Since the somewhat unlucky attempt at the Pikes Peak Ascent in mid-August, I had not run much until the end of September. Stanley pulled me back into running on the beautiful trails in and around Austin, like the Greenbelt and at the Bastrop park. As far as trail running went, I was back! And the incessant talk about the Palo Duro Canyon on the HCTR forum prompted me into an ambitious target- a 50K with almost no training; the longest run I had done since Pikes Peak was a measly 14 miles.
Actually, who knew Texas had a massive and beautiful canyon of its own? Yeah, and the Palo Duro (Hard Rock) Canyon in the Texas Panhandle region is actually the second biggest in the US (see panoramic view below).
We (Team Asha runners Dada, Bab, Savi and myself) left for Canyon, TX, near the Palo Duro Canyon on Friday, a drive of over 10 hours with all the various pit stops. Some injudicious snack foods along the way was to prove a little troublesome the next day! We reached our hotel late, and finally got to sleep around 1am!
In the morning, as we drove toward the canyon, all we could see for a while was just pancake-flat expanse all around us. And then suddenly, the earth opened up. We drove down into the canyon floor and made our way to the start area where hundreds of runners were all excited and raring to go. The 50K folks were to run a 6-mile loop initially and then 2 bigger loops of around 12.5 miles each.
The first loop. It was still dark when we started at 7am, and the narrow track meant that all the runners were slowly plodding through in a single file for the first 3 miles. After the aid station where the 50K and 50M folks split up in the first loop, Gaurav, Ganesh and I took off and had a nice fastish run in the early morning pleasant weather. We finished the loop, despite the slow start, in about 73 mins.
The second loop. The start of the second loop was tough for me, mainly because I had neglected proper nutrition after the first 6 miles and compounding the problem was some gastro trouble from the previous night's food. I wouldnt get any calories until the next aid station 3.5 miles further. That proved to be a drag on my energy reserves and I found myself walking already in the second loop. At a certain point, the couple of restroom breaks meant that I passed the same runners twice! Struggling through, mainly on account of low energy levels and lost time to restroom breaks, the 12.5 mile loop took well over 3 hours. I gladly stopped over at the S/F to take a longish break and catch up on some food.
The third loop. The third loop started out slow as I gradually started feeling better. A couple of miles into the loop, and especially after Phil's aid station, I had started running again strongly and maintained a good pace through the rest of the race. I kept having gels and drinking lots of Coke at every aid station. It was getting warmer through the day, but thankfully, I finished before it got really hot. Also, around this time, the aid station volunteers also had to deal with hundreds of bees attracted to all the sweet stuff around!
I finished with a total time of around 7.45 hours. Not a bad time, but it was a personal record (PR)!! Actually, smashed my previous 50K time from Tahoe by more than 3 hours. I enjoyed the race a lot, the course is fairly flat and is mostly runnable. And the fantastic views of the canyon from all the different points on the trails make it a pleasant and memorable run. The race organizers and aid station volunteers were superb. They had also put up some interesting and inspiring banners all along the way, saying things like:
If you are feeling comfortable in an ultra, dont worry, that will change soon!
Adversity does not build character, it reveals character!
and a favorite quote by "Big Red" Spicer, RD for previous editions of the trail race,
Life is a headlong rush into the unknown. We can hunker down and hope nothing hits us or we can stand tall, lean into the wind and say, ‘Bring it on, darlin’, and don’t be stingy with the jalapeños!’
So yes, it is possible to run a 50K without much training (and even write a race report!), but the performance can vastly improve with proper training. It had been so long since I had such a long run that I paid little heed to pacing myself appropriately or taking in nutrition periodically.
All in all, I am very happy I got the opportunity to visit the Palo Duro Canyon, run a reasonably good race and meet all the friendly trail-running folks out there!