I chose this race mostly because of timing. After working on speed for the Army PT test, I needed a few months to train for a long endurance run, but I didn’t want to wait too long until the end of the year. So this race worked out great. I registered for the race and then began to do some research (I probably should have done this the other way around). Most of the race reports said it was rocky, hilly, and generally just difficult. But I couldn’t imagine anything harder than Bandera, so if I could get through that, I’d probably be able to get through this one.
The race is at Camp Eagle in Rocksprings, TX. We stayed the night before in Kerrville, about a 1+ drive to Camp Eagle. We went to bed early, woke up at 2 am to get ready, and left at 3 am to get to the race. Most of the drive is fine. However, once you turn off the highway into the park, there is still an 8 mile drive over some seriously bumpy road. The race director had warned runners about this part of the drive, but it was definitely harder than we thought. This ended up being a sign of what was to come…
I picked up my bib, got everything ready to go, and then it was time to start. There were only 9runners who started the race. I’m used to a big crowd at the starting line, so this was a little bizarre. Once we got going, we all split up pretty fast. I like to run by myself, mostly to concentrate on what I’m doing, so this was actually pretty great.
I was carrying two soft flasks, one with tailwind and the other with water, plus a few gels and a couple of small flour tortillas with peanut butter. Seriously. Tasty.
The beginning was great; not terribly rocky, generally just pleasant. After a sketchy downhill section that was made more difficult because of the dark, I came into the first aid station, just about 2 miles into the race. There wasn’t a reason to stay at the aid station for very long, just enough to top off my bottles and head back out. So far, so good!
After the aid station, to rocks began to show up. The next aid station wouldn’t show up until a little over 5 miles later. It’s still dark out, so I’m always conscious of where my feet are going. The trail was still somewhat easy, until bam…a steep ass jeep road. It was the first shock of the run, and it was insane. Besides just being super steep, it was LONG. It never ended (another sign of what was to come). My calves started talking to me after several yards of hiking. Luckily, the road became a little less steep the higher we got. I ran into a 100k runner (they started at 8 pm the night before), who warned me about the next section of the race. He said it got pretty rough. Considering that I was moving at a slow hike already, this made me a little wary. After reaching the top, we moved off the jeep road and meandered through the trees for a bit. This was still very technical with lots of rocks and low-hanging branches, but the ground was soft with lots of pine needles, so it wasn’t as sharp and painful as the first section. It had rained in the last few weeks, so mud and slippery rocks became an issue. This section wasn’t necessarily un-runnable, but it was for me. I hit another insane climb to walk into the next aid station.
I wanted to keep moving quickly through the aid stations while I still full of energy, so I stocked up on fluids and got ready to leave. At this point, I had finished off one of my peanut butter tortillas and still felt sufficiently fueled. Just before I stepped out of the aid station, one of the workers said I was in for a treat. Oh boy…
The course was marked so well just after leaving that I knew something was up. There were so many reflective ribbons and caution tape that it would have been impossible to get lost. The trail became super narrow and I felt like I was climbing next to boulders instead of running on a trail. Runners always complain about the uphills and how terrible they are. That’s why we do hill repeats, right? But during this race, the downhills were just as bad. I rarely ran a downhill in this race; that is to say, I walked/side-stepped down most of them. They were entirely too steep (as though anyone can change that) with lots of loose rocks. I had a couple of falls, luckily just onto my backside. I should have counted the number of ups and downs so I wouldn’t have to be surprised on my next trip around. Sadly, I didn’t. I still can’t think of a better word to describe these hills other than insane. They lasted forever (just like the road to get into Camp Eagle) and they were just so steep. This stretch was the longest, a little over six miles, and almost all of it was hills.
After making it out of the woods, the trail opened up and I was able to run for a bit. The sun was just beginning to come up and I was finally able to see what I had been running through. It was definitely the most beautiful trail I had ever run on. The trees were tall and gorgeous, and the hills became less nasty. After a few more relatively easy climbs, I finally made it to the windmill. A u-turn sign let me know that it was time to turn around and head back. This actually freaked me out a little. It had been a while since I had seen anyone, and given that I wasn’t in first place, I should have seen someone on this out-and-back, right? Was I lost? No, I had been following the course the whole time. Did I cut the course? My mind started racing and I turned around to see if I missed any turns. For the first time, I was able to really run. I felt like I was flying, but only because I was full of adrenaline, trying to figure out if I did something wrong. I watched for ribbons and arrows like a hawk, but things weren’t looking familiar. Instead of a long out-and-back, was this a short one and I left the original trail? After some more ups and downs, I reached a creek with lots of flowing water. Instead of wading through, the course went alongside the creek for a short bit before hitting a swing bridge. Who did I see on the other side? Ty’s dad!!!! I was elated. I hadn’t gotten lost and I hadn’t cut the course. After walking and talking with Steve for a bit, I ran another quarter-mile to the next aid station where I finally got to see Ty.
