by Joe Prusaitis
11 May, 2006
A brand new trail beast is in Texas and I took the idiots approach to Tim Neckar’s new race. I read nothing, asked nothing, and expected everything. After directing a few races, I learned that some people do exactly this, so I’ll do this now and then as well, to really test a race. It’s sort of a race director’s test to see how they handle the idiots like me. I drove in on race morning with Dave Berdis, picked up my race number, then joined the 40 odd runners at the start line.
Tim says we’re doing 3 identical loops. This works great for me, as I’ll get to see the entire course in just 10+ miles. I had tweaked my calf a few days ago, and had scant hope of actually running the entire 50km. I presuppose that if I go real easy and pay careful attention to my calf, then I should be good for one loop. Depending on how it goes, I can reevaluate after the loop to see if I can do more without hurting myself.
I start pretty slow, listening to my body and Jay Norman. Its flat for a good ways along the river trail, and then up we go: the first of many climbs. Once on top of the first teaser, I pull ahead of Jay because we now have some downhill. Its warm enough already for just shorts and a T-shirt, so I expect it will really get toasty after the sun gets overhead. Expecting just that, I start with the new hat that came in the race packet: a comfortable white tech hat with Waco Five-O embroidered on it. My water bottle webbing is stuffed with electrolyte caps and a single gel.
I hook up with Pat Fick for a bit and then we join Dave Berdis who was well ahead of me for awhile. Dave and I like to carry on with raucous and brainless good humor, so I’m sure we scare off all the wildlife for miles. Most of the trails are worn smooth from constant mountain bike use and have name boards posted at each trail head: names like Root Canal, Highlander, and Powder Monkey. Roots are abundant but trimmed low, some are even painted with red paint for visibility. Highlander gets my attention early on, switchbacking up a pretty stiff climb then dropping down and then back up another just like the other. The
trail then rolls along a ridge, crossing numerous wooden bridges with a wire mesh floor mat over the planks. The course seems to be entirely single track. All of it under a thick growth of trees. Some of these stately trees are enormous and everything is lush and green. Pat pushes ahead on one of the longer climbs up through a skinny gully which is marked with a sign that seems to imply that it is closed: a circle with a single negation sign in it. But, I don’t know. I just follow the ribbons. Tim has marked the course with plenty of orange ribbons and orange signs with arrows. The aid stations are about 3 miles and change from one to the next, but the demanding climbs make them feel like they’re much further. Some of these trails and bridges are brand new.
The network of trails seems endless, having the look of being laid out by mountain bikers. They go off in every direction, switching in and out of gullies, rolling along high ridges, rolling along in a manner that seems to avoid anything flat or boring. I get ahead of Dave on one of the long downhills. The course is very well marked and a good thing too, because inside this maze of trails, there’s no way I’d have a clue which way to go next. I mindlessly follow the ribbons and turn where the arrows point me. Since my eyesight seems to be getting progressively worse, Tim’s marking will be sorely tested by me today. Almost like running in the dark without a flashlight. But I’ve been doing this for some time, so much of it is intuitive. I blindly trust his markings and just keep going til I find the next one. I pass through a series of long steady climbs and long rolling descents that are a blur of fast and fun descents and then breath sucking ascents. I wonder if these are all matching hills and valleys or if I’m going back and forth over the same hill.
Stuart Skeeter hooks up with me about half way into the loop. I try to let him by, but he says he’s fine and pulls in behind me to visit for a bit. Shortly after the 2nd aid station, the trails becomes even more convoluted into a myriad of mazes. In and out, up and down, we seem to be going in circles, but there just aint no way to know for certain. I can hear voices but have no idea where they come from. Every now and again, I see somebody in the trees, but again, I have no idea if they’re ahead or behind. I do spot Clea, Stephanie, and Liz and know for certain they are ahead of me, but the distance is a mystery. Its a bit of playground of trails, and we get buzzed up, sprinting down chutes and around corners. We pass a few others who are trying to figure out a turn, as we sprint past, turning quickly and they follow. Some of the trails are so close together going in opposite directions that you can see other ribbons but don’t seem to be the route we should follow. It’s intuitive, but still I wonder if we choose right every time. Regardless, we do seem to find our way.
