For the month of April’s adventure, I drug my family to cheer me on in a trail half-marathon. Palo Duro Canyon hosts a half marathon that I have entered the last two years. The race is a blast and a good time for me to catch up with old friends that also compete in the race. It was also the perfect excuse to take the camper out for the first time.
Because of T-ball games we would not be able to leave until noon on Saturday. The drive to the canyon took just shy of 3 hours and was relatively uneventful. Driving is one of my favorite parts of road trips because Erica and I have nothing to do but simply talk. We catch up more on those long drives than any other time in our lives and I always look forward to it.
We arrived in camp late in the afternoon and after checking in, got the camper setup in our spot. It was a warm afternoon and we went out to explore. Although I have been to Palo Duro Canyon many times before, Erica was not as familiar with it. I drove her through the course as she would be able to meet me at aid stations that crossed the park road. We finished up the afternoon with a short hike down a trail close to camp and made our way back to the camper for grilled hot dogs.
I hooked the grill up to the camper’s propane system and couldn’t get any gas. Hmm… Weird. I tried the stove inside the camper, no gas there either, nor at the water heater. Was I out? Bottle seemed full… With no way to really troubleshoot or fix any issues we proceeded to eat cold hot dogs and turn in early.
The kids had fun “wrestling” in the camper bed.
The wind howled throughout the night and the canvas shook violently at times making it difficult to sleep easy. The kids slept great, but Erica and I didn’t fare so well. After a few hours of poor sleep we woke, fed the kids breakfast and made ourselves some coffee. I started my normal pre-race early morning routine of coffee then water then coffee and choked down half a dozen Fig Newtons. At about 7:15am we made our way to the starting line.
Somehow, a couple of years ago, I convinced my oldest friend, Matt to do a trail race with me at Palo Duro and we have done them together since. We met up with Matt and his friend (my new friend) Jack at the starting line and joined the other runners getting stretched out and warmed up. While the more serious of the runners jogged around and drank water or other hydration drinks, Matt and I drank coffee and caught up for a few minutes. One last trip to the restroom and we joined the other runners at the starting line and listened to last minute instructions from the race director.
The last few minutes before the gun goes off I am filled with nervous energy and anxiety. I am pumped for the run and dread the next couple of hours all at the same time. I wonder, why am I doing this? I scan through the spectators and think they are the lucky ones. They get to watch this but not participate, I want to trade with them.
Then the gun fires.
We take off, and something primal takes over as I fall in line on the narrow width trail as we leave the parking lot. Immediately I remember why I do this. I remember the calm that overcomes me as I realize for the next two hours I have no phone, no responsibilities, and nothing to do but put one foot in front of the other and follow the twisting trail up and down the God’s beautiful creation.
It sounds so beautiful and so serene, and it really is, most of the time.
The first aid station was very early into the race and most grabbed a quick swig of water and carried on their way. Erica and the kids yelled for me and I waved at them as I cruised by. To this point the trail had been tame, with no big climbs. The next aid station was about 4 miles away and the trail in between climbed for most of the way before dropping back down to the canyon floor just before the aid station. A mile or so into this section I met a local who knew these trails very well. As we exchanged small talk he told me he ran this same trail 3 or 4 days a week. I followed him. He knew when to jog up small inclines, when to walk on the bigger climbs, and when to let it go on the downhills. We made great time and had great conversation. Somewhere along the way he ran into a friend of his and decided to stop and talk for a while. He wished me good luck as we parted ways and I continued on to the canyon floor and the aid station.
Coming into this aid station I knew I was at the halfway point. I had forgotten my watch and had no idea of the pace I was running. What I did know was that at halfway through this race, I felt great. I stopped to refill my water bottles and talk to Erica and the kids while I ate an energy gel. I really look forward to seeing my family at the aid stations and was in no hurry to take off again, until Erica laid a bombshell on me.
She non-nonchalantly told me I looked like I was doing really well in the race. I responded that yeah I felt great. She responded with “no not like that, you are only like the 5th person that has come in here.”
WHAT? I gotta go. A quick high five for Cason and I was off again, all alone on the trail.
How could I be 5th? I wasn’t really racing, I was just running. She must have been wrong. The knowledge of my position gave me a renewed hop in my step and the next 3 miles breezed by. Another quick aid station visit and I was on the home stretch to the finish line.
Out of nowhere right around mile 11 a wall popped up. I ran smack into it and my legs refused to continue moving at a tempo quick enough to call running. I walked, ate an energy gel, took a drink of water and took stock of where I was.
I wasn’t physically hurt, and I was less than 20 minutes from being done. I could do this. I began walking 100 steps and running 200. Another mile ticked by. By now, I had recuperated myself enough to know that in less than 10 minutes I could be done. A couple of guys had passed me and I tried to keep up with them. I just couldn’t do it. I was OK with that. I had to be.
I ended up crossing the finishing line in a time of 2:16:27, 2nd in my age group, and 9th overall. By far my best finish in any race I have ever done. Saying I was stoked by these results is an understatement.
We all hung around for a few hours and enjoyed hot dogs, chips, and LOTS of water as we relived the race with old and new friends. Plans for the next race were discussed and we packed up to head home. Exhausted but happy.
In the end of October the park hosts a 20k that I have run before, and done OK in. My new goal is an age group win. I think with the right mix of training and being able to complete the entire run without walking, I can pull it off. I like a challenge.
Stay tuned for my workout plan I will come up with in the next few weeks.