Sunday, October 21, 2012

Palo Duro 30K run. A distance they didn't even know they offered.

This is LONG.  You've been warned.

Saturday was my second failed attempt at a 50K.  My first attempt was back in late June at Midnight Madness in Tulsa.  That was a 50 mile race, but I had planned to DNF at mile 31 and call it my first 50K.  Well, I made it to mile 27 and was having some knee trouble, so I stopped.  My second attempt was Saturday at Palo Duro Canyon. 

Here's my tale:

Sarah and I left Friday late morning and drove to Amarillo.  Easy drive (well, easy for me since I wasn't driving).  We listened to Macca's book on tape for entertainment along the way -Chris McCormack is a professional triathlete.  We made it to the canyon about 4 and I set up camp while Sarah went for a quick run.  Then we jumped in the car and headed into the town of Canyon, TX for the pre-race pasta dinner and packet pick-up, and came back to sit by the campfire and hit the sack early.

We were camping in PD State Park, so we just had a short 10 minute drive from our campground to the race start.  We were up at 5:30, ate a quick breakfast, then headed over to the start.  The morning temp was quite chilly, but a really good way to start a long run.  Little did I remember how cold canyons get at night and just how hot they get during the day....even in late October.
Sarah and I headed over to the starting area about 10 minutes before the race start.  She and Julie were SO supportive, and it was really nice to have friends there with me, instead of just being an anonymous face in the crowd.  I placed myself at the back of the group since I know I'm slow.  I know my place in running events- and it's always at the back.
Sarah and I before the start
The horn sounded and off we went.  I had read that the first couple miles was narrow single-track and that we'd be stuck in a line for some time.  It was true.  We were in one long single-file line.  Walking uphill together, running when we could, and staying right in line.  I brought a bright flashlight to illuminate the way.  I'm glad I did because it was pitch-black.  Even with the ambient lighting of others around me, there is no way I would've been able to run that trail without a light showing me where to put my feet.  The girl in front of me didn't have one, so I tried to shine the light far enough ahead for her to see just a little. 
The sun started coming up over the canyon about 7:25.  I still used my light until about 7:45 when I was absolutely certain enough of my footing to not need it anymore.  I'm fairly clumsy, so being able to really see the obstacles in front of me was imperative.  The 20K race started about 7:25 (Julie and Sarah did the 20K), so it wasn't too long before the fasties started coming up on us and passing us "slow" 50K and 50 milers.  I would move over and let them come through as they sped by.  The trail was narrow, but you could get over and let someone by in most sections. 
the sun starting to come up- the white dot is a runner's headlamp
I made it to the first aid station in about 55 minutes.  It's located at about mile 3.5 ish, so I was on pretty good pace for me.  I skipped it, and headed 2.5 miles back to the start for the conclusion of our first 6 mile loop.  The 50K is one 6 mile loop, then two 12.5 mile loops.  I returned to the start at 1:26.  I was actually quite pleased at my time for the first little loop.  I felt strong and my legs and lungs were feeling like a million bucks.
 starting loop #2
Really, it was probably too fast.  I'm usually running in the 16 min/mile range on trails, and these were sub 15's.  I didn't think much about it, because I felt fine.  I left my Garmin at home because I didn't want the numbers to mess with my head, but in retrospect, I probably should have brought it so I could have seen 14's and said "whoa, horsey- time to slow it down a little."
getting passed in the early morning light
On the first big loop, at about mile 8, I moved off the trail to let a fast 50 mile person go by.  I stepped up on the slanted side of the trail into some slick gravel and promptly lost my footing and slammed HARD down onto the ground.  My hip immediately started throbbing and I could tell my skin was scratched beneath my tights because it burned.  My knee was also scratched and throbbing. My hand was scratched.  I didn't want to look at the damage.  I stood up and started crying because it hurt so bad, but also out of anger that I had fallen so early in the race. 
This could derail me and I knew it.
I was mad at myself for not finding a better place to move off the trail and mad at the runner for just breezing by without even stopping to ask if I was OK.  A really nice woman came up on me shortly as I was sobbing and put her hand on my back and asked if I was OK.  I told her I was and she said (as she started running away)- "usually it's ME falling down- hang in there!".  It was sweet of her to stop. 
scene of "the fall heard 'round the canyon"
I started walking, but it really hurt.  It didn't change my gait or anything, but running was totally out of the question.  I walked for about 5 miles, trying to run, but feeling twinges of pain in my hip and knee.  I just kept on moving.  I never could get back into the groove, tho.  The canyon was in full light now, and the walls and floor were brimming with beauty.  It was hard to not want to stop and look all around me, but I fought the urge more often than not and just kept moving.  I wound up taking lots of pictures and tried to spot landmarks that I'd read about. 
I finally made it to the Dos Locos Senioritas aid station (2 really fun and crazy ladies I'd read all about) and was feeling a little down.  They filled my bladder (it was the first time I'd filled it in 12 miles- and it was only half-full to begin with- not a good sign of a well-executed hydration plan).  They were super sweet and we talked for a minute before I headed out.  I was fairly certain at this point that I wasn't going to be doing a second loop.  The temps were really climbing, and I could tell that I was already starting to fall behind on my hydration. With all the walking and the moping I hadn't been taking in enough fluids and I was certain this was bound to bite me later in the race. 

