Whew… A race finally.
First off Tejas Trails put on a fantastic event and followed super safe protocols to make sure we felt that way. From their initial communication to the day of.
So, let’s get down to how I got there. I signed up for the race about 7 weeks ago. My training partner and good friend Cody had signed up months ago as a way to secure his WS ticket for the 2022 lottery. I had been hemming and hawing about if I should go, rather if I wanted to race this early in the season. I also have two other 100’s to run this year that had been deferred due to COVID from 2020. But who are we kidding, I knew I was going to run it. The idea of punching my ticket early had a real sweet sound to it, I just had to sign up. Let the adventure begin.
Cody had purchased an RV over the summer to roadtrip with his boys and his girlfriend, so we talked about driving that to Texas so we wouldn’t have to worry about hotels, flights, etc. We wanted to be as safe as possible since COVID is still ever present. Thankfully the race was taking place at Huntsville State Park and they had camping right on site. So it was decided. We would roadtrip. In hindsight I don’t think either of us REALLY thought about the drive home afterwards.
Training for a 100 mile race is time consuming at best. Training for a 100 mile race that takes place in Texas in February while you live in Wisconsin and you’ve had single digit temps is…challenging. I had some really good weeks and put in some solid miles, but still didn’t feel like I was really training. I was going to run this race regardless so I just kept running. The holiday season was crazy busy for me and I felt super stressed out. I was burning the candle at both ends and it was starting to take its toll. Oh, I also decided it was a good time to buy a house. A house I am not even going to live in. It is a cute little 480 sq ft investment property on one of the lakes here near Madison. Perfect for that passive income.
The new year comes and goes and the race is still on. We plan to leave Wednesday morning for a Saturday morning start. It was a 20 hour drive and with an RV it could take longer due the whopping 7 miles to the gallon. I think we filled up 5 times on the way down. We left at 6:30am and got to Texarkana TX at about 9:30pm and decided to camp in a Wal-Mart parking lot. There were more than one snapchat taken of me sleeping in the passenger seat, I can’t help it the moving vehicle just lulls this lady to the zzzz’s. Fun fact, it was also the first time I drove an RV.
We got up with no alarm and made coffee with the brand new coffee maker we bought the night before and got on the road about 8am. We had 5ish hours to get to Huntsville and it was a glorious 75 degrees out! We snag our spot and drive to the start/finish to set up our staging tent for our drop bags. The course was 5-20 mile loops so we planned to use the area each loop for our main stop. It was our first look at the course and the whole vibe. We went to hook up the RV and get changed for a little shake out run to preview the course. Roots-check. Sand-check. Fast-check. We called it an early night and were eager to get a nice full night of sleep.
Friday came with cloudy and misty morning. By mid morning we decided to preview another section of the course and tried out race day outfit choices. It was going to be 65 and humid on race day, which was going to feel warm after spending all winter in cold temps. The rain started again once we got back. Packet pickup started at 5pm so I laid down for an hour+ beforehand and got my drop bags organized. I decided to pack my bags by type of items rather than loops. 20 mile loops with 3 aid stations throughout, I wasn’t going to need much. With a 6 am start I would maybe make it through 3 loops without needing light, and the temps after dark weren’t supposed to be any cooler than the morning start. Lots of warm layers didn’t seem necessary.
We decided to walk with all of our gear to the start/finish line, it was over a mile and that shit was heavy! The line for packet pickup was long, especially with everyone adhering to the 6ft social distancing. Our buddy Adam got off the waitlist and was already through the line by the time we got in it. Super cool to chat with him and he planned to pick us up in the morning to arrive at the start together. I knew another guy, Darrick from Wisconsin who was running and I was excited to see him on the course.
Cody had an old work buddy who brought steaks for dinner, we also had brussel sprouts and little roasted potatoes. Good fuel for race day. I called it an early night by 9:15pm and set the alarm for 4:15am. Coffee was ready and I made my typical Picky Bars oatmeal for breakfast. Our buddy Adam was coming at 5:30am to pick us up so we could organize our staging area a little before we picked up the chip timer and our start time. I was happy with what I had set out to wear and was on my way back from the bathroom when Adam got to the camp site. So with hydration vest and headlamps in tow, we were off.
I organized the best I could, knowing that I would not be stopping along the course for at least the first loop, I would be carrying everything that I needed. This was the first race I planned to eat mostly Spring Energy, with them being small enough and with a larger calorie punch, they seemed perfect. The three of us finish at the tent and head over to the start area to pick up our ankle chip. We started at about 6:07am. This year you had to sign up for a start time and you had a 30 min window in which to start, it was awesome with this waterfall start. I hope we keep that method going forward. It really minimized the bottleneck you get when transitioning to the single track.
