Nueces 50k Race Review
Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.
It is a great truth because ONCE we truly see this Truth, we transcend it. Once we TRULY, know that life is difficult—once we TRULY understand and accept this—then life is no longer difficult.
Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult, no longer matter.
-M. Scott Peck
I had a long day at work, I had cut my day “short”, but I had to get some clients homes done by 1p, then finish setting up the Elemante(Honda element) for race day, then swing to my mother’s house to pick up my sister once she got out of school. I get home around 2p, and the mad dash to get everything setup begins. “Crap where’s my shorts? Did I make enough sandwiches? Where’s my extra socks, crap, you better eat and get your vitamins, running this 50k isn’t going to be a cake walk, and you’re dumb for doing it while still getting over a cold, CRAP! hurry up and get ready!”
I get out the door and on the road and scoop up my sister who I had asked to be my personal crew/aid station. I really just wanted her company as I took on another mental battle. I had planned on running the Nueces 50k on Saturday, then back door that with the Armadillo ½ Marathon on Sunday, thankfully, procrastination did me good because I missed the registration for the ½ on Sunday, so, I wasn’t bothered, but, I did know that since I wasn’t doing the ½, that just meant, “Run Harder”.
Finally on the road about 7p, quick stop at my favorite pizza joint(brothers) and then off for the 5hr drive. My sister and I laugh and joke throughout the road trip, listening to music, talking about life and anything else on our minds. We finally get into Rocksprings TX at about 12:00pm and get lost. We end up finding a huge sign that said “Camp Eagle 8 Miles” and I think, YES, I need sleep!!! We drive down the driest, rockiest road I’ve ever been on, and I can’t help but think “This is where I die, some crazy guy with a chain saw is going to tear us up” because the roads and scenery resembled Texas Chain Saw Massacre version 1-33. After the longest, rockiest, scariest 8 miles, we finally pull into Camp Eagle and I quick find a spot to park so we can setup the Elemante so we can sleep. Finally, SLEEP, at 1am(ugh). I set my alarm to go off at 3:30a so I can scarf down some food, then nap till 6a.
I get up at 3ISH, eat, drink, fall back to sleep, then wake up at 6:05 to fuel up, get my gear on and warm up, it’s almost race time!
6:55a, and I find my way to the cattle herd and drop my water bottle so I can begin my ritual of The Haka, the particular Haka I did on this morning, was the Timatanga. I finish up, and Joe gets us going, its race time!
Now that the sun is up, and I can see the terrain, I immediately notice, this terrain, is basically going to be the evil step sister to Bandera/Cactus Rose, in other words, it’s going to be a rough run.
This is the first run I’m wearing my gps watch and the first where I memorize my aid stations, just so I know what mileage I have to do and what my times should be. 1. Texas 5.35 2. Wall 3.9 3. Texas 4.8 4. Pavilion 1.4.
The first 5.35 goes a bit slow(at least I thought), it was a single track with a lot of folks and LOTS OF ROCKS, so I was just trying to keep my legs moving and focusing on my watch and mileage. The rocks are everywhere, the terrain is rough, and the views of the hill country are absolutely amazing. The sun was coming up, the morning mist coated the land and the cool breeze was on your back. I look up from the trail to take in some of the scene. The initial climb took us to an area where you can look into a valley, as I looked over and thought “how amazing is it here, the rocks, the greeWAAACK!!!” one of the bush tree’s that got caught on the runner in front of me, catapulted to about 43mph and hit me square in the eye…..SON OF A %$#! OFCOURSE THIS HAPPENS!!!! I make sure to keep my eyes front, albeit they were now filled with tears from being plucked in the eye.
I shake that off because we are beginning a decent and the terrain is unforgiving, if you miss a step, you’re going to leak blood. I’m still stuck in a line of folks and I think to myself, don’t worry, you’ll make the aid station and be in and out in no time and you’ll be somewhat alone.
