Brazos Bend 100 Race Report: Dec. 10, 2016.
Not sure you could ask for better weather conditions and a faster course than what we had this weekend at Brazos Bend. It was 38° for the start and the high was upper 50’s. The course was changed to six 16.67 mile loops due to some rain earlier in the week which flooded some sections of the course. I was prepared to go for a course record and also had the hopes of setting an American Record for the fastest 100 miles on a trail. I felt confident going into this race that I would have a good shot at it. My fitness was there, taper was on point, and my body felt extremely well.
I stayed the night at the park with a buddy who was also part of my crew support team, Peter Bardenhagen. It is a relief not having to worry about logistics the morning of the race. I loaded up on carbs the night before and relaxed with my feet up. The alarm was set for 4:30 a.m. and I felt fresh and ready to go race morning. Had some coffee to get the buzz going, ate a banana and half of a bagel to get in a few more calories. I also drank a serving of Klean Athlete BCAA +ATP pre-workout drink and Beet Elite NeoShot.
Once we got all our gear together Peter, Kyle Rodemacher (other crew member/pacer) headed to the start area and got setup. I did an easy warm-up to loosen up and rolled to the start line ready to go. We took off and I quickly settled into a nice effort with Mario Macias, who I did not know at the time. I ran close behind him for a couple miles and then I felt like my effort stayed the same and he dropped back. I was paying attention to my splits and it felt very comfortable so I stayed at that pace.
The first aid station is 40 Acre Lake (4.1 miles) and I blew through there without stopping as I had plenty of fluid and was carrying my nutrition. There is a wooded area just after this aid station so I wanted to get in there quickly and then hopefully be out of sight of the others. I preferred running alone so I could focus on my race and not have to think about what others are doing. It seemed to be working as planned and I was building a gap and running fine. My mantra for the beginning that I repeated to myself was “don’t go fast, don’t give up”. My son came up with this a couple months ago, and it stuck in my head so I used it early on to not go out too quick.
At twelve miles, I had about a three-minute lead over second place and I was in good spirits. My crew had my hydration and nutrition with them so I didn’t have to stop long in the aid stations and waste time. I primarily drank water and was taking about three Huma gels an hour. Towards the end of the first lap I switched to a bottle of Tailwind to get in a few more calories. I went through a half a bottle pretty quick which allowed me to get in 100 additional calories. I took breaks occasionally to use the bathroom and that was also when I would walk for a bit and do some light stretching.
I was wearing a newer pair of Hoka Clayton’s which I absolute love. I was starting to realize they weren’t quite broken in as my feet were sliding in them and I could feel the friction. At the Windmill Aid Station (mile 14.8) I told my Crew to get my other Clayton’s ready for a quick change. I came strolling into the start/finish area (mile 16.67) and was able to quickly change shoes. We had it dialed in and I didn’t waste any time as I was probably out of there within 30 seconds. There was a lot of energy there as a couple hundred half marathoners were about to start. I took off and settled back into my comfortable pace. My feet felt much better in these shoes as they had already formed into the shoe from the additional miles I had on them. I completed the first lap in 1:57:07 (7:01 pace). My goal was to run a 7:10 pace for the first 20 miles and then settle into a slower pace that I could maintain for the middle portion of the race.
At an out and back section of the course around mile 18 I saw Mario and he was now 2:40 behind me. This is where I completely lost focus on my own race and started wondering who this guy was. I was flawless up to this point and he looked great and was moving quick. His stride was clean and he had a fast turnover. I’m thinking to myself that he isn’t stopping either at the aid stations or maybe he is and he is just running faster now. Later I found out from my crew he wasn’t stopping. Instead of slowing down I kept running low 7’s. I wasn’t really checking my pace but I was going on how I felt.
The half marathoners didn’t have to do this out and back section so probably half of them got ahead of us on the course. It wasn’t too bad as the trails were wide enough there and majority of the runners stayed to the right allowing a clear path to run by. I never looked back to see where Mario was and tried to stay comfortable and running as efficiently as possible. The pace still felt effortless and I was staying on top of my nutrition and hydration.
