Friday – Andrea and I flew down from St. Louis to Houston. We drove to the Brazos Bend Park in Needville, TX to pick up my packet and listen to the RD Rob Goyen give his pre-race talk. There was quite a bit of instruction about how to avoid, and more importantly, how not to get eaten by the many alligators that lived in the park. It was at this time, that we met Nicole. Nicole lives in Houston, and has followed RunHard-AlwaysFinish for years. When I had put out that I wanted to try and run a 50, she wrote me and told that that Brazos Bend 50 was the one I needed to do. I talked it over with Andrea and here we were. Nicole has had a lot experience with Ultra’s and she was very prepared and let us know what to expect on Saturday. We all went for dinner and I was in bed by 9:30pm.
3:15am – I rolled over and looked at my phone and as the alarm wailed on, my mind was already thinking about the run. I got up, showered and as Andrea finished packing the last few things for the day, I put my gear together and we headed out. We had a drive that took us nearly a half hour to get to the park. It was a quiet ride, Andrea dozed as I drove, my mind still wondering what lay ahead.
4:30am – Arriving at the park, the first thing I noticed was how calm the starting area was, there was no loud music, bright lights, announcers talking, nope….it was just runners, getting ready to run. We found Nicole and she was setting up camp right before the start/finish line, we had our own little RunHard-AlwaysFinish aid station prepared. I ate some, used the restroom and pretty much just kept off my feet. I met another runner named Chris, he was very cool, giving me suggestions and advice for what lay ahead, I still wasn’t sure what was going to happen.
5:50am – After an hour of sitting, talking and eating, I realized it was really going to happen and my nerves set in, I hugged Andrea, high 5’d Nicole and got ready to run. Again, there was no big fanfare, just the race director counting down the beginning of the race, and we were off. As I ran past Andrea at the start line, I looked at her and said “what am I doing?”
Miles 1-5 There was a little over 100 of us running the 50-mile race and we were all together tight on a small path at the start, but unlike so many other races, there was no jockeying for position or elbow’s flying, everyone just seemed to work together. I was back in the pack, this is where I tried to find the pace, that I felt I could run for 50 miles. I knew that this would be a race of trial and error. It was peaceful those first 5 miles, the out and backs created a spectacle of bobbing headlamps against the blackness of the park. I was amazed at the pace of the leaders as they headed back on the trail, each one of them yelling “good job” to the runners that had yet to make the turn around. I watched the light from my lamp guide me, and I kept running.
Aid Stations– I had my first experiences with an Ultra Marathon Aid stations. I am used to little cups of water and Gatorade being handed to me and getting out of everyone’s way quickly. Not here, these people treat you like you were the only runner that they were going to see. Filling my bottles, offering me food and if needed there was always an ice-cold sponge waiting for you. It literally looked like a buffet of the best food ever.
Miles 5 – 16.8 Each mile ticked by and the sun was slowly rising. I had seen Andrea and Nicole at mile 6 and it gave me a boost as I headed out into the back section of the run. I stayed even paced and as the packed had thinned out I settled into my run, with my head on a swivel as I looked for alligators. I felt comfortable during this first loop, it hadn’t sunk in yet, what still laid before me.
Miles 16.8 – 33.6 I arrived back at the start line, Andrea and Nicole were ready with fresh bottles and a dry shirt. I told Andrea that my stomach was causing me problems, that aggravating, mildly twisting stomach. She handed be a bag of potato chips, told me to eat them and sent me on my way. That one simple act, changed my race. (more later) I continued to run very comfortable for the next 8 or 9 miles. I enjoyed the sights, the other runners, the awesomeness of the aid stations. At mile 26.2 I stopped, I had never run further than a marathon, I never thought myself able to run Ultramarathon distances. I have watched so many Ultra videos, (shout out Billy Yang), but didn’t think I could enter that league, yet here I was crossing that line, and so I kept running. The sun was out strong now, and all though so much of the course was shaded, the heat was beginning to wear on me. At the final two aid stations, I took my time, eating potato chips, getting a quick ice bath and filling my bottles. By mile 30 I was doing Galloway Intervals and trying to just run the mile I was in. The 2nd loop was coming to an end and I was so happy to see Andrea. I changed my shirt and my shoes. The shoes were purely a mind thing, as my other ones were fine. I just wanted red shoes….after 33 miles your mind is a scary place.
