me to grow, identify areas for improvement, and identify collect lessons-learned (which there are many).

Before I get into the details, I will sum it up with a simple acronym.  DNF

This race took place in Pennsylvania just 12mi from where I grew up.  While the elevation in Pennsylvania is greater than what I am accustomed to, and the course had more climbing than I was accustomed to, I was well trained, well prepared, and had a race plan that was going to get me to a sub-7 finish.

To put it simply, I have been a pain here in Pennsylvania.   Even while we are here on vacation I was still adamant on what I was going to eat the week leading up to the race ensured I was well hydrated and adequate amount of fat to support the race plan.  I did everything possible to set the stage for what I was hoping was going to be a perfect race, except for one thing; I did not account for any type of contingencies that may have transpired during my race.

Over the last 4-hours I have gone over every detail of the race seeing if there is something I could have done differently to change the outcome and there is honestly no point.   Everything that I did prior to this race was done for a reason and what I planned on doing.   There is absolutely no room for any type of “what-ifs” to be considered.   I simply need to take what happened and move forward.   My coach said to me “You are allowed to be mad, sad etc for about 5 minutes. Go….”   Well 4-hours later I am now ready to go!

Gear

Shoes – SKORA Tempos

Hydration Pack – Orange Mud Hand Held / Gear Quiver

Drop Bag – Victory Sport Design Bear II

Socks – Injini Trail

Headgear – Orange Mud Buff / TROT Trucker

Prep Day

With the race being only 12mi away, there was very little prepping that needed to be done outside of the norm. #FlatJohn had been prepared the day prior, my single drop-bag was prepped and packed, and the coffee pot was ready to make my coffee.

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I even had Elizabeth mark my aid stations on my arm so I know when to prepare for the aid stations! The only thing left was dinner and sleep.  Dinner was pretty simple.  We had pasta for dinner and salad.  This isn’t unusual and nothing that I haven’t done in the past.   Honestly I don’t really plan anything for dinner.  I just avoid fiber and grease to ensure that I have a happy stomach on race day.   Here is where the first “difference” comes.    Before every long run/race I have a gluten-free beer (Angry Orchard) the night before my race.  Unfortunately there was no Angry Orchard available so I had Wood Chuck instead.  While made with apples, this one wasn’t gluten-free.   Personally I don’t think this had any bearing on race day, but it was still outside of the norm.

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Race Day! 

I woke up at 4:30am to begin my preparations.  TYPICALLY my race day preparations include coffee, Chobani yogurt, and a Banana.   Since I was treating this race much different than past races I thought it would be wise to get some more calories prior to the race.  Instead of the yogurt and banana I stopped at Dunkin Donuts on the way to the race and had a bagel with cream-cheese (2-hours prior to the race).   This is where I am going to get the “tsk tsk” from people!  😉    I have never gone into a race with a bagel and cream cheese and today should not have been the day to start.   Much like the beer, I don’t know if this caused an issue, but it was still different.

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I arrived at the race around 6am to patiently wait for the 7am packet pick-up and enjoy the rest of my coffee before the race.  This is mainly for people watching and talking to people.  I talked to some of other runners, actually met some that we share mutual friends with, met another SKORA and Orange Mud Ambassadors;  I did what I do and had fun!  The race actually didn’t start until 8am so I had plenty of time to allow for my bagel and cream-cheese to get into the system, drank my final bottle of water, and patiently wait.   About 15min before the start I went over my race plan one last time, looked at the course profile so I knew where the climbs were, and did a final gear check.   I was ready; the gear was ready; my race was READY!

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After yet another visit to the porta-me (this is very common for me before races) I made my way to the start line.   I didn’t line up where I typically do (towards the back), I was on the line with the lead pack!  Yelling over the German music that was playing I heard the RD make the final countdown;  5…4…3…2…GO!

The first 1/4mi of the course was actually on the road before entering the trails.   I wanted to remain in top 10 hitting the trails and I did just that.  I was able to secure a position that I want and from that point fell into MY pace that I was ready to hold throughout the race.   My goal was to keep my HR in check through the climbs and to avoid chasing any rabbits.   My fueling and hydration were spot on.  Every 1mi I took in a big drink and every 20min I took a SMALL piece of protein (Epic Bar).   This is the approach that I have been using on my fueling runs and it had worked perfect in training.  Here is where another slight difference came;  I had been training with an uncured bacon Epic bar.  For this race I was using Beef.   I didn’t think it would matter;  Epic is Epic, but… who knows.

