Sunday, February 14, 2016

Return to Huntsville State Park

Late last year I mentioned to Tom that I would like to run at Huntsville State Park again. My first Ultra was at Huntsville 10 years ago. A 50K which was then called The Sunmart trail race and where I set my 50k PR that still stands.
Since then I have been to the Rocky Raccoon trail race at Huntsville to pace a good friend on her first 100 miler and to volunteer at the Damnation aid station.
Early this year I registered for the February 13, 2016 Fifty mile run.
On one of my almost daily conversations with my brother Andy, I told him my plans to run at Huntsville. His response was, “hey, maybe I'll go and meet you there! I can support you.” Of course I thought that was a great idea..
Andy booked a room and counted down the days every time I spoke to him. Asking what I would need him to do and planning what we would do after I crossed the finish line.
Feeling I had not trained properly for a 50 miler and knowing I would not be up to doing anything with my brother after the race, I changed my registration to the 50K so that I may be more able to spend time with Andy. My big brother who I owe so much too. He doesn't see it that way but Andy has done so much for me all my life. When I introduced Andy to Jeanie at Rockhopper Central she asked me what kind of brother Andy was.
Andy scolded me and even may have punched me (tongue in cheek) if and when I strayed but did everything for me otherwise. I could not have asked for a more loving and supportive big brother.
Andy drove from his home north of Dallas, I from from San Antonio to The Woodlands, TX. We met at the Hotel Friday afternoon before the race and were soon joined by his son, my nephew Andrew who had recently relocated to Pearland, TX. After having dinner we settled in to our room and caught up and learned some history and interesting facts from Andrew. That guy has a wealth of knowledge. As a kid Andrew read The Guinness book of world records, issues of the Farmers Almanac, and Texas Almanac cover to cover and would keep up with new editions. When he learns something new he researches it even further (something we learned from Grandpa, my dad). It's fun having a conversation with Andrew.
Andy dropped me off at the race site in Huntsville state park at 5 AM the next morning. He would drive back to the Hotel 30 miles away to have breakfast with Andrew and the two would return two hours later and hang out with the Rockhoppers at the Damnation aid station.
Rockhopper Central was already buzzing with smiles, hugs and well wishes at 5 AM as everyone was getting ready for their race. My plan was to run relaxed and hope to have a good time emotionally and on the clock without bonking.
As the race started on time at 5:45 AM, I found myself trying to stay close to other runners so that I
 could take advantage of their headlamps. Mine was a bit dim. I should have replaced the batteries beforehand.
I completed the first loop feeling good about seeing so many Rockhoppers on the course and at all the aid stations. Damnation had the biggest group of Rockhoppers and that place was really hopping! I looked forward to running into Damnation because of the big ruckus there. Also it's where my big brother was. I had pushed my pace just a bit over my comfort zone on the first loop but held back many times trying to conserve some energy for the second loop.
I walked out to begin the second loop eating an oreo cookie pancake while thinking I had only seen a couple of old guys (like me) at the turn around before me. Hmm, masters awards go three deep. Ah, I'll run my best, I thought. Then, An old guy passed me. Now the competitive side of me thought, I need to stay close to this guy. I fed off his pace trying not to stay too close. I felt he knew I was close behind as he picked up the pace. I gave him more room. Approaching the nature center aid station I relaxed and fell! I got up and walked in to the aid station and lost sight of the guy in front of me. He was gone. A mile or so down the trail, there he was. I caught him and passed him. Soon he passed me. I stayed close. I passed him again. The race was on. On the downhills my pace was faster. Running uphill he was stronger. I let him go up the next hill as I power hiked. As I crested that hill he was halfway down the other side. With another hill up ahead I made the decision to try and kill his spirit. Hey, this is racing! I get that competitive fire in me. Maybe I learned this from my brother as a kid. Andy was a great competitor in Soccer, Tennis, and life.
I picked up my pace going downhill trying to get momentum to carry me up and over the next hill in hopes of dropping my competition and making him think I had a full tank of energy.
I crested the next hill and kept on pushing into Damnation. In and out after big smiles with my Rockhopper pals I kept pushing on the out and back that would bring me back to damnation again. A funny thing happened on this out and back. I acquired some pacers! Two dogs ran out of the woods towards me! One ran ahead of me and the other behind. I talked to the beautiful light brown brindle pit bull and the dark brown hound mix. On the way back on the out and back, there was the other old guy about a quarter mile back. I tried to stay strong without blowing it. The dogs ran back into the woods as I approached damnation. Jokingly I asked Chris Russell to help me out. Engage the old guy in conversation Chris! He's gaining on me! Stall him. We all know Chris can talk.
A quick laugh, a bottle refill, and a pancake with bacon, I was out of the damnation aid station.
My only thoughts now were can I keep up my pace and stay ahead of this guy. Now, I was not sure if I really had a chance for a masters award but in my mind it was now me and the guy behind me. If I am in the running this guy will not take it from me. Does it matter? In the big scheme of things, probably not. But this is my little game of competition, in a little race, in the woods.
I'll confess to using the same line at Park road aid station with Claudette. In this case I asked Claudette to use her charm on the guy behind me to stall him. Jason chased me out of Park road.
By this time my legs were tired and a bit achy. I ran into another guy who was fading. We talked and encouraged each other on (later he would come over to Rockhopper central and say thanks).
I ran trying my best not to look back and remembering a quote by the great Satchel Paige “Don't look back, something might be gaining on you.”
I crossed the finish line and was asked how old I was (guess I look like an old guy) and was awarded third place masters. A big metal red ant! Another yard ornament to remind me that I am very fortunate to be able to run.
And fortunate to have friends like the Rockhoppers and a big brother like Andy.


Julie Koepke said...

Congrats on your race, Tony! Loved your report.

Alicia Stoll said...

Great report Tony!