So much took place in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic shook up everyone in one way or another. It helped many of us see what was actually important in our lives and then take the appropriate steps to make sure those items filled more of our time. I learned to value races as they weren’t always a guarantee. And I don’t just mean the race itself but everything surrounding it. The training, the time on the road with Kaela traveling to new places, the opportunity to meet new people and hear their stories, helping make a difference for the organizations that the races supported. These things are just a part of why I am so thankful that I get the opportunity to be on this journey running across the country.
As I started planning races for 2021, I wanted to make sure that I pulled more of that feeling into every race and soak up every opportunity because if my schedule from 2020 was any example, there were going to be some cancellations. As I’m writing this recap, I have already had three races cancel for the spring but keeping my head high for the next opportunity to race. Okay, enough with the sap and deep thoughts, let’s get into the first race I was able to be a part of in 2021.
Kaela is always on the lookout for races that work around the days that she has off from work. This is especially true now since the states remaining are a little more of a trek of travel. She had sent me this trail race in Louisana called the Q50 Trail Extravaganza. The premise behind the race is having a handful of distances to choose from to make it a fun community event. It is supported by a great race director and also a team of volunteers to make it a favorite to those that had previously completed the event. There was just one issue with the race for me. The race distances were 5, 10, 13, 26, 39, and 52 miles. They were classified as races of those distances as well. So the 26 miler, was not a marathon (which makes total sense). This meant that if I was going to do the race, I would have to step it up to the 39 miler. After some self-convincing, and others saying it was a dumb idea, I decided that I would make it my first race of the year.
Race: Q50 Trail Extravaganza
Location: Franklinton, LA
Date: February 6, 2021
I didn’t register for the race right away, as I learned how that could come back to bite me in our current climate. My plan was to wait until the last minute that I could sign up in order to make sure the race was going to take place. During that waiting period as I was training, I noticed people talking about the trail conditions being flooded and muddy at some points. This had me concerned. I hadn’t run a proper trail race in some time and had not been training to do so either. I reached out to a community page on Facebook with folks from the area and that have run the race in the past. They helped calm some of my nerves by explaining some of the areas that have risk of flooding are few and that it is quite a runnable course. I also received some comments about how well of a put-on race it was and one person even said that I might like it so much I may move there! That was all I needed to solidify that I would be racing in Bogue Chitto State Park.
In the weeks leading up to the race, I made the mistake of looking at the previous results pages. I guess it wasn’t totally out of the ordinary as I could not locate a course/elevation map for the race and I was curious about how people waged the distances. I noticed that the times for the 39 milers weren’t as low as I expected them to be for the top places. I started to get in my head that I may be able to win this race, or at the very least place (there were something like ten finishers the year prior). This was a train of thought I would later regret.
The week before the race, I pulled the trigger on the registration via Ultra Signup. Within 5 minutes of completing the registration, I received a phone call from a number in Louisana. Thinking it was an odd coincidence, I picked up to be pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t someone trying to tell me that the car warranty was expired for my 2008 Subaru Outback, it was Caesar, the race director, calling to personally thank me for signing up for the event and to see if I had any questions. We chatted for a little bit and it brought even more great feelings about my choice to sign up for the race. I have a soft spot for race directors that not only care about their race but also the people that participate in it and the cause it supports.
As race week approached, the weather in Central Ohio went to crap. Snow and ice came in that limited the amount of time that I spent on the road. I only put in 3 miles during the week and honestly welcomed the rest. I had been putting up some consistent mileage leading up to race week and I knew that a couple of extra miles weren’t going to make the difference for a successful race.
We went through the standard drill for Saturday races and took off on Thursday afternoon to split up the drive. With nothing but rain the entire drive, it was not as enjoyable as it could have been. We made a stop in Louisville to pick up some Q’doba and continued in the rain until we stopped at our Aloft hotel just south of Nashville. After a quick stretch and shower, I was passed out by 9:30 pm.
The following day, I made it out for a quick shakeout run. I had asked the front desk guy when I checked in if there were any parks or trails to run around in the morning and he recommended the mall parking lot. Of course with being in Tennessee even the mall parking lot was hilly, but it was a nice mix to get the blood flow moving in the legs. The temperatures had gone to freezing overnight causing me to pay close attention to my footing to make sure to stay away from icey spots as I looped around the mall.
We pulled of the hotel around 7:30, hit up Chick-fil-a for breakfast and then continued the drive south. Shortly after we made our way past Birmingham, Alabama when I saw a sign for Tuscaloosa. Now this was just a few weeks after Alabama beat Ohio State in the National Championship and I had a fun idea to troll my friends. We got off the interstate for gas and just so happened to be the same exit for the school. Kaela wasn’t putting two and two together when I told her where to get gas. We made our way to the Alabama football stadium and took a few pictures to send back up to the folks in Ohio. They were thrilled!
