Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Texas Showdown at the 2013 Nueces 50-Miler (USATF 50-Mile Trail Championships)

I’m going to hurt myself today. No doubt about it.

I had to confess the high probability of a few face plants as my feet brushed the rocky trail for the first time, just a few minutes before the start of the Nueces 50-Miler last Saturday. Even in the dark of the morning, the stark contrast of the rock-on-rock Texas hill country was ominous.  

Yup, going to stick to the sheets tonight for sure.

I was in good company, however, as 100+ of us huddled in the starter chute for this challenging 3-loop 50-miler in Camp Eagle, TX. Another 300 came along for 50k/25k/10k options, and would start soon after. The genius of Camp Eagle’s “bring your own sheets” policy was about to be revealed in all its scabby glory.

Race Director Joe Prusaitis and his merry band of Tejas Trails volunteers were our hosts for this fourth running of Nueces (2nd as the USATF Trail 50-Mile Championships), so there was no doubt it would be challenging, fun, and well-marked. Many of the runners were from local Texas towns, still shaking out Bandera or Rocky Raccoon just weeks earlier, and ready for more. Throw in some top contenders such as Jason Bryant (finished top 3 here the last two years), USATF Trail Marathon champion Cody Moat, Austin star Paul Terranova (who just won a slot to Western States with his 3rd place finish at the Bandera 100k), course record holder Michele Yates, Texas speedster Melanie Fryer, trail running power couple Brian and Amy Rusiecki, and more, it was going to be a showdown!

As the gun went off at 6am, I found a couple of folks with bright headlights to run next to (oops…I swear I packed a headlight) as we worked our way up the first climb. Turns out it was Jason Crockett from San Antonio and fellow inov-8 teammate Amy Rusiecki. Thanks, guys! We caught up and swapped stories, working our way to the top through the tricky switchbacks at a casual but swift pace. Amy and I ran through the list of top contenders, suspecting that the men’s race would likely come down to Jason Bryant (always a contender, and certainly for the Masters win now that he's 40), Paul Terranova (the local star, still fresh after Bandera), Brian Rusiecki (familiar with rocky running from his 7 wins at Mountain Masochist, Bull Run Run, etc. in 2012) another Team inov-8 member Cody Moat (running his first ultra, but wicked fast as proven from his win at the USATF Trail Marathon championships). For the women, Littleton, CO's Michele Yates was the favorite (just won Bandera, holds course record at Nueces), with Melanie Fryer, Pam Smith from Salem, OR, and Amy all capable of fast times on technical courses. A fast crew all around! As the sun peeked over the hill, I thanked my well-lit friends and picked up the pace.

(Yup, that is actually a trail)
(The morning sun burns down the morning mist)
I was feeling fresh, enjoying the lightness of a stride that is eight pounds leaner thanks to training during funemployment. The trails were technical for about five miles, and then crested the hill and turned to bedrock-lined roads that were much more runnable. I ran along with Californian-turned-Texan Willem Van Dam, who was pleased to be the young guy in the 50-54 age group this year, and he gave me some great tips on running these rocky trails - shorten that stride, stay upright, and never take your eyes off the trail. The hilltop view was amazing, with the expanse of Texas reaching to the horizon in every direction, and the cloudless sky warming quickly with the sunrise.

(Welcome, sun!)
(Gorgeous sunrise...what a great day!)
I caught a few runners as we peeled off the hilltop and hit some single track, and it didn’t take long to hear the first yelp of a fallen runner somewhere among the mesquite- and cactus-lined trails. It sounded like a bad one, but quite honestly, none of us could figure out where she was. In the hill country, everything sounds nearby and looks impossibly far away. We let the volunteers know at the next aid station (mile 9.5), and they already had someone on the way!

(This trail goes on forever!)
(Heads down is the correct posture! Turns out it was this runner who fell, and she toughed it out for 22 more miles with what remained of her left knee)
The terrain was super fun on the next stretch, running along the stone river bed and crossing a footbridge that bucked harder than a bull if you didn't time your steps correctly. The variety of trails was delightful - technical climbs, weaving single track, dry flat creek beds, fire roads, and more. Most of the time it felt like I was the only one out there so I was thrilled to catch up to Eric Loffland from Athens, GA, and tackle the "fence climb" together before refueling at the Texas aid station (mile 14). One more descent, a few rock hops across the river, and one last crazy suspension bridge to finish lap #1!

(Rugged and beautiful)

(Single track was super fun!)
I completed the first 16.67-mile loop in 2:18, putting me roughly in 10th place. I knew I had lost a few minutes from the dark, but I was still a solid 10-15 minutes off the pace leaders. Paul Terranova had led through lap #1 with four others within range (Jason Bryant, David Brown, Cody Moat, Brian Rusiecki), and Michele Yates was out front for the women's race not too far off the men. Time to pick it up! Super volunteer Olga Varlamova got me rolling quickly, and I charged up into the hills with Sydney Pitt from Austin, TX, and Houston's Olli Havvikko. We were still moving fast enough to run the uphills, so we traded off the lead over the next few miles and stayed on the hydration.

