Sunday, April 8, 2012

Hells Hills 25K - First Trail Running Anniversary

Actually, Grasslands Half Marathon (race report) a year and a couple weeks ago was my very first trail race. But that's a race a lot of road half and full marathoners go off to do because it's relatively mild terrain (although I *hate* the sand) and convenient. I thought it was a trail race, until I went to other trail races. And it is one, don't get me wrong, but my initiation in trail running, complete with an out of town trip, felt more real at the Hells Hills race one year ago (race report from 2011).

My background of how I wasn't supposed to even be running this race, how I had just done a 50k two weeks ago, how I had lost major weight with illness last week, is all in my last blog post. Yet here I was, running the Hells Hills 25K again in Smithville, Texas (outside Bastrop). My whirlwind in-and-out 24-hour tour-de-trail-race started Friday afternoon at 3:30 pm. A 4 1/2 hour drive later, and I was in the land of Austin area trail running and settled into my hotel for the night.

4:20 am wakeup call. Yawn. I wanted to be there early because 1) I wasn't even registered yet, 2) I knew several people running the 50K and wanted to see their start and hopefully run into a friend or two. Right after getting registered, I ran into Fawn and Kerry. Fawn ran the 50M at Hells Hills last year. This year, she was running with Kerry for Kerry's first 50K! Then a woman came over and asked, "Are you Libby?" Uh, yeah? Well, I got to meet Rhonda, who had found this blog a few weeks ago and is a new blog follower! Fun! A weird moment when you realize people really do read this thing sometimes. I truly think of it more as my own Dear Diary and a way to update friends on the stories of my experiences when I can't rant, rave, and exclaim over coffee or drinks! Hey, Rhonda, if you are reading this, hit me up on Facebook so we can keep up with each other if we're running any of the same races in the future!

50K started at 6 am. I clapped and cheered their start, then I hung around until 7 am for our 25K start. Low 60s for the temperate with 97% humidity, which would later turn into hot, humid, and not a cloud in the sky. BLECH! Although this would prove kinda useful to me mentally since it was exactly the weather we had at this race last year!

I try to stay to the very back at the start. I'm keeping the pace conservative but it's so funny that rush at the start line. Now that I'm wearing my heart rate monitor, I could see the instant 15 bpm jump from resting rate when they yelled "Go". And I could see that the first mile I could not keep my heart rate in what I felt should have been a "warmup". The line of runners started to sort itself out, but then I get really annoyed at the 20 or so runners who had obviously shown up late and were way faster than me. Since I was at the race site an hour and 20 minutes before the start, I'm kinda feeling no sympathy for those folks and wish a single track trail race had a rule of no starts 2 minutes after the gun, or something equally strict. I practice my usually sweet demeanor for passing and getting passed on the trails, but it's messing with my rhythm and frustrating me!

2nd half of mile 2 was equally frustrating when the very fast 10K runners caught my pack of the back-end of 25K runners. Lots of stopping in narrow areas to let these fast guys pass. Again, don't mind and even enjoy the leapfrogging at times with people around my pace. But when you can hear the fast feet of a 9-minute-miler behind you, it's unsettling and unfocuses you as you prepare to scoot aside.

Right before the first aid station at mile 5.7, a gal in front of me said she wasn't wearing a GPS and had no clue how far we had gone. I asked her if she wanted to know. When she said yes, I said, "I think about half a mile." We round a bend suddenly, and boom, there's the aid station. This year, unlike last year, I laughed - GPS distance is a guideline, not a guarantee out on the trail. I've learned too that I don't pay attention to mile by mile pace anymore because those numbers just aren't real. So I had done some quick math and figured out what total time I hoped would elapse when I got to the aid station. So imagine my joy when I was 5 minutes ahead of schedule!

Coach Jeremy had told me to work on getting in and out of the aid stations at this race. Max of 2 minutes per station. So I walked into there, shoved my open water bottle at the volunteer for refilling. I thanked him furiously while grabbing about 10 M&Ms. I heard, "Libby!" Elizabeth, who is local to the Austin area and had run Gorge Waterfalls 50K also 2 weeks ago (which is where we'd finally met) was working the aid station. Totally tripped me up - I spat out, "Coach says get in and out quick here so can't talk but great to see you!!!" I took my refilled water bottle, shoved the pile of M&Ms into my mouth, and snatched an orange slice.

Verdict: 25 seconds!! I had passed the first attempt at speediness in refueling!

The next couple miles I kept with the "slow mile then fast mile" I was practicing based off heart rate readings. I had leapfrogged for a while with a woman named Dorothy. At mile 8, she stuck with me for about a mile. We enjoyed each other's company, but I did have to remind myself to talk less since it will make my heart rate climb. Even so, the "fast then slow" goals went out the window. The heat, humidity, and number of miles had caught up with me, and I wouldn't find that lower heart rate zone again for the rest of the race.

At almost 10 miles in, you come out to a couple beautiful meadows. I smiled so big. I even stopped and snapped a couple pictures.

Last year, Corina had said for a month leading up to this race that she better see bluebonnets. The picture on the race website at the time and stories told of bluebonnets in this meadow. We thought it would be a well-earned reward. But with the drought and heat of last year, the meadow was dry and brittle then with no flowers. This year: wildflowers of lots of colors. I didn't specifically note bluebonnets, but it was all very pretty. And while the cloudless sky but for a few wisps would make it hot in the late miles, it was so gorgeous right then.

