Since competing in the Capt’n Karl’s Colorado Bend 30k, I had a hard time keeping myself training while recovering from a hard effort in the heat. It was 101 degrees at the start and the humidity started rising as the sun went down. I didn’t feel too bad immediately after the race, but continued to feel the effects weeks later. I dialed back my training a bit and was able to just maintain myself by jogging a few miles throughout the week. Then Sky Island happened.
I registered for the Sky Island 50k in Fort Davis, Texas several months ago as a training run for Bandera. As I was going through the rough patch after Colorado Bend, I had doubts about where my fitness was for this race and considered dropping out. Ashley then asked me if I would like her to run it with me. She was not planning to race, and I was initially a little defensive about the prospect, but I mulled it over anyway. After a while, I realized that this would be a great opportunity for us both to run our first ultramarathons and work together to conquer it.
We left the apartment a little before noon on that Friday and, after a couple last minute stops at REI and P. Terry’s, started making the 7-hour trek from Austin to Fort Davis. We hit a couple mean storms along the way that helped add a little excitement into the drive, but we were happy to get to Davis Mountains State Park with about an hour of daylight left. We checked in with Mallory and Jason Brooks from Spectrum Trail Racing and got our tent set up. After a quick dinner of gluten free shells n cheese heated over the JetBoil, we turned in. We got an early wake-up call from Allen Daniel playing Reveille on the electric guitar, and got our day started with some oatmeal heated on the JetBoil (seriously, that thing is awesome) and I geared up with my Skechers GOTrail shoes and race kit and Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra hydration vest.
The “GO!” was given at approximately 7:30 and we headed off. The sun was just peeking over the horizon, so we went ahead and ditched our headlamps and started making our way up some steep switchbacks. I let Ashley lead the way and she did a great job throughout the whole day.
We made friends with some other Austin folks (namely Brandon and Matt) and just started to get into a rhythm of hiking the steeps and running whenever we could. I had to make a pit stop that broke the two of us off from the others, but we realized that Ashley was sitting firmly as first place female. We tried to shelve those thoughts and not get too caught up in that adrenaline too early into a 31 mile race, but it would certainly be in the backs of our minds throughout the day. We kept ourselves moving steadily through some really tough patches and definitely pushed ourselves to run whenever the terrain was going to allow it. This was a huge advantage over some of the others we were racing who blew themselves up on the hills and couldn’t capitalize on the easier terrain. At one point around mile 11 or 12, we saw Steven Moore and Muz (a fellow Rogue and friend) running back towards us. We were almost afraid we were heading the wrong direction, but the aid station ahead confirmed that we were on the right path, but those guys were about 5 or 6 miles ahead of us already. This was a reality check that we weren’t in road racing anymore, and we’d have a long day ahead of us. Everyone at the aid stations were spectacular and took great care of us. At mile 20, we thought we were about to turn into some easier terrain, only to be faced with a 30% grade that put us on all fours on the climb. I was loving every moment of this, and Ashley looked at me like I was crazy. This was a moment that will truly stick with me as I choose races in the future. Finally, after over 8 hours on foot, Ashley crossed the finish line as the female champion, with me a few steps back. This was an amazing moment to be there with her as she claimed victory and will be one of my favorite race experiences.
After Sky Island, I decided I wanted to keep the momentum going without sinking back into a hole like I did after Colorado Bend. I signed up for the Rawhide Trail Marathon (also a Spectrum Trail Racing event) near Comfort, Texas. My goal for this race was to simply get in some good effort on a long, trail course. I drove the 2 hours out there the morning of the race (3:30am alarm, ack!). Over the years, I’ve come to realize how poorly my body reacts to extreme heat, so the chilly breeze was a dream on the morning of the race. When we were sent on our way, I did my best to start very conservatively and let the race develop. From the very beginning, I found myself running alone with one other guy (Ed Brown) and we picked our pace up a bit on some of the more mild trails in the first 5k. As we came to the first water stop, I waited for Ed to fill up and we headed back out, but I found that I was gaining a little bit of separation. I felt fine at that point in the race, so I knew that I was about to be alone.
From about mile 4.5, I was running scared in the front, and it would remain this way for the whole day. I filled up one of my bottles from my Salomon hydration pack with Tailwind and kept plugging away, downing a gel every 45 minutes. After about 3 Clif Gels and Tailwind, I started to feel my stomach seize up. I think the thicker texture of the Clif was probably too much for me that day, so I’ll need to have other options for races in the future. I definitely paid for the lack of caloric intake later in the race. I managed to cross the finish line in 3 hours and 50 minutes for first place overall.
While 50k and marathon distances are not the same as 100k, I feel that my ability to technically work my way through trail systems and my relative fitness is a big boost of confidence heading into the last 2.5 months of training for Bandera. I’ll be competing in the USATF 100k Trail Championships on that day, and hope to make everyone proud. I’m very grateful for the support from Austin Massage Company, Skechers Performance, Mondo Sports Therapy, Rogue Running, and Ashley. See you all in Bandera!