The Aid Stations where staged 3 – 3.5mi apart.   My plan had me skipping every other age station which had me stopping every 6.5mi, which is also how I trained on my fueling runs.   This part actually made me REAL happy.   I came trucking through the first aid station, tossed up a wave, and thanked the volunteers as I pushed my way through.   In order to hit my race plan, stopping to talk was not an option!   The miles started ticking away and before long I was at 6.3mi and it was time to prepare for the aid station.   My goal here was to be in and out of every aid station within 10-20sec.   I drank the remainder of my Tailwind (which was only 1-2 mouth-fulls based on my fueling strategy) and grabbed another Tailwind pack from my Orange Mud Gear Quiver.   When I rolled into the Aid Station the cap was already off my hand-held, Tailwind was already added to the bottle, and I was ready for water.   MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!  I hit the water and was back on the trail in under 10 sec!  This had to be the most efficient aid station EVER and my next 2 were mirrors of this process!

More and more miles started ticking off as I went into the largest climbs of the course.   After the 6.5mi aid station I went after the 4 largest hills of the course which were all back-to-back.   Mile 10 was the only mile split that I was off on as this segment had the “ski slope”.   All of the other splits remained exactly where I wanted them.   After the 13.5mi aid station the next stop was going to be the start/finish line to do it all again!   This section of the course had the least amount of climbing and was smooth sailing.  I played hop-scotch with a fellow runner through this section.

Along the way I noticed something… I was CHAFING!  How is that possible? I ALWAYS use something to prevent that… Well it was “always” until that morning.   I never used anything while getting ready that morning… OOPS!

Shortly after mile 16 things started going south.   I was getting real sharp pains in my stomach and something wasn’t right.  It wasn’t “cramping” but there were sharp pains and I was getting spasms every few minutes.   Soon I found myself on the side of the trail leaning against a tree.    Something has made my body unhappy.   I have read numerous blogs from runners and the commonality was “I threw up and after that I was back on track!”.   I kept going over that in my head and began pressing.   That didn’t term out to be the case.   Not even a mile later and I found myself holding onto another tree for another bout.   The more I pressed the more off my body felt.  Now I was having strange sharp pains going through my back, legs, and arms that I can only attribute to the lack of fuel and fluids in my body.   My goal at this point was to get to the start/finish so I could get back on track.  I rolled into the aid station, checked in on my Spot3, and began to triage!   I grabbed a fresh bottle of Tailwind, drank some water, grabbed some solid food from the Aid Station, and grabbed a cup of ginger ale.  I needed to do something to get something back in my body and try and keep my body at bay.   I didn’t even make it out of the aid station before I got sick again and off I went.  CRAP!  I still forgot about the chaffing and turned around to get that taken care of.   By this point I wasted 4min at the aid station and was getting annoyed with myself.   To the trails!   By this point I had lost my 8th place OA and had no idea how far I dropped and wasn’t overly concerned.   I was new plan was to save something.

My efforts at getting my body under control were not working.  I continued to have sharp pains throughout my body and emptied my stomach yet again.   There was now nothing left in my stomach as it burnt coming up.    I came back around to the 23.4mi aid station (3.5mi) and waved at the volunteers yet again and kept going.  I was determined to try and maintain some resemblance of my plan.   The more I pushed through the more I knew something wasn’t right.  I wasn’t fatigued and physically felt great, but I kept getting sharp pains in my stomach, back, legs, and arms.   I suppose the only advantage was my stomach was empty and the nausea turned into dry-heaves on the side of the trail.

When I arrived at the 26.5mi aid station I needed to make a decision.  I had not been able to keep anything down for the last 10 miles and that was not going to go well for my body.  After this aid station I was about to go back into the big climbing section of the course and I was concerned that the lack of fluids and fuel was going to end poorly for me.   This is when I made a call that weighed on me for 4-hours after the race.  I had to drop from this race.   Luckily I came across an amazing bearded guy that proved to be my running savior who introduced himself as Leon.  I knew his face but wasn’t thinking clearly at the moment.  It wasn’t until I sat in my car did it click that I was just taken back to the start line by Leon Lutz and his epic beard!  Thank you Leon!

