Monday, April 27, 2015

Brazos Bend 50 Race Report: 5 Lessons Learned from My First 50 Mile Race



I am now a 50 mile finisher! On April 25, I ran the Brazos Bend 50 Mile Race in Needville, Texas (near Houston). How many chances do you get to run with alligators? I counted 14. The gators stayed in the water so even when I was alone on the trail - it was just part of the fun to see them.

I saw my husband and our dog along the course, too. We stayed in our RV the night before the race, which meant I was only five minutes from the start. When I got to the start before the race, I ran a little and realized I had to rearrange my gear in my pockets so it didn't bob up and down and bug me. I'm glad I did!

Our RV That I Could See From the Race Course

Here are my 5 biggest race take-ways.

1. It's the little things that make me happy. 

  • Seeing my husband in the pouring rain who offered me a towel and a gel
  • Chit-chatting with other runners 
  • Volunteers always filled my water bottle quickly (I'm glad I carried one)
  • A real restroom (not a porta-potty) at mile 21 
  • Ice whenever I wanted it at the aid stations  
  • Knowing the exact mileage to the finish from the volunteers
  • The Trail Toes cream from my race packet - no blisters on my soaked feet!
  • Knowing toe nails grow back in when you know you will lose them
  • I didn't fall!
  • Not being struck by lightning
  • Not being hit by the cracking tree branch I heard during the storm
  • Zero mosquito bites (I sprayed myself pre-race, but does that stuff last 12 hours?!)
  • I didn't get lost! 
  • I quickly got back on the right trail after taking a wrong turn when I didn't follow the clearly marked trail. That was about a half mile from the finish. Brain fog!
  • I finished!
2. The heat is worse than mosquitoes, rain, thunder, lightning, mud, and puddles all put together.

It was easy to start out at an easy pace like I had wanted to because it was humid. Multiple heavy rain storms brought a short break from the heat, but then the trails were muddy, my shoes were soaked and the slippery mud caked onto my shoes. From 1:00 until I finished, it was a hot and humid 80-84F and that was worse than anything else.


Zoe with the Fake Gator

3. Having lots of food to choose from at the aid stations was great, but my stomach still hit some rough spots where it felt uncomfortable. No cramps, though!

I carried 20 gels and ate 15 (one every half hour until I tired of them, a variety of flavors was good including high sodium and caffeinated gels)

From the aid stations, I had:

  • ice, two 1/4 peanut butter sandwiches, oranges, 2 chocolate chip cookies, pineapple, 2 Ritz crackers, a date, pickles, pickle juice
  • I ate salty foods and gels, but somehow I forgot to try a salt pill, too.
At the mile 43 aid station, these foods turned my race from bad to good:

  • ginger ale (to settle my stomach), 2 Oreos, GU chews and Gatorade

Misc: To learn how I carried 15 gels or a little bit about my gear, check this post. Also, I don't really know if the mile 43 aid station was at mile 40 or 43, but I thought it was 43 and I'll leave it at that.

4. It was harder than I thought it would be. 

Oh, the drama! What time was it? Where's the next aid station? Where is everybody else? Would I make the 15 hour finishing cut-off? Would I even finish?

My Garmin 220 watch, phone (for music) and phone charger batteries all died somewhere before the mile 43 aid station. My lower back hurt so much that I held it with my hands while squeezing my fingers into my back and walked. Before getting to the mile 43 aid station, I sat down a couple of times, ate a salted gel and watched a butterfly land on my muddy legs.
6AM Start

5. An aid station can turn your race around.

At the mile 43 aid station, I sat down, learned how close I was to the finish, ate some new foods and listened to the other runners tell how they were suffering, too. It all helped! I came into that aid station not knowing if I could finish, but I left knowing that I would cross the finish line.

My First 50 Mile Finish

Even though there were only 95 finishers, the spectators cheered like it was the finish of a big city marathon. At the start, the race director gave us high-fives and at the muddy finish, he was still there to shake our hands. At the finish, I forgot to even look at the finishing clock - just finishing felt like winning!

