Practicing Patience and Pacing
With my DNS at Cajun Coyote, I decided to fill the gap with a race the following weekend. There were a couple of local options. The first would be at Brazos Bend State Park and the other at Huntsville State Park. Both are really nice Texas State Parks and both are approximately the same driving distance from central Houston. The biggest difference is the terrain and the race atmosphere.
Brazos Bend 100 (50M, marathon and half marathon options) markets itself as the flattest race in Texas. It has the novelty of having a huge habitat of alligators, but is otherwise a non-technical trail. The atmosphere is party-like and attracts a large TROT (Trail Racing Over Texas) following with many cross-over road runners getting in on the action of a longer race.
On the other hand, Texas Trails Endurance Run is a smaller race with a more relaxed atmosphere. It used to be a larger race. Years ago, the Sunmart 50M race was that of legend. I wasn’t a runner back then, but the now-defunct convenience store had legendary swag bag options and attracted top talent across the country. After the demise of Sunmart, Soler Sports, out of San Antonio picked up the race. They do an awesome job at providing a great personal experience to their runners. I have nothing but positive things to say about the race management and offerings. The terrain at Huntsville State Park is more hilly than Brazos Bend (doesn’t take much) and is more technical with roots and washouts.
The plan for my weekend race was to gauge whether or not I was ready to register for Rocky Raccoon 100. I want revenge on that course after the broken ankle fiasco this year. As Rocky Raccoon is also held up in Huntsville State Park, the answer of which race to choose was a no-brainer.
The weather was less than desirable, much more humid and warmer than the previous weekend. Start temperature was in the upper-60’s to low-70’s and would climb to the mid-70’s by mid-day (85-100% humidity all day). A cold front was expected to start coming in during the late afternoon hours and into the night. Not ideal “racing” weather, but training in non-ideal conditions builds character for your goal race.
The race was modified into 5 x 10 mile loops, as construction was planned at the park. Though the construction has been delayed, the call was made to keep the course modified this year. I was fine with this decision. Rocky Raccoon is also a 5 loop race, so it would give me a bit of the mental aspect of the 100-miler as well. In my current shape, I believed I could possibly run as quickly as 8:30, but due to the non-ideal weather conditions, I modified my goal to (hopefully) under 9 hours.
I started out with my running buddy, Ryan. He is usually a bit faster than me, but it was nice to catch up with him for the first couple of miles. After 2 miles, I let him go on ahead and settled into my own race. The first loop was a bit uneventful, but nicely on pace. I completed it in 1:36 and hoped I had enough juice to keep it up for a little while longer.
The second loop I started feeling a little bit of fatigue. Nothing terrible, just knew the heat and humidity was starting to wear on me little by little. The sun, though never fully out that day, was warming the course and increasing the suffering level. I finished this loop a little bit slower, but still in a respectable 1:45. After a quick water bottle top-off, I was out on loop 3.
Loop 3 sucked. No two ways about it, everything about it sucked. It was miserably hot and humid, I would have paid good money for a short little rain shower to cool me off. I started power-walking more hills. I started chafing something awful! The aid station volunteers were even a bit worried, trying to get me to eat some more. I think I was getting enough calories, it was just miserable out and messing with my mood. I had to barter with myself in order to not drop and call it a day at the 50k mark. I lost another 15 minutes this loop, coming in at 5:21 on the race clock.
I thought all was lost until something miraculous occurred when I reached mile 35. It began to sprinkle. The sprinkling turned into an actual substantial steady rain. It was glorious! It was fairly short-lived though and ended before I reached mile 38. Just enough to keep my spirits high.
My fourth loop, though still at 2 hours, was much more pleasant. I found a nice pace I settled into where I would power-hike up larger hills and run pretty much everything else. There were a few places where I just felt like power-walking for a few minutes to break up the monotony, but I’m an efficient power-walker and need to keep it up for 100-mile training. However, I did know I was in a tough spot now, I was chasing the cold front. Every ticking minute that passed, the severe weather was getting closer and closer to Huntsville. I wanted to avoid as much of the severe weather as possible. Rain doesn’t bother me, but high winds and severe thunderstorms are another story.
I felt great going out for my 5th loop. I had my strategy down and knew that I was in the home stretch. Around mile 45 is when the steady rain started. Well, it started as a steady rain. Then it turned into a downpour. The weather alternated between Texas-sized downpours and a lighter steady rain for the rest of my race. Thankfully, most of the trails at Huntsville State Park are relatively well-draining. In addition, with the 50k and 20k runners already packed up for the day, resulting in fewer feet to damage the trails.
I stuck to my plan on the 5th loop and was feeling remarkably well. As I hit the Nature Center on the way back to the finish, I knew I had 1 mile left in the race. I looked down at my watch and did the math. I could get under 9:30 if I stepped on it for the rest of the race. Easy peasy!
There were a few minor hills on the trail back to the finish line, but nothing major. I made sure to run up each hill and keep lifting my feet. As I made the final turn to the straight-away to the finish line, I looked at my watch: 9:28:xx. I kicked it up another notch on the straight-away. BAM! 9:29:36; last mile was at 10:18 pace.
It wasn’t quite good enough for a PR (9:19 at this race in 2012), but I think it was a really good distance test on my legs. My pace settled into a good comfortable place and didn’t degrade after the 3rd loop. I came in 3rd overall and was 2nd female. A woman actually won the race in 7:56 and looked strong all day.
Loop 1 – 1:36; Loop 2 – 1:45; Loop 3 – 2:00; Loop 4 – 2:03; Loop 5 – 2:05
Oh yeah, another reason I love the Texas Trails Endurance Run is due to the finisher’s Hoodie. Even in hot and humid Houston, I can’t seem to ever get enough hooded sweatshirts. I really liked this year’s design too.
Less than an hour after I finished the race, the severe weather arrived with a vengeance. As I drove back to Houston, I ran into unexpected traffic. My phone lit up with a Tornado Warning. The damage was clear from the freeway, a tornado ripped through a warehouse less than 10 miles from the race. Thankfully, the remaining runners were able to safely complete the race.
I rushed back to Houston to perform my civic duty. Race day coincided with the city runoff elections, including that of city mayor. I arrived to my polling station, stinky and still in my race gear with less than an hour before the polls closed. All in all, it was a pretty great day.
To answer the question I posed myself from the beginning. Yes, I am ready for Rocky Raccoon 100. I registered on Wednesday. After Rocky, I’ll rest for a little bit and then prepare for the Boston Marathon.