My traveling companions for this trip were a couple of folks I've done road trips with before and one new friend from Twitter & DailyMile I'd met at the "after party" at Grasslands a few weeks ago. Libby and I had been van-mates and room-mates during our Texas Independence Relay adventure in early March, and she was looking forward to her second ever trail race. Jeremy had been a great road-trip buddy for Bandera and wasn't sure he'd be able to make Hells Hills, so when his schedule cleared up in the last few days before the race, we were glad to have him along for the ride. It's always great to have an experienced trail hound like him as a captive audience in the car - we certainly picked his brain enough about everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) related to trail running on the drive down. The last passenger was Stacy, who like Libby is fairly new to trails but was so hooked after Grasslands that she wanted MORE!
Everyone arrived at my house right on time and we loaded up the back of my EBV with 2 coolers, 4 bags, 4 camp chairs, cases of water, snacks and everything we would need for our trail adventures. I had bragged that I was a champion packer, and I have to say I panicked some when I saw all our stuff scattered on my driveway. But we were able to get it all in the car & then hit the road just a little past our scheduled departure. Let the adventure begin! The drive down was mostly unremarkable, but we did pump Jeremy for all kinds of trail tips and tricks as we had warned him we would. We just chattend and laughed in general as we all got to know each other more, the way you do on these road trips. We made it with only two stops before we got to our destination, once for goodies at Czech Stop & once because you can't go too far with 4 overhydrated athletes without having to stop.
We got to Bastrop and met up briefly with Fawn and her family at the local Italian/Mediterranean restaurant, where we also met up with another runner from DFW who flew in. We missed a couple of other folks that were either en route still or had arrived earlier & had an earlier meal, so that was a bummer, but in any case, Sally Albright would have been proud of the way we ordered pre-race dinner - we made sure we had no extra cheese, roughage, breading, fried anything, or really anything that could potentially come back to bite us on the trail the next day. When dinner was done, we found ourselves suddenly anxious to check in and get to bed - we had a VERY early wake-up call to get the 50-milers ready for their 5:00 AM start.
We woke up early. Very early. Jeremy and our friends Matt and Fawn had the earliest start at 5:00, followed by the 50K group at 6:00 (me, Derek, Sarah, Jen, Kevin and first-timers Julie, Greg and Dat) and then the 25K group at 7:00. It took less time to get there than we expected, so we had plenty of time to meet everyone, apply sunscreen, set up our drop bags, hit the bathrooms (real flush toilets!!WOOT!) and get ready to roll. And of course, we had to take photos!
|Libby and Fawn before the 50-mile start. Libby was chilly but that didn't last long.|
|My heroes! These three are so cool! Matt & Jeremy passed us on their third loop!|
|Go Matt! Tackling his first 50M in Superman Style!|
|Greg and Dat bibbing up. Fold that bib smaller, boys!|
|Sporting matching Chupa shirts!|
|Julie looking adorable as usual, with new Twitter friend Derek.|
|THESE PEOPLE ROCK MY WORLD!|
Awesome people, every last one!
|My 50K girls Julie and Sarah!|
|Kevin and Katie! Katie did her first trail race out here! WOOT!|
Once the 50-milers were off, it was time for us to really get ready for our race. Sarah had originally signed up for the longer distance, but had dropped down to the 50K since she had been sidelined by a pretty bad cold earlier in the week and hadn't had much time to train. So we were excited that she was going to be able to run with me and Julie. But apparently, I wasn't terribly excited about much - in fact, I was pretty laid back about it all, if you believe the photographic evidence:
Before we knew it, it was time to go!! Time to put the headlamp on and put the camera away, as it was still pretty dark for most of our first loop. OK, for the first 5-6 miles at least it was dark. And we walked a lot in the beginning, because it was dark, and I had a tough time regulating my breathing in the first few miles. We ran little bits here and there, but mostly walked/hiked. We caught up to another group for a bit and walked and chatted with them for a bit, but then we dropped back and let them go on ahead. Sarah went on ahead as well, as she is getting ready to crew Jen at Badwater, so she really needed to get some running miles in. Before we knew it, we were at the first manned aid station,about 5 miles in, and had caught up to Sarah. But we were also bummed to see Kevin kicked back in a camp chair there, since he had turned an ankle about 3.5 miles in and had called it a day. Boo. Hate to see that in any runner, but especially since Kevin had done so well at Grasslands in his first 50-miler a few weeks previously.
