Running Streak Day: 505
YTD Running Mileage: 785
Before I delve into the bittersweet details of my particular Brazos Bend 50 race (I ran the 50k, Phillip, the 25k) experience, I have to offer praise to Trail Running Over Texas. Oh my goodness! What a well organized, runner-friendly race this company hosted! The TROT people anticipated and provided for every runner’s possible needs. The food offerings at the tables were abundant and varied (even some gluten-free items, which sadly, because of my stomach, I could not enjoy – but more about this unfortunate state of affairs later). The volunteers were amazingly patient, kind, and helpful. I absolutely fell in love with TROT this day (BB 50 having been my first TROT race). TROT 4 – Ever : )
Brazos Bend State Park is located a little drive from the nearest cities (Rosenberg, Sugarland, Richmond). Phillip and I, following the recommendation of a Strava friend who lives in the area, reserved a room in Rosenberg. We arrived on Friday afternoon, and drove straight to the park for packet pick-up. We wanted to make this drive for two reasons: to know where we were going on race day, and to check out the type of trails we’d be running. I wanted to run the 50k barefoot all the way, but I had read that much of the trail was actually covered with large rocks or gravel. I run the gravel surface at Town Lake (now Lady Bird Lake, but always and forever Town Lake to us) in Austin barefoot, with no problem, so a gravel surface in general would not necessarily present an obstacle to my running the race without my usual rough trail-running go-to Luna Leadville huaraches.
After we picked up our packets, we spent some time walking around on the race course. The trails were, indeed, formed from rocks much larger than the gravel on which I’m used to running barefoot. Rather dismayed, I decided to wear the Lunas; too much of the trail was too rocky for the safety and comfort of my feet. We had debated about arriving in Rosenberg early enough on Friday to drive out to Brazos Bend for packet pick-up, but we actually made a sound decision when we opted to see the park the day before the event. Race morning proved to be dark and foggy; having made a trial run to the park the day before helped us navigate to the park the next morning, when visibility was so low.
Rosenberg has several hotels from which to choose. We stayed at the Marriot. Here I have to be just the tiniest bit negative, but just so people know: our room at the Marriot was . . . . um . . . . not as clean as we like to find our hotel rooms. The desk clerk who checked us in was super friendly, though, and the hotel was located near a shopping / restaurant area. Still, we’ll probably stay in a different hotel the next time we run a TROT Brazos Bend event (thinking about December 2016, actually). As is our practice the day before a race, we avoided restaurants and just picked up a few things from the Randall’s near the Marriot. I fear gluten cross-contamination in restaurants before a race, having had that terrible experience ruin my Houston Marathon race in 2008 – which is still on record for my longest marathon time yet – so I eat fruit, cheese, gluten-free lunchmeat, and nuts, and other such guaranteed gluten-free foods that we buy from grocery stores in whichever city we’re staying before a race. My dinner on the eve of the race consisted of Caprese salad skewers from the Randall’s deli, an apple, and some olives. This meal may sound like too little calories to fuel a 50k race the next day, but given that my stomach hates distance running as much as my mind and my heart love it, the lighter the meal, the better my race may go.
Race morning: Up at 3 am, with plans to leave the hotel by 5:30 am for the 7 am race start. We had been warned that the line to get into the park is long and moves slowly, the closer to race time one gets there. We know of two different people who were thirty to forty-five minutes late for the race, having arrive later to the park and having had to wait in the car line, then find parking, get race packets, and do all the little pre-race things a runner does. We wanted to allow plenty of time to get to the park before race start, which meant leaving super early. I never leave our home or a hotel room in the morning without having completed my morning scripture readings and prayer time. Generally I spend close to two hours in my devotional time, but on race days I usually speed things up to about an hour. I drank a can of Starbucks Mocha Double-Shot energy drink, which is my usual morning coffee when we travel out of town for races. I don’t trust hotel coffee bars to start serving coffee as early as people who are racing need to have it. As is my habit, I eschewed food of any sort before the race. Dressed in the Ink n Burn tech top and skirt I purchased specifically for this race, I poured a bottle of Mexican Coke into my hydration bottle, and told Phillip I was ready to go.
We actually left the hotel about 5:15, and arrived at the park with plenty of time to spare. We arrived early enough, in fact, that we were able to park right at the start line. Right next to the park’s brick and mortar bathroom. The day, at that point, seemed destined to be AWESOME! We were also early enough to see the 50 milers begin their race at 6 am; few sights are more lovely and inspirational than the bouncing of light-beams from runners’ headlights as they make their way down the trails at the start of an pre-sunrise race. I strapped on my Lunas, packed my phone and some individually packaged hand sanitation wipes into my flip-belt, and then we locked up the car We milled around before the race, and spoke to some super friendly runners. We were, however, a bit concerned about the very humid, warm weather. This kind of weather ruins many a runner’s race, but it can make my race a downright disaster. My stomach issues are always 100% likely to be intensified when I run in warm, humid conditions. The weather turned out to be my enemy that day.
