Monday, December 12, 2016

Breaking at Brazos (Warning: Epic Read)

So my season finally culminated this past weekend at Brazos Bend in Texas. As you may be aware, originally, I was slated to charge hard after the 100 mile. Well, in the world of not everything goes according to plan, a few days (Wednesday) out I changed my distance down to the 50 mile. My primary reason for this was I serious thought I was coming down with some illness that would impede my ability to run what I am capable for 100 miles. To be honest, I even thought 50 miles might be a stretch. However, flights were booked and the last thing I wanted to do was end the year with not even bothering to show up to race an event I was looking forward to.

With that said, my goal at Brazos was to just run a good 50 mile time. If you were to ask me my goal, I would say sub 6 but in reality, I seriously thought that would be a big stretch. Hey, I wasn't feeling 100% but I knew inside that I could at least finish 50 miles.

Anyways....on with this tail....

Mid-afternoon on Thursday, I met up with ultra-badass Maggie Guterl, who was running the 100, (you may or may not know her as Maggatron) at the Philadelphia Airport for our travels down to the Houston, Texas area. (I won't bore you with details of our layover in ATL, rental car pick-up...etc.)

Eventually, we arrived in Antarctica, I mean Texas. It bares mentioning that somehow temperatures in the 30's followed us down South. Definitely a little shock to the system. Especially considering, Texans don't seem to know how to handle cold weather. Thankfully, neither Maggie or I were going to be stuck out in the cold as for the first night we stayed with Maggie's friend, Kehl, (it is pronounced like the superfood kale), and his wife Mariah.

On Friday, it was difficult to leave to leave the comfort of blankets and fireplace at Kehl & Mariah's. (Is this really a surprise? You should know by now my love for blankets and fireplaces. All that was missing was hours of reading, which I did not do nearly enough of this past weekend.) More or less, the bulk of Friday was getting settled at our hotel (30 minutes from Brazos Bend State Park) and packet-pick up. As part of going to pick-up, Maggie and I met up with Caroline Boller for a shakeout run. We all discussed our goals. All of them may or may not have been met continue to find out....

Originally, my plan was to fuel during the race with Tailwind and use ShotBlocs. Race Director supreme, Rob Goyen told me he would have some for me since I still feel weird about small bags of white powder going through airport security. Anyways, I was feeling a bit out of my comfort zone so I opted to fall back on a variation of my original fuel method.....Gatorade & Water. Something about this plan felt calming. In the past, I added pedialyte to my mix. This time, I opted against it. Using Lemon Lime Gatorade, I filled all my bottles with a 2/3 Gatorade, 1/3 Water mix.

This is as good a point as any to talk about gear. I went in with:

2 Nathan ExoDraw bottles with 3 Tropical Punch and 3 Orange ShotBlocs taped to the bottle.
Nathan Peak waistpack w/ two flasks should I need the extra fluids later.
Montrail FluidFlex.
Smartwool socks

Since there is nothing special about my shorts, singlet and underwear, I don't think you need to know those specs.

With throwing caution to the wind and still aiming to take a crack at sub 6, my plan was to wear my Garmin GPS watch. That way, I wouldn't do anything too stupid.

After a meal consisting of Panera's Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup, I did get in some reading of my giant 800 page Theodore Roosevelt book (Wilderness Warrior) that talks about TR as a conservationist and naturalist, (Loving it!), before some shut eye.

Race morning, Maggie and I drove over to Brazos Bend State Park. While I was starting at 7am, Maggie went off at 6am. Maggie was going to be under the good care of her friend Nicole. Once we arrived, we hauled our gear over to a canopy and table being shared by Jeff Miller. (I didn't get a chance to thank you for this! I know you were using it because it was yours but it was helpful to have a good visual place for stuff in the perfect location.) Maggie went off to finish her prep and I went back to the rental to lay down for 45 minutes. Hey, it was still cold out. Sure, I was going to warm up once I started running but I wasn't running yet.

Those 45 minutes went by way too quick! Around 30 minutes before the start, I changed into my race shoes and socks. (I had a pair of FluidFlex II's as a backup in case I needed a shoe swap or if the FluidFlex didn't feel right on race morning.) Upon grabbing my GPS and turning it on, I got a surprise: LOW BATTERY. Yep, it drained in travel. I had charged it prior to leaving Philadelphia because I didn't want to bring the bulky charger in my already overfilled bag. Trusty Timex Ironman it is! With 3 loops, I at least could do easy math in my head on a per lap basis. Additionally, I remembered Aid Station 1 was around 4.1 miles in and Aid Station 2 was 9.2. None of the other markers I had committed to head but what my brain could contain would do.

