Catching Up – Goodwater Double Marathon

Bandera 100k was supposed to be my breakout ultramarathon performance where I reignited the fire I had going into the 2015 Boston Marathon. As I detailed in my last post, that wasn’t the story at all.

I probably went through every stage of grief over the next few hours and days, but I walked away eager to find concrete answers and a way to overwrite the emotional pain I took away.

My first step was getting into Mondo Sports Therapy early the next week and asking them to help solve the puzzle. They found my pelvis was way out of alignment, which they adjusted, and traced soft tissue pain to my adductor magnus, where they subsequently stuck a bunch of dry needles to loosen up the tension. The adductor magnus is the big muscle on the inside of your upper thighs that help stabilize the hip and legs. The insertion point is in a very awkward spot on the pelvis and I’m thankful that Pieter Kroon at Mondo was able to address this issue for me. The cold at Bandera only exacerbated the tightness. I made plans to continue seeing the PT for manual therapy to keep the problems at bay.

Now that I had a plan for health, I needed to find a way to leverage the fitness I had spent so many months building. I considered waiting a few weeks to ensure it would be safe to race, but I was also eager to run at least a 50-miler to qualify for The Bear 100. I was afraid that if I waited too long, I’d miss out on registration. The answer came pretty easily for me. My friends at Spectrum Trail Racing were hosting a race in 2 weeks at the Goodwater Trail outside of Georgetown, Texas.

After a preview run on the trail, I quickly signed up for the Double Marathon. While not a common distance, this race was close to home, within my desired timeframe, and would support the amazing work that Spectrum does. I signed up and asked my brother, Brett, and his family to crew for me once again. It didn’t take much begging because they were all super gracious and agreed immediately. I didn’t even have to pack my drop bags – they were still full from Bandera!

One of my favorite parts about Spectrum Trail races is that all expenses are included in your registration, including park entry and camping fees, so I had my lodging set. They also don’t rail you if you sign up late – all entries are the same cost, whether you sign up early or late. What other company treats their racers so well?

I drove up to the lake on Friday night and set up my tent. I cooked up a load of pasta ahead of time and gorged on that while hanging out with good friends. Gun time for the double marathon was 5am, so I called it an early night just a bit after dark.

My alarm went off at 3:30am and I was wide awake.

I unzipped my sleeping bag and threw on my race gear – singlet, shorts, watch, socks…SOCKS! I had packed two pairs of socks and intended to race in some Injinji toe socks. The problem was that I had packed two left feet in this pair…rookie mistake! I settled for a pair of Stance midrise socks and carried on with my morning. I was going to start the race with a pair of Skechers GOtrail Ultra 3 maximal shoes. Everything good to go, I headed out to have something to eat. I fixed some organic instant oatmeal (maple & brown sugar) and Starbucks Instant VIA on my JetBoil and quietly chatted with Bill Ewton (the only other person awake so early) who was also racing the double. At about 4:30am, my brother arrived and we hung out in the car for a while listening to angry, pump-up music. We had a loose game plan for how I would execute the day, and he would do his best to meet me at each aid station around the lake. We had a pretty small crew for the double at the start. It looked like most people would be racing the marathon (one full lake loop), 16-mile, or 8-mile races, but honestly I was thankful for the low-key vibe compared to the fanfare of the 100k National Championships at Bandera. Less stress on racing and more focus on just running well.

RD Mallory said “GO!” promptly at 5am and we shuffled off into the night. My plan for the day was to start very conservatively and hope that I would have some company for the long miles. With only a few minutes into the race, I realized that I was very alone. I occasionally looked back through the woods and could spot some distant headlamps and hear faint voices, but the tone seemed to be set for the day. I determined to just keep moving along as smoothly and comfortably as possible and let the trail come to me. At about mile 4, I heard a voice in the dark nearby say “Hey, dude!” Brett was already there waiting for me at that first water station. We jogged together for a few meters and briefly discussed how my body was feeling and where the rest of the field was. He told me to keep it up and I headed off down the trail again. Around mile 6 or 7, I seemingly fell asleep and missed a turn. A moment of panic ensued as I was no longer seeing markers and had to retrace my steps. I was sure the entire field would pass me and my day was ruined. After about a quarter mile of backtracking, I got back to the course and knew that it was my own airheadedness that missed the very obvious trail markings. Luckily, no long term damage was done as I was still in the lead. I threw in some self deprecating remarks to Jonathan and the aid station folks at mile 8 and filed that under “harmless embarrassing moments.”

