Guest Blogger Team TROT Ambassador: John Stasulli
My head was throbbing and my world was blurry as I came across the finish line at the Crazy Desert Trail Race 50k with my son Anthony, who had been out shooting photos of the race. I don't remember receiving my medal, which I found later in my Victory bag, nor do I recall conversations that I had along the course with good friends or even the congratulatory greeting by Rob Goyen. In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have even crossed the finish line that day.
For the last year, I had been working with my coach, Karen Kantor, to increase my running performance and to become a more competitive (local) runner. Training had been very focused to make sure my body (and mind) were conditioned and ready for what these races would throw at me. My first attempt at testing the results of the training ended with Achilles Tendonitis back in November 2016 which took me out of any hard training for a few months. The Crazy Desert Trail Race 50k, being put on my Trail Racing Over Texas, was to be my comeback race.
Up to this point I would dab in various races just to go out, have fun, and use my lack of race experience to just cross the finish. These events for me were all about fun, which is another reason I am typically at these events in a costume! I made the decision to change things up and to see what I was capable of and the morning of March 11th, I was going to find out!
The sun had just come up as I walked to the starting line of the 50k race with 63 other runners. Unlike previous ultra-marathons where I started somewhere in the back of the pack, this race was different. I started at the line with some amazing athletes that I look up to! We began the countdown and with Rob yelling across the crowd, MY race was underway. All of us took off down the trail and onto the amazing single-track course (very similar to what I train on daily). This single track was absolutely glorious! Running in and out of the cacti fields, the occasional tight turns, the abundance of wildlife, and the occasional desert rollers. I was in love with these trails from the start! At the start of the race I did come across randomly dug holes in the middle of the trail though that would mess with my mind later in the race!
The entire first 18mi loop was perfectly on target. I carried my Orange Mud VP2 with two bottles of Tailwind and my plan was to be self-sufficient throughout this entire race. If I stopped at an aid station for anything, that would add time to my race which I didn’t want. Plus, for those who know me, stopping at the aid station would have resulted in my talking; I am quite the social butterfly at races! I stuck to my plan perfectly and felt GREAT! I blazed through each aid station yelling thank you to the volunteers without stopping once. This was it! The first loop I was surrounded by two great athletes the entire time. Daniel Bucci was directly in front of me and right behind me was Vivian Carrasco (who went on to finish 2d overall!). Daniel was always within eye-sight of me and every time I glanced back Vivian was only about 15-20’ behind me! She ran such an amazing race and she is only 19 years old! Oddly enough the most memorable part of this race is when Vivian and I ran through the post-apocalyptic park pavilions (one of my favorite sections of this race) when I had to clear the trail over about 20-30 Long Horns! Without us slowing down I began clapping and yelling as they cleared our path. We never actually spoke during that first loop, but it was such a fun amazing time!
I completed my first loop (which ended up being a little over 18mi) in 2:40:46 in 5th place overall. Everything up to this point had gone according to plan. Hydration and nutrition were on point and legs felt amazingly good. This is the only planned stop I had but it was only long enough to swap out my two bottles (which were already pre-mixed and ready to go) and grab half a protein cookie. I was in and out of my make-shift aid station just as planned without skipping a beat. While my transition was quick, Vivian’s was even better. In the short time, I had grabbed my two bottles of Tailwind and protein cookie she had already ran back out the chute and onto the course! Once my cookie was down I was back on pace heading onto the single track for the final 18mi of the race.
Mile 20. No matter how hard you train or the preparations you make, it is ultimately the trail that determines your fate and in this case, it was a hole. I have been told that the holes on the course were the result of prairie dogs, rabbits, ground hogs, or armadillos. Whichever it was, one of those holes gave me the opportunity to spend a lot more time on the glorious single-track than I had planned. When going around a turn my foot dropped into a hole and I couldn’t catch myself. I ended up bouncing my forehead off the trail. From that point, my race had changed. The more I ran, the more my head pounded and focusing on the trail at times seemed challenging. The shadows that were cast on the trail were making me dizzy and everything out of my right eye was blurry. I would run (what I thought was fast) until my head began throbbing and then dialed it back to a walk until it went away. Much of the 2d loop was a blur to me (in more ways than one). I continued along as much as my head would allow. Eventually I began approaching the end of the final loop as I crept into Flintstone. This section became considerably slower as I was not only battling my head and blurred vision, but this is when I finally encountered rattle snakes. On a short stretch (about .5mi long) I ran into 4 (yes FOUR) rattlesnakes. All but 3 of them were kind enough to go about their way and get off the trail. The final snake, which was about ~7-8 years old based on the rattles, decided that he was going to go DOWN the trail with me. I patiently waited in the trail for him to go on his way. While doing so Victoriano, who was working the Flintstone Aid Station and a fellow TROT ambassador, came along to see if I was ok. Once the rattlesnake cleared the trail, I was off again making my final few mile push to the finish line.
My son, who was at the race taking pictures, met me and ran me in the last 1/4mi. I crossed the finish line and new I made a mistake. As I looked back on the loop, I couldn’t recall passing through some of the aid stations. I was having trouble thinking, and my head was throbbing. I made my way to the truck to sit down and call my wife Elizabeth. One of my amazing friends Tammy and my son Anthony were worried about me and found a medic to come check me out. After a short evaluation, it was determined that I had a mild-concussion and I spent the remainder of the day sitting under the TROT merchandise tent resting in the shade and answering random questions from the patrons. As the day went on my vision began improving and the throbbing subsided. Another friend, who is a Physician’s Assistant, also checked on me and gave me some advice and pointers as well. I truly am blessed to have such an amazing family and friends in my life.
I don’t recall much from the second loop, nor do I recall being given medal and that is the biggest mistake I made that day. After hitting my head like that, I really should not have continued.
I went into this race with huge goals for myself, all of which I believed were very attainable and realistic. I knew this field had some amazing athletes so I wasn’t chasing a person or a place (although in the back of my head I was aiming for a top 5 finish), I was racing against the clock, and that magic number was to finish a 50k in 4:29.
While the prairie dogs had a different outcome in store for me, I am proud of what transpired during this race. While I didn’t finish in the time that I wanted, this was still by best finish at an Ultra Marathon! I placed 9th overall (my first top-10 finish at an ultra) and 2d in my age-group. Strava even informed me later that I set PRs on the 20k, Half Marathon, 30k, Marathon, and 50k distances! I think what I am most excited about is my legs. They never once felt tired and even today, there is no DOMS present!
I learned what I was capable of at this race and this year, I WILL stand on those boxes this year!
Orange Mud VP2
Hoka One One Challenger ATR 2
John “The Grinch” Stasulli