Monday, March 09, 2009

Waco TNT 20 Miler

The Toughest in Texas 50/20/10 mile trail race is maybe the third or fourth (unrelated) race I have heard of that incorporates a phrase similar to "Toughest in Texas" into its name, and of the ones I have done, it is closest to earning that name. Previously it was known as the Waco Five-oh (50k), Two-Oh (20-Mile), etc... I like the original name better. You wouldn't expect hills in Waco, but this course had hills. The 10+ mile loop course is run on mountain bike trails carved into the bluffs next to the Brazos River in Waco's Cameron Park. There were a couple of additional hills added since the last time I ran this two years ago. The race offered a 50k/30+mile (3 loops), 20 Mile (2 loops) and 10 mile options.

Elevation Profile from GPS
(Elevation is not accurate, but you see the hills)

This race with its hills fit well in the training plan for Jemez 50k. I decided at the last minute to drive to Waco the night before so I could keep a normal sleep schedule. Many people from Austin got up extra early to drive that morning. The 50k race was supposed to start at 6:30 am, and other distances were supposed to start in 30-minute increments afterwords. But the city employee who was supposed to open the park gates and restrooms and turn on the water (needed for the aid stations) was late, so the 50K start was delayed 30 minutes. 50k'ers were itching to get started before the sun warmed things up. The 20 mile race I was in started 15 minutes later, and the 10 mile race started 15 minutes after that.

At the start we run across a field to get to the trail. In the confusion from the delay, we did not get the race instructions that the 50k'ers got, which would have told everyone not to go up Jacob's ladder at the start. So most of the runners got confused when the starting trail intersected the end of the course, and followed the chalk marks half-way up Jacob's ladder, which was supposed to be saved for the end of the loop. A runner with experience in the course yelled and corrected everyone before I could follow like a lemming up the ladder. A few people took advantage of everyone’s mistake to jump into the lead for a bit. Then the course followed a flat trail along the river a bit before getting into the hills. I walked the first couple of ups so as not to exert too much too early. But then I started passing people who were pausing over some of the rough terrain. Before two miles were up, I hit the first surprise which was a steep hill up through a bamboo forest. This was barely an established trail, and we almost needed to grab on to the bamboo stalks to pull ourselves up the hill. The first 10-mile racers passed me within the first two miles and I was suppressed how fast they came up. The course was exceptionally well marked considering the number of twists and turns.

Course (click to enlarge)

The first few miles seemed the toughest hills, and then the rest had a bunch of ups and downs runnable. It was much hillier than most of what I have been running in Austin, but the trails were less rocky so it was easier for me to keep running, especially on the downhills where I could just let go and let gravity assist in pulling me down the hill. Quite a few 10 mile runners passed me over the next few miles, but I wasn't racing them. I wanted to leave some energy in the tank for the second loop, so I would step aside and let them pass when someone parked on my heels for a bit without attempting to pass. One woman was hanging behind me close enough for a few lines of conversation, but not coming close enough that I could step aside for her to pass, so I let her push me through the last miles up of the first loop. She caught up and I let her pass just before the end of the loop. At the end she remarked how she had targeted me to pass but it took a few miles for her to catch up, and she did not realize I still had one loop to go since she was done at 10 miles.

At the end of the loop with the finish line tantalizingly in sight we are diverted up Jacob's ladder, which is a concrete set of knee high stairs that take us up a big climb before we run back down the other side of the hill to the start/finish point. The steps were un-even, and some of them high enough that short people had difficulty. The first loop took me 2:37. I felt like I had been running faster than that.

As I ran out I saw a few others from my training group approaching Jacobs ladder, so I knew I wasn't last at my distance. I heard someone running fast and hard behind me and I thought it meant I was about to get lapped by a 50k'er already, but it was someone not in the race, running with combat pants and boots. But shortly after that, several of the lead 50k runners flew by before I got to the 1st mile marker of the second loop. After that, I hardly saw anyone for the whole loop. About 6 people in the 50K distance passed me over the course of the 10 miles, but I did not encounter anyone else in my distance. The energy was diminishing, so it was a little harder to push through the hills at the same speed as the previous loop. I remembered from two years before some of the sections where I had been lapped by Coach Joe and others from my training group who were doing 3 laps. As I passed those spots I realized they hadn't passed me yet and I wanted to get done before they lapped me. At least, I used that thought as a mental motivation trick to keep me moving. In the last few miles, I saw that a 6 hour finish might be achievable, and that was another mental target to push me through. I hit the base of Jacob's ladder with 4 minutes before 6 hours and I thought I would miss that mark. But it was actually easier to climb the stairs this time, and I managed to make it into the finish with a few seconds before the 6 hour mark. Ten minutes later the first 50K finisher from my training group finished. The first think he said to me was he was expecting to catch up to you before the end.

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