Sunday, October 17, 2010

Remembering Vietnam: 8-Hour Run From the Ducks

by Jerry Hollingsworth on Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 7:50pm

This was a race I wanted to run last year, but could not make it. All proceeds from the race went toward the construction of the Vietnam War Memorial Museum in Mineral Wells, Texas. It was a timed event, 8 hours, and it was conducted on a "near one-mile" track through the Clark Botanical Gardens. What a beautiful place for a race! I had trained hard for this race, although I considered it a practice run for my 24-hour run that was scheduled one month later.

I went with David McCaghren, Andy Blessing, and Gary Garson, and as we were leaving Abilene, the rain began to fall, and it fell for hours. The lightning caused a one-hour delay, but once the lightning moved off, we began, despite the heavy downpour. It actually rained hard on us for over 4 hours before letting up a little. It remained cloudy and cool for the remainder of the run. Of course, the trails turned into a quagmire, a muddy mess which took a lot of leg power to either dodge the muddiest parts, or to slug right on through it, along with the deep water that was collecting all through the course.

One section was so wet that the tree branches became heavy and water-laden that they hung down over the trail for a good long section that became difficult to maneuver through. We had to run while ducking, and each time we would raise up, we would get hit in the face with another wet branch.

I had a lot of fun on this race. David and I ran for about 20 miles together, and I dropped back a little to keep my pace in line with my strategy for the 24 hour run, but felt strong the whole way. I managed to run 33.3 miles, and finished 12th overall. David ran ahead of me and finished with about 35 miles, and Andy came in second with 46 miles. Gary finished with 30 miles.

The race brought in over $2,000 for the museum. It was crazy, but it was fun, and I cant wait to do it again next year!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pedernales Falls Trail Run

This was a run that was a last minute decision for me. I wanted to do a long run on Saturday, and Gary Garson was running the 60k trail run, so David McCaghron and I decided to go and support Gary. Preparation was not a problem, as I was already in 50k condition, having just run the El Scorcho 50k July 25th in pretty hot weather. However, I may have miscaluculated the difficulty of this 30k race.

The temperature at the start of the race was hovering around 100 degrees, and we started at 7:00 p.m. We started out, and I was doing well, as my pace was feeling strong at the start. Then, the single track trail took a nosedive down toward the river, and we began a winding up and down section of rocks, and that's where my first mishap began. I fell down once, but it didn't bother me too much. I recovered well, picked the pace back up and then fell again. This time, I landed much harder than I did before, and it just seemed to zap me. Mentally, I was washed up at 2 miles out. The sun was bearing down on me, my energy level decreased, and I began walking. I smashed two of my energy gel packs in the fall, and I had a gooey mess all over my shorts and the back of my leg.

The second fall also made my back start hurting, so that was an added bonus to this run. I started thinking about quitting, as I was not feeling well at all, and the temperatures were relentless. I walked for almost two miles, contemplating quitting. I finally made it to the first aid station and one girl was complaining about the heat and she was trying to talk me into walking back to the starting line with her, but I just couldn't quit. I was tired, hot, thirsty, and my back was killing me, and I didn't know if I could go on, but something inside me would not let me walk off that course. I drank some water, poured some cold water on my head and cooled down a little. I put some ice water in my hand carried water bottle and continued on. I saw Gary, and I told him I didn't think I could make it, and he said that if I could make it to the next aid station, they could probably drive me back to the starting line, but I began running again, and soon, the sun went down. I pulled my headlamp out of my pocket and began the night running segment. I actually started feeling better when the sun went down, so I kept going. I finally got my rhythm back and before long, I was sailing along.

As I approached the second aid station, I was doing well. I was somewhat spooked, as I had been running along on those dark single track trails for the past several miles without seeing anyone. Of course, my mind starting playing tricks on me, and I began to think I may have strayed off course, but just as Joe Prusaitis always does in his races, I found the ribbons on the trees, and I knew I was on the right path. However, I could hear Coyotes off in the distance, and I passed a couple of areas where "Grand Daddy Long Leg" spiders were running across the trail. Moths kept flying into my face, attracted by my headlamp, and along the way, large scorpions were running across the trail in droves.

