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)|
|(Gorgeous sunrise...what a great day!)|
|(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)|
|(Rugged and beautiful)|
|(Single track was super fun!)|
|(Gravity feels good)|
|(So that's what a javelina is!)|
|(I loved this section where dead branches reached towards the 30 foot river wall)|
|(Running the river bed)|
|(Tackling the springy footbridge)|
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)|
|(Code Moat brings home the win, photo courtesy of Running USA)|
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)|