A military wife & mother of eight, a vegan ceramic artist, and an English teacher walk into a bar… Wait, no. A homeschool teacher, chihuahua mom, and cross-country coach walk into a bar… Nope, still not right.
Three hot mamas strut into Satan’s Sandbox. It’s August in Texas, at high-noon, a time reserved for old Western showdowns, and melting death scenes from mobster movies. This race is both, and neither. It’s the Habanero Hundred, put on by Rob Goyen and Trail Racing Over Texas (TROT), and it’s a mother-f*cker… except, it’s about to get it’s butt handed back to it by a bunch of chicks this year.
A bit of History: Habanero Hundred had its first running in 2015. There was one finisher in the 100 mile field – Julie Koepke. You can read her story here. The next year, there were a 13 finishers, 2017 there were only five. The course is a 10k loop across pasture-like horse trails in Cat Springs, Texas. With an advertised elevation change of 200 feet per loop, the Habanero doesn’t look too scary on paper. But what cannot be described in words is the sand. TROT describes the course as follows:
“The course is a mix of single track, open meadow running and some small creek crossings along the property. The course is a non technical trail and has very soft footing. The trail has been used heavily for horses over the past 150 years so the soil is soft and sandy.”
That’s cute, TROT, but it is insufficient. The sand is reminiscent of the Lightning Sand in The Princess Bride. Except it is everywhere. And Wesley is nowhere to save you. And instead of a cool swamp, it’s the open sky above you. No shade, minimal breeze, yet still muggier than an unshaved armpit. You’re baking from above, sinking below, the heat of the sand burning into your shoes, each grain laughing at the socks and gaiters you chose as it creeps into your flesh a la beetles in The Mummy (two excellent movie references in one paragraph!) How bad is the sand? Well, I loaned my friend some socks. She took them home, washed them, mailed them back to me, and when I flipped them back right-side-out, the Habanero Course fell into my lap, laughing in my face one more time. Sigh.
This year 18 people finished the 100 miler. Among those who DNF’d were two of my favorite guys, and some really brilliant female runners. Lydia Rios was running to raise money for Champions Club, a ministry that has been life-changing for special needs children and their families, a story very personal to Lydia. If you’ve never met Lydia, you’re missing out. She is the light of God. She is smiles, and hugs, and sunshine. If you see her, smile and hug her back! Lisa Decker was running for more than herself. She is raising money for Snowdrop Foundation, which raises awareness/brings support to those suffering from childhood cancers. These women inspire me everyday, and I am honored to be a TROT ambassador with them.
You see, just like a woman, these runners can’t be out there just for themselves. Running is bigger than the individual. It teaches suffering, perseverance, love, growth, and badassery. Of the 18 people who did beat the heat, eight of those finishers were female, including the top two OVERALL finishers, Meg Reed and Dena Carr. That’s right, the first male to cross the finish line was in 3rd place. Nanner nanner boo boo, stick your head back in that sand. Kidding, of course, awesome job to everyone. The 50K saw Jenna Jurica come in first, nearly 26 minutes ahead of the next runner. All in all, the 2018 Habanero was one for the ladies, and it was awe-inspiring. This article will feature Meg, Dena, and Jenna – The English teacher/XC coach/dog mom, the Military Wife/Mom of eight, and the vegan ceramic artist/professional dog runner. Ladies, it’d be my honor to walk into a bar with you.
I used to think that looking at Pinterest and Facebook was the best way to feel like I wasn’t good enough as a wife or mother. Then, I “met” Dena Carr. Dena is, well, everything. In her own words she is:
“38 yrs old (39 in two weeks). I’ve been married for 18 years to my college sweetheart. We have eight children (seven sons, one daughter), ranging in age from two years to 16 years. I homeschool my kids. We are a military family as well so we move around a lot and have been in Texas a little over a year now. I started running in HS as an escape from my bad home life. I ran cross country and the mile and two mile in track. It was just a sport that I enjoyed yet was happy to be away from home. I found running helped me to not think of all the bad stuff I was going through. I ran some in college on my own but I knew that one day I wanted to run a marathon. I ran my first marathon after my third child. I became hooked on distance and ran my first 50k six weeks later. However it would take me nine years to run my first 50 miles (in a 12 hr race) as I kept getting pregnant and moving with the military. Last year in April 2017 I ran my first 100 miler and became hooked on the distance. Habanero was my forth 100 mile race and I have two more for this year as I also am training for my first 200 miler in February 2019. I’m not the fastest runner but I am good at suffering and overcoming obstacles that may stop someone else from completing a race. I find running such a passion that has been healing in my life and I love spending miles in God’s creation.”
