Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Prickly Pear 50K Race Report

The Prickly Pear 50K is probably the only ultra I had yet to run that I have been looking at doing longer than any other race.  I’ve been thinking about doing it since maybe February 2006 but something always seems to get in the way.  This year, however, I decided to make it a priority and it was the first thing on my proposed 2013 schedule.  I’ve wanted to run the race, at least initially, because it takes place in San Antonio, the town that I consider to be my home town and the town I love most second only to Albuquerque.  After joining the Army National Guard as a psychologist and having had several opportunities to go back to San Antonio and run McAllister Park during temporary duty at Ft. Sam.  I also became increasingly motivated to run the Prickly Pear because McAllister Park is a pretty cool place to run and I wanted the GeekGrl to have the chance to run it as well.  So, we paid the fees, made reservations and headed back to Texas.
As I said, the Prickly Pear takes place in McAllister Park and the course is three convoluted 10 mile loops.  Just because it’s a loop course doesn’t mean it’s boring either.  There are plenty of twists and turns to keep things interesting.  The course is also very flat with only some minor grades up or down and for the most part there are few rocky sections.  When I have done training runs here under good conditions it’s easy for me to hold sub-8:30 paces and for me that’s nearing max long distance speeds on trail.  I was coming into this race not expecting a new 50K PR but I was anticipating something within 20 to 30 minutes of it.
However, by the time the race started it had been drizzling all night and was still drizzling on race morning.  The conditions were set for a mud-fest.  I decided I was fine with that but during the course of the first lap I discovered that I had no idea how to run in mud.  Whenever I could I kept running alongside the trail in the grass trying to prevent mud from building up on my shoes but invariably I would be forced back onto the trail by a narrow section of by the ubiquitous prickly pear cacti.
I was pretty proud of myself at first because I thought I had devised a sound strategy for maximizing my speed and I was passing people.  However, by mile six I was starting to struggle and people were starting to pass me back.  I pulled off the side of the trail and found a small tree and a couple sticks to try and scrape off the huge volume of mud that was caked on my shoes.  As I was scraping the mud I discovered that all I had really been doing was alternately adding some mud and then some grass to the bottom of my shoes making huge adobe bricks.  Duh!
I watched as other runners practically sprinted by and I noticed that they ran straight down the trail right in the mud so once I scraped the bricks off my feet and did the same.  To my surprise I found that as soon as the mud became heavy enough, since there wasn't any grass to bind it together, it just fell off my shoes.  However, I had already pretty much blown out my legs from trying to run fast with huge bricks on my feet so I continued to slow considerably and as I slowed I stopped enjoying myself.   I’ve gotten pretty good at acceptance during the course of an ultra but one thing that I still really hate is going into a race really expecting one thing and then getting its opposite.
I finally decided this was BS, that I was here to have a good time and that having a good time was completely under my control so I eased up and at the end of my second lap I sat around at the start-finish area waiting for the GeekGrl to come through so I could run the last lap with her.  It turns out this was a pretty good idea because she was feeling pretty whipped and one of her feet was in a lot of pain.  It seemed likely that had I not been there she would have dropped.
I told her my plan to accompany her and suggested that she try retying her shoe thinking that maybe it was hurting because it was tied too tightly.  She retied the shoe, the pain disappeared and we headed back out for the third loop.  I just spent the whole time acting like a pacer and tried to keep her fueled, motivated and moving.  We spent the entire lap pressed firmly up against the time limit but we kept pushing and kept passing people who were still struggling to make it.
In the end we crossed the finish line together just two minutes ahead of the 8 hour cutoff and got our finishers medals.  We then immediately hit the beer and fajitas and ate our fill.
Despite the bad weather we did end up having a great time.  Prickly Pear is a great race and San Antonio is a great place to visit.  According to one local who has run the race several times “the weather is almost always bad on race day” but it’s still a race that’s well worth the travel.  I’ll definitely be back running McAllister Park but I’m not so sure about the race; there’s just too much else out there.  Maybe if I could be guaranteed perfect weather.

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