#290 - Houston 100 - Houston Running Festival Race Report

Houston 100 done! In an ideal world this wouldn't be my first choice of 100 miler, 50 x 2.01 mile loops around a park, but was looking for a 100 mile PB and kind of fitted in with my long schedule so I rocked up and in true Traviss style I headed off like a bat out of hell, felt decent after the first mile so head down and basically went as fast as I could. 20 sub 8:00 miles later I was beginning to suffer a bit, in fact went through marathon distance only a few minutes outside my marathon PB! 50k in 4:26 and then wheels slowly fell off, had a long walk in the 30s, PB at 50 miles and 100k but was slowing dreadfully (8:21/10:40), the 70s were dreadful, all sort of stomach issues and barely ran a step from 70 to 90 as in the 80s I struggled to stay awake despite taking on board more Coke than a polar bear and was having a serious wobble, managed to pick it up a bit at the end, just, and got the job done! Now some people reading this will be horrified, its a stupid way to run a long ultra, nobody does this... and if they do they pay the price like I do.

But its not the full story.

After that first mile, I hit the lead. By mile 20 I had lapped everyone on the course. For 99 miles I held on. I won. I got a 2.5 hour PB at 100 miles. Now I'll be honest, Scott Jurek, Anton Krupica and Mike Morton weren't in the house but I defended that lead and held off the guys in second place ultimately by six minutes. I've finished dead last 14 times, including the NDW100 last year and this is my first win at a bone fide event, and for those that knew me in 2010/2011/2012 will perhaps be a bit surprised for I was the guy at the back, plodding along, guys like me aren't supposed to win things, we make up numbers... so this one is for the guys and girls who turn up with no hope of ever winning anything, they show up, get the job done just for the experience. Bit like me, but it can be done... you just have to want it enough.


I'd been looking for a 100 during the winter as the scene in the UK or Europe is pretty thin for anything long at this time of year and often what there is involves the word mud!

The Houston 100 is part of the Houston Running Festival and whilst this wouldn't be top of my list of ideal 100 mile runs what actually swayed it for me was figuring out what else I could do on the trip... so I signed up!

The course is a two mile flat loop around Bear Creek Pioneers Park in West Houston, so logistically its very straightforward indeed and unusually for a 100 mile run there was remarkably little preparation for me, no drop bags, no thought of navigation, not too much worry about food and so on. Not even an early start at kicked off at 0730 and as I was jetlagged as anything of course I would be up easily hours before, not to mention that the hotel I was staying at was at most a five minute drive away. All very simple and in fact a little bit disarming to be giving so little thought to the actual running of the event!

Basically I left my suitcases open in the boot of my rental car and had a carrier bag of my "race nibbles" - Ensure, Peanut Butter M&Ms, some soft cookies, Tic Tacs and box of cookie dough chocolate bite things. I rolled up at about 0645 and parked a whole 2 feet from the course which was ideal as could just step off and then be at my "drop bag" as and when I needed that. The forecast was just perfect, up to about 18C, light cloud, about 6C overnight, little bit of breeze.


I sorted myself out as usual and had a bit of a chat with a couple of familiar faces that I knew from the marathon circuit and before I knew it, we were off. I'd actually felt a bit rushed before the start which was careless of me really. Because I was so close to the park I didn't get there especially early and typically I'll aim to get to an event an hour or so before, but just 45 minutes didn't quite seem long enough. I think in retrospect I should have sorted out my gear a bit better, laid out the jackets/shirts etc that I may or may not have wanted or needed later. I noticed that a number of people had little tents and chairs, somehow to me that seems rather defeatist, I had zero intention of sitting down and having my own chair there would have been a huge temptation!

So we're off a couple of minutes late and as is usual with US ultras (there were in fact 3 "waves" for the various events (there was also half marathon/marathon/50m/100k/12hr/24hr events)) they're very slow starting so stepped up to near the front and by the first bend I was third.

