2010/03/13: Prickly Pear 50k (race report)

I did this race last year toward the end of marathon training and had a great time. This year, however, I’ve had issues staying committed to any training plan. My problem is that I like races, just not training for them.

DISCLAIMER: I do not recommend this to others because I acknowledge it is not smart and that if I keep doing things like this that I will eventually get injured.

On 24 Jan, I ran a half marathon, and since then, the only runs I’ve done have been 1 10k, 2 5ks, 3 1.5Ms, and 1 15.55M. That’s a total mileage of just over 32 miles in 7 weeks. With the exception of the 15.55M 2 weeks ago, the last time I ran longer than 13.1 miles was my last marathon last Apr. Two weeks ago, I decided that I’d like to do this race again this year but would only do it if I could go out on a whim one day and do half the distance. So I did that. Also, I researched ultras (some more) and found evidence that there were indeed people out there who have done longer races with even less prep. I figured that if they could do it, so could I (in other words, if they can be stupid, that somehow gives me permission also).

Just like last year, I didn’t tell anyone about the race in advance in case it did not work out. I also felt comfortable knowing what the trails were like and knowing it was 3 loops, so I could stop after 1 or 2 loops if I had to.

Yesterday morning I woke up about 0530, ate a granola bar, drank some water, and headed to the park where this would be held. It’s funny because McAllister Park is a beautiful set of trails that is literally right in the heart of San Antonio, just a few miles from the airport and downtown. I arrived later than I’d hoped and since it was in the 40s, I opted to run with a long sleeve shirt over my tank top. I didn’t have time to put on sunscreen under my long sleeve shirt, so I figured I’d just do it after the first loop (which worked out okay). The 50k started at 0700; there was also a 10M that started at 0830, although I never saw any of those runners on the course.

Adrenaline made me run faster than I’d planned to on the first 5 miles. However, I did slow down and got into a decent running and walking pattern. Last year I’d finished in just under 7 hours, but this year, I knew this was out of the question and just wanted to beat the 8-hour cut-off. I met a woman on the course within the first couple miles of the race who randomly asked, “Hey, you posted a report about this on Runners World last year, didn’t you?” “Yes.” She then told me that seeing my photos and the finisher’s medallion (and the etched glass mug I got for an AG award) were why she signed up for the race; it was her first ultra. She also said her goal was to get under 6:58 because that is what I had gotten last year. I was caught off-guard a bit that someone had read and remembered specific details from my report, that it had influenced them in some way, and also that she recognized me. We ran together for a bit and “leapfrogged” a bit on the first lap and a half, but then I lost track of her. This was inspiring to me, though, and gave me more of a reason to finish.

There were 4 aid stations on each loop that were all well-stocked with water, gatorade, gels, pretzels, chips, cookies, boiled potatoes and salt, candies, etc. The volunteers were all very helpful and offered to fill up my water bottle and always asked if I needed anything in particular. Unlike large road races I’ve been to, races like this trail 50k were much more personal. Really, though, most people are coming through each aid station one at a time instead of in huge groups and there’s time to stop for a few seconds and actually thank the volunteers because a few minutes over the course of 31 miles is practically nothing. Right after the first aid station on the first loop. Just before the 2-mile point, I fell the first and only time. I tripped many times, but this time, my water bottle flew out of my right hand while my left hand, both knees, and my right upper thigh all got scraped to various degrees. All I could think was, “Oh, it’s a good thing I only have 29 miles left!”

I finished the first loop in 2:11, which concerned me because that was my same split as last year and I should have been slower. I consciously decided to slow down on the second lap and walk more. Throughout the entire race, at every mile, I would mentally calculate what the slowest mile pace was that I could average for the rest of the course to still get under 8 hours. This loop was rather uneventful, and I got lapped by 4 people who were super fast (even on the trails). My mind drifted and on multiple occasions, I wondered if I was still even on the right trail; at all major decision points, there were signs or orange ribbons hanging from trees or flour arrows and X’s (marking where not to go) on the ground. However, just as I would begin to wonder if I was on the right trail, I would see a ribbon or sign that would tell me I was okay. There were multiple points I wish I had taken a camera to show the trails, but I didn’t have a one that would have been small enough to tuck away when not using, that was digital, that I didn’t mind if it got destroyed because of the dirt.