I sat in my car after being dropped off and didn’t know what to think.  I had a wave of emotions going through me.  I was mad, sad, happy, PISSED, concerned, etc.  I didn’t want to talk to anyone and was even afraid to message Elizabeth to tell her what happened.  I know no-one would have thought differently of me but I felt like I let people down and didn’t know how to accept that.   I even took me awhile to tell my closest friend and coach.

Now that I have had a chance to think about this there is no single thing that I did wrong, but there were several things that I did differently that may have contributed to the outcome.   Elevation difference, cold, different food prior to the race, different beer the night before… There simply don’t have an answer but I know what to look for in the future.

With everything there is a silver lining.   I was on track to have the best race of my life and I still walked away with a 30k and Marathon PR on the trails with over 2200′ of climbing.   That is something that I can be proud of.

With that… My 5min is over!

Thank you to @Vets2Victory @Epicbars @Trailtoes @OrangeMud @GoTailwindNutrition @SKORARunning @VictorySportDesign @TrailRacingOverTexas and @Injinji   You were all spot on when it came to taking care of me!  Next I need to work on me!  🙂

This was an absolutely great learning experience for me and will not set me back.  This is a stepping stone to something greater!

 

Veni Vidi Vici…Rocky Raccoon 100 DNF

So proud of my runner this weekend! Despite the DNF, we really had a great weekend! How do you top it off? She has been sucked in to pace me at Brazos Bend 100 in December! 😀

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As I sit here trying to decide how I feel exactly, this Latin phrase rings through my head in a chorus of simple four letter words. I came, I saw, I conquered or in this case WE came, WE saw and WE conquered.

Rocky Raccoon 100 did not transpire the way it was planned. SURPRISE! You can make all the plans in the world but when it comes time for execution of those plans you have to be ready for the inevitability that you cannot control everything. Really? Have you heard the phrase, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray? (Robert Burns) Well, this past weekend was a perfect example of this.

Now you may be wondering how in the world can I say that we came, we saw and we conquered IF things did not go as they were planned. I’m going to tell you!…

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Disabled Veteran != stop!

 

For years I have looked at Veteran’s Affairs’ (VA) evaluation of being disabled as something negative almost to the point that I was embarrassed for people to know that I was considered disabled.   There is a list of ailments that the VA identified that makes me disabled.   Things such as degenerative arthritis, breathing disorders, to the numerous list of damaged joints that resulted in my time in the Army as an Infantryman.  That list is actually extremely MILD compared to many of my brothers and sisters but the purpose of this blog still remains the same.   Being categorized as a disabled veteran does not mean that life has to stop; More importantly, it doesn’t mean that your physical activities have to stop.   It is just an opportunity for you to overcome those challenges and learn how to move forward despite those injuries (both physical and mental).

Since retiring nearly 10 years ago, much of my “disabilities” were tucked into the back of my head as I looked for ways to continue moving forward despite doctors telling me that the days of running were over.

From my time in the Army I amassed several broken ankles, dislocated joints, torn tendons, muscles, and ligaments.  Mostly this could be attributed to me being accident prone, but the fact still remains; the injuries still stacked up within this now older body.  Now, 23 years after joining the Army, all of those small injuries have been compounded and I am finally willing to accept that I may not be in the same “physical” shape that I once was, but that still doesn’t mean I have to stop!

A few years after I retired I had reconstructive surgery on one of my ankles in an attempt to reverse all of the damage that had been caused from the fractures and repeated injuries.  Agreeing to the surgery was actually a difficult decision for me.  If you are not familiar with, many of you have heard the rumors of military doctors and surgery.   You know, if you go in to have surgery on your left knee there is a slight possibility that you might have surgery on your right wrist instead.  That or you will leave surgery with less mobility than you original had.   This has always been the running joke (except for those that may have actually experienced the negative effects of the surgery).