The back half of the course (last 8 miles of the lap) is a long out and back section. This is part of the course that was changed due to some flooding on a couple trails. At the turnaround, I would check my watch so I could know how much time separated us. Mario was now 2 minutes behind and still looking just as good as before. I was now getting irritated. I knew there were a handful of guys with solid results but I didn’t expect anyone to go this quick. It was just us at the front and nobody close behind.
At Windmill aid station (31.5 miles), I told my crew I needed some Vaseline as my toes were bothering me from earlier, and also to get some thinner gloves as it was beginning to warm up a bit. They went ahead and got that ready. I went through the start/finish area (mile 33.34) without stopping and met with them about a half mile afterwards so I could sit at a bench along the trails and take my shoes and socks off. My toes were already blistered so we lubed them up pretty good with Trail Toes (anti blister cream) and I went on my way. I completed lap two in 1:58:15 (7:05 pace).
I was headed back on the out and back section and there was Mario chasing me down and about 1:30 behind. At this point it finally registered in my head to let him catch me so I could focus on something more sustainable. He eventually did around 38 miles and I was relieved to let him go. I began to settle into a 7:30 to 7:45 pace and hung there for the second half of the lap. He put about 3 minutes on me within 8 miles. I was just hoping I would see him later in the race, and if not then be able to congratulate him for one heck of a record breaking run.
On the way back I started getting this burning sensation in my quads (between miles 46-48). It was a feeling I haven’t experienced before and felt like they were on fire. I looked at my legs and my knees were bright red. I just figured it had something to do with the colder temps at the start. It was warming up enough that I wanted to put on a short sleeve shirt so at the Windmill aid station (48 miles) I stopped to change and took some time to walk and stretch a little. I asked my crew to get my foam roller ready at the start/finish area. Now that Mario was ahead I wasn’t as focused on time and rushing. I knew I needed to take care of myself and as long as I kept around 7:30-7:45 pace I would be good. I completed the third lap in 2:07:22 (7:38 pace). 50 miles at 6:02:44
I didn’t stop there and had Kyle meet me just beyond the start/finish area where I stopped the last lap. I took my time and rolled my quads and glutes for a couple minutes. Started walking for a bit and then back to running. After this I never got back into a rhythm I once had and things unraveled very quickly. I was able to run a low 8-minute mile but had to stop due to them aching. I walked a little more to hopefully allow my legs to loosen up. It felt like I blew my quads and I was unable to run without pain. I couldn’t figure out what was going on and wasn’t able to make any sense of it. It’s not a hilly course which is usually where you’ll experience this. It was frustrating and very disappointing. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to run decent the second half and that I had did too much damage. All I could think about was how much time I would be on my feet for another 48 miles. I knew I wouldn’t want to walk that long which is likely another 10-12 hours.
I walked the next few miles to mile 56 where the start/finish area is and called it a day. Kyle gave me the phone to speak to my wife and she was just as upset. She knows how much I put into this race and that I wanted this so bad. I felt worse about staying on the course and having the family waiting for me all night. I tossed the bib in a trash bag and waited for my friends doing their first 50 milers to come in. They had about ten miles to go so another 1-1/2 to 2 hours remaining. While waiting around I propped my legs up to elevate them for a while and had some time to reflect on the day. I was really bothered with the fact that this is my second DNF at this race.
Seeing my friends finish and persevere through their first 50-mile race and another in good spirits going out for his final loop made me regret my decision to quit. There were others on the course dealing with more challenges than me. Just a few out there grinding it out that resonated with me was an Air Force Veteran with an above the knee running prosthesis, a guy dragging a tire behind him on a rope, and a guy in a wheel chair.
I recognized a guy, Patrick Sweeney, who I met at the Badwater-135 race this year. We talked about Badwater and it made me realize how bad I wanted to do that race. That was the moment I started thinking about the possibility of finishing. My legs actually felt decent and not as stiff as they did earlier. I went to the parking lot to try a test run and there was no pain. I wasn’t as fresh as earlier but I could run which made me feel much more optimistic. I did the math on some scenarios and thought if I came back out at night I could run and try to finish under 24 hours. I spoke to Rob the RD about restarting later and he was totally cool with it as long as I checked in with him and continued where I stopped. I’m now thinking how I’m going to explain this to my wife and was very nervous about her reaction. I grabbed both of her hands, looked her in the eyes like I was about to propose to her, and told her my idea of coming back out after the kids went to bed. She was super supportive and was all for it. She knows how hard I worked for this and how bad I wanted it.
