The days leading up to my departure to Bandera were somewhat chaotic which is a fairly normal state of affairs around here, but this particular week, they seemed to be even more chaotic events.
We spent the weekend before CR in Garner State Park and had the chance to visit Hill Country State Natural Area, which is in Bandera and where the race is held. I had not had a chance to run any of the course as a training run, so getting a glimpse of what to expect was a nice treat.
The race venue is exactly how Joe describes it...rugged, nasty, and beautiful. Cactus Rose is the perfect name for this event. Cactus would describe the "biting" aspect while Rose would merely touch the surface of the beauty that awaits each runner as they hit the crest of the many hill climbs throughout the course.
I wasn't able to put a whole lot of time into my drop bag strategy and had a mini-panic attack Thursday night as I tried to figure out how to best assemble them. I think I did a pretty good job of it, though, it turns out, I didn't really use them much at all.
I headed out Friday morning to the State Park. It was about a 4.5 hour drive. A lot of time to think and pray about what lay ahead. The race briefing was short and sweet. One thing I did take away from the briefing was how very dry and dusty to course was and the suggestion was made to perhaps consider using a bandana across the face so as to not breath in so much of it. After my experience at Capt'n Karl's I decided that I would definitely heed that advice.
We couldn't have asked for a more perfect day for a race. It was a bit of a chilly start at 5:00 am. The temps were around 35 degrees according to my car thermometer. I don't mind starting in the cold and dark. I actually rather enjoy it. It helps me to get my head focused on the task at hand and spend some quiet time taking in the night sky.
The first 10 miles were great. Nothing too difficult, just a gentle roll into the next section of trail which awaited us. I placed this section of trail into my mind to recall later if I had to start gutting out some mileage in the second loop. Knowing that the run in to the finish would be merciful gave me hope for a good run.
After about mile 11, however, things got nasty trail-wise. Straight up hill climbs, no switch-backs. Cactus that couldn't be avoided, rocks that rolled, dust that hung in the air for miles. I handled it pretty well until about mile 20 at which point all sense of motivation was completely drained from my body. My legs did not endure the moving rock well, especially on the downhills. I couldn't even feel like I was safely walking down the hills. My quads were fairly shot as I came into the Lodge at the end of loop 1. I did the loop in 6 hours, which wasn't too shabby, but I was hoping for 5. I decided to have a serious think about the rest of the race. I ate some yogurt, drank some coconut water and rubbed the legs out. Ultimately, I knew I was done, but I wanted to give myself some more time. The longer I thought about it, the more I realized that I would probably be out on the trail in the dark and I wasn't sure about my ability to navigate the rock in daylight, never mind moonlight on exhausted legs. My light, gloves, pants, jacket, were all dispersed at different drop bags along the course and I was fairly certain I would need it all sooner rather than later.
I surmised that I would be risking a pretty nasty fall/injury since my lower extremities were pretty well fried after only one loops and did not want to give up the training time that I would certainly lose after this race that I need to complete Rocky. So I handed in my chip. Sure, I could have eeked out a few more miles, walking. But why? I packed up my gear and headed home, tail between my legs. Cactus Rose's thorns got me good.
What Went Right; Went Went Not-so Right
My gear was in check for the race. I had no issues to speak of. I was warm when I needed to be and able to shed layers as necessary. My hydration was spot on. I was drinking regularly and had no feelings of dehydration or stomach upset. I probably could have eaten more frequently, but I really never felt hungry. I ate a little bit every 5 miles, a few honey chews, a bit of a Larabar, and S-caps kept me topped off pretty well.
I think my training for this race as it pertains to mileage was good. The thing most lacking was the ability to train terrain-specific. I am not sure yet how I will accomplish this in the future. I understand that many runners actually run the course a few times during training, but I did not have that luxury this time around. Keeping this in mind, I may alter which races I register for in the future. If I can't duplicate the course terrain, I will need to analyze whether or not I am setting myself for a DNF.
Lessons To Go Home With -
Coming home from Cactus Rose, I had a good 4 or 5 hours to beat myself up. This is just part of the experience for me, I suppose. I need to work through the feelings that I have let others down, that I have failed at my goal, and finally that what I need to learn from it all.
This race was particularly difficult to DNF. I told myself and Mark that I would not DNF under any circumstance, unless there was a physical injury that prevented me from finishing. The lesson I take away from that line of thinking is that I have no business predicting the future. I can't possibly know what will happen out there nor why it will happen. Even in the best of situations things happen.
By the time I was about half-way home, I had retired from my ultra-running career, decided that I would only run for a few miles each week and take up crochet. It was pitiful. I had a good ole pity party, crowning myself queen of all that sucks.
A little further along, I decided maybe I just needed to be more careful in the races I decide to take on and train more specific to the courses I chose to run. If I can't run on a similar terrain, than perhaps I should not run the race.
I told a few people about my DNF and began to come out of my pity party the closer I got to home. I had to pull over for a brief nap as I was nodding off at the wheel. After about an hour of sleep, I felt much better, got my head on straight and heard God's whisper... "Running is what you do, it is not who you are." I prayed about this for a bit and asked myself some questions. Particularly these, "If I never raced again, would I be ok?" Answer... "Absolutely." "If I ran three days a week a few miles a day, would I be ok?" Answer..."Definitely." Running is NOT who I am. Running is what I enjoy. I AM a Mom. I AM a Nana. I AM a friend. I AM a Wife. I AM a sister. I AM a daughter. I AM a believer.
Now the toughest question of all, do I do what I enjoy because of selfish motivation or do I do what I enjoy because I am embracing the gift that He has given me? Do I glorify Him in this?
I am the type of person who needs to see God's hand in all that I can. I can sit and dwell upon why I didn't finish this race and what I need to do to finish it next year, and there certainly will be times when I do that, but for now, I need to see God's hand in the day I was given last Saturday. I ran one of the toughest courses I've ever run. It was one of the hardest runs I have been on. I finished a 25 mile training run in 6 hours and during that time, I was at the crest of a hill at sunrise. I saw God's handiwork in the hills of Bandera. It was worth everything to have been witness to that. It was a gift that many will never see. It is a gift that I will always cherish. My prayer is that I never forget what a blessing this experience was.