Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bandera Saturday

For those who have never run at Hill Country State Natural Area in Bandera, TX, there really isn’t a good way to describe the trails that will truly do it justice. Bandera throws a little bit of everything at you. There are rocks (lots of them, big and small), flat stretches that allow you to open things up, hills so steep that mortals (i.e. most anyone I run with not named Liza) are forced to walk, sotol cacti that rip your legs to shreds, and unshaded sections that leave you exposed to the merciless Texas sun. Sound like fun?

This past Saturday I ran 20 miles with some friends in Bandera and had a blast. We started just after light so we wouldn’t need our headlamps. Some of us were running 10 miles, others 15, and a few 20. The humidity was thick as we started, but that soon burned off and gave way to blue skies and a hot sun beating down on us. It was the first time this year any of us had run in the “heat”, although the temps in July will make this past Saturday seem like a cold winter day. We did our usual first loop, heading over Lucky’s Peak, Cairn’s Climb, and Boyle’s Bump. Upon reaching the saddle by Sky Island, we bid farewell to a few friends and headed over towards Trail 1 (bypassing Ski Island by the mandate of Chris). This stretch allows you to pick up the pace if you are feeling good, and we all settled into a nice run. Back to the car to drop off Tanya and refill our bottles, then back out for another 5 miles over the 3 Sisters with Chris and Larry. My legs felt great, and I could have definitely gone out for more. This is a huge mental boost as I head into my taper for the Bull Run 50 miler next weekend.

Despite the heat we encountered, I wouldn’t trade our runs at Bandera for any other trail in the area. The scenery is unmatched in its beauty. It’s always fun to catch up with friends and make new acquaintances. Saturday was no exception.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Movin' On Up

I am hoping to run the Bull Run 50 miler in 2 weeks in Northern Virginia. All I have to do is work my way off the wait list on the list of final entrants. I currently sit at #7 (started at #48 a month ago) and think I have a good shot at getting in. Everything will be finalized by next Thursday, so hopefully 7 more people decide they don't want to run the race. I have already made plane reservations, so I sure as heck hope I get in. Otherwise, I'll be looking for my own 50 mile trail run for my birthday. I'll post more when I know for sure.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I have decided to set a goal to make at least 3 entries on this blog per week, even if they are short ones. I’d love to post something every day, but I don’t think I have enough interesting things to say to keep that going, and I certainly don’t have enough time (at least not during the school year). Even if no one reads these posts (a distinct possibility), it’s good for me to write and out some thoughts down on paper (or in cyberspace).

I’ve been feeling extremely lazy in recent days, so getting out of bed early this morning to run was a monumental task. These early morning runs will become more frequent for me as the temperature and humidity continue to rise here in South Texas. My run was decent (there was a slight breeze at times) until last few minutes when I almost got hit by a truck. I like to think that I am in tune with my surroundings when I run, and I definitely noticed this guy (maybe a woman) backing out of his driveway on the opposite side (right) of the street. Since I was on the opposite sidewalk, I didn’t worry too much – until the truck continued backing up, all the way into the driveway across the street! I had to jump into the grass to avoid being hit. Good thing I was paying attention, because he/she certainly wasn’t.

This encounter made me realize (I’ve thought about this a lot recently) just how oblivious to our surroundings most people are. Maybe I have just noticed it more because I run, but it seems that very few people pay attention, or maybe more people feel entitled to their “space”. For example, what ever happened to people looking both ways before crossing a street, watching for cars in parking lots, and giving a courtesy wave for being let out into traffic? I have noticed more and more people just walking out into the street, in parking lots, or into traffic, as if this is their right, assuming that everyone else should make way for them. I’m not sure if I explained this well or just confused people with my mini rant, but it has bothered me lately. I guess this is one reason I love the trails so much. Other than the occasional rock, root, or slithery creature, one can tune out the outside world on the trails.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Prickly Pear 50K Race Report

(Start of Race)

Last Saturday I ran the Prickly Pear 50K trail race at nearby McAllister Park here in San Antonio, TX. Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I always have mixed emotions about running this race. On the one hand I love it because it is close to home on familiar trails, and because any race put on by Bill Gardner is going to be a well-organized party. I also gained free entry this year by performing a morning’s worth of trash pickup on the trails. On the other hand, the terrain is relatively flat, the temperature usually heats up for the final miles, and the course consists of that dreaded four letter word – LOOP…3 of them to be exact. My goal this year (as with last year) was to break 5 hours. This would require a near-perfect race, but I believed it was a realistic possibility.

