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!
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!
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!
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/
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!
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!
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!
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…
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…