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I can now call myself an ULTRA-MARATHONER! This race was a whole new experience for me. I had to push through pain and exhaustion I hadn’t ever met before. I had to talk myself out of quitting and keep myself honest…I entered hopeful and poorly trained, and came out with the hardest finisher’s medal I have ever earned.

Packet Pick-up:

Packet pick-up was it’s usual simple and well-oiled affair…The San Antonio Road Runners really have this part of the race nailed down! It was held at iRun San Antonio (formerly Run On! San Antonio) which is a little bit of a hike from my house, but Thing #2 and Thing #3 and I had no trouble traveling to the store and picking up my packet on Thursday afternoon. I double-checked the location of the starting area, and that, as they often say, was that.

I got home and set about laying out my race attire for Saturday. I decided to go prepared and bring a selection of footwear: 2013-03-07 14.19.12The VFF’s for mud, “J”uaraches for dry trails, and my more traditional “tires” for conditions in-between. ( I should have worn my tires)

I sent the following picture to friends and family members with the assurance that no, the “50K” was NOT a typo:

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…and of course, I had to lay out my “Natural Bridge Caverns 1/2 Marathon” T-shirt to continue my traditional “doff and don” ….

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I spent much of the following day (Friday) driving on SH-130 to take the Things Three halfway to Dallas, where I met my wonderful in-laws. The Things Three would be celebrating spring break the following week, and since I had told them Miami/Galveston/OBX/Daytona Beach was out of the question, their grandparent’s care was their #1 choice…in fact I spent every single day from Monday forward answering the question “Do we go to Oma and Opa’s house today, or tomorrow?”

I spent much of the drive listening to excerpts of my “Born to Run” audio book to gain some insight into what mental challenges I might face. It’s very reassuring to me to know that someone else has experienced, and conquered issues I would be facing!

I also spent much of Friday stuffing as many calories down my neck as I could manage!

The Race:

Saturday morning came all too early, and the fabled “Blessing of the Prickly Pear” occurred right on schedule. It’s a common saying among members of the San Antonio running community that if it wasn’t for the Prickly Pear, it would never rain in San Antonio! (I heard somewhere that it has rained eight of the last twelve years)

After a short drive through the dark and rainy morning, I arrived at the venue, found a parking spot, and dialed my running buddy Amanda to be certain she had arrived without incident. She and her lovely wife Sam had just parked and we agreed on an easy place to meet up.
I stepped out of the car into the cold and rainy morning air and felt my stomach do a gymnastics tumbling pass across my abdomen. After a trip to the blissfully nearby port-o-potty to release the butterflies that had taken up residence in my belly, I walked back to my car to get my drop bag ready. I loaded in my flasks of home made chia gels, and then decided I really would not need anything else.

In a rare moment of complete clarity, I decided to take off my MotoACTV. I hadn’t trained to be a competitor in this race because of the shin splints I had suffered from over-doing it in December. In truth, I don’t think I’d run more than the two half marathons I had participated in during January (SARR Endurathon) and February (NBC 1/2 Marathon). Not a training run, not a fun run….not a single run over 2 miles.

I wasn’t even sure I could finish this race…and I was certain that running against anyone besides myself was a sure way to end up with a big fat “DNF“-my greatest fear…. but more on that later…

I met my friends Amanda, Samantha and Liz (here-after to be referred to lovingly as THE BEAST)  as they were walking to the staging area…we struck up an easy banter, sharing in the “we who are about to willingly plunge ourselves into a meat grinder just to see if we can survive it” mentality. Since Sam would be our one-woman support crew, I doffed my T-shirt and passed it and my drop bag to her… (my plan was to down a flask on every 10.3 mile loop. ) Then, as we stood in the rain listening to our pre-race instructions, I stood as close to my friends as they would allow me to as I shivered.

With the race instructions given & Star-Spangled Banner sung, all the runners (seemingly 100 or so) filed into the starting corral. I spotted another runner in huaraches, made a joke about the “other crazy barefoot guy” and struck up a short conversation as we waited out the remaining time until the start. He introduced himself as “Yellow Rain”, and his friend, “Crouching Tiger”-

Yellow Rain explained that he and Crouching Tiger are “hashers”-members of a “drinking club that has a running problem.” I am guessing the nicknames are part of the fun as well, because I was later introduced to some other hashers that had equally fun nicknames…but really, can I say anything negative to this? I walk around calling myself “MuddyJ”… running and drinking….hmmmmm…..

The countdown finished, the starting buzzer sounded and off we ran. I initially took off a bit faster then I wanted to, but I needed to get warmed-up quickly…standing in the chilly morning rain had taken it’s toll and running seemed like a pretty good way to warm up quickly! The starting path quickly shrank into a frustratingly narrow single track trail, and the pack of runners caterpillared along as runners merged into a single file line.

181069_619713411376872_2088333107_nThe rain had turned the dirt single track into a slippery muddy mess, just my kind of surface! I settled into an easily maintainable pace, my toes allowed to do what toes do in my VFF’s, and ran on through the woods.

The four aid stations were fairly evenly spaced, and before I was feeling like I was even running, I passed the first and second aid station with only a few swallows of water.

