Out of the Ordinary: Brazos Bend 100 Race Report

BB100 Rob

Chatting with RD Rob Goyen at the pre-race briefing. (Pic: Trail Racing Over Texas/Stasulli Photo)

I don’t have a camper van. I don’t live in the mountains. My ability to post aspirational tales about epic international travel and adventures is limited. Not only am I not a Hardrocker, or a UTMB-er, but I don’t pine wistfully about running either one because they are totally impractical to my life. For those that do these things, you inspire me too. I love eye-candy mountain running pictures as much as anyone.

But no, for better or worse, my life isn’t about all-day playtime on gnarly terrain, gathering wood to make my own fires or any such things. I guess you could say my life is pretty ‘standard.’ I’m a lawyer with a mortgage, car payments, and two wonderful boys that my husband and I would do just about anything for. And even though I’m not on the PTA, we both coach youth track in our community. I love being ‘Coach Caroline’ and helping the kids in our small valley channel their energy into something safe, welcoming and healthy.

Why do I mention these things? I mention them because in the midst of a life that is, I suppose, largely ordinary (not that I would trade it for anything), ultrarunning is my crazy. It definitely fits squarely outside the box of what people ‘like me’ do, but it’s my sanctuary and I don’t just love it, I need it. I need it to grow as a person, to balance me, to engage my mind and body, to connect me with the outdoors. Sure, I’m the Mom who shows up to school disheveled, make-up free and salty. Yes, even though my run was likely hours ago, I’m still wearing my running shoes because I’ve been trying to squeeze in a couple of hours of work before school pick-up. I’m totally comfortable with that, because it’s who I am. But now, on top of everything else, we’re opening a new business, and trying to find a way to pay for that, and it’s almost Christmas, and that adds additional layers that make my head spin and lose me sleep. Running is my solace, my outlet for all of that.

Heading into a race, all of these things matter. Most days I wish life were simpler. Especially right now, when we’re in the thick of it, I wish that I wasn’t quite so overwhelmed by it all. I tell myself that the running will help with that, and it does. Let me assure you, if I knew one thing for certain going into Brazos Bend 100, it was that I wasn’t going to DNF. No hundred miler has ever gone that smoothly for me, but I’ve always found a way to persist. This 100 miler was on a course I know and love, with an amazing group of people there to support me and cheer me on. Stress in my life was at something near an all-time high, but somehow my running leading up to the race was going fantastically. I felt super comfortable with my race plan. I was open to the possibility that this was going to be the day that I nailed 100 miles, just as I was open to the possibility that I wouldn’t. I was committed to go the distance. Even if I didn’t nail it, I had prepped for that too.

BB100 Todd

Pre-race with Todd Falker. Brimming with the usual optimism. (Pic: Trail Racing Over Texas/Stasulli Photo)

BB100 Mike

Chatting with Altra’s Mike McKnight at the start line. (Pic: Trail Racing Over Texas/Stasulli Photo)

So, what went wrong? That’s a hard one to explain. If I had to guess, it would be this. When I was out there, it was clear that my body was trying to tell me something that my mind didn’t consciously acknowledge. Because ultimately, while running gives me sanity, running 100 miles is undeniably hard. In my state of mind, simply getting there became one more thing to try to squeeze in to an already packed schedule. The worm had turned, and instead of the race becoming outlet, it ended up feeling like one more insurmountable thing to do. At this moment in my life, I’d had enough, my body had had enough.

And yet, once I was there, I reasoned I had nothing better to do with my day than run. I kept waiting for the miles to click off, for flow to come, but they all felt forced and uncomfortable. I thought I needed to warm up from the 30 degree start time, but when I did, I found it wasn’t that. Give it time to find something sustainable, I reasoned, so I kept going. Now, 100 miles is a long way to fight against a rebelling body, so even though I knew my fitness was better than my body was willing to offer, I allowed myself to slow down a little. Alright, 8:30’s it is, I guess. Should be able to keep that going for a good long while, even if it’s not going to be an especially fast day. But no, then it was 8:45, 9:00, 9:30s. I could hardly understand what was happening when I looked at my watch. I don’t run that slow on my slowest post-race recovery days. I was less than 30 miles in. I fought back against those times because there is absolutely no reason on earth for me to be running that slow. But my back ached insufferably and my hamstrings cramped. I let it get to me. Deep down I knew that in that moment, I had crossed over from running as a release to running as a task. With only myself to blame for signing up for 100 miles in the midst of all that I have going on right now, it ended up feeling like simply one more thing I felt I had to do. This time, my body said no. And 32 miles later, my mind acquiesced.