My brother was joined by his wife, Emily, daughter, Julie, and their very energetic Boxer, Turk. The whole crew was here! I refilled my bottle and grabbed a quick snack from the table and kept moving. I felt great. The weather was almost chilly in the dark, but I knew it would warm up. I needed to keep myself moving if I was going to avoid the hottest parts of the day.

At mile 12 or so, I asked Brett if he saw anyone behind me and he said there was someone about a minute back at the last aid station. What?! How did someone get so close without me noticing their light or hearing them behind me in the dark? It was very difficult to keep my composure and not react by dropping the hammer, but I knew that it was going to be a long day and if someone wanted to push hard to catch up to me at this stage, let them. I spent the next 14 miles of the loop waiting for someone to come up behind me, so you could say I was running scared.

After hitting each of the aid stations for just a couple minutes for refills and small snacks, I came into the halfway point. It was the same location as the start line, but after running in the dark for several hours, it was hard to tell. I changed my GOtrail Ultras out for a pair of GOtrails so that I could feel a bit more nimble later into the race, chugged a Monster Energy drink, grabbed a Clif Bar, and headed back out in the opposite direction. Goodwater Double Marathon was a washing machine design, meaning you run the first loop clockwise, then turn around and run the second loop counterclockwise. While this might seem brutal on paper, it was actually a relief to see things in a different direction and, since it was light out, the trail seemed unique.

I was still expecting to see a competitor come running towards me any time and it kept me running with good form, smooth and steady. If someone was close behind, I wanted them to know I wasn’t letting up any time soon. In reality, I didn’t see anyone for about 3 or 4 miles of my second loop, which means that I had about 6 miles or so on my closest competitor at the 30 mile mark. It was at this point that I knew I just needed to get to the finish line. I started telling myself “The only way to lose is to quit.”

Once I got to maybe the 40 mile mark, I hit a road section to cross the Georgetown Dam. I dropped my handheld bottle with my brother and asked him to hold it until the next aid station. I knew that this section would be extremely exposed to the sun and the asphalt was going to make it feel like an oven. I started hauling ass across the dam at about 7:00/mile pace so that I could spend as little time in that position as possible. Once I rolled into the 44-mile aid station (the same as the 8-mile), I was beginning to feel pretty worn out. This was the longest I had run by 14 miles and I dropped some fast, hot miles in the middle of it.

The next 8 miles were some of the most difficult that I’ve experienced in running. I knew I had the win pretty well locked up, but it wasn’t just about winning – it was about proving to myself that I was who I said I was. Unless you’re a professional athlete competing for championships to put bread on the table, winning is pretty arbitrary. What does winning actually mean? In my case, it meant running as well as I could, finishing, leaving it all out there, and atoning for my failure at Bandera.

Coming into the Mile 48 aid station, I looked at the Time of Day and saw that it was around 1:15pm. I did some quick math in my head and decided that I wanted to finish the race by 2pm to go sub-9 hours for the distance. While it wouldn’t normally be hard to run 4 miles in 45 minutes, it felt like the longest distance and shortest time limit of my life. I set off, determined to make it happen. I managed to shut my brain off for a short time and zone out to just chip away at the remainder.

Brett came down the trail to find me with about half a mile left. He ran with me and told me to kick it in. We started to see flags and ribbons around, signaling the finish line was near. We started hearing cheers and cowbells sounding off from the boisterous Spectrum crew. He told me to kick one last time and I ran as hard as I possibly could in that moment.

I crossed the line in a time of 8 hours and 49 minutes. Immediately, I fell to the ground from exhaustion, physical and emotional. I proved to myself that I could run an ultramarathon and execute it well. I proved that I could run for a long time solo and not grind to a halt. But most of all, I think I proved that I have the mental capacity to withstand an ultra endurance event. The body can do amazing things if your mind is onboard.

I would be remiss if I didn’t extend some very delayed thanks to those who supported me through this process and on the day. Thank you to Coach Steve Sisson, Chris McClung, and Rogue Running for having my back through far more low moments than high. Thank you to Skechers Performance for putting me in the best shoes in the game. Thank you to Mondo Sports Therapy for helping pick up the pieces when I couldn’t wrap my head around my DNF. Thank you to Spectrum Trail Racing for putting on a world-class event with the best organization to facilitate this accomplishment. Thank you to Austin Massage Company for giving me massive amounts of support and body maintenance.

Most of all, thank you to Brett, Emily, and Julie Mathews for being there on this day and at Bandera. You lifted me up when I sunk into a dark place and didn’t take any credit when I found my way back.

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