The trail after this aid station was simply gorgeous.  Wide open vistas with an undulating trail.  The dirt was a deep red color and I tried to pretend I was walking on Mars. 
me walking on Mars
The walls of the canyon were layered with so many different colors I couldn't even count them.  I just walked and walked and stopped to take pictures and look around.  I started doing the math and figuring out how much time I still had left and how much time I would need to do lap #2.  The numbers were depressing, so I put in my earbuds and let my iPod do the thinking for me.  Unfortunately, my iPod was acting like a bratty child.  The day before I had uploaded 60 new songs, but only about 10 were playing.  It was like it was stuck in some strange iPod Shuffle Twilight Zone.  I listened to those 10 songs twice through then gave up on it and shoved it back into my shirt in disgust.  I figured I would just sing the Sweet Brown autotune song instead. It's the only thing that jumped into my head to sing.  Ugh... it's terribly annoying. I linked it so you can get it stuck in your head, too.  You're welcome!
a fast 50 miler flying by
I soon came upon the 3rd aid station.  It was at the bottom of the Stairway of Doom (not an official name, just one that came to me as I was descending it).  It was really steep and dropped right off the side of a hill.  By this point I knew I was stopping, so I grabbed a date bar and one boiled potato to go and headed off.  I didn't even bother to fill up my bladder.  I figured I had enough to get me the 5 miles back.  I munched and walked and sang Sweet Brown's disgustingly annoying song.   
I got passed by fast 50 milers and finishing 50K'ers a LOT in this next section.  I don't remember how many times I stepped off the trail. I remember lots of neat shade and a creek that bubbled and ran through the tamarisk (I think that's what it was).  It was a really pretty section, and not at all what you would expect to find at the bottom of a canyon in the middle of the Texas panhandle. 
The miles dragged on until I arrived at the last aid station before the start/finish area.  I grabbed a cup of coke and walked on.  I tried to run, but my knee would scream in pain after just a couple steps, so I decided to power-walk instead.  It was getting hot and I was tired of being out there and just wanted it to end.  I turned up the speed and walked like a mad-woman the last 2.5 miles in. 

 the last section
I crossed the timing mat at 5 hours and had to go to table to tell the timer that I was DNF'ing. That's when I burst into tears.  I saw Sarah and Julie and shook my head and walked away.  I was trying to keep it together so I wouldn't be a blubbering mess, but it was no use.  It was fatigue and pain and disappointment rearing its ugly head.  They let me have my little blubber-fest and gave me hugs.
It's funny because I had rationalized my DNF for the last 6 miles- knowing that the heat, my poor hydration plan and my upcoming 24 hour race next weekend were all good reasons to stop. The temps were probably in the 90's, and it was only getting hotter.  And I was honestly OK with quitting, but saying it out loud when you know you *could* go on is difficult.  Could go on and want to go on are two different things.

I didn't want to go on, tho.  I really didn't.  Sarah and Julie said they would walk the last 12.5 with me, and I knew they meant it.  I love them for it.  I just didn't want to.  I like getting out in nature and being part of a racing atmosphere, but when it stops being fun and starts being work or a chore or is hurting- it's time to stop.  Ya know?  This is supposed to be fun, and when it's not, it's time to stop. 
So am I disappointed?  Sure.  Do I regret it?  No. 
I don't mind DNF'ing tho.  Honestly.
toe-eating gaps in the boards on the bridges
Some people would rather lose an arm than DNF.  Not me.  If I try it and I succeed, great.  If I try it and fail, well at least I tried it.  I know I don't push myself too far out of my comfort zone, and that's why I'll never be a great athlete. I have trouble controlling the mental aspect of endurance racing.  I'm working on that mental toughness, but it's still a fault of mine.  But that's OK with me.  For me it's all about fun.  In the past I've trained like a crazy person  and then I become a crazy person and it's no longer any fun.  This isn't my job.  This is my hobby.  I did 18.5 miles of a tough trail race and got to experience something new.  Official finish or not, I'm just thankful that I can get out there and be a part of the trail-running community.
Even if it means walking away without a finisher award. 
 Although the giant purple fist-sized bruise on my hip and the bruises on my knee are pretty cool finisher awards.  I'm proud to own my very first Palo Duro battle wounds!

What did I say in my last post?  "I'm going to finish my first 50K dadnabbit.  I WILL cross that finish line."
Well, I crossed it, I just stopped one lap sooner than I thought.  There will be another time.


  1. The canyon is beautiful and you got to experience 19 miles of it and got a good run in. Loved your write-up about your experience and I think you're awesome! And you are SO right..when it stops being fun, time to pull the plug and reassess. Glad you got to make the trip out there and I got to spend some time with you! Good luck next week at 24 THW! Can't wait to read all about it!

  2. Tanya, I love your attitude, willingness to take risks and go for what you want. You're tough and courageous-don't think otherwise! :-)


    P.S. Love your pictures!

  3. What a great blog and beautiful pictures. More power to you for attempting the 50K and powering through the setbacks and the pain - there will always be a next time! I'm still at the 20K/half Marathon level - next year I hope to be trying for the 50K myself!

  4. Awwww. sorry you didn't finish out there. Honestly, that might have been me out on the course, I know I came up on someone that was upset after falling. That was a REALLY tough day out there. I did the 50k also, and struggled the entire time. Next time!!

    1. Becka- it looks like that was you! Thank you for stopping. I was so mad at that point and the tears were more out of anger than hurt probably. Thank you for giving me words of encouragement and kindness. It made the fall hurt just a little less. :) I'm not sure if those were your excact words- but that's what I got out of it through my silly sobs. ;)

  5. Live to run another day. congrats on getting through the lap and a half on a bruised hip and wonky leg. I am not sure I wouldn't have sat at the aid station and waited for a ride back. You will get your 50k when the time is right. Keep at it, and thank you for sharing your story!!

  6. Falling down is never fun, especially in a race. You have a good attitude, and it's all about the experience--and having fun. That may have been me without a light that you ran behind. I guess the new batteries I put in before the race were old. If it was you, thanks for helping out!