I caught up with Gary and another runner, and we all began to run together. It was like finding an oasis in the middle of the night. They were running strong and steady, but not too fast, and it was a perfect pace for me and my ailing back.

Disaster struck at the 12 mile aid station, though. As we approached the aid station, my bottle was already empty, and the guy in charge of the station says, "no water, no ice, and no drinks at all." He had some warm coke, but that was nasty. The girl that was running with us, though, remembered that she had stashed a small bottle of water and some Powerade in her drop bag. She shared the contents with about five other people, and we were all grateful, but it was not enough to last the last 6 or so miles. I began to dehydrate. I got dizzy and wobbly. I was lightheaded, but I kept following in their footsteps, just moving forward. As we got about 3 miles from the finish line, someone had placed a container of water on the side of the trail, and we took a short drink and it was enough to get me back to the finish line.

I have to say that after reading David Johnson's writeup of his emergency room visit the week before, I was worried about the same thing happening to me. I knew I was dehydrated, and on the verge of heat exhaustion, but something kept me moving forward. The trails were certainly interesting, and not all that difficult, but the heat made everything difficult, and I barely made it in.

It was a race that I will remember for a long time, and one that I will learn from: One: take two bottles, instead of one when it is that hot. You can't always trust the aid stations will help you. Two: never give up. You are tougher than you think. Sometimes, things just don't work out the way you want, but if you keep moving forward, you will get there.

We had a great time at Denny's the next morning, after we met Gary at the finish line as he completed his first 60k race. Congratulations to Gary, and it was good to be with good friends.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

El Scorcho Quatro: 50k Race; July 24th, 2010

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El Scorcho was one of those races that I had been wanting to run for several years, but always had some sort of conflict in my schedule. Two years ago, I was in Africa and missed it, and last year, I had signed up for it and was training hard and injured my knee and missed it. So, this year, I was determined to do more than give my entry fee to charity. Although, my training was not without its conflicts. I spent time at the Navajo Reservation with students, but managed to hike some major mountain trails, as well as doing some running in the mountains and the altitude that was over 5,000 ft. Then, I went to China, and didn't know if I would be able to continue my training while there, either. However, I trained a lot while there, just not a lot of long distance runs. But, I more than made up for it with all the hiking through the mountains, all the walking, and twice-a-day training runs when I could. I also had the luxury of some of the students who wanted to run. So, I had some company on most mornings.

Otherwise, I trained hard for this event, knowing that a 50k (31.2 miles) race in the middle of Texas in July was not going to be a comfortable run. Most of my races are on trails in the middle of the woods, or on rocky trails and slopes. This race course was flat, but the obstacle was going to be the heat. At midday on raceday, the temperature had soared to over 95 degrees. I was hoping that by the midnight start, we would be looking at the low 80's but it was not to be. It was still hovering right around the 90 degree mark at racetime, but it soon began to cool into the 80's.

I also had my goals for this race. I wanted to set a new personal record. Having run a 6:14 in Fort Worth for my very first 50k, I was ready to dip under the 6 hour mark for the first time. My training was good, and I felt like I had the endurance to do it, but it was not to be. I had the endurance, but not enough to maintain my early pace.

I started out fine, but by the time I had completed the first two laps (roughly 3 miles each), I was hot, and sweating. I didn't know if I was going to make it or not, and those remaining 8 laps loomed large in my mind. At the end of the 6 mile mark, I began pouring cold water on my head, and it revived me, and my pace felt strong again. I kept doing that at each aid station and I continued running strong. Rather than concentrate on the mileage, it was more convenient mentally to concentrate on the number of laps, which was ten to complete the 50k distance.

Some parts of the trail were pretty dark, and I needed my headlamp, but in other places, it was lit fairly well. There was a full moon, so that helped. There were times when I just wanted to look up at that glorious moon. It was beautiful. I did see some wildlife...I saw the largest Raccoon I had ever seen. That thing was huge. Otherwise, it was lap after lap, after lap, after lap......!

I enjoyed this run more than most I have done. I was not too disappointed with my time, as I ran my second fastest time for a 50k in 6 hours and 42 minutes. The heat was just too much to run that hard...but I ran steady and with a nice rhythm. It was nice to run with so many Abilene runners. It's always nice to have such support.

