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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

 

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