Monday, October 29, 2012

Palo Duro Canyon 50k Trail Run Race Report

It has taken me a little longer than normal to write this race report.  I  really needed a few days to soak in the reality of running a 50k. I am really not sure if this reality has even set in. I guess the best place to start is at packet pickup. It was at the West Texas A&M campus in Canyon, and after finally finding the email on my cell we figured out where to go. Walking up I was pretty sure we were in the right place since I had more fat in my right butt cheek than the entire crowd had in their whole bodies. To say we could tell the difference in this race than others would be an understatement. Most of the races we go to are with super anal type "A" folks. I am sure there was plenty of it there, but it was expertly hidden by a very laid back vibe. Since we were going to meet our friends Donna and Matt for dinner at Macaroni Joe's we decided to skip the dinner and head out to the park to take a drive through the area after getting my packet.

Susan and I thought that we had been to Palo Canyon State Park before, but as soon as we pulled in we knew we hadn't. In all honesty my parents had taken me to see the show,Texas, but it was so long ago I didn't remember what the park looked like. As soon as you pull through the gates the canyons offer up some of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. This is also when I realized I had left my camera in Lubbock, and so all of our pics are courtesy of our good old phones.

We drove all of the way down to the race site to make sure we had an idea of where we would be going in the morning. As we pulled up we ran into an official looking guy named Rodney on his mountain bike.  He answered a lot of questions for us, and gave us comfort for the next day. Then Susan noticed his jersey and asked him if he had known Judy Austin.  Immediately the super powers of Judy was there to connect us with someone new again. Rodney mentioned that when Judy was fighting cancer she had come to official their race, and they all loved her so much that they had her a trailer down at the race site so she could rest during the day. Jurgen can correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that it was her last race that she was able to official. It is still funny how much love Judy put out into the world, and to this day it still peaks it's beautiful head out when someone needs it. I knew then a little bit of Judy would be there to help out the next day.

After our tour we we got back just in time for our reservations with Donna and Matt, and for those of you that visit Amarillo you have got to try out Macaroni Joe's. It was a great atmosphere and it could not have been a better way to relax the night  before the race. Thanks again Donna and Matt for the great evening.  You helped out more than you can imagine.

Back at the hotel we got all of our things ready for the next day so we could leave at 5ish. I made sure that I had my water bottles mixed with just the right amount of calories and threw them in the fridge to be cold for tomorrow (this will be important later).

As keyed up as I have been for this race I was surprised that I slept great, and woke up feeling really refreshed that the day was finally here. In record time we were packed and out the door to get in line for parking for the race. Rodney mentioned that we should be there at least by 5:30am before the gates opened at 6:00 so that we could get a good parking spot.  We were a little later than that as we pulled up to the gates and a line had already formed.

We didn't wait long before the gates opened early at around 5:50am, and everybody dropped into the abysmal dark of the canyon. I describe it that way because it was what I would imagine driving into a black hole would feel like in space. I mean NO light! I was really glad that we had driven in the night before to see where we were going. This was going to be an interesting run start.

After getting parked and grabbing our stuff to walk down a somewhat steep incline it pops into my head that I have left my perfectly caloric measured water bottles in the fridge of our hotel. I commenced into a little bit of freak out (major freak out), and then Susan says, " Ok that's over now. Just adapt and overcome you can't do anything about it." One more kick of the dirt and we formed a plan with what we had in the car. Even though I knew the race had plenty of water stops I like to use what I train with.  So we searched through the car and found a couple of water bottles that I would just have to carry instead of having straps to hold them. Adapt and overcome, crises averted!

Before we started Susan and I started to notice one big difference from the folks I usually race with to this group. No one really gets in a hurry. They are all just laid back and chill with just a few minutes before the race starts. Such a good different for me to be around. Even though I am very open about racing for many reasons other than competition I still can't help but to get caught up in it. It was really cool to feel like I was just going for a run with a bunch of folks I had just met for nothing other than the journey.

Here are a few shots Susan got of the start of the race.

Loop 1 - 6 miles

Before we started they had bag pipes playing and that added another layer of cool weirdness to the beginning. When the horn started us off I tried to stay in the first quarter of people. I knew things were going to get interesting when we got out of the race start lights.  The crappiness of my head lamp I found in my garage was evident. Luckily I was with a group that were wearing head lamps that could signal the International Space Station. Even with some light, the trail was already beating up my ankles, and I hadn't even gotten through the first mile. After about 30-40 minutes the canyon was lighting up, and it was like a curtain slowing being lifted to reveal a painting that kept changing as more light was added. One of the many times during this race I knew I was meant to be there just to see and feel that experience. Susan and I had decided that on the first loop I would only carry a gel, and just get water on at the water stops. So as I am coming into the first water stop I come on a couple of huge bearded dudes from Amarillo. One of them resembled some of the guys off of Duck Dynasty just fitter. We ran and chatted took in the sites and kept things somewhat easy until they peeled off right before the end of the first loop for their camp site. I never saw them the rest of the day, but Susan was pretty sure they were drinking beer before noon. My kind of racers!