We reach the aid station, and I look down at my watch and see 4.89mi and I start to think(did Joe move the aid stations around to throw us off?), I grab water, some gold fish and a gel and get out, 1 aid station down, less than 12seconds there, boom. I knew the next Aid station was just a bit more than a 5k away, so I keep my pace going out and then all of a sudden, we’re at a hill, a hill I did not care to be on, but, oh well, life throws enough hills for you to climb up and over, so why wait now? I fight to the top and meet up with a gentleman by the name of Chris, and I lean over and ask him “hey dude, is this the trail to the shuttle that takes us to the finish?” we both laugh as we are now gasping for air from the climb and we begin to share stories of running and previous races. I tell Chris this is my 3rd Ultra and that Cactus Rose 50 Mile’r was my first ever anything-a-thon and he gave me the look that most people give me when I share this story…”Are you nuts?” we share a kick and a grin for the next few minutes and as we are chugging along, I glance down at my watch and see that our pace is between 8:46-9:12 and I’m like holy cow dude, I need to slow down a bit or I’m going to burn out, as I say this, what only is to be expected after running a big hill? Is a nice downhill, with relatively “Flat” terrain, and the decent begins, I immediately feel the banging in my thighs, I’m trying not to fly down this hill, but the pain in my legs from braking was a bit too much, so, I let loose and fly down the hill…I glance at the watch once more and see 7:43(for me, this is really hauling tail, I’ve never run this fast, and I must say, I loved it), however, I can’t help but think, Joe must be part mountain goat to find these places to run.
Once at the bottom of this hill, we get to the next aid station, which was awesome, the guys/gals manning the station were dressed up like pancho villa and playing old world Mexican music. If they had tequila & a piñata, I would have DNF’d and stayed there, but, neither was visibly out there, so it was time to get back on the road. I get to a section where you have to run across a suspension bridge, my immediate thought went back to Indiana Jones & The temple of doom. I laugh when I make my first few steps, and then this bridge starts to bounce and sway and I’m like “ARE YOU KIDDING ME JOE??? WHATS NEXT? PEOPLE SHOOTING ARROWS WHILE WE’RE CROSSING? ALLIGATORS AT THE BOTTOM????”, neither were there, just more trails. The next 4.8 went fine and I knew this last station was just 1.4 away and then it’s just another loop. I get out kicking and feeling strong. I wore a hoody just because to me it was a bit chilly, and as an embarrassed New Yorker, I can no longer deal with weather under 70*(this would be costly).
I run into the pavilion and look at my watch and see 3:07, I then glance up at the timer and it says 3:12, HOLY SMOKES!!!! I was hoping and planning for a 6:45 finish, just to best my previous 50k run of 8:08 and I start doing the math, the first 5 went a bit slow because of the crowd, so If I keep my pace up, I might have a sub 6:30?!?!?! LETS ROLL!!! I switch my Salomon mantras out for the Salomon S-Lab XT Soft Ground that my buddy Rob let me use, I have really wide feet so the out sides tend to hurt after 20 miles and I figured this terrain was going to beat them up, so a new shoe would be best(worked flawlessly). I throw on the shoes, my sister shoves PB&J into my gullet, gives me my shuffle, shoves more food into my face and gives me a few words of encouragement and then pushes me out of the station.
The first loop wasn’t bad; after all, it’s fresh legs, new scenes, no biggie, this next loop, knowing the terrain, whole different story.
I get out on the loop and I’m moving, I glance down at the watch once more and see 9:10, I kept this pace for probably 3-4 miles and as I’m passing a few people, I make sure to give them the same encouragement that all of the ultra-community gives to each other during a race, after all, we know what we are all going through, it takes a lot out of someone to push themselves out of their comfort zone and it’s awesome to share these experiences with other runners.
