Saddle Blazer Marathon – February 27th, 2016 – Parrie Haynes Equestrian Center – Killeen, TX
So one theme about my writing is that I like to review the race, and then offer some insight on it and how I felt. I can assuredly say that I felt like a pile of poop for days and days after this race. Some big lessons were learned that I thought I had already figured out on frequent racing – and some other lessons were learned on how doing a lot of trail running over the last few months had transformed my ever day running (some for better, some for worse). After finishing this race I knew it was time to hit the reset button…something we all need to do from time to time. So with that, here’s the story of Saddle Blazer.
The Saddle Blazer Marathon was a 1st year race put on by Spectrum Trail Racing, a relative new comer to the rapidly growing world of Texas trail running. As the sport of trail running continues to explode, so to does the variety of offering from the various trail racing companies. We now have races that range from a guy and a timing mat to all out festivals with a trail run attached to them. Spectrum arrived on the scene in the fall of 2015 offering events more like the latter. What I’ll say is their events offer a bit more glitz, glam and fun than your traditional trail race. They have high end camping options, offer a Friday night movie viewing, have a post race that includes plenty of high end booze and beer, bands, compression recovery machines, massages, and food trucks. While all this is cool, I’m a simple dude and tend to gravitate toward simple things…so I’ll focus on the basics of the race, which all in all were done pretty well. So let’s break it down a bit.
The single best reason to run this race was the course. The race took place at the Parrie Haynes Equestrian Center in Killeen, TX. The course was almost entirely on equestrian trails, although parts were run in sections that had no trails (prairie areas or game trails). It is by far one of the most fun courses I have run on to date. The marathon course was four loops, but each loop was different. For the most part, you didn’t run the same trails twice. I’d say that 80% of the course was not run on “repeat” trails. What I really liked about the course is that each loop had a very distinct flavor and they all felt different.
Loop 1 was the 2nd shortest and consisted of relatively runable single track trails with some rocky areas. There was a particularly muddy stretch on loop 1 that lasted about 100 yards. This area had shin deep mud that literally sucked the shoe off my foot…yes, I had to stop and recover my shoe from 1′ deep mud. The rest of loop 1 was standard Hill Country fare of somewhat rocky trails. They were relatively open and fairly non-technical.
On Loop 2 the game totally changed. To me this was the most fun loop of them all (and I believe it was the longest). Loop 2 had a lot of fun single track with lots of twists and turns, some climbs, and some rocky areas. It also offered a number of water crossings. One was knee deep. One area had you running through a creek for about 50′ to get to a different trail. This loop also brought you down to the Lampasas River, which had some beautiful grassy prairie to run through. It also offered a number of short ups and downs. This loop had the most tight trails run through some more thickly wooded areas on less traveled trails. A lot of rocks on this section and were the more technical trails of the course.
Loop 3 again offered a different flavor. For the most part the trails became far less technical and were fairly wide open here. The big surprise on Loop 3 was a section that went off the main trails and onto some game trails that offered a 100′ climb up an extremely steep grade (100′ of gain over 0.1 miles). Do that math, that’s basically 1′ of elevation per 5′ of ground. Loop 3 had much less tree cover as well, so you were dealing with what was at this point a pretty strong sun on a quickly warming day. Loop 3 had the most ups and downs as well and probably had the most climbs on the course.
Loop 4 was mercifully short and also probably the most runnable. It was mostly non-technical trails and there was almost no elevation change. However, it was also the most boring of the 4 loops to run.
So the course kind of had it all. Very technical sections, a few steep climbs, a lot of water crossings, and very varied trail. The whole course only had about 1200′ of gain, so it wasn’t that hilly. The variety made it fun. The course was long by about 1.5 miles…but it’s a trail race…so that’s just a bonus!
The only knock I have on the course is that there were some sections that I felt could have been better marked. Normally I blame myself for getting lost and not paying attention…but a number of other runners also noted some of the course markings could have been better. In general the course was well marked, there were just a few sections that could have used a bit more clarity on direction.
There were a good number of aid stations and well stocked. You hit the start/finish one 3 times during the race. There was 1 manned one midway Loop 1, and two on Loop 2. There was no manned aid station on Loop 3, just a water stop. Loop 4 had no aid since it was only 5 miles. While I only stopped at the start/finish aid station, I felt that Loop 3 was long enough where some runners may have needed an aid station. All manned aid stations had a variety of salty snacks, fruits, and had water and Tailwind. While I didn’t see it, there were reports that aid stations ran out of water/supplies.
