Next Generation and Night Moves Trail Races – September 12, 2015
I had the very rare opportunity to volunteer at a race and run a race in the same day, in the same location. During this time, I got to spend a nice long day with the Goyens and the rest of the Trail Racing Over Texas Crew. Great times!
The day consisted of two separate series of races. Both were held on the same trails at the beautiful Stephen F. Austin State Park. The morning agenda was the Next Generation Trail Races – races only open to those under the age of 18. There was a 1 mile run, a 5k and a 10k. All the kiddos got custom bibs, tech tees and big ass finisher medals letting them experience the full blown trail racing experience. I decided I would drive out early and volunteer to help out with the kiddo races.
I got up at 5 AM for what was going to be a nice long day out in nature and drove out to the park. Mother nature had cooperated as we had the first nice cool front of the season early that morning and humidity levels were dropping with a nice north breeze. High temps were only pegged for the low 80’s. However, as is a theme with most Trail Racing Over Texas events – it had rained a bunch earlier in the week, which left the trails quite muddy, which made it that much more fun for the kids!
Volunteering consisted of me running a blazing fast 5k while pacing the leader to make sure no one got lost in the woods. The winner of the 5k ripped out a 27 minute effort on trails that had about a mile of mud and standing water…nice! It was fun to watch all the kids get excited about crossing the finish line and getting their medals. Only two kiddos ran the 10k, two brothers who ran negative splits. Luckily I didn’t have to pace them as they were hauling butt and I still had a half marathon to take on that night. This race was an amazing idea from Rob and Rachel (the RDs) and was truly the best form of encouragement to get kids active and running – offer them a real running experience the same as would be offered to any adult!
So after hanging around for the rest of the morning and afternoon with the TROT gang and talking about running, a beautiful evening began to settle in. The weather was as good as it gets in SE Texas for mid-September and the temps were dropping into the 70’s by the time the next set of races, the Night Moves Trail Races, kicked off at 8 PM. This adult version took place in the dark, but on the same muddy course that the kids ran earlier in the day.
So, let’s start with the course. The race was held in Stephen F. Austin (SFA) State Park about an hour west of Houston. SFA has very gentle, well maintained, non-technical single track trails which are just a joy to run on. Most of them are under a wooded canopy with portions along the Brazos river. There was however a lot of mud due to heavy rains during the week, which made things a bit more interesting. There were three races, a half, 10k and 5k. I chose to do the half, which was a 4 loop course that was about 13.7 miles or so. About 1.5 miles of it had a boat load of mud and/or standing water.
As with all TROT events, the race was expertly executed, with ample aid stations, food, organized packet pick-up and an on time start. The course was very well marked with reflective arrows to make running at night a cinch.
My race went very well given that I was physically exhausted. To start, I was still in recovery mode from a pretty rough DNF at the Habanero 100 50k and wasn’t quite back to 100%. I had also been battling some kind of virus that had me dizzy and with arm and chest pains the week before. However, I was out for redemption from my DNF and wanted to prove that I could compete on the trails. Add on that I was up at 5AM, and ran a 5k earlier in the morning, and it was going to be an adventure.
The leaders went out hard. Team TROT runner Jeff Ball took off and disappeared with another guy. There was a pack of about 5 other runners led by Team TROT runner Tracie Akerhielm and 4 other guys. I chose to stick with them for lap one as Tracie set the pace (about 7:05-7:10). I felt tired after lap 1, but took a caffeine gel and started to get a good rhythm going. The group backed off the pace a bit and my breathing slowed down early in the 2nd lap. Midway through the 2nd lap, one guy took off ahead of the pack leaving Tracie and 2 other guys. Both these guys started to slow and I managed to pass both of them around mile 4.5. Tracie also backed off shortly after and I locked into about a 7:20 or 7:25 pace. At this point I was 4th place overall, and I really wanted a top 3 finish.
Because this was only a half, the strategy was no stopping at aid stations and just run. I carried a bottle with half water/half Gatorade, and 3 Power Gels (two caffeinated since it was a night race and I was tired). I took one gel on each of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th laps, which was just the kick I needed to keep me going. At this point, because it was a 4 loop course, I started to lap a number of other runners (plus the 10k and 5k had added to the mix). Early in the 3rd loop, my headlamp flashed a warning of low battery. I dimmed it down to the minimum I needed to see the trail (barely) and hoped it would hang on for 2.5 miles. I knew they had loaner headlamps at the start/finish aid station and I could snag a fresh one quickly.
So after a very muddy and dark 2 miles, I made it to a more open and drier portion of the trail. At this point I could see the 3rd place guy who was slowing and starting to fade. I was on his heels as I pulled into the end of the 3rd loop, and when I crossed the timing mat I yelled at Jeremy (the timer) to throw me a fresh headlamp. He turned this request around in about 5 seconds with a quick flip which hit me in the back. I snagged it off the ground, turned it on and peeled out of the start. I turned on the headlamp and simply held it in my hand like a flashlight to illuminate the trail. I was able to rip out a quick quarter mile and pass the 3rd place guy. I got a decent lead on him with about 2.5 miles remaining and didn’t look back.
I finished the race feeling strong and was able to snag a 3rd place finish! Very happy with the performance given the way I had felt all week. I got my disco ball necklace award (and glow in the dark medal), and hung out for 45 minutes to recover a bit. It was now pushing 10:30 PM and I decided it was time to call it a night given I had left my house at 5 AM and had an hour drive back.
So, in summary – this was a pretty awesome day. Got to help the kiddos run and then get in a nice run of my own. TROT does it all right!
Lifetime Half Marathon #5 – #2 in 2015
Time – 1:42:54 (13.7 miles) – 3rd Place Overall