Brazos Bend State Park; Needville, Texas
December 7, 2020
This race was my “A” race for the year and preparation started in January 2019 after my 2nd Ironman race (IM Florida). I signed up for the race on the first day of signups and it was real.
I started this race report exactly 6 months after the race – it’s a tough one to put into words and a tough one to sort out the facts from feelings. Yes, It’s taken about 2 weeks to complete the race report.
First, the question that always comes up: Why?
There are a couple of reasons why, but the first is that as a triathlete, my weakest of the three events is running. There is only one way to get better at running – run. Second, after completing my second Ironman I wanted a challenge that was on the edge of inconceivable. Running 100 miles definitely hit both of these points.
The second question that comes up, after the race, is would you do it again?
No. Not at this time – I chose the right course for me and I left everything that I had on the course. More on this later.
Temperature started at 40 and rose to ~80 degrees during the day and went back into the upper 40s overnight. No rain, trails were dry. Overall, I could not have planned in my mind a better weather circumstance for the 100 miler. I foresaw every other weather variation, but not the temperature on race day. Overnight, we have a dense fog move into the race venue from 1a – 5a that made some interesting racing. Texas weather gave us a hot mid day as the December sun warmed us up a little too much. Nightfall was welcome for cooler temperatures.
Goal: 1) Finish the race. This was the only goal.
Training for the Race:
I spent a massive time prepping for this race. Seriously, 2020 was dedicated to one race with milestone races starting early in the year to build toward this 100 miler. An early start meant spending the Spring building from an Ironman base and getting in mileage. Brazos Bend 100K was an April race, so that became the first milestone race. In January: I’m not a runner. Getting miles and learning to trust my running ability came first. It’s not that I couldn’t run, but I was a weak runner with imbalances, bad habits, neglected glutes, and 25 years of doing harm to my body with combat sports. Plus, I had never conceived of that kind of distance…it seemed a much more lofty goal that an Ironman ever seemed (for me) due to RUNNING. Coach Ben Drezek and I set up milestone races and started slowly molding me into a better runner. As a 50 years old athlete, this meant a delicate balance between mileage increases and recovery. In my mind, our greatest accomplishment was no major injuries during training.
The training meant long, slow, miles that were built during the year and meant long hours on the blacktop and trails to get the mileage or time needed each week. As a triathlete, this run training was supplemented with cycling and swimming time (recovery). This did a lot to keep me sane.
Not only did it meantime on feet, but experimenting with food, race belts, vest, shoes, hats, shirts, socks, foot care, and hydration. It was good to start early and train as I would race. I volunteer at BB100 (2018) so I glimpsed what to expect 365 days later.
Coaching: How many miles did you run? What did your training consist of? It realllllly doesn’t matter. Coach put together an excellent program and I was 99% compliant. That’s what made it work. I knew on race day that we had done everything possible to create a success story at the end of the race. That’s what really matters during the race.
Pacer: I started working with my pacer about 3 months before the race. This was a tremendous sacrifice of his time, but it gave us a chance to run together for about 25 hours at my long-run pace. We talked about the race; fears, goals, reasons for not quitting, and circumstances where quitting was the only decision.
Organization for Race:
We set up our transition tent in a prime location by the starting gates (directly across for the start/finish aid station – perfect. This meant coming in early and selecting the site.
The organization for race day gear was very important to me. At some point, you cannot think. My pacer, Devin Longsdon, and I decided to color code to loop bags so that we could quickly get in and out of our personal aid station. This worked great. The pictures below show the crates and a taste of the contents. In addition, I set up a personal pelican case for medical.
The 100 miler is not for the faint of heart or the ill-prepared.
Morning of the Race
I camped in the park so the morning of the race was boring. The gear was ready, I had a great night of sleep, my breakfast was light. Nothing was special about food or hydration. Quick gear check, final setup, and head to the starting line. I started the race with two teammates: Paul and Doyle Beaty. Smiles and fear wrapped up in a single picture.
This is a six loop 16.74-mile flat trail course through Brazos Bend Park with the Start/Finish line set up where the course is a figure 8 with a couple of out-and-backs.
Loop 1 (0 – 16.74 m)
The race started at 6:00a in the dark. Again, my small Petzl headlamp was plenty for the start of the course with only about 90 minutes until the crack of sunrise. My pace started my long run pace – very controlled and metronome. About 20 paces front the start line I realized that I was running beside the great Gordy Ainsleigh – that has to be the best way to start your 100-mile attempt. The first lap was fabulous and felt as if you were just getting warmed up. It was in the first lap that I hit my first milestone – go until the sun came up. This seems a small goal (about 90 minutes of the first loop), but setting small goals and succeeding build on small wins. I hit my optimal pace goal for the loop (in the green).