Around mile 18, I was really dreading having to go out on another loop. I did pass one guy just before the end of the second loop, which was a surprise because I thought I was in last; however, judging my his slow walking/limping, I was not sure he would continue on to the last lap. I made a quick stop at my gear bag, filled up my water bottle, and reluctantly headed out on my third loop.

I was energized at the 22-mile aid station because one of the volunteers exclaimed, “Girl, you’re not last. There are 5 people behind you!” That was a real shock to me, but very motivating. I walked a lot of this lap but was relieved by the fact that I only needed to keep an 18…19…20…21-minute pace per mile to break 8 hours. One of the only parts of the course that enabled runners to see who was in front or behind them for any sizeable distance was this long relatively steep straight incline that was all dirt and gravel with no trees. I was ecstatic when I saw a couple who were only about a quarter mile ahead of me; granted, they were running the incline and I was walking, but it made me very happy that they were that close since I had not seen another “racer” in over an hour. About a mile and a half later, I caught up to and passed the couple. I passed people at 24.5 miles in! However, they too, had decided that with the rising temps (then in the 80s) and 2 moderately paced laps that they were taking it easy. At the 25 mile aid station, the volunteer said there were 5 people who had not passed through but that he could not confirm if they were still on the course or had DNF’d, but I did tell him that there were definitely 2 other people not too far back.

The finish area was kind of hidden. On the second and third loops in particular, I knew what mileage I would be at when I got there, but even a quarter mile out, there were no indications it was so close. On the last lap, I picked up my pace from walking to jogging with about two tenths of a mile left, knowing it was not too much further. In typical fashion, I sprinted the last bit to the finish line (sub-6 minute mile pace, which was a huge deal considering the rest of the race). My chip time was 7:42:12. I had finished and that’s all I really cared about.

5 people finished after me, which was surprising too. One finished almost an hour and a half later, but the volunteers had left the clock running so he’d get an official time, even though it was over an hour after the advertised cut-off. I cannot emphasize how nice and accommodating all of the volunteers were, and this is just one example of that.

Less than a minute after crossing the line, the woman who’d read my report from last year came up with her AG award mug that she’d wanted since she’d seen mine from last year. She beat my time from last year by four minutes, so she was happy about that too. However, she said it’d been more difficult than she’d thought and was re-thinking the fact that she’s signed up for another 50k only 3 weeks away. I did not get an AG award this year, but I was totally fine with that and was not expecting one

I hobbled around and sat down to stretch. It was while talking with a 15-year-old boy who was asking me “why?” questions about why I’d done this 50k, why I’d done it again after knowing what it entailed after last year, etc., that I realized none of my answers made sense because I evidently have no explanations. I did it because I could. And that’s that.

I’m extremely sore and (including one of my knees), but otherwise, besides my scrapes from my fall, I have no injuries. No chafing or blisters even. I did have a bunch of dirt in my shoes afterward, and I knew this during the race, but I could not feel any blisters forming, and I knew that my feet would not want to go back into shoes if I took them out, so I took my chances.

Just prior to my finish:
PP50 10

Me after the race:
PP50 10 me

My minor boo boos:
PP50 booboos

PP50 booboos 2

My etched glass medallion. I got a neat tech shirt too, but it’s in my car and I don’t feel like braving the stairs so I have no pic of it now:
PP50 10 medallion

My dirty feet afterward:
PP50 10 feet

All in all, I have no regrets. I just know it wasn’t a bright idea. However, I really didn’t have anyone to share this news with, so I wanted to post it here.



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