Once inside Texas country I headed west on I-10 through Houston and into San Antonio. Eastern Texas houses most of Texas' major cities. As you move westward the towns get smaller as the populations dip to 200 people! Many towns have no gas, food, or services so you have to be cautious.
By pure luck I arrived at the airport minutes after Lisa's Delta flight touched down. The afternoon rush was just beginning as I drove north of the city to the airport. Lisa, enter stage Left.
Picking up Lisa was great for two reasons. First I no longer had to drive (24 hours in two days so far) and I had someone to talk to. Lisa was not quite as happy since her final approach into San Antonio was a little bumpy. So far everything was right on - Lisa and I were safely in Texas and heading to Rocksprings. Texas was peppered with crosses and other signs of Christianity. On our way out of San Antonio we saw a magnificent cross up on a hill. It was gigantic.
Rocksprings is a very small town (pop. 1200) for us East Coasters but it is large for western Texas. After a long day of driving we coasted into town on an empty tank. We filled up the Jeep, earned some weird stares, and headed to Camp Eagle where the 50 mile Nueces Endurance Race was being held. Characteristic of any trip, the GPS took us down the wrong dirt road for several miles over rough terrain. Lisa was driving and seemed very excited to observe the goats, cows, and sheep. She didn't mind that the Jeep was being tossed back and forth by the pot holes on this abandoned dirt trail. I closed my eyes. Eventually after a few arguments we turned around and drove 30 miles to the opposite side of town and found the right road. By then it was dark and we had not eaten dinner or set up our tent for the night. We did eventually settle into the camp and make dinner. Lisa's soup attracted a young buck, who walked right up to the stove and sent her running into the Jeep. At eleven o'clock we slipped into our sleeping bags for a couple hours of shut eye before the race @ 5am.
5 am sure came quick. I shuffled out of the tent and quietly ate my breakfast of Cliff bars and gatorade in the Jeep. Lisa is NOT a morning person so I didnt even attempt to wake her up. At this point it struck me that I still needed to check in and warm up -- can you warm up for a 50 mile race? Before I knew it I was on the starting line with twenty other crazy runners as we prepared ourselves for the unknown. Miraculously Lisa woke up, found the starting line in the dark and snapped some photos right before the race start. It then dawned on me that we would be racing in the dark for the first ten miles. Thank God I had been working a lot and was familiar with running at night with my headlamp.
As the race starter counted down... 10, 9, 8,.... 5, 4, 3, 2, "GO", I remember thinking "what have I got myself into here". Six miles was the longest I had ever raced before and now I was toeing the start line for a 50 miles? Due to time and money constraints I knew nothing about the wilderness I was about to plunge into. Before I knew it the race was on and the twenty of us crept blindly into a dark and wild Texas.
After running for two hours, by glowsticks dangling precariously from trees, the sun finally crept over the Eastern Texas horizon. Fortunately for us runners the temperatures were cool and the newly lit world was breathtaking.
This race was unlike anything I had ever seen before. What we ran on, through, over, under, and inside of cannot be expressed through words but I will try my best. The trails were on a private ranch called "Camp Eagle" where extreme mountain bikers and adventure junkies come to go buck wild.
Trails here were not nicely groomed paths but rocks, loose soil, tree roots, cacti, and other obstructions that were located between trail markers (yellow signs with arrows). At several points you could not even walk. You had to stop and duck under a tree or jump a fence or wade through the river. The fact that there was no solid trail or consistent pace is just brutal for your legs and the rest of your body.
I started out cautiously and stuck behind the one man leader, Dave James of Texas, for the first 12 miles. Overall the pace was really slow and it was hard for me to run slow (6:45 -7 minutes a mile) and not extend my legs to the pace (5:45 - 6 minutes a mile) I was used to in collegiate running. At the first large hill (more like mountain with avalanche) I kept my steady pace and dropped James (60 lbs heavier than I). For the first time in my ultra career I had the lead and it felt good. The excitement of being in the lead took over and my pace slowly raised until I was flying. It felt great to let the legs fully extend but it would ultimately be my demise.
Camp Eagle's 50 mile running course was divided into three 16.7 mile loops with aid stations every 5 miles. At each aid station I would quickly chug a cup of water and grab some gel packets for the road. Eating is very important in these prolonged efforts and I still haven't been able to balance my water and food intake with energy expenditure. The first loop seemed to take forever but my time was fast at 2 hours. All the volunteers at the aid station were surprised when I showed up alone so quickly. Lisa was waiting for me at the end of the first loop with my hat, glasses, and food for the second lap. I stayed maybe one minute to exchange clothes and food and then took off. The second loop was much harder because I knew what was coming. Some of the initial excitement had worn off and the lactic acid has taken hold in my body. On top of that I was now beginning to pass other runners on a trail that is not a trail. It was awful. By the end of the second loop my body had all but shut down. 30 miles in and my race was over. I had never been to a point where my mind was willing my body to move and it refused. I sat for a moment trying to figure out how I was going to finish this second loop without injuring myself. Somehow I mustered the strength to finish that loop.
Awaiting me was an excited Lisa who knew I had a large lead and thought I was going to win. She was disappointed when I told her I couldn't finish but I wasn't. I told her and the race organizer, Joe Prusaitis, that "this race was the most amazing and awful experience I have ever had". The result wasn't as important as the experience. However, it was difficult to watch the other runners come through and continue but I knew inside that I would be back... and stronger. All in all I ran 33.4 miles in 4 hours and 10 minutes and had be in the lead the entire race. Lisa helped me limp back to the tent site where we took a well deserved 2 hour nap. After our nap we packed up the tent, ate a quick lunch and headed deeper west into Texas.