Brazos Bend 100

Warning: this is going to be really, really long. Short version: I finished my first 100 miler.

The buildup
Last year I attempted my first 100 miler – Brazos Bend 100 just southwest of Houston. My run training was great, I ran a couple marathons as training runs, I did some awesome back to back long runs, I felt ready. The night before the race it rained about 5 inches, which made the trails a muddy, sloppy mess. I made a few mistakes along the way. I made it to mile 96 with the help of my most awesome crew Lisa and Kathryn, and pacers Lisa, Julie, and Heather. The sloppy trails did a number on my back and my core wasn’t strong enough to keep me upright by the end. Shortly before the last aid station (mile 96) it got so bad I couldn’t take more than a few steps at a time. Heather, my pacer for that last loop, tried everything to keep me going, but eventually we had to text Lisa to bring my car around. They half carried, half dragged me to the car and drove me to the finish.

I was proud of what I’d done. 96 miles was enough. After a couple weeks off from running, I decided to focus on getting faster again and qualifying for Boston with a spring marathon. I was meeting a group of friends in Toledo for the Glass City Marathon in April (which was an amazing and awesome weekend and I can’t believe I never did a race report), so that became my focus. I got a training plan from RunSmartOnline which included a lot of strength training. I trained hard, ran lots of miles, and ended up running my third fastest marathon (and fastest since 2013). I was targeting 3:50, which is a BQ-5 for my age group, and ended up with a 3:46:32. I had moved on.

And then that 96 started to bother me. To the surprise of apparently no one but myself, I signed up for Brazos Bend again. I got a camping spot for our Winnebago Revel so I could stay at the park the night before. Summer came and as I started to increase my long runs, I realized the Houston heat was getting to me more this summer than in the past. I was frustrated, but instead did several back to back medium long runs, like 16 miles one day and 14 miles the next. I just couldn’t go farther than that. I did keep up with the strength training and kettlebell videos from RSO at least, and ran plenty of miles, just not a lot of long runs.

It finally started to cool down a bit. I got in three weeks with back to back long runs and my weekly mileage was in the 60-70 mile range. I was just sitting on the couch one Sunday afternoon (after an easy 7 miler that morning) and when I got up, the bottom of my right foot hurt so bad I could barely put any pressure on it. I limped around trying not to freak out. It was still hurting Monday and Tuesday, so Tuesday morning I decided to make an appointment with Airrosti for the end of the week. I figured I’d just cancel if it miraculously fixed itself. They had an opening that day so I went ahead and booked it. Dr. Sigler worked a miracle. After a week and a half (and four visits for him to inflict extreme pain treat this peroneal tendonitis I developed,  I was back to running with no pain. A couple weeks of buildup, a couple weeks of long runs, and it was time to taper. Not nearly the training I had last year, but I felt more confident, and I had kept up with my strength training and core work.

But why? Why would you want to do this?
This year was a lot about redemption. Last year I started a race report and never finished it – kind of like the race itself! But this is what I wrote about my “why,” and I think it still applies:

Why, you ask? Why would anyone want to try to run 100 miles? I had several reasons. I wanted to see if had the mental toughness to run for 24+ hours straight. I wanted to prove to myself that I could take on something big and not quit. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone.  

I get inspired weekly by my runners training for marathons and half marathons. A lot of them never thought of themselves as runners, and never considered ever running that far. And yet they show up every week and run, farther than they ever have and feeling more accomplished every week. Okay, not every week, sometimes there are the really crappy runs where they end up questioning why they are doing this and if they can do it, and it’s my job to remind them where they started, reassure them that they can, explain that bad runs happen and sometimes you have no idea why, and encourage them to keep going and accomplish their goals. Anyway, somewhere along the way the last couple years I decided I wanted to try something new, something big, something way outside my comfort zone.  