The Numbers: 

  • I ran from 6AM-6:12PM.
  • 12:12 finishing time (14:38/mile average pace)
  • 58th out of 95 finishers
  • 13th out of 27 females
  • 5th out of 13 in the 40-49 female age group 
  • I'm 49 and was the only female aged 45-49


Post-Race Thoughts

Two days after the race, my legs feel better than they have after road marathons, but my back still hurts. I'll try some more core and back exercises when I feel better.

I don't know if I'll ever have the opportunity or want to run such a long race again. If I do, I want to run more and longer back to back training runs and wear a watch that won't die. It was even harder than I thought it would be to finish this race, but I'm so glad I did!

56 comments:

  1. Congratulations Tina!! You did amazingly well and I wouldn't have believed it was your first 50-miler unless you had told us. So impressive! And you certainly had some tough conditions to deal with, not just the mileage and terrain. I am very happy to hear how it went and I enjoyed your recap. I hope to do an ultra someday but not in the next year (two more full marathons coming up) -- I'll just learn from others in the meantime!

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    1. Thanks, Angela! I'm glad my recap hasn't discouraged you from giving an ultra a try!

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  2. Simply fantastic, Tina! I loved your recap, especially the butterfly detail. (I seem to remember the oddest details about races.) I can't imagine running 50 miles, let alone in the heat, rain and humidity. CONGRATS!!

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    1. It was the first time I've ever had a butterfly land on me. Two fun firsts in one day! And thank you!

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  3. Wow, Tina! Great job! What a wonderful moment to be proud of!

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    1. Thanks, Kathleen! If I ever run a mountain ultra, you'll have to give me some training tips!

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  4. YOU ARE AMAZING!!! Great job on that race - so very awesome, Tina!!!!

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    1. Thanks, Kim! I was closer than I've ever been to a 2nd DNF during this race. I couldn't be more thankful for the volunteers and the other runners.

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  5. Congrats In A Big Way!! Love the Dog/Gator photo!! Keep Stretching And Stay Strong

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    1. Glad you liked the photo of Zoe and the gator! I'll go find my foam roller as soon as I'm done blogging!

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  6. Congratulations Tina that is quite an accomplishment! The weather I'm sure didn't make it any easier.Enjoy your recovery! L

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    1. Thanks! One runner said we had hail, too, but I didn't see it. I could hardly see a thing in the rain when I ran through the dark woods with my sunglasses on, but I needed to wear my glasses to keep the hard rain out of my eyes as much as possible.

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  7. CONGRATS!!! You're such an inspiration!

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    1. Thank you! The other runners inspired me. I felt better after hearing "Good job!" numerous times and then even hearing that they were having some pain, too, but still continued forward.

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  8. Congratulations!! Love your list of the "simple things"...spot on! I would've put "not getting lost" as number 1 (ha, I get lost just thinking about it). I also found heaven in a ginger ale at just about the same place in my 50 miler. Glad everything worked - though I can only imagine how that heat/humidity pushed you to the limit.

    Well done!!

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    1. Thanks for being one of the bloggers who posted about donating race medals! I already knew that I wanted to donate medals when I heard about the collection at this race for a children's hospital.

      Your blog posts on ultras probably gave me the ideas about training with real food, too. Like you, after your 50 miler, I had no appetite after the race. The next day at 1AM, I was finally hungry!

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  9. Wow, congratulations on finishing such a long race! 12 hours of running! Yikes! That's fantastic! Too bad about the soggy weather though! You've earned your rest!

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    1. Thanks! This is a good day for some foam rolling and a recovery walk with Zoe. The wildlife count won't be nearly as exciting, though. Squirrels just aren't nearly as fun to see as gators!

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  10. Congratulations! What an amazing experience! I can not even imagine what 12 hours of running feels like.

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    1. Thanks! It's something I won't soon forget!