Somewhere near the middle of each loop, there was about a mile or so of a raised section of trail that dropped sharply for 10 meters or so on each side. It was only wide enough for a car to drive on, and full of debris. This became my very least favorite part of the course… looking down to avoid kicking stones played hell on my depth perception, making me slightly ill each time I ran across it…it was kind of similar to the way the background on old video games moved in layers, only in real life.

Nausea aside, my legs and feet were feeling great as I passed the third aid station, and as I wound through the trails on my way to the final aid station to complete the first of three loops, the SARR historian, Thomas Lake, snapped the following photo:

cd0bc4e251ab942035087e07e29eb2ee-I swear I was smiling!

I completed the first loop ahead of Amanda and THE BEAST, and Sam pushed a gel flask into my hands. I chugged my gel, downed a few more cups of water and checked my split…about two hours for ten miles of muddy/rocky trails.. NOT BAD!

I wasted no time as I headed back out onto the trails, feeling confident in my ability to keep my pace up. The rain had been slowing, becoming a more of a light misting, then an actual rain, and by the time I hit the next aid station, the mist had stopped.

The dry Texas ground sucked the moisture from the mud, turning it from slippery to sticky..and then from sticky into concrete cobblestones. The runners ahead of me picked up on their shoes and deposited it back on the trail in clumps as they ran. The result forming golf ball sized divots and clumps… my feet and legs are tough, but I was about to meet my match in these trails.

By the time I hit mile 16, my knees were twanging at me and my feet were threatening to detach themselves from my ankles and walk away. At mile 18, THE BEAST passed me like I was standing still, seemingly experiencing her second wind. I cheered her on as she passed me, and she offered encouragement to me as I shuffled on.

By the time I made it to the final aid station, 35 minutes slower then my previous pace, I was ready to quit. In fact, as Sam pushed another flask of chia gel into my hands, I looked to her and said “I think I am done”

She arched her eyebrows in apparent disbelief and said the only thing that could have motivated me to keep going- “Really?!”

I hung around the aid station/ bag drop for a bit, feeling sorry for myself and trying to decide what to do. My IT band was so tight that walking was a chore, and my knees, having never given me this many problems before, were suddenly threatening to give out on me with every step I took on a downhill. My shoulders were screaming at me to drop into a terrible posture and my head was throbbing. I leaned over to rub my knees, and I was astounded to see my calves shrink before my very eyes…okay, the shrinking didn’t happen, but the vision of it did…so even my sense of sight was joining the rebellion.

I decided I would rather give it my best try and get pulled off the course for going over the course time (8 hours) then to quit.

I decided to go for it, even if I was going to walk the next ten miles.

I put my t-shirt back on, not wanting to waste remaining energy staying warm, and I set out back onto the path. Winding through the woods on the single track, I alternated walking (as fast as I could) and running when I felt like I was able to. The trail surface worsened as the sun peeked through the cloud cover, and quickly baked the rest of the trail’s surface. Every step in my soaking-wet thin-soled KSO’s became a chore. I tried walking towards the edges of the trail, and even that brought no relief.

I ran on.

I walked on.

I ran on.

I walked on.

The bright sun overhead quickly warmed the humid air, and I took my shirt off again, alternating holding it in each hand, and finally tucking it into my shorts in an effort to relieve the chaffing I was beginning to feel as my well applied body glide was wearing thin… yet another body part to join in the effort to get me to quit!

I passed the final checkpoint, grabbing some bananas and water. I set out to finish the final 5k.

About a 100m past the checkpoint I decided that if I wasn’t going to finish strong, I was at least going to finish barefoot. I leaned against a tree as I peeled my Vibrams off and I set off down the trail, alternating again between a run and a walk…each step bringing me closer and closer to the final goal…

Winding through the final mile, Amanda passed me on her way to the finish line. She asked if I was ok as she passed, and I simply assured her I would FINISH.

I rounded the final set of twists in the trail and spotted a familiar rock. A barefoot man was lounging on it, waiting for his friend to emerge from the woods. He offered encouragement and I broke into a trot for my final approach.

Of all the voices spurring me on towards the finish line, one rang out, and I blinked hard, thinking I was hallucinating! There, at the finish line, was Mrs MuddyJ, cheering me onto the finish.

602170_619713211376892_2002489737_nI passed her my shoes and shirt as I ran by,625417_619713184710228_1644025798_n

It was over… I did it!!!!!!

A volunteer hung my hard earned finisher’s medal around my neck and Mrs MuddyJ came over to offer her praise. With the morning’s rain, we had decided there was little reason for her to sit in the the cold and shiver, so she had gone out to run errands, but when 6 hours had gone by and she hadn’t heard from me, she had grown a little worried and came to see how I was doing, making it to the finish line 30 minutes before I finished.

ResizedImage951362865515281Stick a fork in me, I am done!

ResizedImage951362865516108spent…

it took a lot of effort to stand up  straight forthis photo

it took a lot of effort to stand up straight for this photo, as evidenced by the look upon my face

ResizedImage951362865515710-and boy was I HUNGRY!

I grabbed a well-earned beer and a pair of chicken fajitas and joined my friends, all happy that we had managed to defeat this course….

After that there was little left to do for the day besides go home and shower…and nap…. and write…

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Next up…. TOUGH MUDDER AUSTIN, which, after this, I am thinking is going to be…easy?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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