Transition: Food, new socks and shirt, foot powder (Tom-Tom) and got out of transition quickly. All fast and good in transition.
Loop 2 (16.67 – 33.34)
The timing of this loop was from about 9:30a – 1:30p. Loop 2 was all daylight. This loop blew by – nothing to note in the lap – easy sailing and all systems doing fine – hit my pace goal again. Still in the green and surprised with no blisters, an appetite remaining, hydrated, and mood still good. No dark places and a 50k under my belt.
Transition: Food, new socks and shirt, foot powder (Tom-Tom) and got out of transition quickly. My pacer was in the transition tent so everything was very organized. All fast and good in transition.
Loop 3 (33.34 – 50.01m)
The timing of this loop was from about 1:30 – 6:00p. The temperature rose during the day and there was only a light breeze to ease the heat. In no way was it summer Texas heat, but enough to make you slow down slightly, take notice and to hydrate. Hydration for this loop became a priority and I moved between a bottle of BASE hydration, and a bottle of water. Yes, it was suggested that I wear sunscreen – no I did not – this was a choice, not the smartest choice, but you make them as you go. This loop was greeted with lots of support from family and friends on the course and via text message. I ended this loop a little scared, and 50 miles tired. At the same time, no dark places, just putting down miles going between and trot and a mile eating walk pace.
Still, no blisters – my year of training had toughened my feet and I had made the switch from oil-based lubricant on my feet to dry (Tom-Tom) on Coach’s suggestion – this made all the difference. This was a dry course, not too hot, and a dry lubricant was perfect for the conditions.
Thought at the end of the third loop: Wow, half the miles done but not nearly to the start of the race. Nothing was wrong yet…no dark places, no significant injuries, and still moving. I finished the loop “in the green” and ready for my pacer to help me through the night (sunset was 5:45p).
Loop 4 (50.01 – 66.68)
The timing of this loop was from about 6:00p – 11:30p. I started this loop knowing that I met a second milestone – make it through the day. It was a boost to my system to have Devin (my pacer) join me. He was able to experience the course with me, but at a slower pace than the first three. I came out of transition tired. The first 50 miles and the sun had taken the pep out of my step and left me to his hands for the pace. At around mile 60, Devin noted that my right shoulder was dropped down way below my left shoulder. This was interesting because I hadn’t noticed it. Hmmm…yes, this was a problem, I just hadn’t realized it yet. We finished this loop with little problem, but we knew by the end of the loop that I was favoring my right side — and more importantly that we needed to take care of the issue. I can’t overemphasize the importance at that time of having both a coach and pacer that I TRUSTED with every fiber. I came in from loop 4 “in the red”. I didn’t know it…
Nutrition: Sometime during loop 4 my appetite stopped – to be honest, I didn’t notice. Nothing on the trail racing buffet table was of any interest, but I knew in transition that I needed to eat whether I wanted to or not. I had put myself into a calorie deficit that might be too deep to overcome.
Transition: Food, new socks and shirt, foot powder (Tom-Tom) and got out of transition slower. Feet were hot – I still had the same shoes I started with…6 more in the box waiting to be used – I still didn’t change. I picked up my walking sticks and headed out for Loop 5 – The race had started. I was starting to hurt and I began to drift to the right when I wasn’t paying attention. Ben and Devin were talking to each other….heading into loop 5 I looked haggard and my pace had really dropped off. They said nothing to me, but they were worried. Longest transition.
Loop 5 (66.68 – 83.35)
The timing of this loop was from about 11:00p – 5:30a. We are told that a 100-mile race just starts at mile 60. Bingo!
This loop found me stumbling, walking, and eating a diet of ramen and bananas. This diet would remain through the remainder of the race. Hallucinations were vivid and started at about 1:00a and lasted through sunrise. The need to sleep was overwhelming – yes, I wanted to stop and take a nap. Devin, wisely, told me to keep moving – I wisely listened, but still whined about it. About 2:30a, a heavy, thick, and wet fog settled in a moved out visibility down to a dozen feet. Everything slowed down. My pacer was everything, but we were both suffering – me from exhaustion and him from keeping my strange pace.
