LBJ National Grasslands 50 mile trail run 3/21/09

We decided at the last minute to drive up to the Grasslands the day before the race for some good ol’ Texas camping. We found a spot right by the start/finish line, and there were horses EVERYWHERE! We very quickly befriended our neighbors on either side of us, who had 5 horses between the two of them. Justin was a very memorable young cowboy who repeated phrases like “I do apologize” and “much obliged” as often as I say “sorry” and “thanks”. He and his wife “went to town” for a short while and asked if we’d horse sit for him. I kinda laughed and told him I don’t mind keeping on eye on his site but if one of his horses got loose, I don’t know how to handle a horse! After showing me how to secure a horse to a pole with a slipknot, he was comfortable enough leaving his horses under our watch care! HA! Luckily, there were no major events. One horse did finally escape, but it was at the same moment Justin and his wife were returning from the big city of Decatur, TX.

I crawled in to my tent Friday night at a decent hour, but tossed and turned all night coughing from the sinus infection I had been fighting all week. The alarm finally went off, so I got up, got ready for the race, and walked to the starting line. I was anxious to see what the course was like. From what I had heard, it was a pretty sandy course, which didn’t sound too exciting. However, besides a short distance correction out and back, there were 4 “different” loops of varying distances, as opposed to running the same 12.5 mile loop 4 times like a lot of other 50 milers. This sounded good to me to break up the monotony of the course.

At 7am, the race director shouted “Go!” and about 60 runners took off. It was still dark, so most of us had our headlamps on to light the trail ahead of us. It was a single track trail, so there was a bit of walking until the line of runners spread out enough to run. This part of the trail wasn’t too bad – not too sandy or hard or rocky. We hit the turnaround point after 2.4 miles, and made our way back to the start. I had been hydrating pretty good Friday afternoon and evening, so I was pleased after about 3 miles when I had to step off the trail and “water a bush”. I came in to the start finish area in time to see the half-marathoners getting ready to take off (they had a later start time). I tossed my headlamp to Jenn, filled up on Succeed, grabbed a few potatoes, and took off on the first loop (blue).

It got lonely pretty quick. I tried to keep the runner in front of me in my eyesight at all times since the course was not always marked well, but there were plenty of times that I was all alone. I ran in to sand in several places, and that was very difficult to try and run through. Other parts of the trail was hard dirt with horse shoe tracks from when the dirt was muddy, and now was hard as a rock. Not too easy to run on. I was religiously going to follow my plan to drink a lot, eat a lot, and take two Endurolytes every hour. After about 10 miles, I could already feel the burn coming on in my legs and my hip flexors were complaining at me. This was not encouraging, but I kept moving, knowing that it sometimes just flares up and then passes. This first loop (after the 4.8mi initial out and back) was 13.5 miles, the longest loop of the course. After about 16 miles, I had to step off the trail again to water a bush and was again very encouraged by my hydration. As I was coming in to the start/finish area, completing the first loop, I saw Jeannette and she joined me for the final 200 yards or so. She said she had a good half marathon run. I approached the checkpoint and saw some of my family and my friend Kevyn, from Wichita Falls, who was going to run a loop with me. She had also just finished the half-marathon. I didn’t waste much time as I high-fived Kevyn, grabbed some more Succeed and food, waved at my peeps, at took off for loop #2. 18.3miles down, 32.1 to go. (The course was actually 50.4 miles).

As we started the yellow loop, I walked for a few minutes while I finished stuffing my face with potatoes and PB&J. This loop was 10.4 miles. I told Kevyn I’d be taking it easy because I was already starting to feel tired. About 20 miles in to the race I started feeling queasy. On top of that, the yellow loop had a lot more sand than the blue loop. I was not enjoying the terrain, and I remembered when I finished the Sunmart 50 miler in December, my friend Rene said I would be spoiled now because that was such a good course. I was quickly finding out what he meant, and boy was he right! Kevyn and I came up on a cow that had just crossed our path on the trail. Good thing it wasn’t in our way or we might have had to do some cow-tipping! A few miles down the trail, we came to an aid station, and one of the volunteers asked if I was feeling nauseous. Maybe she could see it on my face, I don’t know. So she handed me 3 pills and said they were papaya tablets and they’ll help with the nausea. I looked at her, a little unsure since it’s usually not a good idea to try something new on race day, and she assured me they were ok. She said sometimes she’ll take as many as 40 of them on a 100 mile race. So then I felt silly and just chewed them up. HA! I hadn’t been able to drink much or eat much for the past few miles, and I knew if this didn’t change soon, I was going to be in bad shape a few hours down the trail. I had started to walk a lot more, especially on the uphill sections, so my time was starting to slow down considerably. By the time we were nearing the end of this loop, I was feeling pretty beat up, dehydrated, and sick. I switched from Succeed to water a few miles back, but I was still having a hard time taking in fluids. As we neared the start/finish area, I saw the Wichita Falls group cheering me on (thanks Sandy, Kate, Don, and crew!) and then we turned up the final stretch and saw my family and a huge turnout from the Fort Worth group cheering me on (thanks Running Family!! You guys rock!!).

At this point, I was 28.7 miles in to the race. I had 3.5 hours to run the next loop (12.8 miles) to beat the 10 hour 41.5mile cutoff. My pace had slowed considerably to around 13min miles because of all the walk breaks, and based on how I was feeling, I knew my pace would slow down even more. As I came in to see the support crew, I told Jenn I wasn’t going to make it, and then I pulled Jeannette to the side and with a painful expression, fighting back tears, begged her to run this 3rd loop with me instead of the 4th as she had originally planned. Little did I know, she had already decided that was the better plan, seeing that my loop times were much slower than anticipated. As I went to the aid station to refuel, the race director told me I only had 3.5 hours to complete the 3rd loop, almost asking me if I was sure I wanted to even try. Without hesitation, I said “I know. It’s going to be close. I have a pacer.” And that was that. I thanked and hugged Kevyn for running the 2nd loop, and off we went for loop #3.

