I completed my first “ultra” marathon on Saturday, April 25 – a 50K (~31 miles) at the Brazos Bend State Park! This was a great event put on by Trail Racing Over Texas.
The weekend started early Friday afternoon when my husband and I set off for Texas after experiencing torrential thunderstorms at home all morning. Even though thunderstorms/rain were in the forecast for race morning, I wasn’t that worried. Three of my last four marathons were supposed to be rainy, and instead every single race was bright and sunny and dry.
We drove the three-plus hours to the park, where I picked up my packet. Several people were camping out in tents at the start/finish, but I need a real bed, so after packet pickup, we drove the 30 minutes to Sugar Land where we had hotel reservations. We ate dinner at Guru Burgers and Crepes, then went back to the hotel and I got all my stuff together while watching the Bruce Jenner interview with Diane Sawyer.
I think I got about 5 hours of sleep at best, waking up several times. My alarm went off at 4:45 a.m. and I spent about 30 minutes getting ready and all that before waking up my husband. “You’re crazy” is what he told me. “Not just for getting up this early but also for how long you’re going to run.” I responded: “I know. You ready to go?”
I wasn’t worried about traffic but I was concerned that the line to get in the park would be long – you had to pay to get in at the gates. There was quite a line, but it moved quickly. By the time we got through and my husband dropped me off at the start area, I had about 15 minutes to spare. I was in pretty good spirits, not nervous at all, just a little tired. I planned to take one extra gel than what I normally take during a marathon, and I also brought along a Honey Stinger vanilla waffle, ShotBlocks and Pocket Endurance nut butter in my Camelbak. I was able to fit my phone, wrapped up in two Ziploc bags, in the front pocket of my Camelbak, and I also had a SpiBelt with some ibuprofen, ginger chews, salt caps and Pepto Bismol tablets inside.
When the race started, the sky was overcast, but no rain yet. The first couple of miles were very congested, as the 50Kers and 25Kers started at the same time. 50Kers did two 15.8-mile loops, while 25Kers did one. There was also a 50-mile race that had started an hour earlier, and a 10K race starting a little later.
The congestion finally cleared up a bit after 2 miles or so, and that is about the time the sky turned very ominous. It began thundering and lightning at about mile 3.
The first aid station was shortly after mile 4, and right after I went through there, the skies opened up and torrential rain began pouring down. This was actually pretty fun! The rain was coming in sideways and after a minute I was completely drenched. There was even some hail in the mix. Some people stopped running and were crowding behind a tree, but I didn’t think that was the best plan with the lightning. I decided to take my chances and just keep running. I found myself running faster than I wanted to while it was raining, as if I could outrun the rain.
The rain slacked off after about a mile, and drizzled for a little while longer. I got used to being wet and focused on trying to slow down. Of course, after this, the trails were completely wrecked and muddy! The scenery of this race was swampy areas with alligators lurking from the water. It was very pretty! I spotted several alligators, though none came even close to the water’s edge.
The second part of the course was more simple trails surrounded by trees. I tried at first to run in the more muddy parts, but my IT band did not like that, so I started having to slow down and walk around the parts of the trail that were just completely mud and water. I kept thinking there could be snakes in the water or in the grass that I was walking on at the side of the trail. I did see one small snake near the end of the race, in the grass. My fears for this race were: 1) getting struck by lightning, 2) an alligator coming onto the trail and 3) stepping on a snake.
I have no idea what my time was as I finished my first loop, but the race director gave me a high-five. I ran off the course for a second to get my bug spray I had left in the pavilion. The rain had completely washed me of the sunscreen and bug spray I had applied before the race, and now that the weather had cleared up, I had started to see the mosquitoes buzzing around. I thoroughly applied more bug spray, then began my second loop.
A couple of miles into the second loop, it began to thunder and rain again, but this lasted only a short time, and it never got as bad as that torrential rain in the beginning. I started partaking of things supplied at the aid stations – they had all kinds of stuff, but I mostly stuck to pickles, pickle juice and Ginger Ale. I also took some Hammer Endurolyte capsules they had. I couldn’t really stomach anything else, not even my own Honey Stinger waffle or nut butter.
For the second loop, I just kind of focused on running where I could – one part of the course had gotten so muddy across the entire width of the trail that you really couldn’t run at all unless you had good trail shoes. I was slipping and sliding even just walking. I also started taking my time at the aid stations, refilling my Camelbak, using the restroom, taking a moment to get everything settled. I was not that concerned about finishing time, I just wanted to endure.
In the last 9 miles or so, it suddenly got really hot. The rain had passed and the sun was out. The last out and back trail of maybe 4 miles was just muddy, kind of boring (surrounded by trees and no other scenery) and seemingly endless. I just wanted to finish! My stomach was also starting to feel upset. At the last aid station, a couple of miles to the finish, I drank some Coke and grape soda along with the Ginger Ale and pickle juice. I left the aid station and proceeded to walk the next mile pretty much. My Garmin died at about 5 hours and 57 minutes into the race, so I had no idea how far along I was, but I knew I was close.
When I got to the last mile or so, I stretched out my very tight IT band and then ran the rest of the way. I was very happy! I entered the finish area and saw my husband, who took some pictures of me, and then headed in for the finish line. I was happy to see I had come in under 6.5 hours. My official time was 6:27:06.
Ultimately, the rain turned the course into a mess, which made several parts slower and more challenging, but the rain also provided a cool first half. Seeing how hot it got later in the race, I think without the rain it could have been more miserable because it would have been hot the entire time. So there were pros and cons to it! It is funny that my first big race in the rain was my first ultramarathon, after I escaped rainy marathons several times this year.
This was a really fun race, and I would definitely do it or another TROT race again. I don’t know when I will do another 50K, but I will definitely want to get a PR.
After the race, we pretty much hit the road to go home. I had a milkshake and french fries from Chick-Fil-A, then we had Mexican for dinner after I had time to shower and rest a little while. I have spent today, following church, laying on the couch. The things that hurt the most are my quads and surprisingly, lower back. I also chafed in several places thanks to the early rain! But no matter what – I love running!