BB100 early morning

Trail Racing Over Texas/Lets Wander Photography

BB100 mid morning

Trail Racing Over Texas/Lets Wander Photography

BB100 running

Trail Racing Over Texas/Stasulli Photo


Not finishing a race feels terrible, but I don’t regret it. This isn’t the end of the world. It’s just running! Running continues to be something that gives me great joy, and is endlessly rewarding across the spectrum, from the small ‘that-felt better-than-expected’ days to the big headlining ones. It continues to fulfill my hopes and dreams beyond anything I could ever have imagined. It is an essential, non-negotiable part of my being. I want to continue building fitness carefully and consistently. I have big, exciting goals for 2018! For now though, it’s time to start making this home feel a little more Christmas and a little less ‘we’re about to open a business’ with papers everywhere and boxes littering hallways and a garage filled with restaurant furniture. Let’s get this business open (finally!!), wrap up some time-intensive work projects in my other job, hug my kids, love my family. And yes, run.

Chasing Ann’s ‘Ghost’ in the Land of Flying Pigs: Brazos Bend 50 Mile Race Report

There must have been a special kind of magic in the air across America last weekend, because in the span of a few hours between Saturday and Sunday, ultrarunning women kicked an unusual amount of butt. Gina Slaby set the new 100-mile World Record on the track at Desert Solstice, breaking Ann Trason’s 1991 mark. Maggie Guterl, Courtney Dauwalter, and presumed Ultra Runner Of the Year Kaci Lickteig all clocked overall wins in their races, with Maggie setting the overall course record to boot.

I felt it too. As dawn broke on Saturday in Needville, Texas, I relished the snap of cold in the December air. A quiet confidence whispered to me that of all the racing days that had gone before it, this was going to be my day. The Grinch sent me off and I felt the weight of a responsibility to bring my very best. I had told RD Rob Goyen and my crew John Stasulli (aka The Grinch) along with his son AJ that I was trying to break Ann Trason’s 50 Mile trail record. On Rob’s course, I thought I could even break 6 hours.


The Grinch aka John Stasulli (Photo: Trail Racing Over Texas/Myke Hermsmeyer)

Brazos Bend is a swamp. A full-on, lime green, moss-covered swamp. The Grinch warned me that even in winter, mosquitos might be a problem. Then there were the alligators. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to see an alligator on the course (alligators? really?), but everyone told me I probably would. My friend Myles Smythe, there to film the race, had seen one just the day before. In the end, neither the bugs nor the alligators made an appearance. Instead, of all things, it was flying pigs.

Only a couple of miles into the race and a disturbing ruckus of snorting and stampeding feet erupted from the brush to my right. What the…? For a few seconds, there was only the noise, coming closer and closer with each passing moment. I looked at the oncoming runners on this out and back section. They looked back at me, wide-eyed. Right in between us and just a few feet away, a dozen or so wild pigs came streaking across the trail at a full gallop. I paused, pretty sure I could still hear more snorting in the thicket from the ones left behind. Here goes nothing, I thought as I braved my way through, waiting to be taken out by a charging, squealing swine eager to catch up to the group.

Attempting to outrun the piggies (Photo: Trail Racing Over Texas/Myke Hermsmeyer)

Attempting to outrun the piggies (Photo: Trail Racing Over Texas/Myke Hermsmeyer)

Once clear – phew! – I got back into my rhythm, paranoid now about the continued sounds I could hear coming from the scrub. Fast as I was going, I couldn’t seem to outrun them. At the first aid station, 40 Acre, 4.10 miles in, The Grinch awaited. “Two minutes ahead [of pace]” he informed me, rather sternly. I shot him a big smile, “Oh, but I’m feeling so gooooood” I shouted back as we made the seamless transition. At each aid station, I grabbed a 10oz bottle filled with one or two VFuel gels mixed with water — shaken, not stirred – and continued on my way.

Photo: Trail Racing Over Texas/Myke Hermsmeyer

Photo: Trail Racing Over Texas/Myke Hermsmeyer

The plan had been to go out on 7:10 pace and stick there like glue. This would have resulted in a 5:58:24 finish, with a smidge of cushioning if I was flagging at the end. I was determined to try to break 6 hours. By the end of the first 16.67 mile loop, I was well under. Six minutes under. The course was as fast as promised, with only a few short sections of clay mud and deeper crushed gravel footing that weren’t quite as speedy as the rest of the essentially flat course. At home, my husband, Robert, and coach, Mario Fraioli, exchanged texts. Robert was ecstatic, of she’s-crushing-it mentality. Mario was a touch more reticent, knowing that at this pace the last 10-15 miles could turn into a one-way trip to ugly town.

Mile after mile, my pace remained consistent in the low to mid-6:50s. On a flat surface, I can usually lock into a comfortable, fixed pace and just go, go, go. Still, with each passing mile, I braced for the inevitable crushing burden of fatigue. On a 50-mile course, I knew it was coming, the only question was when. It slowly seeped in, starting around mile 37. The danger is always the pitfall of giving back all of those beautiful splits, losing them to the overriding slow miles towards the end. Thirteen miles of 7:30s, for example, could quickly erase all that I had accomplished up to that point. I held myself to stay on task, knowing that the pain was only temporary, willing myself to get to most I could squeeze out of each passing mile.

