I’m back from one of the most incredible weekends of my life!
Every year, my coworker and his wife organize a big group of friends to go to Big Bend National Park to run the Big Bend Ultra Trail race, which includes a 10K, 30K and 50K.
Big Bend is one of the largest, most-remote, and least-visited national parks in the US. It’s located in the Chihuahuan Desert in Western Texas, and borders Mexico, separated by the Rio Grande. It has archaeological sites with sea fossils and dinosaur bones dating back 10,000 years!
It’s an 8-hour drive from Austin, so not a small endeavor, but we had a three-day weekend, so we carpooled and our group of 19 people all arrived by late Friday night. We couldn’t see any of the landscape when we got in, but the stars were unbelievable.
The next morning, I woke up in time to see the sunrise, and the view took my breath away. It was just incredible, and unlike anything I had ever seen. Having never been to the desert or the Grand Canyon, it was a whole new world for me. I actually managed to see the sunrise and the sunset on both Saturday and Sunday, which was really a treat!
We stayed in two houses near the town of Lajitas, Texas, which was in Big Bend Ranch State Park. About half of our group ran the 10K and half ran the 30K.
On Saturday morning, we picked up our race packets and then headed to Big Bend National Park (about an hour and a half drive away) for a hike.
We did the Window Trail Hike, a 6 mile out-and-back hike through the national park that takes you to a window-like overlook. It wasn’t too strenuous, which was perfect for the day before a trail race, but it led us to a gorgeous view!
At the Window (the turnaround point in the hike), I randomly ran into a woman from NYC who used to work as the volunteer coordinator for NYRR races and Open Runs. She lives in Austin now. The world is so small!
On Saturday night, we had a home-cooked pasta dinner to carb-up for the next morning’s race!
The 30K race started at 7:30 on Sunday morning and the 10K started at 8:30. We wished the 30K’ers good luck and we arrived at the start area around 8am. It was freezing – just about 34 degrees – so we kept warm in the gift shop until the very start. It was a very small race so there was no crowding at the start line!
Overall, I wish that I had pushed myself a little more. I ran very cautiously and didn’t really feel warmed up until halfway through the race. I was pretty scared about tripping on a rock and falling, which I didn’t, but afterwards my ankles and lower calves were very sore because of all of the rocks and uneven surfaces.
I ran with another woman in our group for the first 2 miles, and then she pulled away. She ended up getting 2nd place in our age group, so if I had stuck with her I could have gotten 3rd place!
Alas, I just took it easy and tried to enjoy the surroundings. After the aid station at the halfway mark, I could see no one running in front of me or behind me. To be perfectly honest, that terrified me, and was my second biggest fear after tripping and falling. The course wasn’t marked and although I told myself to enjoy the whole running-alone-in-the-desert, I was envisioning crews having to come search for me hours later after I had gone way off course and gotten lost.
Sometime after Mile 4, I got to a crossroads, and I really did not know which way to turn. I knew the woman ahead of me had gone to the left, and I could see a few people in the distance climbing a hill in that direction. But I waited for the woman behind me to come by, and she was sure that we had to go to the right. We ran to the left for a bit since the others had gone that way, but then she turned around and ran to the right. Not wanting to be left alone in the desert, I followed her. By then more people were coming by and they too did not know which way to turn, but they all turned to the right so I followed. Luckily, that was the right direction, and once I knew that, I picked up the pace.
I crossed the finish line feeling strong and wanting more – especially when I later found out I had come in 5th in my age group! I really held back this year by running the 10K and running it easy, because the 3M Half Marathon is this coming Sunday and I want to try to PR there. Maybe next year I’ll go for the 30K!
The medals were gorgeous: hand-painted ceramic from Marfa, Texas, a famous artists’ community.
We stayed at the finish until the last 30K’er in our group crossed the finish line, and we enjoyed the post-race spread of rice and beans, tortillas, guacamole, tortilla chips, salsa, and chicken and vegetable soup.
Then we headed back to the house and lounged on the porch drinking local beers and admiring the view all afternoon. I don’t remember the last time I just did nothing all afternoon…it was very refreshing.
That evening, we drove to the nearby Terlingua Ghost Town. It used to be a bustling mining town, and is now a ghost town – it’s really called that.
We had a dinner reservation at the Starlight Theater (where everyone goes post-race!) and before that we visited the cemetery, which dates back to the mid-1800s when mining accidents and mercury poisoning were common in the town.
Nowadays locals still use it as a cemetery and have annual Day of the Dead celebrations there.
The town reminded me a lot of the town in the Disney movie Cars!
While waiting for our table at the Starlight Theater, we caught a beautiful sunset over the mountains.
After dinner we went to La Kiva, a bar in a cave. We were all pretty exhausted so we were still in bed by 11pm!
The next morning we set out on the long drive back to Austin. It was a beautiful drive and really didn’t feel like it was 8 hours long.
I’m so glad I decided to join this trip – I was hesitating because of the long drive, the cost of the race, whether it was worth it to go there for just a 10K, and because I had just been on a long vacation over winter break.
But Jackie was persistent and won me over, and I’m so glad that she did. I had been feeling unsettled and ungrounded in Austin, so it was really great to meet a whole new group of Austinites who are passionate about running, adventurous, and friendly.
Besides that, just being in the expansive landscape was refreshing and rejuvenating. Being in such a large space made me feel small, in a good way. It felt so far from my day-to-day life.
It just felt good for the soul.
Thank you to Tina for letting me use her incredible photos! She was the only one of our group that brought a professional camera and her photos were outstanding.
Thank you to the formidable Jackie for making this weekend happen!
Big Bend National Park may not be easy to get to…but it sure is worth it.
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