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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)

 

Bandera (Rockfest) 100k

Steven Monte said it best…”This is where rocks come to die”

With that, before I delve into the race report, we need to talk about the rocks!  While I was running, I kept thinking about this very thing that Monte had said during his 3 loops leading up to Bandera 100k and I believe I have figured it out!

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Photo Credit – Steven Monte (Twitter: @CajunScoopMonte)

I live in the country and my country looks kinda like the parking area at Bandera.   There is not a manicured yard.  There are random holes, tree roots, and ROCKS.   Even with it not being a manicured lawn I still do have a responsibility to cut the grass;  This is where it all goes wrong!   While cutting the ground cover, if I come across a rock (they are always there regardless of how many times I remove them) I grab it, and toss it somewhere on the property where I don’t cut.  After spending 13hr 52min on the trails at Hill Country State Natural Area I believe I have an explanation.  There must be a secret portal somewhere on my property that drops all of those rocks out onto the trails.  So for the love of all of the runners, EVERYONE, please stop throwing rocks away!  They all mysteriously land on the trails at Bandera! If you are going to throw them into this mysterious portal, please paint them lime green first so I can see them better! 😀

While I have run a 100k prior, this was actually going to be my first 100k trail race.  I have had my eye on Bandera 100k for several years now.  The reasoning for that is rather odd, but I was REALLY looking forward to it.   In all of the race reports that I have read over the years on Bandera as well as hearing the stories from friends, there was one thing that I wanted to “experience” and that was the sotol!   I was looking forward to experiencing the small razor-like slashes on my legs.  I wanted to see what it really felt like!    Truth be told, it didn’t provide nearly the pain that I was hoping for.  It was actually very mild.  Even the shower afterwards was very tame compared to the stories I had heard.

I maintain a very consistent running regime and for the last year I ran 7-days per week for my running streak.   Over the last year I was averaging about 60 miles per week.  Going into this race I really felt good!  I think a lot of that has to do with something new that has recently been incorporated into my training.   Over the last 3 months my training was no longer just running;   I have been working with a coach  (Karen Kantor) that has had me working on very specific training.  I have been working speed work (which I have NEVER done), hill repeats, focused long runs with speed work.   I really think the training has paid off!  in the short 3-months I actually set a PR on every distance from 5k to 100k (counting Bandera 100k of course!)   My last 100k was at Jackalope Jam.  This was a timed race on a FLAT pavement.   My time was 15:59.   When looking at the time for Bandera… I would say there was significant improvement!

Going into this race I had developed 3 goals ranging from sub-17 to obtain a WS100 qualifier and my goal time grew faster the closer we made it to Bandera.   The training leading up to Bandera felt great and with each passing training run I believed I had a little more in me than my previous goals for Bandera.  As we got closer to Bandera, I was going to shoot for a 13hr finish.   This was going to be almost 3 hours faster than my last 100k (which was only 3 months prior) but I felt pretty good about hitting this!

This was actually a pretty exciting race for me on several fronts.   First and foremost, Liz and I were going to be going down there with our new camper TOGETHER!   She has been such an amazing support team for me.  Without her I would not be running and having her there at the race with me was all that mattered.  No matter what time I finished… She was there.

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Our camper at Crossroads Aid Station

Second, I was going to feel pain from the sotol (don’t judge me), and lastly, I was READY!   I have grown a lot with my coach and this was the most prepared I felt for any race.  Just a few days before race day another bonus was added.  I found out that Karen was actually going to be at the race too!   Granted she was coming in to crew Michele Yates (who I finally got to meet!!), but Karen was still there!   I say that now, but part of me was a bit nervous that I would see her at random aid stations and she would be disappointed in something I did or was doing.  Never did that happen. 😀

My last bit of encouragement came for this race at my last long run.   My last long run was 5x 10k intervals on a similar (or as close as can be) trail to Bandera.   The purpose of this was to treat each aid station as its own race.  My vehicle served as an aid station and I had individual drop bags made up to simulate 4 different aid stations (exactly like I would have at Bandera).   In doing this I actually recorded my fastest 50k and felt GOOD!   After that race, I knew Bandera was going to be “OK”.

