The Pedernales 10K

Last night was the first night of what I call, Tejas Trails madness. It’s a series of night races put up by Joe called the Capt Karl series. The races begin at 7 pm and have distances of 10K, 30K and 60K. The distances are standard. What is not standard are the conditions. Last night was the first race and this goes on for the next 4 grueling months of TX heat. The races are meant for training for many of the ultra runners in the area who are training for some big milers in the fall such as 50-100 mile races. It helps them to train for running through the night and of course, in the heat.

I signed up for the race last night. I’d been wanting to do it badly but some friends were arm-twisting for a house party that I’d said yes to. But when the party got cancelled and because Bharath is not in town to insist on alternative Saturday night revelries, this was the perfect opportunity for me to get out, run the 10K and stay around to do some volunteering. Joe’s been great to me, he lets me into these races last minute, sometimes for no fee. I had no interest in running more since I just did the 25K and I wasn’t sure how it would go in the heat. But it turns out that I was in the minority – plenty of Tejas crazies that did the 30/60K that were seen at Beacon Rock last night – (Ever heard of compulsive gamblers? These are compulsive runners).

I had enough time to plan but still planned badly because of laziness. I forgot to take a bunch of things I wanted to – a cold towel, a change of clothes (bought an overpriced Pedernales Falls teeshirt at the state park office) and extra food. And should have got gas but I didn’t and then worried that I’d breakdown somewhere in the middle of 290W.

Anyway, made it to the race grounds by 7 pm. Packed in my stuff and got ready to run, picked up a bib #. The race began and oh my lord, it was HOT. It was 95 or so when we started. I felt awful. Sitting around the couch all day, I should have at least warmed up in the last 10 mins that I was waiting around. Anyway, I felt stiff, hot and a bit grumpy in my tummy. I began really slowly but I was miserable. The course was dusty and sandy in parts. The first two miles went along a fence and it was ugly and rocky. I kept thinking about last weekend and how wonderful it felt running in the cool mountains of Portland and here I am back on the dusty, hot, stony trails of TX. I walked a lot in the first 2 miles because my stomach was cramping and I felt a bit nauseous. Every step felt like lead. My head felt like it was on fire and so I had to walk every few minutes to cool down. I drank nearly almost all my water in my pack and poured 2/3 of the hand held on my head and neck.

I’m sure it gets better, this heat conditioning but I just didn’t enjoy it. Eventually the sun went down a bit but this was nearly after 3.5 miles. I checked the watch, it was 42 mins. I’d still half more to go and I knew this wasn’t going to be one of those fast races. I did feel bummed because at the end of the day, we’re all competitive even against one’s own past record. Finally at about 4 miles, the sun was almost gone, it was twilight and it cooled down enough for me to run continuously.

I thought I’d hydrated enough (but I hadn’t). I’d taken 2 salt tablets before we began and by the end of the run, I think I had taken 5-7 tablets. But even then, while running I felt my eyes fogging up, one of the first signs of dehydration. This heat is not to be trifled with. It’s the humidity. I caught up and was pacing 2 guys. One of them eventually took off and the other guy would run/walk and keep asking me to keep up. Eventually I took over him as he was walking. I was able to run smoothly for the last couple of miles but still couldn’t help feeling woozy.

Later while talking with Bhavesh and Rod, who’d done 30K races – and I realized that I’d missed the electrolytes. Salt wasn’t enough and neither was water nor gels. I admit I am not a fan of those electrolytes. I can’t stand drinking the peach/grape flavored water. But I will search high and low for unflavored electrolytes to be mixed with unflavored water.