After we left that aid station, we walked a bit more with Sarah, but then Julie felt like she wanted to run a little more. The sun has risen but it wasn't terribly hot yet with the cloud cover, but the humidity was high enough and we were concerned how much we'd be able to run in the second loop when it was warmer. Sarah urged us to go on ahead, as she just wasn't feeling it, so we took off. We ran when we could , on the pine needles and the flats, and sometimes on the little rolling descents & inclines. We walked the uphills and when we needed to. We really didn't have any sense of how fast we were going, since Julie's Garmin crapped out on us about halfway through the first lap, but we were keeping track of time to make sure we timed our nutrition and e-caps appropriately, especially given the heat. Basically, we were running, hiking, moving forward. And enjoying the day and each other's company. Just like we planned.
|Julie in the field of beautiful bluebonnets. Or just in dirt and grass? You make the call.|
After traveling about 10 miles through the first loop, we finally came to a clearing, and were excited to see the fields of bluebonnets we had been promised on the website. But when we got there? NOTHING. The field was barren, with just a few thin flowers scattered here and there. What a bummer. Apparently, it was too dry a spring for LadyBird's favorite flower to bloom properly, so we were robbed.
|NO! No sand!!|
|Only stinkin' bluebonnet out there!|
|Tunnel o' Pines. Great section through here.|
We were however very quickly treated to the Tunnel o' Pines and the best aid station of the race. I got misted by a friendly volunteer after threatening to dump my head in the cooler of ice water, and grabbed a couple of Oreos. Pretty much the Oreo was my fuel of choice at each aid station, supplemented by my Powerbar energy blasts and a little bit of my clif bar in between aid stations. They had served me well at Grasslands so I went with them again and was not disappointed. The most exciting part of the aid station was that we now had just a little 20-miler in front of us and we would be done! And that 20-miler was broken up with aid stations.
|This was so beautiful. And it smelled glorious!|
|My favoritest aid station volunteer of the day!|
|Looking good after 10 miles. OK, Julie looks better than I do. But still!|
By this time, we were getting passed by the quick 25K runners, and we knew we were close to the end of the first loop. I had started dreaming about changing shoes soon after we left the last aid station. We still felt strong, but suddenly, we started a series of climbs, with a few more rocks than we had seen earlier. I had slight Bandera flashbacks, but these rocks were friendlier and rounder than the Bandera rocks, so it was OK. I wondered if maybe we were getting close to the Wall and the Grind, two big climbs we had seen on the elevation profile and in the course descriptions. Just then, we see the signs telling us that yes, indeed, we were upon them. The climbs weren't terrible, just very steep and deep. Completely manageable, but we knew they'd be tougher on the second loop, and we were very glad we weren't on the 50-mile course where we'd have to do them 3 times!!
|The Grind. That's a little bit of a descent there!|
|The trail arrow goes straight down... Cool...|
After the climbs, it was just a bit more before we came to a cattle guard and then through the trees we could see tents. The campsite! Julie was so excited to see her tent and her very-inviting hammock! Yay. That meant we were really close to the end!! She ran into her tent for her bandanna and we got ready for the last 1/4 mile into the camp.
|Grateful for big feet for once.|
|Campsite meant we were so so close!!|
|Fiona & the girls were leading the cheering section! So cool to see them!|
|Camp at the halfway point! Time to head out again! Let's do it!|
Yay! We made it! 15.5 down, 15.5 to go!! Now the fun starts!!
Loop 2 and the after party to come later!!