Tuesday, March 8, 2011

USATF Trail 50 Mile National Championships/Nueces 50 Mile Race Report

Nueces Endurance Trail Run

                                           50 mi Trail Logo
                                   2011 USA 50 Mile Trail Championships

My second Ultra and 50 mile trail race was dynamically different than my first, The North Face (TNF) 50 Mile Championships, last year in December. 

The Lead-Up

Preparing for the TNF 50, I primarily had a marathon training base with a little bit of trail running here and there with a two week hiatus of ultra specific training leading up to the race.  For Nueces on the other hand, I had a pretty solid 2+ months of trail ultra specific training base with just a few down weeks for some minor muscle strains.  
Preparing mentally and logistically for TNF 50, I was in a state of fear, excitement and a lot of uncertainty.  I studied results, splits, the course maps and the blogs of top ultra guys in the months leading up to the race.  I knew where the race aid stations were, their names, distance between them, how many GUs I’d carry at all point on the course, you get the picture.  For Nueces, I really only looked at the map a couple of times and Thursday night before going to bed, I jotted down a quick plan for race nutrition on the back of a scrap piece of paper.  During the actual race, I really had no idea how far aid stations were from each other or distances from the start or finish of the loop.  At one point I couldn’t remember if the course was 17.6 miles or 16.7… after some quick math I realized 16.7. 

My main goals for the race were to A) Win B) Break 7hrs and C) Break 6:45 if things were going well.   It wasn’t until the third lap that I realized sub 6:30 was a realistic goal and subsequently goal “D)”.  The math for the splits to go sub 7hrs was figured out after the start of the race. 

This preparation plan for Nueces, or lack of, wasn’t exactly by design though.  My first son, Felix, was born January 14th, just 7 weeks before the race… do I need to say more?  At work, the two weeks leading up to the race were the busiest and most stressful I’ve ever had.  The Monday after the race the office would be audited/inspected (once every 3 year inspection).  Just really crazy times at work and home.  
When I flew to San Fran for TNF 50, I rented a car, picked up my race packet downtown and was at my own hotel room by 3pm.  For Nueces, I flew to Austin where I would begin a circus of a road trip.  Mark Schwitau picked me up and we began the drive down to San Antonio during Friday afternoon traffic.  We had dinner, and visited the Feist family in San Antonio, which included jumping on a trampoline, swinging on a tree swing, playing a little kick ball and eating an amazing dinner (thanks Zefe!) before Mike Feist, Mark and I headed to Rocksprings (3hrs away), the site of the race,  at sunset.

Less than an hour into the drive from San Antonio, Mark’s car started to shake and rattle.  We checked things out on the side of the road, but couldn’t see anything wrong.  We pushed on and maybe 5 minutes later the tread of one of the tires ripped off.  On the side of the highway we realized that the spare tire’s rim was seriously bent and the tire was pretty flat.  We couldn’t find the jack.  We waved down a friendly Texan and got a jack.  Filling up the full size spare on the bad rim with a borrowed pump, we discovered the tire would only hold minimal pressure before the bead would start leaking air.  No repair shops were open (it was after 7pm by this time), just a Walmart where we could at least purchase a new tire.  Mike Feist ( a 3:43 1500 meter runner, yeah, that is sub 4 mile pace!) gave a call to his buddy and the super hero of the trip, Matt, who has a ranch with a barn he built by hand that has a “tire put-er-on-er and take-er-off-er” machine only 10 miles away.  After being blown away by his awesome home-made massive BBQ, he single handedly put the new tire on the good rim, and fixed the old rim with some hammering and banging.  Matt really is an amazing guy.  Thanks for saving the trip Matt. 

We were back on the road to Rocksprings, not sure what time it was, but it was within 8hrs of the race start.  Once we got close to Rocksprings, I realized I had no idea where “Eagle Ranch” was or how to get there.  With a little smartphone action, we had an address and navigation running… to the middle of nowhere and a dead end.  More smartphone and directions giving an arrival estimate of 1:30AM to the "real" Eagle Ranch.  At 1:30AM we pulled up to the camping area and surely woke half the racers getting our sleeping pads and sleeping bags out.  I didn’t sleep at all in the car and shortly after getting into our bags, the wind went nuts, it rained and my alarm went off at 4:50AM.  I didn’t sleep Friday night and traveled, with a little stop at the Feist house, for 16hrs total hours.  
Time to race. 

While shuffling the contents of our car on the side of a highway when we got the flat, I must have left my NB MT101 running shoes, along with my racing shorts on the side of the road.  I ended up wearing my Newton Trail shoes and women’s racing shorts to race.  When I jogged up to the start I had 2 minutes until the gun went off.  I re-tied my shoe and was off.