The two mile loop was really very flat indeed, someone commented that it had three feet of elevation change and that sounded about right, and oddly the entire course seemed downhill to me, just very slightly, but appeared to have no visible or noticeable slants upwards at all (obviously by mile 80 it was all uphill!) so that was good! I overtook a Mexican chap in second place after maybe half a mile and slowly worked on pegging back the very quick looking girl who was leading (there had been some announcement at the start about a well known 100k runner who was doing the 100m (but I hadn't been paying attention!), so assumed that was her) and then I recalled a conversation I'd had with Andy Nice at a Red Sox game in fact in 2012 before the Boston Marathon about how at a 100 mile run he'd blasted past someone just to demoralise them and that it was pointless trying to catch them up as they were looking so strong kind of thing. So I just powered past this woman about mile 1 out and I was leading!

I looked back at one of the turns and noticed that it was me, her and the guy who had been third and everyone else already looked to be about half a mile back already! It's a very different mind set being in front of a race, and whilst I have led races before, sometimes for a whole 500 yards kind of thing, half for fun, half as a tempo effort, but always with the thought and assumption that I'm going to get caught in a minute, and of course always am and things settle down to normal.

First lap (they're 2.01 miles long and my Garmin clocked about 2.02 each lap so spot on) done in about 15 minutes which is far too fast but who cares, I'm off! Now my "A" goal oddly wasn't 100 miles really, it was "can I do 100k in 10:30", (which is the Spartathon qualifying time) and "B" goal was I wanted a 100 mile PB (previously 23:16 at Berlin Wall 100 in August). Music on, head down and I'm gone basically, settled down to about 7:30 pace, before easing back a little bit to 7:45 or so when I notice that the chasing "pack" is miles behind. By now all the other events are off and I'm lapping folk all the time (a genuine novelty!) the course is a lovely 10 foot wide tarmac bike path mainly, with no bikes! Weaves about a little bit,but essentially a tear drop type shape, so there is never a problem with anyone getting in my way (another novelty!) and before long I'm lapping people for the second, third, fourth time etc...

One issue with the event is that it wasn't always easy to see who was in what event and also you could freely drop down the distance you were in for, there were 21 in for the 100 mile (but I discovered later that 9 of these had dropped down to lower distances) not that it mattered that much because there was nobody going past me (in fact before mile 76 only one person went by me, some guy doing a half marathon) I went through the half marathon in about 1:39 and marathon in 3:35 I think (am writing this the day afterwards and not looked at the Garmin data yet) - all far too fast as I'm currently on about 14 hour 100 mile pace!

On one of the loops near 20 miles I finally lap the guy who had been third and then the quick looking woman, so now I know I'm at least two miles ahead of everyone. And whilst I wish I could say I then thought I should ease back to moderate my pace, my legs decided they'd do that for me anyway, I was a bit tired by now! Hamstrings had been tweaking a bit and feet were beginning to feel like they weren't 100% happy, mmm... so just the 75 miles left then!

But I was still trolling around at a respectable (for me!) pace and by now folk were leaving if they'd done the half marathon and as I reached 50k (in a 40 minute PB of 4:26) things were getting much quieter as the marathon folk began to leave too. Must have been about mile 34 or 36 I caught up with a friend of mine Angela Tortorice who was on her penultimate lap of the marathon and I was feeling pretty beat up so decided to walk her last couple of laps with her to give myself a break, she's a quick walker at the back of these things so weren't exactly dawdling but 14 pace rather than 9 kind of thing. Sitting here now it would seem odd that nobody would have gone past us at this stage, but don't recall it. But anyway that recharged my batteries kind of thing, music back on and then got back in to running at a better clip. Was taking some walk breaks now, especially after the aid station but otherwise, no messing about.

Had a good spell from say 40-48 and almost lapped the quick looking woman again but just couldn't quite catch her and then took a real easy couple of miles from 48-50 as my legs were getting real worn out. PB by almost an hour for 50 miles (8:21 - had been 9:15 in Berlin), though had it been a 50 mile event could have broken 8 hours I think as wouldn't have had the four mile walk or the almost two mile walk break before the 50 mile point during probably the "hottest" part of the day) Took a big hit of caffeine to see if that would shake it out of me, bottle of Ensure, and then had a decent enough ten mile spell.