Let’s be honest, I’m not the most outgoing person out there. I am not a natural leader. I’ll sit behind the leader and make spreadsheets and plans and powerpoint presentations and newsletters – I’ll do all kinds of work, but I’m not the one up front talking to people and motivating them. That’s waaaaaaay outside my comfort zone. Or at least it was, until I started coaching a running group. And becoming that leader, the one standing up and explaining things, the one helping people accomplish their goals – that has made me a much better person. And a happier person. Getting outside your comfort zone does some pretty amazing things. 

So something big. A marathon, a 50K, a 50 miler – done that. 40 mile race to the top of a mountain and back down, just because the mountain is Mount Mitchell and I’m a Mitchell? Done. Qualify for and run Boston? Yep. Qualify for and run NYCM? Yep. I guess it’s time for a 100 miler.

But what about the race itself? Are you ever going to get around to the actual race?
Brazos Bend 100 is put on by Trail Racing Over Texas. I’ve done a couple of their other races in the area, and I’ve volunteered at one of their events, so I knew it would be a fun atmosphere and the course would be well marked. There is also a 50 miler, marathon and half marathon, so at least for awhile, there are a lot of other people on the trail to keep me from getting bored or lost.The 100 miler is six loops of 16.74 miles. After the first three loops (50 miles), you can have a pacer for each of the last three loops. My friend Kathryn drove over from San Antonio to be my crew. My neighbor Sean (training with my running group for his first marathon) agreed to pace me for my fourth loop. My friend Sandy flew into town from St. Paul, MN to pace me on my fifth loop. And Himanshu, another friend that I’ve been running with the last three years, agreed to pace the last loop. By the way, if you’re looking for a detailed description of the course (flat, runnable trails) or race, you’re not going to find that here – you’re going to get my thoughts and experiences. Just thought I’d throw that out there before you get even farther into this.

I picked up Sandy from the airport Friday morning and we drove down to meet Kathryn. We had an awesome barbecue lunch, picked up my packet, checked them into a hotel and got some provisions for them for the weekend. Mike drove the van down after work and met us for dinner, then he and I took the van to the park to sleep for the night.

I was paranoid about getting sick the week leading up to the race, and was popping Zicam like it was going out of style. I stayed healthy, and then Mike showed up to dinner saying he almost called and said he was staying home because he had been sick all day at work. He was miserable all weekend. And Monday. And part of Tuesday. He was up probably every hour running to the bathroom. Despite that, I got a decent night’s sleep, or at least better than anticipated with a 100 miler planned the next morning.

Focus, Karen! You’re supposed to be talking about the actual race!
I slept until almost 5:00 a.m., then got ready and walked over to the start. Texted Kathryn and Sandy when I got there about 5:40. Quick bathroom stop and it was pretty much time to head for the 6:00 a.m. start. I lined up what looked like 2/3s of the way to the back of the pack and waited. I heard the guy standing right behind me talking to the guy next to him say “I haven’t seen Kat and AJ…..since the wedding.” I turned around and said “Are you Joe?” Kat and AJ are my neighbors, and I knew their friend Joe was running the hundred – we follow each other on Strava. That was pretty cool and it was nice to actually meet him. Right at 6 a.m. we took off. I tried to keep the pace nice and easy and take plenty of walk breaks. I was feeling stiff and sore and everything seemed harder than it should. ON THE FIRST LOOP. I tried not to worry, but I worried.

It was a beautiful morning – low 50s, crisp and clear. I even stopped and took a picture as it was starting to get light.

This race was the USATF 100 Mile Trail Championship race, so if you were a USATF member, you got a bib for your back as well as your front. The one on the back said OPEN if you were under 40, or your age group if you were over 40. I figured I’d never run in a national championship race again, so I might as well join USATF so I could say I was a part of it. So in addition to my bib number on the front (which was 96, and a coincidence but also a reminder to me about quitting last year), I wore a big 50-54 on my back. Shortly after the first aid station, an older gentleman caught up to me and told me jokingly that he was going to report me for obviously lying about my age because I looked like I should be wearing the open bib. I may have told him he was my favorite person, we chatted for a minute and he pulled ahead. We passed each other several times over the next few miles as we took our walk breaks. I found out later that was Gordy Ainsleigh!

