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Cactus Rose 50 Mile Race Report 2013

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Cactus Rose Elevation Profile

Cactus Rose Elevation Profile

Two days before the race I was feeling fairly confident, but at the same time undertrained. I hadn’t run as many trails during this training season due to having Abby last September, just one month before my first go at Cactus Rose. But, after reviewing my training from last year I noticed that my long runs had significantly improved by about two minutes per mile. So, this caused me to re-adjust my goal of finishing before sunset to finishing in 13 hours. (note for those not familiar with this course, you can use the elevation profile picture above for reference throughout my recap)

A few things I learned before going into the detailed race report.

  1. Don’t eat a black bean burger the night before the race
  2. It really is 99% mental when it all comes down to it
  3. The theory of spending the least amount of time in the aid station as possible only applies when you are feeling good
  4. Always check your water levels, even when you think you don’t need to

The race started at 5am, with warmer temperatures than I was expecting. Last year I wore long sleeves and gloves for the firs 35 miles, I was wearing short and a t-shirt at the start of the race this year. Humidity was also an unwelcomed guest during the race this year. Throughout the run, many runners suffered from cramps and various other issues, myself included.

The first 4.5 miles into the first Equestrian aid station went by fast, even the slog up Lucky’s Peak seemed easy. I played it smart though and made it a point not to pass too many people, as to not go out too fast. After reaching Equestrian I continued on without stopping, as I was not planning on stopping until mile 15, I had also made it in to the aid station in just under an hour, so continued running for a few more minutes before walking and eating some food.

It was about this time that the humidity really started to become apparent, but I managed to make it to the mile 15 Equestrian aid station in three hours and ten minutes, just 10 minutes over my goal time. This put me at a 12:40 minute pace, about 20 seconds per mile faster than last year. I was also feeling stronger going into this aid station than the year before. I ran the entire flat section from the bottom of Ice Cream Hill, and had even run a good portion of the up-hill section during that stretch.

It was also about this time I started feeling the effects of the black bean burger I had eaten the night before. Everything in me wanted to stop for a bathroom break, but the only restroom had a line three people deep, so I decided to wait until I got to the Lodge at mile 25 to relieve myself of the pressure.

Three Sisters

Sotol covered hill going up the first of Three Sisters.

I continued to feel pretty good going up the sotol covered hill just after the Equestrian aid station, and also managed a steady trot up most of Sky Island, but something snapped mentally after reaching the summit. Up until the summit I had been leading a steady trot of about 5 runners up the hill, but after reaching the top I let them pass, looking back on it I realized that was probably a huge mistake. The next two climbs after that were a complete slog fest for me.

I was also being attacked mentally. I kept thinking I would drop after I got to The Lodge and take the DNF, after all I had family 40 minutes away. It would be nice to spend the rest of the day with them. I also kept thinking, this ultra thing is ridiculous, why am I doing this…. I will never run another ultra again; I’m done with this whole ultra running crap. Those were the thoughts I battled for over six miles.

I did however tell myself I would take some time to rest at the Lodge aid station, take that restroom break I had been needing, and allow myself to recover mentally. Thankfully I saw Joe at the aid station too, he was encouraging and told me I could do it, to take some time to eat and rest and then keep going. I knew he wasn’t going to let me quit, there would be no way he was going to let me turn in my timing chip, so I took time to rest, ate some food and was feeling better after about 40 minutes, which was way more time than I ever wanted to spend there.

I had also left myself an iPod at this aid station, knowing that the music might motivate me to run stronger and forget about my heavy legs. Well, that worked great for the next 7 miles. The music amped me up (a long with a surge from a coke, something I rarely do, even in races) and I soared to the Boyles aid station 5 miles away. It felt like I floated up Cairne’s Climb and Boyle’s Bump, I made it to the Boyle’s aid station in an hour flat, the same pace I had been running earlier in the race, and over steeper more difficult terrain.

However, I was feeling so good and confident I left the aid station without checking the water levels in my bladder. I realized this after running out of water a mile or two outside the aid station. By then it was too late to turn back, I had to keep moving forward, but I forced myself to walk, or was it that I used not having water as an excuse to walk? Either way I was slowed significantly back into the Equestrian aid station, walking 3-4 miles. Looking back on this I really do think running out of water was a mental excuse not to run.

Upon reaching Equestrian I realized I was fully capable of finishing and still had plenty of time to beat my time from last year. So again, I spent a little extra time than normal in the aid station, resting, eating and recharging mentally. I was feeling quite a bit better again and ran a good stretch of the way up to Ice Cream Hill, but again the up hill sections become a bit of a slog, which also made the down hills mentally challenging.