Towards the end, I was grimacing with the effort, alternating between growling out loud to self-motivate and wimpering with suffering. Oncoming runners looked duly concerned. My slowest mile was at mile 45, a 7:30 something, as I came upon the lead runner, Michael Daigeaun. A few days before, Michael had decided to drop down to the 50-mile race from the 100-mile because of an impending cold. He had been ahead the whole time, often just out of sight. We would exchange encouraging words to each other as we crossed at the out-and-backs. He’d been running strong all morning and at mile 45 I naturally fell into step just behind him, thankful at the thought of having some company in my decline. I soon realized that I needed to pick up the pace to stay on track though, and passed by. It helped, knowing he was back there. I imagined him closing in on me, spurring me to try to stay a few steps ahead.

In my mind, there was another runner leading the way. I knew that I was well ahead of Ann Trason’s historic 1994 run in Hunstville, TX at this point. Yet I still imagined her there, her ghost if you will, always slightly ahead of me and leading the way.* In that race, Ann ran 6:14:51 for 50 miles. I’m told this was the fastest women’s 50-mile time recorded for a race where the surface is entirely trail. The race no longer exists, but extrapolating from what little I know about the area, the course probably had somewhat more elevation gain, and was undoubtedly more technical with some root-laden course sections. I believe this is where the Rocky Racoon race is run, a course that is also known as generally fast and fairly flat — although it’s always hard to compare times run on any two trail races.

In the end, I came across the line in 5:48:01 (avg 6:58 pace), absolutely spent and raw with emotion. I’m so grateful to those who were there to capture some beautiful images of the moment. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it was the new overall course record, inching past Ford Smith’s 2014 time by 9 seconds, albeit on a slightly adjusted course. It’s also the third fastest 50-mile time ever run by a North American resident woman on any surface (Camille Herron holds the “world’s best” of 5:38:41, run on the road, with Ann Trason’s road time a close second, at 5:40:18).**

Photo: AJ Stasulli

Photo: AJ Stasulli

Saturday marked my 42nd Birthday. On that day something very unlikely happened to someone who still thinks of herself as a rank amateur among giants. The take home, I suppose, is to keep plugging away, take risks, and hold yourself to the task at hand.

Because you just never know when the pigs are gonna fly.


Photo: Trail Racing Over Texas/Myke Hermsmeyer

* Don’t worry, Ann Trason is very much alive, and thank goodness for that. She’s my hero, and she should be yours too. Whether or not you’re familiar with her accomplishments, they’re worthy of discussion, being nothing short of spectacular. Ann won the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run a whopping 14 times. She was voted Ultra Runner Of the Year for more than a decade. Ann set 20 World Records in the course of her career, at distances from 40 miles to 100 miles, and numerous course records, many of which still stand today. Stop for a moment and absorb that. It’s only in recent years, as the popularity of ultrarunning continues to grow and women’s participation in it surges, that Ann’s records have begun to be challenged. Ann set the bar so very high, at a time when her only real competition was often the men (whom she regularly beat, winning races outright).

**  The Brazos Bend 100 Mile course is USA Track & Field (USATF) sanctioned. The Brazos Bend 50 Mile course I ran on Saturday is exactly 50.01 miles. Each 16.67-mile loop is part of the six-loop, 100-mile course and the 50-mile course is simply three of those same loops. The difference between certified and sanctioned is this: a certified course has been measured as accurate for the distance. However, a course cannot be certified–is not officially record-eligible–if it does not meet the USATF criteria for setting records. For reasons unknown to the author, USATF does not certify trail races. Additionally, Camille Herron’s 50-mile time is officially a ‘world’s best’ rather than a world record because it was set at a point-to-point race, which is another type of course that USATF does not officially certify. Essentially, Camille holds the fastest 50-mile road time ever recorded and I now hold the fastest 50-mile trail time ever recorded, at least by a North American resident, and possibly anywhere (since 50-mile races are very much a North American distance). Just don’t call them American records or world records because some people get really bent out of shape about stuff like this. As Traci Falbo put it: tomato/tomato.


The agony and the ecstacy, captured in one intense moment. Photo: Trail Racing Over Texas/Myke Hermsmeyer

High-fiving Michael Daigeaun (Photo: Trail Racing Over Texas/Myke Hermsmeyer)

High-fiving Michael Daigeaun at the finish (Photo: Trail Racing Over Texas/Myke Hermsmeyer)

With RD, Rob Goyen (Photo: Trail Racing Over Texas/Myke Hermsmeyer)

With RD, Rob Goyen (Photo: Trail Racing Over Texas/Myke Hermsmeyer)