Tales of High Adventure in the Grasslands

I never thought I’d be this satisfied with a DNF.

Last Saturday, I ran this race. It was scoops and scoops of high adventure!

We arrived at 6am.  It was darker than I expected.  I was so excited and happy I almost squealed at the nice man who gave me my packet.  Our timing chips attached to the ankle, like triathlon, which should’ve been my first clue that this was not going to be anything like any previous race I’d attempted.  I got my drop bag items situated and waited for the start, Brian poised for my return from the short out and back of our first excursion.

We started at 7am, in rain and darkness, the trail markings demanding full attention. I quickly fell in to pace with Jimmy, an extraordinarily nice man from the DFW area. We helped each other in the dark, and he made everything much easier.  Thanks Jimmy!  By the time we were on the return of the out and back, we had picked up Melinda.  We were all running our first 50 milers.

It was light enough to ditch our head lamps at the TADRA main station, and as it was no longer raining and my outer layer was drenched anyway, I took it off and left it at the camp.  We were quickly off again along the blue loop.  And then things started to get hard.  The sand was that crazy, clay sand that just sticks to you and makes you run like in your dreams where you’re swimming through soup.  Lots of ups and downs.  I was working that loop.  I lost my companions after the first aid station.  I wished them well in my mind. I pressed on.  Marathoners and halfers started crowding the trail and passing me, which was a little tough – oh to start running to quickly! What was really funny, though, was when the runner with the Pomeranian in a wee coat passed me.  This is a dog friendly race, you see.  And if your Pomeranian can run a marathon with you then by god that’s what is going to happen!

Then came the heavy lightning.  It was so close and so loud.  Heavy rain started soon after.  One guy said, “I’ll take this over 80 degrees any day” which made me laugh. I said, “yeah, it’s a good thing we’re not exposed out here.” Then things started to get even more interesting, because of the sleet.  It was then that I began to think I should’ve worn a long sleeve, or something else with more coverage.  The only thing to do was to keep running, to keep warm.  I thought about all my fun with hot flashes, and as I was tired, I tried to get myself in the headspace to bring on a hot flash.  It didn’t work, but I did feel better, temperature.  I laughed, thinking menopause was finally coming in handy!

The trail suddenly turned to mud.  Endless sticky mud!  I slipped at about mile 9, and felt a tendon go ping across my pubic bone.  It was like being stabbed with an ice pick.  It would improve if I massaged it, but it became much harder to run.  Every time I went uphill, it would stab me.  Eventually, it got to involuntary crying.

But that was all fine because it started to rain heavily again.  Then, hail.  I put my arms over my head, just in case the hail got bigger, but when I saw it was less than a centimeter, I ignored it.  Which was good because then I slipped down a hill and fell into the sticky mud!  I was pretty well covered.  One lady said she wished  she had an action shot of it.  Me too!  I started laughing my ass off.  I was really enjoying myself at this point.

But it was then I decided I had to start adjusting my expectations.  I wasn’t making fast progress through the mud, and I was cold and stiff, not to mention the groin pain, so I thought I should prepare myself for the possibility I might not make the cutoff time.  Also, I needed to focus on survival and getting back to camp on my feet.  Then I could worry about the rest of the race.

I passed a nice man who appeared to be struggling.  I asked him if he was OK and how he was doing, and he grunted that he was just waiting for the bus.  I promised to send it back for him if I saw it, and laughed a little.  With less than a mile to the TADRA station, he caught up to me.  I was having a tough time then, but still plugging away at it, though another teary episode.  He encouraged me on, saying I’d helped him when he could barely move, and it fed my heart, even if I hurt badly.

People took great care of me at the aid station, and I told them I had at least one more loop in me, and then I’d see what happened.  I staggered off on the white loop trail.  This trail was a great improvement over the blue loop.  And it was just me, which was a relief, frankly.  I was able to relax and just enjoy the day a bit.  The rain stopped, and much of the first miles of the white loop were in forest.  It was a nice break. I thought about music, but the threat of rain made me hesitant to pull out my headphones.  Also, I really needed to concentrate on the trail at times.

