Fuego y Agua Events – Hunter Gatherer – Part 3
Friday night’s sleep and Saturday’s morning wakeup all seemed to be one big blur. Around 3am we were up, ready to watch the Survival Runners start their race while us ultra runners had a more leisurely 5:00am start time. Knowing beforehand the beginning of the Survival Run I knew it was not something I wanted to sleep through. Instead, Dawn (one of my running partners for the race) and I left the bunk room in our pajama’s blurry eyed to watch as the 25+ Survival Runners were given the tools and instructed to make their own Luna Sandals.
As we watched the racers cut the soles with their knives and heard the pounding of everyone punching holes into their shoes, this was not your typical, ready, set, go start. In the middle of it all I wandered back to the bunk and got dressed to run as the sound of pounding echoed into the early morning. Some of the shoes were more successful than others, after the shoes were made the racers made their own packs out of shirts or bandanas and were off. As Survival Runners began to leave the starting area it was just about time for us all to start running. Our race was a little less eventful other than John Sharp (just coming off a finish in the Bear 100 Ultra the week before) trying to finish his first beer of the day before the start. (full pictures of the race on Facebook)
We took off and Dawn and I started to execute the plan we had discussed for weeks, just finish, and have fun. She suffered a head injury volcano boarding earlier this year and had not been able to train all summer, coupled with my ankle injury we decided to possibly run the slowest 50K ever. We had joked about it for days both online and with other races, not sure anyone actually believed us. We called it our 50K chat session. Within the first couple of miles we picked up the third member of our team, Maria Walton, whom I had met only a few days earlier. I had heard of Maria as the co-race director of the famed Copper Canyons 50 miler (now Caballo Blanco Ultra) and also the girlfriend of the late Micah True aka Caballo Blanco. She has some big races coming up and decided to join us on our adventure for the day. We were thrilled to have another member of the group.
As we crossed the creek in the dark and began switchbacking through the brush we started to get and idea of what the day would entail. About 20 of the 31+ miles were completely bushwhacking, more adventuring than running, which was perfect for us. As the sun began to rise over the Hill Country of Texas we found ourselves heading up and down the hills using every bit of terrain on the property. The sun was up as we passed by the cave, I had helped mark the day before. We continued along to the Windmill and the first change to get water and food. This race was not your typical race, aid stations consisted of a place you could filter your own water, and a Epic Bar or Saquito Packet. We all had to carry our own water filtration system, I quickly learned I should have read the directions of my steripen before just packing it. Luckily, Inov-8 had just sent me a new running vest (review coming) which I was able to hold 3 liters of water. It made for a heavy load but less need to filter my own water. This race was definitely not for the pampered athlete, you had to be able to hold your own.
As we were finishing up filtering water at the first aid station, Shane McKay the first survival runner came out of the woods. We would continue to see him at each aid station for the remainder of the day. He was moving at a blistering pace through the Survival Run and clearly ahead of all the competition. Not only was he the oldest competitor in the race, but also the most prepared it seemed to us. We wished him luck on his tasks and continued on our way. Along the way we all got to know each other more. Maria told us stories of her and Micah’s life together, more than one time it made me tear up. Most people can only wish for a love and relationship that they shared. I was truly touched she shared those stories on the trail. It made my want to go to Copper Canyons even greater for next year.
We continued on, through bushes, dry creek beds, up and over rocks, and more crawling through the bushes. Not a trail was to be seen for the first 15 miles of the race. We arrived at our drop bags, situated between two tipis, and refueled and chatted with Kelly who was volunteering. The cloudy skies had parted and the temperature was rising, we kept moving, along the way repeated being thankful for being in each others company. We were thankful for the earth, as I spotted a beautiful rock showed it to Dawn and Maria, and we all took a second to take in our surroundings. We spotted a tiny flowering cactus, and took the time to really look around.
The Hill Country of Texas is rocky and beautiful. After more bushwhacking we arrived at the prospectors cabin aid station, everyone got more water, saw Shane again. At this point we had heard some people had dropped from both the ultras and the survival runs. The aid station workers, a father and his daughter, remarked at how fresh we looked, we laughed and thanked him, he wished us adios and we continued on the next 5-6 mile stretch. It was during this point in the race we finally hit a section of “normal” trail and rejoiced in the ease of travel, waiting for it to turn back to bushwhacking. This is when we all got a little goofy and were joking around on the trails, having truly bonded at this point. We joked, we laughed and remarked, “this much fun should be illegal” – from Dawn. Every time it got a little tense I employed my mantra for the day, “we don’t have to do this twice, it isn’t dark, and we aren’t in homemade sandals”. Somehow saying those three things reminded me as hard as it seemed at times it was really nothing.
We reached the last full aid station, scrambled down some rocks to get more water out of the river, this water was not as clean looking as some of the other aid stations but I needed at least 1/2 liter and Maria needed to fill her bladder. We got to the water, I managed to get a clean bit into my bottle, Maria picked up some extra protein, shrugged it off, dropped some electrolytes and iodine pills in and we were off. This is when Zac informed us we were only 7 miles from the finish, the three of us looked at him and all had some choice words, we were convinced we had only 6ish miles to go. But quickly turned it around and headed off.
This part of the trail we encountered several deer and the day was getting into the late afternoon, we knew we would finish before sundown and powered through the last couple of miles. Their may have even been an early double full moon on the trails from two of us for a bit. We were truly just being silly and enjoying the essence of the trail. As we approached the zipline check-in we were told only 3.5 miles to the finish and here we met John Sharp again and he offered us a beer and burrito, we declined continued on and pushed through the brush. The last section of the course had us repeatedly seeing the finish line but turning away each time we neared it, a nice little mind game.
As we headed down the last hill we knew the finish was near, we had made a pack early in the day to finish together, and finish the way we had raced all day. We were met by Tom and Flint whom had tied for 2nd in the men’s race as they walked us in the last 50 meters, it was a wonderful end to the race. The sun was ready to set as we crossed together hand in hand, tying for 4th in the women’s race, but more importantly just happy to have experienced the day together.
After a rocky year of racing completing the Hunter Gatherer 50K was the piece of the puzzle I had been missing. It was a day not about speed but about friendship, completing what you started and not injuring myself further. As we finished I thanked Maria and Dawn, nether one realizing how much mentally completing the race lifted my spirits. It lifted my soul, and gave me a sense of completion to take into World’s Toughest Mudder in November. I may have run 50K’s in the past in half the time it took me to run this one, but the satisfaction was great finishing and I cherish this experience.
I went back to our bunk room put my ankle up for an hour or two when watched as survival runners came in only one would even attempt to go out on a second lap, Shane McKay, was hands down the winner for the day. No one would attempt the full 100K ultra and some dropped from the survival run. It was a brutal course, a rewarding course, and one which I already want to go back to again. Josue Stephens, puts on races that are fair, raw, real and hard. They are not your walk in the park, and they do not baby you. If you want to see what you are made of his races will show you. Until the next one…