I’m chugging down water from my hand held and I don’t know if I left the nipple open, or if because I was pushing my pace, I was now out of water and thirsty and to top it off, I only pee’d once so far, not a good sign. Here come the hills and switch backs again and now out of water, my pace slows down and now I’m staring at the watch to see how far is the damn aid station? I get to the aid station and immediately fill my hand held with Gatorade and swallow that, I then refill twice more with water and swallow those. I went to refill on food and when I got back to the cooler for water, someone was filling up, so I jumped to the next cooler, filled up the hand held and took off.
I was now refueled and ready to burn and turn……at least, so I thought. Within 10-15 minutes, I go to take a swig from my hand held and taste nothing but sugar water, at least that’s what it tasted like to me. I thought maybe something got on the bottle and I cleaned it off and took another sip and got the same taste, I immediately realize my mistake, I filled my bottle with meed. I’ve tried meed before and didn’t like it, not to mention, whenever I drink a powdered electrolyte drink, I get gas and cramps. I say to myself, oh well, sip what you can, make it to the next aid station and we’ll be alright. Not 10 minutes later, I start getting cramps on both my sides. These were by far the worst cramps I’ve ever had, they hurt so badly, I couldn’t take a deep breath, naturally, this happens when the billy goat of a hill is approaching. I start the ascent at a crawl of a pace, maybe 22-18mi hr and I start to doubt everything I’ve done leading up to this day, to this minute, to this section of the course. I’m in pain, and I can’t breathe and I now want to quit. My hamstrings were now tightening up and I could barely stand upright from the cramps. A few of the 50 milers had past me and one guy, who I didn’t get the name of, asked me if I was ok and I told him what I thought was going on and he said “dude, just keep going, it’ll get out of your system and you’ll finish this thing”. I looked at him and at that point wanted to pick up the plethora of rocks on the floor and throw it at him, but, I knew what he said was right, I needed to tough it out, and push on, and so I did, 1 painful step at a time. I get to the top of the hill and see the zip line I saw on the first loop and I think, okay, downhill, run your ass and get to this damn aid station for water and keep kicking. I’m able to keep my legs turning, I’m hurting and I say to myself, “dude, where are you getting the will and strength to keep going?” and, I answer…”shut up, we have sh*t to do today, if you’re going to bail, bail without me, because I have a race to finish” I get to the next aid station and drink as much water as I possibly can, probably 4-5 hand helds at the station, grab food, and I’m off again.
At this point, I forget what aid stations I’m running to, I lose focus of the mileage in between and I start to look at the mileage and time on my watch. I see that I’m now way off of my pace of finishing sub 6:30, and I now had 3 more stations to hit before the finish (completely forgetting, I had just 1 and then 1.5 to the finish), I start thinking, dammit, you’re almost 2hrs behind and you’re going to best your time by only a couple of minutes, just quit if that’s the case.
I again, tell myself to shut up and keep moving, this aid station is 3.8 miles away, just get it done. I completely forget this aid station is the Texas aid station and it was 4.8 away. I run over the temple of doom bridge and begin the task of knife wielding trees and feet stabbing rocks.
I’m able to finally move my legs again, and my spirits start to climb, and then, here is that damn ascent that didn’t seem so bad the first go around, how in the hell am I supposed to make it up this thing? 1 step at a time Jose, 1 step at a time. I begin climbing and start to think about my sister, it’s now after 6hours and I know she must be thinking “where is he, he was ahead of schedule” and knowing her, she would be thinking I fell or got hurt, but more so, I was upset that I wasn’t going to smash my previous time and felt a little down, but I wasn’t going to stop. I keep myself moving, I keep planting my feet and just keep moving, I look down at my watch and it says I’m at mile 23 or some crap and I’m thinking, good lord, 8 more miles of this and this pace, it’s going to feel like forever AND, why does this feel like the longest 3.8 miles I’ve ever been on????
I get to a section of this loop that looks familiar, I know that it’s 3 smaller ‘hills’ that go up and down and then the aid station is at the top of the last one. I run down when I can, then curse and climb when I have to. I’m finally able to run and at this point, I don’t care about the pace, I just care about finishing.
