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…
Many of you know me rather well so I am going to preface this race report with something that will set the stage rather nicely…
I do some REALLY stupid things sometimes (ok… a lot) and had I listened to my amazing wife, this race report would have turned out significantly different.
I have put off writing this for several weeks because it isn’t really a race report as much as it is a lesson on pain, stupidity, and of course sunblock.
I came home from Afghanistan on leave to accomplish 3 things. Go on a cruise, do a race with my son, and sit around being lazy with my family. The good part, I did them all!
It all started on April 11th when we boarded the Carnival Triumph in Galveston, TX. Liz, my MIL, and I were going on a 5-day cruise to Mexico. This was the 2d time we had done this cruise and we couldn’t wait. Our first day at see (April 12th) I thought it would be a great idea to get some sun out on the deck for 30 min (yes…I laid on my back for ONLY 30 minutes) while Liz took a nap. After 30 min my alarm went off and I walked back down to the room to meet up with Liz to go galavanting around the ship before getting ready for the evening’s formal dinner. Looked in the mirror and realized that it didn’t look like I got any sun.
We went back to the room to shower and get ready for dinner and that is when things started going south. I got in the shower and felt the odd sensation of being burnt on my chest and stomach. What was odd was it wasn’t red… it just burnt.
All during dinner it started hurting more and more. So not to ruin my running streak, after dinner we went back to the room and I hit the treadmill for a short 2mi run. Not to keep it short, but because it hurt to run. I went back to the room, took a shower, and that is when I REALLY screwed up. Apparently blisters had formed while running and they broke open in the shower and peeled off in chunks… MASSIVE chunks. That night in bed was miserable. No matter how I moved it hurt. I couldn’t lay on my back because the sheets would touch me. If I laid on my side it pinched and hurt and laying on the stomach… that simply wasn’t happening at all. The blistered that had peeled off in the shower now exposed freshly burnt skin and began blistering.
The remainder of the cruise consisted in a lot of pain killers and finding the softest clothing I could wear that would allow me to move without being in a lot of pain. Oddly enough I found that sweating cooled me off and made it feel temporarily better. This was helpful in that it allowed the streak to continue! Come to find out that everything we had tried to do was only making it worse. We used solarcaine, neosporin, milk lotion ($74 lotion from the ship’s spa). Anything we could possibly find to relieve it we bought and used. The cruise was still amazing, but the painful part hadn’t gotten there yet.
Once we returned home I began living with my shirt off and wrapping myself in a wet towel. While this did absolutely nothing to help the “sun burn”, what it did do is make me feel relief for a little while. This is how we laid around during the day and how I slept at night. I even took a wet towel with us when we went somewhere so I could put it on in the car!
So where does this race come in? Well April 18th (1 week after getting burnt) Anthony and I had the Durty Spur 30k.
NOW we can get to the “race”!
Like all races, I prepared “Flat John” and made sure that I had everything I needed for the race. I kept asking myself how exactly i was going to do a 30k race report when it hurt to even move. Regardless…We were doing a race together and I was going to go toe the line!
The next morning we woke up and headed to the race. The race was only about an hour away so the ride wasn’t too bad (with my wet towel). We arrived, checked in, attached the bibs and timing chips, and patiently waited.
My plan when I registered for this race was to finish in 2:30. Based on what I had been running in Afghanifunland I was confident that I could have accomplished that goal. As we walked to the start line, I knew what the reality was. I would be lucky to finish. There were still blisters on my stomach, I was still bright red, and every time my shirt touched me it hurt. I had my drop bag with Sarah (AJ’s girly friend) so I could come back and grab a fresh bottle of Tailwind after each loop and there were bottles of water and a towel so I could cool off the burn if needed. This wasn’t going to be fun, but I was going to at least shoot for a finish!
(Have I mentioned yet that you should REALLY use sunblock out in the sun?)
There had been rain so the course was going to be muddy and wet. I was actually hoping for it to rain on this race; It may have made this a bit easier.
Before we knew it, we were off. Each step off of the line hurt. The vibrations up my body just happened to resonate perfectly with the blisters and the rubbing of my shirt. I expected this to subside as we ran and I became sweatier but that never happened. As a result, I held my shirt away from my body most of the time just to ease the pain a little bit.
My nutrition was spot on. Like always I took a drink of Tailwind Nutrition every 10 min and other than the burn I felt awesome. Several times on the first loop we somehow or another even started picking up the pace and logging 8:00 – 8:30 pace. About a mile from the end of the loop I was starting to get excited… In just a few minutes I could get a cool wet towel and get some temporary relief while we did the entire thing again (total of 3 loops) and grab a fresh bottle of Tailwind. One we approached the aid station that is when the run went from bearable to miserable. The course was not setup to loop through the start/finish and I wasn’t going to get my wet towel OR a fresh bottle of Tailwind. While we had only run 6mi so far… this was a pretty hard blow. The start/finish line was only about .25mi away. AJ ran off to get a refill but I could not. At that point, if I went back to the start/finish… it would have been my finish.