One of the best races I have run. Oh, and I experimented with a new Gel, called Roctane. It was great. Although more expensive than others, I found it to be quite helpful in keeping me going.

I must say that after all this time, El Scorcho was worth the wait.

Jerry Hollingsworth

Monday, July 5, 2010

Running in China

Running in China was one of the most interesting experiences I have ever had. I might add, that I have run in Europe, South Korea, Mexico, Peru, Africa, and a host of other places. But, China afforded a unique environment that I haven't experienced before.

For one thing, it gets light at 4:30 in the morning, and my eyes popped open right along with the sunlight...although, there was not a lot of sunshine, as there was this perpetual gray, smog I figured, that blotted out the sun's rays.

Running in Beijing was interesting, as the sidewalks were broad and smooth; very well taken care of. At five in the morning, the streets are already "abuzz." People are out on their bicycles and scooters, electric bikes, and motorcycles, making their way to work. They are also out in droves, practicing Tai Chi, meditation, and clapping exercises. Street vendors are setting up their stands, cooking dumplings, and little pancake-looking items. A particular smell fills the air, a unique smell that I can't pinpoint. It is certainly different from my running routes in Abilene, where I can smell donuts, bacon, and biscuits cooking in people's homes and restauraunts.

Nanjing was our home while there, at least for a week. We stayed in a nice hotel there, although the airconditioning was out for most of the time we were there. It was also very humid. Again, as the light appears in the morning sky, around 4:15 to 4:30 a.m., I found myself out and about, running with some of our students...Matt, who was a football player and former track runner. I also ran with Amanda, who was on the cross country team, and Katie, who is going to coach on the cross country team. They added a nice touch to my morning runs.

Nanjing, around the area we were staying, was right in the heart of the city, but the many bike lanes, and sidewalks allowed for easy running. Again, people were already out, making food, riding their bikes to work, and walking along, exercising, doing Yoga, meditating, and doing early morning Tai Chi Quan. Along one street I ran on, it was lined with many bird cages. Each cage contained one bird...anything from Finches to birds I could not identify.

I ran twice a day there, most of the time, and the humidity was always high. By the time I got out of the shower, I was already sweating again. We marked our time during the day by long hikes and walks around the Ming City Wall, or hiking through the square where I saw an ancient Confucian Temple. During the evening, we were carousing around the alley, trying new foods and experimenting with different kinds of Chinese dishes.

Guillen was a different place, entirely. Located in Southern China, we were in the middle of the mountains. Running in the morning was beautiful, as we ran through the mountains alongside the main road. We were staying in a country club, golf course, and recreational area, and the grounds were gorgeous. We saw a demonstration of Tai Chi, and actually got to participate in a class, where they taught us the basic moves. It was beautiful.

While there, we had the opportunity to take a ride on a boat down a river, through some incredible limestone mountains. It was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. We capped that off with a hike up the side of a mountain, through rice paddies, up to a small mountain village school. We talked to children there, and then hiked back down. The views were incredible. After we finished the climb, we went White Water Rafting. It was a majestic ride down the Li River, on what must have been level four rapids in places. Adrenaline rush!!!

Then, it was back to Beijing, where I got my last run in before we headed out to the Great Wall. Hiking the Great Wall was magnificent, yet, very taxing. I had just ran 5 miles before we hiked the wall, so I was warmed up, but I can't imagine running a 26 mile marathon on that wall....that would be one tough run to say the least.

Running in China was one of the most interesting experiences of my life, as I saw so many things you wouldn't see if you were just touring around. Waking up early, going out to run, seeing the people start their day...was the way to see a country. Magnificent!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Hells Hills 50k: The Heat is on!

Hells Hills 50k: The Heat is on!Share
Today at 10:24am | Edit Note | Delete
Hell's Hills is a race I have been wanting to run since last year when David McCaghran and I went to Smithville to run it, but after 11 inches of rain in 3 short hours, and a lightning storm that canceled the race, we took our tent down, got soaked in the driving rain, and left. This year, I was determined to make the race after not being able to go to the makeup race in June.

