YABRR: Loup Garou 2020 Edition
AKA: What am I doing here?
This may be the longest, and hardest race report I've written, so I'll start with (as always) the important things first.
Big thanks to Richard and Chad, for making me start my 4th loop, thanks to Stephanie, Ben, Pamela, Fritz. Trevor, Jenni and every other runner out there who made the run fun. As always, thanks to Shellene for putting up with me as I wanted to call it at mile 60 (even after Richard and Chad got me going again) and for breaking down the camp/driving me home.
Loup Garou had been on my radar for years, I like the bling, but it's normally at a time of the year where I'm either not running, or at Brazos Bend. We all know how well this year and race scheduling went, so I found myself in the second starting wave this past weekend, for a race course that I knew very little about. I knew it had bridges and was scenic, but thought it was mostly flat (in reality it is, but since I've been training for BB100, it wasn't what my training was set for). I had set a goal for BB100 of the larger sub-22 buckle (which would have been a 100 mile PR) and decided to see if I could hold that here.
The second wave started, and within the first two miles I caught up to a pair of Colorado runners, Wes Ritner and Troy Ied The three of us started chatting and holding a good (IE: too fast) pace. I found out two things about each of them. Troy is on the HPRS Board of Directors, and has a fake Achilles tendon. Wes has 7 200 mile finishes, and gets lost easy (in fairness, I called out one wrong turn on the first loop out as well). The three of us covered the first section together, then Wes and I covered the return. I had made the comment that I thought we were in the 2nd or 3rd chase group, based on the number of runners I had passed. At the turn around we found out that we were 2-4th place, when Cory Logsdon flew by.
A little about the course this year, due to hurricanes and Covid the north part of the loop was closed, but they were able to get a 10 mile section that had 5 really long bridges on it. That meant that we crossed those scenic bridges 50 times. I don't like bridges, and actually had to stop on 3 of them to get my feet under me (and I was walking at the time). Also, while they are sidewalk width, it was an out and back. Anytime someone passed me, I stopped. The other thing, which was more important - the trail was long. My GPS recorded 10.6 miles one way. The good thing is, once Edie (the RD) found out from the runners she lengthened the clock to a 32 hour finish.
The trail itself is mostly leave covered ground, some rooty sections, one section with some small rocks and one rock right in the middle of the trail (painted orange), and was well marked (one area where if you didn't look right you might miss a turn) and followed the park blazed trail, so even if you missed a flag you could still see the blazes (the above turn had the blaze color change). There was some mud, enough to make me wish I had started in Salomon Supercross instead of Sense, but the Sense worked well. The winner was in racing flats, I don't think the mud slowed him at all. Actually, I don't think a brick wall would have slowed him much.
Started loop two in second place, was shocked that I hadn't seen Trevor. I found out later he was using me as a psuedo pacer for the first half of the race. When I got the mile 30 aid station (all miles based on the original course distance, I'm not doing math today), I thought he might have gotten lost since he hadn't passed me yet and I thought he had actually started loop 2 ahead of me (he stopped at his chair, I missed that). Everything was still going well, and I found myself in a place I've never been before - in the top 3 of a 100 miler with more than 10 people. But, I knew it was going to be a long day, and I had some idea of the quality of runners still out there.
Loop three was when I started to spend time trying to put some energy back into my legs. I spent time on the way out walking/talking with Pamela (she had commented that she didn't know I was a firebreather while racing, she had never seen me all out before) and I got to the 50 mile mark ahead of schedule, still feeling good. Did a quick change out, mainly adding my headlamp. Trevor came in almost right behind me. I told the aid station that it was about time "He's younger and faster, but I'm better looking". At this point he asked if anyone had a spare headlamp, he made a rookie mistake and only thought he had put on in the bag for this station. I gave him my emergency light (it lasts about an hour on full bright, which really wasn't needed on this trail) and we ran the next 6ish miles together talking. I told him that once I caught Shellene I was planning to walk with her for a bit. By this point I knew that the runners behind me were falling off pace faster than I was, so I wasn't worried about getting caught from behind, and I also know that Trevor is far faster than I am, so I figured I had 3rd locked up (even with 43 miles left). I walked with Shellene, as she headed in on her 40 mile race, told her a few things (which will be discussed later) and then said I was going to see what I had in me.