The plan was to pack up and head back to the camper and then come back out at 9 or 10 p.m. when the kids were ready for bed. The kids had fun at the camp site and we took them to the Nature Center and around Elm Lake to look for alligators. We went back to the camper and started making dinner. I cleaned up, ate a light dinner, and then kicked my feet up and rested. I laid in my NormaTec Compression boots and closed my eyes for about 20-30 minutes. At that time, I spoke to Kyle who was going to pace me and we decided to start sooner so that we could get back an hour or two earlier than expected and hopefully get some sleep before having to drive home. We got everything together that we thought we would need for the night. I had to tape my toes because of the blisters and wore a more cushioned shoe. I chose the Hoka Mafate Speed which I figured would be better for more time on my feet and not being able to see as easy what I would be stepping on in the dark. I also had quite a bit of chafing from earlier so lubed up pretty good before going.
Once we packed up we went back out to the start/finish area a little after 8 p.m. Kyle checked in and picked up his pacer bib and I gave a heads up to the RD that we were about to continue. We had 44 miles to go and had to first complete 10 miles of the fourth lap which is my least favorite. It’s mentally tough because the majority of this section is a long out and back. You expect the turnaround to be a lot closer than it is. At about 2.5 miles in you make a hard-left turn onto another trail and you think it’s a mile until the turn around and it’s closer to two miles. It’s pitch black and seems never ending. This is the part in the first lap where my feet were rubbing in my shoes wrong. When we made it to the first aid station, Windmill (mile 59.4), I took my shoes and socks off and rubbed some more Trail Toes on my feet for extra protection. I had not tried this product before this day, but it seemed to work well.
We cruised along at an 8:30 pace which felt quick and I was not sure if it would be sustainable. The aid stations are just under a few miles apart on the back half so we took time at those to rest and eat before going again. I was ok with the quicker pace at first because I wanted to get back to the start/finish area before it got too late so I could text my wife and catch her before she went to sleep wouldn’t have to worry.
There is something more special about running at night. It’s the experience of being in the middle of nowhere and you are surrounded by the wild. We saw alligators (in the water), armadillos, and heard quite a few noises from birds and other animals. It also helps because you are usually running slower and the focus is on finishing rather than running a certain time. I paced Kyle eleven months’ prior at Rocky Raccoon 100 in Huntsville Texas for his final lap and it was in the middle of the night. He ended up destroying his quads in that race and walked the last 50 miles to finish sub 24. It was ironic that we were in a similar situation. For me (pacing him) it was a blast although he was in a lot of pain at the time. You really get to see how tough the other person is and how determined they are to conquer their goals. This time he was returning the favor and it’s amazing having someone there to help you get through it.
It felt like it had warmed up so after completing the lap I got rid of my arm sleeves and gloves. It was a lot warmer at 10 p.m. then it was when I was running earlier in the day. We looked at the time completed and it was close to 10 hours for the fourth lap (mile 66.68). It was amusing because I had the fastest lap of the day and the slowest lap of the day. Now we settled into a slower pace between 9-10 minute miles for the fourth lap. Kyle used his headlamp and I turned mine off because we still weren’t sure how long we would be out there and unsure how long the batteries would last.
We made it to 40 Acre Lake aid station (mile 70.78) and I chowed down on some Ramen noodles, gummy bears, and M&M’s. It was good to get some solid food in and switch it up a bit as I cannot eat much other than gels when I’m running fast. I was still taking two Huma Gels (with Caffeine) an hour to make sure I had enough calories. After stopping for a bit I was noticing things were starting to get stiff so we kept on moving. We maintained that pace for the first six miles of the fifth loop and then picked it up for the back half. My legs were getting tired and I was having some discomfort along the outer part of my calves. It was a good thing we turned off one headlamp because Kyle’s was already flashing which means the battery is low. His light wasn’t bright but it was enough to complete the fifth loop. We talked about him stopping after this loop since that was a marathon for him and he had not planned to do more than 16 miles. He had his bike in his truck so he got it while I continued and was going to ride out on the course and meet me out there. I completed the fifth loop (mile 83.35) in 2:55:42 (10:36 pace).
