JackRabbit Marketing Guru, Laura Cortez took on the Brazos Bend 50 Miler this past weekend in Houston, TX. Check out her full race recap below.
50 miles by foot takes a long time. Doing it for your first time is also equally one of the longest and fastest experiences you’ll ever have. It’s kind of like those things where you’re so in-the-moment and rolling with punches because you don’t think it’s ever going to end, but then you blink and suddenly it’s all over and all that prep work you did to lead up to this moment has ended. This is how my first 50-mile race went, for the most part.
On April 3 I participated in the Brazos Bend 50 down in Houston, TX to race the 50-miler. Due to COVID, instead of it being at a state park, the race took place at a horse ranch and consisted of 3 loops: Red (4.8mi)x2, Orange (7.3mi)x3 and Yellow (6.1mi)x3 – all filled with more sand than you’d hope.
We started with the 100K racers at a dark 6 am start line. It was great, to one – be on a starting line again, and two – for us all to have done so much work to be ready and then to immediately head off in the wrong direction. It was clear that a lot of us we’re either not physically or mentally present during the pre-race brief literally 15-minutes prior to the start.
The race then continued just as anyone would have thought it to – in the dark, unable to really see the markings and just a group of 95 people with headlamps occasionally yelling “found it!” or “wrong way!” until the first loop was completed about an hour later.
Community was formed from the start with how laughably poor we had paid any mind to directions. I found myself for the first few laps with the lead pack consisting of A.J., Josh and Garrett. We thankfully had plenty of time for introductions after realizing the sand would keep all of us from having any record-shattering performances. Even more – we all got along very well and were content with just figuring out the loops together for at least the first set.
With the first 18ish miles done, we were on our way to the second red loop. “Our” meaning mine and Josh’s, who I ended up running the rest of the race with. He stopped to grab some extra nutrition and I kept jogging, soon to find out in the wrong direction – again. Back on course, we decided it was time to be a bit more smart with everything. Walk when the sand is too deep and wastes energy, find the best sides to run on now so later it’s not even a decision, pay attention to what’s at the aid station tables. I felt really lucky to have had Josh with me – given that not only was he great at conversation, but he also had experience running 50 milers already.
After the last red lap at mile 22ish, we started on another Orange, which we had agreed was the best lap with the ‘least’ amount of sand. After starting with a vest, I had switched to a handheld while my pacer Julian – who couldn’t start until about halfway – refilled my soft flasks. Josh and I continued to flow easily through the miles just chatting about everything under the sun. It wasn’t until we were coming into the second Yellow lap and we had reached the halfway point and I started to question everything.
At roughly 50K, Julian was able to come in to pace, pass off my vest in exchange for the handheld and just be a refreshed and lively body to help Josh and I get out of the slump we were in. Simultaneously, this is where I also started to fall apart. After a hard fall at mile 32 and suddenly thankful for the bounty of sand to fall into, my hamstrings and IT bands started to suggest we stop. Everything was tight, my knee felt like it needed to pop and a full stride extension felt like it would rip my hamstrings apart. I wanted to cry but could only heave and then realized, oh wow my body is too tired to cry. That was a first.
I was giving it my absolute all to stay with Josh but Julian was able to tell that wasn’t going to be smart and subtly helped me let Josh go. At the next aid station I decided it was time to eat everything. Half a PB&J, bag of potato chips, cups of blue gatorade, ginger ale and flat coke – it was the most euphoric moment I had ever experienced and suddenly I was whole.
By mile 40, the gang was back together as in, we caught back up with Josh – which is a generous statement since it was more us yo-yoing back and forth with him. The jokes had largely stopped and the only thing we knew was we were almost done but still weren’t totally convinced. We were sitting in 3rd and 4th up until this point and we had fully mastered the fast shuffle. I continued to stop at every aid station to grab a PB&J and a flat coke, while Josh would let me know he was going to continue ‘meandering’ ahead but would wait for me to catch up.
It wasn’t until we finished the last Orange loop and were on the final Yellow that Josh more or less started racing me. Julian did his best to keep me going and for the first time in a couple hours, we went more than 2 miles without walking. My hamstrings felt like they were going to snap if I even tried to lengthen my stride by a centimeter, my right knee had lost most range of motion, my lower back was just continuing to spazz. I had never been in a position where the mindset was just to finish and to block out everything else around me and follow Julian’s steps.
With about a mile to go, Josh had fully dropped me on a hill. I had never been more fine with being dropped in my life. The final stretch to the finish was about 200-meters long and lined with people sitting under their canopies or in their chairs clapping and cheering endlessly as all of the runners came through – no one really knowing who was in what race, but still very intimately part of every runner’s experience.
I crossed the finish line in 7 hours, 36 minutes and 2 seconds, able to feel every millisecond of time we were out there. Shortly after I came through, our good pal Garrett made his way to the finishline too. We cheered for him and he cheered for us and A.J. who dropped us early on and never looked back, came over too to say hi and to digest what we all just went through.
I don’t think I can stress enough the unique experience it was to not only share so much time – but also to have banded together at the start and to all have individually and silently decided that yes, these are the people I will rely on. That seems like a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence that also happened at the perfect time.