2012 Cactus Rose Race Report

Coming into this year’s Cactus Rose, I hoped to learn some lessons from last year to help improve my finishing time and condition.  Namely, last year I had done a lot of running, but not enough hill work.  I think I also didn’t eat enough early on which cause a pretty severe bonk around mile 40.  After struggling through Nueces in the Spring (another hilly, and in my mind, tougher course) I was determined to add back in some weight training to my regimen which had been left out for the greater part of a year.  In addition, I also started going to a spin class once a week and also doing some treadmill hill work once a week (usually hiking at a 15% grade for a few miles, then running at slight inclines for a while before returning to a hiking grade for a 5 mile workout) both offered thru the work gym at Gilruth for free so how can you argue.  The outcome: I’d have to say that incorporating all of those definitely helped.  I was passing people on the uphills (even in the last half of the race) and while my quads were sore at the end, I honestly probably could have kept going—didn’t feel like they were holding me back (that’s NOT to say that the hills were easy—the last time going up Ice Cream Hill in the clockwise direction was a real *&%!).  No IT Band problems this go round.  So that was my main concern going in to the race.  My actual running training had been decent, but I felt slightly undertrained.  I had gotten in 2 50+ mile weeks, and really felt like I needed another one or two to be in tip top shape for this beast of a course.  I also hadn’t really gotten in enough running hard due to our heat which never seemed to dissipate (until, thankfully, race day).

The Beginning

Race week arrived and I also felt kind of worn out, kind of a stressful week and of course didn’t get a huge amount of rest the night before, but that never really happens anyway.  We were blessed with ideal running conditions (for me) starting around mid 40’s and peaking I suspect somewhere in mid 60’s during the day.  The first few hours were pretty uneventful –your body is fresh, the terrain is easy, and the mood is light.  The only downer was passing a woman who seemed to have dislocated her shoulder or something of that nature – sounded to be in a tremendous amount of pain but as she was helped along by another runner there was nothing I could do to help, thankfully they weren’t that far from the A/S to get to help.

Don’t think there are any switchbacks on this course

Eventually the sun arose which allows everyone to see the glorious hill country side.  Actually one of my favorite times is right before dawn, when the hills are black and the sky is a dark blue, just enough contrast so you can see the hills.  You also can start to run a bit faster and start to appreciate the hills and cactus, and actually this area is where the amount of both starts to increase.  I was running at a good pace and keeping conversation with some other folks.  Talking to another guy who was from Illinois but was visiting family and such in San Antonio who was a baseball fan, so we chatted about the Astros and other sports for a decent amount of time.

The hills continue on, relentlessly from this point for the next 10 miles to the end of the loop.  I though I was running slightly slower than last year, which I was a bit surprised, since I though I would be better trained for the hills, but not by much time.  I rolled into the halfway point around 6 hours (last year I believe I left around 5:45).  I took about a 9 minute break to refuel and everything.  One problem I had this year was spending too much time at the A/S – this also seems to be the problem when carrying a camelbak  as it takes more time to unscrew the damn thing and get everything situated in there.  And of course, this is a 50 miler so I was making a conscious effort to eat at every A/S and reload with things that seemed appetizing ( I consumed 4350 calories during the whole race if my math is correct).

Halfway There

Thus I headed back off in the opposite direction to tackle the hills I just covered.  Actually despite a slightly slower time, I was really enjoying the race.  Off I went back up the first two hills, Boyle’s and Cairn’s, which both have flat runnable sections on top. I was able to run both of these – however when I looked at my Garmin my pace seemed a lot slower than what I had anticipated.  I was also monitoring my heart rate to try to keep it below 150 for any extended amount of time which seemed like a pace I could maintain.  Nevertheless, I was happy as I was doing well on the hills and running the flats.  Rolled into Boyle’s and reloaded on some sunscreen via a friend of mine, and headed for the next dreaded section.  This section is probably my least favorite, and I think it was my slowest on the first loop – too much sotol cactus and the ups and downs are the most, I can’t remember a large amount of runnable sections.

Post-race — my legs got pretty chewed up by the sotol cactus. The thickest I’ve seen it there (and everyone else seemed to say the same thing too).

This sections contains Sky Island, the three sisters, Mt FUJI, and some other nasty hills.  I couldn’t increase my pace too much but at least no IT Band problems this year – around this point the previous year is where they started to creep up.  I didn’t remember going up Sky Island, but it probably sucked, lol.  Going up Mt FUJI was OK, definitely a chore, but I got off trail and got lost.  The thing is, I was off trail, saw the markers on the real trail about 20 yards away to my left.  I looked ahead and saw a trail.  Unfortunately this was not the trail I was supposed to go on, but on it I went and after a few minutes, I realized I hadn’t seen any confirmation ribbons and was going down this damn hill in the wrong spot. So I had to go back up (I wasn’t THAT far off, but still…) and find my way back.  Of course, the wrong way sign and such was obstructed by all the cactus and brush that I maybe could have seen.  Oh well, it was only a 10 minute or so diversion but not one you want.  I started back running on some of the flat parts up here and still felt OK, just longing to finish this section, which marks the end of the hardest part of the course, the middle 20 miles.

