All three of our alarms went off at 4am. We are staying at the Katy House B&B in Smithville, TX. This is the town Rocky Hills Ranch is in. Ane the owner of this wonderul, historic B&B is the granddaughter of the owner of Rocky Hill Ranch.
We had everything layed out and prepared carefully and had gone to bed at 9 pm. Everything was going as planned. That is the beauty of arriving over 24 hours early to a race. On the morning of the race , I had some coffee and a really small breakfast. But that was alright; we had enjoyed a massive meal at 3pm the day before at Opal Divine's in Austin.
We drove out the race in pitch black fog. Luckily Olga had warned me the day before to wear a headlamp (something I'd never done). I purchased one in the REI in Austin and couldn't convince SR to do the same. My race started at 5, and his 50k at 6 (this early start seemed terrible, but I wish it had been earlier considering the heat that would come with the sun). We asked Olga when we arrived what time it got light enough to see without a headlamp and she said 7am. There are many reasons it is good to know Olga. When she heard SR had no headlamp, she yelled out:"Meredith, I've got a guy here from Denmark without a headlamp!" and within 2 minutes, he had a handheld light.
Before the race, I couldn't really tell who the women were. I didn't know if Liza Howard was there or Juliet Morgan. But there were about 100 runners in the 50 miler, some who signed up last minute that morning.
One could not see the course at all from the start line. But we had scoped it out a bit the evening before.
I started off running in a group of 3 guys. I had no issues with the headlamp. In fact, it was fun to run in the dark like that. But the course was extremely technical. Despite that, it felt like I was going way too slowly. I figured Liza Howard was doing 7 minute miles through that section and we were doing more like 9 minute miles. Little did I know, I was the leading woman and extending that lead by the minute, despite wipe-outs and getting briefly lost with the guys a couple times.
The 50 mile course is composed of the same 16.66 mile loop 3 times. When there were 5 miles to go in the 1st loop, a guy from Seattle and I went unwittingly 1.1 miles off course. We were confused because it was marked as the course, but was just another section of the course. When we finally made it back to the part we were supposed to be on, the group was going a much slower pace than us. I asked a guy what his garmin said for distance and he had gone 1.1 miles less. What a blow to my psyche! I have never gotten lost in a race before and it just killed my confidence. Olga's one piece of advice to me before we started was "don't get lost!" That woman is too wise.
We made it after 3 hours to the end of the 16.3 mile loop and I saw Olga was just leaving the aid station. She had passed me while I was lost. Bummer! I had thought it would be a lot later into the race when she would pass me. I held out hope of catching her again, though.
Midway through the second loop, at mile 27, I had a complete breakdown. My quads were extremely sore from all the roots and rocks and hills. And despite taking 2 salt caps every 2 hours and drinking my bottle filled with gatorade between every aid station, oh and eating appopriately, I was toast. I knew I'd drop at the end of the second loop. It wasn't worth it. I felt terrible. I told myself not to cry, just because it would be a waste of salt. But when I finally made it to the next aid station, I asked for 3 Ibuprofens, and this ended up being the turning point of the race for me. After 10 minutes, I felt great again.
Then, while I was enjoying the race a bit, a blonde wood nymph of a woman ran by me doing maybe 8 minutes per mile. It didn't take long before I realized this was Juliet Morgan. And I recalled how she did the exact same thing when we ran the Angel Island 50k. She seems to love to starting slowly and gradually gaining speed throughout. Actually, she explained she had a terribly difficult time in the dark as she wasn't used to running with a headlamp and had taken some serious spills. After a quick chat, off she went, leaving me in the dust.
I finished the second loop in 6:05. An even split with the first loop, but 1.1 miles shorter, thanks to my earlier detour. SR was there and had already won the 50k! His time was an amazing 3:55. 5 minutes slower than the previous CR. I was so proud.
As I started the 3rd loop, I revised my goal to finishing in under 10 hours. Even that seemed ambitious, but it is good to have goals. It was getting extremely hot. This would be the loop of hallucinations, losing feeling in my hands, nausea, pain, fishing a half eaten gel out of a stray garbage can and the decision to NEVER run a 100 miler. I wasn't sure what to think about more 50 milers as this was by far the hardest I had tried. I slowed down a lot on the hills and false flats the third loop, but kept my pace just over 9 minutes per mile in the runnable parts. I was pleased with this.
The girls at the last aid station told me I was in 3rd. And I wondered if someone had dropped. I knew it wasn't Olga, as everyone knows she's as tough as nails. But Juliet? Liza? Or maybe the girls were wrong.
I couldn't listen to music or do anything except tell myself to keep going. I ran entirely all the runnable parts of the last 3 miles. This was something I couldn't do at Voyageur last year. I could clearly see I was in better shape and had more endurace. As I neared the finish line in the blistering heat, I saw I could make my goal of under 10 hours. I raced across the finish line, feeling great. I was handed a huge bronze gecko and told I had gotten third. My time was 9:42, faster than the time I had at Voyageur. And Hells Hills was a tougher, hotter, course. I was thrilled. Olga had gotten second with a time of 9:30 and Juliet Morgan first with a time of 9:20. The winning women's time from the year before was 11:56. Liza, unfortunately, could not make it because of a last-minute family obligation.
Man were the times of the top 3 ladies close. But, despite my detour, there is little doubt we all deserved the places we got.
Maybe the coolest part of ultras is the people you meet. Olga and Juliet are not the type of ladies you have the pleasure of running into just any old day. And we had lots to discuss. Although when Olga and Juliet were discussing their sponsors: Drymax and GoreTex repectively, I had to keep quiet (yes, I am still available!!).
The main reason we chose this race was, of course, to meet Olga. And let me just say she is as beautiful and kind of a person as anyone could imagine. Dare I say even more so than one would gather from her blog? She is so smiley and has such a pretty voice with a slight Russian accent. She overwhelmed me when she handed me a bag of gifts. She was apparently concerned by the clothing I wore running in the pictures on my blog and gave me 2 pairs of dry max socks, a bunch of her slightly-used Wasatch Speed Goat and other racing shirts and a really cool racing skirt. She told me not to run in overalls again. (I don't remember ever running in overalls, though it does sound tempting).
What did I learn? Technical trail running and plain old runnning are two different animals (but I have learned that before). S-caps are great in the heat as are Gels (I have officially been converted!). Ibuprofen saved my race. Though more than anything it is was a persistent positive attitude and a belief that I COULD do it that allowed me to finish.
SR had a real breakthrough race and is beginning to establish himself as a top ultra runner. But I would recommend you check out his race report (coming soon) for the details.