This race occurs just outside of Smithville, Texas, which is a short drive from Austin, Texas. It is near Bueshe State Park, and located in the heart of the "Hill Country" of Texas. There are rolling hills, a Piney Woods, creeks, and tons of wildflowers in that part of Texas. It's a beautiful area to hold a trail race. The race itself is held at Rocky Hill Ranch, and we started the 50k race at 6:00 and it was still dark. I ran for about an hour with my small handheld flashlight, which wasn't very powerful, but good enough to light up the trail in the early morning hours.

The trail consists of three, almost distinct, phases. The first five miles are rolling hills that steadily climb toward the top of the hills nestled deep into the woods. There are a lot of steep uphills, and short ups and downs, with some roller coaster hills and a few creek crossings. There was water in most of the creeks, which required a giant leap, or a gentle crossing of the water. We ran most of this section in the dark, which was tricky in some places, with the roots, and the drop offs. The first aid station was at the 5 mile mark, and I had an orange slice, some water, and topped off my bottle that I was carrying in my waist pack. I drank mostly water on the first loop, which was a 15.5 mile loop that we would run twice for the 50k distance.

The second section was absolutely phenonmenal. The woods were deep and thick, and you had to duck a few times away from low hanging branches and trees. It was a narrow, winding single track most of the way, with a variety of terrain. There were some rolling hills, and some very flat, runnable spots, as well, and the smell in the air, mixed with the smell of the Pines was extraordinary. I watched the sun coming up over the hills, and I felt so "alive." Running was easy during this section, and the trail was covered in Pine needles in some places, leaves in other places, and it was soft and sandy, as well. In a couple of sections, the trails and trees opened up, revealing rolling meadows, covered in Bluebonnets. It was amazing to see such beauty. There were some rocks, too, but they weren't too bad. You do still have to watch out for roots and stumps. The second aid station was at ten miles and some change, and I topped off my water bottle, drank some Gatorade, and ate a few Sport Beans.

The third section was more difficult, with some long climbs, more rolling hills, and lots of rocks and roots. One section somewhere around the 13 or 14 mile marker, there was a section called "The Wall," and it was a steep cliff that was difficult to climb, and if it had been muddy, I deemed it would have been next to impossible to ascend. But, after several long and winding climbs, the trails empty into a field with a really narrow single track trail back to the starting line. That was the third aid station. I dumped what little water I had left, and filled my 20 oz. bottle with Gatorade, as the sun was getting rather hot, and the temperatures began to rise. It eventually reached about 85 degrees, and that sun was relentless by the time I reached the 20 mile marker. My shoes were full of rocks and debris (I didn't wear my Gaiters, or my hat, both of which I would soon regret) so I sat down and emptied the contents. At that point, I was beginning to think I would not make it...but I remembered from past experience that we have bad zones and good zones. I was definitely in a bad one. The folks at the aid station were great, though, and they helped me get cooled down and I ate some orange slices. Other runners came in in the same condition, all hot, tired, and depressed...but the aid station volunteers pepped everybody up, and we all took off again.

I was soon relieved to find myself in that second section of the course that I loved, and the trees afforded some nice shade from the relentless sun. I quickly found my pace again, and was soon moving strongly. I definitely got my second wind, and hit the second aid station 30 minutes faster than the last five miles. By then, I just wanted to see the finish line, so I kept running, and when I hit that "Wall climb" the second time, which I faced this time at about mile 28, it was not easy, and my calves started cramping. I kept taking electrolytes, and munching on those jelly beans, and despite the cramps, I sailed on in. I hit the 31.2 mile marker in around 7 hours, which wasn't too bad, considering the heat.

I have to say that this was one of the most enjoyable 50k's I have ever run. It offered almost everything you would want in a trail racing challenge. Hills, roots, rocks, sand, mud, water crossings, heat, and above all.....a challenge where a person can test themselves against the elements.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Taking it down a notch...for a little while!

After finishing my first 50 mile race at Rocky Raccoon, I was left with one of those feelings that I can only describe as "now what?" I remember feeling that way after my PhD was completed. I was left with this feeling that I had accomplished something very big in my life, and now, it was time to figure out what to do next. As for my PhD...I filled in the holes by doing research and traveling around the world, writing books, and publishing articles. But after finishing my first 50 miler, I was left in a rut. I even signed up for a number of races, but I still didn't feel like running any of them, and my training even slipped for awhile, while I was recovering. It was hard to get going again after such an accomplishment.