About to descend Mt FUJI

Rolled back into Equestrian finally, thankful that dang section was done. The hard part was over, just one sucktastic hill left with Ice Cream Hill (my Garmin says it’s only 250 ft but for some reason it felt twice as long and twice as far…), and 15 relatively easy miles.  My energy level kind of crashed when I came in here, so I downed a generous amount of food and hiked a food 5-10 minutes out to let the food settle.  This was mile 36 so I was pretty happy I had managed my energy level this well all day.  I Never had any cramping all day either.  The food settled in and I recovered before tackling Ice Cream.  Was hiking along with a couple other women and a guy too going along that one – it seems much tougher going in the clockwise direction than the other. It never seemed to end either.  My treadmill hills were 2 miles long and those seemed shorter, lol.  Anyway, we got down it but the women blew past me on the downhills. The main issue that slowed me down this race was I couldn’t run the downhills very fast (more so the 2nd half).  My quads weren’t really holding me back per se, but I couldn’t attack the downhills to make up time.  Not confident in my footing due to all the loose rocks, which supposedly was more due to increased erosion in the park (which I could believe).  Hiking the uphills, I could still pass people going up, but then would get passed going down.  Just another lesson I suppose.  Eventually this section ended, which also marks the end of pretty much all the super nasty parts, and all the dang sotol bushes too.

I wanted to make it a quick stop at Nachos, so I grabbed what I needed and quickly got out of there.  It seemed at this point, my energy level totally crashed again, this time much bigger.  I had eaten some PB crackers and a coke at the A/S, but this apparently wasn’t enough – legs and body felt REAL tired. Hiking for a good while out of Nachos, my stomach felt full so I didn’t want to eat anything, but after enough time I convinced myself to do so, and ate again to slowly regain some energy via some GU Chomps.  Only after I ate another Honey Stinger Waffle did I rebound to my previous energy state and my legs felt strong again.  Amazing how much a couple hundred calories can cause you to feel that much better, like elixir of the gods or something.  This down point probably cost me a good 20 minutes or so on my time, as I postponed eating anything extra.  By this point, there was only 6-7 miles left in the race, and since by now all my time goals were out the window, I didn’t have much motivation to really push myself to finish 10-15 minutes faster than if I just coasted, so coasted I did.  Passed some folks out for a nice trail ride in the late afternoon.

You guys got room for one more?

Made the last stop at Equestrian, where again Olga told me I looked pale.  She told me this at the Nueces race too.  I’m not sure what it means !  I felt fine and just wanted a tiny amount of food, so I downed some M&Ms and cup of Gingerale and got out of there.  Hiked/jogged a decent amount of the last section, which only contains Lucky’s peak.  Didn’t seem too bad going up, just the footing going down seemed worse this year.  Chatted with some other folks as we were finishing up the last few miles.  One guy mentioned it was relentless.  I agree: this course requires relentless will, relentless attention to the rocks, relentless forward motion, relentless hills, relentless rocks….

No más

My legs still felt pretty good so I decided I wanted to break away and picked up my hiking pace up and over Lucky’s.  Going down was pretty slow, and seemed a lot more technical than before.  Once I made it down I hit the jeep road where some folks greet you cheering as you make the final turn up the last rock bed.  There is the “option” to keep going for the full 100 miles once you’ve done 50, and while the course didn’t knock me out and my legs actually felt OK (relatively speaking), 50 more miles would be foolish.  Finished around 1313.

Lessons learned:  My hill training worked.  Didn’t feel like having too weak of quads was an issue.  I think doing my weights once a week and the treadmill once a week helped my uphill hiking speed and prevented any inuries from going down (24 hours after, other than some moderate soreness, all systems seem to be OK).The only thing was my running on the flats seemed too slow, so maybe have to get in a few more mid-distance tempo runs (which I knew I was lacking).  Nutrition:  pretty good.  Didn’t bonk until a minor one at mile 36 and a major one around mile 40-43.  I probably just forgot/got behind eating one round or two but it’s hard to remember every dang thing.  Maybe need to set an alarm.  I had no problems with water intake (actually, maybe too much water) but never felt water-logged or cramped.  Mental: felt pretty good.  Despite not meeting my time goals I really enjoyed the race.  A little low around mile 20-30, but I managed to press through it.  Really felt like sitting down during my bonk at mile 40 but somehow managed to press through that one.  Other:  I took a lot of pictures.  I didn’t realize but I took almost 30 pictures during the race(!! ?).  I can’t quantify, but I’d have to think that while it did give me some rest time on the hills, it probably set me back a good 15-20 minutes between taking my phone out of my camelbak and putting it back in.  But now I have some nice ones and won’t have to do that again ;).  Overall slightly disappointed with my finishing time but enjoyed the race.  Had I not taken pictures, gotten lost, or been totally on top of nutrition, pretty sure I could have push between 12-12 and half hours.  Guess I will have to find out next year 😉