Brazos Bend 100 – Brazos Bend State Park – Needville, TX – 12/12/15
Texas – oh sweet Texas – what is not to love about you? You are independent, you are big, you have an amazing culture. But some would lament that your weather is just too crazy, just to hard! Not me, I love it, I embrace it! Throw me your worst, and I will run in it!
And so is the story of the Brazos Bend 100. I wish I could spin the whole tale as some 100 milers could…but I’m but a mere mortal, a mere marathoner who only had to battle the stifling humidity, and not the wind, rain, mud, then more rain and chilly rain. Nope, all I had to do was run 26.2 miles on an August-like morning in mid December. Alas – this is what makes trail running hard in SE Texas. But enough on the weather, it’s time to recap!
The Brazos Bend 100 is a 2nd year race put on by Trail Racing Over Texas (TROT). As most of you know, I am a newly minted Team TROT member and have run a number of their races over the past year. This race is named for the state park where it takes place. There are 4 distances offered, a 100 miler (with a 100 mile relay option), a 50 miler, and a full and half marathon. The race is excellently produced and is of the high quality that I have come to expect from Trail Racing Over Texas. The volunteers are outstanding, the course is well marked, the swag and medals are amazing, and the aid stations are well stocked with food (pie anyone) and amazing volunteers. Best of all, this race prides itself on running with the gators, and you will not be disappointed! They are the residents of the park, we are just running in their world. The whole race weekend was an amazing story – so here it goes.
Brazos Bend State Park is located about 40 miles south of Houston. If you are an out-of stater it is fairly close to Hobby Airport on Houston’s south side. As far as travel accomodations are concerened, if you enjoy camping there are plenty of places to camp in the park. If you are more of a hotel person, check out the Pearland or Sugarland areas (south and southwest of Houston respectively).
The course is great for introductory trail runners. It is very flat and the trails are very wide for the most part. The marathon course was a double loop with about 9 miles on crushed gravel or dirt trails, and 4 or so miles on some equestrian trails in more remote areas of the park. Some spots of the equistrian trails got a bit muddy (they got really muddy once the rain started), but they were nothing crazy. The park offers scenary that varies between ponds, swamps and forrested areas. Of course, there are gators everywhere, especially in the areas where the trails run along the ponds/lakes.
A vibe of excitement was in the air for me the whole week leading up to the BB100. This was my 1st TROT race as an official Team TROT member, and I was going to get to meet most of the team for the first time. The race was also a year-end celebration of sorts for the whole Trail Racing Over Texas family. Rob and Rachel Goyen were pulling out all the stops to put on an amazing event. On Friday, I headed over to Brazos Bend State Park and the magic had already started. Rob was amazingly able to secure two famous Tarahumara runners from Mexico to attend the race as guests. Arnulfo Quimare gave us an amazing demonstration of the game (rarájipari) noted in Born to Run. We also got to see Rob’s off the hook costume (a TROT race tradition) as he gave the race briefing.
After hanging for a few hours, it was time to head home, grab some dinner with friends and get some rest for the race.
Race dawned and it was muggy as hell, I mean August muggy. The conditions were downright swampy with a temp of 77 degrees and 97% humidity. It was going to be a tough day to run on the swamp. While rain was forecast, I was pretty sure it was going to hold out for most of my race, so I went with simple dress to keep cool. TROT buff on the head, the new gray Team TROT jersey on the torso, some shorty shorts and some light minimalist trail running shoes. I ate a light breakfast (PBJ bagel), saw my friends off to College Station (where I’d be meeting them later that day for a Sunday romp at the BCS marathon), and got in the car for the 45 minute drive to Brazos Bend. I got to the park about an hour early, which gave me plenty of time to do my business, hydrate, and chat with Team TROTters Jeff Ball, Tracie Akerhielm and Jeff Miller. While I had grown to know Jeff and Tracie during 2015 this was only the 2nd time I met Jeff, so it was nice to chat with him. Team TROTterss Maggie Guterl, Matt Zmolek and Patrick Sweeney had already set off to tackle the hundo. Team TROTter Gia Madole was there cheering us all on and taking pictures at the start. Team TROTter Lauren Ross would join us all later for the half as would faaassst Team TROTter Cal Neff.
As always, Rob had something special planned for the start. Each race was led off by volunteer John Stasulli all decked out as the Grinch. As the gun was ready to go off, John snuck across and “stole” the lead before Rob finished the countdown. Fortunately, his heart grew 3 sizes that day and he decided to stick around to work the main aid station and hand out medals. He definitely gave us all a laugh with his antics.
And so started the race, and what would prove to be one of my tougher races of the year. While high humidity is tolerable in September and October (you are still used to it), it had been a good few months since I had run in anything that felt like this. The weather was extremely rare for mid-December. The low temp for the day was greater than 30 degrees above normal. I went out at a hard pace (6:40ish) and quickly realized I had nothing on Jeff Ball or TROT Ambassador Peter Muessig. Jeff left us all in the dust after a few miles, and Peter pulled away from me by Mile 4. There was also another young gun from Seabrook who pulled into 2nd and took off after Jeff. While I sustained 6:40 – 6:50 miles for the first 5 miles, I knew this would not hold up for the day. Sometimes its just not going to be your race. By mile 6 I knew this was going to be a gut it out kind of day.
