Huntsville State Park, Huntsville, TX
9 Dec 2006
I had a plan and the plan had me. I also had a herd of trainees that I knew were watching to see what and how I did it and I could not fail for fear of making my plan appear to be worthless. I also had 20 pounds less of me to haul around. My plan had stages and the first stage was loop#1. I did not intend to run it in under 2 hours. Simply that! I did not want to back off and throw away time, but I did not want to start too fast and throw away energy. From years of running around this same loop, I thought that for here and now, the best possible time was right at 2 hours. I have known this for years and yet I usually was well under 2 hours for loop#1 year after year. I stayed well behind the start line in hopes that I could use many of those in front of me to act as limiters and shunts. And then my old running buddy Butch showed up to make the task even more difficult. I love running with Butch and have done so many times. But he’s faster than me and more consistent too. He made certain that we started side by side, so we shuffled out from the start, catching up and carrying on as is usual for us. For awhile, the shunts kept me on task, but then Butch got a half step in front of me and it seemed to me that he wanted me to speed up so that we could again be side by side. But I stayed back and instead made him slow down and back up to me. I really do like ol Butch and we could talk and run all day long, but my plan today had absolutely nothing to do with Butch. I kept expecting him to keep on going each time he’d stride ahead, but the conversation never stopped and he never did speed ahead.He’d talk over his shoulder for a bit and then drop back again to my pace, whatever that was. I had no pace in mind, really, but more a feel of what was comfortable. On the jeep road, this became even more difficult. I knew quite a few of those in front of me and I ‘yea-ed’ em all as they went by on the return trip. And then got to see all of those behind me after I turned and headed back. Henry, Mark, and Santhosh were just a few minutes back, and then all the others. On this the first loop, it was nothing but 50 mile runners, so we all turned up the single track after Amy’s Crossing. I stopped to pee and received lots of cat calls and rude comments about using tweezers. This stop lined me up with Larry King but Butch did wait for me, so we remained together still.
This section of trail is always wonderful to run, maybe because we just got off the sandy jeep road that is usually not much fun. I had to consciously pay attention to keep from getting sucked into a faster pace as Butch kept surging ahead and I also really wanted to turn it loose thru here. The soft single-track covered in pine needles and crunchy leaves pulls me ahead, urging me on. Even while coasting, I can feel a gentle push from behind that tends to urge me even faster. The idea was to use every bit of aid I could with a minimalist attention to energy consumption. I wanted to go as fast as I could while using the least amount of energy. Where exactly that fine line is may be difficult to find but I was going to play with the idea so that I might come close. Our small herd came into the Dam Road aid station at just under an hour, which was about what I wanted. This was close to half way, so the initial time check had me dead on plan.
I had a single water bottle loaded with SPIZ, a baggie of Succeed sodium caps, and a small bag of sport beans. I had no need to stop for anything, so I didn’t, but Butch wasn’t carrying a bottle so he stopped at each station for at least the water. He quickly caught me back up as well soon after each one. Our small herd thinned to just Butch and I through here, with some sprinting ahead and others falling off. I stayed on my very comfortable pace while Butch never strayed too far off of me. Over the bridges and round the lake we slipped through the trees, staying the course, barely noticing those who slipped by in front or behind. Coming into the turnaround where we had our gear, I tossed my empty bottle towards my gear tub and then coasted the final asphalt section for the chip timing mat and beginning of loop#2. It was dead on 2hrs when we rolled through. Perfect!
I had put together 4 identical water bottles filled with SPIZ, each with a mesh hand strap attached, with a pocket in it already loaded with Succeed. That and a small bag of Sport Beans was all I wanted or needed. All 4 were left sitting out for easy access. I dropped off my gloves and the short sleeve shirt I had on top of the long sleeve. Linda helped me transfer my race number from one shirt to the other and loaded the water on top of the SPIZ. Only takes a minute or two for the entire process and then I am onto loop#2.
