I Almost Died…. Choking on a Gel

I like reading stories from amazing people and their experiences running. The journey they take, the milestones they reach, the sacrifices they endure are all inspiring. But when it comes to my running, I am more the quiet type. I like to log my miles, enter a quick comment in my journal and on daily mile, then I’m good. I haven’t been running all that long so I don’t feel I have much to offer when it comes to telling stories. That being said, I have noticed that in a poll taken on IRC Face Book page, I would be a jerk if I did not write a race re-cap of the Rocky Raccoon 50 mile Endurance Run. So to ensure my insane friends from the IRC will still allow me to be a part of the group, I present to you, drum roll please. My First 50!!!
It was a dark and stormy night. For real!!! It was 5:30 when we rolled into the park and we were in the middle of a down pour. Explain this one. Texas has not had rain in 7 months, roughly 214 days, and the day we have been waiting on for months is a complete monsoon? Anyway, we were in the middle of a Dangerous Thunderstorm according to my trusty Droid and Weather bug app. The storm had all the works too, lightning, hail, wind, and oh yeah, a flash flood warning too boot. One would think this would dampen the spirits of any runner about to embark on an already tough challenge. Not in our truck. The only comment I can recall is “This is Sweet.” Think about it: mud + water + wind + rain = awesome (at least it does in IRC math). Luckily for us we experienced no hail, but we did have some rather hard objects falling from the sky which I will get to in a bit.
The race was a sell out and we soon discovered we did not leave the motel soon enough to get a good parking space. Between 750 runners, all the crew members, race volunteers, and family members bidding farewell to loved ones, it didn’t leave much room for driving or parking. We made our way to the start line and watched as the 100 mile runners took off. The hour head start would give them time to get a few miles out and keep congestion down on the trail. Charley and I drove to Nature Center aide station and watched as the runners came through. After David passed through we went back to get my race started. (Charley H. is awesome by the way. He spent the entire day making sure David M. and I had everything we needed to keep running. Then when I was finished with my race, he took off with David and Kai and paced them for 40 miles. STUD!)
Lining up was a bit of a struggle. It was pouring and everyone wanted under the aide station tent for the start. People were chatting and double checking gear: rain gear, trash bags, jackets, camel backs. Me I had a water bottle, headlamp, sunglasses and my IRC shirt. I love my optimism but decided instead of losing my Oakleys on the course, I would hand them to Charley. Joe hollered something and the line started moving. We made our way out and he gave his 10 second count down. With a roar from the crowd we were off.
The headlamp was extremely helpful. Some dude beside me didn’t have one and tripped several times on the huge roots before the first aide station. (If you choose to do this race, a headlamp is suggested). As I said earlier we had no hail. We did however have tree tops falling. That’s a first for me. Between the start of the 100 mile and the 50 mile a tree top had fell across one of the foot bridges at about mile 2. Glad we were not on the bridge at the time! At the Nature Center, Charley was waiting and I handed off my headlamp as I ran through.
Crossing over to the other side of the park you head out for the lake where you have to run across a levee/dam. This area is unique and has a name of its own, Dam Nation. The population at Dam Nation was made up of volunteers who are runners themselves. These folks were awesome. They knew what you needed and gave it to you and sent you on your way. I stopped for a refill on my water bottle and few pretzels and took off to make my loop past the aide station then it was back to the same aide station. After topping off my water bottle again, I headed out for Park Road.
Running back toward Park Road, you are meeting people coming into Dam Nation. Cordial exchanges between runners, quick smiles, and head nods are common. But before long, it is only one way traffic. This is the part of the course that I particularly didn’t care for. It was straight with some nice hills and you could see along way ahead. I didn’t mind the hills; I just didn’t care for the visual of where I was going because it was a long way out there. I am not fast enough to hang with the front of the pack and too fast for the very back of the pack. So stuck in the middle with very few people around is how I ran this section of the course. I caught a guy just before the aide station and we visited until we hit Park Road. To my delight, I was offered a bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast burrito! Eating on the run I headed out to finish my first loop with a smile.
Conditions at the race were challenging. Portions of the trail were soupy mud. I passed runners as they tip toed around the mud so they wouldn’t get their feet wet or muddy. Some people had even taken elaborate measures to bypass the worst spots. I felt like it was more effort to go around than it was to go through so I ran and splashed through as much mud as I could. I came up on one runner who felt the need to explain to me why he was trekking out into the woods so far to go around the mud. He said something about clean and dry. I think I splashed him as I ran through the sloppy mess. Some areas were covered in water and the foot bridge was barely wide enough to accommodate two way traffic. Nonetheless, this is what I paid for so I was prepared to get my monies worth.
My longest run prior to this race was a marathon. I ran that distance once in December and once in January. That was it. I had no idea what 27 – 50 were going to feel like. Did it hurt? Yes. In fact, it hurt a lot. From the huge blood blister on my toe on lap one to the physical weariness of constant relentless forward movement. It hurt! Then it hurt worse, just like my friends had told me it would. And just when I thought it was going to get better, it hurt some more. But guess what, I moved forward and I kept going. My toe went numb about 20 miles in and it didn’t bother me any more. And willing yourself to run and not walk becomes a mental game. Telling yourself to run to that log or no walking until you have passed the foot bridge become goals. Then you reach those points and bargain for more distance from yourself all the while constantly moving forward.
My worst problem occurred with just a few miles to go. I was tired and needed a boost so I grabbed a gel from my pocket and sucked it down. Problem was I choked on it and some of it ended up in my wind pipe. Have you ever had gel come out your nose? It is very funny now, but at the time, I thought I would die. This too passed and I was able to run to the finish line where I was greeted by my friends and some pretty cool volunteers.
I will not bore you with loops 2 and 3. They were pretty non eventful. Just me running through the woods, in the mud, for a while. Fast-forward to the end. I finished. Since this was my first attempt at 50 miles, my goal was to just finish “wink wink, nod nod”! (I was actually shooting for 9 hours.) My finish time was 9:47. Before I left home for this trip, I asked my 8 year old son what my race strategy should be. His response was pretty motivating: “Don’t DIE Dad and FINISH.” I like the way he thinks.
Several people have asked me Why? Why did you run that far? Well, for me it is pretty simple. I ran this race for one reason. I wanted to see if I could do it.

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