Before I get into the race details I want to preface: I went into this race with zero expectations, I didn’t even talk about it much. I was coming here to punch my WS ticket early and the only goal was to get it done. I did not feel ready to race and fast racing was definitely not on my mind.
With a trail guided by headlamp and nervous chatter from other runners, it felt good to be out there. I found myself leading our little group of three. I looked at the pace on my watch and 11:15 was good, but I knew we would be on single track for awhile and I didn’t want to get stuck in that gear. So “passing on your left” became a phrase I uttered often in those first 4ish miles. With any race, whether you are in the mountains or the trees you can only rely on your GPS to a certain extent. Aid stations and mile markers are rarely lined up with what the watch says. Cody and I run side by side as we come through the first aid and onto the real only out and back section of the course. I came to hate this section. It was a sandy fire road that had little rollers. The only benefit of this section was the front runners. I was able to see where I stood overall and what place female I was. Remember when I said I had no goals and didn’t care about where or when I finished? Well, let’s be real: you all know I am competitive and when the race actually starts all that other shit goes out the window. I was sitting in 4th or 5th, mind you this is 5 miles into the race, we have a long way to go.
We start weaving our way through the course, go through aid #2 at about 8.5 miles without stopping. This section was fun, longer smooth ups and down, a chance to really stride out. Coming through aid #3 around mile 14ish. A nice little surprise with about 4.5-5 miles to go we ended up on the side of a dam, it was pretty cool to see. Temps were great, mid to high 40’s, a little humid. I started with a beanie, gloves, a T-shirt with a light weight long sleeve over top, shorts and tall socks. Coming into the start/finish area we had a nice 10 min avg pace and feeling good. We dropped the lights, I switched to a hat, swapped out food, and topped off water. I only drank maybe 1/4 of my 17ml flask. I told myself to do better on the next lap. Cody and I were out of there in 3 min and off on loop 2.
We slowed some on the loop and still passed through aid 1 and 2. He stopped at aid 3 for a water refill and caught up quick. I noticed that I was so hungry. But I had been eating about 600 calories per loop so about 200ish calories per hour, plenty. It remained over cast and we continued to pass people. The last section of the course, the part after the dam was in my opinion the most technical portion with large gravel like rocks and large roots. It also seemed to take the longest to cover, it felt never ending. Oh, at the top of the dam you could see the start/finish area knowing you had almost 5 miles to cover before you got there. That probably didn’t help. Cody was ahead of me and I started chatting with a runner who I was leap frogging with. He would run the uphills but take it easy on the down, while I was vice versa. We ran a bit together and talked about the race. I finished the lap maybe 10 min slower than the first loop and still on a super great pace.
Starting loop 3 was slow, I was feeling the lack of water I was drinking, but I drank half my bottle on the last loop! Cody and I started the loop together after refilling food along with our new friend Kyle. We began with a nice little run/walk deal, but a few miles in Cody had it in his mind for a sub 20 hour finish and we needed to get going. I was not feeling it. By the time we got through the first aid station and to the out and back, they had pulled away. I was fine with that, I needed to slow some so I could be strong through the night. I was still sitting good position wise according to that section of course. Not much else notable from that loop really, except that I kept repeating to myself what I needed to do at the staging area. It was going to get dark on loop 4, and probably get cooler. I knew that the times of Cody and running together in this race were over, so I wanted to make sure I had music. Came into the end of loop 3 with 9:30 hours done, I kept thinking “these next two loops are going to take just as long as the last 3 did!” I saw Cody on his way out on loop 4 as I was coming in. He suggested I try to catch up to him as he was going to walk the start, I told him no. I was stressing out too much trying to stay with him and needed to run my own race. I’d see him at the finish.
Before starting loop 4 I grabbed my long-sleeve and put it in my pack along with my beanie. I switched out of my road shoes and into my trail shoes and changed my socks. All the gravel rocks and roots were bringing out my tender foot, and I really did NOT want to deal with that today. I grabbed my phone and wireless headphones, filled my flask with drink mix, swapped out food, and grabbed two lights. I was feeling defeated after that loop, and the thought of spending the next two loops in the dark and potentially 10 hours was not awesome. So, I put in my earbuds, put on a good playlist and got to work. I continued to alternate SaltStick fastchews with GinGin hard ginger candy. At the first aid station, I got a cup of water, took 1000mg of Tylenol, ate a granola bar and took off. I saw that the first place woman had fallen back to third. I passed Cody and Kyle on my way into the out and back. I was feeling better, the music was helping. It got dark enough for a light at the turnaround.
