Mile 57 and I’m fumbling, fingers frozen, in the 30 degree temps. I’m trying to stuff a gel pack in my pocket at the Last Chance aid station. A volunteer, after assisting me, looks me in the eye. In a firm but kind Texas lilt, she says:
“Got everything you need? Good.
Now, get after it!”
I take the advice to heart. With a shot of adrenaline and a renewed sense of purpose, I’m gone. (If I could please rewind and give that superb lady a hug, I would).
My first 100k started conservatively out of necessity. One of the most technical sections hits you right out of the gate. The mix of large and small rocks result in something of a scramble up the steeper sections, hampered on the day by slippery ice. Each step I took was a delicate gamble, hoping not to lose footing from underneath me but not wanting to cede much ground in the ladies field. Slipping and sliding, we all picked our way up. Close to the end of this section, a small group of ladies broke away from the group. I wasn’t prepared to risk a bad fall at this early stage, so I let them go. Looking back, this was a tactical mistake. I think I would have had a shot at a higher place if I had made the decision to keep up with them. Lesson learned.
I’ll confess that I spent much of the first 50k loop in a bit of a state of shock about the conditions. I’d heard there were a good number of flat and fast sections on the course and I was eager to make up time here. But making up time on these sections was impossible. They were thick clay. I have never run in anything like it. In case you haven’t either, I’ll attempt to describe it. Moments after entering this terrain, a layer of mud — seriously 3-4 inches thick – forms on the entire bottom surface of the shoe. And stays there for miles. Attempting to remove it is hopeless as more will immediately form. In addition, the trail mud sucks at the shoe, so that you’re not only sporting probably about 3 pounds of dead weight on the bottom of each shoe, but it’s as though your foot is being grabbed and pulled from underneath with each step. I couldn’t find a steady rhythm in the soul-sucking muck and ended up losing time here, where normally I would have gained it.
As I came in from the first 50k loop, somewhat discouraged, a spectator locked in on me, smiled, and tapped her head a few times. It was clear what she meant:
I know. It’s tough out there today. But it’s all mental. Choose your race.
Reinvigorated, I ran hard the whole next loop, trying to make up time. A female runner had passed me a little before the 50k mark and I was determined to catch back up to her. Inconveniently, the weather had cost me precious minutes, between removing my jacket and stuffing it into the pack, having to stop to remove gel packs and salt tabs because I was having trouble using my half-frozen fingers, and needing five, count ‘em, five potty breaks (turns out I could have drunk less water in the cold temps!).
In running, as in life, we’re all just looking for a little progress. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that despite having a solid race at TNF 50 in December, there was the nagging annoyance that when I pulled up next to F4 in the last miles of the race, I failed to summon the energy to battle it out for the spot. It’s a weakness of mine, not the first time it’s happened. Now, you may also recall that I claimed if the race had been for a podium spot I would have been all in. Writing that is one thing, but when it comes down to it, well … really?
Where are you F3? Where are you? I’ve been chasing you down for miles. Ever since starting the second 50k loop, I’ve been running hard, but I start to lose hope as the miles go by and she’s nowhere in sight. I keep telling myself I’ve simply got to be catching up to her. But it’s just me, my thoughts, and the squelch, squelch, squelching of the mud under my sodden feet.
Mile 53 yields a shining beacon of hope. A 50k-er casually mentions as I pass, “You know, the next runner, she’s not THAT far up ahead.” Sweet relief! I increase my pace a gear, determined to catch her and not to let the opportunity slip from me when I do.
Mile 58. When I finally catch sight of her at the top of a climb, I’m ready. Charging up, I pass her and tear down the trail for the next four miles to the finish, looking back just twice. I don’t know why but I was utterly convinced I could outkick her. I gave it everything — and in the end I prevailed. (She described me afterwards as “like a bear in the woods” as I raced ahead of her! Yep, I wasn’t giving up that spot for anything.)
So, there it is. The progress we’re all seeking. The sense of accomplishment when you succeed. For me, this was a difficult race on a course that should have favored my speed, but instead was hampered by my lack of experience in the cold, wet and clay mud. Despite that, I never gave up hope that things might turn around. I showed up in Bandera wanting to win, and that didn’t happen. But when it counted, I unquestioningly poured my entire self into the chase — and for me, that’s a victory in and of itself.
Lastly, but most certainly not least, thank you, thank you, thank you to all of the volunteers. They weren’t just there all day long, but all through the night too. In freezing cold and icy rain. Standing for hours and hours on end. Simply out of the kindness of their huge Texas hearts. Amazing.
10:39:38, 3rd place.