Setting my goal

I ran my first Ultra Marathon 100k (62.14 mile) Endurance Trail Run this past Saturday January 10, 2009.  My goal that I set in August was to run 100k at Bandera.  At the time the longest distance that I had run was 14 miles around LBJ Lake in Austin.  I did not have any idea how to prepare for running 100k, but I trusted my coach Robert Heynen when he said, if you do the work you will do the 100k.

Human interaction required

There are a lot of things that you can learn from books and on the Internet, trail running is not one of this things. I have taught myself a lot of skills from reading books and the Internet.  I learned HTML and how to manage a Linux server by reading.  There comes a time when you want to learn something that is bigger than you can grasp and that is when you need a coach or a mentor.

My coach, Robert Heynen, is like a tribal elder.  He is passing on a skill using words and real time experience to teach successful trail running.   The art of trail running is taught by doing it with the guidance of a coach.  Taking the words of my coach and then training my body to do what I think he said was a challenge.  Sometimes I got it right and sometimes he had to remind me to correct my body position.  Keep your back in a neutral position when you climb hills is what I repeat in my head as I climbed the steep trails in Bandera.

I knew nothing about trail running so I did everything my coach told me even though it did not make sense to me at first.  He told me to do things in training that I did not at first understand, but I did them anyway.  He made me get up early in the morning to run in the cold in the dark.

Skills learned

  • Running over really rocky single track is fun.
  • How to negotiate really rocky single track at night.
  • What do you do to keep your body fueled for ultra trail running.
  • How to fuel your body for long endurance running. I consumed about six liters water mixed with 24 scoops of Spiz. I also carried 2 liters of water with a light mixture of Heed.  I also ate 3 small grill cheese sandwiches, 1 PPJ, one small pan cake and two Sprites.

What I did not expect

  • I met a lot of wonderful people who run on trails.
  • I can run faster at night than I can during the day.
  • The barriers to deep communication between people is removed when you talk to trail runners during an ultra event.
  • I like listening to John Sharp yelling and making jokes as he talked to runners.  I could hear him 1/2 mile away when he was behind me or in front of me.
  • Gordon Montgomery and John Sharp were yelling when we were close on my first loop.  When I was by my self at night I yelled.  I was starting to get loopy.  I was running without my iPod.  I had no way to turn off the voice in my head that was starting to tell me to stop running.  I thought about how Gordon was yelling Yooo-Hooo earlier in the day and how I yelled it back.  Now there was only me running in the dark with my green flash light.  I decided to start yelling, Yoo-Hoo.  It felt great and I kept running.  During my 16 hours on the trail there were many times when I had to tell my brain to shut up and then tell my body to keep running no matter what.

Pre-race jitters

I started the race by forgetting that on my way to my camping spot I had ripped a huge hole in the liner on the roof of my Grand Junction 5th wheel.  I lay awake early Saturday morning worring about the weather and if it was going to rain.  If it started raining I would have to get my tarp out and figure out how to get the roof covered.  I debated about dropping out of the race and taking care of my trailer.  There was a repair shop in Bandera.  Then I thought about what Robert said during my last trail class.  He said that you need to make a list of reasons that would prevent you from finishing and a list of why you should finish.  He then added that the list of reason not to finish had better be short, like getting a broken leg.   I decided that my roof problem was not on my list so I put my faith in the great weather spirit and asked for dry weather for my run.

Gordon decided to bunk with me in the trailer so we had good conversation until we went to sleep.  I had learned from other ultra runners that you need to play games with your head for a run because your head will always be playing with you.  I decided that I would take the advice of a woman (if she reads this please remind me of your name and I’ll give you credit) who said she would place a surprise Sprite in her drop bag to get her going.  I do not drink soda with corn syrup.  Ifi decided that I would get 4 bottles of imported Mexican Coke and drink all four after my run.  Gordon had a fifth of Bushmills Irish Whiskey.  I do not drink alcohol, but I decided to make another game and say that if I finished before 1 AM I would have a tiny shot of Bushmills Irish Whiskey.

Loop 1 0 to 31.7 miles

I started the race with my friend Stephanie along with Marsha and Gordon.  We ran the first loop at about a 14 minute mile.  The first loop was not fun for me.  I was glad to be finally running the 100k but I was worried that my left knee would prevent me from finishing.  My left knee has scar tissue and floating cartilage from a previous basketball injury.  During most of my training runs my left knee would whack out after about 10 miles and I would have to run for about 5 to 10 miles and hope that it would correct itself.  My last long training run ended at mile 37 when my knee would not take anymore running.

So for the first loop I ran waiting for my left knee to start hurting.  I tried to forget about it by talking and enjoying the beauty of the Bandera landscape.  Every downhill on the first loop I approached like I was running on black ice.  My goal was to have enough energy for the second loop.  I kept telling myself that this run was only two laps. I stayed with Stephanie and Marsha all the way until just after Cross Roads aid station.  I was starting to slow down so I told them to go ahead without me.  I got to Last Chance Aid station and started to get excited that I was almost done with my first loop.  My knees felt fine so I pressed on.