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Liz and I at packet pickup! Photo Credit: JoAnna Brand

My gear was spot on for this race!  While Tailwind Nutrition was at the Aid Stations, I used my own (pre-mixed) bottles that had the calories that I was accustomed to.  Each of my bottles has 250 calories where-as the aid stations were made at 200 calories.  I wanted to run with what I trained with.  On top of that I had my Orange Mud Gear Guiver and Orange Mud hand held to get me through the race.  All of my gear was spot on and had absolutely no issues at all!!!  I walked away with absolutely no blisters thanks to Injinji, Tailwind kept my fuel and hydration dialed in, and Orangemud made it all look badass and allow me to carry my Tailwind and Spot 3!

Gear

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What would a race be without Flat John!

The morning of Bandera 100k Liz and I drove down to the start line early so we could get down there before the bulk of the traffic from Bandera.  Even with us staying at Crossroads Aid Station with the camper, there was still a lot of traffic getting to the start line!

We moseyed our way to the start line and started the morning meet and greet with everyone!

It was great seeing so many friends out there and amazing runners.  Getting caught up with all of the “hellos” is actually what got me in trouble!   Before I knew it they said “GO”.  I quickly gave Liz a kiss, jumped into the crowd, and moved along at THEIR pace.   It was at this instance that I made my biggest mistake of the race.   The first 20 miles I put down the hammer and had an average pace of a 9:40 min/mi.  While it was so much fun, I also hammered my legs way to soon on those rocks and hills.   At mile 15, when I came into Cross Roads aid station for the first time my legs were already pretty pissed off at me and I was not overly happy.  While I had a blast running with the fast(er) kids;  I also didn’t follow the plan.  It was this Aid Station that I would see Liz during the race.  I turned the corner into the aid station and had a plan and it worked perfectly!   As I came in I saw Liz sitting there waiting for me and also saw Karen who was out and about pacing people.

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Coming into Crossroads (1st time) after my fun little hammer fest! Photo Credit: Elizabeth Stasulli

I came in, topped off my Orange Mud handheld, grabbed a potato, gave Liz a kiss, and headed towards the trail.  I actually needed to let some other people leave ahead of me.  Up to this point I have been glued to this pack and I needed to let them get ahead of me so I would have enough legs to carry me to the finish! lol

After I left crossroads I had a another short leg until I came back into Cross roads for the 2d time.  This was to be a short stop as I wasn’t expecting support at this one.   Liz was standing at the camper (which is conveniently located 10′ from the trail) so I snuck in a quick kiss, topped off my handheld with more Tailwind Nutrition, grabbed a potato, and back into the course.    I must say it is this last 10 miles of the loop that I personally think are the worse.   There are more climbs and more rocks and many more areas that the trail is not as runnable.   That said, many people find this section to be runnable.   It is this type of terrain that my crusty old ankles become unhappy.  Rightly so as I ended up rolling my crusty ankle several times.

As I went through Last Chance aid station I was on my way back around to the Lodge to finish my first loop.  Regardless of hammering my legs the first 20 miles, or rolling my ankle, I was having the absolute best time possible!   I came into the lodge and needed to secure some gear for the last loop.    I came into the aid station and saw Rob Goyen and Jeremy at the lodge!  It was awesome to see these two guys.   I loved that they were out there on the course supporting all of the #TROT  family!   Give my inability to run without rolling my ankle I needed to make sure I had my headlamp (just in case).  I had my primary headlamp at Crossroads but I wanted to make sure I had one just in case I needed it!  I secured my headlamp, Patagonia jacket, gloves, topped off my Tailwind and potato and I was set!

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Mile 31 at the Lodge Aid Station.  Photo Credit: Trail Racing Over Texas for personal use only.

I spent less than 2 min at the lodge before I was back at it.   I was feeling good despite my stupidity at the start of the race and kicking rocks.   This last loop I needed to take a different approach.   I hiked all of the hills and ran the flats and downs (as much as possible).   I felt like I was moving along pretty well but this new strategy did put me behind on my planned times.   I came into Crossroads about 30min behind schedule and when I arrived there was a note in my drop bag from my wifey to see if I needed anything.  With the temperatures dropping she was bouncing in and out of the camper.  I would have never thought to leave me a note!   Needless to say, I didn’t have to leave her a note.  As I was there she came out of the camper!    This was actually my longest aid station stop.   Right before coming into Cross roads there is a water crossing and my feet didn’t move nearly as fast so I did not displace enough water.   As a result of that, when I came into Crossroads I needed to swap out the socks.    Once I was done I kissed the wifey one more time and I was off!   The temps for beginning to drop now and sitting there so long changing my socks I got cold.  On the way through the aid station I grabbed a hot chocolate and set out down the trail!   This segment between the 2 crossroads aid station is where you get to REALLY play with the sotol.  This was going to be my last time taking in the pain so I made the best of it and deliberately ran through as much of it as I could!  (again…don’t judge!).