I really liked the medal – it was made of wood, pretty neat. The race entry fee included lunch from a food truck after the race, so that was cool. While I couldn’t stick around long due to a long drive back to Houston, the post race atmosphere was pretty much a party…which is how Spectrum rolls. Did I mention free race photos – yeah, nifty!
Overall assessment was that this was a very good race. Some potential improvement areas on course markings and aid stations. Overall, I recommend running this race due to the nifty (fun) course!
My gear and strategy for this race was pretty simple. Normal trail run and a marathon, so no super special nutrition. I was going to use Tailwind (provided by race) and supplement with gels. I was only going to run with one bottle, a Nathan Fire and Ice. Here’s the pre-race spread.
Coming into this race only 2 weeks off a 50 miler I knew this was not going to be a very competitive one for me. My legs were still feeling the effects of the 50M as I hadn’t really taken off the right amount of time to allow a solid recovery (I paced a half marathon in San Antonio the weekend before). Despite some pains that had been bothering me all week, I felt good enough on Friday to take a crack at this race (I’m glad I did). On Saturday morning my legs felt about as good as they had. I felt pretty fresh at the start of the race and went out at a 7:15 to 7:20 pace, which is about as good as I get on trails. I lost a shoe in the mud at Mile 1.5…and that pretty much would foreshadow the rest of my day. But, I maintained a decent pace for the 1st loop and came into loop 2 feeling good.
Loop 2 was a bit more technical, so I ended up slowing down a bit here, but was still hanging in the 7:30 range. I held this through mile 10 or so then things went downhill. After making a few wrong turns and having to stop to find the trail a few times I started feeling uninspired.
By loop 3, I had slowed to near 8 min/mile. After making the big climb I mentioned above I was toast. Shortly after that I made a wrong turn (around mile 18) and didn’t realize it until I was about half a mile in. Before doing that I was only a few minutes out of 3rd place. At that point I threw down my f*ck it card and decided to save the legs for another day…and to just enjoy the last 8 miles (err…actually ended up being more like 11) and not kill myself. The legs were heavy…bottom line. I did nothing wrong nutrition wise and my lungs/energy level felt good…I just could never get my legs going that day.
The race caused me to reflect a bit. This was my worst performance in a race in a long time. I ended up 7th overall in a time of 4:03:01. I was happy that I completed this thing on some fairly technical trails and never had to walk. But I knew I could have done better on fresh legs. So, time to reset.
As with all disappointing races, I used it as a learning opportunity…so here it is. First, I thought I was Superman and didn’t need to recover from a 50 miler and could run a marathon 2 weeks later. Nope, you were wrong Dan…you do need to recover. If you don’t you run like s*it. Second, based on how I felt for 3 days after this race I was dangerously close to doing some damage and dealing with some longer term issues. I had to take 3 days off following the race because I had pain in places I never had pain in before. Lesson – sometimes you need to not race and let the body recover. My body was not ready to run 29 miles that day. The 3rd lesson I learned was during a 5 mile run the week after the race (Thursday). After gutting through a fairly painful run on Wendesday I knew something was off. As I analyzed my stride I found that I was not picking up my legs and was running with bad form. I was basically using only my lower leg and not rotating my core, and getting a good stride. While this made for some wicked fast cadence, it was putting all sorts of stress on my lower leg and up through my hamstring (surprise surprise these were the things that hurt!). I attribute this to the fact that I have done so much damn trail running where using your lower leg is a must (stabilizer) and you can get away with using less of your core. Problem was I was using this same gait on the roads…and the body doesn’t like that much repetitive motion. So for the last few weeks I have done zero time on the trails and have spend all my running time focusing on form.
This has really helped me a lot. A lot of the pain is going away, and I feel strenght returning to my upper leg and the back of my upper leg which had felt weak. I’m slowly starting to see my speed come back as well. I ran pretty well as 3:15 pacer at the Zydeco marathon, and while I had some pain a few days after that, it was nothing like I had after Saddle Blazer. But, I get ahead of myself…Zydeco is a story for a different day. So BIG lesson…form…I can’t forget about form on the trail. I need to run strong and run with my core…lesson learned.
With that, I’m tired of writing…so here’s the stats!
Career Marathon/Ultra #45 – Marathon #38
2016 Marathon/Ultra #5 – Marathon #3
Time – 4:03:01 (2nd worst ever), 7th Overall. Ran 28.9 miles, 26.2 time was about 3:38