by Deborah Sexton
Huntsville State Park
February 4, 2005
The North Texas Trail Runners were out in full force at Rocky Raccoon and what a great day it turned out to be!
As we all checked the weather every 15 minutes until race time, the starting temperature was in the high 40s and it warmed up to the low 60s. The night was very comfortable. It was supposed to be a low of 53 and I think it must have been close to that. And no rain! There was a chance and as my running partner Shawna Brown pulled her car out of the park as we were leaving, it just started to sprinkling. Great timing.
The course had its traditional swamp areas of gooky, shoe sucking mud. During the day, it wasn’t too hard to pick your way around it but at night, it was harder to see and by the fifth loop I was pretty over it. But otherwise, the trail was in great shape and very runnable.
One nice part about this race is that the 50 miler course overlaps quite a bit with the 100 milers. I had friends such as Karen Riddle Jeri Kozikowski, and Shawna in the 50 miler so we got to see each other and wave and shout encouragement. In fact, Karen and I actually ran together for about 5 miles or so before she had to split off from my course. That made the race more fun.
I made the traditional newcomer goof and went out way too fast. I did the first 20-mile loop in 4:25. The second loop in 4:45 and the third loop in 5 hours. It would have been great if I could have stopped there. I was feeling great, eating and drinking well, no issues at all. I came in for my fourth loop around 9 p.m. and my pacer, Rick Carr, was ready to go to take me through the night. We took off and crawled would be the best word for my progress. I was tired and I just hate running at night. I ran the two out and back roads as much as I could, but I mostly walked on the trail. It took us about 7:30 to run the fourth loop. A big disappointment to me as I was really hoping I could better my first 100 miler time of 29:09.
In the last three miles of my fourth loop, Paul and Ginger Tidmore caught up with us. Paul was hurting and noted that he had just walked the last 30 miles. I would have been more sympathetic if he hadn’t been three miles away from finishing and I still had 20 miles to go. His walk was way faster than my run. They cruised by us. He may have been disappointed, but anyone who finishes in under 24 hours is an elite runner to me. As I was in the first half mile of my third loop, I saw Scott Eppleman come in for his finish. It always amazes me how fast he is. I still had two loops and he was done! And he looked so fresh and strong.
Anyway, as we started out for the fifth loop, Letha Cruthirds and her pacer Mark Dick were coming in for the finish. Letha finished in 23 hours and 10 minutes or some fantastic time like that. She felt she had a bad race but she is so tough! She is always an inspiration to me.
The good news during the fifth loop was that between the first and second aid stations, it finally got light again. I can’t tell you what a welcome sight that was. I could finally take off the very annoying head lamp and now I had my hand free again because I didn’t have to hold a flashlight. The bad news was, because I had lost so much time during the night, I was in danger of not making the cutoff. As Rick and I started figuring out what times I would have to hit aid stations to make it, I realized that I was going to have to really run my butt off. At that point, I was so depleted just the thought of having to run another step was monumentally overwhelming. Poor Rick had to witness me weeping and saying, “I don’t want to run anymore.” But he was so nice. He just said, “I know, I understand.” And then he takes off leaving me no option but to start running or I would be by myself. I decided that being by myself sucked more than running so off I went.
So we walked uphills and rougher terrain areas and I ran every spot that was smooth and flat. We got to aid station #2 which is an out and back. Rick says, we’ve got to do this in 45 minutes. I’m groaning, but at least the road was very smooth. We did it in about 50 minutes each way so I made up about 20 minutes there. And they had oatmeal at aid station # 3. I can’t tell you how sick I was of cookies, crackers, Gatoraid, Accerelade, Boost, and soup. I must have eaten four or five soups during the night and at least that many Boosts. So the oatmeal was a welcome change.
I got back to aid station #4. Then we had the longest stretch, 4.90 miles to aid station #5. I knew if I didn’t get there at least by 11 a.m., I had no chance of finishing under the cutoff (noon) because I needed at least an hour to do the last three miles. I was moving at about a 20 minute a mile pace at this point and that felt fast to me.
Rick encouraged me to run as much as I could. We passed a poor guy who was badly limping. He had twisted his ankle and obviously couldn’t put any weight on it. My heart went out to him. Less than 7 miles from the finish and he was done. There was no way he could make the cutoff on that ankle. It really made me appreciate that no matter how bad I hurt, I could finish. Anyway, we made it to aid station #5 by 10:50 a.m. so I knew that as long as I kept moving, I’d make it. I have to say that despite feeling sick, tired, and trashed, knowing I was an hour away from finishing was a great motivator. I pushed it as hard as I could running for as long as I could. As I was coming up the last hill to the nature center, a guy passed by me walking his dog. He says, Are you Deborah? I said yes, He said, Your friends are waiting for you up there. I nearly started crying again.
When I got to the third to the last road I had to cross, Shawna was waiting looking quite beautiful, all showed and clean with her camera. She is shouting and jumping up and down screaming “You’re going to make it! You’re going to make it!” She ran alongside me in flip flops (which is a pretty good indication of how fast I was running) until the next road where Mark Dick was waiting. He yells get your butt in here! I yelled, get your butt in front of me and bring me in. So he obligingly dropped his pants and wiggled his butt. Well that was all the motivation I needed to finish the race. I ran it all the way in and finished in 29 hours 41 minutes. As I crossed the finish line I stopped and asked, it was only 5 loops right?
I had seen Wendy Holdaway and her father Grant all day long as we kept playing tag. I will never forget the story of Grant Holdaway’s finish at Wasatch. To finish that race and be 70 plus years is such an awesome accomplishment. I kept waving and saying hi to him all through the race. Wendy and I also ran some miles together and had some great conversations. Grant finally passed me for the last time during the fourth loop and ended up finishing a little bit ahead of me. I even managed to get my picture with both of them at the finish. Meeting great people like these and hearing their stories and witnessing their accomplishments is so much what I think ultra running is all about. It’s the part you just can’t explain to someone who doesn’t do it.
I have to give heartfelt thanks to my pacer, Rick. He got me through it and I would never have kept going without him. Every time I pushed myself to run again, he says, You’re doing really good. He ran ahead and got my bottle filled and whatever food I wanted. He kept asking if there was anything else I needed. We talked all through the night about every subject under the sun and we got to know each other better and it kept my mind off how much farther. He was an awesome pacer and he has to take major credit for my finish. We agreed I would pace him at Rocky next year.
I also want to thank Joe and Joyce Prusaitis and all of those wonderful volunteers who stay up all day night taking care of us. The food, support, help, everything was just wonderful. These people are all heroes in my book.