There is a long, boring out and back on the second half of the loop. At the turnaround is an aid station. Right before I got there I saw Sarah heading back out. We have a lot of the same friends but don’t really know each other, although we’ve become facebook friends. She finished last year and has been super encouraging. After a quick aid station stop, I headed back and saw Kathy and two of her friends running the 50 miler (they started an hour later), who had just stopped to wish Sarah luck. Selfies were taken of all of us, and then the three 50s continued their way and I ran a few miles with Sarah as we headed back to the start/finish and the end of loop 1.

I was having fun but still worrying because everything felt hard. I realized in my hurry to get out of the van to let Mike sleep, I didn’t have any coffee. I texted Kathryn about 4 miles out to tell her where I was and that I wanted coffee when I came through. They had a cup ready for me when I came through so I sat a few minutes and drank it. They asked how I was doing and I told them I felt bad. They reassured me I was right on pace. Before the race I had put together a spreadsheet with two columns – Amazing pace and Aw Crap pace. It helped me realize that I could go out really slow and still finish, so when in doubt, slow down. Apparently I came in about 5 minutes ahead of my amazing pace estimate, then took an extra 5 minutes to drink my coffee and left exactly to the minute my best-case prediction.

Kathryn was such an amazing crew. Almost every time I came through the start/finish, there was something new. I’m sure the other runners were jealous of our tent with a palm tree, tiki torches, a disco ball, Christmas lights, and more!

And when she ran out of ways to decorate the tent, she took it to the next level (after loop 4, I think):

Okay, back to the race. I started feeling better during the second loop. At first I was still hurting and worrying, then I looked at my watch and saw I was at mile 21, and I thought “of course you’re hurting, you’ve run 21 miles!” At that point I changed my mindset from “I shouldn’t be hurting so early in the race” to “Things are going to hurt, just suck it up and get used to it.” A combination of the change in mindset and that cup of coffee kicking in, and suddenly I was feeling better mentally and physically.

Change your attitude! Drink your coffee!

I was obviously feeling much better at the end of loop 2, as this picture taken by Texas YETI Runner and posted on facebook shows. Highlights of the second loop were seeing Santa and Mrs. Claus running the half marathon, and chatting and running a few steps with Gene Dykes, world record holder for the marathon for the 70-74 age group. He told me he thought my strategy of not being in the open division (remember, I had a big 50-54 on my back) was a great one, but I really should run in his division, as most of his competition was six feet under! I saw Kathy again on that same out and back, and she said Wayne (her husband) was trying to get ahold of Mike with no luck. I told her Mike wasn’t feeling well and might still be sleeping in the van.

Mr. and Mrs. Claus running the half. And an inflatable alligator in a tree.

I had told Kathryn and Sandy I was going to slow down even more than anticipated the third loop. It was getting hot out there, and I had started walking every time I was in the sun and running in the shade. I planned to continue that for all of loop 3, and there was a lot of sun on the course. It was in the low 70s, which was perfect for those hanging out, but a little warm for running. Still no word from Mike, so I texted him on the way out for loop 3. He responded that he was there and just missed me coming through.

What I remember most from this loop was a runner coming towards me saying there was an alligator by the lake around the corner. I turned the corner and came to an abrupt stop. When he said “by the lake” I didn’t expect it to be just a few feet off the trail! We had a group text of crew and pacers, so I took a picture and sent it to the group.

I was still feeling pretty good at the end of loop 3, and was happy to see Mike as I came through the start/finish. He had been hanging out with Wayne, who was waiting for Kathy to finish. He told me I was walking funny and walked with me down to our tent. He can always make me laugh.