Spent the rest of the evening helping out at the aid stations and hosing/misting down heated runners coming in either for second loop of the 60K or 30K finishers. Was quite fun. There was a woman that came in and her 15 year old daughter was waiting to see her. She told her very excitedly that she had finished the 10K in just about an hour and was really looking for some commendation from her ultrarunner mom. But mom was a bit preoccupied filling up her bottle and getting nutrition and cooling down I presume. Don’t blame her but I can’t forget the look of admiration and love on her daughters face as she was telling someone her mother upped her registration to the 60K from the 30K. Daughter kept her medal on 2 hours after the race had ended (as did many of the 10K kids, adorable). And she had these puppy eyes filled with love as she bid her mom goodbye for her second loop, quite ready and happy to wait for her for another 3 hours. Some big running shoes to fill little girl, but I hope she doesn’t try too hard. Ultra running may not be for everyone. Also saw 2 little girls, no more than 8, intense that raced and won the 10K. 2 sisters, looked exactly like Jamie Thorvilson and her sister. Must make it a point to tell Jamie about them. There was a woman who finished the 10K in 2 hours and I saw as she hobbled to the finish line, she was wearing leg braces on both legs. All kinds of people run – fast, slow, thin, fat, happy, sad. All you need is a little determination to endure the distance. And of course, the heat.

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Mountain Running and First Destination Race II: The Kindness of Strangers

The downside of staying with Sue and David – they are early risers. We were up by 4 am and Sue was already all ready to go. I woke up and packed as much as I could into my little race water pack. It does feel little when you’re trying to carry gels, salt tablets, toilet paper, napkins etc. But it all fit in. Sue’s race pack was an even bigger camel back but given most of the terrain was more of a hike than a run, I think it was prudent.

We began driving out from Hood River and whatever plans I had of driving back to shower before I drove to the airport quickly vanished. Hood River was 20 miles in the other direction. We drove towards PDX, took the exit for Cascade Locks OR and then crossed over a bridge (called the Bridge of Gods) over to WA. I can see why it’s called that. If that bridge breaks, you’re kinda at the mercy of the gods. But moreover it’s called that because of the view. Incredible. Couldn’t take a photo because I had to stay on the bridge.

We got into the parking lot at 6.30 AM. The race wasn’t starting until 8 AM. People had camped out at the meadow where the race began. It was super laid back. People were getting ready slowly. Went over and picked up my packet and somewhat regretted not paying for a race tee. I came all the way and wouldn’t have a race tee! This race was so laid back – there was no timing chip (all on gun time) and no finishers medal (at least not for 25K). The race is organized by Rain Shadow Running. They have a bunch of PNW races, each of them look harder and more beautiful than the other. A lot of the Tejas runners do their races here in the PNW with RSR. There were about 8-10 Tejas runners at this race, most of them doing the 50K, including Joe. It felt great, almost like home because I knew so many people.

The race began in this cluster, the gun went off. We ran out of the meadow and onto the road down to the trail. The trail began winding upwards immediately. I told Sue I was going to go really slow. I was panting already like a dog and the trail hadn’t gotten pretty yet. And then it got pretty steep so we all went down to power hiking. Saw Sue still powering through with a shuffle. She is much better on uphill than I am. After about 2 miles it didn’t look like we were coming on any downhills and this is what separates TX from the mountains. In TX we got hills, some of them might be steep but they’re rolling. You go up and you come down soon after. But here you go up, up and up and eventually you come down but it could be miles before you do.

I put on my ipod and began to run. The trek got steeper. At one point we turned a corner and it was a single dirt/wet earth track that was going uphill at 40 degrees or something. If you stood, you’d slide down towards the runner behind you. It was tough climbing uphill like this so early into the race. This was all within the first 5 miles. I was out of breath and my calves were yearning to stop. And then suddenly just like that we glimpsed the view.

And this is how the mountain eggs you on. Most of the running/hiking is on protected trails and then you’re suddenly rewarded with a glimpse of such utmost beauty that you forget all about your calves and your frustration with the terrain and you thank it. Because if it wasn’t for the steepness, there wouldn’t be that glimpse.