One of the things I told Pamela is the hardest thing about a 5 loop 100 is getting started after loop 3. You've run almost 100k, which is really impressive, you seen the course enough. It's dark, and going to get colder, why bother. Once you've pushed though and finished loop 4, you know that you've got one loop left - much better. Well, it bit me in the ass bigtime. I didn't want to start loop 4. Richard and Chad used the same advice that I tell others. They sat me down and made sure I ate, then they helped my get my kit together and watched me walk out towards the trail. I saw another runner finishing, and figured I'd turn around with them and call it (I'm in 3rd place, and just don't want to run, WTF). It was Shellene, she gave me a quick hug and said she was going to run it in. That changed everything, I could have run it in with her, to see her finish (and then I would have been done), or I could move my ass down the trail and keep running, but I was not going to walk back to the line at that point. I headed out, stopped for a couple of seconds and got my back to pop. That was almost like resetting everything, and I was actually running again.
As I commented above, I trained for Brazos Bend, and even that I didn't do a normal ultra runners training plan. While I put in lots of Zone 1 miles, with the occasional speed-work, I didn't do any back to back long runs. Now it was time to really see how bad that was going to be.
Loop four, in the dark, solo. There was some walking (not power hiking, outright walking), but most of the runners I saw told me that I was looking good and moving well. That included Cory, he was actually very encouraging every time I saw him, and other runners told me the same about him. I knew he was behind me and moving fast. The question became, was he going to loop me? I pushed a few times on the causeway sections (flat, straight and "fluffy" trail), and did everything I could to hold him off. I finished loop 4 less than a minute ahead of him. Gave him a quick "congrats" and then headed out.
One annoying thing happened as I was outbound on my final loop. A runner with a Kogalla RA was coming towards me, with their arm over the light, but they moved it away too soon and I was blinded briefly. I own a RA, and I love it, it's a really great light for technical descents, but it's overkill on a course like Loup Garou and really shouldn't be used on out and back courses in general. Ok, rant over.
I was tired, my legs were sore, my stomach was gone, and I was very happy. At the two intermediate aid stations it was "32 in and out", nonstop. There was a lot of walking, and I was doing math in my head. "I need to hit the turn around under 21 hours", got there, refilled my water, dumped some stuff (dead battery) in my drop bag, thanked them and was getting ready to leave. One of them told he unless I fell asleep on the trail, I had third place in the bag. My response "I don't do that, I'm from Texas where if you do that you wake up with a reptile" and off I went. Went through the 1st (on the return) intermediate aid station with a "thank you". At this point I was looking at my watch, it hit 100 miles in 21:44:20 (a new 100 mile PR to go with my sub 12 100K PR during this race), next goal, sub 24 on the 106 miles (my GPS may be short, I've never seen it long). Shortly before the final intermediate station I caught two runners. Since we were about to hit the final two bridges I said I'd walk with them. One briefly shined her light on me, then introduced herself - it was Fritz. They stopped, I didn't, at least not till I was 3/4 over the final bridge. I really hate those things. From there, it became clock management. I knew roughly where I was on the course, and knew that if I had too I could run the last little section. I walked over the line at 23:49:17 official. As I was closing on it, I let out a "whoop", which got Shellene to sprint to the finish (she had a good idea of when I'd get in, I was just a little quicker). I then had the privilege of sitting on my ass in the unofficial DDR tent (we need a few more banners, since there are so many folks providing DDR support) and got fed. Life is good.
I mentioned above that I told Shellene something, right before I head in at the end of Loop 3. This has been something on my mind for a while. My first 100 mile finish was BB100, and coming into this year I had planned to run UTMB and then race BB100. BB100 was going to be my last 100 mile race. Loup Garou is the last 100 miler I plan to race. I will still race shorter distances, I've discovered I like 100K races
Looking at the Loup Garou results more in depth, some things stand out to reinforce what is common wisdom: 1. Don't go out too fast. 60% of the runners who were in the top 10 at the end of loop 1 DNFd. The four who didn't were in the top 5 all day (and finished 1-4). 2. Start your fourth loop. It's the hardest one. Thirteen runners DNFd at the end of loop 3 (60ish miles), only four runners DNFd at the end of loop 4. This is the mental game, and why it is important to get that fourth loop started. 3. Keep moving. We won't talk about Cory Logsdon, whose last loop was only 49 minutes slower than his first loop (he's not human). I want to highlight Azam Poulatov. He ran a very good race, and slowly worked his way up from 34th at the end of loop 1 to 5th overall, with a solid negative split on his last loop. 4. Keep moving (bonus). My watch (no pause) time was 23:48:28, with a moving time of 22:25:11. I "lost" 1:23:17 stopping, at least 25 minutes of that was my mini-breakdown at the end of loop 3, so I spent just about 1 hour at aid stations on the course. 5. Experience helps. The top 5 runners had 234 races between them on UltraSignup. The runner with the least only had 22, 7 of which were 200s.