Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Thursday, June 30, 2011
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Friday, April 29, 2011
Monday, March 7, 2011
Monday, February 7, 2011
Anyone who tells you that running an aid station at a 100 mile trail race is a thankless job is . . . well, wrong. I can't tell you how many times during the day and the night that runners (and pacers and crew) expressed their thanks to the 2011 Park Road Aid Station gang. And, let's face it, our little outpost isn't a bad spot to watch the unique drama of a 100 miler unfold, from the genetic freaks at the front of the pack, to the ultra-tough runners bringing up the rear - you get a front-row seat to the full range of human emotions: SHOCK ("dddd...damn, it's cold!"), DENIAL ("feeling good - this isn't going to be that bad"), ANGER ("son of a &*%, my hydration pack is frozen!"), BARGAINING ("okay, if I can just get back to the start/finish, I'll let myself sit for a few minutes"), DEPRESSION ("I've run 60 miles. I'm exhausted. There's no way I can run another 40 miles."), TESTING ("I can't run anymore. My legs are shot. But I can still walk and make it with plenty of time to spare, so that's what I'm going to do"), and finally ACCEPTANCE ("this was much harder than I thought, and I'm not going to finish even close to my goal time/at all, but I'm going to finish/live to run another day, and that's okay"). And it's compelling stuff.
Planning for this year's Park Road probably started as soon as we were tearing down last year's version. Making mental notes of what was good (traffic flow, Lynnor's generator) and what wasn't (stock of water scattered everywhere, poor lighting, cramped quarters at night with runners seeking a respite from the cold). A couple weeks before this year's race, Mariela and I hit Arne's for the Margarita/Tropic Paradise theme supplies - always a fun time. We discussed how chafing dishes would be nice this year, staffing issues, candles for the porta-johns, etc. Keeping the same team intact this year kept formal planning needs to a minimum, and before we knew it, race day was approaching.
Last year, I drove up to Huntsville on race morning to pick up supplies from Joe and Joyce and haul them to the aid station. Frankly, that sucked a great deal. This year I decided to take Friday afternoon off to pick the supplies up early and deliver the non-perishables to the tents the day before. Fortunately, Chris graciously agreed to come up with me and help. Braving the frozen highways & byways between Houston and Huntsville, we arrived in the park at about 1:00 and headed straight back to the Dogwood site. Joyce loaned out her pickup (cuz my Subaru wasn't going to cut it, even with the back seats down) and in no time we were able to ferry the supplies (including quite possibly the largest box of ramen noodles on planet earth) over to Park Road. Chris and I then spent another couple of hours doing set up work - organizing the 300 gallons of water, setting up tables, hanging the lighting, assembling and testing the propane heater, and generally trying to make the next morning as stress-free as possible. This year we also put up my EZ-up tarp and thought it might make a nice spot for the heater and cold, tired runners during the evening.
Saturday morning came much too early and the ride up to Huntsville was a bit groggy. As we approached the park, my car thermometer bottomed out at 19 degrees - YIKES, it was going to be a cold set up. When we arrived, we found Julie Monte (who brought a ton of awesome supplies) and a couple other folks already ready to roll, and a frigid set up began in earnest. Other volunteers filtered in, Lynnor arrived with the generator (HTREX is forever beholden to Lynnor for this annual gift of life) and it was rolled out, power cords were strung, and in no time, we had electricity! By 7:15 or so, all that was left was finishing the decorations, cutting oranges, making some pb&j sandwiches, and waiting for our guests. The Park Road crew was ready to rock. But first we had to enjoy our front-row seat to the race at the front.
(Anton Krupicka, approaching Park Road)
After an obscenely short amount of time, the Mutants started to fly by. Gingerich, Sharman, Krupicka, Koerner, Jurek, Howard . . . huh, what, Howard? Seriously, not a few minutes after Scott Jurek (Scott Freaking Jurek) cruises through, here comes our own (as in Texas' own) Liza Howard, bounding by like a deer. WOW. JUST WOW. If you haven't checked out her blog, you should. Wonderful, hilarious stuff: http://lizahoward.wordpress.com/ This is some sort of special runner. Some other top folks breezed by and then slowly but surely the actual humans started appearing. Unlike the X-(Wo)Men, they actually stopped and wanted stuff. Early on, it was mostly PB&J's and pancakes. A number of runners had frozen hydration pack tubes and needed them thawed. The early visits are always nice - people are happy, chatty, funny. Of course, the most entertaining part is that you know it's going change. But you don't say anything other than "good job" or "you look great." All the while your inner monologue goes something like this: "Yeah, smile and yuk it up now buddy, cuz in 20 or 40 or 60 miles, your existential crisis is gonna come."
By about mid-morning, the day had warmed up enough to melt the snow and ice that had collected on the tent, and inside the weather went from cold and dry to chilly and wet, as water began to drip everywhere: into the Cokes, the M&M's (which melted in the bowl, not in your mouth), the sandwiches, you name it). One of Joe's volunteers who had come by to check on our supplies suggested opening the southeast end of the tent to let the sun in - an excellent idea, as the combination of sun and air circulation dried things up amazingly fast. Our fantastic group of volunteers (about whom I cannot say enough) handled every rush with ease and good humor. Runners came and runners went, and as the morning moved into afternoon, a sizeable crowd of crew lined the course leading up to Park Road. The area took on the feeling of a small party or picnic. One of the best parts about our location is the accessibility and the buzz that the crowd brings.
