Monday, December 08, 2008

Didn't I just run 54 miles a few weeks ago? Whose idea was it to schedule another 50 mile run? We reap what we sow, friends. Thankfully, the crop yield was sufficient.

I arrived in Huntsville, Texas last Friday afternoon wondering if I was ready for round two of The Quad. I checked into the EconoLodge (which lived up to its name), dropped off my overnight bag, and began the vile commute to the Houston airport to pick up my race packet. Apparently, rush hour begins around 2:00 p.m. in Harris County.

After my white-knuckle drive through Conroe, Spring, and The Woodlands, I was relieved that packet pickup was so easy. And the swag. Wow. Sunmart hooks you up. I got a very nice gym bag, a long sleeve technical shirt, a runners hat, sunglasses, gloves, some sort of Body Glide-type product, a nail kit, a journal, a stuffed animal, a poncho, and a polo shirt. Impressive.

I opted to get skip the pasta dinner and got back to Huntsville around 5:45 p.m. My stomach led me to El Chico, where my pre-race meal consisted of chicken fajitas and lots of water. I laid out my gear for the morning, and turned the lights out by 8:30 p.m.

It would appear that one must carry/wear a lot of stuff to run 50 miles:
I woke up at 5:00 a.m., suited up, and drove to IHOP for my traditional pre-long run breakfast of eggs, toast, and bacon. I chatted with a couple other runners who had also chosen to start the day off right with a hearty meal.

At 6:15 a.m., I arrived at Huntsville State Park and was truly astonished at the number of folks milling about. I had not expected to see hundreds of runners at the event.

After securing a nice spot for my drop bag, I ran into Mark, a speedy Welshman who is also going for the Texas Trilogy. We chatted for a few minutes before the start, and he asked me if I had any time goals. "Nah, but I'm guessing it will be somewhere between ten and ten and a half hours," I said. Quite prophetic.

The speedy Welshman (Mark) and me at the starting line:
A little past 7 a.m., the air horn sounded, and we were off. The weather was perfect--low 30s at the start, warming up to low 60s by mid-afternoon. Things looked good.

Sunmart consists of four 12.5 mile loops throughout the park and around Lake Raven. Because of Sunmart’s reputation of being a premier trail run in the United States, the I.A.U.(International Association for Ultrarunners) had elected to hold the I.A.U. Trail World Challenge at the race. So, I was well-prepared to get lapped several times.

Morning fog off Lake Raven during the first 12.5 loop:
Attempting to look cool and tough on the first loop (and failing miserably at both):
I hooked up with a tall, goateed dude named Bill early during the first loop. Bill is a two-time Ironman finisher and badass triathlete. Sunmart was his first trail run and first time to go farther than 26.2 miles. Welcome to the party, amigo.

Bill and I finished the first loop in about 2 hours, 31 minutes, which felt like a good pace. Unfortunately, however, I discovered a pretty nasty blister already beginning to form on the outside of my right big toe. I told Bill to keep moving while I tended to my (potentially debilitating) minor injury, liberally appling Body Glide to my toe (and the rest of my feet). After changing socks, I motored on.

The second loop took me a bit longer to finish, somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 hours and 40 minutes. My toe was hurting a bit, but I didn't want to take my shoe off. Out of sight, out of mind. Keeping my head in the sand. Maybe not the best strategy, but, hey, what choice did I have? I was going to ignore it unless and until it crippled me.

My spirits got a lift when I met up with Bill again. Pretty soon, we also running with Miles, a buddy I've run with in Waco. The three of us gutted out loop three, but it wasn't pretty. Quite a bit of walking, and nobody was too enthused about another loop. My toe was throbbing, my quads were aching, my shoulders hurt. I was tired and spent. We finished the third loop in 2 hours and 45 minutes, just 30 minutes before the 3:30 p.m. cutoff. (If you haven't started your fourth and final loop by 3:30 p.m., you're done.)

