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I’ll get to the review in a second, but I have been dying to use this video in a post:

If you have been reading my old posts, then you know that WAY WAY back in 2012, I started running. (Yes, I even used to wear shoes)  My very first organized race was the Natural Bridge Caverns 10k…and when I finished it, I honestly and truly thought, “Hey, I could have run the half-marathon”

Fast Forward to present day: I ran the Natural Bridge Caverns Half-Marathon this morning, and it KICKED MY BUTT!….

…but the circle is complete…. (hence the “Lion King” intro)

In trying to rehab my shins, I decided not to run at all this past week, even in the pool at my gym. I spent the week agonizing over my nutrition instead, and managed to drop 4 more pounds (hoo-ray ketosis!) by eating clean. The only time I spent in the gym this last week was in the hot tub and the sauna.

I ran this event without enough training, and I felt it. For those of you who are new/unfamiliar with me, I seriously over-did it in December of 2012, and didn’t take the time to heal properly…I have been suffering from a chronic bout of shin-splints because of this…Thank GOD for KT Tape!

but it's nothing a "little" KT Tape won't help

but it’s nothing a “little” KT Tape won’t help

Enough of my whining though, on with the review!

Where do I always start? Packet pick-up! There were two days of packet pick-up for this event, and, me being me, I went to day one. It was held at the Stone Oak Location of Roger Soler’s Sports…. parking at this store seems to ALWAYS be at a premium because there are a lot of popular stores in the same strip mall….parking issues aside, packet pick-up was a cinch, the staff working it were quick and helpful… and they had me out of there with my race packet, 2013 NBC T-shirt and my swag bag before I could blink!

Mrs. MuddyJ and I spent Saturday morning at the SARR Monthly Fun Run with the Thing’s Three, and they ran the kids race, where Thing #1 took 2nd overall !!!! I was proud!!! Next we all ran in the 1/2 mile, even Mrs MuddyJ. Thing #3 didn’t have any desire to run the full mile, but Thing #1 and Thing #2 did, so Mrs MuddyJ hung out with Thing #3 while the three of us ran that one… Thing #1 blazed it, finishing in the area of 10:25, while Thing#2 got a stitch in his side…. the poor little guy powered through it though, and we finished strong together!

We spent rest of the day having fun as a family, and we all went to bed early…spent, but early!

I woke up 15 minutes before my alarm was set to go off, and got ready to head out. I brewed a cup of coffee, ate a small breakfast (4 boiled egg whites) and headed out into the cool morning air.

Last year’s drive to the venue was miserable: cold and raining, but this year was much friendlier and I dropped the top on my trusty Z and headed out into the brisk morning air.

Upon arriving, I headed into the NBC welcome center for my PRD… there was a slight line, but it moved quickly and I had plenty of time.

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I took a few minutes after that to grab some pictures:2013-02-03 07.33.17 2013-02-03 07.37.15 … and as usual, my bare feet became a topic of conversation…inspiring the RRP photographer to take this shot:

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I chatted with other runners as we waited for the 0750 pre-race briefing. Here and there I saw these two little (..and I mean TINY) blond sprites…wearing YELLOW bibs? This event had three distances, a 5k, a 10k and a Half Marathon…and each distance had a different color bib…yellow was for the Half-Marathon….and there were these two little girls doing wind sprints in the parking lot to warm up!

All was explained when I thought back to a recent article I had read in the NY Times: These were the two young runners featured in the article! I will write a bit more on the them and their father (all good stuff!) later, but needless to say, the only time I saw Kaytlynn and Heather Welsch was when they were warming up in the parking lot- and when they were sitting down after the race- having finished almost 40 minutes ahead of me (chip-time) a piece!

Finally 0750 came, and the pre-race briefing went on as planned…The MC was great…informing us about the challenges we would face and making us all crack up as we listened…2013-02-03 07.49.18

listening to the pre-race briefing

listening to the pre-race briefing

Since the race started inside the Natural Bridge Caverns Cave, It would be a staggered start, by bib number…so after the briefing we all filed down into the cave.

The cave interior is about 70 degrees, constantly…with 99% humidity. Once in the cave and out of the chill morning air, I doffed my SARR Endurathon shirt and stuffed it into my backpack. We funnelled into a single file line, trying (and actually succeeding!) to re-organize ourselves into order in the tight space.

From ahead we heard a cheer….10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1….

the line started moving forward. At about 20 seconds between runner releases, the line moved very quickly, and before I knew it, I was running barefoot through the cave…

I have never before had the opportunity to run through a cave in my birthday shoes, and it was AWESOME!!! I had removed my “J”uaraches after I realized the cave floor was soaking wet , after all, it’s easier and faster for my feet to dry then it is for my shoes!

The humidity in the cave was oppressive, and running through it was akin to trying to breath syrup…. but on a positive note, I felt re-hydrated with every breath. (ok not really). There were several “no run, no passing, WALK only zones” and the final ascent was about a quarter mile of switchbacks at an impossibly steep grade.

The temperature and humidity in the cave got me very warmed up, and the final ascent (about a 30% grade for maybe 150 meters) was a challenge….

