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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Grinch is ready!

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

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

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

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

Aid Station Transition Video

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ginger Runner Post-race Interview!

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

 

Sugarloaves Ultra Vista Trail Race Report

When I found out I would be deploying to Asscrackistan out of Ft Bliss, TX the first thing I did was looked for some kind of race to do while I was out there.   For the longest time, all I found was a collection of 5ks to do in El Paso.   While it wasn’t my favorite thing to do, I was going to start registering just so I could get a race in before deploying. One day this all changed when I stumbled upon a small race that was located in Vado, NM which was only a 30min drive from El Paso!    Even better, the race was only $35!  Who can turn down a cheap ultra!!! For the next few weeks I tried finding out anything I could about the race.  I uncovered 2-3 race reports, very few photos and Mark Dorion’s (the Race Director) blog.    So what did I learn?  I learned that there was not a lot to find out about this race in the middle of the desert. After reading Mark Dorion’s blog there were things that jumped out at me:  “These trails are VERY challenging after dark, even for experienced runners.”  I don’t think I had even run a trail race that warned of the hazards of running at night.  Hell, I have run Joe’s races at night;  I honestly believe he purposely places additional rocks and roots on this trails!  😉 Regardless of what the other race reports say or the Mark’s mention of the course being VERY challenging, I was going to go have fun at this race like I always do!   This is also going to be my last race before I deploy to Asscrackistan… It was going to be a blast! 🙂 For the week leading up to the start I routinely checked the weather.  With 350 days of sunshine per year, the odds were in my favor… Right?   Needless to say the 2 days leading up tot he race and race day were 3 of the days this year that were not going to be sunny.  In fact, it was cloudy, overcast, raining, and WINDY! Race day arrived and the only thing that changed was the wind.  Luckily the 30mph winds broken and the race was going to have easy 5-10mph winds.  MUCH better!  Unfortunately the rain didn’t break… Many of my training partners know how much I hate getting out of my car and running when it is raining.   If it starts raining after I have started, that is fine… it is just that first step in the rain… UGGH   Driving down I-10 towards Vado, NM was in the rain.  The road was wet, my wipers were on, and even the mountains in the distance were obscured by the yucky weather.   I did everything I could to push the negativity out of my mind.  The last thing I wanted to do was start the race with a negative attitude;  that was just going to make the entire race bad.

Headed into New Mexico on the way to the race!

Headed into New Mexico on the way to the race!

Mark’s directions to the race were perfect!  There were road closures at Vado, NM (actually the only exist to Vado, NM was closed) so you had to take a different exist about 3mi up the road.   His directions were spot on and after driving down a winding road into the desert I finally arrived at my destination!   Everything was wet, the clouds where covering half of the mountains off in the distance that I would be running towards.   I was just hoping for a change in the weather.

Arrival at Sugarloaves Vista Trail

Arrival at Sierra Vista Trail

As always, I arrived at the race early.   I was planning to use my car at the Start/Finish line as an aid station.   With such a short race loop, there was no need to stop at the Aid Stations on the course.   Once I arrived I once again made sure that I had everything I needed and arranged the back of the car so everything was convenient for me when I came in. This race proved to be very different.  Usually I attend races from my house and know that I have everything I need.  This race was planned out of my dufflebag that I would be taking to Asscrackistan.    One thing that always follows me to my races is my bag from Victory Sport Design.  No matter the race, there is something in this bag that will help me.   Well for Asscrackistan I downsized A LOT so that I could squeeze it in my dufflebag.   My firstaid pouch was gone, hand warmers, eye drops.    That’s ok.  I had my Tailwind Nutrition, my UD handhelds, and my SKORAs.   If I couldn’t make it through this race with those 3 things, I probably shouldn’t have been there to begin with!   Due to the forecasted rain and the fact that it had been raining the last 2 days I also brought 3 pair of socks along to make sure I at least started each loop with dry piggies.

Start/Finish Aid Station

Start/Finish Aid Station

I already knew this race was going to have a small field.   After I setup my aid station and picked up my race packet it was obvious how small of a field this really was.     The small area that we parked in, even with precision parking, was not going to hold more than 60 vehicles.    By the time the race started there were probably about 45-50 vehicles there and I would estimate about the same number of runners.