I took off back down the trail, through the water crossing, and out into the field for my second loop. I only had about 1/4 of my bottle of Tailwind left, had more blisters forming on my chest, legs, arms, and stomach… I just needed to keep moving. About halfway through the loop AJ caught up with me. I may have picked up the pace a bit when I got mad (ok…I did).
We looped back around at the end of the 2d loop and like before… I kept on running while AJ went back. He did offer to grab me something but I was still just annoyed and didn’t care.
The third loop ended up being pretty crappy. I had not had any Tailwind for the last 6 miles so I had to resort to the watered down gatorade that was at the AS. The third loop ended up being a combination of walking and running. It was getting warmer outside and the warmer it got, the more it burned.
Before long we rolled came to the end of the loop, back across the water, and crossed the finish line. This was one of the shortest races I had done in awhile and was also the worst race that I had done. Not that it was difficult physically, it was difficult mentally. Every step I wondered what the fastest way back to the jeep was so I could get a cold towel to make the pain go away. I was at a pretty low place.
Had it not been for Anthony, I never would have finished that race. He stayed with me the entire race and we crossed the line together (although I beat him my 1/100th of a second! lol. Running with him that day made me real proud and happy. I could not have asked for a better day to spend with him.
Oddly enough, AJ and I both walked away with an AG award. AJ finished 2d in his age group and I finished 3d with a time of 3:01. Looking back would I do it again? ABSOLUTELY! I had the best time that day with my son…
You are probably wondering what happened with the burn? Well I was scheduled to fly back to Afghanifunlan on April 27th. April 21st (now 10 days after getting burnt) I finally broke down and went to the doctor. I still had blisters all over my chest and stomach and if it didn’t go away, I was going to have the WORST 21 hours imaginable on an airplane…. When the doctor walked in we talked about Afghanifunland and the cruise and I told him I may have gotten a little sun on the ship if he could give me something to relieve the burn… When I showed him my chest and stomach his said “Oh my god, you have got to be in some serious pain… We need to take care of you!”
I walked out of the doctor that day with 5 tubes of steroids to treat the open second degree burns…
For everyone… Don’t do a 30k road race with open second degree burns… It is not a wise decision and ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS listen to your wife!!! Love you honey!!!
That was an awesome vacation! 😀
Last year when I registered to run #TAM-III (The day after TAM-II) I knew that I would not be running it. Like last year’s marathon I was expecting to volunteer again this year. Even going in with the expectation of volunteering for the event, I still registered to show my support for the event, the community, and the Race Director. I would simply go out after the fact and “earn my bib” like I did last year. During the summer of 2014 those plans changed and I would not be volunteering OR running…I was going to be in Afghanistan. My arrival in Afghanistan was planned for only a week before the actual Army Marathon was to take place so there wasn’t even a way for me to coordinate a shadow run in theater. Even though I was deploying I still volunteered to support this years Army Marathon and do everything I could to help the RD put on a successful event!
I had talked with the RD prior to my deployment and we decided that I would simply run my marathon in Afghanistan. I am honored that Ed Bandas, the Army Marathon Race Director, supported me on my shadow run and was back in Texas cheering me on. I would have not done this without his support and am extremely grateful!
My wife picked up my race packet for me and secured my marathon bib and “Veteran” bib and sent it to me. The plan was as soon as it arrived I would plan my race the following Monday (It is an odd day but with scheduling… Monday just works better).
Running a marathon in Afghanistan is not difficult; what is difficult, at least for me, is coordinating that run around an already busy schedule that has me working 14 hours a day, 7 days a week.
On March 12th I received my bibs in the mail which means my marathon would take place the following Monday on March 16th. Leading up to my marathon I wasn’t really training for anything, I was just looking to maintain my base. I was still getting at least one 15-18mi run per week and running 7-days per week to maintain the streak. The week before the marathon I actually had an 18mi run so I knew my body was ready.
Prior to receiving my bib I had also registered for a St Patrick’s Day 5k which took place on 14 March. Every part of my was planning on going easy on this run since I had the marathon shortly there-after… Needless to say when they said go my mind had something else planned. Ended up getting 3 PRs on the 5k! (1k, 1mi, 2mi) Since the course was not “exactly” 5k I missed the 5k PR though!
On March 15th I began getting everything ready that I would need. Luckily I am at Bagram Airfield so I have a fairly large loop to do my run on. I know some people that have done 100k and 100mi runs out here on a 1mi track. I was EXTREMELY thankful for my big loop! I plotted out my course through Suunot’s Movescount in advance so I knew when/where I would need to refuel on my Tailwind. Based on the course I was planning 2 locations that I could refill bottles as needed. One was my office and the other was my barracks. My course would have me stopping at both of these locations at least twice. This will have proved to work PERFECTLY!
Fuel on my run was the same as always; I would be running with Tailwind. I prepared my Tailwind bottles conservatively and actually prepared enough bottles/baggies to drink one bottle every 5mi. While I was closer to 7-8mi I would rather have the bottles ready and not need them. Since the temps were going to be in the 60s (first “warm” day this season) I wanted to be ready.
