People like to say that running long distances is 90% mental and 10% physical. When I wake up after running 100 miles, my brain is fine but my body is wrecked, so I'm not 100% sold on that theory. Just a casual observation as I sit here in pain.
Running the Cajun Coyote 100 mile trail race was a suggestion from a friend that lives in that part of Louisiana. He brought it to my attention because he felt like I could perform well on those trails and that I might even have a chance to win the race. While I liked what he was saying, I pretty much discarded the thought of winning the race, or any other for that matter. Nonetheless, I signed up for it, put it on my race calendar and put it out of my mind.
Some people characterize the Cajun Coyote as a "flat" race. I'll agree that it doesn't have the huge, sustained climbs that we have in the West, but I certainly wouldn't call it flat.
The race consists of five, 20 mile loops. The first two loops are run clockwise, the third is run counterclockwise, and then the final two loops are run clockwise again. Reversing loops in the middle of the race makes for a great change of scenery and allows the runners to interact on the course. And if you're up front, it also allows you to see where your competition is.
This event also has a 20 mile option and a 100k option. The 100k starts at the same time as my race, and the 20 miler starts 3 hours later.
Jo and I flew into Lafayette, Louisiana on Thursday, rented a car and drove to Ville Platte. We started off our trip by finding an abandoned CD in the disc player of our rental car. Even though I'm not a fan, I took this as a sign of good luck!
Probably Left Behind by a Foreign Tourist
Like the rest of the country, Louisiana was going through an unusual spell of very cold and wet weather. I was expecting a subtropical run but was greeted by rain and temperatures in the 30's. While I was initially bummed out about it, I realized it was probably much better weather for the race.
Pre-Race With My Friends, Matt and Betsy
Race Director, Jeffrey Beck, Giving Pre-Race Instructions
At 6:22 AM, we were sent on our journey.
I vowed to go out slow and easy so I could do some recon on the first loop and save my legs. I wasn't surprised, however, that my plan failed immediately and I was leading the race. Nonetheless, it felt like an easy pace, so I just went with it.
After a few moments, I was joined by Ricky Handley. I knew Ricky was a fast runner and had come here to win the race. He tucked in behind me as we sailed down the trail together making casual conversation.
Sweet Single Track
I kept expecting (hoping) that Ricky would pass me. I hate the pressure that comes from leading a race, especially early. I drifted to my right and slowed down several times, but he wouldn't take the bait. I was simply stuck in the lead.
I sped up, trying to shake him or break his resolve, but he held on tight, just off my shoulder. We both made small talk and pretended we weren't racing each other. Mindless banter as we sailed over rocks, roots, creeks and mud, pushing a ridiculously fast pace.
We came to the first aid station at mile 4 and blasted right through it without slowing down.
When we came to the aid station at mile 9, they clearly weren't expecting runners this early because they were still setting up the tables. We yelled out our numbers and kept on moving.
About 10 miles into the race, Ricky pulled off the trail to relieve some pressure on his bladder. I assumed this was his excuse to slow down while I kept trucking down the trail. After a few minutes, he was once again glued to my shoulder.
At this point, I had to accept the fact that this was the "Ricky and Kelly Show". This guy wasn't going anywhere!
We finished the first 20 miles together, completing it in 2:56. I came into the start/ finish aid station, dropped my depleted pack, grabbed a full pack that Jo had ready, and headed out. Ricky was still in the aid station when I left and I expected to see him within a few minutes.
I never saw him on the trail again. He dropped from the race with IT band issues.
I was out in front all alone for the first time in the race.
Shortly into the second loop, I began to catch up with runners that had started the 20 mile race later in the morning. I was running hard and without exception, they all stepped off the trail to make room for me while shouting encouragement.
Once again, I didn't stop at any of the aid stations, relying solely on my Hammer Peanut Butter gel and Endurolyte Fizz Tabs for fuel and hydration.
Coming in at 40 Miles
After finishing my second loop, I switched hydration packs, drank a PBR, stole a kiss from my bride and hauled ass back to the trail.
This would be my third loop, so I would be running it in reverse. I was looking forward to the distraction of oncoming runners because I had been totally alone since Ricky left the race.
Sun on the Cyprus
I was more than 2 miles into the trail before I encountered the first runner coming back towards me, meaning this person was 4 miles behind me in the race. I didn't know if this was the 2nd place 100 miler, or one of the many 100k runners on the course. I decided to assume this was my competition and made a mental note of where he was and how much time I had on him.
One of Many Bridges in the Swamp
It was great to see all the other runners and get encouragement from them as we passed each other. I had been pushing hard, I was tired and it was nice to see the smiling faces of the people I was sharing the trail with. Again, without exception, they all stepped off the trial and made room for me to keep moving along my way.
By now, the aid station volunteers had seen me leading the race long enough that they were able to immediately recognize me. Even before I entered the aid stations, I could hear them screaming my name. "Here comes Kelly!!!". Their excitement was infectious!