After doing some thinking, I decided that I needed to work on a few things, and with the warm weather approaching, I decided to step down from Ultras and work on some faster, shorter events, and mostly because my natural pace had slowed quite a bit because of those long, long distance runs. It's time to add some variety to my routine. So here is the change:

Shorter faster workouts
Weight Training
Hill repeats
Tempo runs
Fartlek training
Medium long runs instead of "long, long" runs.


for the rest of the spring and summer, here is my racing and events schedule:

March 27th: Steamboat Mountain Half Marathon, Abilene, Texas.

April 24th: Outlaw 10k run, Commanche, Texas.

May 8th: Wounded Warrior 5k

For the rest of May and June, I will be traveling to the Navajo Reservation, and then to China. Then, as the weather begins to cool a little, and we approach Fall and Winter, I will switch back to Ultras, with the goal of running my first 100 miler. I will switch back to the Ultra running workout schedule at the end of June, when I return from China. Here is a partial schedule for the Fall and Winter:

July 24th: El Scorcho 50K, Fort Worth, Texas

September 25th: 8-Hour Run From the Ducks, Mineral Wells, Texas

October 24th: 24-The-Hard-Way, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

November 13th: Rockledge Rumble 50k, Grapevine, Texas.

In the meantime, I'm hoping that I will be faster, stronger, and more refreshed to attempt my first 100 miler and the 24-hour run in Oklahoma.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Rocky Raccoon 50 mile Endurance Run: A Long Day in the Park

Today at 8:01am | Edit Note | Delete
The Rocky Raccoon Endurance run is a 100 mile and 50 mile trail run that winds through the Huntsville State Park. The trails are rooty, somewhat sandy in spots, and there are a few rolling hills that looked worse after the first couple of loops. The 50 mile race consisted of three 16 and 2/3 mile loops. I had been training for this race for the past 6 months. In preparation, I ran two very difficult 50k races: The Louisiana Trails 50k in Shreveport, and Bandera 50k race in the Hill Country. I felt like I was in good condition, but was a little unsure of the distance. Another concern was the rain. It had been raining for several days, and there was concern that the trails were going to be a muddy mess.

On race day, it was 39 degrees at the start and practically no wind. To me, it was a perfect day for a 50 mile run. The high would only get to around 53 according to the weather reports. I ran with a long sleeve technical shirt, trail shorts and a hat and I was comfortable.

I started off fairly conservatively, running easy behind David McCaghran who went with me to the race. I ran the first 16 2/3 mile loop in around 3 hours and 40 minutes and was feeling great. The trails were in pretty good shape considering how much rain they had. There were a few spots that were flooded and pretty sloppy...but otherwise, the trails were runnable. I ran the second loop and was still feeling fine. I came around and started the third loop, stopped and got my light, as the last section of the third loop would be in the dark.

Somewhere around mile 40, it dawned on me that I was weak, tired, and my legs and feet were killing me. My back was sore and getting worse. I had hot spots that I was sure were going to turn into full-blown blisters. I went into the Dam Road Aid Station feeling down. I ate some hot soup there, drank some water, took a few more electrolyte tablets and started off again. Mentally, my game was shot, and I still had 10 miles to go. To make it worse, it was getting cold again. I was shivering, running somewhat alone down the backstretch of Dam road was intense. I could see things moving in the woods. I'm pretty sure it was just a raccoon, but just the thought that alligators are in the park kept me alert. I don't think anybody has ever seen one on a trail race day...but the thought is somewhere deep inside you somewhere.

I forced myself to keep moving, and it was getting dark. I fixed my light, got it just right, stepped into a few mud puddles because I couldn't see to go around. I reached the last Aid Station feeling like I had been hit by a truck. But, I only had 4 and half miles left to go, and somewhere, I reached down and grabbed something from deep within myself and ran pretty well the last few miles. When I reached the wooden footbridges by the lake, I could hear frogs, crickets, and birds and it was like listening to a symphony of nature....and I knew I could not trip on the boards, so I just kept going, willing my legs to finish this race. I finished the race in 13 hours and some change, and crossing the finish line never felt so good.

