Control the Controllables

Brazos Bend 100      

I have done races where I don’t know a soul.  I have done races that I’ve had to travel.  I’ve done races that I have forgotten gear.  Brazos Bend 100 was a type of Final Exam of Ultra Marathons, encompassing all of these things and more. 

I had this travel voucher, and I couldn’t wait to use it.  I wanted to find a race with challenges unlike any I’ve faced before.  I found it with this race.

My first challenge was what gear to bring.  Sorry tackle box, you wont make it on the plane.  I got up at 2:30 to sneak in a workout and to pack.  I told myself to treat it like an aid station---grab what you need, and if your instincts tell you to take something…listen.  That is just what I did. 

I arrived in Texas to a sunny 80-degree day and went to pick up my rental car.  They issued me a lemon-yellow machine  Not really my style, but not really something to make a fuss about either.  Okay bumblebee…let’s roll.

I took the bumblebee and drove out to Brazos Bend for the pre-race meeting.  I knew there would be weather and wildlife.  This meeting spelled out exactly what to expect from both.  It got in my head.  As advice, the race director said, “when you think of weather, insert the word fun.   And, oh my, we are gonna have some fun tomorrow!”

Normally the night before a 100 miler, I get introspective.  This was no exception.  Sitting in the bumblebee, I made the conscious decision to control the controllables.  I unpacked all my gear and laid it out so that I could grab and go.  I was missing some things that would have made me more comfortable, but that was out of my control.  If I didn’t have it, I didn’t need it.  I was going to work with what I had, and I was going to get this done. 

The race started at 6 am, and it was already in the 80’s.  “Okay,” I thought to myself, “you know what you are doing. What do you need to run in the heat?”  I grabbed all the electrolytes and potassium I had.  I was going to pop those suckers like M&M’s.  Smart move. 

The race started, and it just felt different from what I’ve done before.  It didn’t take long to figure out why.  It was dark out, and I was running with a headlamp.  Whenever I looked left or right, (I mean EVERY time) I saw eyes.  I didn’t necessarily know what critter those eyes belonged to, but wildlife was going to be a factor in this race.  I forced myself to remember that these animals are also out of my control.  One of two things would happen.  They would approach me, and I would have to respond, or they would leave me alone.  Let’s do this.

I decided to embrace the beauty of Texas.  I stopped to take a picture of the sunrise.  I was contemplating calling this piece “Three Sunrises” to encompass my trip.  A cougar running in front of me changed my mind.  Control the controllables.  I must have repeated that 100 times.

The course was a nearly 17-mile loop that I would run 6 times.  Don’t bother doing the math, I already had, it’s over 100.  It was basically set up as a figure 8.  The first half of the 8 was swampland.  It smelled and was muddy.  As the race went on the mud grew torturous.  It was also the area where alligators, rattlesnakes and more kinds of lizards than I knew existed, roamed.  I grew to dread those 8 miles.  It took absolute focus to navigate, and I’m proud to say I remained upright for the entire race.  Most were not so fortunate.  The second half of the figure 8 was still muddy, but much more navigable.  However, this is the area where wild hogs roamed.  Truly ugly creatures, that made me question why people like bacon so much.

The weather was…fun.  It was like it was on a repeat cycle. Over and over again, it did the same thing.  The temp would climb.  My clothes would stick to me from the humidity.  A powerful wind would kick up out of nowhere.  It would rain.  Hard.  It would stop as quickly as it started.  Repeat every half hour. 

I made the conscious decision to own the night.   I turned off my phone.  I left my headlamp in the bumblebee.  I grabbed my knuckle lights.  I would run with one light at a time.  I only wanted to see the three-foot orb in front of me.  I KNEW those eyes were on me.  I could hear (and in one case, see) animal attacks.  I had over 12 hours of darkness to face and I wanted no distractions.  

The heat did not relent, and my water consumption was high.  This increased my nature calls.  I turn my light off to execute this maneuver.  Turning it back on, I caught sight of a rattlesnake.  Not an unhappy one, but there it was.  Yikes!

Finally, I reached the final aid station.  I had three miles to go.  I only had one alligator area yet to cross, and felt as if I was out of harm’s way.  It looked like I would finish a little over 26 hours.  Whew…I could relax.

Mother Nature decided, that I was getting a little ahead of myself.  The sky OPENED UP and there was COLD rain.  I knew the pitch of the last three miles, and with the steady rain we had, the trail was going to wash out.  I was not happy.  I had two choices:  I could find somewhere to wait it out (although this did not seem like the wait it out kind of rain) or I could get moving.  Control the controllables.  I told myself that if I moved, I could be in the bumblebee, with my buckle, in less than an hour.  I would get wet and cold, but both of those could be remedied.  Okay feet---take over and get me to the finish.

It was not easy.  Branches from trees were falling left and right.  The muddy water was up over my shoes.  The puddles had a current.  A big tree came down.  I turned off my brain, and trusted that my body would take solid steps to keep me making relentless forward progress.  I ran those three miles simply on instincts.

I finished.  It was unceremonious, as all of the campers had torn down because of the storm.  The race director handed me my buckle and got me to my car under an umbrella.  Through shivering teeth, I told him he might need to re-think that weather is fun thing.   His reply was simple, “Nah darlin’, this is just how we do it in Texas”. 


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