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homecollageSo last year, I suffered through 50 kilometers of trail running to earn the right to call myself an ultra-marathoner, and you can read all about that awesome suffer-fest by clicking here…go ahead, I’ll wait I went into it under-trained for trail running and paid for it by nearly missing the 8 hour cut-off, squeezing across the finish line with a mere 6 minutes or so to spare.

This year, I ventured back into this meat grinder of a race with a healthier respect for the distance, and far more trail running miles under my soles…heck, I even went out and ran the course a few times in the weeks and months leading up to the race… I hit this one well prepped…and it showed.

Recently, my Spartan Buddy Red suffered a minor injury, and with the Spartan Weekend coming up soon, she didn’t want to chance setting the healing process back any. I had planned on registering for the race at the packet pickup (using a volunteer card gained from volunteering to work another SARR event) but she surprised me by granting me her entry…this act was important later on, as it became a determining factor for me in whether or not to even finish the race…oh that wall…that filthsy sneaksy sneaksy tricksy filthy wall…

Recently, at the 3rd Annual Natural Bridge Trail 1/2 Marathon, I broke through the training and the doldrums I have been suffering, and I remembered that this is all supposed to be fun! I didn’t worry about splits or my MAF then, I just ran at what felt good.  I attempted this on my first go of the Prickly Pear last year, but I went out too fast and burned off my legs early on. For this reason, I opted this year to use my MotoACTV to track my pace for the beginning…to make sure I was going slow enough! I was determined to have fun, but with significantly less agony than I had suffered the previous year- a lofty and noble goal!

Pre-race packet pick-up hosted at the 1604/Bitters location of iRun, (in the retail space formerly occupied by Trisition). Good news for me, since I live a little over a mile away from that store. I was quickly recognized by staff, and we sorted out all the details of the race registration transfer… I was now Number 11, with Red’s name/age/gender scribbled out and mine written over it! I sent Red a picture of it with the quote “doesn’t take that much to cross you out huh!” (of course I was joking.

Fuel was another major concern for this event-or more importantly, not fueling. I have tried making my own gels with chia and natural ingredients, but I have had far better race results staying in ketosis for long and trying events. For two weeks leading up to the event I followed a strict ketogenic diet and this is (I think) the primary reason I did so much better over the previous attempt. I have mentioned this diet in the past, particularly during my three weekend double headers of December 2013. For those unfamiliar, you maintain your usual caloric intake but eat less than 55g of carbs per day. Instead of carbs, your diet becomes about 60/40 fat and protein…with your fats being “healthy fats”

It’s been said that it would never rain in San Antonio if the Prickly Pear didn’t happen, and as I woke to the sound of raindrops on my roof on race morning, this statement was proven true yet again. I woke up bright and early to make the drive over to McAllister park. I got to sleep in a little, because it’s only about 6 miles or so from my house! I had packed two bags the night prior: A drop bag containing dry shirts, a mixture of ground chia, water and salt (just in case) a shaker bottle with a dose of Cellucor C4, an extra pair of VFF’s and my tire tread Huaraches, and a second bag to run with containing my cell phone (for music) and a mylar space blanket- ever since I suffered through some hypothermia at the NBC Duathlon in December 2013, The Space blanket goes with me on any run where the average temp is predicted to fall below 65 degrees, ESPECIALLY if I might get wet!

I got to the race site shortly before the race was to start…not so late I was stressed, but not so early that I would get bored and chilly standing around in the cool damp morning air. I placed my drop bag in the drop bag tent, said hello to friends and acquaintances, and set about trying to get my head straight. The fact that this same race had kicked my ass the year before was weighing heavily on my mind, but I shook it off quickly. Race announcements were made, and with just a few minutes until “GO” time, I doffed my Trails ‘N’ Tribulations tee (thus maintaining my race shirt tradition) and stuffed it into my drop bag before piling into the starting chute with the other runners. Thinking I was going to go out slowly, I stayed near the back of the pack as the the race started…and off we went!

