Thursday, March 25, 2010

Race Results

Results of the Grassland run were just posted. I finished in 3:03:00. That's terribly far from my Personal Record of 1:38:00, but is a time I'm proud of due to the conditions on that day. I finished 47th out of 139 participants. There were 280 people signed up to participate which means half the field was too chicken to participate in the mud run. I look forward to participating in the event next year (marathon hopefully), assuming its dry and warm.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Muddy and Bloody

Today (March 20, 2010) I ran my first trail race - the Grasslands Half Marathon. The race takes place on horse trails in the Caddo-LBJ National park north of Decatur, TX. The event is sponsored by the North Texas Trail Runners and they offer half marathon, marathon, and 50 mile races.

The weather was awesome leading up to the race - highs in the 70s with lows in the upper 40s and 50s. Of course this type of weather was too good to be true and a cold front blew in Friday night with a good dose of rain. When I awoke on Saturday morning, it was around 40 degrees, windy and raining. I had emailed the race director on Friday afternoon to see if there was a chance the event was rained out. I never heard back so I assumed the race was going to take place regardless of the weather - which is what I figured given that so many trail runners and events pride themselves on being tough (you need to be if you're going to run 50 or 100 miles in a day).

I packed a bag of different clothing options because I wasn't sure what the weather would be like up in Decatur and what condition the trail would be in. I definitely planned to bring my semi-new trail running shoes (Salomon XT Wings - which have given me a blister on my last two runs). The rain was coming down pretty hard the entire hour and fifteen minute drive to Decatur. As I entered the camping area where the race was to start my question about the event being cancelled was answered for certain when I saw some of the 50 mile runners out on the course (their event started at 7:00 and mine started at 8:30). I parked my car in the campground and followed everyone else to the check-in area. It was freezing and the dirt/gravel road I parked on was complete slush, which did not bode well for the dirt trail we were to run on. The rain had slowed, but hadn't completely stopped. I waited in line until the volunteers passed me a race bib (#506) and my awesome Patagonia race shirt.

I warmed up in the car for a few minutes and tried to figure out what I'd wear. Once I'd done that, I geared up and headed to the start area. There were 280 registered participants and I believe about 100 showed up, no doubt due to weather. In hindsight, I can't say I blame them. The race director gave us our instructions regarding directions and trail conditions and the group was off. After talking to a few people at the race start I was happy to learn that I wasn't the only beginner. There were quite a few actually. Everyone tiptoed through the first muddy section and through the first half mile even. That's where we had our first water crossing. So, 10 minutes in and my feet were soaking wet. No tiptoeing after that.

The trail was even muddier than I could have imagined. My shoes were weighed down with water and mud and I slipped and slid through the first four miles. At one point we had a major log jam due to a pretty steep incline. All the runners were forced to climb up a hill using feet and hands in order to keep from sliding back and taking out other runners. At the four mile point the race volunteers had set up the first of two aid stations. They were stocked with sports drinks and random foods like pretzels, fig newtons, and bananas. Half marathons don't usually carry these types of foods, but our 13.5 mile loop was a part of the marathon and 50 mile course. I just drank water and rested with a small group of runners. One woman, who appeared to be an experienced runner, stated that was the toughest four miles she had ever run. I didn't doubt it. At times it felt more like cross country skiing (or what I imagine cross country skiing would be like). I had carried a second pair of socks but decided not to change them b/c people would think I'm an idiot for changing socks when they'd just get wet and muddy like the ones I'd be taking off. I had a small cup of water and headed out.

It was tough to look up from the trail long enough to get a good look of the grasslands. There wasn't a great deal of high grass as I imagined, it was mostly mud, a bit of grass, and knarly trees with no leaves. I thought the next aid station was 4 more miles away. Turns out it was about 6. This spacing normally wouldn't have been a problem, but the pace was so slow (a function of the trail conditions) that I was getting hungry and thirsty. It was between the aid stations that I followed a group through a wrong turn. Fortunately one of them realized the mistake and we all turned around after running about a quarter mile off track. When we got back we had to fall in line with a bunch of runners we already passed. Passing was difficult because there is usually only enough room on the side of the trail with decent footing for one person. Generally, we were always in single file constantly looking down for decent footing. We were rarely able to run in the middle of the trail and were forced to run on the edges. This was a problem because the edges were rarely flat and they were often lined with thorn bushes or other scratching plants. I was one of the few not wearing tights so I received my share of bloody scratches. I'm actually glad I didn't wear the tights because they undoubtedly would have been torn. After 6 more miles I finally made it to the second aid station. This time I decided to eat some food b/c I'd been tired and hungry. I ate a few pretzels and some Oreos. An old guy volunteering at the aid station looked at my legs and said, "Muddy and bloody, that's the only way to go."

Shortly after leaving the aid station I decided I needed to change socks. The pair I was wearing were shorter than the tops of my shoes and there was a large bloody spot on my right achilles. I knew the socks I was carrying would do a better job covering the area. I felt like a million bucks after changing socks. Of couse it only lasted a minute because I stepped in a muddy puddle shortly afterward. After a couple miles we were running parallel to the road we rode in on so I knew I was almost to the end. I didn't wear a watch, but I'd bet the last mile was my fastest. At this point I began passing people who where taking long walk breaks. It felt good to have something left in the tank after such a long, difficult run. I got ahead of myself at one point and lost my balance. Well, I lost my balance a hundred times today, but this time I fell. No harm done, just popped back up and kept running. I didn't wear a watch and the clock at the finish line was set for the marathoners, so I don't actually know what time I ran. It'll be posted online in a week or so.

All in all I really enjoyed my first trail race. It was definitely the second most difficult run I've done so far (White Rock being the first). I'm proud to have finished the long, muddy, and bloody event.