by Marshall King
February 22, 2009
Saturday, February 21 I toed the line at 6:30 AM for the start of the Cross Timbers 50 Mile Trail Run. If you’ve read my blog recently you know that I DNFd at Cross Timbers two years ago. The course is really tough (it’s called “The Toughest Little Trail in Texas” for good reasons) and I really wanted to finish the race more than anything.
I drove up to Whitesboro Friday night with Megan and Bryan, two friends who were doing their first trail runs (the half marathon). We went to the pre-race dinner and briefing, tried to find something to do in Whitesboro on a Friday night (and found out the only thing to do was go to the Friday night scrap-a-thon at the scrapbooking store), and then headed to bed. I slept pretty poorly, especially as it got closer to the time I needed to wake up (5:00). I woke before my alarm went off, took a quick shower, banged on everyone’s door to get them up and running and we were off to the start by 5:30 so I could make my 6:00 AM check-in.
After checking in we hung out in the car for a little while. It was cold and windy; I like this weather when running but not when standing around in shorts and a technical shirt. Finally it was time to start and I grabbed my race vest and headed to the start. We had to start with flashlights because it was still dark. The RD yelled GO and we took off. I got to the top of the first hill (almost 0.10 miles) and realized I had forgotten my water bottle!!! I ran as fast as I could to the car, grabbed my bottle, then huffed it back up the hill, running instead of walking. I wanted to catch the back of the pack because I didn’t want to get lost on the trails in the beginning. I finally caught a few people and started the process of passing groups when it was safe.
The Cross Timbers course is a long 20 mile out and back, then a short 5 mile out and back, repeated twice. I always thought of the 20 mile out and back as easy and the five mile out and back as hard. In reality the first five miles of the 20 mile out and back (and the last five miles) is pretty tough, rocky, rugged trail with lots of climbing. It is much harder on the way out than it is on the way back. I fell in with a group of three runners and we hung together for a while. One of them, Andrew, I ran with off and on for most of the first half.
We climbed the “Golden Steps,” a steep and rocky climb, and then a few minutes later hit the first aid station. The four of us left together and ran a bit more, then Andrew took off and the others went their separate ways for bathroom breaks in the woods. I ran my own pace for a while and then hooked back up with Andrew for the second half of the outbound trail which is very runnable and a real joy to run. We passed through another aid station manned by some people I know from the North Texas Trail Runners – this aid station was on the lake and it was so windy that they had to move the aid station and abandon the tent they had been using. Any time we ran near the lake the winds were incredibly strong, and there were large waves with white caps on the lake.
We ran the last bit to the farthest aid station, then joked around with the volunteers at the aid station and fueled up, then turned around for the return to the start/finish area. Lots more nice running on this return trip, and I was feeling strong. My Garmin was telling me I was running fast, plus it was measuring the distances short, which means I was running even faster then it said. I was getting worried that I was running too fast, but it felt good and everything was working well so I decided to hold it as long as I could.
The return to the start was uneventful, Andrew and I ran almost the entire thing together, taking turns leading or following. We were both really happy to see the road leading to the start and let out a few whoops. Ran into the start area, more water, more food, and then headed out for the ugly, brutal, challenging 2.5 mile trail to Juniper Point. This section has some nice runnable sections, but it has gut-busting climbs and some trail that is impossible to run and difficult to walk – you have to pick your steps carefully on the downhills.
I was still feeling good and probably ran this section a little faster than I should have. About halfway in I ran into Megan who was having a great time and running strong. She was almost finished with her half marathon. A few minutes later I saw Bryan, also almost finished and looking good. Then I climbed the final hill (called SOB Hill) and hit the aid station. Water, boiled potatoes, coke, then the return trip to the start-finish and the halfway point.
As I was running back I was on a pretty smooth, flat bit of trail around mile 24 when my foot caught something and I went down hard! I landed on my hands and knees but kept falling forward and landed on my right side, mashing my arm up against my ribs! This is exactly what happened at Bandera. Both of my knees were bloody, one of my hands was bloody, and my ribs felt bad. I was worried that I might have refractured my rib but I don’t think that any more – I’m not having any pain in that area now.
Nothing to do but keep going so I jumped up, dusted off and started running. After not too much longer I left the Juniper Point section of the trail and made the short run to the start/finish. Bryan and Megan were both there eating burgers and relaxing – that looked like a good thing to do. My time was 5:10 – much, much better than I ever expected. I did not establish a specific time goal for this race but I was thinking 12-13 hours; instead I was on a 10:20 pace (which of course I couldn’t hold, but still!).
At the start area I changed socks and filed down a toenail that was rubbing my shoe and irritating me. I felt like I might be getting some blisters but that was not the case and I finished the day with no blisters.
I had hoped to see my friend Dave at the start because he was volunteering but he wasn’t there yet. So I refilled my bottle, grabbed more potato and headed out. Halfway there.