After about 5 miles, we suddenly started to go down. The ground is softer than in TX, it’s soft earth instead of sharp rocks and cedar chops which have it’s own charm. You get used to touching your feet lightly onto the ground so your feet don’t get caught or twisted or roll on a rock. Eventually I asked Sue if I could go past her and then I just took off. I had finally acclimatized and I was going downhill, it felt great and so off I went. I almost flew down for about half to 3/4 of a mile, running hard but never feeling hard. I got down to the first aid station and it continued on downhill for a while. We crossed a bit of a bridge and then the incline began a bit. But it was still net downhill so I thought this was the only time I could pick some time up and enjoy the speed while I was at it.

While I run okay downhill in TX, in PNW it takes on a whole new meaning. In TX even when you run downhill it can be nerve racking because of the rocks and pebbles. But here on soft earth and grass, you can’t even brake if you want to. You just keep flying down and this wasn’t just mine but most other runners’ experience.

Eventually all the running fast downhill creeps up on you and I remembered Olga’s advice on squats. Oh boy, did my quads hurt now not to mention my toe nails. I’d never been so looking forward to climbing again when I came upon the second mountain. This was Mt. Hamilton. Here are some gorgeous pics of the course taken by other runners over the years of this race.

I saw Vicki, one of the TT 50K runners on the course and we kept passing each other back and forth. She did much better on the uphills and on the second time climb I began to get a bit tired. I ate a bunch of gels and kept taking salt tablets every 30-45 minutes. Though the weather was in the cool 60s I was losing a lot of fluids. Even then with all the exhaustion it felt so much better than running in the TX heat. Anyday. I’ll do a mountain a day if it is no higher than 65 F.

Here’s again where I began to flag in energy but I didn’t feel bad because I felt I was doing a good job on the nutrition. Eating lots of gels and salt really, really helped. I always end up eating when I’m really hungry but this time I kept eating at regular intervals. Most ultra runners have this down to a science but I run fewer miles and usually don’t obsess or think about it. At some point I caught up with some hikers and this is when the mountain again began to egg you on. A glimpse here and there. I tried to keep sight of Vicki to keep me going. But the trails and the switchbacks were deceptive, she was quite ahead of me. Here’s a pic of her waving down at me.

As I hiked and hiked, over a million switchbacks because they felt like they were never going to end, I began thinking that there has to be something heavenly up there. My mind was already turning to mush but I was keeping on going thinking seeing that view would be like seeing God. Maybe that’s all there is to seeing God. Probably why people like building temples up on the hill because after an exhausting trek, people were ready to believe anything.

The hiker behind me was catching up. I wanted to be ahead of him but I was tired. He wasn’t running a race, I was. But he looked calm and strong. I asked him if he wanted to pass me. He was like, you’re almost there. This is one of the last few switchbacks. You’re there. Keep going. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Those kind words at that time meant a whole lot more than he’d ever know.

And then I finally made it. And it was worth every step. Because I almost had to sit down and choke back my tears. I thought about why I felt like that – it wasn’t because I was tired or hurting, that hardly mattered. It was because what my body was enduring was so unimportant and so insignificant amongst those giant mountains that it automatically just made me feel so grateful that I was there. That I existed on top of that mountain and nothing else could be more important or more beautiful. Life would go on like it does but in that moment it stood still.

The pics aren’t great. It was cloudy but I know what I saw and how I felt. And at that time I was exactly at halfway mark. About 7.5-8 miles and I had the remaining to go. But I felt I could go on forever. It was absolutely worth it. All my worries about finishing, the hike up everything vanished. All I could think about was, I am so happy I made it here.

By the time I began my second hard downhill run, my quads were pretty sore. I wanted to break my speed down but I just couldn’t. Gravity took me along and I still kept running as fast as I could. My only regret that I knew now the best was over and I’d left the utmost beauty of the course behind me. But the rest of the course didn’t disappoint. I ran across narrow ledges with deep, 200 ft falls down but looking out onto a forest of green pines and snow capped peaks in the distance. And despite my exhaustion, quad soreness and burning toenails from running and stubbing, I just kept saying thanks, thanks, thanks. Thanks to the strangers who put this race up. Thanks to the stranger who helped me through the last few meters of the hike up. And thanks to being alive.