I was so worried about getting a picture in front of the stadium that I lost track of time and realized that we needed to find lunch. However, once you pass Tuscaloosa, there was nothing but fast food for a while. Since pizza is usually a great go-to for pre-race lunch, we found a local place in Merdian, Mississippi called Nick and Al’s NY Style Pizzeria. It was slightly off the highway, but it was better than just ending up with chain pizza. When we pulled up we were concerned as it was attached to a Subway, but it ended up being really good pizza. We sat in the parking lot and ate our super veggie pizza before getting back on the road.
Kaela and I have spent a lot of time in the car driving across the country on this journey and we always laugh at how certain highways just lack any distinctiveness of where we were. Heading south on I-59, it looked like we could have been in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, or maybe even Indiana or Illinois; all the roads just looked the same. Our Air BNB for the night was in Mississippi, just north of the Louisiana border, about 45 minutes from the start of the race the next day. It was way off in the middle of nowhere located on a dairy farm. The place was described as a cottage and the pictures and reviews made it out to be a cute, quaint little farm stay. However, this was not the case. There were dirty floors throughout and hair all over the shower and bathroom. If we would have had any other options to stay we would have left. However, there were no other places in the general area that allowed dogs, so we made the best of it.
We kept our socks on the entire time and were careful about where we laid down our things. We cooked our pasta for dinner and then after dinner made our way into bed to watch TV since there wasn’t anywhere else to hang out. I’m a big fan of my pre-bedtime showers to feel cleaned and relax to fall asleep, but that night I was going to have to deal without.
After what seemed like less than an hour (but really more like six), it was time to get out of bed and get up and at it. I prepared my normal breakfast of carbs on carbs, packed up the car and we made our way to the park. It was quite dark on the drive and it was hard to follow where to go. We made it to the park entrance and slowly made our way up the winding road to the ranger station. We asked for directions to the start of the race and we were guided to the building where we would start. My stomach was acting up again similar to Utah and even though we arrived a few minutes late for the pre-race meeting that had already started, I needed to use the bathroom. I tried to focus on the race director’s instructions while waiting for the single stall to be available to take care of business.
By the time I got out and picked up my bib, I had only a few minutes until the start of the race. The only issue was I still needed to get prepared with 2Toms glide, getting handheld and nutrition ready, getting my shoes on; basically everything I needed to actually run the race. Before I knew it the gun went off and I still didn’t have my socks and shoes on. I started to get flustered and frustrated when Kaela helped calm me down and help get things prepared. She helped attach my bib and pack up my bottle while I got my shoes on. I forgot to start the GPS on my watch and since I was a ways away from the last time it picked up the satellite connection, it took a while to connect. I lined up at the starting line, waiting for my watch to connect and trying to calm my nerves down before making my way into the darkness. Once my watch connected, I hit start and was on my way about 5 minutes behind the rest of the field.
Starting behind everyone had the potential of problems in my head. Since I missed most of the meeting, I wasn’t sure what flag/signs I was looking for since there were multiple distances on the course that day. I also wasn’t 100% familiar with the course and add to the fact it was pitch black outside with the only light coming from my small headlamp and my frustration in the stomach issues and late start, I was already high strung and mentally draining myself.
The first mile was the fastest of the race as I powered down the trail. I was trying to keep my pace in check but I think between the lack of light and my nerves, I just couldn’t slow down. The flags on the course had reflective tape on them which made it much easier to pick up the trail and know that I was heading the correct way. Shortly after the first mile, I started to catch up with runners. The 39 and 52 milers started at the same time so there were a good handful of people out on the course. Because of my faster start, I had to maneuver my way around the long train of folks on the single track as my legs did not want to slow down just yet. I think I surprised people with how quickly I was passing by them and with each “good morning”, I received comments about my energy or my handheld or my shorts (sometimes a combination). By mile 3, I had passed by everyone in the main group and was on my own.
There had been some rain and flooding in the area the few weeks before the race but at this point, it was still very runnable. The trail was nice and cushioned under my feet and the stride felt good. By mile 4, I felt some of the nerves subside and just kept at my pace. It was kind of eerie not having anyone around me this early in the race but I just focused on my body and kept putting one step in front of the other. This section was pretty flat and wide and only had some mild technical spots when looking out for roots or rocks on the trail. At mile 5 we crossed a park road and then started to head into more single track with switchbacks. I could hear voices in front of me but could not place them as I was focused on making sure my feet continued to land squarely on dirt. The trail weaved in and out and went up and down a good bit, but I could tell that it was an overall steady climb.
