Friday, April 15, 2011

2011 Hells Hills 25K Race Report

After hearing other friends making plans to do this race, and a little Twitter pressure, I thought it would be so exciting a month or two ago to jump in with these friends and do my first trail 25K, and my only my second ever 25K (also the longest distance race I've done). Hells Hills had a 25K, 50K, and 50 Mile race on April 2 in Smithville, Texas, about an hour east of Austin.

I was definitely apprehensive. I didn't know what to expect, and while I felt I performed well for my fitness level, "Sandlands" aka Grasslands Half Marathon left me with dread (I was not a fan of the course). But I was with friends, and that makes everything better.

Friday, Corina, Jeremy, Stacy, and I loaded up her little "EBV" (Electric Blue Vibe car) and headed down to Austin. We had dinner at a local Italian/Mediterranean place in Bastrop, TX, which is where we were staying the night, about 20 minutes from the race location.  There was a BIG crew of friends, about 10, doing this small race, and pretty spread out among those doing the 50M, 50K, and 25K.

An early bedtime, then up at 3:30 am. Ugh, this night owl wasn't happy. But recently I'd found that a super early wake-up time gave me a better chance of settling my fickle stomach that had most recently made the Austin Half Marathon an awful experience. With less rushing around with plenty of time to get ready, this helped calm my nerves and my nervous tummy.

At 5 am, Jeremy, Fawn, and Matt started the 50-mile race.

Jeremy (@jldrunner), Fawn (@milanorunner), Matt (@raceforothers)
Hanging out, chatting with friends, then Corina, Julie (First 50K!), Greg (First 50K!), Dat, Kevin, Derek, and Sarah all started the 50K race at 6 am. I had until 7 am to get prepped and would be starting with friends Tracy, Stacy, and also Katie (doing the 10K).

Front row: Katie (@kluper), Dat (@rundatad), Julie (@julie_runs), Corina (@UltraMamaC), Sarah (@EclecticTrixie). Back row: ME (@libbyruns), Greg (@UltraNinjaRunnr), Derek (@trigolfer)

It was just getting light when we started, which meant about 120 runners starting out in a pack in "almost light". A little scary for the first 15 minutes. It took a couple miles to spread out. I was with Stacy for a good bit of this but end of mile 2 I had a good downhill and took advantage of the momentum to get a little speed going. From then on out, I spent most of the race by myself. While 50K and 50M folks were doing multiple loops, I would only be passed a handful of times.

It was a pretty course. We headed up up up hill on switchbacks in the early miles, through pine trees and oak groves. A mixture of soft pine needles, dirt, and loose smooth rocks and gravel underfoot. In the first 5.5 miles before the first aid station, I felt like I had more speed going, but would get nervous when we'd slide and skid down loose rocks on downhill sections, and I was also having to learn quickly how to pick my way around the trail to find the best footing and keep my knees high enough to avoid lots of tree roots. In those first handful of miles was also all of my "almost falls" or "near misses". FOUR times where the front of my shoe hit a tree root HARD and I had a cartoonish arms-windmilling 7 or 8 flailing steps to regain my footing, fingers even brushing the ground one time, and throwing my sunglasses that were hanging from my shirt (lots of cloud cover).

At the first aid station, I hear "Hi, Libby!" Total surprise, who would know me here? It's Kevin, who was running the 50K and started an hour before the 25K folks and had sprained his ankle badly at mile 3.5. :-( I was so surprised and sad to see him that, while I did refill my bottle, I didn't see or grab a small bite of food.

Rocked along for the next 5 miles of switchbacks and gradual uphill into a meadow where we were all expecting bluebonnets. Poor Corina, I thought, she was so looking forward to the bluebonnets and there were a sad few, not a field full like we had hoped. The official race photographer was stationed here and I tried my best to lift those knees - so tired of always looking like a racewalker in these photos. No offense to racewalkers - it's just that I want credit for running if that's what I think I'm doing!

