Nueces Trail Race: Running with the Elks!

It was the best of a race and the worst of a race.
It was definitely one of the worst planned races I’ve ever done. The planning wasn’t poor on account of lack of planning. Rather it was just the circumstances. I was out of town on work and flew back in on Friday and we could drive out only around 7 pm. I wasn’t rested because the night before I had a minor case of food poisoning from some bad seafood in Houston (of course, what do you expect!). So anyway, Bharath and I piled stuff into the car and started at 7, leaving behind our sister/brother-in-law and kid at home. Bharath tried to convince me to give up the race for some other race but I just wanted to get it out of the way. I also hadn’t trained much in the last few weeks, due to work travel. So I had a lot going against it. Mostly I felt mentally exhausted. Not unprepared, I knew I’d go out there and finish. So better not to think of any time goal. But who does that eh in a race? I still had one.

To finish the suspense, I didn’t manage to keep it. By 10 minutes.

Anyway, half way through to Nueces, we were both tired and grumpy. I was glad of course that Bharath was with me. We decided to crash in Kerrville TX, a tiny town exactly at the halfway mark at the Americas Best Motel or something – amazing for the price of $54 per night and of course owned by a Gujju family. Which meant we had to drive out about 90 minutes in the morning. Still doable. The race began at 7 am. We crashed early, woke up late. For some godforsaken reason I decided to shower. And blowdry my hair. Bharath was perplexed…he was like why are you blowdrying your hair? I was like, I have no idea!

Started driving, promptly 8 miles in the wrong direction. Turned around and realized I-10 was right next to our motel. So it wasn’t the end of things going wrong. Anyhow we got to Camp Eagle way past 7 am. The last 8 miles was dirt road and seemed neverending. So by the time I began my race, the 25k had begun. I started sometime before the 10k racers. I met Olga my trustee masseuse at the start and she was like wooohoo!! The only one haha!

The races are so different on trails – the camp was full of kids and family members but nowhere as many as a road race. Once you begin running and you’re on the trails, it felt no different from a training run. No adrenaline rush from cheering crowds, no people egging you on when you’re fatigued, nothing. it’s you and the outdoors. the sky, the earth and the woods, even giant elks and you feel quite tiny amidst it all. yet you feel alive in no way I can describe.

So I began but I was still stressed from being late etc. I started by Garmin. Lost a glove and was resigned to have one frozen hand (it was in the lower 40s when I started). I even turned back for it and lost some time there but couldn’t find it. So I began running again, a bit too fast. Soon I coincided with the 10K racers who intersected and was convinced I was on the wrong course. I kept stopping and wondered whether I should retrace my steps. So I lost quite a bit of time in this quandary and pontificating. Finally decided, screw it, just keep running. So I did run. Picked off many of the 10k racers and finally when I passed 7 miles I realized I have to be on the right course since the 10k folks would have veered off and finished. Whether I ran the wrong course I would never know.

But the course I ran was beautiful and cruel. It was hard, rocky and hilly but the trek uphill was so rewarding. I met up with two 25k stragglers on a crazy uphill and they told me that this was warned about in the race brief the night before at the camp (to which we never made). I started feeling really good about 5 miles into the race – the first 5 miles being crampy and stressed. Finally decided to let everything go. About the same time as I encountered this hill. It was winding up and up. Knocked my head on the low trees quite a few times, once I reeled back and caught balance! Finally reached up and boy was it a prize to be up there. Had to stop and take a pic. Then there was this one up hill where on top there were three humongous crosses. I felt a bit eerie but decided that probably it was a good sign for the race. Ran for a long while on a flat and boring portion. I didn’t push and walked when I felt like it but walking seemed harder. The best moment I think was when I reached this ledge which ran high above the river and it was breathtaking.

I eventually caught up with my running buddies at mile 9 and 10 and I felt good, I had done decent time. One of them, Sue was injured and I ran with her for a bit and then went on my own. I had my trusty iPhone and the music gave good company. I also kept stopping to fix the tracks – who wants to run on Adele? So not disappointed with my time in retrospect. I did stop to smell the roses and thats what trail running is about isn’t it?

I was all ready to cross a stream when I saw Vinit and Bharath waiting on the other side. I ran with them the last 1.5 miles but I was really hurting by then. This was the longest time and distance I had run and I was feeling it. Meanwhile got picked off by some 50k and 50 milers. Damn them. They were almost ghostlike on the trail and I jumped every time one ran past me.

And finally it was the finish! I ran through and met Itisha and could barely stand, my legs were wracked with incredible pain which ebbed in a while. Was good to have Bharath there. The rest of the day was sore but the following day I felt fine. Thats what I loved about trails – I could feel better in a lot less time than the roads ever let me!

So that’s my first trail race report. Got it done and hopefully I’ll do some more. But given the time commitment and how far flung these races are, I might have to wait for a bit before Bharath will let me.

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