I felt great, but my crew was on top of things and knew it would be dark soon and I’d be slowing down, so they made me take a jacket and put it around my waist. Sean was there ready to go for loop 4. I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous about both Sean and Himanshu pacing me, because they both run around 8:30 minute miles as their easy/long run pace. My running pace for this race was more like 12:30, and there were going to be long and significant walk breaks between the running. But they were both fantastic. For this loop I was still pretty coherent and able to run a good bit. The sun went down less than an hour into our run. It cooled off and was a quiet, beautiful night. We ran slowly, we walked, we chatted some, we were quiet some. I asked how Ashley (Sean’s wife, also training for her first marathon) did on her 18 miler that morning, and learned that she killed it. A few miles in Sean said something like “this is really nice out here, I want to run a 100 miler.” Coach Karen came out and said whoa, whoa, whoa, let’s get you through a marathon first. But on the inside I was smiling.

About 6 miles into the loop you run pretty close to the start/finish. It’s just across a small lake. As we ran by there we heard a lot of cheering and yelling. I said I bet that was the overall winner. It was – he finished in 12:21! We kept running and walking. When I would start running, every part of my legs would hurt, but I learned if I just ran through that for maybe 15-20 steps, things started feeling better and it was actually better than walking. Then I’d run until I was breathing hard and we’d walk again. Before I knew it, we were heading to the start/finish.

I was starting to get mentally tired, so I had texted asking for coffee before heading out for loop 5. Of course they had it ready for me. I also put on more clothes, because I was getting a little cold when we walked, so I put on pants over my capris. Then Sandy and I headed out for loop 5. I was pretty sure that almost 67 miles in, and starting to get late, we’d be doing a lot of walking. We took off at a pretty good walking pace and everything was fine, and then my stomach decided I shouldn’t have had that coffee. I felt miserable. At one point about 3 miles into loop 5, I just stopped, put my hands on my thighs, and bent over. Two quick things: 1) I didn’t realize Sandy was really nervous about pacing me and what to do if things went bad, and 2) Sandy has not thrown up since 8th grade and has an extreme dislike/fear/aversion to vomit. So she immediately started freaking out. She felt much better when I explained I really had to poop. I, on the other hand, was concerned because we were still about a mile from the first aid station. I know, TMI. We made it to the aid station unscathed, and lucky for me that was the one with real bathrooms right next to it. I felt so much better after that. I took a couple Tums from my drop bag for added good measure.

We walked some more, then eventually I got up my nerve to try a little joggity jog. It hurt, but again, if I just persisted through that first allover pain, it got better. This was an a-ha moment on what went wrong last year. Last year when it hurt to start running, I immediately stopped. But guess what? I hadn’t trained to walk 34 miles (basically the last two loops). That was probably a huge factor in the back pain and my inability to walk at all late in the race last year. So for the rest of loop 5, we walked a little, ran a little. The walks were longer and the runs shorter, but again, things loosened up during those short little jogs.

I recently finished reading David Goggins’ book. A neighbor had given it to me awhile back, but I’d never gotten around to finishing it until a couple weeks ago. Sandy had also read the book a few months ago. We talked about some of the crazy injuries and stuff he ran through. If he could do half the stuff he did, I could run through those first moments of pain when running. So thanks for the book, AJ!

Before I knew it we were back at the start/finish for my final loop with Himanshu. I was really out of it last year at this point, and this year I felt good. Starting to feel like this time I was going to make it. But also tired. So tired of running.