At the 10k mark, I made my way out of the tree line and into the first aid station. Well, I say first aid station but there was only this spot and the start/finish set up with aid on the course. I opted in for my handheld knowing that I should be able to make it 6 miles on the handheld and then fill up at every stop. Knowing that it was going to be a long race I wanted to be as light as I possibly could.
The aid station volunteers were super helpful in getting me all that I needed and on my way. They had a pretty good spread of snacks of which I treated myself before getting back on the trail. Again knowing how long I was about to be on the course I didn’t want to “waste” any time just sitting around at the aid station.
The next portion of the course was a lot different than the first 6 miles. A series of up and downs on some relatively tight single track that required proper foot placement as not to fall. The course actually crossed over itself a few times which when you combine with my zero knowledge of the park, had me all turned around. The rain started to pick up and the already soft ground started to get slick. It was still runnable but I had to focus on each step as not to land on my butt. Because of the constant focus down I didn’t get to enjoy the surroundings as much as I did at the start but I was okay since not focusing meant I would be on my ass.
At this point I was still pretty alone on the course. I could hear people on other portions of the course, not knowing if they were coming up on me or if I was coming upon them. Around mile 9 we came to a slight clearing that gave a wider path as it was primarily a horse bridle trail. This mile became known to me as the “horse shit” mile. Keeping an eye on the flags of the course and also the piles and piles of horse crap making sure I was moving in the right direction but also keeping the shoes shit free. Most of the trail was clay which didn’t absorb the water like the dirt and grass did and made for a slippery portion.
At mile 10 we hit a trail near the campgrounds that had a lollipop loop before making our way back towards the in’s and out’s of the last few miles. There was a long decline that really tested out my quads after powering up some of the rolling hills. The loop was less than a mile but once I made the turn off of the decline we were hit with some flooded and muddy trails. Running through soupy mud the best I could trying to make sure that I didn’t lose a shoe in the process. Well, what goes down must come up, so at end of the loop we had to climb back out but again being closer to the water the footing made it that much harder.
By mile 12 I was still feeling pretty good all things considered. My body was handling the course and my legs were turning over better than I had expected. At mile 12.5, we crossed a park road and on the other side was basically a field of mud. I felt like it was payback for all the hangry races where I put a flag to mark the course right in the middle of the deepest mud to make runners follow that path. The only difference was, there was not anyway around this, you just had to high step it and make it happen.
I could hear music and people ahead of me and knew that I was closing in on completing my first lap. Just a few little rollers and I could see Kaela with Bella in stow taking photos and cheering me into the aid station. One successful lap down in 2 hours and 21 minutes. Kaela handed off my lap two bag of nutrition as volunteers helped fill up my water bottles. I grabbed some PB&J and snacks to eat while I kept on moving to start the second lap. Again, moving in and out of the aid station in just a few minutes.
I was pleased with my first lap performance, especially with how the race had started. Now with a little confidence in knowing the course and the “trouble areas”, I was ready to get back out there. The rain was also ready to play and picked up some more. This first section wasn’t as quiet as the first time around. I started to catch up to folks running the half marathon that had started not much earlier than when I finished my first lap. We exchanged hi’s and bye’s as I ran past them knowing that this portion is where I was going bank some time that I would lose during the back half of the loop.
At mile 18, I started in the switchbacks and I really started to feel it in my legs. Knowing that I still had over 20 miles left in the race, I played it smart and took walk breaks as I needed to climb and made sure to stay on top of my nutrition. At mile 20, I made it into the aid station and again was focused on getting what I needed and getting out of there. I knew I was going to be doing a walk/run interval during the next set and that I could just eat my food while I was still moving, but it was definitely slower than the first time around. The steady rainfall made the trail much less runable. I was wearing my road shoes that were my go to shoes and that had held up pretty well on trails during training but the rain was the extra factor I did not account for. Every few steps my legs were sliding out from under me and my cadence and stride took a hit because of it.
I did my best through the switchbacks and then through horse shit mile and the lollipop, but my footing was all over the place. From mile 20 until the end of the second loop my fastest mile split was 14:42 min/mi. It was not a fun time. That being said, I made the best of it. I kept a smile on my face (the best I could) and made sure I was friendly to every runner I came up to on the trail. It also helped that the volunteers on the course were some of the friendliest that I have come across on this journey.
By mile 26 my legs were shot. Everything from my ankles to my quads was not pleased with the lack of traction and it wasn’t getting any easy as the rain kept coming down. It reminded me of the rain during North Country 50 miler where it just sucked the life out of you with every step. But once I heard the music and people again, I knew I was just one lap away from finishing this race.
Kaela was again cheering me in, this time while getting soaking wet. That lap had taken me 3 hours, which she was not expecting based on how well the first lap went and my spirits when she had last seen me. I asked her to get my bag as I was going to change shirt, socks and shoes, as well as, put on a jacket and gloves. The temperature wasn’t really that cool, but between my exhaustion and being soaked I could not stop shivering. I made my way to the shelter area covering to get out of the rain while I waited for Kaela to return with my things.