Nicole offered to help me out too with anything I would need which was great having a support system. Mainly, bottle refills.

Following a little musical pump up of In Flames and Tower, I was as ready as I was gonna be. About 2 minutes before the start, I went up to the start line next to Caroline. With it being still cool, I was wearing a tech shirt and gloves. As soon as the final countdown ended, we were off. I went out fresh and comfortable. It was kind of surprising considering how I felt earlier in the week. During the first little out and back section of the course, as I was coming back, to my right a pack of wild pigs was running. They even decided to make a hard left and cross the trail we were running! They did after I passed. No word was mentioned about anyone getting taken out so I figure no runners or pigs were harmed during the course of that encounter. Near misses, yes, but nothing more.

And to think, this way we were told to pay more attention to the alligators that may be along the trail. Yes, gators!

As I made my way into the first AS, I was under 7 minute pace and thinking to myself, SLOW DOWN! Too early for that. So while I was comfortable, I was trying to be wise and not tax myself too much this early on, especially since I didn't know what the course was like. It was my first time on much of the course, aside from the small portion from the prior day. Around 6 miles in, I shed my shirt tossing it to a gent after I asked if I could. I kept the gloves on.

At aid station, two, much of the same mentally about pace. Too quick. Yet, now I was beginning to think, just accept it. Now, I was also making a note mentally how long it was taking me to get from the second aid station to the longer Sawmill section out and back. It was going to be the only way later on that I could be able to gauge my pace through the section.

With our canopy station, right before the lap finish, I swapped my first ExoDraw for the second, making sure to take one of the remaining ShotBlocs from the first bottle to consume immediately. My first lap split was around 1:53. HOLY MOLY!!! Might have been a hair too fast. In fact, MINUTES faster than my goal. I was aiming for closer to 2:00. Still I felt good. (And it was here the gloves literally came off.)

On the short out and back, no pigs happened upon me. However, I got to see Caroline was also crushing the course not far behind me. Oddly enough, the second lap was much like the first! Was feeling a smidgen harder but I was not feeling like I was red-lining. And my splits were fairly consistent with the first loop. (Maybe a tad faster.) It is worth noting that on the second out and back to Sawmill, I got the best surprise of the WHOLE weekend. My friend Laura was running in the Half Marathon race. It has been years since I saw her. She lives in Denton which is hours away from Brazos. Seriously, it put a pep in my step. (Rob, your race is bringing long lost friends back together! Okay, not lost but you get the point.)

Finishing up the second lap, I made the pit stop. I didn't swap bottles, I topped off. Why I didn't grab the second? My brain told me it was going to not be comfortable. I had a comfortable grip. (Yes, it sounds stupid but that is where my brain was.) Really, what I should have done is just grab the second along for the ride. In retrospect that might have been the wiser thing to do. And while I had the Peak available, I was past the point of wanting to dead stop to put it on. I did feel some cramping coming on in my quads making me fumble through my bag trying to find the baggie with my Advil. Thankfully, Nicole and Jeff's crew dug up some quick out for me.


Now, I was 14 minutes under 6 hour pace. I was feeling pumped from passing the start/finish. Yet, no longer after that I started to begin sway. At the turnaround point, it was like a dead stop feel that my legs really did not want to move again. That right there was my oh-no point. Signs were now clearly beginning to point downward spiral. Still, I kept moving. Maybe not as fast. And certainly not much ahead of Caroline who was in the midst of a race for the ages. Around a mile after the turnaround, I had to walk. We had a slight minor headwind (or that is at least how my body was reading it) and I was feeling light headed. My body needed a breather. This went on for a minute or two. I downed most of my ExoDraw. I'd say, I don't think I would have been able to recover from the spiral if not for that decision to walk and drink. Sure it meant, I had to stop and take aid at 4.2. It was easy to decide because I knew I would be able to get Gatorade. My split here was 3-4 minutes slower than my prior two trips. 1/4 of the way through the loop and survival is in effect.

At the same 6 mile mark where I earlier tossed my shirt, I got the second coolest surprise of the weekend, Fran, the dinosaur! Laura brought her prehistoric friend with her. Luckily, I still had enough in my legs to not be eaten. Fran did look a little hungry. Still a small child would have been a more sizable meal than my skin and bones.