Himanshu and I took off at a brisk walking pace. At this point I wasn’t sure if I had the energy to run at all. He kept me walking fast and we talked a little, but mostly I just stared at the ground in front of me and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. It got really foggy, and I was afraid to try to run when I couldn’t see very far in front of me, so we ended up walking almost the entire time until we got to that long out and back with like 7 or 8 miles to go. My Garmin had died by this point (don’t get me started on my Garmin issues) so I knew the course, but with more walking than running I had a hard time knowing how much farther I had to go. Himanshu told me when we’d gone 10 miles. That meant just a little more than a 10k to go! We made it to the aid station at the end of the out and back, where I quit last year. I talked a little to the guy recording bib numbers and told him this was when I quit last time, and he told me I was going to do it this year and he was proud of me. “Thank you, random stranger!” He laughed and said all the volunteers there were so proud of and impressed with us out there. Then he told me to go get that buckle. I texted Kathryn that I was leaving that aid station for the last time, and asked her to text Mike and let him know when I was closer to the finish. He was still sick and I didn’t want to wake him up way early. I didn’t know what time it was, but it was still dark out.

Up until that point, Himanshu was kind of mentally dragging me along, but once I got to that point, I knew the end was coming and I knew I was going to make it. I picked up my walking pace. We did a few little running spurts. He kept me updated on distance to go. Before I knew it we were on the trail along the road right before the finish! Himanshu ran ahead to get a picture of me finishing. Apparently we picked up the pace a good bit because Kathryn, Sandy, and Mike all barely made it to the finish in time. Himanshu got a picture, Mike got it on video, Kathryn cried, and I got my buckle and hugged everyone in range. I finished 100 miles in 25 hours, 20 minutes and 23 seconds.
I was the 63rd finisher overall, 17th female. This race does masters as 50+, so I was second in masters. And first masters was second overall, so I may get bumped up to first masters. Have I mentioned that I’m happy with this?

Believe it or not, I feel like there are lots of things I’m forgetting. But I guess this is enough for now! Other than to say thank you so much to Kathryn, Sandy, Sean and Himanshu. And Mike. And Lisa, Julie and Heather, who went through this with me last year in worse weather (and worse me). You were all part of this finish!
Lessons learned from 2018 to 2019:
  • Running felt better than walking if I could wait for the pain to lessen.
  • You can go really slow and still finish. The spreadsheet ahead of time helped me feel comfortable slowing down for tough conditions (I slowed down for the heat this time, last time I went way too fast on the muddy, sloppy trails).
  • I wrote important things down for my crew ahead of time. They could do a quick check and know to ignore me when I said I didn’t feel like I needed a jacket.
  • When it gets tough, just focus on getting from aid station to aid station. No big picture, just the next aid station.
  • Eat something at every aid station. It doesn’t matter what, just eat something that looks tolerable. Over 25 hours I ate a lot of PB&J, potato chips, goldfish, animal crackers, M&Ms, ramen noodles, mashed potatoes, grilled cheese.

If you’re still reading, here are a few columns from my spreadsheet, updated with approximate actual times and paces. With my Garmin messing up, I just grabbed times to the minute and used that.

Pacer Loop Distance (mile) Time of Day Amazing Pace Actual Time of Day Aw Crap Pace Approx. time running Approx. pace
 N/A 0 6:00:00 6:00:00 6:00:00
1 16.74 9:20:53 9:15:00 9:54:22 3:15:00 0:11:39
 s/f 10 minutes
 N/A 16.74 9:25:53 9:25:00 9:59:22
2 33.48 12:55:08 12:56:00 13:53:43 3:31:00 0:12:36
 N/A 33.48 13:00:08 13:03:00 13:58:43 9 minutes
3 50.22 16:37:45 16:59:00 18:09:49 3:56:00 0:14:06
 s/f 7 minutes
50.22 16:47:45 17:06:00 18:19:49
Sean 4 66.96 20:49:27 21:09:00 23:04:24 4:03:00 0:14:31
s/f  8 minutes
66.96 21:04:27 21:17:00 23:19:24
Sandy 5 83.7 2:05:46 2:29:00 4:54:12 5:12:00 0:18:38
s/f  8 miutes
83.7 2:20:46 2:37:00 5:09:12
Himanshu 6 100.44 6:48:44 7:20:23 10:44:00 4:43:23 0:16:56

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