Last year around this time, in fact, a year ago yesterday, a big group of us headed down to Colorado Bend State Park outside of Bend, Texas for the second running of the Tinajas 50K. I’d just come off a shitty training block and my longest run in the past month or so was the Cowtown Half the Sunday before. I ran with Kristin for her first 50K and what a race to choose for the first attempt at a new distance. We did alright coming in around 9:27.00, or something around that. I was happy to help Kristin make it to a new distance but I knew that I left something out there that I needed to come back to on my own terms.
Ben and I left Denton around 3:15 and headed down to San Saba, about 30 min from the park, and crashed in an Airbnb right across the street from a Sonic Drive-In. The house was notable in that it probably hadn’t been updated in around 25 or 30 years, or at least the bones of the past were still clear in the house. There was a weird button by the sink that we realized was actually an old-school dishwasher that had been caulked over and covered with a towel. The resplendent funk of a long dead rodent was covered by some kind of piney scent and the creak of the floors were what sent me to bed early on Friday for a 4:30 am wake-up ahead of the race. I’ve been eating these Kodiak Cake Flapjack Unleashed things for breakfast on race days but tried something different, their oatmeal. Don’t. Just trust me. We hung around and I got my coffee and other routine things taken care of pretty quickly and we left the house around 5:45 to get drop bags placed and pick up packets.
One of the unique things about this race is that runners have to place drop bags where they want them and all of the aid stations are really just water stops. Almost all of the spots are right off the road so it is pretty easy to drop items where you want them and there is something about knowing exactly what will be at each point along the trail. Weather is less predictable, especially now that we are seeing extreme swings in temperatures, and what was supposed to be a sunny 50-70 degree day was clearly not going to happen. We were driving through fog with probably 20 ft of visibility on the way in and found the couple of spots we wanted to drop things pretty easily. I opted for one drop bag at mile 23, Ben dropped a couple but carried less with him. After sorting things out, we headed down to the packet pickup and start.
I started out kitted out against the damp, 40 degree weather and pretty quickly stripped off my hat and shell layer, even my gloves for a bit. Ben was ahead of me and I figured I was going to be pretty much alone for most of the race, which is totally fine by me. The first couple of miles go through a series of water crossings and there is little to do but charge right through. There are rocks and branches and other places you can step but you risk a serious fall into the cold water and my feet tend to dry out pretty quickly so I didn’t worry about it. Up into the first, and last, water stop at Lemons Ridge, I heard Ben’s familiar voice and hollered at him. We met up at the water stop and ran together for about 4 miles to the next stop. I was happy to run with Ben for as much as I did but I knew that his pace wasn’t something I could manage for another 20 miles so we parted ways at the Windmill water stop and other than a couple of times where his voice was carried over on the wind, we didn’t run into each other for the rest of the race.
I was feeling really good, running a lot and pretty quickly on the terrain until just after Tinaja water stop. The race directors had cut a small section out that went down to the actual falls because it was too dangerous so that went by quicker but after the Tinaja water stop, things get seriously rough. Lots of climbing (at least for this Texas boy), extremely technical trail and long sections that aren’t runnable bogged me down. I started to feel tweaky in my IT bands and hip flexors and my shins were feeling it too. I knew I would be fine but this section, while beautiful, is like a kick in the teeth. I made it through and down to the Conference Center water stop, refilled my bottles and headed out to my least favorite part of the trail.
After Conference Center is a short stretch down along the riverbank and then, just then things are starting to click, runners head up Dogs Leg Canyon to the Cedar Chopper water stop. This is where I had left my bag and I knew what I had up there. Up is the operative word. I hate the up on this section. I finally made it up to the aid and cracked open the ginger ale I had and looked at what else was in my bag. I grabbed a banana/chocolate food pouch and slammed it down while trying to drink the ginger ale but something was happening, I was getting really cold. I have been dealing with Reynaud’s Syndrome for the past few years and get cold and stay cold pretty easily. I was wearing a compression layer, a Patagonia wool long sleeve and had a rain shell in my bag along with the beanie I had from last year’s race. I layered up and knew that I needed to get off that hilltop before I went into shutdown mode.
Someone at the water stop, crew for another runner, said it was 46 degrees but it felt much colder to me. I started moving downhill and went into my “this sucks but I’ll figure it out” counting. 100 steps walking, 200 steps running. Repeat. Start over after a climb. I did this on and off for the rest of the race and it is a great way to get things moving because each 200 steps is a measurable unit and my brain needed that as my body started to warm back up and running felt better. I knew from last year that there was a long stretch of flat dirt trail at the bottom and pushed through that until I made it to the Lemons Ridge Pass, the last long climb of the race. I got through Lemons Ridge and headed back to the start through Spicewood Canyon. At this point, I stopped running as the 4 miles with Ben caught up with me at the back end. I was putting down pretty decent power-hiking and just kept turning corner after corner until I finally made it back to the trail we started out on. I started running it in but my right calf wasn’t really into that so I went slower than I wanted to until I could see the finish arch. I picked it up and made it in at 7:50 and change, 90 minutes better than last year.
I know I could have come in at 7:30 or even faster if I had done more vert leading up to the race but the fact is that I didn’t. Rocky was mostly flat, the pacing run I was counting on for a big run a few weeks after didn’t happen and Cowtown kicked my ass for a couple of days. February into March was my busy season at work and racing but now it is time to rest. Take a couple of days and then jump into a new training block as I look forward to my next race (at least as far as I’m already registered for) in Montana! I’ll be stacking on the vert and a new strength training regimen to get ready for that one. It’s not super high altitude but anything is high when you are coming from 600’.