The trail made an abrupt left soon after the starting line, and got very narrow, very quickly as it turned from a wide road to a single track. I tried to remain calm as we caterpillared along slowly going into single file, but my frustration mounted quickly as runners pulled up short to walk at every technical section of trail – I should have started closer to the front of the pack, my goal was to go out slowly, but not at a crawl!- Because of this frustration, I found myself taking the road less travelled to pass whenever it became available, scrambling over loose stone instead of smooth trail, blasting recklessly over gnarled sections of exposed roots, running along a low cement wall at one point… In my head, I knew that each of these bursts of nervous energy would prove itself taxing later on, but the ‘live in the moment part of me ran on’, throttling back into a decent and slower pace only as the pack thinned in front of me and more experienced/better-at-maintaining-a-pace-regardless-of-terrain runners were all that was left in front of me… My trail rage subsided, and I began to have fun again…

…and then I hit the ground. HARD!

I was too close on the heels of the runner in front of me, and I totally missed a tiny obstacle in the path. It caught my foot as I ran, and I went down hard, scraping my knees and hands a little before I pulled out the ol’ shoulder roll to scrub the rest of my speed and get back on my feet. Now humbled, I pulled over on the trail to check my wounds as many of the runners I had expended so much precious energy to pass flew by- well played universe…well played…a hard lesson learned- relax into the run! My hands were achy, but intact-my knees had borne the brunt of the fall, and they showed it as blood seeped from the trail rash… Nothing was too deep, and my blood does clot. I took a deep calming breath and headed back out onto the trail, picking up the pace a little for the lost time before I realized what I was doing and slowed myself back down… from here on, I maintained an easy pace-breathing through my nose as I bee-bopped along with the music playing through my headphones….as I passed mile marker 3…. only 28 more miles to go!

The Prickly pear course consists of three 10+ mile loops to make up the 31 mile distance… and the rain which stopped before the race start began anew somewhere around the time I had gone halfway around the first loop…manifesting as a light mist which hung in the air, dropping the temp as it turned every smooth rock surface on the trail into a tractionless nightmare of slipperyness waiting for runners to step on them! I was feeling great still, since running in mud is kind of my thing, and the rain stopped shortly before I finished the loop.

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Even though I was a little chilly, I passed my drop bag, thinking that the rain would hold off so there was no need for a dry shirt (I was bare chested after all!)

Going into my second loop, I spotted my friend/LRB member/ultra-runner/tough mudder LizaBEAST. I hadn’t known she would be at this event, since in theory she should still be recovering from the 100 miler she had tackled a few weeks prior. I sprinted to catch up and say hi before slowing back to my usual pace as she dropped me like a bad habit and ran on. By the time we hit mile 13, I was passing her as well though. I tried to ask if she was ok, but she waved me onward…This shouldn’t have happened I was thinking…she is a much much much better runner than I. That’s not humility either… it’s just a cold hard fact she is a much better trail runner than I am…maybe the hundo had taken its toll? who knows.. but she waved me on to run my own race while she tackled hers. As I passed mile 16, the rain started anew, dropping the temperature a few more degrees. It was no longer a mist hanging in the air, but palpable drops saturating the forest.

By the time I hit the aid station at mile 17, I was shivering and miserable. I downed two small cups of water and mixed a third with salt before chugging a fourth and final one. With hydration and sodium taken care off, I tried to head back out on to the trail on shivering and cold legs.

My legs didn’t want to go. The cold was starting to get to me. I fished out my mylar blanket and wrapped it around myself to get warm, walking for about a half mile before I warmed a bit and my teeth stopped chattering audibly…then something broke….

I seriously didn’t want to be there anymore…I didn’t care about getting a DNF… even though I still didn’t have one, I have already accepted that someday it might happen. My feet were hurting from slipping along rocks, I was cold, and although I had plenty of energy left (seriously, I FELT ready to go) I was seriously lacking any and all DESIRE TO CONTINUE.… and that’s a bad thing…. a REALLY REALLY BAD THING.