Fran is looking hungry. PC: Trail Racing Over Texas

Caroline was now on my heels. In fact, around 40 miles, she passed me. She was obliterating the course. Did I try to keep her in sight? Yeah. Did I? For a little bit. Caroline is an amazing runner who knows how to close. Throughout the rest of the race, she increased her lead. So yes, she won. (More on that later because after all this is about my race at the moment.)

At the 9.2 mile aid station, I was if math served me correctly, 7 minutes slower than the prior two loops. I couldn't afford to give back any more time to God of the Clocks if I wanted sub 6. With such a time in sight, I wanted it. I moved as fast as I could. Yes, I hit the 9.2 mile and Sawmill aid stations for coke shots on the way out. I needed the jolt. I was on fumes. Sure it was costing me time but doing otherwise would likely have put me further in energy debt (as I'm calling it.)

 Once that finish line was in sight, I knew I was going to do it. With time to spare! Crossing the line, I stopped my watch at 5:51:26. A 15 1/2 minute PR off my previous 6:07 best. (Might be one of the top 50 mile times in the country this year. Have to wait and see on that.)

Going into 2016 after the struggles I had last year, I honestly never would have expected this performance. Can I improve on it? Time will tell. At least, I don't have to race a road 50 mile to go under anymore. (This will make 2017 much more fun since a possible race just got dropped.)

Now about Caroline's result. It was an American Record for 50 miles on trail. She ran 5:48:01 winning the race outright!!!! In our conversation the day before she shared she wanted sub 6. Did she ever get it! It is a privilege to have witnessed so much of it. (After all, I didn't get to the finish in time for that. I was busy at that moment.)

High Five with the American Record Holder!    PC: Trail Racing Over Texas

Her time shattered the previous best from back in 1994! Plus, it was Caroline's 42nd Birthday! Talk about giving yourself a big 'ol present!

Also, her time bested the previous overall course record men or women at Brazos Bend by 9 seconds! Fastest ever!

I'm biased by that is the Ultra Performance of the Year for Women in my eyes.

Of course, Brazos Bend still had a little 100 miler going on. You know, Maggie's race.

Well, I was a horrible friend for a little bit as an hour after my race, I went to the hotel for a shower, check in back home, clean clothes and a little rest not in the back of a SUV.

Three hours later I was back and got news Maggie was on pace for the women's American trail record of 14:22 in the 100 mile! HOLY! Instantly, I'm the edge of my seat wanting to witness more history. Also, Nicole told me that Maggie was now leading the whole 100 miler! Wow, this was exciting. It was dark now but the air was definitely electric. Everyone was routing for her.

She finished her 5th of 6th laps with around 2:20 to go 16.67 miles. It was doable but gonna be close. Her Trail Racing Over Texas teammates Jeff Ball and Katie Graff were going to split pacing duties. Every single moment she was out there we all wanted to know where and how much time she had. The suspense!

Eventually, we got word that she was having some problems of the puking variety. Still she was going to PR and run a huge time that was going to put her on the all time list. While the fastest two times came and passed, Maggie turned in the 3rd fastest 100 mile on trail and 7th fastest overall regardless of surface with her 14:47:02 (it was 6th at the time but bumped to 7th after a WR later that day.).

As if that was not enough, like Caroline, Maggie now owns the fastest time ever by anyone in the 100 mile at Brazos Bend.

I wish I could say that the day after was nearly as exciting but lets face it, it was a struggle. Maggie and I definitely were rocking the sore runners shuffle. We did go back to watch the finish of the races for a fitting end to the race related portion of the weekend.

You can imagine what traveling back home was like. I'll leave that to your imagination because I've written a lot and want to do some thanks.

Total thanks first and foremost has to go to Peg. She is my biggest supporter and I don't do this without her.

Rob, Rachel and the rest of the Trail Racing Over Texas folks! You made me feel welcome all weekend long.

Second thanks for Rob to believing in me to think I could run a fast time at Brazos. Sorry it just wasn't in the 100. Next time.

Maggie who is just too awesome a friend and without her this PR never happens. Thanks for introducing me to Rob after Viaduct. PA Power!

I would be remiss to not thank Nathan Sports and Montrail for making products that work for me.

Ok....signing off now. And....spent.


  1. Dude your time is phenominal! Big congrats! And I totally agree on Boller's POY. Beating a 23 year old record held by a legend in Trason three weeks post 2nd at JFK, truly remarkable.

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  3. Great story Mike and it was great seeing you come flying through the aid stations as I was waiting on Caroline! That was an absolute amazing race!

    Awesome job out there!