Since I was running solo I took my iPod with me and listened to music. I started out easy around a ten minute mile and then gradually got quicker the second mile. Kyle found a massive turtle shell that he wanted to show the kids so he took it bike back to his truck and said he would meet up with me. I thought it would be fun to pick up the pace and see how long it would take for him to catch up with me. I started to get into a rhythm and was able to hold 8-1/2 to 9-minute pace for the next five miles. Kyle finally caught me before going out for the final 10 miles. That hard effort really took a toll on my legs and things were beginning to hurt a lot more. I started to walk again and my legs felt like they did earlier in the day when I stopped. I tried to run but I was really stiff and it was painful to my quads. I was doing the math in my head and figuring that walking would be around 16 minutes a mile. At that pace it would be another hour and I was tired and ready to get it over with. I tried to change up my form and run differently to hopefully relieve some of the pressure on the quads but it didn’t do much.
We made it to Windmill aid station (mile 92.71) and I sat in a chair and massaged my legs. It hurt to start going again and reminded me of the discomfort I felt during the 12 hour treadmill run when I stopped and started again. I walked for a mile with Kyle and noticed quite a few head lamps coming back in. Not sure how many of these runners were on their final lap with four miles to go, but I thought if I could run again I could potentially catch them as they were walking. Throughout the night we were paying attention to my overall ranking and asking race staff what place I was in. When I started that evening, I was around 65th and now I was probably close to 30th.
It took me everything I had to get moving again but I was determined to run. It reminded me of the scene in Forrest Gump when he is a kid and being chased by bullies. He has leg braces on and has to run with his legs locked and then finally breaks out of the braces. It felt just like that. I was going to do whatever it took to get to the finish as quick as I could and catch as many people over the last seven miles. I was only able to run 9:30 to 10-minute pace for the first four miles and it seemed like I was sprinting. My mantra was “don’t stop, don’t give up” and I had to say that a few times in my head. I also had the music replaying on certain songs that allowed me to tune out the discomfort. I was sweating like crazy as it warmed up quite a bit since we started so I took off my shirt to stay cool. I would often spray my face, head, and back with cold water to keep me more alert. My headlamp also started flashing with about five miles to go and the light began to dim so it was harder to see the trails.
We made it to Sawmill aid station (mile 95.41) to refill bottles really quick and off I went. I had to run a ten-minute mile to break 22 hours. I picked up the pace to a little over an eight-minute mile pace and gutted it out to the finish. I’m glad I pushed it and was able to gain some more mental strength from this effort. I caught quite a few people on the way back in and didn’t slow down until I crossed the finish line. Total finish time was 21:56:07 and finished 29th overall. Sixth lap was 2:52:01 (10:19 pace).
Unfortunately, this wasn’t my day but I accomplished one of my goals which was to finish. I put it out there and paid the consequences for not sticking to my race plan. I’ve learned a lot in this hundred and fortunately I have a pretty good short term memory that will allow me to put this behind and move on to the next one.
First half splits and data on STRAVA (click here)
This is the Race Director Rob Goyen and me with my sub 22-hour belt buckle. He did a fabulous job managing the race and catering to the runners. The dude stayed out there from start to finish (30+ hours) and put on one heck of a race for us. He has an awesome team and some amazing volunteers working to ensure these races are a success. I look forward to doing more TROT racing in the future.
I am so thankful for having a supportive wife that believes in my dreams and encourages me along the way. She is my biggest cheerleader and wanted to be out there so bad to watch me run at night. This is moments before going back out that evening to complete the race. Best friends for life!
Special thanks to both Peter Bardenhagen and Kyle Rodemacher for supporting me. They did a lot of planning before this race which made my job easy. We had this thing figured out and it went so smooth it really was incredible. I have since given them permission to yell at me or stop me next time I pull a stunt like that in the first half of a race. Glad to have these guys crewing for me.