Prior to my surgery I ran about 5-10miles per week (if that).  It was mainly to attempt to do something physical.   By no stretch of the imagination would I have considered myself a runner! I had never been in a race and the extent of my running was PT while I was in the Army.   The day of my surgery, the doctor told me “after this, you will likely not run again”.  While never considering myself a runner or even having the slightest idea of running, I was not happy with this statement at all!  In fact, I was so unhappy with this prognosis from the surgeon that the day I came out of surgery I not only registered for my first race, but it was also a half-marathon.   This was not only going to be my longest run ever, it was about 11 miles longer than anything I ever would have voluntarily run at a single time!!

While I don’t think I had something to prove, nor was I being ornery, I simply wanted to be the director of my own destiny.   “Disabled” or not, it was absolutely not something I was going to let control my life.   The 4-months following my physical therapy I began running.  Following the physical therapy, it was like learning to run all over again.  While the pain was actually gone, the joint just didn’t seem to move like it once had.  Over time I learned how to run on my ankle and was slowly able to go further and further.  Even the people I run with likely couldn’t tell which ankle I had surgery on.

February 12th was when the prognosis was officially changed.   I toed the line of the Austin Half Marathon and thus begun a new part of my life.   I finished my very first half marathon in 2:08.   For me this wasn’t about how fast I could run or where I finished within the pack, this was more about taking control over my own destiny and overcoming that which I was told I could not do!

Since that day I have run countless half marathons, many marathons, and even went beyond that to run about a dozen ultra marathons, my latest of which was Bandera 100k.   Me being stubborn back in 2012 actually set the stage for what would transition into a late life running adventure.   For the last year I have averaged over 50 miles per week (mpw) running and have begun to put more emphasis on how to overcome those “disabilities”.

While I wake-up everyday in pain and even simple tasks like standing up can be painful, I have actually found a considerable amount of pain management through running.  As odd as it sounds, the degenerative arthritis in my lower extremities actually feels better WHILE running!

Recently I have been introduced to a remarkable program called Vets 2 Victory (@vets2victory) that takes disabled vets and provides them with a structured coaching program.  This program not only exposes those many disabled veterans to a coaching program, which they may never have pursued on their own, but it also builds confidence in themselves, increases their motivation, and serves as a daily reminder to them that being a disabled veteran is not something that has to be a “disability” on life.

For many years I was embarrassed to be considered a “disabled veteran”.  It wasn’t something that I announced or talked about.  I just went on my life as a Retired Infantryman and that was the end of it.   Oddly enough I didn’t even talk of being retired very often for some reason.  Much of that is purely mental.  I refuse to consider myself old and when you hear “retired” it just carries (in my head) a negative connotation that someone is old.    Everyone knows I am still 22 years old anyway 😉  Clearly I can’t be considered old and retired!

Each and every disabled veteran holds something inside of them and carries something with them everyday.  They carry with them experiences, memories, and in many cases pain.   20,000 men and women were wounded during service in Iraq and Afghanistan alone, which drove an increase in the numbers of disabled veterans.   Many of those disabled veterans don’t wear their disabilities on their sleeves or even share with you their stores.  That does not change who they are in the slightest.   I have also heard people criticize those people with “DV Plates”, especially when they don’t “appear” to be disabled.

What you see on the outside very well may have nothing to do with how they feel on the inside nor the circumstances that surround what each of them went through.

I have had the honor of working with amazing men and women over the years that have been paralyzed, lost limbs as a result of a tragic incident, or even suffer from PTSD or other mental challenges.   What sets many of them apart from others is resilience and their ability and desire to overcome their challenges.

While I do not represent each and every one of our men and women who are disabled veterans, I would like to exist as a reminder that being disabled does not have to be the end.  While they very well may not perform things the same way they once could, this may just be an opportunity to experience something new that may end up changing your life!

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Being a disabled veteran doesn’t mean you have to stop, it means that you are being given a second opportunity to go!

Bandera (Rockfest) 100k

Steven Monte said it best…”This is where rocks come to die”

With that, before I delve into the race report, we need to talk about the rocks!  While I was running, I kept thinking about this very thing that Monte had said during his 3 loops leading up to Bandera 100k and I believe I have figured it out!