I am not sure what Butch did but he is back with me as I start onto the next loop. Henry, Mark, and Santhosh come in as I’m leaving. Can I run the same time again, I ask myself? More importantly, can I do it without using myself up in the process. My intention for phase 2 of my plan is to run exactly the same minimalist loop as the first time. I talk about this with Butch without realizing that others nearby are listening in and passing judgment without requests. Yea right, they say! Same damn thing that all of us want: to start the 3rd loop feeling like you are just getting started. Yea, well that’s my plan and I’m sticking to it… If I Can! So, Butch and I wander down the trail with our entourage of similarly paced new associates. They are curious I suppose to see if I can, so they can cheer me on or laugh me off, whichever suits the occasion. Onto the jeep road and to the turn, I forget about the others who attempt to hang on and actually none of them do. They fall of one at a time until its just Butch and I again, but we never do pay them any attention anyway as we are wrapped up into a rolling conversation that tracks from one topic to another rapidly and without preamble. We are now mixed in with the 50km runners who are of a completely different pace than us: part of the handicap of merging two different distance races with different starting times. My perspective is really skewed up now as I seem to be sprinting past all the 50km runners when my pace has not changed a bit. After Amy’s Crossing, the larger herd goes strait up the road while we turn off onto the wonderful single-track again. It feels so quiet and peaceful after being on the crowded and noisy jeep road. Butch and I stop to pee on the same tree again as we did the last loop. Must be our spot!
I catch up to and hook in with Rene Villalobos and Mike Coe at the Dam. Butch makes his standard drink break but struggles this time to catch back up. Finally I stop to wait for him. He says he’s having a problem and needs to let me go. Just go on, he says. You’re doing great, so just keep it going. So I pick it back up and without Butch, I am now back on with Rene and Mike. They aren’t running together as much as they are just close to one another. So, I dial back into my comfort zone which is exactly what both of these other two are doing as well. I can’t help but notice how comfortable and easy both of them appear to be running. Not a hitch or grunt, no strain or obvious discomfort, they seem to be able to carry on endlessly without much effort. And then I realize that they have each moved over to let me by. My pace is just a tiny bit faster than theirs, or maybe just different. I let go of the brakes on the downhills, so that I move well ahead on any long downhills, and then I use more of a quick turnover race walk to go up any hills, where they pull me back in. By the end of loop#2, I am just ahead and alone for the first time. I drop my empty bottle as I again make the turnaround at the timing mat. The time it’s just over 4hrs. So for real run time, it is likely the same as loop#1, and I am very pleased. I still feel good. What more could I ask for than this.
Linda Rust has prepared my next bottle and offers me a fresh bandana as well. The transition this time is about the same as last, so I am out quickly. Phase 3 of the plan has me pushing the pace…if I can! I wonder… if I can! The first two loops insisted on being conservative. This loop is for turning it loose… if possible. If nothing else, at least to do the same as the last two. Anyway, so I try to go faster, but it turns out to be more like a fartlek style of run in reality. I cannot seem to sustain any fast surge, but I do seem to be able to push the pace now and again. I find that I am with Rene and Mike quite a bit early on, but my surges push me beyond them again and again. I catch Meredith at Amy’s Crossing and then take a coke for the first time at the same place. Onto the single-track again, I surge past the pee tree and keep pushing on through to the Dam. Pretty much alone now, I see somebody only now and again and then I am past them. I hold on as long as I can, and then relax for a long hill and then get going again on the downs and flats. Across the bridges and around to the last aid station, I take another coke and then speed walk up the small hill out of there. Everything seems to be holding together nicely, but I am starting to feel a few aches and pains here and there. Nothing constant or debilitating, but certainly trying to get my attention. I ignore them all. I have to finish phase 3 before I have time to attend to anything else. Coming into the turnaround at the end of loop#3 is odd as I have never held true for 3 loops before. It is certainly part of the plan, but I have never actually done it. I toss my empty bottle to my pile of empty bottle and then on down to make my turn on the timing mat. The time is just over 6hrs and I have to study it a moment as this does not look right. I subconsciously ignore it, knowing full well that I am just not seeing it correctly. Must be the 50km clock.