My eating and hydration had been good, aid station discipline good (they were almost too helpful!) but by now I was stopping each lap to grab "something" and slipping a bit. I'd not been for many wee breaks though so suspected I needed more water (I think only twice before mile 76) and 100k came and went (10:40 so just outside the qualifying time, but again, had it been 100k am pretty confident I would have hit sub 10:30) and then I saw a bit of good news. The quick woman was stopped and putting on a change of non running clothes so guessed she had pulled out at 100k. For the longest time I'd just assumed she was going to catch me, but simply never had and now she was going home, hooray for me!

In retrospect I slackened off a fair bit from here, was taking a tiny bit longer at the aid station, the walk breaks had gotten longer and longer and running was getting less and less and wasn't long after this that I started to feel a bit ill. I'd had a bit of pizza earlier which I wondered if maybe had been a mistake as whilst yummy was a big thick bit and I'd been on my usual "dripping in" calories mode all day before this (very nice "wholemeal" type fig newtons went down a treat, cookies, muffins, I'd been able to stomach anything) and by mile 74-76 I was not feeling the love at all. As often seems to be the case you can go from feeling a bit odd, to dehabilitated in five minutes, and I was in the dehabilitated state! Whatever slow pace I was dawdling at faded to nothing and I had a long sit down in the loo on one lap and then the next as had a serious "getting rid of stuff" episode.

So this is mile 76 and I was not feeling good, my sub 18 I had for the 100 miler had just vanished, but come on Traviss, you can get a sub 20 hour finish here still if you keep on being purposeful. As the Mexican chap who I hadn't seen since about mile 20 went flying past me, whoosh! I assumed we'd been more or less in sync or he'd pulled out or something but he was whizzing and just then assumed, well that's that then not going to be winning this after all. Dawdled around a couple of laps whilst my stomach sorted itself out and he went past me again.

They had a monitor at the chip timing mats (they were very thorough, two chips and four mats!) and I'd been worried for a long while that it had me a lap short, but I was showing (I thought) as 117, with no name, whilst most of the other entries there had names. So was never 100% sure if it was right for me or not and never wanted to waste time checking (which in retrospect was just stupid!) but anyway this Mexican chap the second time he unlapped/lapped me did so on the straight before the mat so I could easily check what lap he was on... and it was 17 behind me! What he'd been up to I had no idea, been for a sleep or something, but not been in sync with me at all! I was in the lead again after all! Not only that, I was pretty confident that I was perhaps 8 or 10 or 12 miles ahead of everyone else I could think of. I'd done a LOT of lapping earlier in the day!

So that was a nice boost. Which lasted about ten minutes as then I could not keep my eyes open! It always seems to happen at some point in the night at a long ultra, but to be honest I was hoping to have finished before it hit me this time! Stuffed down more caffeine which had zero effect and drank far more coke than was healthy, none of which seemed to make the slightest difference. I also started getting cold, first put on a thin jacket, then the thick one, in retrospect should have put on a thick base layer/long sleeved shirt, was too lazy, now writing that, seems ridiculous, but just couldn't be bothered. Put on thin gloves, likewise couldn't be bothered to dig out a thicker pair. THEY WERE RIGHT THERE TRAVISS! Literally just didn't bother, I have no idea why now! So I had cold hands... was quite amusing for a while to see how wrapped up everyone else was, it really wasn't that cold, maybe 3 or 4C but of course they're used to it being much warmer here.

I was dawdling, I was starting to be unlapped, serious wobble time, I didn't care. I even thought about sitting down! Running was a distant memory and still hours of plodding ahead. Sub 20? Nope didn't care about that either. Winning, nope, don't care.

Finally, finally, hit mile 90. Just couldn't face another three hours of plodding around at a geriatric snail pace, so pulled myself together and decided it was time to get a move on a bit, I knew I was still leading by maybe four miles at least but had began to notice a very excitable Mexican woman at the aid station area who was berating/encouraging her son it transpired. I knew I'd lapped him 4 or 5 times earlier in the day but he'd unlapped himself at least twice and was running slowly but steadily and also another chap called Frank who I'd had a bit of a chat with was having bursts of going well and he'd unlapped himself a couple of times too.

So I run a bit and don't die and have a couple of good miles, then another couple of good miles, and now its six to go and 12/13 minute miles are a lot harder to catch up on than 17/18 minute miles, dawns on me that the Mexican woman is going loopy because she reckons her son can catch me. The monitor was always slow to update and I'm fairly convinced she thought her son was two miles closer to me than he was. My music has long since died, they've long since turned the aid station music off, sound travels. None of the Mexicans speak a word of English, nobody around speaks any Spanish. I was actually fairly oblivious to it all because I am stupid and not thinking straight of course by now!