I never got lost, like some people did.  I only took a side road on the open prairie once, when I couldn’t find the next blaze, but I kept looking for it and saw it a few meters away on a tree.  It was no problem.  But I’m a geologist, and used to wayfinding.

I started doing the math in my head about the cutoff time once I started encountering serious hills on the white loop.  I decided that I would do the orange loop if I made it back to the TADRA station before 3pm.  I wouldn’t make the cutoff for the final loop, but I’d get to 41 miles, and that would be 22.7 miles further than I though I’d be able to go after I hurt myself, so I would be OK with that.  If it was after 3pm, my body was probably trying to tell me something, and I should stop there.

I passed Nolan before the second aid station.  He was really suffering.  He’d come to the race with Melinda and had the flu in the last week.  He was so discouraged he said he might give up on 50 milers.  I told him I thought he absolutely could do it if he wanted to.  I hope he feels better soon.

I got to the second aid station on the white loop, and asked the time.  They told me it was 2:30, and I had 4.8 miles to go.  I was sad that I wouldn’t make it back by 3pm.  I was also 9th of the ladies, which made me concerned for attrition after the blue loop.

It did feel like forever, those final miles.  I was passed by 2 other runners.  Finally, the camp came in to view.  I don’t really remember crossing the timing gate, though I do remember the time was about 8:20.  So I did 31.1 miles in that time. I thanked the nice man at the gate and told him I had a great time and learned a lot, but that I knew I wasn’t going to make the cutoff and that I should stop there.

Within a minute or two of stopping, I got the shivers.  I wrapped up in a fleece blanket, but it still took about 20 minutes to stop shaking.  Brian told me I had exposure, and should watch out for the next few days until my internal thermostat resets itself.

I still was sad about not getting anywhere near the cutoff time, even though I couldn’t have run any harder on that day.  And as hurt, cold, and stiff as I was, I knew that if there wasn’t a time cutoff, I could’ve finished that race.

But now I know what to do better for next time!

All the volunteers, organizers, and participants that I encountered were super nice people.  There was a ton of good energy at this race.  I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a trail race.  In my mental preparation for not making the time cutoff but still putting in a solid effort, I had decided that I would have to just live long enough to come back next year and try again, that is how much I enjoyed myself.

It’s on, Grasslands.


What Worked

Brian is a sock genius!  He found all kinds of threads in my Injinjis that were giving me toe blisters, and he trimmed them up.  The socks worked great, even in the wet!

The visor was like a an umbrella for my face.  Helped keep the stinging rain off.

Had plenty of snacks and fluids.  Aid station spacing was far apart enough to be out of sync with snacking, so having all my nutrition on me was key.

Did a good job of drop bag prep – didn’t miss anything.

Crew member was fantastic in assisting me with gear refresh.

Warm, dry shirt was heaven!


What Didn’t Work

Had wicked insomnia in the 2 weeks pre-race.  Slept an average of 4-5 hours a night.  Even though I had a 9 hour sleep in the days before the race, and a 6 hour sleep the night before, I definitely wasn’t caught up on sleep.

May have been overtrained (see above).

Didn’t do enough of the right kind of training for trails and hills…….and sand and mud.

Also probably hadn’t recovered enough from birthday run.

Left long sleeve at TADRA for blue loop, and when rain/wind/sleet/rain/hail started, got very cold. Warmed a bit after shirt change, but stayed cold and that contributed to some sluggishness.

Probably ate a little too much in the ramp up to the race.

Tried to change into trail shoes after the mud bath of the blue loop, but couldn’t get them comfortable on my feet.  Needed to wear the trail shoes from the beginning.

Kept forgetting to dump out pocket trash.

Was unprepared for both cold and wet.  Cold OR wet, yes, but not both together.

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