Cactus Rose 100 is a well known lil’ ultra at Hill Country State Natural Area in Bandera, Texas, put on by Joe and Joyce Prusaitis of Tejas Trails fame. If you ever wandered to read the description about the trails in this park, and thus at this race, it rewards you with scratches, bites, cuts and all kind of nasty things. Add to it the fact that Cactus Rose 50/100M race is a self-supported one, old style where you set your drop bags, and the RD only ensure the course is marked and aid stations have water and ice, you got yourself a gem, really.
When I moved to Austin, Texas (from a beautiful Portland, Oregon, may I add, nothing could have been further off on all accounts) during the hot and ugly summer of 2009 (Remember that one? And the 2010, and then, oh, God, 2011?), Cactus Rose was the first “introductory” race for me (read about it here). It offered me Halloween costume spotting, a full moon and a broken tail bone – along with awesome trails, great views and best friends and memories.
I ran around Texas for the following year, making sure to hit each and every one of the races. Once that score was settled, I decided I would be much more beneficial (and so will my time) if I helped at those aforementioned races – and to my good friends Joe and Joyce (who already have a number of committed helpers) to keep runners in check. And the first and most enjoyable race I jumped into was back at Cactus Rose 50/100. (You can scan briefly about my 2010 experience here and 2011 here.).
Let me remind y’all that Cactus Rose IS a self-served unsupported kind of race. The way Joe, Joyce and I had discussed my support is three-folded:
#1 – throw on tables some coke and as minimal food as I personally feel getting away with and something hot whatever it is during a cold Texas night
#2 – provide 12 years of experience for helping to solve problems that inevitably arise during an ultra, especially for newcomers during a self-supported run
#3 – provide motivation and a kick in the pants for those who decide to whine and cry “mama” and threaten to stop. Umm, I have a well-known “no excuses” personality, and if you couple it with over 100 ultras (20 plus of them 100’s) and a thick heavy Russian accent – you got yourself a reason to obey (occasionally I also wear my military jacket from former Soviet Union).
The idea is simple: I am at Equestrian aid station that runners hit twice on each of four loops. While I will not fill up your water bottle (unless I feel lots of unused love), I will hover, sweet-talk, ask questions and absolutely will not let you drop just because you missed a gel intake (and your brain and legs are playing tricks on you), have a boo-boo (I got a few knee and ankle wraps and bandages on site that had been used a lot), are cold (extra jacket?) or hot (ice in bra and shorts! And wipes for a face), or the time you’re going is not what you predicted (So? You paid for it. You got friends counting on you and I guarantee when you wake up in a day after a DNF you will want to shoot yourself in a foot!).
I had seen it all with my own racing, when I crewed, paced, volunteered and being around ultra community for 12 years, and year 2012 hasn’t been any different. Although “screaming” on Tejas Trails Facebook “It is a self-reliant race!!!” gave best results so far: majority of runners came prepared. They all had drop coolers/bags with their essential foods, extra clothes, blister kits, etc. They were extremely surprised by the appearance of some foods and drinks around 10:00 am – and even more extremely gracious (“But Joe told us at the pre-race meeting you won’t be there!”). And they all listened when the suggestion was offered, reached for help when needed, and stuck around while planning to drop just to be talked into getting back on course (one great example was guy running for second in the 50M race who resigned to stop at mile 30. He spent 10 minutes of my nagging and eventually went out to finish still second and under previous course record. Another guy at mile 30 had serious knee pain from a lingering injury and stayed at the aid station for 30 minutes while I kept returning to him between other responsibilities and finally agreed to put a knee wrap and walk out – both were thankful and absolutely worth my efforts equally!). There were rumors (from years before and even one from this one) that some folks wanted to drop so badly, they avoided Equestrian aid station altogether for fear of facing me and being talked into going back – now that what I call “PR”!
But regardless of stories that stick out, each and every one leaves a memory line in my heart. I may not know or remember your name later and you may have to remind me how we interacted, but I forever carry the feeling in my soul of warmth and fuzziness of all the people that come and test themselves out on this rocky and unforgiving course. Joe and Joyce and their crew who set up, mark, provide, time, tear down the course, give their energy, time and compassion to the runners and their crews, allowing us all to see what we are made of.
This year Steve Moore ran his skinny ass off to a two hour course record, while smiling and having all “wheels” on. Melissa Hagen Davis never stopped smiling herself, and managed to cheer not only every runner, but every volunteer and crew person as well. Rachel Ballard had tough spots but persevered. My friend Thomas Orf was all cool and dandy and ran his own two hour PR, while another friend Mike Randall was collected and calm and got himself a first 100 finish. Life is not without set backs, and Cris Strong (strong as anyone can be) suffered from unusual asthma attack due to wearing face paint for a Halloween contest and was required to stop by race medic John Kuss. Seeing how everybody wanted her to continue and how gracefully she accepted it (even if with tears) was heartbreaking – and heartwarming simultaneously. David Jacobson snagged DFL award while finishing two hours under cut off – and the whole race had a 67% finishing rate. A higher rate than usual which we could attribute to cooler temps – and to runners hearing a word about proper training and taking care of themselves.
This year I also had unscheduled help of a sweet Bob Botto and his family, as they set up their RV next to Equestrian and cooked some soup and quesadillas that we provided on top of daily fare and nightly soup, grilled cheese sandwiches and hot chocolate. My always-have-my-back honey, Larry King, knows the way I run things and his presence is an immense help for me. Brian Kuhn offered his time, as well as many friends who were there for their own runners – and Equestrian does become a big party and a highlight that everyone wishes to come to sooner from each section on the trails.
Regardless what we do, I do want to remind folks that Cactus Rose IS officially self-supported, and to not expect things provided for them. One never knows what happens, and the design of this race by Tejas Trails Co. is such that we as runners get to experience things in solitude and rely on our own resources. It’s a gem that we all shall cherish for it and keep it as close to the original idea as we can.
In the world where we are surrounded by people and provided to by everything and anything, Cactus Rose allows new runners to learn what real ultrarunning is all about – and learn about themselves a great deal.
– Olga King