I stopped at aid 2 for some hot soup and a water refill! Wouldn’t you know it, I drank almost my whole bottle by mile 8. I used my reusable SSUP cup for the soup so I could take it with me on the go. Name of the game: in and out. I was feeling great. The sky was clear and I felt like I was cruising. Got into aid 3 and downed a cup of ramen and got on my way. By the time I was climbing up to the dam, there was another runner near me. I was looking forward to this since the first loop. At the top I told him to turn off his headlamp and look up, he wasn’t so sure, but then he saw it. An open sky of stars. With a course in the trees and so many roots, your gaze is stuck looking down. Most would never see that sky. I took a few pictures and he remarked at how he has never seen the stars this bright and thanked me for guiding him. We chatted a little about how this would hopefully be his first 100 mile finish after 3 attempts. We bid our farewells and I wished him luck. I was probably super annoying to people during this section, my earbuds are noise cancelling and I was singing out loud. I remember thinking that I have never felt this good overall this far into a 100 miler ever. Coming into the start/finish area at about an hour slower than the last lap, I was still averaging a good pace for around a 20 hour finish. Grabbing some soup, I swapped out food and put my beanie and gloves on and was off.
Last and Final Loop. For as good as I felt on the previous lap, I was feeling equally as horrible on this loop. I was on the verge of tears, my feet hurt and running was almost impossible. I was now shuffling. At the first aid station I took more Tylenol and took some ramen to go. I saw Cody further back than I had before, which means I had gained on him, well I sped up like I thought on loop 4. I settled in for a long haul, knowing this would be my slowest lap. Halfway through to the next aid I threw on my long sleeve and switched to my iPod shuffle. I love that thing. I was feeling real down. With no crew and no pacer I was really wishing for some company right about now. But, putting pity party aside I was astonished about the amount of people on course who were death marching and so bundled up. It was like 45 and humid, which made it feel colder, but puffy coats and pants?! But, most people probably weren’t coming from arctic temps. Aid station 2 I filled my bottle and grabbed two cups of chicken and rice soup. That was so so good, I downed the first immediately basically drinking it and took the other to go. From Lap 4 to now I was eating from the aid stations and supplementing from my pack in between, I was still feeling so hungry. Mind you I also have only peed once and I am 90 miles in.
I was looking forward to this next more runnable section, I love the downhill but due to my feet I was having trouble getting any sort of good pace going. Think stepping on never ending Legos. At aid station 3 I ate some mashed potatoes and took my Styrofoam cup with me and put it in my pack when finished. The almost two miles to the top of the dam was rough, I am sure I shed a few tears. My shuffle was pathetic, but it hurt less to do that than to power hike. I once again took a couple pictures at the top of the dam and steeled myself for possibly an hour and a half to go. I wasn’t going to be able to get sub 20, but I would most likely be sub 21.
The last 2 miles were the worst, as I mentioned before they seemed to take forever, and I just found myself sinking lower and lower despite the fact that I was so so close. Taking the last right turn up on the fire road, I was finally able to give it. Passing a few people, at this point it didn’t matter, because you had no idea what loop they were on.
I crossed the line around 2:30am with a finish time of 20:23:33. This is about an hour and 20 min PR for me in a race. Cody was already finished and greeted me at the end. I was told I was 3rd female, not bad. After throwing on some warm clothes I asked our tent neighbors if they didn’t mind giving us a ride back to the RV. Walking was out of the question for both of us. The camp ground had hot free showers, so you bet your ass I took that offer up. I stood in the shower at 3am until the hot water wasn’t hot anymore. A small walk back to the RV and I tried to lay down. I slathered my body in CBD salve and took some ibuprofen for all the inflammation. At about 8am we got up and went to retrieve our bags and the tent that was still set up. The race cutoff was 2pm, so there were plenty of runners still going. We got a few pictures at the finish with our buckles since we had none from the start or finish. We grabbed some breakfast tacos from the local food truck and got on the road to drive back to Wisconsin.
During the drive down we started Scott Jureks book North about his FKT on the Appalachian Trail. On the way home we finished it, it made 100 miles seem very insignificant. While one person slept the other rested so we could minimize our drive. We stopped south of St. Louis to sleep overnight and were back on the road by 5am on Monday.
We did it. We each now have another Western States ticket in the hat. 5 years for me and 4 for Cody. Fingers crossed that one of us gets in for 2022.
I am so looking forward to taking a month “off” to focus on strength in the gym and recover. I have big goals for the next two races and my expectations going in are not going to be to wing it.