With about as much excitement as an NPR broadcast, we trudged along slowly. The three of us figured that if we could at least walk 3 miles per hour, we could finish under the 7:00 p.m. limit.

As the sun started to descend, however, something strange happened. I started feeling good. Really GOOD. Maybe it was knowing that this was the final loop and that every step was bringing me closer to the end, but for whatever reason, the pain in my toe suddenly subsided and legs felt fresh.

I actually started running, even some of the uphills. I could see Bill and Miles were still struggling a bit, and I didn't want to leave them hanging, but they gave me permission to cruise along.

And so I did. I don't know what the hell happened, but I ran that last loop in 2 hours and 24 minutes--faster than ANY of the previous loops. Heck, I even sprinted the last couple hundred yards. I felt FANTASTIC. It was awesome.

My final time was 10 hours, 24 minutes, 18 seconds. Good enough for 93rd place overall, and 7th in my division (males 30-34).
After crossing the finish line, I was presented with a cup of cold water, a finisher's medal, and a very cool finisher's jacket. (Seriously, the swag for this race is incredible.)
And then I was ushered to the food tent, where I was given my choice of brisket, smoked turkey legs, hotdogs, hamburgers, macaroni and cheese, sodas, gatorade, iced tea--you name it. (Who are the folks running this race? They are amazing!)

I ate my chow and waited for Bill and Miles to finish. We had run too far together for me to just take off. And soon enough, there they were.
The Three Amigos (Bill, me, and Miles) after 50 miles:
Oh, and the blister? Well, it wasn't too bad. Back at the hotel, I finally peeled off the shoes that hadn't been removed for 37.5 miles (since discovering the issues with the toe). So just in case you were wondering, here you go.

One down, two to go for the Texas Trilogy, and half-way through The Quad.

Next up, Bandera. Ugh.


Mark said...

It was great to see you at Sunmart. Congratulations on toughing it out, especially that awesome last loop. Very impressive blister too.

The swag was excellent, but you missed a fabulous pasta dinner. Sunmart is the one race I actually gain weight at.

Derek said...

Great race report and way to tough it out. I hope to see you at Bandera, as it will be my 1st trail ultra. I hope I'm not biting off more than I can chew! Enjoy a little down time until the next race!!

Harry said...

Great race, Ryan! Good to share the trail with you again. FYI, I was only pretending to struggle on the last loop. I coulda hung with you, but I didn't want to leave Bill alone on that last loop. Yeah, that's it. Didn't want to leave Bill.

And now for something completely different... See you at Bandera.


Lynnor Matheney said...

Nice work Ryan. Mine's about the same except I fell a couple of times and that slowed me down a little. I know Miles, he's always 2-3 miles ahead of me. See you at Bandera.

Lynnor Matheney

Curtis said...

Hey! I was out there cheering people on. I think that I saw you but I'm not 100% sure. Bandera is one of my favorite races and it's also one of the hardest I have found in Texas. I think you'll love it! Definitely more challenging than my home park of Huntsville. See you at Bandera!

Ryan "GandaMan" Valdez said...

Mark, it was great to see you at the start of the run. Looking forward to hooking up in Bandera-- at least at the beginning of the race before you speed by me!

Derek, Bandera is a tough course for your first ultra, but you'll love/hate every minute of it! Hope to see you there.

Harry/Miles, I knew Bill was the one struggling, not you. That dude was slowing us down the whole time! (Bill, I hope you're reading this.) See you next month, amigo.

Lynnor, luckily, I managed to avoid falling, although I did stumble a few times. It was a fun run.

Curtis, it was awesome how enthusiastic everyone was. I really appreciated all of the cheering and support. As for Bandera, I did the 50km last year and was humbled. We'll see how the 100km treats me.

Harry said...

"We'll see how the 100km treats me."

I'll tell you how it will treat you: bad. like a red headed stepchild bad. and the best part? you're paying it to treat you that way.


Just12Finish said...

Congrats on the race. Shoulda made the blister pics optional!


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