Frank catches me and we swap how far we have left to go, turns out he's made a big push to catch me, only to find out I'm a lap further on that he thought! That rather knocks the stuffing out of him run wise, but we have a nice chat/walk/run with his pacer for my final two laps anyway. He rather kindly states that he thinks if we were actually racing that I could just knock out a couple of ten minute miles to hold him and the Mexican chap off, I'm glad he doesn't put that to the test! But with four miles to go catching me up would have been a big ask. At some point the Mexican chap goes past so he's now less than two miles behind, for the final lap Frank and I just walk around and we see the Mexican chap running like a nutter, Frank isn't bothered about trying to catch him for second place. I will admit I did have a look around a couple of times on the final lap to make sure I wasn't going to be caught though am fully confident that I could have pushed harder if needs be. I had decided now that I would quite like the win!

I had checked on the final loop that I was correct on my count (and had my two Garmins as back up proof if needs be) so knew everything was all OK, Mexican woman wasn't and my finish was accompanied by her trying to make me do another lap! lol Turns out ultimately she thought her son was winning and had caught me on the last lap, not that anyone understood anything she was saying. I go sit in the nice warm aid station, and he comes in six minutes later. Apparently he's a doctor and speaks six languages, unfortunately none of those was any that anyone else spoke! So all in all a mildly amusing finish in a bit of confusion, though not for me, I was always confident of knowing where I was, even more importantly the chip timing folk and RD knew exactly what was going on too!. Buckle, tankard, duck (yes a ninja duck after the Ninja Running Group hosting the event!), trophy so this is what the people at the front get! To me races were a medal or a buckle! Never needed to ask if anyone had a carrier bag for the stuff before!

So that was it really, my first win at a proper event! (Can't really count the 100MC AGM marathon which was handicapped and I had a two hour head start! Nor a tiny timed ultra where I was the only person to do over 26.2 miles, and I stopped at 27.1!) Was oddly quiet at the finish once the excitement of the first three finishers was over, sitting in the aid station getting warm you realise how slow paced everything is when those left are taking 35/40 minutes for a loop. I have a quick doze and change and go back to the aid station as my stomach has settled a bit for a breakfast of wraps, cookies and muffins. They had lots of goodies left over which was to be my dinner later, if muffins and cookies count as a dinner!

In retrospect I'm quite disappointed with my 20:45 finish time, it could and should have been an hour less if not two. Still a 100 mile PB by 2.5 hours mind you, so that is pleasing but lets face facts in that it could not be a quicker 100 mile course. Perfect conditions, OK a bit hot in the afternoon, bit cold at night, but nothing to worry about. No navigation, dead flat and lit reasonably at night (several people had head torches on but I didn't bother) but still somehow engineered taking 10 hours for the last 38 miles, now if I can just conquer the night sections! (on the plus side at my first go at Hearlands 100 I took nearer 17 hours for the last 38!)

It was a small event, but for the first, and quite possibly only time, I showed up, and beat everyone else who showed up, not an age category, not a "first male" when a female finished ahead (one of my pet running peeves is women saying, yay I won! When they actually finished 8th with 7 men ahead of them kind of thing, what happens to sexual equality then?!). There were some decent looking runners on the entry list, 18 hour finishers at moderate 100s like Heartland 100, maybe they were having a bad day, maybe they decided to pull out at 26.2 miles, who knows, who cares, I don't, Scott Jurek might have given me a run for my money there, but he was enjoying Christmas in Scott Jurek land somewhere. You can only beat those that show up and I am certainly glad that I did. This is of course now my all time favourite event ever!

Have two horrid blisters (wore Hoka Sinson Tarmac) both on right foot one on the big toe and the other on the little one (which is looking very odd with no nail and more blister than toe it seems! lol) although didn't really bother me too much until after I stopped but already 24 hours or so afterwards feeling far, far better than yesterday, bit stiff and creaky of course and walking is interesting, but otherwise come out of it feeling pretty much OK! Right... so what's next!

Things I Learnt

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