Upon reaching the Nacho’s aid station (with 10 miles to go) I re-charged with a Hammer Gel (something I also rarely do, even with races) to change things up from the other foods I had been eating all day, and to get a bit of a mental boost from something other runners seem to heavily rely on. From Nacho’s to Equestrian I had several mental challenges. Even though I felt fully capable of running more than I did, I would see another runner in front of me and say to myself, I don’t feel like passing him. So would just stay behind and keep their pace. Thinking it would be a good idea so I could finish strong, even though I had less than 10 miles left at this point.

After reaching Equestrian for the final time I was feeling pretty good, or at least I told others that when asked. I quickly grabbed another gel, some salt tabs, and some Honey Stinger bites and was on my way out. I ran the entire flat section out of the aid station until I got back into the wooded section heading up to Lucky’s Peak. The FINAL slog of the day.

Again, I played mental tricks with myself, saying I didn’t want to pass the runners in front of me, even though I had been leading these two particular runners for the past 10-12 miles. I alternated between a steady trot and walking the entire uphill section leading to the meat of Lucky’s Peak. Upon reaching the top and starting the decent I ran into a couple of other Tejas Trails friends that were running the 100 in the same spot I ran into friends the year before… only this time I was watching the sun start to set, the previous year I was using my headlamp to make it home. This got me really excited as I knew my alternate goal of finishing before the sunset was well in reach. I only had about 1.5 miles to go.

The remainder of the decent down Lucky’s was actually pretty rough, I could feel my muscles being fatigued, dropping down the big ledges was a challenge. But upon reaching the base of the steep peak I was able to get my mojo back, especially after reaching the main road, a gradual flat section taking me back to the finish line. Once I was here I knew I had just under a mile to go, so refused to let myself walk anymore. I would tell myself to run to the end of the song currently playing, then did the same thing again until I could see the flags at the finish line.

Upon having the finish line in sight I removed my headphones and let the sounds of the crow serve as my motivation to cross the finish line. I was excited, I finished before sunset, and there was till light in the sky several minutes after crossing the line, on top of that I finished when every bit of me wanted to drop out before I even reaching the 25 mile mark.

Once again, I can really say 99% of running ultra marathons is mental. This having been my second ultra, I realized that even more. Especially knowing that I was in better shape this year. The fact that I can walk without waddling the day after the race is an even bigger testament to my physical condition, just going to show even more how much of this ultra running thing is mental.

I will also say I really love how supportive the ultra running community is of each other. Even the fastest guy out there can be found at the finish line socializing and encouraging other runners as they cross paths on the reverse loop of a course. Had there not been other encouraging runners out there that day, I don’t know if I would have finished. I can’t tell you how many times I heard “good job”. Although many times I hated hearing it because of how out of it I was mentally, I realize hearing that over and over really does help, no matter how you are feeling at the time.

And now that the race is over, and I’m out of my dark cloud of mental anguish, I definitely think I will be running more ultra marathons. I don’t know what the next one will be, but I’m fairly certain there will be more. This sport is addicting, and part of me can’t believe I’m even saying, “I want more!”

Cactus Rose Map

Cactus Rose Map

Strava data from the first loop of the course, before my battery was drained. Funny thing is, last year with my iPhone 3g I made it 35 miles before the battery ran low.

A post of thanks…

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A post of thanks…

Me, Kristy, and Abby.

Just thought I would take a quick moment to write out some things I am thankful for….

  1. My new Church, All Saints
  2. My LOVELY wife and newborn daughter. I feel so blessed to have a family of my own. Just over two years ago I married my wife, and this past September we had our first child. Abby, though challenging at times is full of joy and happiness.
  3. I love my job. Having started Bearded Brothers almost two years ago, I can honestly say I love what I do. I haven’t had a case of the Monday’s since I left full time employment at a traditional job. I love sharing healthy organic snacks with the masses! I get to combine my passion for healthy eating and fitness with my business.
  4. Mentors I admire, but have never met: Dan Miller, the man who first inspired me to go out there and find my “dream job”, though I thought that would be traditional employment at first, I later found out that I was called to start my own business. Dave Ramsey, for inspiring me to excellence in my business. I’m also thankful for Kent Julian, my career coach, who also inspired me to excellence and helped me realize my true potential.
  5. I’m also thankful for physical health, that allows me to do things like rock climbing, cycling, and completing a 50 mile Ultramarathon.

There are MANY other things I have to be thankful for, these are just a few.

