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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

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!