The Race

I had no idea it was so dark at 6AM in Texas this time of year, as it gets light nearly an hour earlier in Colorado.  I didn’t get much to eat in the morning, some fig newtons, a bar and an apple an hour before the race.  My stomach was not feeling as it should.  I was pretty much out of it for the first few miles due to fatigue and such.  Within a mile or so, Dave James and some college aged runner (apparently a 14:30 5K guy?) broke away from the front pack right off the bat.  I was running behind Steven Moore, Jason Bryant and a younger guy in MT101s (the shoes I was supposed to be wearing), so 6th, for the first couple miles.  I felt that the pace was a bit slow for my liking, but as my body was all out of whack, I wasn’t sure what was going on and I didn’t want to lead in the dark on trails I have never seen, not to mention my unfamiliarity with the course map. 

We went through the first aid station at 5 miles in 45 minutes, so 9 minute miles.   Just after the aid station is where I left the pack. I wanted to be running a bit faster for the given terrain.  It was getting light and I began a long mission of tracking down Dave James and the college runner. 
The course was more challenging than I expected.  While I heard this part of Texas had a lot of rock, I was still surprised at the technical aspect and footing of the trails.  The climb from the first aid station was no kidding a trail Joe, the race director, made for the race the year before.  The trail was steep and rough to say the least, with police tape to more or less mark certain sections.  There were always (see the course map) sharp turns and numerous U-Turns, one road crossing with about 30 feet of ankle deep water and another 30 foot river crossing  with around shin deep water, two long wooden bridges over 50 feet in length that oscillated as you ran across… each lap.  There was also a fairly significant climb half way through the loop with a lot of small climbs and descents.  Talking to Joe, Jason and Steven, the course is pretty comparable to Bandera, so a good trail race for the technical aspect and somewhere around 1,800-
2,000ft of climbing per lap I believe.    

My quick math on the scratch paper on where to stage my First Endurance EFS liquid shots wasn’t thorough.  I had Mike Feist with two 4 serving containers at one aid station (Mike was instrumental in encouragement, aid, hacks, etc...!)  and a drop bag with two more at another aid station.  I wasn’t thinking and picked up one EFS bottle too early at the end of my first lap and had to carry both until a few miles later I dropped it while taking my long sleeve shirt off, which I didn’t realize until a few miles later.  I ended up taking two Hammer Gels (not a big fan of these) to make up for losing the 4oz bottle. 

Overall the weather, on the other hand, was better than one would expect for this part of TX in March: partly cloudy and in the 60s.  The kicker was that it was pretty windy, like gusts 20 to 30mph, but I’d take that over a hot 80 degree day. 
At the second aid station I got a “5 minutes back from the leaders” hack.  I was feeling all right, but not “good” like I did early at TNF 50.  As I usually am in races, I was by myself.  Another oddity about this race was that I had some difficulty totally focusing mentally on the race during the second half of the first lap and part of the second lap.  I was thinking about songs in my head, Felix, work, etc…  I got a mixed report at the next few aid stations, but overall I think I was around 5-10 minutes back from Dave and the other guy on the first lap.  Talking to Dave afterwards, I believe they went through the first lap in 2hrs or maybe a touch faster and I clocked around a 2:10 on the first lap. 

The second lap I began to gain some mental focus and started to feel pretty good.  I became obsessed with catching Dave on this lap.  I began to get reports that the College guy was still 8+ minutes ahead, but that Dave was around 2-3 minutes ahead of me. Dave kept good pace and at times I began to have negative thoughts creep into my head.  I started to think that the College guy will have to have a bit of a blow up on the last lap for me to catch him and that I would have to work very hard to catch and stay with Dave.  It wasn’t until just a mile or so before the end of the second lap that I finally caught Dave.  
Start of the 3rd lap, Dave James right behind me

Right off the bat, Dave explained how fast they had gone out and his disappointment in doing so.  We chatted a bit and then came through the start and finish area.  Dave found out at this point that the College guy had dropped out.  I won’t lie, I was pretty happy to hear I wouldn’t be hunting down another runner.  My second lap was at about 2:06, so I had run pretty fast to catch up to Dave.  After a good minute the wrong way (2 minute mistake) after the start/finish area, Dave and I got on course and got to work.  It was only a mile or so before I was back to running solo. 