Start/Finish line area

Start/Finish line area

At 8:24 it was finally time to toe the line and hit the desert.  The rain had taken a break but Accuweather was nice enough to let me know that it wasn’t going to stay that way.   I had about an hour before the rain was coming back and I was going to get as many miles in as possible before the rain came back! The start of the race was a short 1mi out and back along the power line in and out of arroyos and soft sand.   This wasn’t that bad and gave me a chance to warm up the legs a little before we hit the real race loop that I would spend the remainder of the day on. No matter how hard I try, I always end up starting faster than I know I should but I wanted to get some ground covered before the rain came.  After the first 2 mi warm up I stopped at my “Aid Station” dropped my light jacket (I carried my rain jacket with me) stripped down to a t-shirt, and was off down the trails!    The course was a 3.5mi out and back that had some interesting terrain.  Their were really 3 sections.   The first mile was in and out of sandy arroyos and through a group of rollers.  No BIG climbs, but enough that when combined with the sand, was going to make the legs work towards the end.   The second section was about 1.5mi and was a flat MUDDY grass field.   Personally, this is the part that actually sucked the most.    For people like T.T. and A.B. this is best compared to our mud run at Pairie Haines.    Footing sucked;  every time I put my foot down I was sliding somewhere and this was before the rain started.    The last mile was a gradual climb out to the turn around point.   This was actually my favorite part of the course.  This was a hard packed trail with absolutely no mud.  There were a few rollers in here as well but it was a smooth running trail!      Leaving the muddy field you cross under an old A-Frame powerline.   The first time running under it was a tad creepy.  The humm from the powerline was VERY loud.  As you approach it, it almost sounded like rain or a giant rattle snake somewhere!  🙂 Just as I was approaching the turn-around point, the rain finally came in.   Luckily I was able to start the race without any rain so I could have cared less at this point (so I thought).   I put on my brooks jacket, turned around, and headed back down the trail towards the MUD.   By the time I got back to the mud field the trail had already filled with water.  This is when the run began getting slower and slower.   The good part is my SKORA Tempo shed mud PERFECTLY!   While my socks were SOAKED, the mud never really stuck to my shoes.   The wide tread pattern on the shoes and the flexibility of the sole made the mud fall off pretty quickly!  I could not have been happier.  Not once did I have to stop and kick off the mud… I just kept on moving.   As I was leaving the muddy section on the way back I went around a turn and that is when things started going down hill. I planted my foot and my body went one way and the leg went the other.   My groin muscle didn’t like that at all.   I didn’t HURT, but it was enough that I knew it was there and it would get progressively more nagging as the day went on. Even ever the rain started, the arroyos didn’t get that bad.   Each arroyo had 2-3″ of soft wet sand that you had to run through but there was never any standing water.   Up and down the arroyes and through the rollers and before I knew it I made the turn onto the jeep trail headed back to the Start/Finish aid station.   All throughout the course there were aid stations about every 2 miles.  These aid stations reminded me more of a Fat Ass run rather than a race.   There were painted cinder blocks with a case of water, a few Clif bars or Bonk Bars and s small bucket for trash.   I think what I liked most about the aid stations were the animals.  There were ducks, rabbits, walruses, snakes, all spread out across the course.  Seeing all of these animals actually reminded me a lot of my trails at Dana Peak park and made me think of my friends that I wasn’t running with.   I really missed running with T.T., T.R., N.D, A.B., and Rasta!   These little animals gave me a bit of home!   🙂 I ran past the start/finish, yelled out my bib number to the volunteers, and headed straight to my car to change socks and rotate bottles.   My plan was to take it easy out there and stick with a 12min/mi pace.  The first loop actually ended up being about a 10:48min/mi pace.  Someone was running way to fast, especially in the mud!  I needed to slow down!

