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Steve Troxel, Whit Guthrie, and Joshua Holmes

Trail of Fears Race Recap from Steve Troxel

Trail of Fears Race Report by 2nd place finisher Steve Troxel

To put this report in perspective, you ought to know a few things about me.

I’m 58 years old with 10 grandkids.
I’m relatively new to running – been consistent for about 6 years.
I’m very new to this ultra world – first ultra distance was 50 miles at RUTS last year.

I ran TOF last year and made it 10 loops for an 8th place finish. This year I knew I was in better condition and said I would be absolutely thrilled to make it to the final 5 or 6. I have such great respect for the group that showed up for this race.

The intriguing thing about ultra events is that you really don’t know how your body will respond. There are so many variables with nutrition, gut, and muscle fatigue/strain that it’s difficult, if not impossible to accurately predict a specific outcome – too many things can go wrong, and they usually do.

My plan from the beginning was to run super easy and meet new people. The first several loops were great as I talked a bunch and was usually one of the last to finish the loop. By loops four and five I noticed my quads were a lot more tired than they ought to be. This was not a good sign. I had just run a PR marathon (3:17:01) at St. Jude two weeks earlier and figured I wasn’t fully recovered. I kept with the plan and the loops just kept clicking off.

On loops eight and nine, I had to run a little faster so I could change into my tights and different socks. This transition went well and I felt prepared as darkness approached. Loop 10 we had 13 runners and this was the first loop we had to switch on our headlamps. By the start of loop 11 we were down to 7 runners, and as we took the picture to start the loop I actually teared up. As I looked at the group I was on the line with, I just felt so incredibly blessed.

Now a side bar. One of the issues with getting a little older is with night vision. My vision becomes more and more blurry as the lights begin to fade. I knew this was going to be a problem so I ordered a new headlamp and some handheld flashlights. Loop 11 was great! I felt I could see as well as in the daylight. But on loop 12 my lights began to dim. What the heck!!? The rest of the loops became a lighting headache.

No one dropped on loop 11. On loop 12, I ended up behind Francesca Muccini and we power walked much of the second half of the course. This is actually not a bad strategy. Francesca is a fast walker and, if you stay focused, you can almost walk as fast as you can run over much of the course. Plus, walking behind allowed me to get some help from her headlamp.

I changed batteries after loop 12 and thought I was good. All 7 runners started loop 13 and I, once again, fell in behind Francesca. However, she was doing a lot of power walking at the beginning of this loop and I started to get concerned. By the halfway point, I felt we were too far behind to continue this strategy so I said I had to press ahead. Francesca just missed the cutoff for loop 13. That left 6 for the start of loop 14.

No one dropped on loop 14 but my headlamp problems continued. The lamp/flashlight combination would work for a short time and then begin to dim. As the lights dimmed, I became tentative in my steps and fell hard on both the 14th and 15th loop.

All 6 runners started the 15th loop and I started behind Randy Broadway. When we came out of the first side branch, he stopped and said he was done. I gave him a big hug – I really like and respect Randy – and continued. I really just kept plodding along. My legs felt good and I wasn’t having any major stomach issues. I still have a ways to go with proper eating in these longer races but at least I wasn’t completely falling apart. But as I already said, my lighting was not good and I fell hard. Marylou sprinted in with just 1 second left on the clock and Stewart Crouch said he was done. That left 4 runners to start loop 16.

Loop 16 was exciting since it was going to set a course record. I continued to fight my headlamp issue. I found that if I turned it off for a while and just used the flashlight I could then turn it back on for a while. This was working but it was draining me mentally. After completing the 16th loop, I asked if anyone had a headlamp I could borrow.  William Pinson let me borrow Megan‘s. This allowed me to step to the line on the 17th loop. I was surprised that Marylou decided to drop. Three of us started loop 17.

Though the borrowed headlamp helped, I really needed something brighter. I was able to run but had to keep telling myself, “Get ready to fall, get ready to fall.” Midway through this loop I decided this was no longer safe. I felt ok, but just knew I was going to get hurt. Again, this is more a mental struggle than anything, and I was getting mentally worn out. I decided I was going to line up for loop 18 but if Joshua Holmes started running I was going to stop.

All three of us lined up for loop 18. Josh said go, I took several steps and, to my surprise, Josh stayed on the line and said, “Have a good run.” I quickly ran up to Whit Guthrie and let him know Josh was not continuing. I said that if he would help guide me with his headlamp we could call this the last lap and he would win. Turns out, he was very ready to be done and was glad for the plan. We made it through the loop without incident and Whit is a true champion!

In my limited experience, I have found that competing at the ultra level is both physical and mental. I was definitely prepared physically and would not change anything in my training. Mentally, I learned a bunch, as we probably do in every race we run. I will NEVER be in this situation with lighting again – this is an easy problem to fix. The mental lessons are something I will take with me into my next bunch of races, including 2019 TOF, and will make me stronger.

My parting note to older runners: You can do more than you think is possible!

My parting note to all runners: I lost my mom to cancer when she was 43 and then lost by baby sister to cancer when she was 43. NEVER forget that what we do is a wonderful gift. Be determined to truly live each day we are given!!

Steve Troxel (2nd place finisher of the 2017 Trail of Fears)
December 16, 2017

Posted in Race Reports, Ultra MarathonComments (0)



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