So, to highlight, this woman is better than all of us. Eight kids. Eight. She is responsible for herself and 8.5 (husband) other humans. She educates those humans, cooks for those humans, probably cleans up after them, and still gets out there for 100 milers. Also, let’s say a special prayer for whoever marries that little girl who has seven brothers, and an ultra-runner mom, and a military dad… lol, good luck buddy.
Dena took second place at Habanero, with a time of 22:38, which would have been a course record, except Meg had already destroyed that with her first place finish. But, it should be acknowledged that, prior to Habanero, Dena had run the Transrockies, where she placed fifth female. “Basically I ran 22 miles on Tuesday, 13 miles on Wednesday, 25 miles on Thursday (all in the altitude of the Rocky Mtns. in Colorado), then had Friday off and then ran 100 miles Saturday/Sunday,” she said of her week leading up to Habanero. Very NBD guys… just a little multi-day altitude fun before Satan’s Sandbox… Taper Weeks are for weenies.
Ahead of Dena was Meg Reed, in a time of 21:14. Y’all, my first 50k took me 10 hours. These women are my heroes. Meg describes her non-running self as follows:
“I live in Kerrville, Texas with Joe, my boyfriend of two and a half years, and my dog, Anna. I am a middle school Language Arts teacher, cross-country/ track coach and mentor at a local charter school. When I’m not running, I enjoy anything outside, such as camping, hiking and kayaking the Guadalupe River, but I also enjoy curling up with a good book.”
So, we’ve gone from a woman who has 8 kids that never leave her side, to a woman who has probably 100 kids, all going through puberty together, and being generally junior-high-ish, who never leave her mind. If you don’t think teachers are as stressed as parents, then come at me, because I am both, and I will fight you. Not only does Meg deal with emotionally-developing pre-teens every day, she also teaches the toughest subject – English. I can tell you, this is the subject students most struggle with when it comes to high-stakes state testing. As ELA teachers, we fight uphill battles everyday, and I’d wager that a lot of Meg’s fire comes from being a teacher. Still, Meg takes time to fight physically uphill battles, and comes out on top. I feel like Meg and I are kindred spirits, because she also coaches and mentors running at her school. Meg, thanks for molding our next herd of Trail Sisters. You’re a rockstar.
In the 50K field, the crown went to Jenna “BamBam” Jurica. You can spot Jenna by her big, bright smile, her sidekick Zeus-the-Chihuahua, and her knee pads. She is the definition of balls-to-the-wall racing, and I adore the shit outta her. Jenna finished the 50k in 5:08:40, setting a new course record! So, who is this Wonder Woman of the trails?
“I started running competitively my junior year of high school in Pearland, Texas after retiring from volleyball. I ran two marathons, one in Houston and one in Austin right after high school in 2006 and decided mid-distance (5k-half marathons) were more my thing. I didn’t run much for a year or two after college and it was not a fun time, so I picked it back up to balance my love for carbs and de-stress from life. About two years ago, I fell in love with trail running, joined Team TROT and started challenging myself on long distances again. When I’m not running, I am snuggling with my little dog, Zeus, pursuing creative outlets like ceramic painting, cooking a lot of vegan food and then eating all the food. But really, the majority of my time is spent running so I try to combine it with commuting, exploring places, and especially socializing at different running clubs and events that involve people, food or beer.”
