Trail Running in Texas & beyond

Hells Hills 50 mile

Hells Hills was a race of firsts after a year of firsts.  One year ago, Hells Hills 25k was my first trail race and first race completed period since college years.  When I was planning out my calendar at the beginning of the year, I pencilled in the 25k again.  I thought it would be interesting to see how much I’ve improved since the prior year.  However, over the past few weeks the idea of stepping up to the 50 miler started to arise.  The primary reason is that I want to run the Angels Staircase 50 mile race in August and I need qualifying races to do so.  Having run the Gorge Waterfall 50k two week before, I decided to hold off committing to a distance until shortly before the race.  4am Saturday morning found me at the registration table signing up for my first 50 mile run.

I really only had 1 goal for the day:  stay healthy.  Coming off a faster 50k where I really pushed my quads, I knew I wasn’t fresh so the risk of injury was higher.  Plus I hadn’t been training for a 50 miler yet so while my overall base was good, I hadn’t ramped up my miles like you would normal do to in getting prepared for 10+ hours of time on your feet.  Lastly, I was planning to take off most of April to rest before ramping training up for the summer.  I wanted to rest up for the summer cycle of training, not to be recovering from injury.

Loop 1

I was determined to go out very slow.  I didn’t turn on my GPS and I hung well back in the pack taking the short hills that make up the first 2 miles very, very easy.  By mile 3, I settled in behind Paul Salazar who set us on a perfect pace.   Most this loop was in the dark and there is not much to report except that I fell for the first time during a race.  It was a pretty smooth area but I dropped something out of my back pocket and when the runner behind me went to hand it to me, I turned to look and immediately fell.  Our little clutch of 4 continue on until we lost one of our runners who was probably tired of listening to me chat up Paul.

Loop 2

Headed out after loading up on supplies.  We were about 2 hours and 52 minutes in at this point.  Paul powered away during those first few miles and by mile 20 I was pretty much running alone.  There was probably 500+ people on the course at that moment but I only saw a few here or there.  Somewhere around mile 25, Brandon Ostrander came gilding up.  We chatted for a moment before he headed to claim 4th overall in the 50k.

The temps were rising but the humidity was dropping.  Coupled with a mild breeze, it felt fairly pleasant though you can sense the hints of the heat to come.    I continued to play it very conservative on the pace and would take a walk break every 30 minutes or so while I consumed gels.  The course definitely isn’t my favorite style of courses but it was lovely enough and I was enjoying my time out there so far.

(picture by Henry Hobbs)

Loop 3

I found it hard to get into a rhythm the first few miles the first few miles after leaving the start / finish aid station.  I felt pretty good energy wise but just couldn’t get a groove going.  At the water only aid station, I refilled and took a gel.  It was around here that I probably crossed into truly unchartered territory, having never run further than about 60k.  This section of the course is twisty mountain bike trail.  Lots of dips, quick ups, 180 degree turns.  You don’t really have a good sense of which direction you are moving in or how far you have gone or to go.

I was feeling a bit low when Micah True came to mind.  I don’t have a personal connection to Micah that many do. I never read Born to Run so I only had a passing knowledge of him.  However, in the wake of his passing, it was moving to see the outpouring of stories about him and the one thing that stayed with me was the joy he imparted in running and in others.  Running ultras may seem “Mas Loco” in the context of today’s society but at this moment nothing felt more natural.  I hit on pretty good groove and ran a solid 4+ miles into the first manned aid station.  I wish I had my gps here because I think I ran some of my fastest miles in this section since the first loop.

Stopping at the aid station seemed to break the rhythm even though it was critical to load up on more water and food.  I had 10 miles left at this point.   Within a few miles of the aid station, I found my heart rate really climbing due to overheating.  It had certainly been hot for a while but this was the first time it was really driving heart rate and overheating issues.  I had to slow down and focus on cooling for the next few miles as I made my way to the last aid station where I was greeted by friends bearing gifts from gods:  an ice water sprayer and popsicles.

(picture by Henry Hobbs, those jokers at Tunnel of Pines)

The run to the finish was long and slow.  My struggles throughout the day most came from very tight back and core area.  I actually felt pretty good on the energy level side.  At this point I was just happy that I was going to be able to finish.  Last year, I ran the 25k and I suffered more in the last 10k of that race than I did at any point during the 50 miles.  Even though I was reduced to walking most of the last 5 miles I was pretty elated with the day.

Splits and gear

Loop 1:  2h 51m

  • 0-12 miles:  2h 1m (10m 5s pace)
  • 12-16.7 miles:  50m (10m 38s pace)

Loop 2:  3h 7m

  • 16.7 to 28.7 miles:  2h 5m (10m 30s pace)
  • 28.7 to 33.3 miles:  61m (13m 16s pace)

Loop 3:  3h 39m

  • 33.3 to 45.3 miles:  2h 32 m (12m 40s pace)
  • 45.3  to 50 miles:  67m (14m 15s pace)

Finish:  9:37:16.  20th out of 129 starters.

My average 16.67 loop time was as fast this year than the single 15.5 mile loop from last year.


  • Brooks shorts
  • Hoka Stinson Evos
  • Injinji socks
  • 1 handheld bottle.  Nathan holder with an Ultimate Direction bottle
  • gels, water, nuun plus bits of food, coke, and s-caps from the aid station.  One Bearded Brothers bar between loop 1 & 2.  It was tasty and good for me but I think I should have only ate half it as I felt a bit overly full in the stomach for the next 10+ miles.

Year in Review

During last year’s Hells Hills, even though I had a miserable time I knew I wanted to do more.  I also knew that I would benefit from running with a group.  After looking at the groups around town, it was pretty clear that Joe Prusaitis and Tejas Trails was the right group.  Reading Joe’s reports of past races were hugely inspiring.  It just seemed to fit the vibe I was looking for.

At that time I summed up my goals to Joe as:

“to get stronger and faster at races in the 25k to 30k range and to be able to bounce up to 50k races.  While finishing is a worthy feat in itself, I want to be reasonably proficient at those levels before considering anything further.”

I have to laugh at now that I just knocked out a 50 miler that 1 year ago I had no desire or inkling of what it meant to run one.  Running with the group has been so much more than just about doing the workouts with a goal in mind.  The friendship and support are amazing and priceless.  Races take on a whole different dimension and get considerably easier when there are friends to chat with and offer well timed words of encourage and help.  Plus it makes hanging out after a race all the more fun.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I often need external motivation to perform better.  This is true of running and for other activities I do like music.  Having a training scheduled backed by a group creates a level of accountability that I would not met if I trained by myself and being around other high performers brings out my desire do better.  Train with Tejas Trails runners for a few months and you cannot help but want to push yourself to new limits and longer distances.



One Response to “Hells Hills 50 mile”

  1. Congrats on an excellent 50 mile Ben! It’s a pleasure training with you to. 🙂