I headed to the start with 5 minutes to spare and just caught the tail end of the pre race briefing. There would be 20K, 55K, and 52 mile runners on the course. The 55Ker's and 52 milers started right on time at 6:30 AM. The small crowd of approximately 175 total runners made it feel like the trail runs of old. The sport has become more popular and some runs have a very large number of runners but not this day.
The run started on soft sandy trails. At times the sand was very loose, making it difficult to get good traction. I hoped this would not be the norm. The trail turned rocky at about mile 3 with some short up and downs then switchbacks as we ascended the hills surrounding the lake. The thought of getting lost entered my mind since I was late to the pre race briefing but he course was very well marked and I quickly felt at ease. Though sometimes I did pause to make sure because runners were coming towards me at times. A young lady from Oklahoma introduced herself as we climbed a hill and a fellow from Dallas offered to take my picture after he heard my camera go off as I tried to take a photo using my camera's timer. That's one of the great things about trail running, most of the people on these runs are friendly and sense that we enjoy running trails just as much as they do and we are all in this together.
I hoped to complete my first loop in under three hours and the second loop under three and a half. I am not patient enough to pace myself to even splits, and much less negative splits. Try as I may I can't help pushing just a little bit early on when I am feeling good. This day I tried to control my pace early. I let Lori from Oklahoma fade off into the distance. No way I could keep up with her pace. With a water bottle in my right hand and a gel flask in my left, I was in and out of aid stations in less than a minute, taking salty snacks off the table, refilling my bottle and thanking the volunteers. I kept thinking of how I'd describe the trails to my friends back home. I found that it was unique and different to what we normally run but there were some similarities. There were rocks and climbs but the similarities ended there. The course is mostly dirt, a little sand, with some single track trails and others not quite single track but aren't as wide as jeep trails, plenty of short up and downs, some longer climbs and switchbacks that will challenge any runner.
Fearing I would not make it to the turn around in under three, I picked up the pace on the down hills. Then at about mile 16 I turned my ankle. Ouch! It hurt! All I could think of was "don't let my run end this way!" I limped a few yards until the pain subsided and continued running trying to take my mind off the slight pain. I made it to the turn around in 2:54. Johnny and Andy were ready with my chicken salad sandwich and avocado. Andy also had some coconut water for me. I took a BIG drink. Refilling my bottle, stashing an extra sandwich in my waist pack, and hugging Johnny, I was off for the second loop. "See you in three and a half hours!" I said.
This second go 'round was a bit slower, as I expected. The very sandy sections were more difficult to run on with tired legs. I knew I would have to power hike all the inclines so that I would be able to finish strong. I've learned so much by running with my buddies in San Antonio and I put the power hiking techniques I've learned from watching my good friend Chris Russell. Swinging my arms, lowering my head just a bit, and slightly increasing the length of my stride, I attacked all the hill climbs. This allowed me to run the downhills comfortably also. On one descent I saw a roadrunner attempt to cross the trail when he saw me and slammed on the brakes, skidding sideways and flapping his wings as he turned kicking up dust heading back into the woods in the direction he came from. It was comical!
Coming into the aid station at mile 27 I threw my gel flask in the trash in disgust. The gel had upset my stomach one too many times. A runner who I had been leap frogging with asked how I was doing. "a little tired." I said. we both commented on how warm it was getting. The cool breezy morning was no more. The aid station volunteers encouraged us to take what we needed from the table when the other runner gave me a fist bump and said "good luck." as he took off down the trail. Thanking the volunteers for coming out I headed out too.
The last three miles had those danged sandy sections again. At this point even walking through that sand became difficult for me. My glutes were hurting and I found myself trying in vain to find the firmest spot.
Thank God these really sandy sections were few. It's all part of the challenge though. If I wanted smooth and firm I'd stick to the road. But then I wouldn't see pretty views and the beauty of nature like panoramic views of the hills surrounding the lake, roadrunners freaking out, and shiny green dung beetles!
With a little over a mile to go another runner passes me. He asks how I am doing and says "we're almost there man, It's almost over." Going around a bend in the trail I see Johnny running towards me. "Hey what are you doing here?" I asked. Johnny said, "we were worried about you." "I told you guys it would take me three and a half hours on the second loop. And I'm only five minutes late."
"well" Johnny said, "uncle Andy was worried about you. He sent me to look for you."
Johnny and I ran together for about a quarter mile when he took off saying, "I'll let uncle Andy know you're coming. He wants to take your picture."
Finishing in 6:29:45 I beat my goal by :15 seconds! I introduced myself to Race Director David Hanenburg and thanked him for a great time at his event. Just then the timing volunteer said I was first in my age group of 50 -59. David then handed me a very cool Possum Kingdom Trail Run Gear bag. Sweet!
At a Sweet event!
I choked up thanking my brother Andy and my grandson Johnny for their awesome support. Driving back to my brothers house 90 miles away they told me all about the fun they had while I was running. They passed the time watching a movie, walking by the lake, throwing a baseball around, stirring up Ant Lions (something Andy and I did as kids), and watching dung beetles pushing deer poop around!