After listening to the pre-race instructions on running safety around alligators, especially during mating season (which, apparently, includes the month of April), Phillip and I met a Strava running friend, Adam J, in person (we really should have gotten a picture of the three of us). Strava is kind of neat that way, in bringing together runners who might not otherwise meet. Phillip’s race began thirty minutes after mine, but he waited with me at the start until my race began. I felt good when I crossed the start line, and started strong. I wanted to keep my entire pace about 10:30 for the entire race, and I had to fight myself to keep my pace above a ten minute mile that first couple of miles. My body felt that it wanted to go faster. I ran with various runners the first four miles, all of whom ran alongside me to inquire about barefoot running (or running in huaraches as I was at the time). I was enjoying the scenery of the park, seeing the alligators in the water, and hearing their mating calls through the air.
The tone of the race started to change for me when that familiar nagging feeling began in my stomach at some point during mile three, so I slowed my pace. Mile four I sent the runner with whom I had been conversing on ahead, explaining that I needed to walk. I hoped walking would settle my stomach, but it did not. The rest of the race was a mixture of walking out the nausea and running when I could bear it. At the support table at the first turn around (mile 9, or 10, maybe?), I spent an inordinate amount of time in the porta potty, but I hoped that perhaps I had experience the worst of my upset stomach. Nothing, but nothing, is worse than being sick in a porta potty. Well, ok. Maybe I can think of a couple of things worse than being sick in a smelly, dirty, germy, damp, enclosed space without running water, but not too many.
The volunteers at that support table filled my hydration bottle with ginger ale and ice, and one volunteer pointed out to me the sponge in a bucket of ice water sitting by the table. I gratefully squeezed cold water from the sponge over my head, and then headed back onto the trail. By this time I still had a glimmer of hope in achieving my 10:30 over-all pace and sub-six hour finish. Doing so would require that I run the entire rest of the race (twenty miles or so) without walking or stopping. My nausea returned full force within two miles of my long pause at the turn-around. About that time, Phillip passed me on his way to the turn-around, immediately saw that I was ill, and after checking on my condition, told me that he did not want to see me at the finish line when he crossed it. Tough love works: I knew then that even if I had to walk every step and had to stop at every porta potty, I would finish the race.
Although I did not have to make another sick stop, I battled the nausea, and with it, discouragement, for the rest of the race. Several things kept me from sinking to the pit of despair as my goal for this particular race unraveled. The kindness of my fellow racers and the volunteers lifted my spirits. Volunteer after volunteer filled my hydration bottle with ice and ginger ale, while they offered words of encouragement and support. Runners urged me to hang in there, during those times I was forced to walk. Ultra-runner extraordinaire Julie Koepke was running in the park that day, and took the time to walk with me for a little while. This runner is one I admire immensely, for her faith as well as for her talent and skill; that she took time on her own training run to encourage me dispelled much of my dismay at my situation. Phillip, having finished his 25k, sought me out on the trail and ran the last few miles with me. He’s a trooper! When I finally crossed the finish line (with a time of 6:44 or some such miserable time), my Garmin read only 30.5 miles. After receiving my medal, I insisted that he walk on the trail with me enough to make sure my Garmin read 31 miles. He felt so sorry for me that he agreed. By golly, I wanted to make sure I got credit for having run a 50k!!!
All in all, the race was a pretty nice experience, my illness and failure to achieve my time goal notwithstanding. To keep up some semblance of moral as I finished the race, I worked to change my perspective. I quit praying for God to take away the illness, and started asking God to help me handle the illness well. Before, I always just kept asking for it to go away. This change of focus in prayer helped a great deal as I walked / ran and saw my pace goal slip irretrievably away. Everyone needs a Hubby (or good friend) to help her stay strong when she feels weak and disappointed. And everyone can be that friend to others, especially other runners who are struggling on a race course. I started to visit with, and encourage, other runners who were also struggling. I was running in a lovely place, very special, so I used my walking opportunities to take photographs, and quit worrying that I was walking. My stomach always has, and always will, rebel against heat and humidity. If I’m going to race in hot, humid conditions (or train in them), I have to accept the reality that I will not be a super fast or super strong runner. I have to accept myself as I am and learn to just expect that I will struggle. If I race / run in conditions that I know will make the run physically difficult, the challenge will be to keep my mind positive, not to run a certain pace. I worked toward that change of perspective today.
Once I decided to not berate myself for missing my pace goal, I was able to deal more effectively with the matter at hand: keeping myself going despite dehydration caused by illness, heat, and humidity. My focus will change, now, in similar running situations. By changing my perspective this day, I was able to see that the race site, the people who organized the race, the volunteers who were so helpful and sympathetic, the people who ran the race, all made the race an awesome experience, after all.