This was the best aid station. The workers cheered when you came in and were generally just happy for you. Apparently other runners came into this station and talked about how brutal the last stretch was. I was no different; that section was brutal, plain and simple. I had run out of tailwind and water, so I got those filled up while I let Ty in on all the details. We had discussed whether or not he would pace me on the last stretch. My ego wanted to finish all by myself, but I needed to be realistic. This was my first 50-miler and I had no idea how I would feel for the last loop. After going through the first loop, I knew I would need his help. Also, I really wanted him to see this course. I thought he would have fun with the insanity of the whole thing. After talking and eating, I headed back out.
This final section, a little under 4 miles, seemed like a breeze compared to the last. I was able to run more, save a few more nasty hills. I ran along a creek for a bit and then came back into the woods, which was a nice change of scenery. After reaching the top of yet another hill, I could see the start/finish. Another shot of adrenaline got me running and into the end…of the first loop.
My nutrition was really on point. Tailwind and water were keeping me hydrated well; I just had to make sure I rationed both bottles on the longer stretches. More recently, I began trying to reduce my actual food intake and just subsist on tailwind, which feels great on my stomach. But for this long race, I didn’t want to take any chances. I finished off my peanut butter tortillas, ate a few pringles, and decided to start supplementing gels in addition to solid foods for the rest of the race.
The first loop felt great and I finished in 3:48. But I knew those ridiculous hills were going to get me at some point. I didn’t stay too long, just enough to fill up, eat a bit, and talk to Ty. I headed back out feeling relatively energetic. I knew what I was getting into this time, so I knew it would be getting rough soon. I made it through the first stretch, up the jeep road, and into the 6-mile stretch. Again, I wish I had counted those hills. There were a few that I had forgotten about. I had another scare where I thought I got off-course, but only because two of the hills looked exactly the same. I thought there was only one :( These two particular hills ran along a wire fence and you could see the bends in the wire where runners had used the fence to climb up. Insane, people, just insane.
The downhills were really starting to get to me. My quads started burning and my toes were jamming into the front of my shoe. This was a new problem I hadn’t experience this yet. I felt like I had tiny rocks inside my shoe under my toes and every step started to get more and more irritating. Running was still easy, but the rocks on the trail started hurting the bottoms of my feet. Again, not a problem I’ve had before. All of my previous races were short enough where I didn’t have issues with rocks, but my feet were starting to get pretty annoyed at this point.
I finished the second loop still feeling pretty good, and got excited about running the last loop withTy. I knew the ridiculousness of the course would be fun for him, and I needed him with me to get through this last bit. I had brought an second pair of socks just in case and ended up changing them before starting the last loop. The second pair of socks were “cushier” than the first pair. I had never noticed a difference in my socks until this moment. BEST PAIR OF SOCKS EVER! I felt like a new person by the time we took off. I ran pretty well, partly because the first part of the course is easy, and partly because I was super excited that I got to spend some time running with my amazing fiance. I don’t normally enjoy running with people when things get rough, but I can always run with Ty.
After the first easy bit, things got really rough. The jeep hill slowed me down and I stayed slow for most of the rest of the race. At this point, I was starting to get tired of solid food and relied on tailwind and gels for most of the rest of the race. Ty managed to get some salt pills and a few pringles in me. Luckily, I never had stomach issues, so I learned that I can survive on energy supplements pretty well.
The climbs during this last loop were just as hard, but the downhills were really getting to me. This is the first race where I’ve actually dreaded the downhills. I felt a new kind of physical pain, mostly in my quads and knees, but also a type of mental pain. The feeling of dread knowing that I was coming up on another downhill was an emotion that I didn’t expect or know how to deal with at the moment. I think I’ve always maintained a strong mental state during races, but one of those downhills almost broke me a little. I started getting teary-eyed knowing how bad this was going to hurt. I think I knew that if I started full-out crying, it would be hard to stop. I was getting really tired of being on the course and just wanted to be done, and I knew that crying wouldn’t get me any closer to the finish line, so I pulled myself together and just got myself down the stupid hill. So thankful I had Ty there. He complained about things right along with me, made sure I was eating and drinking, and just generally kept me going. Have I mentioned how awesome I think he is? I was so ready to be done, but I was walking so much that it took forever. The last loop took an hour and 45 minutes longer than the first.
I’m assuming that everyone gets that adrenaline rush when you know you’re close to the finish line. All of a sudden you can run again and you’re wondering why you couldn’t have felt this great during the whole race. I got to the top of a hill and knew I was close to the end. We both took off and I felt like I was flying again. Ty had a nasty little spill so close to the end, but he got up fast and we crossed the finish line together :)
This is definitely the hardest race I’ve ever attempted. Had I known what the course would be like, I probably wouldn’t have registered for it, but now that it’s over, I’m really glad I stuck with it. I had a rough few weeks of training leading up to the race. For whatever reason, my body decided to give up for a bit. I had low energy, my digestive system got kinda wonky, I was generally just cranky pants for about a month. Luckily, I started feeling a bit better just before leaving for the race. In the week after the race, my body settled back into place and everything feels balanced now. I think I just needed a butt-kicking race to get myself back into gear, and whoa buddy, did that race do it :)