…I stopped walking along and sat down off to the side of the trail…

…and then I had and argument with myself…out loud… drawing concerned looks from passing runners as I waved them by… mind you, I wasn’t shouting, but I imagine that it looked a lot like this:

 

…the dialogue was a bit different, it was basically ‘MuddyJ’ telling ‘TirednQuittingJ’ to “GO AWAY AND NEVER EVER RETURN”….

The winning factor in MuddyJ’s argument? “Red gave me this entry, she will be so dissapointed!”

So with renewed purpose, I stood up, scratched my belly and stretched. Then I stuffed my mylar blanket into my run bag and headed to the drop bag station to begin my third loop.

This time I stopped. I sucked down the aforementioned cellucor workout booster for a little extra oomph, and swapped my VFF’s for my tire tread Huaraches, which would offer a little better traction and rock protection since my feet were getting a bit sore.

The rain was picking up, so I left my phone and MotoACTV in my drop bag and took off my chest strap. I donned a sleeveless technical tee and my running sleeves before heading back out into the fray. Over the next two miles, I ran/walked as the Cellucor worked its magic, and by mile 22 I was feeling great again….and most importantly, I was HAVING A GOOD TIME OF IT!

With about 8 miles left to finish, the trails went from ‘a little muddy’ to “grabbing-your-shoes-off-muddy”, and then finally graduated to ‘each-of-your-feet-in-a-shoe-is-going-to-weigh-an-extra-15-pounds-muddy” My tires were feeling a little flat from the mud they were collecting, and I started cursing myself for switching into my sandals…I mean sure they had gotten me past the craggy rocky portion back there…but what was I supposed to do now? Run barefoot in the mud the rest of the way?

That. Would. Be. CRA…..

….wait a second… I’m MuddyJ…

Running BAREFOOT IN THE MUD IS KINDA MY THING!

I came up to the next aid station and begged a plastic bag off of them as I unwound the lacing on my Huaraches, all 8 feet of it… I wrapped them in the lacing and then stuffed them in the bag, pausing for a drink and off I went, now footloose and fancy free! If a section was too rough, I simply walked it, picking my way carefully through the pointy rocks, and having fun.

All strategy was abandoned, and I lived the rest of this race with one motto:

“Basically, RUN!”

Last year, I took off my shoes as a matter of principle…. if i wasn’t going to finish fast, I was sure as hell gonna finish barefoot. In contrast, this year I went barefoot as a matter of good sense as opposed to lack of sense! The lack of shoes and love of running barefoot in mud spurred me on towards the finish as I ran, feeling like each mile was ticking by a little faster than the one before… I stopped at the aid station at mile 27 and left my sandals there, planning to return later, since there was a shortcut through the woods from the finish line… I wasn’t gonna shave the course, just go back for my sandals later …but a nice volunteer offered to make the muddy trek up to the finish line and leave them at the finish line for me as I tackled the final four miles or so…

I ran…I walked, and after an eternity, (SERIOUSLY! why does the last 5k of a race like this seem 10 miles long?) I recognized the final approach…and I blasted myself towards the finish line like a shot fired from a gun! I was aiming to leave whatever was left in my tank on the last of the course!

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I blasted across the finish line and checked my time: 07:00:21 …YES! I was 53+ minutes better than last year’s time! TAKE THAT PRICKLY PEAR! YEAH!

…but it kinda bothered me that I was a mere 21 seconds OVER the 7 hour mark… until the official results were posted and I learned that my chip time was:

 

 

…drumroll please!!!!!!

 

….AND MAYBE SOME COWBELL….

 

…..06:59:51…..

A FULL 9 SECONDS SHORT OF THE 7 HOUR MARK! OH HELL YEAH! I FEEL GOOD!

I wrapped myself in my space blanket, chugged a soda and headed to my car to drive home and take a well earned nap… and maybe a little snack too…

 

Did somebody say NAP?

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That’s all I got for this one folks… in a few weeks I plan on pacing Red to a new PR at the 2014 Alamo 13.1 Fight to the Finish, you know, to say thanks and such…

…and then we are off to tackle The Spartan weekend, in which I am planning to run the Hurricane heat, 2x laps of the Super and 2x the Sprint!

Stay Muddy My Friends!

Texas MuddyJ

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