Savoring the Gift of Running – Nueces 50 Mile USATF Trail Championship

My last running post in February post-Bandera 100k was about, “You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you earn.”  With that in my mind, I charted out an ambitious month of February, to be followed by a couple of lower-key weeks and then building back up to two solid training/racing blocks in April and May before the Big Dance at the end of June.

February turned out to be an incredibly rewarding period of running: a solid effort at the Pemberton 50k in Fountain Hills, AZ in week 1, another successful year of helping pace the 3-hour group at the Livestrong Austin Marathon in week 2, a very quick Purgatory 10-mile trail race in San Marcos, TX in week 3 (great trails down there BTW!), and a return visit to the Nueces 50-mile USATF Trail Championship in week 4.  Ambitious I know, but a block like this is nice to really sink your teeth into and see what you can earn week after week!

My goals for Nueces were to 1) run a much better 3rd loop than I ran in 2012 (+28 minute split on loop 3) and, 2) take a crack at a top-3 spot in the USATF Championship (I was 4th place here last year).  Here’s how it all went down!!

I positioned myself up front early given the 6am start (still dark) and single track right out of the gate.  Historically at both Bandera and Nueces, Dave James (2nd place in 2011 and 2012) can be counted on to go out hard EARLY.  Since he was not racing, there was no one to “lead the charge”, so Jason Bryant 3rd place in 2011 and 2012) and I took to the front of the pack.  It was an absolutely gorgeous crisp morning for running in the hill country and as I found a good groove immediately and gradually slipped away from the field.  I knew my splits going into Texas1, the Wall, and Texas2 were a bit hot, but really was not pressing the pace with the intention of getting away early.

Normally in “big” or national championship ultras like this, I’ve been the one deferring to more experienced trail runners early in the race with respect to pacing.  Early in loop 2, I took the approach of continuing the nice rhythm from loop 1, staying on top of my nutrition, hydration, and electrolytes, and not making any mistakes like a bad fall, twisted ankle, or wrong turn.  My uber-wife Meredith was doing an amazing job of exchanging bottles and getting me in and out of aid stations quickly.  I didn’t know I was being chased HARD until heading up to the windmill (on loop 2) and looked back briefly and saw Jason’s bright yellow La Sportiva singlet charging up the hill with someone (Cody Moat ) right behind him!  Whoa’ I said to myself, time to get back to business and as I crested the hill, pushed the downhill hard to try and get and stay out of sight as quickly as possible.

I felt great coming into the Pavilion for loop 3 despite taking a NASTY digger in the switchbacks about one mile from the start/finish, I have not fallen that hard in a long time!  Luckily just a bloody left palm and right elbow, so nothing too bad.  Having not seen Jason or Cody since the windmill, my goal stayed the same: stay out of sight, eat, drink, no mistakes, no gifts.  The 3rd loop here at Nueces is historically make or break time, so I buckled down and took it one step at a time.

Loop 3 was rolling pretty well for me and then out of seemingly nowhere Cody was RIGHT on my hip shortly after Texas1 (near the under-construction zipline tower I think).  I coyly asked if he had dragged Jason up with him to assess whether this was going to be a 2-person or 3-person gunfight!  Cody said that Jason was a little ways back so I tucked in behind Cody through the headwind, checked out his homemade water-bottle (16oz screw-top Gatorade bottle with duct-tape hand holder!), gathered some energy for a couple minutes, and then bombed the downhills on the jeep road hoping to reestablish another gap before heading into the single-track and really make Cody work for it and test his downhill legs.  This worked great and I was out of sight for what felt like 10 or so minutes, until he bridged up AGAIN to me before the descent into the Wall, absolutely unbelievable!  He led down to the Wall and Meredith again had my bottles swapped out in a flash while he stopped briefly to refill.  Another small gap formed (but not out of sight), and Cody was yet again right on my hip as we hit that nasty climb.  Here’s where things went a bit south for me as Cody darted up the climb, dropped me like a HUGE bag of contaminated rocks, and got the gap that he would eventually extend to 6 minutes by the finish line 6 miles later.

Really impressive stuff.  That being said, I kept pushing (and didn’t trip again) not knowing how far back 3rd place (Jason) was and you never know what can happen to the leader late in an ultra, particularly if this is your first 50-miler.  It was not to be, and Cody cracked the course record of 6:28 by 2 minutes set by Jason Schlarb in the inaugural 2011 race.  My loop 3 split of 2:20 was 22 minutes faster than last year (goal #1) and a second place overall finish in a USATF Championship Trail race, my highest placing yet (goal #2)!  Plenty of great race photos by Rick Kent and his Enduro Photo team can be seen here:

The aid station volunteers, photographers, and fellow runners and fans are always so encouraging and it felt great to be in the podium mix in a USATF championship race much like at Bandera 100k in January.  I’m amazingly thankful for the trail running “gift” that God has allowed me to explore, and there are few better places than Camp Eagle to enjoy it!  Huge thanks as always to Rogue Running, Jack & Adam’s Bicycles and High Five Events, Pure Austin Gym, DryMax Socks, Bonk Breaker, Soleus Watches, Advanced Rehab, thinksport, RunSmart, of course Eating & Living Healthy for enabling me to train and race at my potential!!

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