Brazos Bend 100M - Needville, Texas
Elevation gain: 600'
December 8, 2018 - I had been on the fence about continuing to toe the line at organized ultra events after sustaining a severe heel injury in August. With my pipeline entirely clear of upcoming races, a strange anxiety began to creep over me, coupled with an uncharacteristic indecisiveness. My dilemma was existential - would I continue the lifestyle that pretty much defined me, or would I pull anchor and set sail for a lifestyle yet unexplored? So I arose from my restless quandary at 0300 one morning and registered for this race and another one just like it... on sequential weekends. Issue resolved.
And with resolution, I could once again set a course to successfully navigate my latest new dream. I needed a flat course where I didn't have to worry about roots and rocks, to minimize the challenge to my less than completely healed heel. Brazos fit the bill... at least until it rained two or more inches the day before. The weather cooperated to give us nearly a perfect day temperature-wise, but the deluge was slow to drain from this flat swamp country so that too much of the course looked like this shot below.
Arriving early enough to pick up a bib and meet with Fanny Barrette the evening before, we weathered the evening sleeping in our vehicles in the park under a light show and thunderous applause of a wonderful cycle of thunderstorms. The rain was soothing and I slept well. Arising at 0400 we had plenty of time to be ready for the 0600 start under very light precip. About two hundred of us headed off into the dark, headlamps bouncing, over the wide trails and some pavement that would wind us through the park along the Brazos River and through colorful swamps decorated in Spanish moss, with a variety of aquatic birds, very vocal bull and tree frogs, and perhaps under the suspicious eye of a sleepy unseen gator or two.
I had no intention of racing hard. This would be a relaxing affair without a watch or expectations. On the Tuesday before, I had comfortably run 17 miles in 3H 10M. With the mucky conditions on the course I was surprised to see a time of 3H 4M for the first 16.67-mile loop. My legs were relaxed despite the additional adjustment for stepping around pools of water and the worst of the mud. After a brief refueling at the S/F I headed back out for round two. Fanny was not too far behind, perhaps a kilometer at most, always with an upbeat smile.
I let my legs take over, not engaging much in society or thinking, just enjoying the day, looking around a lot, and monitoring my own feedback loops. By lap two I no longer tried to avoid pools of standing water, but just plowed right through, splish-splash. Once things settled and the people around you were much the same over the miles you could use the interval with others as additional feedback on progress. My time after two laps was 6H 34M, holding steady with only a bit of attrition of my tempo after a third of the race. I was satisfied, and worked hard to avoid projecting potential finish times. By this time, my mind always starts to wonder and I sought out more interchange with other runners. If I could just stay focused on my own running I would be great at this, but I find probably more satisfaction from the people I interact with at these races than from the effort or accomplishment itself.
So I get chatty and lose my concentration... but I always have a good time!!! The half way point gave me a time of 10H 40M, still well ahead of the loose schedule I kept in my head. It would be nice to finish in under 24 hours and it would seem like there was plenty of time, but I've been to this rodeo before and I know that no matter how good it feels, I still get thrown off the horse most of the time. Nothing is for sure with these hundred-mile races.
In lap four the trail was deteriorating severely from so many people running on it. Between the four races of the day there were about 900 people on the course, each with two feet making tracks again and again over the same trails (except for one Marine in a knobby-tired wheelchair and one guy named Stephen dragging a twenty-pound auto tire). Maybe it was the wear and tear of the day, or maybe there was an unnoticeable adjustment from sliding around in the sticky mud that caused micro-tears, but my injured heel began to be noticeably aggrevated. After it got dark and I was once again on my own in a world of bobbing lights, the pain made me wince and almost brought me to my knees a couple times. I can deal with the fatigue and the soreness, but my overall objectives are long-term. Giving up a finish in favor of avoiding further debilitating injury always holds sway.
After about mile 60, I just walked, even though it was less painful to shuffle. I made a mental choice to withdraw and save it for another day. Maybe next weekend!!!!!!! It was 10 p.m. exactly when I finished lap four for 67 miles on the day. No regrets. The right choice. A good day. I like to think that I abandoned pride and ego and stubborness long ago and have become wiser. At the end of the day, I always search for what I may have learned; a new friend Megan, a fruitarian, completed her first one hundred mile race on mandarin oranges, green grapes, celery, and water alone, amounting to only 1700 calories. Very, very intriguing!!! Never too late to learn and grow. While respect for my physical limitations stopped me, I am pleased that my prep was spot on, as was my execution. I really would like to have seen what would have happened on a dry course, however. Maybe the Brazos gators have not seen the last of my jedi magic.