(Gravity feels good)
A javelina (or boar?) cut through the bushes a few yards away from me as I crested the hill, and scared the bejezus out of me. Those guys move fast! I reached for my camera to get a shot and instantly regretted taking my eyes off the trail, tumbling helplessly into the rocks. The stones were merciless as they dug into my elbows, wrist, fingers and shoulder, deep enough to bruise, and with little ability to "roll with it" and absorb the impact. I took a few moments to catch my breath and took inventory from the fall...not too bad, actually. I suspect every runner out here would have this much blood just as table stakes. Note to self - maybe no pictures on this section, javelina or not!

(So that's what a javelina is!)
(I loved this section where dead branches reached towards the 30 foot river wall)
I got through the next two aid stations easily (mile 21 and 26), pleased that my energy level was holding up nicely. There was plenty of company on this loop too as the 50k and 25k runners made their way through the course. One of them said I was in 8th place and that a couple of runners were less than a minute ahead, so I picked up the pace as we hit the dry river beds. It was warming up now, probably high 50's/low 60's, which mysteriously released butterflies all over the trails. Laughter was also plentiful as the kids at the Camp took to the zip lines, river swimming, fishing, and bouncing on the bridges. Wonderful!

(Running the river bed)
Just as I set into a fast tempo, I caught a toe and was airborne again, realizing I was about to fall right off one of the big steps in the river bed. Don't you love those moments when you are in the air, Wyle E Coyote style, tumbling in slow motion to your inevitable crash? I had just enough time to pick a spot NOT to land, and twisted my body hard to avoid the thorny cactus and crash into the best-of-two-evils sandstone. Ow. Once I got my breath back, I realized I once again had a lucky fall...little surface damage, but my back was jacked up and going into spasms. Crap. I knew I was only a few miles from the end of the second loop (mile 32), so I brushed myself off and walked/jogged it in to assess.

(Uh, oh....)
(Tackling the springy footbridge)
Olga was there to size me up, saying it was clear I was hurting, but happy to see I was smiling and still moving. Lap #2 came in a 2:27, so I hadn't lost much time, but given the intermittent back spasms that could steal my breath away in a moment, this was a different race now. It only seemed to lock up when I had to catch my balance (which is a lot on this course), but I felt like I could still run the flatter stuff at an easy pace. This day was so beautiful...a gift, really...it would be a shame to stop. Success in ultras is often about how you overcome these mishaps, more so than finish place. So I popped some Aleve, let Olga know I was just going to hike it and get 'er done, and started walking the third loop.

Up front, Paul Terranova had come in first on the second lap, with Cody Banks, Jason Bryant, and Brian Rusiecki in hot pursuit. Jason had some swelling issues, but was still hanging with the leaders and toughing it out. I was stoked to hear that Cody was still in the mix - this was his first ultra! That guy is tough.

My ego took a few punches as a handful of folks passed me on my walk, all looking strong going into their third loop. Sydney Pitt was still running up hills, as was 54-year-old Charles Corfield from Boulder, CO, who was putting up a phenomenal pace so far (he runs 100 miles/week, it turns out). My head sank as Jorge Cardenas went by and I saw the M40-44 number on his back...a top Masters finish was certainly out of reach now. But I still had to focus on that finisher medal, so I kept at it.

The Aleve kicked in around mile 39, and I felt good enough to run an 8:30 min/mile pace along the flat and downhill sections. I kept coming close to Charles, amazed at his uphill pace even as both his arms were dripping blood from a fall on the first lap, but he would drop me at every climb. That dude is killing it! As we hit the last aid station (mile 47), he took one last look at me and exploded down the trail faster than a javelina. Well played, Charles, well played.

(A happy finisher brings it home)
(High five!)
I finished up in 8:03 for 16th place, and was surprised to find out I still got 3rd in my age group behind Jason Bryant and Jorge Cardenas. See? It pays to stick to it! I had just missed the Top 10 USATF by one slot, but didn't feel bad knowing that Charles had definitely earned it. Within minutes, I had a long neck beer in my hand, my feet were up, and we were cheering on the other runners.

(Code Moat brings home the win, photo courtesy of Running USA)
Cody Moat had broken away from the leaders in the last five miles to take the win and set a new course record, and Michele Yates squeezed a few more minutes out of her previous CR to score another win and get 4th overall. Jason Bryant braved through his swelling issues to take 3rd and set a new Masters CR, so he was pleased. Everyone said the race was challenging and fun, but you had to stick to your guns.

