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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

 

Stop and love the trails!

My running nearly always takes me to the trails.  Trails are always changing, take me away from the busy roads, and allow me to find a calm that I can’t find elsewhere while running.

This past weekend my wife and I hosted a “group run / product demo” at Reveille Peak Ranch in Burnett, TX.  My wife deserves so much more credit.  None of this would have been possible without her.   She did so much to make this a reality!  The plan for this event was to share those trails with others and give people a chance to try the products that I personally love and use.   For many, their exposure to different products comes at races and races are the last place you want to be trying something new.  This event provided a fun relaxed atmosphere where people could try many different products without worrying about any negative impact to their race.

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All of the samples and product demos for the run!

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A few of the prizes provided by the amazing sponsors!

A few of us arrived early on Friday to get the trails (course) marked for our group runs.   Tammy, Roel, and I set out around 2:30 to mark the 10k course while a nephew of the ranch owner set out on his mountain bike to mark the 9mi course.   I am so grateful that the ranch assisted us in marking!  We were actually going to start marking at 8am but there were some Airmen out on the ranch doing sniper training so we had to wait!   Had it now been for the ranch, we would not have gotten the courses marked!  It was during our course marking where a bit of realization it me. We have been running for years on such beautiful and miraculous trails;  we just never stopped (slowed down) to truly appreciate them.

The weekend started with a 5k night familiarization run followed by some time to relax around the campfire.  Unfortunately I didn’t make it out for this as I was assisting one of our runners get their camper situated.   The following morning we began the day with another 5k run followed by a door prize give away.  As soon as that finished, the group set out on a 9mi adventure around Reveille Peak Ranch.

As I logged miles Friday and Saturday on the trails of Reveille Peak Ranch something occurred to me;  I have never stopped to look at the ranch.   Much of my time at the ranch, prior to this, was during a race.  I have run a Captain Karls race on the ranch, which was during the night, as well s several other ultras on these trails.   Like many, my focus was on the trail in front of me.  Rarely did I get a chance to see what these trails offered to everyone.

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My typical view on the ranch; watching the trail.

 

This group run / product demo changed that!  I talked with another running in the group about this very thing.  It is amazing how much different these trails looked when you stopped to enjoy them.   The wild flowers and blue bonnets that riddled the ranch, the wildlife, the beautiful rock formations, and even the cactus.  When you stop to take it all in, it is like you are running someplace for the first time.  This is exactly how I wanted to spent my weekend;   Sharing that experience with friends.

So while this weekend was about giving others a chance to try out some amazing products on the trails it actually did so much more!   For me, this weekend was about finding something on the trails.  This weekend gave me a chance to really enjoy the trails, spend some time with some amazing people, and enjoy life.

Once I stopped to love the trails, this is what I really found…

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Our Saturday morning 5k to start the day!

 

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During the morning 5k I had to take a break to take in the view across the water from the rustic bridge!

 

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Another shot from the rustic bridge!

 

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T.R. discovered an amazing waterfall that we used as a backdrop for our group photo! Thanks T!

 

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When you cross a sign that says “Epic” it demands a group photo with an Epic Bar!

 

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Running up the granite on the way to Decision Point (The cross)!

 

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Some of the cacti out on the ranch looked absolutely amazing! Hearts and flowers… Simply had to take it! One of the runners made a comment. “This is a reminder that love can be prickly at times!” 😀

 

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This cactus actually made me laugh; I call it “Cyclops Mickey Mouse”

This was going to be my last big group outing until September when I make an appearance at Franklin Mountains 50k.   In a few weeks I will be headed across the pond for four months.  I will miss you all!

This turned out to be such a great event!  Next year it will be a “Product Fat Ass”

Here are the amazing sponsors that made this event possible.  Be sure to visit their site and show your support!

At the end of the weekend it all came down to friends, family, and the trail community!

Our group photo before our 9mi run! PC: T. Roen

Our group photo before our 9mi run! PC: T. Roen