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Photo Credit – Steven Monte (Twitter: @CajunScoopMonte)

I live in the country and my country looks kinda like the parking area at Bandera.   There is not a manicured yard.  There are random holes, tree roots, and ROCKS.   Even with it not being a manicured lawn I still do have a responsibility to cut the grass;  This is where it all goes wrong!   While cutting the ground cover, if I come across a rock (they are always there regardless of how many times I remove them) I grab it, and toss it somewhere on the property where I don’t cut.  After spending 13hr 52min on the trails at Hill Country State Natural Area I believe I have an explanation.  There must be a secret portal somewhere on my property that drops all of those rocks out onto the trails.  So for the love of all of the runners, EVERYONE, please stop throwing rocks away!  They all mysteriously land on the trails at Bandera! If you are going to throw them into this mysterious portal, please paint them lime green first so I can see them better! 😀

While I have run a 100k prior, this was actually going to be my first 100k trail race.  I have had my eye on Bandera 100k for several years now.  The reasoning for that is rather odd, but I was REALLY looking forward to it.   In all of the race reports that I have read over the years on Bandera as well as hearing the stories from friends, there was one thing that I wanted to “experience” and that was the sotol!   I was looking forward to experiencing the small razor-like slashes on my legs.  I wanted to see what it really felt like!    Truth be told, it didn’t provide nearly the pain that I was hoping for.  It was actually very mild.  Even the shower afterwards was very tame compared to the stories I had heard.

I maintain a very consistent running regime and for the last year I ran 7-days per week for my running streak.   Over the last year I was averaging about 60 miles per week.  Going into this race I really felt good!  I think a lot of that has to do with something new that has recently been incorporated into my training.   Over the last 3 months my training was no longer just running;   I have been working with a coach  (Karen Kantor) that has had me working on very specific training.  I have been working speed work (which I have NEVER done), hill repeats, focused long runs with speed work.   I really think the training has paid off!  in the short 3-months I actually set a PR on every distance from 5k to 100k (counting Bandera 100k of course!)   My last 100k was at Jackalope Jam.  This was a timed race on a FLAT pavement.   My time was 15:59.   When looking at the time for Bandera… I would say there was significant improvement!

Going into this race I had developed 3 goals ranging from sub-17 to obtain a WS100 qualifier and my goal time grew faster the closer we made it to Bandera.   The training leading up to Bandera felt great and with each passing training run I believed I had a little more in me than my previous goals for Bandera.  As we got closer to Bandera, I was going to shoot for a 13hr finish.   This was going to be almost 3 hours faster than my last 100k (which was only 3 months prior) but I felt pretty good about hitting this!

This was actually a pretty exciting race for me on several fronts.   First and foremost, Liz and I were going to be going down there with our new camper TOGETHER!   She has been such an amazing support team for me.  Without her I would not be running and having her there at the race with me was all that mattered.  No matter what time I finished… She was there.

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Our camper at Crossroads Aid Station

Second, I was going to feel pain from the sotol (don’t judge me), and lastly, I was READY!   I have grown a lot with my coach and this was the most prepared I felt for any race.  Just a few days before race day another bonus was added.  I found out that Karen was actually going to be at the race too!   Granted she was coming in to crew Michele Yates (who I finally got to meet!!), but Karen was still there!   I say that now, but part of me was a bit nervous that I would see her at random aid stations and she would be disappointed in something I did or was doing.  Never did that happen. 😀

My last bit of encouragement came for this race at my last long run.   My last long run was 5x 10k intervals on a similar (or as close as can be) trail to Bandera.   The purpose of this was to treat each aid station as its own race.  My vehicle served as an aid station and I had individual drop bags made up to simulate 4 different aid stations (exactly like I would have at Bandera).   In doing this I actually recorded my fastest 50k and felt GOOD!   After that race, I knew Bandera was going to be “OK”.

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Liz and I at packet pickup! Photo Credit: JoAnna Brand

My gear was spot on for this race!  While Tailwind Nutrition was at the Aid Stations, I used my own (pre-mixed) bottles that had the calories that I was accustomed to.  Each of my bottles has 250 calories where-as the aid stations were made at 200 calories.  I wanted to run with what I trained with.  On top of that I had my Orange Mud Gear Guiver and Orange Mud hand held to get me through the race.  All of my gear was spot on and had absolutely no issues at all!!!  I walked away with absolutely no blisters thanks to Injinji, Tailwind kept my fuel and hydration dialed in, and Orangemud made it all look badass and allow me to carry my Tailwind and Spot 3!

