Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Battle of Palo Duro 20K

The Palo Duro Trail Run is always one of the races that we always try to make since I ran the 50k a couple of years back. Not only is the race one of the best organized with the some of the best volunteers ever, but it is one of the most beautiful and rugged places that we have to run in this part of Texas. Now I haven't been up for running the 50k again these last few years, but thankfully they have a 20k distance that lets you see the whole course. The only problem is that if you want to run the 20k you have to sign up in July, because it always sells out quickly.

This weekend was also a great time for Susan and I to get away for a quick race getaway. Sometimes even a night away just to actually have time to talk and enjoy a dinner is something every marriage needs.

After getting to Canyon and fitting in a quick shake out run we went in search of dinner. Actually truth be told we went in search of the necessities for a night cap after dinner. As a side note I was pleasantly surprised by the IPA selection at Eskimo Joe's, but the wine selection left a little bit to be desired. I guess you can't win them all.

Since the rest of the group from Lubbock wasn't going to be able to join us for dinner until later we decided to go ahead and eat. Thanks to Yelp we found a great pizza place called 575 Pizzeria. They really take pride in making great pizza, and they have a great selection in beer and wine. We had our priorities in place for the night before this race :)

Later that evening we met up with some of Susan's run club, and shared some laughs and drinks before trying to get some rest before a very early alarm clock. I will note here that we had prepared for breakfast the next morning since our very rude check in clerk at the Holiday Inn told us they would not have breakfast ready before we left. Then we went for our morning run to find that they did have it ready. Oh well! I think that next year we will find a new hotel to stay at for the race. 

This morning was much warmer then last year, but I will say it was still a little chilly. I really didn't have much of a plan going into this. I even joked with Tim that I was just going to start out as fast as I could and try to finish fast. Who cared what happened in the middle! I did know that no matter what, I would have to get in with the front of the pack so that my pace wouldn't be dictated by the group. To say I was nervous to be in the front of the pack, would be an understatement, I was terrified! 

When we entered the trail I hopped in right behind another member of our group, Ruben. I was really glad for this since he was keeping a great steady pace that was hard enough to keep us close to the main group, but not killing us. After a few miles in we switched spots and I took over the pacing. I am not the best person to be leading the pace, because I can't help it if I see the rabbits out front and try to catch them. Even with that in mind I kept it somewhat steady until about mile 3 at the first water stop. 

As soon as we all entered the water stop 3 or 4 guys that were ahead of us stopped to drink, and I decided to keep going since I had my water. Right off I heard someone behind me and assumed that it was Ruben. It wasn't until another mile or so we turned off that section of the trail that I found out it wasn't Ruben, but a guy in my age group named Mark.

I would say for about another couple of miles we had another guy with us, but after that it was Mark and I running a pretty hard pace. At least it was hard for me. At one point we were talking about race plans, and I decided to just go ahead and tell the truth. I was going to push it until I either made it to the finish or blew up. So somewhat my usual plan.

Palo Duro always seems to bring out something different in me. I think that since it is near the end of my season and I am usually mentally and physically done that I don't really care how hard I push it, or if I hit the wall and crumble. What was different this time is I really didn't know what to do with a guy chasing me, and me leading our pace. Do I keep leading and dictate the pace? Do I pull off and give him the chance so that he can push me harder than I can go? As usual I was debating all of this while I was trying not to run myself into the ground.

I can't even tell you how many miles it was just Mark and me matching each other step for step, climb for climb, descent for descent. Neither one of us willing to give an inch, willing to back off, or show any weakness. Then finally we got into a longer climb, and I was just doing my best to keep the same pace up the climb when I realized that I didn't hear any footsteps behind me. When I looked back Mark was gone so I just kept pushing my pace harder.

I knew that Mark was a very strong runner, so I knew that if I didn't keep pushing myself, then he would catch me. I kept pushing myself hard for a couple of miles until I started to hear a very familiar running step coming behind me. Mark was back, and it turned out he had cramped. As much as I wished I could have kept him farther back I was impressed at what it took to get back up to me. I am not sure if it had been reversed I would have been able to do the same, and very soon I was going to have to find that out.

Like I said I was disappointed that I couldn't have put more time in on him, but I was glad to have him back running with me again. Even though we had never met until this run, for me, it was like seeing an old friend after a few years.

When we got to the last water stop I knew that I had to stop long enough to take a gel or I was done. I had exhausted myself and used every bit of my reserves. I can't remember running this hard for this long. Then what I was afraid was going to happen happened. Mark was able to get out of the stop quicker than me, and the tables had turned. I was finally chasing, and I was pretty sure I didn't have anything left to chase.

Mentally for a short time this defeated me, and I nearly was resigned to just jogging in the last few miles. I was trying to keep him in sight, and he just seemed to keep getting farther away. Then we made a turn that didn't look like an uphill, but at this point of the race it felt like a mountain. The hill must have been just enough of one that Mark seemed to be getting closer and closer. Then the chance came for me to go for the lead again and with the last bit of effort I had I went for it.

I would say that at this point we were around a mile or 2 from the finish. I didn't care how bad it hurt I just knew that this was my last chance to stay ahead. I was running scared! I swear my water bottle sloshing sounded just like someone was right behind me. So I just kept pushing and pushing. My right side was cramping, and that is always my sign that I am going beyond my limits.

When I finally made the last turn to the finish I kept looking back and saw no one, but still didn't believe it and pushed harder. When I crossed the finish line there was nothing left. I couldn't talk and barely could stand. Few things are as satisfying as pushing your limits and breaking them down.

I stood there waiting for Mark to turn the corner to the finish, because you don't battle someone like that and not thank them. With a pat on the back and a thanks I told him that run was a battle worth telling people. This was the kind of run that I will always look back at and smile. If you read this here Mark thanks again for the battle and the run.

Sometimes you push your body to see what the limits are, and instead of finding the will to fight you only find the will to survive. I didn't intend on this being my last race of the year, but my body and life has decided that it will be.

Our personal life has been a little like the survival game recently, but after your kid goes through an emergency surgery your definition of survival changes. The focus on your own health goes to the back burner, and after more than a week it's hard to get it back on the schedule. So now is the time for a little off season recovery and hopefully a little more blogging.

Until next time,

Driving home right after racing Palo Duro 20k. Trust me, if you could smell a pic this one smells horrible!

Another of life's curve balls. My oldest had to have an emergency appendectomy, but this is us leaving the hospital.