I finally stroll up to the aid station, I’m drinking water, eating oranges, the crew manning the station asked me if I was okay and I told them what happened with the Meed and they suggested I just keep drinking and eating oranges. One of the guys at the aid station asked me if I was trying to cut weight for the wrestling team because I was still wearing my sweat drenched hoody. We laughed for a bit, and then I asked, “Hey, the next aid station is what? 4.8 or the 3.whatever?” and the crew looked at me and said “what are you talking about? You’re doing the 50k right?” and I said “yes, giving them the puppy dog eyes”, and then I hear what has to be the best news and the biggest kick in the ass I’ve ever heard…”Honey, you’re at the last aid station, you’ve got 1.4 miles and you’re done, if you get moving, you’ll finish under 7hrs”………………I look at them wide eyed and say WHAT???? Are you serious? And the woman begins to laugh, “Yeah dude, you’re almost done, get the heck outta here and finish”…I grin and say, “Are you joking with me to fire me up, because you don’t have to….” She laughs again and says “dude, I just DNF’d this damn race, you’ve got a little over a mile, get going!!!” I fill up my hand held and tell them all thank you so much for everything; they have no idea the emotional and physical boost they just gave me. I’m not sure exactly what my watch said, it was either 6:48 or 6:51 when I left that aid station, but I didn’t care, I knew I had to kick as hard as I possibly could to finish under 7hrs.
I sprint out and stumble on some rocks, I don’t care, I fix my posture and get my legs turning, I step on a stone that twists my ankle a bit and my feet are now hurting, I don’t care, shut up feet, I have a race to finish….I get to a windy downhill just before the creek that leads to the finish, the first time I came to this section, I almost ate it, to the point the camera man and I shared a laugh because he said it would have been a great pic if I ate it. I get down this hill in 5 steps because, I don’t care.
I turn the corner and I can see the camp and the final last bit of this trail, and I begin to kick, I begin to dig as deep as I could. I started running so hard that my lungs hurt, every breath hurt, every breath felt like someone was stepping on my chest and I didn’t care, my music was blasting in my ears and yet still, I could hear myself gasping in agony for air, I didn’t care, I’m finishing strong, I control this.
I signed up for Nueces for just one reason, to prove to myself that I can do whatever I set my mind to and that I can control my life, this race is real, these hill are real, life is real and I can make it do whatever I want and not sit and mope or wonder why things happen. I’ve had a heavy heart for almost 9 years, I lost an amazingly strong friend and life partner to suicide and I’ve struggled to cope with her loss. Anna’s loss and the resulting years have mentally kept me from doing a lot with relationships and other facets of my life, however, this race was my clarity, this race is my moment of saying to myself, enough is enough, you can’t control things that are out of your control, but sure damn can control the present and your actions for the future. It’s time to live, because, you can.
I cross the creek; I climb up one small ascent through the brush and trees and up a road that leads to the Pavilion, to the finish line, to my truth.
For the next 100yards, I begin to have a stride that I’ve never felt before. I was running hard and didn’t have a care in the world, all I cared about was that finish line, all I cared about was proving to myself that I can do what I set out. I kicked as hard as I possibly could, that last 20yards, everyone at the finish line was cheering on and that’s what I did, I floated, I floated through the finish line..
………..6 Hours, 59 minutes, 32 seconds.
I bested my last 50 by 1 hour, 11 minutes. I wanted to be 10 minutes faster, but, I did it.
I set out to PR for this race, and I did.
I set out for my own personal clarity with life and to rid the demons that have plagued me for a long time, and, I can proudly say I did, for the first time in a long time, I look forward to what life has in store for me, the friends I will make, the stories I will have, I welcome them all, because,
“I know what I have to do now, I have to keep breathing, because tomorrow the sun will rise….who knows what the tide could bring”
I’d like to thank all of my friends & family that have supported me thus far, don’t worry guys, we have a hell’va ride to go!