Gear

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What would a race be without Flat John!

The morning of Bandera 100k Liz and I drove down to the start line early so we could get down there before the bulk of the traffic from Bandera.  Even with us staying at Crossroads Aid Station with the camper, there was still a lot of traffic getting to the start line!

We moseyed our way to the start line and started the morning meet and greet with everyone!

It was great seeing so many friends out there and amazing runners.  Getting caught up with all of the “hellos” is actually what got me in trouble!   Before I knew it they said “GO”.  I quickly gave Liz a kiss, jumped into the crowd, and moved along at THEIR pace.   It was at this instance that I made my biggest mistake of the race.   The first 20 miles I put down the hammer and had an average pace of a 9:40 min/mi.  While it was so much fun, I also hammered my legs way to soon on those rocks and hills.   At mile 15, when I came into Cross Roads aid station for the first time my legs were already pretty pissed off at me and I was not overly happy.  While I had a blast running with the fast(er) kids;  I also didn’t follow the plan.  It was this Aid Station that I would see Liz during the race.  I turned the corner into the aid station and had a plan and it worked perfectly!   As I came in I saw Liz sitting there waiting for me and also saw Karen who was out and about pacing people.

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Coming into Crossroads (1st time) after my fun little hammer fest! Photo Credit: Elizabeth Stasulli

I came in, topped off my Orange Mud handheld, grabbed a potato, gave Liz a kiss, and headed towards the trail.  I actually needed to let some other people leave ahead of me.  Up to this point I have been glued to this pack and I needed to let them get ahead of me so I would have enough legs to carry me to the finish! lol

After I left crossroads I had a another short leg until I came back into Cross roads for the 2d time.  This was to be a short stop as I wasn’t expecting support at this one.   Liz was standing at the camper (which is conveniently located 10′ from the trail) so I snuck in a quick kiss, topped off my handheld with more Tailwind Nutrition, grabbed a potato, and back into the course.    I must say it is this last 10 miles of the loop that I personally think are the worse.   There are more climbs and more rocks and many more areas that the trail is not as runnable.   That said, many people find this section to be runnable.   It is this type of terrain that my crusty old ankles become unhappy.  Rightly so as I ended up rolling my crusty ankle several times.

As I went through Last Chance aid station I was on my way back around to the Lodge to finish my first loop.  Regardless of hammering my legs the first 20 miles, or rolling my ankle, I was having the absolute best time possible!   I came into the lodge and needed to secure some gear for the last loop.    I came into the aid station and saw Rob Goyen and Jeremy at the lodge!  It was awesome to see these two guys.   I loved that they were out there on the course supporting all of the #TROT  family!   Give my inability to run without rolling my ankle I needed to make sure I had my headlamp (just in case).  I had my primary headlamp at Crossroads but I wanted to make sure I had one just in case I needed it!  I secured my headlamp, Patagonia jacket, gloves, topped off my Tailwind and potato and I was set!

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Mile 31 at the Lodge Aid Station.  Photo Credit: Trail Racing Over Texas for personal use only.

I spent less than 2 min at the lodge before I was back at it.   I was feeling good despite my stupidity at the start of the race and kicking rocks.   This last loop I needed to take a different approach.   I hiked all of the hills and ran the flats and downs (as much as possible).   I felt like I was moving along pretty well but this new strategy did put me behind on my planned times.   I came into Crossroads about 30min behind schedule and when I arrived there was a note in my drop bag from my wifey to see if I needed anything.  With the temperatures dropping she was bouncing in and out of the camper.  I would have never thought to leave me a note!   Needless to say, I didn’t have to leave her a note.  As I was there she came out of the camper!    This was actually my longest aid station stop.   Right before coming into Cross roads there is a water crossing and my feet didn’t move nearly as fast so I did not displace enough water.   As a result of that, when I came into Crossroads I needed to swap out the socks.    Once I was done I kissed the wifey one more time and I was off!   The temps for beginning to drop now and sitting there so long changing my socks I got cold.  On the way through the aid station I grabbed a hot chocolate and set out down the trail!   This segment between the 2 crossroads aid station is where you get to REALLY play with the sotol.  This was going to be my last time taking in the pain so I made the best of it and deliberately ran through as much of it as I could!  (again…don’t judge!).