Late in the afternoon, Mariela appeared with a bounty of wonderful Costco goodies: blueberries, apple pies, avocados - the nighttime runners were in for a treat. As my shift came to an end and the night shift got started, I knew everything was in good hands. My return Sunday morning confirmed that. The overnight traffic had put a dent in the tables, but there was still plenty of sustenance to go around. As the back of the packers straggled in, most beat down to their core (the best misery viewing is always Sunday morning), their needs continued to be tended (although often that meant a gentle prod to get going). Soon the last runner came through and the breakdown began in earnest. Once everything was packed away and Joe's crew had started disassembling the tents, Mariela and I stopped for a few minutes and enjoyed a couple of beers, some Pringles, and the now-mild sunshine. Another successful Rocky Raccoon in the books and a most gratifying way to spend the weekend. Let the planning for 2012 begin!
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Chris and I made the easy drive up from Boerne Saturday morning and arrived at the park about 40 minutes before the start. Joe and his volunteers had parking down to a science – just as the three races (25, 50, and 100K) each had separate starting locations, so too the parking. We checked in, dropped small bags in the Chapas truck, hit the bushes for a quick restroom stop, snapped a photo with a few TREX members, and headed up the road to the 50K start line. The weather was perfect – in the lower 40’s with a beautiful, nearly-cloud-free dawn breaking. A few minutes later we were underway.
Despite following Chris’s instructions to remind him to “slow down,” it wasn’t long at all before he was out of sight, not to be seen again until the finish. Ran much of the first two climbs (Cairn’s and Boyle’s) surrounded by plenty of folks. Not a conga-line or anything like that (choosing a pace wasn’t a problem), but hardly alone. By the time we came off Sky Island, I found myself running with a couple of TREXers, Kevin and Michael, and we generally stayed together until the halfway point at Chapas. Throughout this first half, I was feeling really good. My abdominal issue certainly let me know it was there, but it never became much of a problem. Stomach, legs, etc – all of it was working just fine. In seemingly no time, we pulled into Paul Stone’s wonderful Chapas aid station, at almost exactly the 3 hour mark. Seeing as I initially wondered whether I could finish at all, hitting 15.5 in 3 hours was a pleasant surprise.
After scarfing down an absolutely delicious waffle with melted peanut butter and a bit of syrup (just brilliant ultra food!) and changing my socks (a few spots felt hot), I ambled out of Chapas, content to take the second half as it came. Initially it came slowly, as I walked for a bit to allow my breakfast to settle, but soon I felt like running again and I managed to make fairly good time in this mostly flat-ish section leading into Crossroads (a big, bustling aid station you visit twice in a row). My energy flagged just a little coming into Crossroads, so I grabbed a Coke and a couple of warm cheese quesadilla quarters (delicious!) and walked out down the wide path toward the next technical climb, The Three Sisters.
After a few minutes of walking, I pushed myself to start mixing in more running, and by the time I hit the Sisters a couple miles later, I was feeling pretty solid again. The climb up the first Sister is the longest, but after having done it a number of times now, it didn’t strike me as all that significant. Took in the wonderful view at the top of the second Sister, and eventually descended down the nasty, nasty trail off the last Sister quite slowly, as I was caught behind some runners who were definitely playing the descent safe. In no hurry, I was happy to pull back as well.
Off the Sisters, I made my way to the hidden, outcast slutty forth Sister (aka #6 Trail climb). The first couple of times on this course, this climb caught me by surprise – you think when you’re done with nos. 1-3, you're done with all the technical stuff. Wrong. This time, I knew what was coming, and that knowledge makes all the difference in the world. Soon enough I hit the final descent down into Crossroads (maybe my favorite descent of the course – not too steep, but enough rocky nastiness to keep you on your toes).
Coming out of Crossroads, I ran into Mary, deep into her successful 100K effort. She was fishing something or another out of a drop box at least twice her size(!) and shortly thereafter we ran close to each other for a bit. I could sense she wanted her own space – a feeling I totally understand from many long races – and I bid her good luck and ran out ahead for a while. Couple miles down the trail, I ran into Michael, who I had not seen since Chapas at 15.5 miles. He said he was having a bit of a struggle with dehydration and he looked a bit down mentally. We walked for a ways and after a short time, he was happy to start running again – back in the game. We hit probably the nastiest little up & down on the course, Lucky Peak, grunted on up and picked our way down the crazy bust-your-ass descent.
Hitting the last aid station (aptly named Last Chance) seemed to take forever, but eventually we came around a gentle bend in the trail, and there it was. Michael moved through without stopping. Me, well I needed my sip of beer. See, every other year I’ve been doing the 100K, and on that course Last Chance is nearly 5 miles from the Finish. On the 50K course, the finish is a mere ½ mile away. So I took a small cup of Shiner and was happy to walk down the trail and drink my beer for a few minutes. Yeah, I know, definitely not “racing.” Once I could hear the crowd at the finish, I started running again and crossed the line in a very satisfying 6:36:06.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent lounging near the finish line, watching folks come in and out and waiting for the winner. Beer, jerky, and folding chairs with footrests - not a bad deal at all. Soon enough, the 100K winner, Dave Mackey, cruised across the finish in an absolutely stunning 8:16, slicing about an hour off the course record. In all seriousness, he didn't even look tired. Amazing stuff. Shortly thereafter, we packed up and bid Bandera goodbye. Already looking forward to a return to my favorite Texas trail run in 2012 - hopefully healthy and ready to race.