Circling around I swung by the camper to give Liz and idea of when I would be at the finish line and found a Karen in the camper too!  This wasn’t a social visit so said my peace, drank a bottle of water, topped off my tailwind and headed off into the now dark sky.   From this point I had about 9 miles to go and was super excited.  While I knew I wasn’t going to hit my personal goal, I was going to still do MUCH better than my initial 15hr goal.   The last 9 miles actually ended up being more difficult than the first time.  Not because of my body, but the rocks and night time.  I have a real hard time seeing and running at night so I had to dial my pace back even further.   Sections that were runnable I opened it up and was hitting a 9:00 – 9:30 min/mi.   Unfortunately those sections didn’t last very long before I came across another climb or more stupid rocks that I had tossed through the portal!

Coming through Last Chance for the final time I began the last few climbs.  The only thing that was going through my mind at this point was stopping by the food truck right after I finished and getting a cheese burger!  I was HUNGRY!

I finally came through through the fence and into the field running towards the finish line.  You could actually hear the cheers from the finish line about 2-miles out and the continued to grow louder and louder as I zig-zagged back and forth down the trails.  I ran towards the finish line and with the blink of an eye… it was over.   When the sun went down the temps dropped and I was so glad I didn’t see Liz out there.  Being in the truck staying warm was a MUCH better place!   I crossed the finish line and saw Rob and Jeremy there again.  Just like their own races at Trail Racing Over Texas they stayed there at the finish line to support all of their #TROT family.  You could not ask for two better guys and I am honored to call them friends.

I crossed the finish line and I didn’t grab for my buckle.  The first thing I did was shook Rob and Jeremy’s hand and thanked them.   Then I received my buckle.

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Mission Accomplished

While the buckle and experience are pretty amazing, the Mountain Hardwear Fleece is absolutely awesome!  I LOVE IT!  So much so that I wore it Sunday on the way home as we went walking around the San Marcus Outlets!

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The strategy that Karen and I worked out for this race was great!  The logic going in was that I was not running a 100k, I had individual races from Aid Station to Aid Station.  The furtherest aid station was 5.8mi which was shorter than my long “interval” runs.  I focused on the current race, made it to the next aid station, re-evaluated and was back into my next race.   For Bandera this was a great strategy as each segment had something to be aware of and plan for accordingly.  The strategy from Nachos to Chapas was not going to be the same thing as Crossroads 2 to Last Chance!    I gained a TON of valuable insight into this race and my racing and can’t wait until next year!

That wraps up this adventure!  I learned a lot of things at this race that I am going to take with me to my next one!   With all of my races, I had FUN and that is what matters to me the most.  Just look at my picture from the 1/2 way point! 😀  I had the chance to catch up with trail friends that I don’t get to see very often and had the chance to meet even more!  That is the amazing thing about our trail community!

So what is next you ask?

Next I will be headed out to Rocky Raccoon 100 (with the camper again) to pace one of my dearest friends for her 2d 100 mile race!   My next race will actually take me to Pennsylvania to run the Naked Bavarian 40mi on March 6th.  Between now and then I want to focus on preparing for this race.  The terrain is really tame, but for all intense purposes it will be self supported for me.   The race consists of 2x 20 mile loops with a drop bag at the start/finish.  I am looking for a 7:30 finish time at this race!

Unfortunately that may be my last race until Franklin Mountains Trail Run 50k in September.  I will be headed across the pond in May and not retuning until the beginning of September.

You WILL see me at random Trail Racing Over Texas events between here and there though!  Depending on the schedule I will make an appearance for a surprise run or head out and volunteer for Rob and Rachel!

I almost completely forgot to circle back around on something!  I did qualify for Western States Endurance Run 100!  That means December I will be at the mercy of the lottery to run WS100!

Until next time… #MilesAndSmiles