Circling around I swung by the camper to give Liz and idea of when I would be at the finish line and found a Karen in the camper too!  This wasn’t a social visit so said my peace, drank a bottle of water, topped off my tailwind and headed off into the now dark sky.   From this point I had about 9 miles to go and was super excited.  While I knew I wasn’t going to hit my personal goal, I was going to still do MUCH better than my initial 15hr goal.   The last 9 miles actually ended up being more difficult than the first time.  Not because of my body, but the rocks and night time.  I have a real hard time seeing and running at night so I had to dial my pace back even further.   Sections that were runnable I opened it up and was hitting a 9:00 – 9:30 min/mi.   Unfortunately those sections didn’t last very long before I came across another climb or more stupid rocks that I had tossed through the portal!

Coming through Last Chance for the final time I began the last few climbs.  The only thing that was going through my mind at this point was stopping by the food truck right after I finished and getting a cheese burger!  I was HUNGRY!

I finally came through through the fence and into the field running towards the finish line.  You could actually hear the cheers from the finish line about 2-miles out and the continued to grow louder and louder as I zig-zagged back and forth down the trails.  I ran towards the finish line and with the blink of an eye… it was over.   When the sun went down the temps dropped and I was so glad I didn’t see Liz out there.  Being in the truck staying warm was a MUCH better place!   I crossed the finish line and saw Rob and Jeremy there again.  Just like their own races at Trail Racing Over Texas they stayed there at the finish line to support all of their #TROT family.  You could not ask for two better guys and I am honored to call them friends.

I crossed the finish line and I didn’t grab for my buckle.  The first thing I did was shook Rob and Jeremy’s hand and thanked them.   Then I received my buckle.

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Mission Accomplished

While the buckle and experience are pretty amazing, the Mountain Hardwear Fleece is absolutely awesome!  I LOVE IT!  So much so that I wore it Sunday on the way home as we went walking around the San Marcus Outlets!

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The strategy that Karen and I worked out for this race was great!  The logic going in was that I was not running a 100k, I had individual races from Aid Station to Aid Station.  The furtherest aid station was 5.8mi which was shorter than my long “interval” runs.  I focused on the current race, made it to the next aid station, re-evaluated and was back into my next race.   For Bandera this was a great strategy as each segment had something to be aware of and plan for accordingly.  The strategy from Nachos to Chapas was not going to be the same thing as Crossroads 2 to Last Chance!    I gained a TON of valuable insight into this race and my racing and can’t wait until next year!

That wraps up this adventure!  I learned a lot of things at this race that I am going to take with me to my next one!   With all of my races, I had FUN and that is what matters to me the most.  Just look at my picture from the 1/2 way point! 😀  I had the chance to catch up with trail friends that I don’t get to see very often and had the chance to meet even more!  That is the amazing thing about our trail community!

So what is next you ask?

Next I will be headed out to Rocky Raccoon 100 (with the camper again) to pace one of my dearest friends for her 2d 100 mile race!   My next race will actually take me to Pennsylvania to run the Naked Bavarian 40mi on March 6th.  Between now and then I want to focus on preparing for this race.  The terrain is really tame, but for all intense purposes it will be self supported for me.   The race consists of 2x 20 mile loops with a drop bag at the start/finish.  I am looking for a 7:30 finish time at this race!

Unfortunately that may be my last race until Franklin Mountains Trail Run 50k in September.  I will be headed across the pond in May and not retuning until the beginning of September.

You WILL see me at random Trail Racing Over Texas events between here and there though!  Depending on the schedule I will make an appearance for a surprise run or head out and volunteer for Rob and Rachel!

I almost completely forgot to circle back around on something!  I did qualify for Western States Endurance Run 100!  That means December I will be at the mercy of the lottery to run WS100!

Until next time… #MilesAndSmiles