Miles 33.6-50.4 This is where the race actually started for me. I wasn’t racing other runners, I was racing my own fatigue, and I was relying on my will to finish and not give in to my want to quit. Runners were allowed a pacer the final loop, and I welcomed the company as Nicole joined me on the trail. She had brought a neck scarf that could be filled with ice and I gladly wore it, embracing the cold bite the ice had on my skin as I ran. It was at Mile 35 where things turned dark. I became very aware of the fatigue in my legs, fatigue that is the pain you feel at the end of a marathon and I wondered how I was going to be able to run another 15 miles. Several times during the next 5 or 6 miles I told Nicole that I wanted to walk for a mile, just to rest and recover a bit, but I never did. I would walk for a minute and then run and repeated this cycle over and over again. Each aid station, Nicole would make sure I had my bottles filled, support staff would ice me down and feed me my chips, then we would head out again. I had been warned about the “hurt locker”, the “dark miles”, but until I was in that place, there is no way to prepare for it. It was at mile 40 that I started to come out of the funk, I had broken the run down into 4 parts and I had already completed 2 of them. The 3rd part was an out and back with an q-tip head on it. It was hot and felt like it went on forever. But I was prepared for it, and all though it was uncomfortable and the longest stretch between aid stations, I kept continuing my cycle. Run –walk – Run – Walk- over and over. My only times that I would stop, would be at aid stations and the few times I had boulders get lodged inside my shoes, Nicole had told me to stop and get rid of them right away or I would pay for it later, so I did. (really, they were pebbles the size of a pin head…but they had to go!!) As I finished the 3rd part of the run, it began to dawn on me that I was in the final part of the race, and as I approached the aid station at 43 miles, those final 7 miles still seemed like another marathon was left. We stopped and iced down, Nicole forced me to eat a bite of PB&J, then we took off on the 2.9-mile trek to the second to last aid station. This section was not shaded, it was hot, I was tired, but I realized my legs didn’t hurt any more than they did at mile 35, they had reached their pain limit and this was AWESOME. Knowing that the pain wasn’t increasing, was a good thing and gave me confidence. I decided to compartmentalize the pain and just go, so we did. We reached the aid station, I ate chips, filled up with ice water and moved on. We were at mile 45.9 and I was excited, I had less than 5 miles to go and I wasn’t dead yet. There was more running than walking, (to be clear, my running was at times was no more than an exaggerated shuffle, but I felt like I was flying) I was smiling and my goal was to get to that last aid station. We reached the last aid station, I loaded up on potato chips, filled my bottles and that is when I heard Nicole ask how far we had left, the answer…1.79 mile…. less than two miles. I looked at Nicole and said, “Let’s go”. We “flew” down the path, across the road and past the alligator infested swamp. We followed the twisting path to the main road, and as we turned to the home stretch I still had this weird fear that I was going to cramp up and not be able to get to the finish. I looked at Nicole with ½ mile to go and we high-fived, I was very grateful for her pacing me for the last loop, and my excitement to finish was mounting. With a quarter mile to go, I heard, but couldn’t see Andrea, she is my biggest fan and she was screaming my name, I removed my Orange Mud and my second fuel belt, and took off running. I ran as hard as I possibly could, pumping fists and pointing at my beautiful wife. I ran through the finish line, and when Rob handed me my medal, I didn’t feel anything except joy. When I crossed the finished line, I expected to break down and cry. But there was just too much joy, all I could do was smile. I was happy to not have to move, I was happy that I finished with power, I was happy to be an Ultra marathoner. I was happy.
Potato Chips/Fuel – I struggled throughout my training for this race, finding the correct fuel. I was excellent at finding the ones that would make me hurl, but I never dialed it in 100%. I had finally settled on using my Heed from Hammer for calories and lots of water. I ate plenty of watermelon and oranges during the race, but it wasn’t till Andrea handed me those chips at mile 17 that a switch was flipped. It was a game changer, because up to that point my stomach just wasn’t right. They calmed my stomach, seemed to give me energy and the salty, crunching texture tasted unbelievable. I kept up with my Heed (aid stations had Heed which was a big help), made sure to continually take water in, and ate those chips…. lots of chips.
Training – This was my first experience with running an Ultra. I trusted my coach Jon Sinclair and each week was an adventure as I completed some of the highest mileage weekends ever. I started training in November 2016 and missed only 3 runs of my schedule. I logged 840 miles during the training period, and every mile was done with a purpose. These miles were completed each week as I traveled the country. I ran in 11 different states, a cruise ship and couple of Caribbean Islands, in snow, rain and blazing hot temps. I learned to embrace the long slow run. My longest runs were Saturday’s with 24 miles in the morning and 6 miles in the afternoon, followed by Sunday’s with anywhere from 6-10 miles. When I entered those dark miles between 33 and 40, it was then I felt the benefit of all those long miles. Although I hurt, I never quit, and I had strength that was unknown to me.
Pain and Achievement – I have never had to dig so deep to finish a run as I did this day. I learned more about my ability to deal with pain and fatigue in that final loop, than I have in all 16 of my marathons. I was happy, because I had set a goal, worked extremely hard and achieved it. This is the lesson that running teaches you, that can carry over into your everyday life. Set a goal – Work Hard – Achieve it and be proud. I had made many deals with myself during the race. I told myself, that I needed a break from running, I agreed with the pain and decided that Half Marathons would be the longest that I would race moving forward. But unlike other races where, you reconsider after the run when the pain subsides, I began to reconsider within the dark miles. I realized that I was battling through them and that I could do better next time. I don’t know if 100-mile race is in my future, but I am not ruling anything out now. Listen, I finished a 50 mile Ultra Marathon…..what else can I conquer?
Trail Racing Over Texas put on a spectacular race. Rob Goyen and his staff understand how to give a “pure” running experience. Volunteers were top notch and the day was memorable. Brazos Bend State park was a wonderful venue and the park rangers were coolest. (no one was eaten by an alligator…)
I am thankful for Jon Sinclair and his patience with Clydesdale runner, that asks a lot questions. His confidence that I could run 50 miles and his plan to get me there was awesome.
Thank you to Nicole Berglund, for suggesting this race. Being there for Andrea and myself with the preparation and running that last loop without pressuring me, but always being an encourager.
Most of all thank you to my wife Andrea. She supports all my outlandish dreams, has confidence that I will achieve them and is always the loudest at the finish line. We are a great team.
Brazos Bend 50
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