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Top 100 Mile Times in 2009: Liza Howard at Cactus Rose 100

TALON athlete, Liza Howard, had two of the fastest female 100 mile times in 2009. Liza clocked the 38th fastest time at Rocky Raccoon 100, with a time of 21:32:48 that included 21+ minutes of nursing her child during the event. A mother never leaves her post, even in an ultramarathon. Wow!

Later that Fall, Liza took her fitness to another level and ran the 28th fastest time at the Cactus Rose 100 in which she won the overall. She was kind enough to share this 21:02:00 day in the Texas Hill Country with us.



I am writing this race report from my very soft and comfy bed.  There is an open bag of French Onion Sun Chips and a bottle of Coca-Cola next to me.   So far, my recovery from Cactus Rose is going very well.

There’s so much about the run that I don’t want to forget. And since I couldn’t even remember to pin my race bib on yesterday morning, it seems like I better get my thoughts down quickly.


(Liza with RD, Joe Prusaitis)

The Run

Loop 1

I was expecting to feel pretty stiff starting out, and I was very surprised to feel good right off the bat.  Maybe my legs were just numb from the cold.  Many wise and talented people had cautioned me not to go out too fast, so I concentrated on running comfortably.   I was surprised when my first lap took about an hour less than I’d projected.  I think I came in somewhere around 4 ½ hours.  I was surprised and worried.  I figured I was either going to have a good run or I was being very very dumb.  Stupidity seemed more likely, but the running felt so good and smooth, and I hadn’t run comfortably in a long while, so I decided to see what would happen if I kept going at whatever pace “comfortable” turned out to be.

Loop 2

And, so, at mile 40, my legs suddenly got heavy and painful.  Each time my foot hit the ground, a shock of pain went up my thigh.  It seemed like irrefutable proof that I had been dumb for going out at a fast pace.  I slowed down to a shuffle.  I decided I would take a little ibuprofen at mile 45.  I worried about the risk of rhabdomyolysis, but I wasn’t sure what effects Tylenol might have and I wasn’t in a good frame of mind to gather information about the risks and benefits of painkiller use during ultras from the folks at the Equestrian aid station.  (Kidneys functioning fine as of 3pm Sunday.)

Loop 3

My husband, Eliot, paced me from mile 50-55 to keep me going.  By the time I headed out of Equestrian at mile 55, the ibuprofen had kicked in, the thigh pain was masked, and I could lope along fairly comfortably again.  I realize masking pain is not the best idea, but the thought of shuffling along painfully for the next 55 miles was too much for me.

My friend Brian began pacing me at mile 60 and I was so excited to feel good again, that I talked his poor ear off.  I don’t think he got a word in edgewise for a good 25 minutes as I filled him in with important race details.  “And then I saw this brown tarantula…And later I was peeing and I didn’t realize this guy was coming around the corner (Sorry about that unknown runner-guy if you’re reading this.).

Have you ever really listened to the words of Bruce Springsteen’s song “The Rising?”  It really spoke to me the six times in a row I listened to it.”  (“Can’t see nothin’ in front of me / Can’t see nothin’ coming up behind / I make my way through this darkness / I can’t feel nothing but this chain that binds me / Lost track of how far I’ve gone / How far I’ve gone, how high I’ve climbed / On my back’s a sixty pound stone / On my shoulder a half mile line).

(Youtube link to The Rising)

Poor Brian.  I am blessed with very tolerant friends.  Perhaps his lowest point at Cactus Rose came when I sang that Chumbawumba “Tubthumping” song to him.  (“I get knocked down!  But I get up again!) Brian had planned to run 20ish miles with me and ended up running 30 because I was ahead of schedule and my other pacers, Tony and Tom, hadn’t made it to the park yet.  Good to have friends who can just tack on another 10 miles at Bandera.

Loop 4

Tony picked me up at Equestrian at mile 85.  He’d also driven out for the race start.  He’s awesome.  I’d started to fall apart a bit by this point.  My stomach had turned on me and I stared hatefully at each gel packet before I gagged it down.  Tony, like Brian before him, would remind me to eat one gel on the hour and I’d beg for just 10 more minutes.  I was also belching like a sailor at this point, prompting Tony to say, “Whoa!  I didn’t know there were bullfrogs out here.”  I wanted to tell him how it was hard to maintain my usual demur, ladylike demeanor after 85 miles, especially when I’d already managed to pee on myself, but all I could pull off was another loud belch.

Tony kept me in one piece by constantly calling out “Loose rock here!”  “Rock in the trail!” and “Big step here!”  It made me smile each time he shouted a warning because it was so nice to have a friend looking out for me  — and because it was so nutty to be pointing out loose rocks at Bandera.  I imagine I probably looked like I needed to have them pointed out by then though.  Tony kept me running for as long as he could, but soon my thighs were screaming again, and I could only hike.  I kept asking Tony how we were doing.  And he’d tell me we were doing great.  He’s very convincing.