What I most admire about Jenna is her heart. She is a “do-it” kinda girl, both on and off the trail. If she wants something, she makes it happen, and she brings that passion to her daily life. She is an artist, and an animal lover, and has found ways to use those passions to support herself. We’d all benefit from taking on those traits. We call Jenna BamBam because of her ability to absolutely eat it on the trails. The way I see it, her willingness to go all in makes her more susceptible to those falls, and I love that about her. Every time she hits a rock, she hops up, dusts off, and goes head first back at it. It’s amazing, and I hope she never changes. Jenna, you’re a 10, and I adore you.
These women are inspiring, and unique, and are living proof that there isn’t a type you have to fit to be a runner, or a trail runner, or an ultra-runner. We each have it in us to be out there, and to share our passions with others. The beautiful thing is that I’d probably never know of these women if it weren’t for running, but now I do, and I am better for it.
I asked each of them to share their training and race strategies. They are all different, and I love that. It’s further proof that running is a “you do you” kind of sport, and you have to blaze your own trail. Below are their training and race day strategies, in their own words, for brevity.
When it comes to training and racing, I really like to listen to music on Pandora, NPR One podcasts or audio books with Aftershokz bone conduction headphones so that I can still hear my surroundings and talk to other runners. The upbeat music helps me pace and meditate and the podcasts keep me informed and entertained on long distances. I also wear a Nathan vest or waist pack, and hydration vessels on every short, fast and long run. The vests and belts are just so functional and comfortable and I like having my phone and other essentials so I’m prepared for anything on any run, without much additional thought. After hard training and races, epsom salt baths are the key to recovery. I wish I knew about Epsom salt when I started running in high school because it works a lot better than ice baths do for me!
I typically try to do a speed workout of some sort, a hill workout, and I’ll be adding a day in which I’ll be doing squats, jump box, and tire dragging (I got away from these plyometrics over the past year but it’s crucial in mountain races so I’ll be back at it in Sept.) per week. I try to run two back to back long runs on Fridays and Saturdays with my peak back to back mileage being 20 miles on Friday and 30 miles on Saturady. I take Thursdays and Sundays off nearly every week. One thing that helped me at Habanero was the fact that I spent weeks training daily when the temps were above 100 degrees. I wasn’t getting up early to beat the heat, rather I was headed out at 1pm when it was roasting to get my runs done. This was crucial to me being able to handle the heat for so long on race day when others were dropping like flies. I try to simulate race day terrain/expectations in my training runs. For instance, for Franklin 200 that I’m training for, I’ll be hiking up a steep hill for repeats to get the elevation gain that I want (36 repeats gives me nearly 5000 feet elevation gain in 10 miles). As for race strategies…..I break all my races up into roughly three stages. A beginning, middle, and end. I push myself decently hard in the beginning (distance depends on how hard I start out), I hold on to my spot/pace in the middle, then try to push the pace in the end again. On longer races such as 50 miles +, I break up the distance via the miles between aid stations. So I focus on the 3-8 miles in between aid station and think of that as my “race.” It’s so much easier to mentally handle smaller miles than to think in the big sense of “I’ve run 40 miles and am so tired and have 60 more to go.” I also have learned the importance of fueling during the longer races. If a race is a 50k or less, I pretty much run it all on water and possibly an electrolyte drink. When I’m running 100 miles, I start eating something small at every aid station early on in the race so that I don’t get behind in my fueling.
Training: Switch it up! Go to a different trail, run with others, add my dog. Training hurts and some days conditions don’t corporate but I love every minute on the trail. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t do it and that mindset helps get me through those difficult training runs.
Racing: Going into a race I always set four personal goals ranging from the “impossible” to “I’m pretty confident I can do this if all else fails.” Then I trust my training, enjoy the trail and let the chips fall where they may.
I hope each of you reading can identify with some element of these ladies’ lives. The world is better shared, and trail running is for everyone! To my girls, Lydia, Lisa, Meg, Dena, and Jenna, I am inspired by each of you every damn day. Keep being the Phoenix, the Loyal Companions, the Playful Antelopes, The Tiger Moms, and the Rabid Spider Monkeys that I know you to be. You’re each special, and perfect, and the world is better because of you.