The next aid station was right after this meadow, and I feel like I'm starting to lose my mind. I know this aid station should be at mile 10.7, but my Garmin shows mile 10. I hadn't watched my Garmin much at all - I had been looking at my feet and watching for race markers on trees and branches, but it kinda threw me. In about a mile I catch up to a woman. She says we just passed a marker that said 12. My Garmin is now feeling way off. It starts to mentally break me. With no course map, now I start to feel like around every corner could be the finish. I'm just not liking not knowing how far along I am. :-( I guess between being in the groves of trees with possible lose reception and the Garmin smoothing all the switchbacks to shorten the distance, overall I was coming out quite short.

Then a fellow who had caught up to me a couple times during the race before I would sprint ahead each time caught up again.  A woman's with him.

He has run this course before and says to both of us, "Oh, we have the Grind and the Wall coming up."

I say, "I saw that on the course description. What does that mean?"

He says, "You'll see..." and then he and the woman run off ahead of me.

Consider me officially broken. I spend every turn of the forest now asking, "Is the Grind or Wall around this corner?" and wondering what that could be! How bad could it be? I'm a little freaked out.

And then I get to the sign "THE GRIND" with arrows pointing down and on approach, it feels like a dropoff. I edge up to it, and it's a steep downhill of rocks and gravel. Oh, goody. The Grind. I'm worried about surfing down and hurting myself or the more scary falling forward and doing a bad roll down it. I traverse my way slowly to the bottom. Then I look ahead, and I'm standing in front of a steep steep uphill. Like have-to-put-my-hands-down-to-help-me type of uphill. Idiot, this part is the Grind. The last thing was just the downhill to get to the Grind. Total forehead smack there in the middle of the woods all alone. Turns out the Wall was basically the same thing.

And still, with total Garmin distrust now, every turn comes with "Are we done yet?" feelings. I slowly run / walk my way to the finish. And I just want that darn medal. They've just finished a box of medals and there's a lull. I'm practically begging for a medal as I appear to have fallen through the cracks for a split second. Someone gets me a medal. I have my momentary cry. Don't worry, good cry. I'm amazed at how hard I've been able to push myself with a baby at home who is exactly 4 months old and a C-section scar that's still bright red and hasn't faded yet across my abdomen. I never would have thought I'd do my first 25K PREGNANT, and my second one on a pretty decent technical trail only several months postpartum. I was happily stunned at the finish of that race.

I finished in 3:56. Turns out that my road 25K last July while 5 1/2 months pregnant was only about 30 seconds faster. A weird coincidence that the times were so close.

I drove back to the hotel and showered. I'm always looking for things to get me out of my comfort zone, and trail running fits the bill. I'm not crazy about being dirty, and man, the trails make you dirty!


I returned to sit and relax with all my running friends and we were there the rest of the day until the very last finisher of the 50-mile. So great to cheer every person in, especially to cheer in my friends.

Lessons learned:
1) Ignore Garmin mileage! I did better at Grasslands about timing my energy gels but need to change data fields to focus on time instead of distance and time gels that way. Now with one trail 25K under my belt, I'll also have some general idea how far I am into the course based on relative difficulty to this one and what time I finished this one in.
2) Get used to the "Are we done yet?" around every turn the last couple miles. Other trailrunners told me that feelings not uncommon.
3) Don't sweat the obstacles. Grind and Wall were way worse in my tired brain 12 miles in after that guy had to throw out that remark.

Splits (for what they're worth with a Garmin who didn't register all the distance):
Mile 1: 14:42
Mile 2: 14:33
Mile 3: 15:06
Mile 4: 15:48 (Energy gel - I walk through taking GU so I don't upset my stomach)
Mile 5: 16:18 (aid station)
Mile 6: 15:32
Mile 7: 15:22
Mile 8: 15:18
Mile 9: 16:18 (Energy gel - I walk through taking GU)
Mile 10: 14:18
Mile 11: 16:50 (aid station I think)
Mile 12: 15:16
Mile 13: 18:57
Mile 14: 20:47
Last 0.8 mi: 14:40 pace

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