This run is dedicated to Theresa.
I stopped several times on my last loop just to look at the stars; there were so many, twinkling in the dark sky. You don’t see that when you live in the city. My legs were done. I could barely walk, let alone run, but I still had at least one mile to go before I could rest. A slight breeze swept over my skin; I shivered. I looked around for lights, pitch black. I was alone on the trail, and for a moment I forgot about the pain and I remembered why I was running this race. I wiped the tears from my eyes, turned my headlamp back on, and continued to the next aid station.
Two months ago I signed up for the Habanero Hundred 50K. It was being touted as the hottest race in Texas. Not only would it be hot, the race was being run in Smithville—known for it’s hilly, rocky terrain. So why would I choose this race to be my first 50K? The longest trail race I’d run was a half marathon (21K) in March. I attempted a 25K in May, but DNF’d after the first loop. So what made me think I could pull this off? Even after the race, I can’t answer that. I knew that with a 30-hour cut off time, I could have walked the 50K and finished, but races like this aren’t about time. They are about how much your mind and body can handle, and in my mind I was determined to finish this race for my friend Theresa, who is battling breast cancer. There was no way I wasn’t going to finish.
The morning started off like any other race day. I had all my gear packed up the night before. So when I woke up, I had a light breakfast, grabbed my gear, and took off. The race started at noon, which made for a relaxed morning. Waldo had agreed to drive me to Smithville and crew for me, as I was anticipating a 10-12 hour run. After a quick stop at Buc-ee’s (I realized I forgot my coconut water), we made it to the race. I picked up my packet and pom hat that I won on Friday, and proceeded to prep for the 12:15 p.m. start time.
Race Day Gear:
Shoes—Brooks PureGrit (first 10 miles), Merrell Ascend
Socks—Injinji Smartwool, Gococo compression sleeves
Hydration—Nathan Moxy aka little Nate (water), 12 oz. bottle (Nuun & coconut water)
Fuel—Clif Bloks, Bearded Bros
Basic runner’s kit
Two drop bags (one for each aid station) with everything from changes of clothes to Trail Toes
With my feet and thighs coated in lube and my gear ready to go, I took a few quick photos and lined up at the start. After a quick pep talk by race director Rob G., the gun went off at precisely 12:15 p.m.
I started out walking, using lap 1 (the short lap) as a warm up. The course was a lollipop, so I was able to scope out the “stick” part of the trail (yes, it was runnable), and get oriented. I also got lost when I took a wrong right turn early in the trail. This added an additional tenth of a mile to my run, but I managed to finish the first lap (3.2 mi) in about 55 min., which was right on target. I was good on water and supplies, so after a quick stop at the aid station, I continued to lap 2, the first full loop (7.5 miles).
Again, I started off walking, as the first section was an incline (my plan included walking all the inclines). But once I got into the stick, I started a light jog on the declines and flats. No running, as it was 1:30 p.m. and blazing hot. The stick went well, and then I hit the lollipop part of the course. This part of the trail was single track with terrain varying from sandy to soft pine-covered trail. It was mostly flat with a few mild inclines/declines. Not bad at all. But the heat and humidity were relentless; many runners started dropping out after the first loop.
Just as I reached the mid-way aid station, I ran out of water. I tried to take a sip from little Nate, but nothing came out. I thought I had a kink or something in the line, but, no, I was just completely out of water. Thankfully, the volunteers took care of that for me.
Then everything went white. As I stood at the aid table contemplating my fuel choices, everything went white. I don’t know how long I was out, but I snapped out of it when a volunteer asked me if I was OK. She had a worried look on her face. I said I would be OK, but I needed to sit down for a while. A long while.
After having little Nate and my Nuun bottle refilled, fruit and Gatorade, and an ice water sponge refresher, I was ready to continue. At this point I had been out for two hours, making decent time. And then the course changed. The back half of the lollipop was tough. It had elevation, “rolling” hills, and a lot of big, loose rocks. It made for a slow second half. It took me an hour to get through the next two miles, but when I hit the “stick” again for the trip home, it went a little bit faster. I finished my second loop in 2:46. Looking good from my perspective. It was time for my first one-hour break. I dried out my feet, taped up a few hotspots, and reapplied Trail Toes and Body Glide. And, because I was completely soaked, I had a complete outfit change—socks, shoes, and clothes.
I don’t remember much about the third lap except that I ran most of it. And a horsefly attacked me several times. Question: If you scream like a little girl in the middle of the woods, and no one is there to hear it, did it happen? I finished the loop in 2:56, and took another hour break.
The fourth lap started out well, and I ran most of it. By this point, there were less runners on the trail, so I was running alone most of the time. I took a slightly longer break at the mid-way aid station, making sure to refuel adequately. I picked up an extra pair of socks from my drop bag, refilled my supplies, and continued onward. Now that the sun was down, I was able to run a little bit more on the backside of the lollipop, something I wasn’t able to do before. My legs were feeling good, and I started to pick up some speed. Unfortunately, my second wind came to an abrupt end when, just after the junction for the stick, I took a spill. I had a small cut on my left knee, but it wasn’t too bad. I had to walk while I recovered physically and mentally, but eventually I got back into a jog. I finished the lap in 3:42.
Back at the main aid station, I had my knees cleaned and doctored, and I ended up taking a two-hour break. By now the blisters on my toes were huge and my legs and feet were cramping up. The funny thing is, while I was running, I didn’t feel a thing. It was only after I stopped that the pain chimed in. So, the only thing I could do was tape up my toes and change into fresh clothes and socks before heading out for my final lap.
I began the final lap at 3:09 a.m. And to be honest, it was the first time that I felt tired. I felt like the walking dead. My legs were done. I was taking tiny steps, each one more painful than the last. I was alone for much of the trail. I think I only saw four people the first three miles. One trail runner I came across was laying in the street, spread eagle. He said he was trying to keep from going too fast because he still had two or three laps to go. He couldn’t remember. Eventually I made it to the aid station where they had warm ramen noodles! I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to eat packaged ramen noodles. They hit the spot.
After taking a rest, changing into my “Fight Like a Girl” finishing shirt, and refilling on supplies, I dragged myself away from civilization and began the last three-mile trek to the finish line. Surprisingly, I caught a third wind, and ran the final two miles to the end, finishing at 6:58 a.m.
Yes! My first thoughts upon crossing the finish line were, “It’s over! I made it! I will never do this again!” Rob handed me a beautiful finisher’s medal and congratulated me. I may or may not have shed a tear or two. My second thought: “Where’s the food?”
I had a great time at my first 50K. It took me six hours longer than I had anticipated, but I learned a lot about running and surviving an ultra marathon. I met great people from Texas and beyond, and saw some trail regulars. I also came away with even more tips on how to prevent the horrible blister and chafing problems. And I learned that my two months of heat training definitely paid off. Now, I just need to work on those hills. I can’t wait until next year!