Loop 2 - 12.5 miles

I peeled off my gloves and head lamp in exchange for a water bottle and shades and was off again. The trail was still relatively packed since the 20k runners had gone off 30 minutes after us. Funny thing was 2 minutes before they went off Susan was in the bathroom with 2 of the runners and she asked them if they knew there race was about to start. They were like oh I guess we better head over. As I said no really hurry! 

The second lap I was able to see a lot of what I was running in the dark for the first time.  So it was like a whole new trail for me. It was still cold for the first few miles of this lap, and I was starting to regret leaving my gloves behind. Even with being able to see better the trail was pretty technical in parts, but I kept reminding myself to take a look around and take in this awesome place. 

After I passed the first aid station the trail opened up, and we were not only joined by other runners but a ton of hikers.  I did my best to say good morning to everyone I saw to put out good vibes on the trail.   I could hear laughing from the famous, Dos Locos Senoritas aid station, long before I saw it. I really thought that a runner was already flipping out, but after getting to the aid station I knew it was two of the coolest ladies. This station being 6 miles out in the middle of nowhere was an oasis for most of us.

Not long after leaving here I was on another technical section, and this guy in front of me pulled over to let me pass. I looked up at him to see this older guy with cuts and scraps all over him plus a small stream of congealed blood that was plastered down the side of his head. I stopped and asked him if he was ok, and he just smiled and said, "I'm good!" We shook hands and parted ways. That is when it started dawning on me that if you have issues back here you don't quit, because that isn't an option you have to keep moving forward no matter what. 

The run from here was barrenly beautiful with huge rocks formations and openness. I was thinking that as I could feel it heating up this part was going to be fun with no shade on the third loop. Right before the next water station you get back into some trees then descend a cliff that has  large steps cut into the side opening into a picnic area. I never stayed long at each station, but just topped off my water bottle, took some salt tabs, and drank a little coke. To this point I was feeling good, but I felt like I had a little air trapped in my stomach. 

Coming out of the next aid station I was on familiar territory, and was kind of zoned out when Susan comes up the trail and yells, "There you are." I didn't realize how good it was going to be to see Susan, and get to run with her some. 

Coming into the finish area it came to my attention that I was well beyond my know running distance at 18.5 miles. Before coming to PDC I had never ran more than 13.8 miles. I had always heard of people hitting the marathon wall around 16 -17 miles, but here I was feeling great at 18.5. So I sat down changed out my socks, t-shirt, and water bottle. 

Loop 3 - 12.5

I was still feeling good for the start of this third loop, but right off it was very noticeable that this loop was going to be less crowded.  The first few miles were good except I took one slight wrong turn, and stopped to look around when a guy called out to me from the cliff to go back 20 feet. Thankfully for him I didn't get off track long, but I could feel it getting harder to concentrate. Then about mile 22 I hit the wall with full force! It started to get harder to turn my legs over even on flat areas, and even small inclines were mountains. 

During any race I always have a point that I feel my Dad with me, and I swear I felt him with me during the 2nd loop. I even remember thanking him for coming along for a run with me, and I would need him sometime today but just not right then. It was during these 3-4 miles by myself cussing and talking about how bad this sucks that he kept me going forward. Then I made the turn to see the oasis called Dos Locos Senoritas! Those ladies had so much fun attitude that you couldn't help, but absorb some of it. As I was filling my water bottle one of the ladies poured some cold water down my back, and I moaned to have some relief from the heat. Then she said, "I love it that I can make guys moan!" My pops would have gotten a kick out of both of these ladies. 

As I left I was passed by a couple of people that I decided to try and stay with for a while. It was during this time that I remembered that I was about to finish my first marathon. Knowing that was coming was another big push for me. As I was watching "Carmin" my Garmin roll over to 26.2 I stopped pointed up, and did a very Keebler jig. Not long after this I caught up to the lady that I had the conversation with in the last blog. Which I would like to answer her question of who the hell picks a 50k for their first marathon? That would be Keebler!

Getting back into the trees I knew we were getting close the the cliff stairs, and yes they were hell getting down this time. I was still having problems keeping myself going for long stretches running, and I was getting a little delusional. This is probably why I skipped a stop at this aid station thinking I had enough water. Not a bad mistake but I was needing a drink coming into the last aid station. 

Then rounding the corner in despair there was Susan ready to run with me again. As last time it was such a relief and boost to see her. I knew I was going to make it, but now I knew I would do it feeling good. Here are a few pics from this last part of the trail.

Coming into the finish was one of the best feelings that I have ever had at the end of a race. 

This race was everything that I had hoped it would be for the end of my season. I have spent the last week really still trying to believe that I finished my first marathon and a 50k trail run.  I got so much more out of this than I think I could ever give back to this world. It came from the atmosphere of a great race and great volunteers, and for me a renewed spiritual feeling, raised money for a great organization, ADA, and running with my best friend and wife. This is what fighting for your health is all about!


Finish Time 5:52:06
4th in Age Group
17th Overall