It took me a while to get changed and get back out on the course. My hands were swollen and felt frozen, it was so hard to get shoes caked in mud off while getting new socks and shoes on. All around where I was getting ready, folks were hanging out as they had finished their distance and were just watching us crazy folks go out for yet another lap in the lovely weather. A handful of them gave me words of encouragement and motivation that even if just for a moment made me feel like I could do it. I thanked Kaela a handful of times while she was patient with me getting ready and gave her a kiss before heading back out into the rain.
With fresh clothes and new shoes I tried to reset my mind to just tackle this last 13 miles. The shoes I had put on were my trail shoes that had thicker treds which was going to help in the mud, but the downside was that they are more neutral of a shoe and may have some stability issues in my ankle. I took the risk knowing that I would rather not slip in the mud again for a few hours and deal with sore feet later (I’ll come back to this decision).
Again with the first section I was able to keep a relatively consistent pace. Much slower than the first two laps but atleast I was moving forward. The rain was starting to let up but the damage had already been done on the trails, and when you add the number of people that had been doing the same loop a multitude of times, there was just no hope for my legs. I spent more time this lap walking than running. When I arrived at the aid station I talked for a little bit with the volunteers and thanked them for keeping me upright all day. I had a plan to walk the uphills and run the downhills but many of the downhills became water slides, so I really just glided down the hills. Horse shit mile was at its best on the third loop. I couldn’t tell what was mud, what was clay and what was horse shit. So all the slipping and sliding just made for a fun adventure.
Around mile 37 I heard footsteps coming behind at what sounded like a really good pace. I stepped off the trail and looked behind me as I saw this guy just blow past me like it was his first lap. He just powered up the muddy climb from the water and I just stumbled in awe at his gazelle like stride. I thought that he may have gotten a late start on the marathon and was just powering through, but later I found out he was actually the winner of the 52 milers and he was finishing the race before I finished my 39 miles. When you see someone just glide by you that late in the race it can sometimes be demoralizing but I was so bad in the hurt locker, I gave him a golf clap in my head and just kept on walking.
Shortly after mile 39 (my watch seemed to have tracked some extra distance or I just slid that far side-to-side on the trails) I made it back to the now lake of mud. I just stopped and laughed. It was so fitting to have this toward the end of the race and it summed up the conditions we had. I high-stepped my way the best I could and knew I was just a few rollers away from seeing Kaela at the finish.
I could hear her voice before I could see her and it is what helped me put one foot in front of the other. I was in all sorts of pain radiating up my right leg but I wasn’t going to finish walking, I was going to pick up the stride and give all that I had left as I made the final turn to the finish.
After crossing the finish line, I was greeted by a volunteer to select my finishers award and my cane. All of the finisher awards were handmade and really cool, but I decided to go with gator because it felt the most Louisiana to me. Finishers of the 39 and 52 milers also got a cane, which actually came in hand as I stumbled my way back to the car.
I dropped off some items, grabbed my bag of fresh clothes and made my way to sit down and get some food. They had a pretty good spread of food that hit the spot. One of the volunteers that was serving food had asked me what I wanted to drink.
“We have coke, sprite…”
“Do you have any beer?”, I said semi-jokingly.
“Looks like we have Miller light or Coors light” he replied.
That beer was definitely in someone’s personal cooler as no one else was drinking beer anywhere around. That being said, it was one of the best Coors lights I think I have ever had.
This was one of those races that I had to earn every step. It was well put on and organized, the weather just had different plans that particular day and I had to adapt. I didn’t hit my time goal but sometimes those are the best kinds of races. When you just enjoy the journey and know that the experience will make you stronger. One of the downsides of the race was that I didn’t really run with a single person. I passed people and was passed by others (some faster than others) but never got to have a good conversation with anyone on the course. But overall the race was a great experience and maybe one of those that once I am done with the journey I go back for another crack at it.
Now I made mention about my ankle with the trail shoes at the start of lap 3. While trying to recover from the race, I started to feel more and more discomfort on my right ankle and foot. Like usual, l I just mostly ignored it until I couldn’t anymore. It turns out I had really aggravated my post-tib tendon which landed me in rehab for six weeks and 53 days of zero running. This was my first real running injury that I am still working through as I finish this blog post. This post has taken me a while to write because it was hard to talk about running when I wasn’t able to do so. That and due to COVID races kept getting postponed or canceled and my mind just wasn’t there.
As I write this, I am just a month away from my next scheduled race (knock on wood) and I am so looking forward to getting back out there with my running community, hitting the road and making some memories.