The Brazos Bend course is not at all challenging. It is flat, pancake flat, and there is nothing technical about it. Most of the trail is wide and there are few turns. On the right day this can be a blazing course. But I knew the story of this race would not be a fast time for me, it was going to be me pushing through and surviving in the humidity. At mile 6.5 (aid station 2) I made a crucial mistake. I ran through this aid station and tossed them my water bottle and yelled “refill it, I’ll get it when I head back.” I hadn’t studied the course map, and made an assumption that this section was an out and back based on the layout of a previous race (Brazos Bend 50 in April). By mile 8 I realized that I had made a big mistake. I made it to the aid station at Mile 10 and was pretty thirsty since I was running hard. I grabbed a cup of soda and used the cup to take some water and Gatorade. Fortunately one of the volunteers gave me a collapsible water bottle to carry until I hit the main aid station at the start of loop 2 (where I had a 2nd bottle stashed). The back 5 miles of the 1st loop had some mud and sticky spots, so this started to take a little more off my pace (and my body). I came into the halfway point in 1:33, and made a brief stop to grab my water bottle. At this point I had a flash in my head of just dropping out, but knew I’d be disappointed with myself. My stop at the aid station at mile 10 had dropped me to 5th place. I had some work to do if I was going to get to the podium in this race. I started back out, and decided to drop my pace back a bit to try and save myself for the last 5 miles. I knew me not stopping to walk at all might be the difference between finishing 5th and 3rd. The first 8 easy miles were about conserving energy. I dropped pace to 7:25-7:40 and focused on breathing easy.
At Mile 18 or so I ran across Maggie on her 2nd loop of the 100. We chatted for a bit and I told her I felt a bonk coming on. She offered some encouraging words about how I looked good and I kept on moving on. My water bottle mistake on the 1st loop proved to be a boon on the 2nd, as I was able to get it back and not stop at the aid station for a refill. This saved me precious seconds. I also passed someone and made it to 4th place at this point. As I went onto the harder back half of the course, I had enough in my tank to push through.
By mile 23 I was shot. My pace dropped into the 8:20s, and I was just gutting through to try and finish without walking. My hopes of a 3:10 or 3:15 had quickly faded to holding on to make a sub 3:20. My stomach had gone sour at mile 19 or so, so I hadn’t taken any gels since I had seen Maggie and I was feeling it. I was able to push through the muddy parts, and get back to the harder surface. In the last mile my pace came back up. I crossed the finish utterly exhausted in a time of 3:18. To my surprise, Rob greeted me and told me I finished 3rd. I couldn’t believe it. Another runner had dropped after loop 1, so I managed to make the podium and snag an awesome TROT Christmas ornament. I went to chat with Tracie, Jeff and Lauren to see how they did. I found out Jeff destroyed the course with a 2:50 (what?!?) and took 1st overall! Tracie, despite being sick all week laid down a blazing 1:33 to take 1st female in the half, and Lauren had a solid race despite battling injuries for most of the fall.
After talking for a few minutes and congratulating them all, I went to sit down and started cramping like crazy – clear sign that I didn’t get enough electrolytes during the race. Lauren noticed I wasn’t doing too hot and was nice enough to go fill my bottle with Gatorade. After drinking the bottle, and eating a few cookies I felt a lot better. I hung around to watch others finish for a few more hours and chatted with the team.
All I can say was despite the humidity and a tough physical race for me, I had an amazing time with the Team and the TROT Family. Rob and Rachel have utterly succeeded in building a amazing community of trail running in Houston. I love that I can go to any TROT race and see tons of familiar faces. Many of them are becoming fast friends. It is just an amazing and supportive group of runners. No matter your time, no matter your skill, no matter your experience, you are welcome and treated like royalty at a TROT event. This became even more evident after I left the race. As I monitored posts on Facebook, I saw the conditions going to hell as the weather went downhill (pouring rain, strong winds, mud festival, cold). I saw volunteers sticking it out and helping runners capture their dreams. This is TROT!
I’ll wrap this up with some final words of thanks. First – a huge thanks to the wonderful volunteers who support these races. Without you, these things don’t happen. Second – a huge thanks to all my Team TROTters. I had an amazing weekend meeting you all and chatting with you, and can’t wait until we can meet again. 3rd – Thanks to Myke Hermsmeyer – the amazing photographer who took the wonderful pictures at this race. Please check out his website and throw him some love (oh yeah, and photos at TROT races are free, so if you ran this race you’d get Myke’s pictures for free…just saying). Lastly, I want to thank Rob and Rachel Goyen. You guys are the best and have formed something amazing. All I can say is that being welcomed into the TROT family happened at a time where my personal life was full of turmoil, and being part of Team TROT and the TROT family has helped me more than you could ever know. Here’s to an amazing 2016!
And lastly, lastly – I want to make sure I congratulate my fellow team members who won races. Congrats to Maggie Guterl – who won the hundo in 17 hours and change and beat the next closest female by 7 hours (beast!). Congrats to Cal Neff – who blazed the half marathon in 1:15 for the win. Congrats to Tracie Akerhielm – who crushed the field with a 1:33 half. And Congrats to Jeff Ball for a blazing fast 2:50 in the marathon!
Career Marathon/Ultra #39 (34th marathon)
Marathon/Ultra #19 of 2015 (14th marathon)
Time – 3:18:37 – 3rd Place