The trail parallels a road for a short ways and I can see people on the road, going both directions. This leads us to the the bamboo jungle, which provides and interesting mood. The bamboo stalks must be 25 feet or taller. The sound they make rustling in the wind is soothing but creates a setting that just doesn’t seem to fit in. The jungle becomes a landmark that tells me that I’m close to done with the loop. Coming out of the jungle, we cross the road where I can still see the people on the road and wonder what that’s all
about. Are they in the race, the 10 miler, something else entirely? Makes no sense to me. One last big climb up Root Canal to the road that takes us down into the main station at the finish. My truck is close, so I deviate to my own personal aid station in the back. A cooler full of cold drinks, a bag full of gels, and a few advil is all I need besides a fresh bandana. Stuart and I come in together, each of us going to our own trucks. A few minutes later, we both go out again together for loop 2. I guess my calf is ok because I never even think about it. Stuart must have had to stop for a moment because when I get to the top of the 1st climb, he’s not there. I keep checking behind me and do see him now and again, but we must be running exactly the same pace as we never do close up again.
I run the 2nd loop solo and actually never see anyone but a few bikers and some horse riders until near the end. I’m surprised at how considerate all the bikers are. They always stop and are genuinely pleasant with their acknowledgment. Each and every one sends me on my way wishing me well and a good run. Its not what I’m used to in Austin where the wishing well is very rare. Another rarity here which I had never seen anywhere before were the signs on the course which said ‘Running Trail’. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen any sort of thing that implied the runner had any sort of priority. Anyway, these signs seemed to please my addled mind. At some point after the last aid station I catch and pass Liz. She seems to be having fun, going out fast for the speed work, and now just wondering if she will keep going. Again, I need to point out that this entire maze is too confusing to imply that I ever knew exactly where I was. The only things that are ever clear are the uphills, the downhills, and the aid stations when I find them. After the bamboo jungle I pass Liz again. We both look at each other and wonder how I ended up behind her again. After some discussion, we begin to think that maybe I ran an extra mile in there somehow. We will never know for sure, but it sure is strange. So I finish the 2nd loop with Liz.
Same routine at the truck again and then I begin my final loop without wondering how my calf is. Those who I discussed it with early on were likely assuming that I was building in a few excuses. I swear it was not so. I honestly did not think I’d run the whole race. The ache as it was, seemed to be right on the edge and just a few miles from becoming worse. As it has turned out, the long run and the endless hills seem to be exactly what the calf needed.
Pat Fick had come through while I was at my truck and Liz had continued on, so I came up behind both of them and kept on going. Well, my calf is ok, but my body energy is way low now, so the effort is much more difficult this time around the big long climbs. I’m willing and able to fall down the hills with little effort, and manage to stumble along the few flats ok, but the uphills leave me hyperventilating. My excellerated breathing makes the transition from uphill to downhill a bit slower, keeping me walking longer than I prefer. I have the urge to lie down in the shade a few times, but resist it. I even laugh out loud at the thought of those coming along and finding me asleep in the shade. The sun is up beyond midday now and the heat is doing its damage to my body. Pat catches back up to me, but instead of passing, we tune into each other’s pace for the duration. Our conversation helps me to forget about my body aches. The remaining miles pass uneventfully for my body while my mind dances all over the landscape of thoughts and ideas. Regardless, we entertain each other enough to forget about the miles, such that we do eventually finish together.
Tim Neckar has certainly created what I think will be an instant winner. The hills are nasty tough, the course is well marked, and the fajitas at the finish are a fitting finale. Well done Tim. I am certain that many more will come next time around to find out why so many of us got our butts kicked in such an unassuming place as Waco Texas. Who would have known. We just assumed all the folks from Waco where waco. I’m thinking they really got something there in Cameron Park.