Afterward, David and I were so tired, and it was getting late, so we ordered a pizza, had a couple of cold Sam Adams, and sacked out.

It was a long day in the park, and today, as I sit here writing this, the pain doesn't seem as bad. You have to possess a short memory to run events like this, because if you remembered the pain exactly as you experienced it during the run, you might not ever run another one. I'm putting this run into the memory banks as I remember it this monday morning....just a long day in the park!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Bandera 50k Trail Run: A "winter" blast!

I had been looking forward to this run for a long time, and had been one of the very first to register, but the closer this event came to becoming a reality, the more nervous I was getting. It is known as one of the top 50k races in the country, and definitely one of the hardest Texas runs around.

I have been training for months for this race, trying to build up to running the massive hills I knew would be represented at Bandera. I ran in the cold, I ran hill repeats, I ran hill cycles, and I averaged over 50 miles a week, and capped it off with a 60 mile week three weeks out from the race date. I trained in San Angelo on the trails at San Angelo State Park. I trained on rocky trails, dirt trails, muddy trails, and tried to emulate every condition I could think of. I have not worked this hard for an event for a very long time.

Then, just a week or so before the event, an Arctic blast of cold air came down out of Canada, ensuring that if the conditions weren't already going to be tough enough, let's get some single digit temps out there to test our fortitude. Sure enough, race day condition: it was 9 degrees at race time.

As I approached the starting line, the race director informed me that the race had already started, so I could "take off" anytime. I took off, glad to be doing anything but standing still in that cold morning, but the trail immediately began with a steep incline on a monstrous hill called Cairns Climb. It was one of the most difficult climbs I have ever been on, and that was the first mile or so...then the real hills hit. Boyles Bump, Ice Cream Hill, and one they called the "Big Nasty," and the title was accurate. We climbed hills for the first ten miles, and my feet were already scraped raw and blistered from the rocky terrain. Those downhills were the worst. I stopped at the 15 mile aid station, put some bandaids on what I thought was a blister on one of my toes, and the guy at the aid station said, "that's not a blister, the flesh is just gone." I put a bandaid on it and kept trucking. A little vaseline for the other toes, and I moved on.

The hills were more like mountains, and no sooner did we reach the top of one, than we were climbing another. I had to admit, I was running slow, but strong. I had been in the weight room a lot in my training, and lifting weights definitely helped me up those monster hills. I had stopped at one of the last aid stations, and the guys told me there was only 4.75 miles left, so I envisioned running the last few miles at a good clip and finishing somewhere around my time goal of 7 hours, but he failed to mention the rest of the hills that remained. They were some of the most torturous, and at one point, as I stood looking up at one of those hills, I really didn't know if I could go on, but somehow, I managed to keep putting one leg in front of the other. Eventually, I reached the last aid station, and they told me I only had a half mile left to the finish line. I gritted my teeth and hustled in, and crossed that finish line with my legs trashed, my calves throbbing, and every muscle in my body aching, but I did it, and as I crossed over, I saw my friend Laurie standing there, and we talked for awhile about how "humbling" this run was. I think in the grander scheme of things, we never really know what we are capable of until we do something that tries our character.

This race has it all: monstrous hills, cactus, biting plants, horse shit all over the trails, rocky terrain,torturous downhills that invited sliding down on your butt at times. Rocks and boulders, and climbing, climbing, climbing!

I do have to pay big compliments to the aid stations and the volunteers. In all the races I have run, there has never been better aid stations and volunteers than at Bandera. They are experienced trail and ultra runners, and just plain nice, caring, helpful people. They had everything that an ultra runner needs to complete such a journey. Without them, I'm not sure I would have made it.

I also met some of the nicest people on this run, and the cameraderie in these types of races is incredible. I made some new friends, and had a wonderfully, crazy, torturous time!

I'm looking forward to doing something really fun next, like the 50 mile race at Rocky Raccoon in Huntsville. It's flat, so what could go wrong there? Okay, so I have a short memory of the pain of these kinds of events......!!!!!!