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  11. Wow Tina, congratulations!! That's a great finishing time, especially in that heat - I really can't imagine running that far in that kind of weather, you are really tough. After having to DNS my goal 50 miler this spring, I've been really enjoying reading about other people's to inspire me to work toward running my first one in the fall. Thanks for putting up your recap! I'm glad you had a good experience!!!

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    1. Thank you! One good thing about training through the summer will be that if you have a hot race day, you'll be more adjusted to running in the heat.

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  12. Congrats Tina! What a big accomplishment. I'm glad to hear the rain didn't take too big of a toll on your feet! How are you feeling afterward? Were you happy with your training? I agree that fueling is so essential for these events and can really turn things around. Congrats! :)

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    1. Thanks! Three days post-race, my legs surprise me every day with how good they feel. I'm going to add back exercises to my weekly strength training because my back hurt so much. If there had been more time, I would have added longer and more back-to-back runs.

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  13. Congrats Tina! What a huge accomplishment and it sounds like you rocked it. I crewed for the Leadville SIlver Rush 50 a couple summers ago and it was quite a trip chasing our runner around. This was fun to read!

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    1. Thanks! I can't imagine chasing after a runner in a trail race. It's much harder to estimate where you'll be along the course at any given time than it is in a road race. Even I had no idea where I'd be later or where I was sometimes!

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  14. That is amazing!!! Do you normally have back problems? I was wondering if it also could be a dehydrated/seizing up thing--I have heard of that happening!
    That is a great finishing time! It seems like you were really mentally tough too!
    This may be too soon, but. would you do it again?

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    1. My back pain is a mystery to me. I've never had back problems during a race before. I hadn't heard about the possible dehydrated/seizing so thanks for sharing! That's a possibility.

      After the race, I was satisfied with only running one 50 miler. Two days later, I found out my time and place and wondered how much better I could run another ultra if I had more training time. So, yes, I might try another one someday.

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  15. Congratulations Tina you did great. I was reading on Facebook about the tough conditions so was anxious to hear how you did. Congrats to you on a spectacular result! It definitely sounded like it got rough out there in the rain. Great race recap ad enjoy some well earned rest.

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    1. Thank you! If I do another one of these, maybe this experience will be enough to keep me from feeling so discouraged. I'd guess after running some ultras like you have, that you've learned that it gets easier.

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    2. Each race is a new experience, they are all hard to some extent...but varying degrees of hard. Yet we keep coming back. You should definitely not feel discouraged, you did amazing. Any time you cross the finish line at an ultra it's a success. There are always a lot of DNF's.

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    3. Thanks, again, Robin! The rough stages that you make it through make the finish feel even sweeter!

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  16. Congratulations! That was an amazing accomplishment and can't believe you did so well for your first 50 miler! I'd love to see your complete training plan. Your an inspiration Tina.

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    1. I've thought about consolidating my training runs into a post. That might be a good idea. You're one of my inspirations for BQ'ing someday!

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  17. Congratulations on the huge accomplishment!! You really are strong :) very strong! I can not imagine eating 15 gels...but I've never run that long in my life either!
    I am glad you found some inspiration at the mile 43 station. Those are tough conditions and you overcame a lot! I am glad you had cheering at the end - you deserved it!!
    Your finishing position in your first 50 miler is very impressive!

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    1. Having a variety of GU gel flavors made it easier to keep eating gels. I ate vanilla bean, strawberry banana, mandarin orange, salted watermelon, salted caramel, tri-berry and caramel macchiato. In fact, it wouldn't have hurt to have had even more flavors! Thank you!

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  18. Congrats Tina! It was cool to see you out there, and you did amazing! The course got so rough after the rain, and the heat was brutal too! It was truly a variety of seasons packed into one day. I recognize your pretty dog, I must have seen your husband out walking it at some point. That fake alligator scared me to death the first time I saw it!

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    1. Before the race, I wasn't sure I'd be able to recognize you since I've only seen you on your blog and it was so fun to see you on the trail. I wish we'd been going the same direction! The fake gator hiding around the corner scared a lot of people!

