December 6, 2008
Left on Friday to fly out to Houston for the Sunmart race. Last time, I flew into Dallas and drove down to Houston, ran the race and then drove back to run the marathon. Since I am not doing the marathon (and besides, it’s next weekend anyway), I didn’t get a rental car and just took a shuttle to the hotel (which is the Airport Sheraton).
Check in for the race was the same fun as last year, with all of the cool gear available – Polo shirt, long-sleeved Tech shirt, really nice duffel bag, sunglasses, poncho, disposal camera, etc. For dinner, I ended up sitting at a table where only 2 guys were sitting. Hardly anybody else came and sat down, so we had a really nice conversation.
They were two friends from North Texas, Dave and Jerry. Neither had run this race before and neither had done 50 miles before. It sounded like Dave was a faster runner than either me or Jerry, so we left it mostly as we will probably run into each other tomorrow and see what happens.
The guest speaker this year was Bob Kennedy, at the time, the only white American male to break 13 minutes in the 5K! It was interesting to hear him speak, but I noted that his body didn’t seem to be all that in shape for running. He admitted (during the talk) that he was all-but-retired from running and just living life. I can understand retired from International Competition, but I don’t get retired from running, especially because the guy was just 6 months older than me… he had just turned 38!
I tried to get to sleep early, because the van ride ($20 RT) to the park was leaving at 5am CST and I usually need an hour to get ready. It was all I could do to fall asleep by 10:30pm. Dang.
In the morning, I woke at 4am (2am CA time) and got myself together. I didn’t have to pack up my room at least, since I would be staying Saturday night there, too. When I got downstairs, I found Jerry and Dave also waiting for the Van and we rode in the same vehicle. That was really nice, just because it’s nice to do a race with someone you know (even if you just met them the night before).
The set-up in the park was essentially the same, with the inflatable Christmas displays, the extensive food tent, etc. The major difference between this year and last year is definitely the temperature. Last year, it was 65 degrees at the start. This year, it’s closer to 30 degrees. COLD! There are heat lamps in the food tent area and everyone is huddled close together to try and stay warm. I have some brief conversations with people who are running the 50K and still have to stay warm for another 45 minutes after I leave.
The other difference, gear-wise, is that I am wearing the brand-new gift given to me at the AREC Pasta Party – detachable neck protector (from the sun) and Gaiters (to keep rocks out of my shoes) (camouflage, see picture above).
Because it is so cold out, I am ready to go (and so is everyone else) WELL before the run start at 7am.
The course hasn’t changed from last year, with the same mile or so out-and-back section at the start (out from the start and back when you finish a loop), crossing the road to the single track section and leading to the first aid station on the fire road.
Since my watch only records one split, I try and remember how fast I can get to the first aid station and then my total time on the loop. My goal is to be no slower than 2:45 per loop (which would put me at 8:15 after 3 loops (or 15 minutes under the cutoff)) and hopefully around 11 hours (or an hour under the cutoff).
On my first go-round, I hit the first aid station in 23 minutes. ‘course, I am fresh.
We continue on the same fire road on an out-and-back section (this time, actually out-and-back in the same motion), single track to the edge of the lake, along the levee path, through a marshy section with wooden bridges over it, back along the edge of the lake, and then finishing on the out-and-back section to finish the loop.
This out-and-back section is the best part of the whole race, even though I have to do it 8 times today. The treat of any ultramarathon is the people who are running it and the camaraderie in sharing this experience.
On the initial out, everyone has his or her head down and is concentrating on not tripping on roots and running a decent pace. By the time you reach the first time back in, you are sharing the out-and-back with those ahead of you who have already finished their first loop, and when you head back out, you are sharing the course with those behind you who are about to finish their loop. It’s kind of like a preview of the people you may pass on the next loop or the people who may pass you. I’m keeping a lookout for Dave and Jerry. Dave is a little bit behind me on the first loop, which I finish in 2:05 (WELL ahead of the 2:45 goal). I also see some of the 50K folks, though we are not yet in sync with them because they started 45 minutes later (though their loop is shorter).