What are you thankful for?

Cactus Rose 50 Mile Ultramarathon, Race Report

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Cactus Rose 50 Mile Ultramarathon, Race Report

Prior to registering for Cactus Rose (CR, and 50 mile and 100 mile endurance race) I knew little of Ultra Marathons other than what I read in Born to Run and what I heard from Josue Stevens and Gordon Montgomery, the first ultra runners I ever met. But, it didn’t take long for me to want to complete my first Ultra. My company Bearded Brothers had been supplying samples for Joe’s races, so it only made sense that I start training with him too.

I picked CR based on the calendar date, not the difficulty of the course. I soon found out that was not the best race I could have chosen for my first ultra marathon. The comments I heard about how difficult the course was sort of just rolled off my back, until I kept hearing them over and over, again. I kept hearing things like, “oh you picked a nasty one for your first ultra” and “wow, I can’t believe you’re doing that one for your first 50.” Again, I just rolled with it.

Cactus Rose Elevation Profile

Going into the race I felt prepared. I had done several runs over 25 miles and two over 30. The only worry in the back of my mind was how fatigued I felt at the end of those runs. Mentally I knew I would finish, I just didn’t know how well I was going to finish.

Once race morning finally came I arose from my tent at 4:15 a.m., threw on my cloths and darted off to the starting line, only to realized I left my timing chip and bib number in the tent. After a quick trip back to the tent I had just enough time to fill my Nathan bladder with coconut water, lemon juice, and water (my electrolyte beverage of choice), and line up at the starting line just in time for the start.

Fifty feet from the starting line my right shoe came untied, I quickly stopped and tied it, but to my frustration my LEFT shoe ended up coming untied at least 10 times during the next 25 miles. I quickly jumped back into the pack of 300 runners, though and found myself going out too fast! I continued to pass runners until we hit the first bottleneck going up Lucky Peak.

This trend continued until about mile 14, despite the bit of flat ground going into the Equestrian aid station I couldn’t keep up a run. I alternated running and walking until another fellow Tejas Trails runner caught up to me and we ran the final bit into the aid station (also the first aid station I stopped at). I was still making GREAT time, though. I had run 15 miles in 2:50. Not bad considering Lucky Peak was un-runable on the up-slope. It also meant I was well on my way of achieving my rough goal time of 12 hours. At that point I was also on pace to qualify for Western States, but knew I couldn’t keep up that pace for another 35 miles, but it was a fun thought to entertain.

I was still feeling pretty good at this point and began to wonder what the big deal was. This course wasn’t so bad. I was pacing faster than I did at Colorado Bend (during the night trail series) and only slightly slower than some short 12 mile runs I did at elevation in the mountains earlier in the Summer. But, shortly after I passed the Nachos aid station I heard a runner behind me say that it was about to get nasty in another mile, and man was he right. The next twenty miles of the course were what I deemed pure hell. Sure there were runnable parts of the trail, but there was LOTS of climbing over large loose rocks and eroded ledges. As a rock climber I have encountered some trails I only thought were nasty, but these Bandera trails are the beast of all beasts when it comes to gnarly trails.

Sky Island was perhaps my favorite climb despite how steep and tall it was (but HATED this peak going down on the second loop). Looking on this crazy steep peak from a distance put some fear in me, but I managed to plow through the sotol-covered peak over nasty rotten ledges and was only passed by one other runner. It just happened to be a female runner, and I am convinced after this race that women are great hill climbers.

After Sky Island I started losing a bit of steam. My pace to The Lodge (Start/Finish) was pretty broken. I began getting a bit discouraged at this point too, especially when other runners began to pass me. Joe’s advice at the start of the race was becoming a reality… Slow and steady will win over anybody that goes out too fast. I was paying the price for starting the race faster than I should have. I will say I enjoyed the pace of the first 15 miles, though.

Despite the past few miles being highly frustrating and crushing in many ways I managed to make it to The Lodge in just less than six hours. Since my ideal finish time was 12 hours I knew that goal wasn’t going to be attainable, so I remember another runner’s advice of, “race the sun.” At that point I needed a new goal, and that was it. Beat the sun, and get back here before sunset.

I was feeling very sluggish though, so I started going through a mental checklist of what could be wrong other than starting the race too fast. I was eating almost every hour, plus extra food at Equestrian and Lodge aid stations. I was drinking plenty of fluids and urinating frequently. Everything seemed fine, but for some reason my legs felt like lead and I could barely move.