Ultras and Massive Positive Splits

While I have only run two 50-mile trail races now, I am a pretty firm believer that one does not need to “die” on the last 20, 10 or even 5 miles in a trail ultra 50 miles or less in length.  A lot of recreational marathoners believe the last 10K you should expect to slow way down as well and that isn’t the case if you are smart and well prepared for the race.  I believe the same is true for 50 milers.   I WON’T make this blanket judgment for 100-mile races, as I have no idea how that will be for me personally and furthermore, I haven’t tapped into the opinions of elite 100 mile runners.  
Anyways, on the third lap I was determined to not have a significant slow down and to keep the pace as best as I could.
Overall the body felt good on the last lap with no real hot spots or specific pain above and beyond regular fatigue.  A little ways into the 3rd lap I started to consider the possibility of breaking 6:30, but I didn’t have a great feel for how the last lap and fatigue would play out considering the lead up to the race.  I started some of the mental games of getting anxious to get to a particular aid station, hill, landmark, etc… 
At the last aid station I was told I only had 2.2 miles to go, I quickly looked at the watch, which read 6:11 and change.  After figuring out I could break 6:30 if I finished strong and averaged no slower than 8-minute miles, I went as fast as I could on the relatively technical finish.  I discarded my hat and water bottle a mile to go and I’m certain my face was ridiculously strained with full effort.  Rallying into the finish with only shoes, socks and shorts I was over joyed to see 6:28:26 for an average pace of 7:46 a mile and approximate lap splits of 2:10, 2:06, 2:12.

2nd Dave James (Inov8) 6:43

3rd Jason Brant (La Sportiva)6:51
Jason Bryant

4th (1st Master) Steven Moore 7:00

Liza Howard was the first woman in 8:09       

I met and exceeded all of my goals and expectations on this race.  I had fun, got to meet cool people like Dave James, Jason Bryan, Steven Moore, David Brant, Tania Pacev (USATF), the La Sportiva team captain, Jeremy Pade, amongst others.  This was also my test race with EFS by 1st Endurance, and it ended up being a huge success.  I plan on using 1st Endurance products for all my training and racing. 
Finally I got to share the race with two great buddies, Mark and Mike and Mike's family Zefe, Sevile, Olivia and Ellie.  
Mark, Mike and I drove to Austin shortly after the race, where we enjoyed a long night of celebration and fun. 

I was very happy with my race at TNF 50 for a début and likewise, I am very happy with how things panned out on this first race of the season.
Texas "Hill Country"


  1. Huge congrats man, that is some work you put on down there! Stoked to see how your progress continues, surely there's more to come!

  2. Couple things Champ ...

    ... it ain't light in Colorado at 5, but I will give you a pass on that with a new yung'un.

    ... the ultra karma dieties universe dice were smiling kindly on yah, as evidence by the tire fix and BBQ.

    ... time to take the resume to one of those possible sponsors so they can reconsider?

    And well done.

  3. Great job out there, super impressive run. And way to go on those even splits! Also, winning a national championship in women's shorts...now that is a serious accomplishment!

    Glad to hear the EFS treated you right...though I knew it would. That stuff is money. But sshhhhh...don't tell everyone or the secret will get out. Just kidding.

    Congrats on an awesome race. Look forward to getting back to the weekly sessions now.

  4. I thought the women's shorts were cute. Congrats on the BIG win! Well done!

  5. Some lucky guy is wearing your MT101's right now! I bet he doesn't run as much as you in them though. If only I could have come across a free pair of 101's!

    Did you ever get the name of the 14:30 5ker college kid that dropped?

    1. ran for NC State was all I remember Owen, guy was really pushing the pace, I asked him if he knew 50M was 50 Miles and not Meters ;)

  6. Thanks All,

    I didn't realize Rocksprings was not much further east, just mostly south, punk! :)
    Yeah, I almost didn't make it to the race.
    EFS is where it is at indeed.
    I'm glad you enjoyed the shorts!
    I know... the shoes had like 30 miles on them too. I'll figure out who the college guy was. He didn't cary a water bottle either.

  7. Jason,

    You rock! beautiful baby too. You and B Dumm will make a USAF sweep at JFK 50. Need to get you here.

    Your USAF Friend
    owner of run store selling only minimalist shoes
    www.trtreads.org (the ultra folks get it)

  8. congratulations, jason! your consistent training paid off big time! how i wish we have ultra trail races here in the country (Philippines) aside from the yearly TNF 100K. i hope i will be able to meet you in person in this year's miwok 100. good luck on your next races!

  9. Jason, Sounds like just getting to the start line was a great accomplishment on it's own! I'm glad you got some help along the way. You'll find Texans ready to lend a hand anytime you visit. Fantastic race and nice to meet you. If you plan on Bandera 100k next Jan I can help you out if you fly into Austin. Have fun! Steven

  10. Congrats Jason! Stellar race. Well, if you were under the radar before (debatable after the TNF 50) you sure aren't now.

    Keep it going. I'm excited to see where this will lead you.

  11. Thanks Mark! Mark's store is awesome and so is Mark. He is the guy that changed my running which enabled me to run Ultras.

    Bald Runner, thanks. I hope to meet you as well some day. Unfortunately I didn't get into Miwok this year, but next year I hope to make it.

    Steven, Bandera is a good possibility... I don't know if you want my luck driving with me in the car!

    Thanks Jay

  12. thanks for the butt kicking that day Jason ;) see you tomorrow in Steamboat for some friendly revenge of the 100 mile variety! :)

  13. It is the first time that I see that they add a spanish name to a race.

    pay per head demo