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  19. Wow! I got goosebumps reading this. This is such an amazing accomplishment. Congratulations!!!!!

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    1. Thanks, Jennifer, I'm looking forward to reading about your upcoming half marathon, too!

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  20. YAY YAY YAY!!! Congrats!!! What an amazing accomplishment. But the alligators?? Yikes!

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    1. Thanks, Jan! If I had been alone and saw one up on the trail with me, I might have felt scared, but they looked pretty happy just hanging out in the water. : )

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  21. Replies
    1. I know you want to run a 50 miler before you turn 30 - a great goal!

      I was looking for a 50 miler to run this fall when I turn 50, but decided to try this one. I don't know if I'd be able to try this again this year - so I'm really glad I finished this one!

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  22. That is SO AWESOME Tina!!! Way to forge forward and FINISH with a great time! Running in the elements and with alligators is quite a race to talk about! How fun! Glad you were safe, didn't fall (YAY!) and feel better already! Such a fantastic opportunity and so happy for you! (You make me want to run longer now!) ;)

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    1. Thanks, Kate! At first, another runner and I were keeping a gator count together. When I was alone, counting kept my mind occupied. A couple of times, they were easy to spot because there was a crowd around them. I just wonder how many gators saw me that I didn't see!

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  23. Wow, congratulations! I once lived in Brazos Bend state park when I was in AmeriCorps and working on a two month project there. It was during July and the heat and humidity was like nothing I've ever experienced in my life - I sure hope your race weather was better than that. And I remember counting gators there too :)

    You should be proud of yourself for pulling through. It sure sounded rough but you have accomplished something that a very small percentage of people will ever even attempt. ENJOY your recovery!

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    1. Thanks, Hanna! Talk about a unique experience - living at Brazos Bend state park certainly would be! You need to come back to the park and do a race there. I'd do the December race, though - not as hot then!

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  24. Wow, so amazing that you rocked it out when the weather did not give you very favorable conditions.

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    1. The weather certainly made it quite an adventure! When we trudged through the mud and the heat, we had to slow down. That gave us a chance to chat - a good thing when you've been alone a while on the trails!

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  25. Many many congratulations!!

    I agree, Trail Toes is awesome! Saved my feet in rainy Boston.

    15 gels, wow, that's a lot! I'm impressed with your stomach. The stuff at the aid stations sounds good, some nice salt on top of the sugar. Oreos (if I recall, haven't had one in years) have a bit of salt to them.

    And you were able to carry 20 gels in a 5 pocket skirt? If I didn't not like skirts so much, I might try it. Didn't like the flipbelt I used though it's the best alternative I've found.

    I think they should have given you the 45-49 AG win.

    I hope your back improves soon. I wonder what the problem was/is, do you know?

    I'll be interested to see if you decide to do another. I've done a 50k but a 50 miler isn't something I'm going to consider for quite a while. Marathons are my goals for a while.

    Glad you had a good experience overall!

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    1. Thank you! The amount of stuff I can fit in my skirt pockets is the reason I wore my running skirt. I like my Spi-belt, too, though.

      My back is all better now. Maybe I need to strengthen my back or maybe I was dehydrated. It's a mystery!

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  26. You are so amazing, Tina!!! And the alligators- that is both crazy and cool at the same time. I'd love to see them!

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    1. Counting up gators made this race unique!

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  27. Congratulations! I loved reading this post, and I loved the way you presented it. The desire is there for me to do something longer than a marathon some day, and leading up to that day I will definitely have to commit myself to some serious training. Way to go! The humidity and hot temperatures really added an extra challenge. As if running 50 miles weren't tough enough. You're one tough cookie.

    Hmm gators.... yea I guess they would be fun to see, AS LONG as they stayed in the water!

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    1. Thanks! It was hot and humid, but at least it was a mostly flat course - a good race for a first-timer like me!

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