Upon exiting the cave, the sunlight as well as the dry and chilly morning air hit me like a punch in the face, knocking the remaining air from my lungs and disorienting me a little. I fumbled to get my headphones in (you weren’t even to have them in your ears inside the cavern) and start the GPS on FrankenACTV…all this leading to (what I think is) the worst picture ever taken of me during a race…

shoulders down, fumbling with headphones...starting GPS...doing a whole mess of stuff that is running

shoulders down, fumbling with headphones…starting GPS…doing a whole mess of stuff that isn’t running…I deserved to have this photo taken!

After a short run across a caliche trail, the course turned onto pavement, so I decided to stay “au naturale” until I really needed to don my “J”uaraches. We ran uphill through the parking lot, and headed out onto the road that leads into the Natural Bridge Caverns parking area…up and up and up and then, much to my chagrin, DOWN…

My shins haven’t fully healed yet, so pounding a downhill descent wasn’t on my menu. I shortened my stride and slowed WAY down, thinking that prudence in mile 1-2 would add up to “finishing the race”…less impact now= more likely to be able to run the distance, albeit slower=no-brainer.

I made my way down the paved slope and turned onto the dry gravel road…after a few steps, I decided it was time to don my “J”uaraches…so I checked my six to be certain I wouldn’t trip anyone when I stopped, fished them out of my backpack, slapped them on my feet and continued on. A short distance later and the track turned right, leaving the caliche road behind, and turning into one of the most technical trails I have ever had the privilege of racing on.

I turned off the music that was playing in my headphones, and started my “Born to Run” audiobook… I have listened to it so many times while trail running, that I can quote it (which Mrs MuddyJ says is weird) … I  just get a strange sense of comfort from Fred Sanders recanting Christoper McDougall’s amazing piece of literary genius.

…and, when I am listening to a story about a race.. I check out of the physical experience and just ENJOY my run…

I quickly realized that SOMETHING was off today… as I ran up and down the hills my back started to hurt. This is VERY uncommon for me, and I initially chalked it up to my recent lack of training. I settled into a “romantic rocking rhythm” (an Ann Trayson tactic) and skipped ahead to listen to Christopher McDougall talk about what he was doing in his race.

To say this course was a challenge would be a gross understatement..the terrain was, in a single word, wild. The race trail was, at times, only discernible by following the trail markers. It wound through craggy rocky paths, up and down steep climbs and across gently sloping grassy flat lands. For at least one part, maybe a mile or more long, I was running over fallen branches! That was really nice, save the jagged boulder that was in the very middle of the path, completely hidden under the lightest covering of branches, that decided to leave it’s mark (in the form of a huge bruise) on my arch!

Taken after the race...but I remember the stone that caused it!

Taken after the race…but I remember the stone that caused it!

The countryside was amazing… I had to stop and fish my phone out of my backpack to share it with my readers, and to remember it myself.

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This course only opens for two events a year, The NBC Duathalon, and the NBC Half-Marathon…other than that, it’s all privately owned land, and closed to the public…I think I will probably run this race every year it’s available, just so I can see this beautiful land again.

The pain in my back grew as the race wound on. I gritted my teeth and drove on through the pain, thinking it would eventually go away. The course flattened out  a bit between miles 7 and 8…and the running surface was soft green grass as the course wound along the banks of a small rock-strewn river. I got the sensation of running through a valley…which in fact, I was. With so many twists and turns in the trails, it wasn’t hard to lose yourself in the run…the feeling of solitude was complete.

Just before I hit the final water point, around mile 9, my audiobook was reading to me the portion of “Born to Run” where the author encounters an excited (and somewhat dehydrated) Barefoot Ted talking about dark urine during Caballo’s race…you know the part of the book I am talking about…”I wouldn’t drink that piss if”….. I downed some my home made Chia gel, a cup of sports drink, a cup of water, and I headed over to the port-o-potty.

WARNING: this next paragraph WILL MAKE YOU WINCE.

I shut the door behind me, and upon seeing my urine stream I knew something was terribly wrong. There’s the dark color of urine that is “normal” during a race, but this stuff looked like coffee…which meant that there was most likely copious amounts of blood in my urine. Suddenly the urine stream stopped, and I braced myself for the pain I knew (all-too-well) was about to come…the back pain made a lot more sense now. I bit down on the inside of my cheek, not wanting to alert the water station attendant with a sudden yelp of pain. I bore down and pushed as hard as I could, and like a cork popping from a bottle of fine champagne, a kidney stone shot out of my urethra and the urine stream returned.

I took a few seconds to compose myself before exiting the port-o-potty, and by the time I stepped out, I was feeling much better. The searing pain in my back had vanished,and my bladder was happily emptied. I downed the rest of my flask of home made Chia gel and a few more cups of water. Tentatively, I started back out onto the course, but with each and every stride, my back pain subsided even more, and the lingering pain caused the offending stone’s passage eased considerably.