Eliot picked me up for the last five miles.  I believe that’s called “drawing the short straw.”  My husband has the patience of Job and the compassion of Mother Teresa.  I began our five miles together by snapping at him for telling me I was doing a great job.  I actually said, “Stop complimenting me; You’re making me unhappy.”  I believe that was after I demanded his jacket because my teeth were chattering.  I told him he could run faster if he got cold.  Yeah, I’m a real charmer.  Don’t worry; I will do my best to make it up to him.

I knew I was in the lead at that point because of a funny conversation I had with the lead male runner coming into Equestrian earlier.  I thought there were a few people ahead me, but I hadn’t really thought about how I was doing overall because so much can change in such a long race – and I usually fall apart pretty hard at the end of a run.  This fellow told me I was leading.  And I told him, “Oh no, there’s at least one guy ahead of me.”  He responded with, “I’m that guy.” Anyway, I figured he’d catch up with me again sooner or later especially once I started hiking.  Eliot and I finally saw him again around mile 97.

It was not fun having the lead and expecting to be caught in the glare of a headlamp and passed at any moment.  Eliot tried to encourage me to run.  I responded with something unpleasant I’m sure.  Once we came down to the dirt section of the trail, though, I was finally able to start running again despite the taser shocks to my thighs.  (Be thankful you weren’t around for the whining.)  More than anything, I was motivated by the thought of being done running.  “If I can run, I can stop sooner.”  The siren call of a folding chair, a big heat lamp and a paper cup filled with beer  – and some jelly bellies – is powerful.  I think Eliot might actually be a bit sore tomorrow from that last sprint.  I was surprised my legs could do it.


Everyone was kind and wonderful.  Joyce gave me such a great, big hug.  And the folding chair and heat lamp and beer and jelly bellies did not disappoint.  It was wonderful to sit around and chat with old and new friends.  And the shower I got to take in the Lodge saved my life.  I’d gone to bed in my sleeping bag and woken up about an hour later with the full fury of the Sotol scratches mixed with salt and sweat upon me.   If you are thinking of wiping down your cut-up-by-Sotol legs with baby wipes after a race, just go ahead a dump rubbing alcohol or battery acid on them instead.  Then the pain will come all at once and not in waves.  After that fun experiment, Eliot asked Joe if I could quickly shower off – and Joe kindly saved my life.

Random Observations

I wish I had known the glow sticks were going to be red.  I was dressed as a yellow-green glow stick.  I probably shouted this at you during the race.  “Good running!  I’m supposed to be a glow stick!”

The closest I came to hallucinating during the race was when I got teary-eyed to ABBA’s “Super Trouper.”  (I know! I’d like to blame that on the obnoxious amount of gels I’d eaten at that point during the race.)

When I was going down hills towards the end of the race, I kept thinking about how a runner is supposed to flow down a hill “like water” – and how I probably looked more like a washing machine someone had pushed off the top of the hill.

Thank you

Eliot is the best crew person ever.  I’m biased, of course.

Thanks to all my tall pacers, Eliot, Brian, Tony and Tom.  Tom, I’m sorry I ran out of miles for you.  The music you gave me made the second loop fly.

Huge thanks to Meredith for her advice and help settling my stomach and leg pain towards the end of the race.  And for that delicious vegan bar.

Thank you to the great people who set up Cactus Rose, spent time at the aid stations, and tore the race down.  Everything seemed to be done just right.  I hope I can help out at something you run soon.

And, of course, thank you to Joe and Joyce for this race and all their work – for the opportunity to push hard in a gorgeous place on a gorgeous day – and to get exfoliated by Sotol.  (And for that monster tarantula.  My son is still toting it around.)


A big thanks to Liza for sharing her detailed report with us. Liza is sponsored by Drymax and is part of a local philanthropic group, Team Traverse.

Sometimes we may think life for those at the front of a 100 mile race is smooth sailing. Liza’s report is just another example that it is rarely easy for anyone. From the first to the last, there will likely be challenges that must be acknowledged and overcome.

Also, are pacers an asset? – I think so! Besides the motivation and possible entertainment, a pacer has a greater capacity to think when all your available energies are directed to simply moving forward.

Be active – Feel the buzz!

David –

About the author

David Hanenburg David Hanenburg is the passionate dirt-lovin' creator of Endurance Buzz and has been playing in the endurance sports world since 2000 after knockin' the dust off of his Trek 950 hardtail thanks to a friend asking to go ride some local dirt. In 2007 he ran his first ultra on the trails and fell in love with the sport and its people. For more information on David's endurance sports journey, check out the About page.

One Response to “Top 100 Mile Times in 2009: Liza Howard at Cactus Rose 100”

  1. on 28 Apr 2010 at 1:23 pm Dylan W

    That’s one of the most entertaining recaps I’ve ever read. I want to run with Lisa sometime because it sounds like a real hoot. Congrats on the great runs!