Mountain Running and First Destination Race I: The Kindness of Friends

It’s been ages since I posted and for good reason. Some of the earlier post’s woes got all over my life, namely work travel, friends visiting (not woe) and the great TX summer is here. So way back in April, when the weather was great and I was running regularly and working only normal hours, I registered for Beacon Rock 25K in Portland OR. However come May and early June, I have run a total maximum of no more than 10 miles and not at once. My good friend, ultrarunner Olga and also the best post-run therapeutic masseuse I know, told me not to bother running in Austin, as nothing in the terrain here can prepare you for Pacific Northwest US (PNW). So instead, whenever I could I ran in hotel gyms, put the incline on 7-9 and hiked up or ran up. It was hard to do it for 3 straight miles but that’s what mountain running is supposed to be like. She also told me to do more squats for the downhills but I never did nearly enough anything. I tried to do more yoga so at least I was building core and quad strength in different ways.

I flew to Portland on Friday night and landed in the daylight. The view was breathtaking Here’s a picture of Mt. Hood from the plane (thanks to Rod, another Tejas runner who was on the same flight and we talked a lot).

Portland itself is gorgeous. Flanked by tall pine covered mountains and a sparkling wide river snaking through the city, it is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen in the US, not to mention the state of OR. California who? I was definitely not prepared for that breathtaking beauty and the rest of the weekend I spent, sharply drawing my breath in awe or feeling down right overwhelmed enough to tear up.

I stayed with my friend Shreya who was traveling but her husband, Dipu took great care of me. We went to dinner and I ate the best ceviche since I left Brazil. He cooked me a champions breakfast on Sat morning with eggs, potato pancakes, sausages, toast and mangoes. We talked about everything under the sun and around 11 am, I thanked him for his (and Shreya’s omnipresent) hospitality and began driving towards Hood River in Columbia Gorge. Dipu told me to take the scenic route via US 83 and boy was it gorgeous. The sky was BLUE (yes, not normal in PDX) and the river was gleaming blue. Pretty much all the way you’re driving along side Columbia River. I stopped at a bunch of Patel points and took photos of the waterfalls, one of them being Multnomah (tallest in North America). Here are some photos from the drive.

Hood River

I got into Hood River around 3 pm. I was hungry and Sue, who I was going to stay with told me to get lunch at the Full Sail Brewing Company. The food was great, the beer better and the best part was the view of Hood River. Here’s lunch. It was even better than it looks.

Then I went over to Sue’s vacation rental. Sue and David are Tejas trail runners, David being an ultrarunner. They have two beautiful daughters, with whom I spent most of my evening. They helped me relax and stop worrying about the race next day. While my attitude was to have fun, I was still worried about being able to finish given the terrain and I was also worried because I was flying back home almost immediately after the race (shit plan, what can I do, I had to be back at work next day).

Here’s the view from Sue’s vacation home. We spent a lot of time just taking it in.

The girls are lovely. Jennifer and Lillian are well behaved and lot of fun. Here’s a pic of us together at dinner. I even taught them an Indian kid’s song.

I’d had a fantastic Saturday. I missed Bharath but I was surprised to learn that I was perfectly comfortable traveling along. I in fact enjoyed it and I loved that it was all about running. I was among friends who treated me like family, who welcomed me into their family vacation home with open arms, gave me warm blankets and a couch to sleep on, food to eat and lots and lots of encouragement about the race. I kept thinking that this race wouldn’t have been half as it was without Shreya/Dipu or Sue and David and their wonderful family. And that’s what I have loved about trail running – it’s an extremely close knit group – we’re all family to each other. People that run together in the dark woods, who get lost and find each other, give each other water and that encouragement to go on when every muscle and bone in your body wants you to stop, such people can’t be anything but family. Some of them have known you at your most tired and fatigued and dirty/sweaty times. And they’ve hung around to share the beer right after :).