Someone had warned me earlier that the white loop was really sandy. But seeing how sandy the yellow loop was, I thought to myself – surely it couldn’t be worse than that. HA! How wrong was I! I remembered going to the beach last summer and how difficult it was to just walk through the sand, and here I was trying to run 50 miles on a trail that had a significant amount of sand. That totally sucked. Despite the crazy terrain, Jeannette was a great pacer – full of energy, trying to pull me along, optimistic, running slowly when I was trying to walk. I promised her I would let her know before I threw up. I felt bad though because I was not listening to her very well. I was sick, in a lot of pain, dehydrated, VERY thirsty and hungry, and couldn’t muster up much desire or ability to push myself any harder. I couldn’t drink anything except Sprite at the aid stations, but one small cup of Sprite every 3-4 miles was hardly enough to sustain me through this course. When I tried to eat, I just gagged. We suddenly reached a point in an open field where we felt like maybe we were lost, so we backtracked about a quarter of a mile and found two runners coming along the trail and said they thought this was right, so we turned back around and went back down the trail. It was a guy named Bob and a younger girl named Susan. She was struggling pretty bad. Bob seemed like a seasoned veteran who had decided to run with Susan the whole way. He did some math in his head and said if we could just do 15min miles we could beat the cutoff. If you’ve never been in this situation, then you can’t understand how difficult it is to run a 15min mile sometimes. We were probably 32 miles in to the race at this point. Anyway, we stayed with them for a few miles, running when we could and walking when we had to. We suddenly came to this point where I hear Bob up ahead say “Well I have good news and bad news. Good news is, there’s a sign for the trail. Bad news, we have to climb up this really steep hill.” Right as he was saying this, Jeannette turns around and holds her hands up with an “Oh crap” expression on her face, preparing to calm me down once I finally was able to see the hill ahead. HA! It was a really steep hill, possibly worse than any hill at Palo Duro Canyon. So, we slowly trudged our way up the rocky hill, not looking at the top, but instead just the next few steps along the way. After making our way down the other side, I was just beat. I had to walk to try and recover. Bob was up ahead a good ways, and all of a sudden, Susan comes screaming past me at what seemed like an all out sprint. That was the last time we saw them. At this point, I was on the verge of puking, and was in a lot of pain with every step. Now, I understand that I probably didn’t feel any worse than anyone else on the course, but I just couldn’t make myself push on any faster. We were probably at about 35 miles at this point, and I just couldn’t make myself run. My right quad was about to start cramping and I knew that any overexertion at all would make me blow chunks everywhere. So we walked. Jeannette tried one last time to push me along by saying if we made the cutoff she would also run the last 8.9mile loop with me! That would have been awesome, and it was more proof that she is mentally, and only one run away from being, an ultrarunner. However, it just wasn’t going to happen. I could not go any faster, no matter what carrot you dangled in front of me.

We were walking along, not sure where my mind was, when I heard Jeannette drop back and talk to someone. A moment later, here comes Rene passing by telling me to come on, after Jeannette told him to kick me in the butt and make me move along faster. He was on his final loop, where he went on to finish 13th overall! As much as I wanted to, I just couldn’t go any faster. The terrain had become even more ridiculous. It was rock hard dirt, with no flat trail to run on – just very uneven, dried up mud. Rene made it look so easy though! Not much further down the trail, Holly and Sonia came racing by looking very strong. They were screaming and hootin and hollerin having a good ol’ time, trying to push it fast enough to make the cutoff. They tried to push me along, but I just couldn’t. Finally, at the aid station about 37.5 miles in to the race, I saw that we had 4miles to go in 45 minutes or less. That was an 11:15/mile pace, including all walk breaks. I was feeling worse and knew that it was impossible for me to go that pace. So, as difficult as it was, I swallowed some pride and voluntarily DNF’d by asking for a ride back to the start/finish. I was so thirsty I wanted to guzzle something down, but I was having trouble just sipping coke or water. We sat in a chair and waited for our ride home.

It really sucked to DNF. I could come up with excuses like the sinus infection, the difficult terrain, being under-trained, whatever. But the fact is, when the race began, I took it very serious, gave it everything I had, and when the dust settled, the trail kicked my butt and I simply fell short. I honestly do not feel like there was anything else I could have done to have improved my performance, except trained harder. So that is what I will do now. I have the Memorial Run on May 2nd that you’ll hear about soon if you haven’t already heard about it. Then I’ll focus my training on the Palo Duro 50 miler in October. Right now (that may change),I honestly have no desire to ever run Grasslands again. I like the challenge of running 50 miles. You can add other challenges to this, like the hidden tree roots at Sunmart or the hills at Palo Duro, and I’m ok with that. But running 50 miles in the sand? That wasn’t a fun challenge.

Thanks again to the people at the start/finish area cheering me on – that was awesome! And thanks a million to my wife, Jenn, who was there anxiously waiting on me to cross through each checkpoint, from the start all the way until I DNF’d. And to Kevyn for running a loop right after her half marathon, and right after scarfing down a BBQ sandwich! And thanks to Jeannette for running that final loop, trying so hard to pace me along to the cutoff, despite my lack of cooperation. You guys are all awesome!!

By the way, Bob and Susan made the cutoff and went on to finish the race. They were the last two finishers. 43 people out of 60 finished, the other 17 DNF'd.

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