I sit down this time and drink a beer and then a taste of coke while Linda fills my SPIZ bottle and hands me another fresh bandana. More sport beans and then I am onto the final loop. I get clean up to the first turn when Rene comes sprinting in towards the turnaround. He has a startled look on his face but all he says is ‘Damn!” I have been focusing on my preset plans and goals from the start, but now I am beyond them. The last phase for loop#4 is to just hang on. How else can you explain it. To try and not lose what you have won up to this point, in time, in place. Now is when you use what you have left. To harness all the remaining energy and maybe even steal some more from someplace or someone else and use it for your own. Well, Rene has just supplied it. I had no idea he was racing me… until now. I had not looked outside myself until just now and how fortuitous. I can certainly use that as motivation to make myself move faster than I could have without it. So if he really wants to catch me, he’s going to have to work for it. if he does catch me, then good on him, but it aint going to be easy. I get the buzz going now and take off down the trail because I know that Rene is coming after me. I take the long one mile long Interpretive center ride way too fast and have to back off on the single track over to Amy’s. I take the short bump out of Amy’s easy but as soon as I top out, I pick it up and push through to the end. I ask for a coke, but its all gone now so I simply turn and head back down the road for the last time. Cresting over a hill, running hard, Rene’s coming over from the other side, also running very hard. Identical to the last time, all he says is “Damn!” We both look back at each other as we pass and both of us pick up the pace and fly down the back side of the same hill going in opposite directions. The race is on and how cool is that. We both elevate our energy levels off of each other. No theft there as neither of us lose a thing, but we both gain. I know that if I see him again, then he has me, and I aint going to let that happen… I hope! There are no more out-n-backs. If he sees me, he has me. After having one hell of a run, last thing I want now is to be squeezed by Rene or anybody else. I let fly and bust through Amy’s for the last time. Through the sand and onto the Single-track. The aches are running around my body, killing my smooth stride, but I use my upper body and my drive to force myself forward as quickly as possible. It almost seems like I have a little extra push sometimes, from the momentum, from the energy, from where I don’t know. But it raises a smile because this feels so damned good to just be able to do this. Nothing else matters! It feels awesome to just be able to be who I am for this instant. All the other miles of payment are collecting refund right now. It wont last, the demons will jump on, but for a short while, this is living. I pass thru the Dam and see Thorbjorn ahead, walking. He high fives me as I run by. I used to really love this little glade loop under the dam, but its been dug up and the trees cut down off of the levee. It isn’t as pretty as it used to be and I miss that. I walk easily up onto the levee and check my watch for the first time this loop. Oh my goodness! I realize for the first time what kind of time I am going to collect today and it shocks me. Still, there is Rene so no laurels to rest on until it is done. And Rene passing me would steal some of those warm fuzzies, I hate to admit. Not that it matters at all, but I am using that energy to power me on right now, and it is working so well.
The only people I am seeing now are 50km runners and I’m sprinting past them quickly. Into the switchback and over the bridges for the last time. Along the lake and then the turn at the last aid station. I ask for a coke, but there is none. It’s just as well, because I can feel Rene coming after me. I keep pushing and surging but its coming in fits and start now. My fluidity is gone and now it is my strength of will and body that moves me. The last turn at the Interpretive Center is tight and fast, taking the downhill quickly and all the ups and down afterwards as well. I make the last turn and smile from knowing that this is the best I could do today. I never let it go. I never found an excuse. I held true to the plan it worked well for today. The next time will bring no guarantee and I would expect none, but today… I collected a few IOUs. The clock reads 8:20 when I cross the timing mat and that’s good enough for me. And then they take a few seconds from it for the chip timing start to shove me just under 8:20 which I like even better. I know he will be here soon and I only have to wait 3 minutes before Rene comes printing in. Thanks Rene. I owe you a good bit of that last loop time. It would never have been that quick had it not been for your energy. And I suspect that maybe I might have helped you just a little as well. Good all the way around. And my Rogues all came in as expected, each doing there own great job with their own plans. It sure was a good day today!