On the second loop, I slow down just a tad and reach the first aid station in 28 minutes, and go on to finish the 2nd loop in 2:35, which was my time for my initial loop in 2007.
On the out-and-back, I notice that Dave is about the same distance back and I have yet to see Jerry. As I am almost through the out section on the beginning of my third lap, I hear someone call out, “Emmett! Great to see you here!” Don’t think it could be Jerry… no, it’s my friend Darcie (from AREC and the Hash) who is running in the 50K. Very cool. Didn’t expect to really see anyone I knew.
My pace slows even further on the 3rd loop, and I reach the first aid station in 30 minutes. I am throwing in a lot more walking breaks than the last two loops and I am also getting a bit chafed in the groinal area. I finish the 3rd loop in 3:03, and my total for the first three loops is 7:43, putting me more than 45 minutes ahead of the cutoff (which is WAY better than last year’s 7 minutes).
I wave one more time to Dave (what the heck happened to Jerry?) and Darcie and set off for my final lap. I already feel a lot better than last year because I didn’t cramp heavily on my third loop. I am slightly slower on the 4th loop again to the first aid station, but I am walking most of the section at this point and come in around 33 minutes this time.
When I get to the levee road, I am passed by Dave, so we have a brief time running together and I get the scoop on Jerry. Apparently, he was a little behind Dave, enough so that I didn’t see him on the out-and-back, and on the second loop he did a header and was out of commission for a bit. He kept soldiering on, but eventually it was apparent that he could not make the cutoff on the third loop (unless he sprinted?) and had to drop out entirely.
As it started to get a bit dark, I started stumbling more on the roots. At least I had my own light to get me through the more difficult sections. These small stumbles would give me leg cramps, but I was able to push through them… almost push them away entirely. I finished my last loop in 3:08 and finished in 10:51:46, just about 1 HOUR faster than last year.
Once I was done, I picked up my medal and finisher’s jacket – nice material, zip up, with logo on the back and hood, and went to get some food.
Unlike last year when I had to drive myself back to Dallas and run a marathon the next day, I was heading back to the hotel in Houston and had a shared van ride to take. Basically, the vans went back when they were full… and despite finishing an hour faster, I was in the last van. Dave had finished 5 minutes ahead of me, so he was also in the van, and Jerry waited for his friend, despite not finishing. We decided to wait IN the van for the other people riding back, because it was a whole lot warmer in the van than it was outside.
After about 45 minutes of waiting, basically for the entire race to end (after 12 hours), the final two occupants showed up – Meg (from Kentucky), who talked more than I did; and Miguel, from Virginia, who was the last 50K finisher (right up against the time limit… had a leg issue, but persevered). The five of us had a nice conversation the entire way back (some of the other folk in the van may have been irritated by us, but WHATEVER).
When we got back to the hotel, all I wanted to do was to go to my room and get some sleep, but Jerry, Dave and Miguel said that they were going to put their stuff in their room and then have a beer at the bar (I think the room came with one drink voucher.). I said that I might come downstairs if I could get my act together.
I went up to the room, took a quick shower, and changed my clothes. I thought, what the heck, I might as well go down and see if they are still there (because I think I was up there for a while). Sure enough, they were carrying on in the bar (not raucously, but famously)… and we had only JUST met Miguel in the van, but hey, we had all just had this neat experience together. I was almost sad when we all decided to call it a night.
My flight was in the early afternoon the next morning, so I said if you have breakfast somewhat late, maybe I’ll see you in the morning. Dave and Jerry were driving back to Abilene in the morning and wanted to get an early start, and I don’t know what Miguel’s plans were.
I got a good night’s sleep and wandered down to breakfast around 9-something… and who was mid-breakfast? Jerry, Dave and Miguel. “I thought you’d be long gone,” I said.
“Well, we weren’t quite ready for that early start,” they replied… and the adventure continued. We exchanged e-mails and wondered if we would ever meet again at a race… and a few years later, we did.