I was having some strange stomach feelings but I pulled off the trail, did what bears do in the woods and then was good to go. I purposefully slowed down a bit, especially on the harder first part, but was still feeling good and running everything I considered runnable. Made it through the first aid station without incident and headed to the next one. At that aid station (manned by my NTTR friends) they asked me if I was taking electrolytes. I had not been up to that point but had hoped to get them from the food. They couldn’t believe how much salt I had on my face and neck (and my hair was stiff) so they recommended I take some. I took two then and carried some with me. That gave me a little boost and my running became easier.
After this point I started seeing a couple of the 50 milers who were ahead of me running back to the start/finish, so I started counting runners to pass the time. When I got to the turnaround aid station I had only counted three runners! I couldn’t believe it and I asked them if I was in 4th place. They said no, 5th (I guess I had miscounted someone). I still couldn’t believe it! I normally finish 5th from last, so to be in 5th place was just a shock. I started visualizing a 5th place finish! I talked some trash with the aid station volunteers, told them they should thank me for giving them the opportunity to be out in the great outdoors on this cold, windy day, then started the run back. I ran a little ways and then felt like I should throw up a little and clear my stomach. It wasn’t much, but once I did it I felt better.
Again at the NTTR aid station I confirmed I was in 5th place, talked to the awesome volunteers for a minute, took another electrolyte, then took off. Still feeling good but struggling more to keep a good pace, running most of the runnable sections but taking more walk breaks. Passed quickly through the next aid station and headed toward the start/finish for the last brutal 5 miles to/from Juniper Point. I finally hit the road and ran strong into the start area. I saw Bryan there who asked if I needed anything and was really encouraging. As I was refilling my bottles my buddy Dave ran up and said, “Dude, you are an ANIMAL! I saw your time on the first loop and I thought it was a mistake!” Dave had predicted I would finish in under 11 hours, which I had told him was insanity. He told me I had 1:35 to make it a reality. Unfortunately at this aid station I didn’t eat anything – I thought with 5 miles left I wouldn’t need anything. Man, was I wrong.
I headed into the Juniper Point section and after a few minutes I lost ALL energy. I was moving so slowly, and there was no running. On most of the uphills I had to stop one or more times to rest. I was even dizzy and staggering a bit, grabbing onto the trees. I really didn’t want to do this for five miles! I started dreaming of sugar! All I wanted was something sweet to eat. Most of the aid stations had these valentine candy corns, and right now that sounded so good! I struggled up the uphills, staggered down the downhills, and then finally made it up SOB Hill and into the aid station.
I immediately found the candy corn and shoved a huge handfull into my mouth. I had no manners – I was eating with my mouth open, too full, just so happy to have some sugar. Then I had a glass of pepsi, then some more candy corns, then some gumdrops, then another pepsi. While I was gorging myself I heard a noise behind me and Andrew came bounding into the aid station like he was running a 5k – long strides, strong legs and pace. It was awesome! I told him that he was going to pass me and end up in 5th place. Then I took off (while Andrew had a beer) and started my stagger back to the start. Only 2.5 miles to go.
What happened next was like what you would see in a movie. I slowly, gradually but definitely got my groove back. First I could walk faster, then I could jog, then I could run the downhills, then I could run the flats. The sugar had done exactly what I needed it to do and it did it quickly. It wasn’t enough to keep me ahead of Andrew who passed me not long after I left the aid station. But it was enough to get me back up to a decent pace, to hold onto 6th place, and to finish in 10:44, WAY faster than I thought I would ever run this race! I was able to run strong into the finish and jump across the finish line where Megan and Bryan were waiting. Then I headed straight to the nearest picnic table to sit down and put my head down. I had nothing left – I had literally left it all on the trail. I was too tired to even lift my head. I collected my finishers award (a cross-section of a cedar tree with the race logo burned into it, very cool) and a finishers sweat shirt, and then just lay there in a coma. Bryan got me a veggie burger and some water but nothing really tasted good. Megan and Bryan went back to the scrapbooking store and made me a handmade “Congratulations!” card. It was awesome! I was getting cold and just wanted to curl up in a blanket in the car. I congratulated Andrew on his great finish, hugged a few of my friends from NTTR, then climbed into the backseat of my car while Megan acted as my ultra Designated Driver and got us back to Dallas. I fell asleep after about 15 minutes and slept about an hour. We dropped off Bryan, I dropped off Megan, then I drove home and got right in a hot bath.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading! I appreciate all of the comments and support I receive from all the friends and strangers who read my blog or follow my Facebook updates.
This was a milestone week for another reason – I crossed $3,500 in my fundraising, which is 80% of my goal. That is because of you guys and your generosity. So thank you for making my goal a reality and contributing in the fight against Prostate Cancer. That’s what makes the miles, the throwing up, the bloody knees and the blisters worthwhile, to think that we can someday soon wipe out cancer. THANK YOU!