It was during the third loop that I began to stop at aid stations and supplement my diet with Coke. The extra sugar and caffeine really helped me fight of fatigue.
I knew my pace was slowing with each loop, so I began to concentrate on the trail behind me. I had never won a race and I had never led a race for so many miles. The thought of winning was beginning to take root in my brain and the fear of losing my position was eating away at me. There were a lot of thoughts and emotions swimming around inside me.
Just as I was lost in thought about the race and how it was unfolding, I met up with my friend Betsy Rogers. She was heading toward me on the trail and we stopped briefly to talk. When she saw me, she gave me a big hug and congratulated me on leading the race. That tiny, innocent gesture caused me to choke up a bit, so I knew it was time to go!
Finishing 60 Miles, Still Leading
When I finished the 3rd loop, I realized this was the end of the 100k race and I had beat ALL of the 100k runners. I briefly wondered if I could drop down, claim the 100k win and start my celebration early.
Instead, I simply opted to celebrate leading the first 60 miles of the race and drank some beer anyway.
Borrowed Beer From a Spectator
I made a quick gear change, got prepared for night running, and headed back to the trail for my 4th, 20 mile loop.
As dusk settled in, the woods came alive with deer, wild boars and armadillos. I hate armadillos. I don't know why I have an issue with them because they're totally harmless, but the little bastards creep me out. I had close encounters with two of them on the trail and both encounters led to a loud and very girlish squeal.
I was thankful to be totally alone because that was just embarrassing.
Darkness slowed me down and so did the onset of fatigue. I had been pushing a hard pace for 70 miles and things were beginning to hurt. I was walking the steep inclines and gingerly running down the backsides. My whole body was feeling tenderized. Thankfully, I only had 50k to go.
Finishing Loop 4. Mile 80
This Stuff Makes it Hard to Leave an Aid Station
By now, the assumption was that I had at least an hour lead on the 2nd place runner. Even at that, I was unable to feel secure in my chances to win. Partly because the concept was foreign to me and partly because I was feeling wrecked and the possibility of crashing or scoring a DNF were still very real. I was proceeding with caution.
Before heading out on my final loop, I grabbed Burke Jones, my pacer. Burke is the person that suggested this race to me. He was the reason I was there and he had made an astute call regarding my ability to run this race well. I was looking forward to our time on the trail together.
Burke had been briefed on how I like to be paced and he was fully aware of the little things that annoy me while being paced. He started off our journey by trying to annoy me. I knew he was kidding and his little game made me laugh. That's exactly what I needed after 80 miles of stressing my mind and body. I knew right away that we were going to have a good run together.
We cruised down the trail, walking the hills and picking our way down the steepest descents. I was forced to walk some short sections when the burning in my legs got too intense, but I was still moving pretty well. My feet were battered, my ankles were swelling and my quads were screaming. Pretty typical stuff for a 100 mile trail race.
We spent a lot of time discussing the race but we didn't talk about my potential win very much. I still didn't want to fully acknowledge the possibility. If I accepted it, then lost it, the effects would have crushed me. It was easier to pretend that it was possible...but not likely. That reality was easier to accept.
We rolled into Aid Station #2, and while I was fueling on Coke, Burke asked the volunteers about the location of the 2nd place runner. They looked in the records and let us know that I had a 90 minute lead on him during the previous loop, but that he was still gunning for me and thought he could catch me.
I didn't doubt the possibility, so we moved on. Quickly.
After passing through the final aid station, and with 4 miles to go, I allowed myself to accept the reality of my impending win. It finally seemed inevitable. Burke and I began to discuss it as if it were real and the feelings of stress and strain began to wash away.
For those final 4 miles, I was just running in the woods with a friend. They were the most blissful miles of the entire race.
Crossing the Finish in 19:01:10, Winning the Cajun Coyote 100!
Me and Burke Celebrating
A Winners Trophy and PBR!
The emotions I felt when I crossed the finish line reminded me of the rush of joy when I finished my first marathon. It's a mix of accomplishment, enthusiasm and pride that I have never felt through any other endeavor. I had almost forgotten those feelings as racing has become more routine. I welcomed the return of those emotions and am happy to have a reminder that what we accomplish on the race course IS significant and worth celebrating.
I was happy to share this experience with Burke and especially Jo. She has sacrificed so much for me so I can chase these races around the country and I know she was as excited as I was for the win. I know I couldn't do it without her!
Unlike most races, I've already decided to return next year so I can shave some time off this years effort. The course was fun and the volunteers were absolutely incredible. The people running the race and working the aid stations are fully dedicated to the success of the race and the well being of the runners. I was constantly impressed with this event.
I would love to end 2013 on this obvious high note, but I still have one more race to go before the end of the year. Jo and I will be back in Arizona for the Across The Years 48 Hour race during the New Year holiday. I'll consider the Cajun Coyote 100 my last long training run for that event.
Thanks for reading and thanks for all the support. I hope to see many of you out on the trails very soon.