There were a few things I was looking for out of this run, which are probably nothing what most people would be planning (go figure). Since arriving I haven’t taken the GoPro out on any of my runs. It is the Army Marathon… What better time to take pictures!
Since I work nights in Afghanistan that meant that I would have to adjust schedules slightly so I would be able to run the marathon during the day and still make it into work by 2000 (8pm) that night AND have enough energy in the tank to still work a 12-14hr shift. The morning of Mar 16th I left the office around 5am (EARLY) with the hopes of getting at least 7 hours of sleep before the run. Being that I average about 5-6 hours of sleep a night, this would be a gift! Once I arrived in the barracks I looked over “Flat John”, verified that I had everything ready to go and hit the sack…
3hours later I found myself still looking at the springs of the bunk bed above me. My 7 hours of sleep was now down to 4 hours. Around 9am I finally drifted off to sleep and my alarm was set for 1:30. That worked great until my eyes opened at 12:45 PM. 45 min before my alarm went off and my body decided it was time to wake up. Who’s to argue!
I got up… Drank 1/2 a bottle of Tailwind while I got dressed, and headed to the office to begin The Army Marathon! The reason I started at the office was to give me an opportunity to take pictures and then drop my GoPro back off at the room (6.5mi into my run from the office).
At 2PM I said my goodbyes to everyone in the office and started running down Disney.
My plan was to treat this as an “easy intensity” run. I still have work in 6 hours and need to be able to make it all night! I spent the first couple miles taking random pictures. There wasn’t anything special I was looking for. I just wanted to take some random pictures so people could see where I was running. Of course I did make sure that I stopped and took some pictures of the SKORA Tempos and my bib! Now since I had arrived at Bagram, one of the things that I really wanted to do was get a photo of the F16th taking off. My first few deployments out here, taking pictures of F16s would have been EASY. They were always taking off for missions. This time you were lucky if you heard them taking off every other day. Today was my lucky day. Just as I rounded the end of the runway the 1st of 2 F16s came screaming down the runway and took off across the perimeter road. I was THRILLED to say the least. I knew at that point that no matter what happened on the rest of my run…I had pictures of the F16s! To bad I couldn’t figure out a way to get the SKORA Tempo in the shot! Now that would have been AWESOME!
I finished the first 6.5mi, dropped the GoPro off in the room, swapped Tailwind bottles, and set back out again. The rest of the run was really relaxed and laid back. I fell into a real easy 10:30 – 11:00 min pace and just enjoyed the run. I stopped and talked to some people along the way and just enjoyed my time running. As I circled around past the office at the 1/2 waypoint I skipped my planned fuel stop. I was carrying a baggie of Tailwind with me so I wasn’t overly worried. I felt good and really didn’t need anything so I kept pushing and did another full lap around the airfield. I finally came back the office around the 20mi point to swap out bottles and use the “facilities”. I probably wasted too much time here (walking with my coworkers to the office) and just BSing, but it was ok. There was no goal time here… 🙂
By this point the sun was starting to go down and a storm front was moving in. I took back off onto Disney Dr to complete the last 6 miles. The original course had me doing a 3mi out and back at this point but decided that I was going to change it up. I set out running and headed for the barracks. While there was nothing there that I “needed” there was something there that I wanted. Since dropping my GoPro off, all I could think about was whether or not the pictures of the F16s came out! The only downside to this strategy is that with the front coming in I had a headwind for the last 6mi of the run. Along the way back I made a few stops to visit two boxes (what I call porta-potties) and finally ended up back at the barracks. Even with my slow easy pace and the lengthy break at the office and room I still managed to finish right at 5hrs. I ran into my room, grabbed the GoPro, and headed back to the office on the bus… My Army Marathon was complete!
This turned out to just be a great run. Had no body issues at all. The legs, feet, back…everything felt great! I think the best part about the run was walking around the office afterwards having everyone say, “Are you feeling ok”, “Your legs don’t hurt?” etc. I couldn’t have felt better! The next challenge was going to be making it all night long with only 3 hours of sleep and a 5hour run! There was actually a lot going on that night so I had things to keep me entertained.
The following morning I had a massage scheduled at 8:30 and that would bring a close to my Army Marathon Marathon!
All of my gear was spot on for the run. While I had over 200mi on the new SKORA Tempo, this was the longest road run. These shoes have far exceeded all of my expectations. Whether it is on the road, trail, mud, sand, or rock. They have been PERFECT! I can’t wait for the official release of the shoes (coming soon)!
As far as my fueling goes, Tailwind Nutrition provided me exactly what I needed to get me through this run. I ended up going through approx. 250 calories per hour and felt great the entire time. Since I prepped a few extra bottles for the run I had an additional 250 cal bottle that I drank post run throughout the night. Not only was it a perfect endurance fuel DURING my run, but it was also an even better recovery drink after! I can’t imagine a run without it!
Just wait until next year’s Army Marathon! The details are already coming together and we are going to be “celebrating” something even bigger at next year’s marathon! Stay tuned 😉
Until next time…