After going up Cairn’s Climb I thought about how I would feel later at night when I would be close to finishing my run.  I wanted to have the same amount of energy that I had now.  I wanted to finish strong and not be totally wiped out like I was after my 50k (31.7 miles) run at Palo Duro earlier this year. I ran up and down Boyle’s Bump and I thought about all of the rocks on the trail and how beautiful they looked.  I remembered how on my first trail class running in Barton Creek how the rocks always seemed in the wrong place for my feet.  I was still holding back on my running as I approached the Lode aid station.

When I arrived at the Lodge Aid station I had been on the trail for 7 hours and 19 minutes. I was finished with 50% of my run. I went into my trailer to re-fuel and get my thoughts focused.  As I stood in my trailer I saw other runners who had already finished their 50k or 25k run. They were all happy and enjoying the beautiful day.  I started thinking about stopping and just calling it a day.  As I finished putting fluids in my pack I thought about the four one liter Cokes in the refrigerator.  I decided to reward myself for completing one lap with a Coke.  I drank it and decided to start Loop 2.

Loop 2 31.7 to 62.14 miles

As I came out on my trailer I saw Gordon.  I waited for him to get ready and we both headed out for more fun.  As we ran I started to think about how much fear was gone after I completed loop 1 with no injures and not a hint of any pain in my knee. I stayed with Gordon until right before Nachos Aid station and I decided to start running faster.  I do not know why I started running faster but I did.  I started running the downhills as fast as I could.  I started running all of the uphills unless they were really steep. I made it from Nachos Chapas in one hour.  

It started to get dark so I took out my green flash light. I ran from Chapas to Cross Roads in one hour. I caught up with Stephanie and Marsha right before Cross Roads.  I did do one thing that my coach Robert said not to do.  I went into the tent at Cross Roads Aid Station and I sat down.  The weather was windy all day and now it was cold outside.  I was going through my drop bag getting a dry shirt and re-fueling my back pack with Spiz. When I left the aid station I was all stiff.  It took me about one and a half miles to start really running again.

I ran with Stephanie for a while up and down Sisters. Stephanie was with another runner when I met her.  I wanted to finish the race with her but she was having problems.  I decided to press on so I wished her good luck and took of on my own at the bottom of sisters. 

I was glad that I had come out to Bandera during BunMart because it gave me more experience with these trails.  Running with Marsha during the day was a real treat because she really knew the trail.  She answered all my questions about were we were during the first loop.  Now that I was alone in the dark with my flashlights and glow sticks I decided to run with wild abandon. When I got back to the Cross Roads Aid station I stayed at the edge of the tent.  It was 9:20 PM and I did not need to re-fuel my bag but I did drink a Sprite and I headed for Last Chance.  At this point in my run I had lots of energy and I was still running with no pain in my knees.  I had 15 miles to go to the finish line and I could feel the adrenaline in my stomach start to kick in and I really wanted to get this run over.  I got to Last Chance Aid station at 10:20 PM.  I ate a pancake that was rolled up like a burrito and had another Sprite.  At this point I was getting sick of Spiz and Heed.  I decided to try to finish the run before midnight so  that meant that I would have to really run all the way to the finish up Cairn’s Climb and Boyle’s Bump.  Boyle’s Bump has some of the most rock parts of the trail.

So I let my training take over.  Just like speed reading I continued to let my eyes scan rocks well in front of me as I ran. I had my green flash light which turned the night into a nice gray and all of the rock’s shadows were easy to distinguish.  I did not let my eyes focus on what was directl;y in front of my feet.  I just let my eyes and brain tell my feet where to go and I kept running.  I run faster on rocks at night because there is less information for my brain to process.  There are less distractions at night.  there is no color at night.  Running at night it was just me and my friends, the rocks.

I finished the race in 16 hours and eight minutes with energy to spare. I was surprised to find that some of my Bandera classmates had stayed up to greet me at the finish.  I got my Imported Mexican Coke and stat in the tent with some of the 100k runners.  Gordon passed around the Bushmills and a good time was had by all.  I really had fun at this event.


I want to thank all of the volunteers that helped at the aid stations.  When you are running an ultra marathon it is nice to get help with food water and a smiling face to keep you running.

I also want to acknowledge my coach Robert Heynen and the program director Joe Prusaitis.  Stephanie Bond-Huie encouraged me to start trail running. When I started with Trail Running 101 I had no idea how I was going to run 100k.  All I knew is that if I created the possibility to do it and I surrounded myself with experts that could train me I could do it.

I have met lots of friends in the Hill Country Trail Runners group.  When you want to do what seems impossible you need to hang out with people that have done what you think is impossible. I went from barely running one mile in February 2005 to running 100k in January 2009. I had lots of fun and I’m looking forward to my next ultra marathon.