For the next ten miles I was back in the big hills and cursing the steep downhill’s, especially Sky Island, I had an easier time going uphill than down. I think the only thing that kept me moving at even a remotely forward pace was that my wife and daughter were waiting for me at Equestrian to provide encouragement, and I could also ditch my long sleeve shirt and gloves that were causing me to be warmer than needed.

The running between Lodge and Equestrian were the must frustrating miles of the course. I began getting passed by people I saw heading to the Lodge aid station after I had already left it (some runners I was at least a mile or two ahead of). My legs were also feeling like lead, I could barely lift them. I kept telling myself it was all mental, and that I should just keep moving. I started trying to have the slow and steady mindset, but it only seemed to work 25-50 feet at a time before frustration set in again. I was losing the mental battle.

Upon arriving at Equestrian I was greeted by my wife and newborn daughter. It was refreshing to see them, and my wife offered encouragement to move on. At this point I was at 35 miles, 3 miles further than I had ever run before and I only had 15 miles left. I jus told myself it’s just a romp around Town Lake with a little bit of Greenbelt added on, only Town Lake is completely flat and isn’t littered with giant lose boulders.

Kristy, Abigail, and I at Equestrian aid station.

Me, coming into Equestrian aid station at mile 35.

I managed to press on though. I spent the first few minutes walking while I ate some food and drank more fluids. Pretty soon after finishing my food I was able to increase my running distance and decrease my time walking, but this didn’t last too long. I kept it up until I got to Ice Cream hill. On the first loop I felt like I floated over this peak, this time (on the shorter side of the peak) I felt like the hill would never end, it was relentless. I also kept thinking the next aid station was closer than it was, which added to my frustration. But, I just kept one foot in front of the other and before too long I was at the Nacho’s aid station and only had 10 miles left.

I asked the individuals monitoring the course at Nacho’s how far it was to Equestrian and was told 4.8 miles, so I thought it would be a good idea to just focus on walking this stretch really fast. I thought if I could do that I could still make it to Equestrian in 1.5 hours, tops. I was misinformed on the distance though, it was 5.16 miles, but I did not know that at the time and ended up making it in about on hour and forty-five minutes, which only added to my frustration. I was even tempted at one point to call it quits once I got to Equestrian, but thankfully the thought was short lived. I told myself I would walk the last five miles if I had to. It just goes to show how nasty this course is if you are tempted to call it quits after 45 miles.

When I arrived at Equestrian I had only planned on signing in and going out, but I was concerned about the sun setting so I decided to grab my headlamp that I had left there earlier that morning. It’s a really good thing I didn’t accidently carry it to The Lodge and leave it there. I also did something at Equestrian I normally never do, especially as part of my race nutrition. I grabbed two cups of coke and two cups of Gatorade that Olga had left out along with a hand full of pretzels and started my journey back to The Lodge… the final sub five mile stretch (which I thought was 5+ miles at the time).

I don’t know what it was…. maybe it as the prayers, or the walking I did from Nachos to Equestrian, or maybe it was the coke and Gatorade I guzzled down, but for the FIRST time this entire 50 mile course I felt like I had a second wind and ran almost the entire stretch back to The Lodge, with the exception of the down side of Lucky’s Peak and a short stretch after that. I played mental games with myself the whole way… just run five minutes then walk one. I would find myself running eight minutes and walking 40 seconds.

I was also motivated to see my wife again, eat a warm pizza she had brought me, and drink a cold beer. I also didn’t want her to worry too much, as I had told her I would be there by 7pm via text message earlier in the course before the battery died. It kept me moving, despite the enumerable frustrations I had throughout the course. I managed to finish the last stretch of the course in one hour and ten minutes. That was just 15 minutes slower than my morning run from Lodge to Equestrian. Not bad for having 45 miles under my feet.

My unofficial finish time was about 14:40. My mental goal going in was 12 hours, but considering only 50% of the people that enter this race finish, the fact that this is my first ultra, and that I have never run this course before I will take that time and be mighty proud!

Overall I really loved this race. I especially enjoyed the hell out of the first 15 miles, mostly because you are running with so many other people, it really gets you moving. I also like the self supported aspect of the race since I don’t do products like GU, I like to keep my nutrition all-natural, which has challenges of it’s own. I loved the planning that went into what was going to be in my drop bags, where I would place them and what aid stations I would skip, vs which ones I had to stop at.

Several times throughout the course I thought to myself I will never run another ultra again. But I often cursed the trails in my training as well. Whether or not I run CR again is yet to be determined, but you will definitely still find me on the trails. Who knows, by this time next year I just might want to come back to Bandera and capture my goal.