Monday, May 08, 2006

Guadelupe Mountains Trip

May 4-7, 2006:

Since there are no mountains in Austin, a bunch of participants in the Rogue Pikes Peak Marathon training group took a long weekend trip to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park to do some training runs in terrain more similar to the race course. But this trip had additional meaning for me since the last time I was here, seven years before, that was the wake-up call that was the catalyst to get me started in the marathon training.

Flashback to 1999:

In April of 1999, I went to the park with a few friends, including two guys from Austin, and one of them had invited a couple of girls from Houston. We started out hiking on a trail that would take us two miles with 2000ft elevation gain up to top of the mountain ridge to a spot called “pine top”, and then another mile down to the Tejas backcountry campsite. Our plan was to spend two nights and 3 days hiking from Pine top to McKittrick Canyon. One of the girls hiked here frequently, and we dropped her car off at the trail exit which was some 15 miles away by road.

We started the hike in the morning. Since it was the first time hiking such a distance, I followed the guidelines a little too literally, and had way more water than I would have needed. This and other gear left my pack heavier than I was in shape to carry. We started off on the trail and soon the girls had run off ahead and the three guys were struggling to get up the mountain. But we were struggling to get up the mountain, having to stop and rest after every few steps. The girls got to the top when maybe we were half-way up. They got tired of waiting for us, so they left their packs and ran down to see if we were OK. They got to us with maybe a 1/3 of a mile left to the top. Since we were struggling, they took our packs and headed back towards the top. But even without the packs, we could not keep up with these girls. And so they were sitting at the top waiting for us. We were out of breath and they appeared as if they barely had a workout. It was a little embarrassing.

Then we hiked another mile slightly down hill through the forest to the Tejas campsite and pitched the tents. The temperature overnight fell to the high 20’s (we were not expecting this in Texas in April), and I woke up with frost on the inside of the tent. The next morning it was clear that the guys would not be able to make the whole 3 days (30 KM) so we turned back to the start while the girls continued on. We gave the girls some of the extra water we were not going to use, and emptied out the rest that we did not need to get rid of the weight. I threw up or at least had dry heaves from the exertion on the way back up to pine top. We got back to our cars and left a day early feeling humbled and humiliated.

A year later, inspired my one of my friends from that trip, I scheduled a vacation to New Zealand. This was to involve hiking on some of the famous multi-day treks in the mountains of New Zealand. I did not want to repeat the situation in the Guadelupe mountains, so I joined the Austin Fit marathon training group in the fall of 2000. My goal was not to run the marathon since it fell in the middle of my trip to New Zealand, but instead to build fitness for the hiking treks. I stayed with the program that year until I got up to a half-marathon distance. I went to New Zealand and looked for a 5K or a 10K race because I thought it would be cool to come back with a race T-shirt from overseas. There were not to many such races where I was that I could do, but there were triathlons everywhere. So when I got back to the U.S. I joined a beginner triathlon program through Runtex coached by the triathletes who now run Texas Iron and also Jack of Jack and Adams. I did 5 sprint triathlons that summer in Texas, and when the tri-season ended for the winter I went back to Austin Fit for marathon training and finished my first marathon in 2002 and have run between 1 and 3 marathons a year since.

So, if it had not been for the Guadalupe mountains incident, I might never have run a marathon.

Back to Present day --May, 2006:

About 20 or so from the Rogue training group along with Joe P set up camp in the campground near the base the same trail I had started years before. The first afternoon we did a short 4 mile run through Devils Canyon. The second day we started off on THE run which was to be a 24 mile round trip to Dog Canyon on the other side of the park and back. This was to include the route I had taken on the first visit. I was all psyched to prove I could do better than that first trip. For gear, I had a camelback with 100oz of water and an extra bladder with 30oz of Gatorade, some trail mix and E-caps. For safety, we paired up with people of similar ability. Of course, I was paired with the second slowest runner. We were supposed to wait for our partner at each trail intersection to make sure all was OK and none got lost.

We ran (for me it was mostly power-walking) up to pine top and then got to the Tejas campsite in less than 2 hours. The same distance took me all day on the earlier trip and I was only about 3 miles into a 24 mile run. I continued on stopping to wait for my partner at each intersection of the trail. Then I went an additional 21 miles out to the Dog Canyon trail head and then turned around to go back to camp. I burned out a little coming up and out of Dog Canyon, and so had to walk a bunch of the last few miles. I was slowing down and my partner was hot and tired and decided to stop waiting for me at the trailheads, but she left enough of a sign behind that I knew she had gone ahead. I was OK with that as I would have felt guilty holding her out there. I was able to complete the route in 11 and ½ hours. The feeling of accomplishment at outperforming my earlier trip was reduced since I did not finish as strong as desired.

Then next day the plan was to do the same 30K route to McKittrick Canyon that I originally planned to spend 3 days hiking on that first trip. But due to time limits and safety concerns, only the fastest people ran that route, and the rest of us went to the end to pick them up and run shorter 8 or 10 mile routes from the ending trail head.

On the final day, we ran the 8-mile out-and-back route from the campsite up to Guadalupe Peak where there were some excellent scenic views.

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