I had the ambitious plan to travel to Louisiana and run the Cajun Coyote 100, then Jo and I would meander our way to Houston Texas and run the Brazos Bend 100 on the following weekend. Seems simple enough, right?
The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
Cajun Coyote was important to me because I had won the race the previous year and I wanted to have a solid race, and hopefully land on the podium. After leading the race for several miles, I dropped off the front, content with following for a while. At mile 21, I got immobilizing stomach cramps that ended my day. In the blink of an eye, it was over.
I licked my wounds while volunteering at an aid station through most of the night, helping others finish the race that I was no longer able to participate in.
Then I turned my attention to the Brazos Bend 100.
The Brazos Bend 100 is held at the Brazos Bend State Park, outside of Houston Texas. This event consists of a half marathon, full marathon, 50 mile race, 100 mile race and a 100 mile relay. For my race, we would be running four, 25 mile loops through the park. The trail could be characterized as a mix of double track, ATV road and equestrian trails. Almost DEAD FLAT the entire way.
People sometimes confuse "FLAT" with "EASY". I have yet to see the correlation. 100 miles is always hard.
Pre-Race Interview for Ultra Live TV
I had two goals for this race:
1) Run a comfortable, easy pace for the entire race
2) Finish in under 22 hours
Aid stations are abundant on this course and you're never more than 3.5 miles away from your next opportunity for aid. This allowed me to run with a single handheld bottle (that I had to borrow from the Race Director because I forgot to bring one. Thanks, Rob.) Because of this, and because Hammer Nutrition was the race sponsor, therefor the aid stations would be stocked with all my favorite fueling options, we decided Jo would stay at the start/finish line and crew me from there for the entire race. I would only see her three times.
No pacer, no drop bags, minimal crew. Just a bottle in my hand and pocket full of gels.
At 6:00 AM. we headed into the swamp for our first 25 mile loop.
The sun was up 30 minutes later, which meant I had to carry that stupid headlamp until I finished my first 25 mile loop.
I was running deep into the top 10 for the first several miles. I was bouncing from runner to runner, striking up conversations and enjoying the run.
It's always hard to gauge the proper pace when you're on a flat course. My general rule is this...if it's comfortable, back it down slightly. The key is to go slower than I think I should. As runners began to warm up, I was passed by a few people but didn't give chase. We had a long way to go and plenty of time.
As the sun came up, it got much warmer than I was acclimated for, reaching about 70 degrees and very humid. Water was pouring out of my body and I worked hard to gauge my fluid and electrolyte intake, using Hammer Electrolyte Fizz tabs and HEED. I felt like I was drinking WAY too much, so I estimated that to be about perfect for these conditions.
With the rising temps, the alligators began to creep from the swamp to bask in the sun. In some cases, they were within a couple of feet of the trail. Because I had lived in Florida for so many years, I was accustomed to gators and they didn't get much attention from me. But I've also had enough trouble with them in the past to warrant giving them space and respect. You'd be surprised how fast a pissed off gator can be.
The trail was fast and smooth...for the first 2/3 of the loop. Then we entered a well used equestrian trail that was sloppy with mud and pocked with deep hoof prints. Footing was a pain in this section and I found myself slowing down to pick my way through the mess. In the areas where the mud had dried, the trail was hard baked clay with ankle rolling hoof prints, perfect for breaking an ankle.
I finished that first loop in just over 4 hours. That was a bit slower than my plan, but I hadn't expected to run into trouble on the equestrian trail.
Jo met me at the aid station to fill my bottle with HEED and give me a fresh supply of gels. I was in and out in just a couple of minutes.
The rising temperatures forced me to slow my pace on the 2nd loop. I felt like this was the most important stretch of the race and I needed to get to 50 miles, feeling strong. I focused on my fueling and hydration more than usual because it would be easy to fall behind in a race like this.
There are several "Water Only" aid stations on the course, but each one has a box filled with an endless variety of Hammer gels. In the early miles of the race, I was sifting through the boxes, trying to find my favorite flavors. As the miles wore on, I was just plunging my hand into the box, grabbing whatever flavor happened to emerge and jamming them into my pockets. Kinda risky, but it worked.
I finished the 2nd loop in 4:46, giving myself a 50 mile split of 8:54. I felt like I was right on track and I was feeling great.
Before heading out on the my 3rd loop, Jo handed me my headlamp because it would be dark before I made it back to the start area. Once again, carrying that stupid light on my head in the daylight.
The 3rd loop is where the carnage began to reveal itself. A lot of runners were depleted, behind on fuel or hydration. There was a lot of sluggish running and hiking. I made a point to slow up and check on each one, offering a gel and a bit of conversation before pushing on. This really helped to break up the monotony of the flats.
When it finally got dark...it got DARK! I tried to run without a light a few times and instantly went blind. And as night fell, the swamp came to life. Wild pigs were noisily rooting around and darting through the woods, gators were calling back and forth and all kinds of critters were dashing across the trail. Brazos Bend is an eerie place at night.
Finishing Lap Three
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Ball
I finished lap 3 in 5:22, putting me at mile 75 in 14:16. It felt slow, but it was comfortable and I was still on pace for a pretty solid finish.
The fourth loop was tough. My left hip flexor was starting to scream at me, not liking all the flat running at all. It seemed to flare up, then fade. I was forced to slow down when it acted up and try to take advantage of the times it felt better.
At this point, I had my eye on a possible sub 20 hour finish, but that would only be possible if I could keep a decent pace through the pain.
I was passing a lot of runners on the final loop. I knew I was lapping some of them, but I also suspected I was gaining some positions. While a lot of people lingered in the aid stations, I pushed right on through, sometimes not stopping at all. As long as I had HEED in the bottle and Hammer gels in my pocket, I was good to go.
I crossed the finish line in 19:43:12 with my final loop taking me 5:27 to complete. That time was good enough for 9th overall and 8th male. I was a little surprised to learn that the first two finishers came in under 16 hours!
Rob Goyen, the Race Director, was catching his first real nap when I came across the finish line and I didn't want to wake him up, but I also knew he would disappointed not to get a finish line photo with me, so we improvised.
There were 818 people registered for the Brazos Bend races, which sets a record for a single trail event in Texas. This is remarkable because this is a new event and it's only going to grow and draw even more talented runners over the years. I'm excited to see how this takes shape in the future.
This race ALMOST wraps up our racing for the year, but we still get to head to Arizona and run the Across the Years 48 hour race. Then it's off to Brazil for 175 miles in the hot and humid jungle!
Thanks for taking the time to read my report.