I wrote a few weeks ago about my longest, slowest run yet (Captain Carls at Inks Lake 60K, 8:35:44, avg. 13:49 min/mile). On October 17, I topped it with an even longer, slower race. At the beautiful Palo Duro Canyon, I ran the 50 mile race in 11:47:08, avg. 14:09 min/mile. I had a terrific time! So that's the brief version; for more details, keep reading. I won't have my feelings hurt if you stop here!
This was the first race I've been to where I spent the night on the road. Kelly tried to arrange it so she could go with me, but there were too many things to coordinate and not enough people to step in, so I ended up going solo. I ended up camping with the Buckleys, a nice couple from Euless. They are Palo Duro Canyon veterans--on a first-name basis with the rangers--and were terrific hosts and companions. She was running the 50K and he provided race support by patrolling the trails on his mountain bike.
I arrived Friday afternoon in time to admire the beautiful canyon. I had been there as a kid, but I'm not sure we got past the amphitheater where they perform the musical "Texas." It's really awe-inspiring, especially in contrast to the pancake-flat surrounding topography. I got the tent set up, unpacked, and headed over to the race registration and pasta dinner at WTA&M in Canyon.
The lobby was full of runners waiting to pick up their race numbers and packets. I quickly realized that the line was for the 20K. There was a shorter line for the 50K, and for the 50 mile packet pickup, there was--no one! Nice not having to wait in line! At dinner I sat with a group of runners from Austin. I had not met any of them before, but they came with a big group, some of whom I recognized from Inks Lake.
After sitting by the campfire for a bit chatting with the Buckleys, I hit the sack. In the middle of the night I realized that my Therm-A-Rest Pad, which Mom bought me when I was in scouts, no longer holds air. The sleeping bag from the same time is still warm, though, thankfully, since it did get pretty cold.
I got up bright and early for the 7 a.m. start, had some juice and a Carrot Cake Clif Bar, and headed down to the starting area. It was chilly, definitely sweater weather, but not too cold in my shorts and sweatshirt. I think it was in the mid- to low-40s. We started before dawn, so most of the runners had headlamps or flashlights. It was nice meeting other runners, trying to stay warm while getting my drinks and snacks ready, with bagpipes playing in the background (a Palo Duro tradition). Finally, we all gathered at the starting line and were off.
A few yards after the starting line, we hit the trail, which was single track for a good mile or more, which means we were single file. This was actually a big plus for me, b/c it forced me to go really slow for several minutes, either walking or jogging slowly. After a mile or two people started spreading out, so I was able to run at a more normal pace.
The course for the 50 mile is 4 12.5 mile loops. It rolls along the floor of the canyon; no part of the trail goes up to the rim. So there's not a lot of climbing, just some mild ups and downs. It's really beautiful, taking runners to some awesome views of rock formations. It's also mostly exposed; there's not much shade on the course. Starting out that was OK. It was quite cool, and dark. But later the sun would really be a factor.
I kept a good pace on the first lap. I felt like I didn't start out too fast. After an hour or so, it got light enough that I no longer needed my Princeton Tec Fuel Headlamp. It was pretty cloudy, so I was encouraged that it would stay cool, at least for a while. I ended the first lap at 2:20, an 11:11 pace, which I knew was fast for me, but I was glad to have knocked that much out while it was cool. I swapped out my headlamp for my Tilley Hat (thanks, Mom) and headed out for lap 2.
I kept a good pace on the second lap, too. I still felt good, and any potential aches and pains that had come up during lap one were gone. My body did great for this race. No knee or hip or foot pains or injuries, just getting tired, which is to be expected. I had some speedsters pass me up, which was discouraging a bit, until I realized they were probably running the 20K, which made sense, or so I told myself to make me feel better. I really thought I was keeping a similar pace to the first lap, so I was surprised to finish lap 2 at 4:58, a 12:38 pace. I was still on track to finish in plenty of time to beat the 12 hour limit, so I wasn't too worried.
Shortly after starting the third lap, I saw Lori, my camping buddy, on the trail. She was going slow; I learned later that she was walking on some monster blisters. Ouch! I had slowed to talk with her and another runner whom I had been running near for much of the last few miles passed us. I jumped in with him and told him I'd let him pace me for a while. He turned out to be a good match for me. Like me, he is fairly new to trail running; this was also his first 50 mile run. Like me, he has 3 kids, similar in age to mine, and like me, he is a Baylor grad! We ended up sticking together the rest of the race and had a good time getting to know each other.
I had been saying to Lori that I was going to follow some advice I'd heard and run slower on the 3rd lap so I would have something left on the 4th. Brett concurred, so lap 3 was deliberately slower. We finished in about 3 hours, a 14:24 pace (roughly). We got our drinks, took some Endurolytes Electrolyte Replenishment for cramping, and steeled ourselves for the final lap. Almost done!
The goal was for lap 3 to be the slowest lap. For the first couple miles of lap 4, that may have been true. But after a while, those "mild ups and downs" I mentioned earlier became much steeper! The sun was out in force, and while I'm sure the temp was still not too hot, the sun sure felt hot. During these last few miles, I was very thankful to have Brett with me. He says I helped him along, but I think he helped me more than I helped him. We took turns leading, trying to remember to start running again after we stopped to walk the uphill portions. With only a few miles to go, we kept running the numbers to see if we could get in before the 12 hour time limit. We realized that we could do it, but we had to keep moving. Sometimes our pace was terribly slow, in the 18-20 min/mile range. But we pushed each other along until we knew we were going to make it.
The end of the course was a big horseshoe through a camping area. We knew we were close, and picked up speed. When we were nearly out of the woods, Brett's coach met us. Brett was with the big group from Austin, but he was the only runner in the group running the 50M. So they were all waiting for him at the finish! We came out of the woods, and there were all Brett's running friends, including my dinner companions, cheering for him. He hollered my name, so they all cheered for me, too! Several of them ran with us as we "sprinted" to the finish. We finished with 13 minutes to spare. No problem! That last lap was a bear; not exactly the negative split I wanted. Our pace that last lap was a little over 18 minutes per mile. Ugh!
I got my shoes off, got a drink, and found that there were still some burgers left for us! That was a good burger, let me tell you. I didn't expect to finish that slow, but I had talked to a lot of more experience runners who had attempted the Palo Duro 50M and didn't finished, so I was pleased to have finished at all. In fact, I don't know the official numbers, but I think 65 runners started the 50M that day, and 44 finished. I was 42 of 44.
I headed back to camp, took a long shower, and went out for Mexican food with the Buckleys. No hanging out by the campfire tonight. I took 2 Tylenol PMs and slept like a rock.
Like I said, my body was tired, but no injuries or unusual pains. My feet were in good shape, too. Just a couple of moderate blisters on my left foot, none on my right. (Thanks, Ford, for the awesome New Balance Trail Shoes!) My stomach did pretty well. Toward the end, nothing was tasting good, and after lots of Jelly Belly Extreme Sport Beans with Caffeine, M&Ms, fig bars, and potato chips, my mouth was feeling funky. I remember thinking this after Inks Lake, but I need to remember to bring a toothbrush. That would be nice 1/2way through the race. If and when I attempt a 100M race, I will have to be more deliberate about my nutrition.
Well, that was probably more than you wanted to know. When I stop and think about it, I'm still a bit amazed: I went 50 miles on foot in one day! Wowee.
Up next: the Great Brazos Relay, a 120 mile relay from Waco to College Station. This time I'll be sharing the duties with 6 teammates! Then, White Rock Marathon. Maybe I'll write another boring race report after those, too!