Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sandlands 2011

I finished. It wasn't pretty. I started off slowly and got slower. It was hot. It was windy. There was sand. Lots of sand. Imagine the beach, but without the breezes and salty air. But still, this may be my favorite marathon ever. Because after two false starts last year, I finally qualified for Marathon Maniacs. FINALLY.
That thought really kept me moving and smiling in the last hot miles of this race, and I enjoyed every hot sandy step, believe it or not.

The day started really early with a 4:05 wake-up call.  I didn't get much sleep the night before because it was my husband's birthday, and we had celebrated with a pizza and movie night and I had stayed up longer than I should have. Then I kept waking up, certain that I had overslept the alarm. When it was finally time to get up for real, I was dragging a bit, but made it out the door with only one hiccup when I couldn't find my knee brace. Thankfully I was able to dodge into the 24-hour Walgreen's down the street and pick up a replacement. I was still able to get to the race site in plenty of time. It was great to pull into my parking spot & immediately see my buddy Greg pull up next to me, so we were able to hang out & prepare for the morning together, heading over to get packets, get bibbed up and find our friends in the early darkness.

The 50-milers were starting first, so we looked for our friend Jeremy in his bright Salty Banana shirt. Wasn't hard to do, even in the non-light. Then we found Fawn and as we are standing there, Kevin shows up! So of course I had to grab a pic. Greg was in the picture too but he was blinded by the awesomeness of these 50-miler bad-a$$es & his eyes were closed - it's true - you can't really look at them head-on - there is too much Awesome!

Greg with the 50-milers Fawn, Jeremy & Kevin L.
Right at 7:00, they were on their way and it was time to head back to the start of the white loop for the marathon start. Libby was cool enough to come out  90 minutes before her race start and send us off on our way, and I was able to get a few pics of the marathon group. Some of us would have fast days today (GREG! 4:05! Wha?!) and some of us would just be glad to finish, but we were all ready. 

Libby came out to send us on our way before her FIRST ever trail run! Thanks!
Yay! These two are awesome in so many ways!
Yay! Found my TIR vanmate Elizabeth before the start, too!
I had arranged to meet up with an NTTR runner named Deborah before the race and we were going to run together for as long as we could, The plan was to run 12 minute miles. But right away, Deborah got in a groove and pulled in front of me. No worries - I was content to hang out in the back of the pack with Elizabeth and a crowd of 3 other runners that were on their first trail marathon as well as a father-son team. It ended up that we leap-frogged these two groups often throughout the race, sharing parts of the trail sometimes, falling behind them sometimes and jumping in front of them sometimes, just depending on how things were going.  It was fun to have them always nearby, and know that we were all in this together. I also know that I would probably catch up to Deborah later, as she expected to start off at 12-minute miles and slow down (I like that kind of strategy!!).

Right about that time, Sergio came up behind me & said hi! This was his first trail run, too, and he ran the whole thing with a camera strapped to his chest! What an awesome way to capture the sights and sounds of the trails! If I had done that, you could have seen the ground getting up close and personal when I bit it twice out there!! Go to YouTube and you can see the whole series of videos he's uploaded - there is one featuring me that is my favorite!! 

Once we got going and spread out, it was just a matter of getting comfortable and finding a nice pace and figuring out when to run and when to power-walk. Right away I knew I would run the flats & gentle descents and walk the uphills, but very soon it became apparent that I was going to have to walk the sandy sections too. There was so much deep sand that it was murder on the calves & achilles to try to run those parts. You just felt like you were mired.  

So that became the strategy - run when you could, power-walk through the sand and up the hills (have to say, there were not very many hills. Nothing at all like Banderawesome. Just gentle rollers now & again. Mostly, the toughest thing out there was the sand. Every now and again we'd come across a gate, and since there was usually nobody right in front of me or right behind me except Elizabeth, we'd have to be sure to close them. Not a problem, except that some of them were really high and I could barely reach the latches. Yes, I am that short. In those cases, it was easier for me to crawl under (duck under in some spots). Besides, I was already dirty by then, having taken a really nice header into very soft sand (whew! and avoided horse poop! double-whew!) somewhere between the first and second aid station. 

This is what happens when you get sand in the lens... Oops.

Thirsty? Tasty water w a side of grit! 
Like I said, the sand was soft, so I didn't get hurt, and I actually just kind of laughed while I sat there in the dirt. And I took some pictures, or tried to, with a sandy, gritty camera lens!! Time to get up, dust off and keep going! By the time I fell I was already sweating, so between having fallen on my face and then sitting in the dirt, I was a dirty cave-woman mess when I rolled into the second aid station. Thankfully, the great volunteers there just rinsed off my bottle tops for me and topped me off with both fuel & fluids and sent me on my way.

The middle miles were pretty unremarkable, except for the second fall into the sand (again avoiding the horse poop! whew!), and it was great to run into the main camp at the end of the white loop and find Greg T there manning the aid station. He set me up with fresh icy water, a fresh cold bottle of Heed and more snacks, then I headed out on the blue loop after quickly dumping out my shoes of the half-beach that had gathered there.

Dumping sand out of my shoes at camp, about halfway there.