Mile 10.8 aid station. I was still a few minutes ahead of my hoped pace from my quick calculations. One volunteer filled my water. I had to ask for Coke since none was out right then, and the girl fumbled. Her dad came over to fill half a cup for me. I did it like a shot of tequila and grabbed 5 pretzels and hit the road again.

Verdict: 50 seconds in and out! I beamed and knew Jeremy would be happy. I may not be fast but I had finally mastered anticipating what I would need at the aid station, getting it quickly, and not getting sucked into the happy place of the aid station environment so that you get back out on the course.

From here we hit a wider old Jeep road for a while and have some slow long climbs. Not a steep grade, especially compared to Gorge a couple weeks ago, but enough that everyone in my pace range was walking it. I passed several people over these miles and actually felt like all that powerwalking is finally making a dent on my pace.

Lost a minute around mile 12 trying to get water out of two empty coolers that had been set out. Mile 13 lost a minute refilling my water bottle. Didn't really need it, but I knew how hot the last 30 minutes would be, and it was a safety net.

Mile 14, I went off course. It looks like we intersected a farm road for a second. Somehow instead of reentering the woods, I took the road. I ran along this hot unshaded road for many minutes, and while I was worried I hadn't seen a marker, I knew there were less markers on road segments, and I could hear voices behind me. Then 4 ladies passed me. A barbed wire fence ran along my left side and suddenly I saw runners pop in and out of those trees. I was off course! And those stupid ladies weren't even with the race. Or maybe they had run the 10K and come out to this farm road for extra miles. I don't know what they were up to. I panicked! When did I get off? I was on PR pace!!! How far back would I have to go? There's a guy 100 feet back and I start yelling to him that we're off course. He wants to climb the barb wire fence where we see the runners on the other side. He's desperate and that's where his mind went to in his panic. I say, "That's barb wire! You'd get seriously hurt!" and I just keep high-tailing it back. I never looked back to see what he did. 

My heart rate has shot up, which means I know I'm burning precious glycogen. I worry my new Personal Record is slipping through my fingers. I get back to where the farm road joined up to the trail and jump back in. Now I'm looking at my watch and trying to guess how much time I've lost. Trying to guess how many tenths of a mile I had additionally done. Trying to do the math of "At mile 10.8 aid station, the Garmin said 9 miles, so if it says X now, am I at Y miles?" Foggy brain. And it's HOT which isn't helping it.

I later dug through the Garmin data to isolate this incident. I was off course for about 0.5-0.6 miles and I lost 8 minutes.

I enjoy the Hells Hills course, but I hate the last mile of it. You keep feeling like you are almost there, but you're not. Oh, there's the campground and all the tents. Oh, here's a farm road. Oh, here's a storage building. Until finally, you turn and you can see the long fence area of flags to point you to the finish. I finished strong with a 3:46, taking 10 minutes off my time from last year, setting a new personal record.

My paces are important as my training for Chattanooga means I'll have to get faster in the next 10 weeks. When I take out the 8 minute time loss, my timing broke down as the following...
13:58 for first 5.7 miles (to aid station 1), 
13:15 for next 5.1 miles (to aid station 2), 
15:10 for last 4.7 miles (ignoring the 8 min spent off the course).

Since I had those two stops for water in the last 5 miles, and the heart rate spike for getting off course, I'm happy with that 15:10 in the last section. I did a good job of consistent pacing.

And always a great part? Getting a pretty race medal. They had a great logo this year!


  1. What a beautiful location for a race! And that is one seriously bad ass looking medal - I love it!

  2. Watch out Chattanooga! Libby's coming for u!!

  3. Cool pictures. Sadly I was one of the 10Kers that frustrated you! I am not sure if the 10K on the same course is the best idea with the staggered times though because there was a lot of this and not a lot of room to pass... might be better to start the 10K at the beginning so they can go and be off the course?

    1. I'm not sure how many people you guys had to pass. I mind it way less if it's like I suspect, which is that it's a handful of us back-of-the-pack folks. It's hard to time out 4 race distances and not have this happen. And I wish I was fast like you, and I'm glad they have a shorter distance available for people, but yeah, maybe he could start it 10 minutes later? But perhaps that would start to muck things up like the back-of-the-pack 10Kers slowing down the very fastest 50K and 25K runners.

  4. Congratulations on another adventure. It's fun reading about your experiences, but I worry about you getting hurt.


    1. Thanks, and I appreciate the concern. I've blogged about it before, but if you haven't seen those, JMS, then please let me assure you that I spend a lot of time in recovery activities. Sports chiropractor visits, massage, ice baths (which I did after this race), warm epsom baths, stretching. I don't think most distance runners could stay injury-free for the past 6 years like I've managed without doing many of those things. Also, because of my fibromyalgia, I think I have a higher self-awareness of my body's aches and tweaks and tend to get them handled the second I feel like something is coming up! :-)

  5. Nice job on the PR. Thanks for cheering me on at the start! Too bad we didn't connect--some other race perhaps!

    1. It's so fun to get the chance to cheer you guys. I like the staggering at trail races because of that. Someday, we'll coordinate and meet before or after a race! :-)

  6. Awesome work, Libby! You did everything you're supposed to do, especially with the aid stations. Know what you want before you get to the aid station, get it, and get the heck out. And congratulations on your new PR and awesome medal. That's much better than the Hell's Hills medal from last year.