The track wound through the woods, passing a small cabin that looked vaguely familiar from last year’s 10k…and at mile 10 (maybe 10.5ish) I got (what I thought was) the final punch in the face this course had to offer:

2013-02-03 10.16.05…A gruelling ascent that had me almost doubled over and scrambling to the top, only to be met with a switchback, and, of course, EVEN MORE HILL2013-02-03 10.19.47 and after that turned again?

MORE HILL!

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This hill looked familiar, because last year (when I ran the 10k) this was the turnaround!

Step after step after step, I conquered the hill, walking most of it, but running to the very top to crest it…. a pep talk via text from my friend Amanda kept me going strong….and then, just like that… it was OVER…well…the hill was at least…

left right left right left right HILL

left right left right left right HILL

The final miles of the course drove us on through varying fields. After the hill’s crest we turned left, where much  of it was tall warm grass that had been trampled flat by the runners who had come before me. The sun warmed my face as I opened my stride, and the warmth of the grass radiating through the thin leather soles of my “J”uaraches seemed to soothe my very soul….(or soles)…

…then a rock appeared on the path, and was easily avoided…

…then another…then another…

All too suddenly I went from blissfully running through a field of trampled warm grass with my eyes half closed, to running over some of the hardest trail I have ever experienced…it seemed to go on forever…and I had to stop running to lift my head and check for trail markers to be certain I was on course…afraid that if I took my eyes off the course while running , for even a second, I would most certainly end up laid out, and laid out in a bad way. The next mile stretched on forever, it seemed and when I finally returned to the caliche road for the final stretch, the hard smoother surface was actually a very welcome sight.

I kicked off my sandals and returned them to my backpack on the run. The caliche road was as hard as concrete, and blissfully cool… the little stones here and there didn’t bother me so much, and I ran on, barefoot again… and happy to have the worst of the best trails behind me…

The final portion of the course was mostly downhill. So I padded along slowly and softly. I listened to my feet, literally, as I had returned my headphones to my backpack after the kidney stone incident. The caliche road ended at the pavement, and made the final right turn into the final stretch of parking lot. It wound around to the left and I dug deep, the finish line firmly affixed in the cross-hairs of my mind’s eye. I hadn’t run this race as well as I had wanted to, but I would be most certainly DAMNED if I wasn’t going to leave the rest of what I had left inside me in front of that finish line.

At the bottom of the final descent, I SPRINTED…HARD…. My arms and legs pumping as hard as I could as I finished the final approach..

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An enthusiastic volunteer handed me a bottle of water and My finisher’s medal, A custom geode slice, while other runners congratulated me and clapped me on the back…some one handed me a cookie and asked if they could take a picture of my feet…

539733_530688556954004_1914401867_n-my feet as I am getting water and my finisher’s ROCK

The guys from Team RADIOactive (facebook here) were the cookie purveyors, and they took this picture: (which I grabbed off of their facebook page):

barefeet and cookies!

barefeet and cookies!

I grabbed some Kiolbasa Sausage wraps and wolfed down a banana and some orange slices. I sent Mrs MuddyJ a text letting her know I had finished and I was alive…. and then the awards ceremony began… Those two little sprites I talked about earlier? …yep you guessed it,  they took first and second in the 19 and under  Female group…having gotten lost and running an EXTRA 2-3 miles, they still finished with the front of the pack!

The awards continued on, only pausing as later finishers came across the finish line…then we all cheered and hooted and hollered like they had come in first place!

Finishing up the awards, I approached Rodney Welsch, (the girls father) to offer him and his girls my congratulations.

“You must be really proud of those two!”, I said, offering my hand in congratulations….

Rodney looked up, almost warily, and replied, “They just love to run..”

We soon struck up a conversation, occasionally interrupted by other runners offering congrats and kudos to his girls, but more often it was the girls themselves that came over to “check in” with their dad…(and grab his wallet…. then they ran off again …as if a half-marathon, plus getting lost wasn’t enough running already) to play together somewhere else nearby. It turned out that he was a very down to earth guy, and his daughters were the happiest little speed demons I have ever had the absolute joy of meeting.

In a true champion moment, a man ( who I can only guess was the event champion) walked over and told the girls, “In my heart, I know you won.” They just smiled sheepishly and politely said thank you.

In my opinion, the media has painted a very unfair picture of this him…as a domineering and pushy “over-achiever-all-the-way” super-coach sort of fellow…but I saw none of this in the hour or so that we conversed…what I saw was a guy trying to be the best father he could be while fostering a natural talent for running harboured by his offspring. He didn’t berate them for not winning the whole show, he didn’t even get down on them. Not at all.

“When they don’t want to run, they don’t run, it just that simple…they’re just kids after all”

Anyone who has ever stepped over the starting line on race day knows that there is a certain mentality it takes to start the race, let alone finish it. Being an avid runner myself, I can honestly pronounce that there’s no way in hell anyone could ever force me to run the distances I run if I didn’t want to. That said, these two amazing little girls don’t run because their Daddy makes them, they run because they were born to run, and they have the great advantage of parents who support and encourage them.

They are my newest Heroes!2013-02-03 11.33.22

Now to get ready for the SARR Prickly Pear 50k in a few  short weeks, YIKES!

Stay Muddy My Friends!

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