Another nice part of this race is being able catch up with friends, and I managed to see several at the start. I lined up next to Larry Pearson (Larry had been sick and was hoping to get in 20 miles), and soon we were off. The first couple miles of the race are on nice winding single track in the woods. While this makes for nice scenery, it can create a logjam of people, which can make it difficult to pass. This isn’t always a bad thing, as it forces you to start slowly, which can pay off later in the race. Larry and I settled in behind a group that kept us from going out too hard. I could tell that Larry was still recovering from his illness. He sounded like he was breathing with a bag over his head – good training for the altitude we will both face at the Wasatch 100 in September. I wasn’t too set on a certain pace for the first loop, but I knew I wanted to keep it under 9:15/mile, assuming that felt comfortable. I checked my watch at the first aid station (about 2.5 miles in) and saw that we were over 9:30. I wasn’t too concerned yet, knowing the start of a race almost always brings a slower pace with all the congestion. I began to slowly pick up the pace, but was cautious about going too hard since the air seemed to be very humid (I usually don’t run well in humidity). The rest of the loop passed by fairly quickly, with Larry and I running together for the first half (I lost him at some point along the way). I came into the start/finish area in 1:32, about a 9:10 pace. Although I felt like I was working a little too hard for my pace early on, I seemed to get more comfortable as the loop progressed. I grabbed a fresh water bottle, some Hammer gels, and headed back out for loop #2.

(Early on Loop #1)

(Larry Pearson)

Early in loop 2 I caught up to John Sharp, a friend and local runner who I knew was hoping to break 5 hours as well. My legs were feeling really good, so I decided to run at a pace I thought I could hold, regardless of how fast/sow it might be. At some point John let me step in front of him and set the pace. Just past the first aid station, we hit a pack of runners participating in the 10 mile race, which started after our race in the hopes of avoiding some congestion. I have run the 50K several times now, but this was the earliest I have ever run into 10 milers, and by far the most 10 mile runners I have ever seen. This was both frustrating and helpful. I felt like John and I spent most of the loop yelling “on your left” as we passed people (John is very good at this), but it always feels good to pass someone, giving you the feeling that you are moving really fast (even when this might not be the case). So, we wiggled our way around the course, passing at least 50 people along the way. I was just running on feel, not too sure how fast we were going. At one point, John mentioned to me that we had a great pace going and that he was having trouble keeping up. That’s not something that is said to me often, so I checked my watch and noticed that we were running in the low 8:00 pace, sometimes even dropping into the 7:00 range. Ouch, this was going to come back and bite me later, but I was content trying to hold on as long as I could. John edged ahead of me after I stopped to refill my water bottle at the last aid station (manned by our friend Edgar Gonzalez), and we cruised into the start/finish area with a total time of 3:05, about 15 minutes faster than my time from last year. I was fairly confident that, if I could stay with John, I would break 5 hours. I really needed to use the bathroom, but I figured the lines would be too long, and I felt too good to stop. Big mistake!!!

(Feeling good)

Two of the kids I coach in track/cross country were there to volunteer for the race, and they handed me a new water bottle and some gels for my final 10+ mile loop. Up to that point, I was averaging a low 9 minute pace through 20 miles, easily the fastest I had ever run a trail race. I took off on my last loop, putting on my headphones for a musical boost. About a half mile into the loop, I knew that my decision to skip the restroom was not a good one. I had to stop several times to re-assess my situation and soon realized that I would have to find a restroom – IMMEDIATELY. Luckily, I know McAllister Park fairly well. After some bushwhacking off the trail, I spotted the road that would take me to one of the pavilions and a much-needed restroom. I will spare everyone the details, but let’s just say this side trip ended up costing me nearly 10 minutes of precious time. Even worse, John was long gone, and I now had no one to run with. At this point, my legs felt ok, but my mind and body were fatigued from pushing hard on the first 2 loops. I did some quick mental calculations and knew I was going to have to push harder than expected if I was going to break 5 hours. The final loop of Prickly Pear is always tough, as the heat is usually out in full force (relative to what we have had in the preceding months), and the 20+ miles of flat running has worn you down. I wasn’t able to hold the pace I needed and ended up coming in at 5:13, still a solid PR. Had I not had my “detour”, I would have been under 5:05 for sure and might have been able to hold it together long enough to break 5 hours. John ended up running a great race and finishing in 4:46, good enough for 10th place overall. While I was disappointed that I didn’t break 5 hours, I was happy with my time and excited about my fitness heading into the Bull Run 50 Miler (assuming I get into the race) in April.

After the race I swore that I was (again) done running this race and that I would stick to being a volunteer. So, I guess I’ll see everyone at the start line in 2012