First loop complete! 10:48 min/mi avg

First loop complete! 10:48 min/mi avg

I wasn’t out there to RACE…My plan was just to get out on the trail and have some fun.   Aside from swapping bottles and socks I also did a quick blast on social media on the race, chatted with my wifey, and then headed back out. The second loop was much slower than the first.  The combination of mud and the pulled groin muscle greatly assisted it!    My goal for this race was to keep my pace around a 12:00 min/mi.  Clearly that hasn’t happened up to this point!  After hitting the turn-around point for the second time the rain finally died down and the clouds were breaking!  At this point it didn’t much matter as the ground was already soaked and the center of the course was a mud fest but clear skies always make for a better run.  Now the mountain was actually coming into view and you could see everything around you! 🙂 As I came into the aid station I followed the same routine as before.  Swapped out the soaked soaks, grabbed new bottles, and did my typical social media blast.     I have to admit, the new SKORA Tempo did an amazing job once again at shedding the mud.   Even after stomping through all of the mud, the shoes really didn’t look that bad and never did I have to stop to clean them off.

2d Loop and looking pretty good!

2d Loop and looking pretty good!

After my 15-20 min break at the start/finish aid station my average pace when I rolled back out was an 11:42 min/mi.  That just means that despite my slower pace, and about 30min total of sitting around at the Aid Stations my pace was still faster than what I was expecting.  That’s still ok though… I was having fun! The 3d & 4th loop were pretty much the same.  By the 4th loop I was definitely feeling the effect of the mud and sandy arroyos but nothing that really “hurt”.    I tried dialing back the pace on the 4th loop and talked with people out on the trail, stopped to play with the little stuffed animals that adorned the course, relocated the snake to keep people guessing (someone else moved him too though!  lol), and just had fun and enjoyed the trail. After the 3d loop my pace (with the stops and taking in the scenery) remained much the same as the 2d loop.    Once again, swapped socks (STILL soaked), grabbed another bottle of Tailwind, and I was off.  This time I only spent about 10min at the Aid Station before I headed back out again.   The SKORA Tempo are still running strong and have taken everything I threw at them!

Finish of Lap 3

Finish of Lap 3

My only goal this day was to get out on the trails and get one last race before I deployed and that is what I did.   The way back in on the 4th loop all I could think about was finishing up the race and going to have dinner with the family!    As I was approaching the finish I ran in to Mark Dorion who I ran the last 1/4mi with.   I crossed the finish line and felt really good;   other than the slightly pulled groin muscle I felt GREAT.   Never felt winded, no nagging pains… I was just looking forward to dinner! lol Once I crossed the line I spent about 30 min talking with Mark and one of the other volunteers and told them how great of a race I thought this was and that I would definitely be back if given the opportunity!   It was considerably smaller than the other races I have been a part of and to be honest, I was a little concerned that there was not big buffet lines setup at the aid stations (even though I usually don’t eat off of them anyway).   None of that mattered at the race.  It was literally PERFECT! While I was talking with Mark after the race he handed me an envelope for a “Race prize”.   I didn’t look at it, I simply folded it up and put in inside my pocket.    That night after dinner I finally opened it up.  Mark had given me a free pair of shoes from Up & Running in El Paso!   Mark is an awesome guy and honored to have participated in his race.   If given the opportunity, you should definitely head out to Vado, NM and join him for one of his races.    You can find more info on his races at https://markdorion.wordpress.com/. I finally headed back over to my “Aid Station”, packed everything away and got ready to head back to my sister-in-law’s house to take a shower before dinner.   On the way out I had to stop by the “Sierra Vista Trail” sign for one last photo!

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One final shot at the trail head with my medal!

Race Results: 2d Overall, 1st Age Group!!

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

Once again SKORA and Tailwind Nutrition came through.  The new TEMPO shoes rocked the trails like no other!  This is going to be an awesome shoe on the trail for ANYONE!    As always, Tailwind pulled through with no stomach issues, great taste, and had me finishing strong! I would not have been able to do this race without my amazing wifey.   Even with just a short amount of time left, she supported me going out there to run and I had an amazing time!   I love you honey! The next trail race I toe the line of will be Cactus Rose 100 in October when I return from Asscrackistan with some great friends!! On that note… time to head out for a recovery run! Thanks for reading everyone!  😉