Top Results (all results):

1. Cody Moat               6:26.03  Course Record
2. Paul Terranova          6:32.10
3. Jason Bryant             6:46.09  1st Master - Masters Course Record
4. Brian Ruseicki           6:55.22
5. Brandon Ostrander   7:08.46

1. Michele Yates           6:53.25  Course Record
2. Melanie Fryar           7:31.58
3. Pam Smith                7:39.19
4. Sydney Pitt               7:53.16

1st Female Master - Anabel Pearson 9:16.31

(RD Joe Prusaitis gets a hug from volunteer Olga)
(Well deserved beers at the finish...recognize the woman in the middle? She's the one who fell!)
(Great shwag and a couple of medals cap off the day)
Everything about this race was so new, so different, yet had all the pleasures we can expect from a well run ultra. It was quite an adventure! My soul was beaming. My thanks to Joe, Tejas Trails, and all the great volunteers for putting on a spectacular race. I highly recommend it!


  1. Should have taken me up on light before the start! :) It was great to see you. Our trails are surely different...Pam Smith said she comes back for punishment! Well done. Stealing photo (with credit).

  2. Always a great read.

    Would you mind me asking whether you have your training regiment/log posted somewhere on here? My apologies if I've just missed an obvious link somewhere.


    1. A great question! I don't really keep a log per se, but can tell you my rough training plan.

      Typically I break my workouts into 3 week cycles, where each week gets a 10% boost in either distance or intensity, then I rest for 2-3 days. If I time it right, that last thing I do in a 3 week cycle is run a race (like Fort Ord).

      Here's a typical week for 2013 so far:

      Sun - Rest, Cross-Train, or Easy 8 (7:30-9 min/mile)

      Mon - 6 Miles Easy + 10-12 x hill repeats (85-90% effort, repeat until your legs burn the whole repeat) + target-race specific training as needed like rocks, steps, etc.

      Tue - Easy 8-10

      Wed - Tempo or Interval, which is usually 3 miles warm up + (4 x 2 miles at 6 min/mile (tempo) or 8-10 x 800 @ 2 min 45 sec (interval))

      Thur - Easy 8-10

      Fri - Long, usually 16-22 miles @ 8:30-9 min/mile with a few surges thrown in

      Sat - Easy 8-10, Rest, or Cross-Train (usually swimming after the long run)

      Overall I am ~65-75 miles/week, cresting at 85-90 at the end of week 3. I'm not a devotee to the schedule, but this is typically the mix I shoot for. If a target race is <20 miles, I will increase the speed of the tempo/interval work out and decrease rest intervals.

      I check my resting heart rate every morning, and if it's elevated, I rest until it goes back to normal. That's about it!


    2. Scott,
      Very interesting info. One more piece which would be insightful (at least to me): how much gain/loss do you accumulate in an average week?
      Thanks for sharing.

    3. Given where I live (Santa Cruz mountains), every run has plenty of hills. Easy runs have ~1,500 ft of climbing, long runs about double that. I'm going to try and track it all on Strava to see...

  3. Looks and sounds like a beautiful course! Even though you slowed down after the fall, you still ran a pretty awesome race! Congrats the the 3rd place finish!

  4. Good job and great pictures.
    I am glad that I found your blog.

  5. Sorry about your falls; you're tough! Thanks for the excellent race report and also thanks for sharing your training pattern.

  6. Hey Scott,

    Well done this weekend. That wasn't me on the up hill climb with Amy. However, we crossed paths shortly before coming back into Texas a/s around mile 13. We talked briefly about Black Hills.

    Well written report and lots of great pics!

    Hope our trails cross again soon,

  7. Way to recover!
    Your report made me interested in considering this race in a future year, but I've never been to Texas. What is the nearest major city (San Antonio?) and can you tell me anything about whether it's a worthwhile destination for stuff to do beyond the race itself?
    Great job out there! I love the javelina pic :-)

    1. Nueces is at Camp Eagle, TX, which is close to Rocksprings, TX, about 2.5 hours from San Antonio (or 3.5 hrs from Austin).

      Camp Eagle is definitely a "camp" - there's fishing, zip lines, hiking, swimming in the river, a pool, classes for archery and the such, crafts, you name it. It's easy (and cheap!) to rent a room full of bunk beds for a larger group. It would have been fun to stay longer!

      But be sure to bring your own beer, towel, headlamp, and sheets...three things I wish I had brought, and it's 1-2 hours to the closest store. ;-)

    2. Great - thank you for the info! Now I'm going to spend my insomniac hour searching your archive for your WTC reports in prep for this Saturday.

  8. Hey Scott,
    NIce race out there and great blog post. I look forward to seeing someplace on the trails again.

  9. Great post, Scott!
    We could almost taste the blood spilled through the race.

  10. You could have made it into the top ten :-)
    I'm glad you picked yourself up again after you hit the sandstone and kept going. Your back must have hurt but you still finished in a fair amount of time, all things considered.

    Aleve should have paid you for the good word you put in, lol

    I don't know if you eat meat but that javelina looks like it would taste good roasted.. Good reminder to keep our eyes on the trail, whether running or pursuing some other goal.


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