Hi, Kevin! Kevin was done with 2 of his loopson 50M course by now. 
Shortly after heading out on the second loop, I met up with a Maniac runner who was actually walking much faster than I was running at that point! He was an older gentleman and had a shirt on indicating he had completed 50 States twice. Wow. I chatted with him for a while (as long as I could keep up with him!) for a couple of miles and he shared some great stories with me about the races he had done, his knee replacement surgery (!!) and just good trail tales.  Very soon after, who did I come across but Deborah! Yay! I knew I'd catch up to her! She was great company for the next stretch and really helped me by giving me tips about fueling and e-caps and such, and we just had a wonderful time getting to know each other and chatting. Sometimes we ran, sometimes we walked. It just depended on the terrain and how we were feeling. And whether we were being harassed by the cows!!

Deborah was a great middle-run partner! 
Right about mile 20, Deborah got a surge of energy and my knee decided it was going to make itself known. It wasn't hurting so much as I just wasn't comfortable with the replacement brace, so I let Deborah go on ahead and just decided to take my time and enjoy the rest of the ride.  About this time I also figured that I had a hard time with my ankles and thought it was the sand that had finally worn my ankles down. But I stopped to adjust my laces and realized that I just had tied them too tightly when I dumped out my shoes at the main camp! Duh! I ran/walked 7 miles with my shoes too tight! ha!!  Once I adjusted the laces, all was right and I could continue without any issues! 

It was hotter by now, but I had plenty of water in my bottles and had gotten ice added in at the last aid station so I was set for the last 10K. About this time I caught up with Ian and Alan, the son-father team I had been leapfrogging all race long. We spent a few miles walking together and talking about food, our favorite Thanksgiving desserts and our favorite post-race noshes.  Ian is in school at UNT and Alan comes down from St Louis every year to run this with them. They shared stories of last year's mudfest and just were really good company for this stretch. But soon enough, right past the mile 23 marker, they got a surge and kept going while I just kept to my own little pace, enjoying the walk and the trees and the sand. 

Pic of Alan & Ian on trail didn't come out but I got a great shot of them at finish, when I finally caught up to them!
OK, so maybe I wasn't enjoying the sand. But you know what I mean. I was having a good time. I know I had been going for while, but wasn't sure exactly how long because I didn't wear a watch. And while it was refreshing to not have to worry about my time or my pace, it was tricky to time my fueling and liquid intake. I was left to my own devices and had to drink when I was thirsty and eat when I was hungry. I do have to thank Deborah again for the e-caps, though. She gave me a couple and I took a couple at the last two aid stations, and this was the first race when I didn't have sausage-fingers at the end. And that was after even pretty intense heat and taking in about 100 oz of fluids throughout the day (both bottles were emptied and filled at least three times throughout the day, and there was only about half the bottle of Heed left at the finish).  So that is something that I know I've needed to work on and will continue to fine-tune in my longer races (Hello, Hells Yeah Hills!!). 

Oh, yeah!
A few minutes later, I was thrilled to pass the mile marker on the path that said there was only 2 miles left on the blue trail. WOOT! 2 miles was the length of the taper runs I'd been too lazy to run during the week!! About this time, I started to realize that my goal of becoming a Marathon Maniac was just minutes away. I would admit that I teared up a little, except that I don't cry at races anymore, right? So, no, maybe it was just sand in my eye... Yeah, that's it. Sand. The dang sand!!  I could tell I was close because the cars were going in and out of the campsite and I could hear them/see them on the road. And I could hear the activity at the finish line. I was almost there! Before I knew it, I came out of the path into the same clearing where I'd parked the car and saw the EBV there along with a few other cars. Close, close, close!!  Finally, the finish! WOOT! 

And who is there but some of the coolest folks around?  Yet again, I am reminded how lucky I am to have so many great friends when I see Greg, Michelle, Michelle K & her hubby Erik and Stacy M at the finish. They had completed their races HOURS before me but yet were hanging around to see me and other runners bring it in. How cool is that?  I was so thrilled!! It was the perfect way to end a wonderful experience. 

Every one of these people is filled with AWESOME!
So. There you go. #12 done. The Dirty Dozen completed. Marathon Maniacs intro level done. Great friends (with pringles!!) at the finish. Life is good. It was a great day! I can't wait to do it again next year! 

Sweaty, dirty and HAPPY!
Distance: 26.3 miles (give or take)
Time: 7 hrs, 15 minutes (give or take - I forgot to look at the clock!!)
Feeling when I crossed the line & qualified for Maniacs? AWESOME! 


Milano Running Mom said...

Amazing race report by an amazing runner! Welcome to maniacs! See you at HH, but no more sand for me please.

jeremy said...

Great race report, Corina. Sand is definitely one of those weird personal preference things. Apparently some people love it. I'd rather run Bandera-caliber hills and rocks (or Nueces, for that matter, which was more technical than Bandera) over sand any day of the week. In fact, I could probably be perfectly happy if I never race in sand again.

Anonymous said...

LOL! you people are maniacs all right! :-) So I get to choose between sand and mud or maybe rocks as Jeremy says? I kind of only run on-road. I am soft like that! Amazing job on your race! :-)

alan said...

Great race report! It was a beautiful day to run and make memories. I'm glad I got to do both with you.