We both fell into a marching pace and I began to develop a blister in the middle of both feet. Nothing terrible, but none the less worrisome at mile 75.
The best thing to happen all night was the end of loop 5. We made it through, but my pace was getting dangerously into the red, and something needed to happen differently if I was to finish the race.
Transition: Food, new socks and shirt, foot powder (Tom-Tom), and new shoes. The first change of shoes during the race – good call.
Loop 6 (83.35 – finish)
This loop started at about 5:30a. Up to this point, my pace had slowed each of the five loops. Death warmed over would be an apt description of me finishing loop 5 – not much hope and a DNF waiting to happen. A slowing of pace is a natural and expected progression, but loop 5 had scared everyone.
Devin needed a little bit more time in transition, but I was ready to go. Coach sent me out telling me that Devin would catch up. I got up and started going – no problem, I personally felt fresh coming out of transition. Well, HUGE well-marked turn signs were not enough to get through to a race fogged brain…and I missed the first turn. This meant my pacer passed me and they spent a panicked 45 minutes trying to find me on the trail…luckily the sun was starting to crack the sky by the time we connected again.
Fresh shoes and a coming sunrise seemed (after the fact) to put on a new outlook for the race. I’m always excited by the last loop of any race. For this race it seemed to do the trick. I had started clicking of “last time I see this part of the trail”. Plus, I hit my final milestone – I made it to dawn. Just the finish line to go.
At ~90, we changed pacer. Gabby Segal came in to give Devin a well-deserved pacing break and help bring me across the finish line. While 10 miles seems so little after finishing 90 – it’s still a LONG way to go. Luckily, my pace was fantastic (comparatively) since starting the loop and I was climbing out of the red. These miles seemed to take forever but were about 3 min a mile faster than loop 5.
At mile 99.6, we saw the finish line. It was almost overwhelming.
Sidebar: My secondary goal (if everything went perfect) was to finish at 28:00:00 hours. Loop 5 killed that dream. However, we were still in the 28th hour.
At 99.6 Gabby and I realized that we were still in the 28th hour and there was a possibility of finishing the race within the 28th hour. But, I was more tired than I could imagine. Finishing in the 28th hour meant a push. We increased the pace once and realized that it wasn’t going to be enough at 99.8 and moved faster. Gabby let me know that it wasn’t going to be enough, and I started “sprinting. I knew, with this effort it would either finish or end my race….make it to the finish line, or drag myself across (literally). Yes, sprinting is a relative word – but it was an all-out effort.
I finished at 28:59:41.
After the race (medical):
Due to the right side lean, my right knee became swollen to the point that my kneecap couldn’t be distinguished. This meant hobbling for the next two weeks. It sounds strange, but my knee nor back ever hurt me during the race – they were just problems.
I developed pre-Rhabdo (Rhabdomyolysis). Luckily, the symptoms were cured with rest, hydration with no kidney damage. Rabdo is a breakdown of muscle tissue that releases a damaging protein into the blood.
A silver dollar blister on the middle of each forefoot. Easy stuff – but hurt from mile 70 to the finish.
These things happen…
Each of these items meant something to me. I put them in a list and reviewed it from time to time. I’ll explain each:
1. Transforming: I looked for this race to push me to dark and ugly places that I had not been before. There’s nothing that a race, or anything, will make you be that you weren’t before – but it nonetheless changes you.
2. Have to immediately train to complete at rocky: This was my first 100 mile attempt and I was 100% sure that I would continue to attempt the distance until completed – Rocky was the next race that I would immediately train for if I DNFed Brazos Bend.
3. Good: Jocko Willink has a youtube video called Good. Watch it and you’ll have an understanding of this point: “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdTMDpizis8”
4. I’m not willing to stop for anything but a mechanical injury. I’m willing to go to the hospital: Devin was the only person, including me, allowed to stop my race. We talked about this point at length and determined under what circumstance I was willing to stop my 1st attempt. Not only was he my pacer, but the final call. I was willing to risk a lot to finish this race.
5. Count on Nothing (Devin is nothing): Ben Drezek, during race week, made this comment about the race. “Count on nothing during the race…” to mean that conditions and circumstances are ever changing. I turned to Devin and stated “Your now Nothing”. So, I would count on Nothing. A good call.
There’s so much more to write, so much more to say, but you buy the coffee and I’ll tell the rest of the story.
Many thanks to Coach Ben Drezek, my many teammates, friends, and family. I would not have finished without you.