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Grasslands Marathon Trail Run 2009 Race Report

grasslands trail run bib

“It’s better to be 25% under-trained than 1% over-trained”

Over the weekend I had the pleasure of running the Grasslands trail marathon put on by the local North Texas Trail Runners club. The event also included a 50 miler and a 1/2 marathon. It had a little bit of something for almost everyone which is kind of nice.

This would be my first race of the year and first time on this course. Nothing better than starting the season off with a marathon to burn out a bit of the winter physiological carbon. I was able to convince a road running buddy of mine (Tim) to test the trails as well. We were both excited and ready to play on what was a really beautifully mild March day in the south.

After a few brief instructions by the race director in which most of us could not hear due to a nearby dog deciding to intensely join in the conversation, the RD said “Go!”. All 73 of us started trotting off and like most good cattle, simply followed those in front of us.

Runners hanging out before the start.

Runners hanging out before the start.

Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, Tim and I arrived to the park a bit early and watched the 50 milers take off and noticed we were not hooking up to the trail in the same place. Instead we were running along the road that led into the park.

Decision time.

One of the front runners stopped and was thinking that we should be connecting on the trail in the same place that the 50 milers had done, .25 miles back. Tim and I stopped and discussed further with a couple other runners that were unsure about the current route as well. We agreed that we should be running the same route as the 50 milers so a handful of us turned around and ran back .25 miles to the trail head as the rest of the pack disappeared off into the distance.

Tim and I giddily trotted and smirked to ourselves that we were now in 2nd and 3rd place since the rest of the main group would have to turn around eventually and make it back to the trail head just like we were currently doing. We were sooo smart. Little did we know,  the park road actually connected onto the trail further down the road. The main group just took the expressway during the initial section of the race while a handful of us were in the urban school zones trying to make our way across town. After coming up to a photographer, we asked if the main group had come by and he said “Yes, they ran the road”. We were now in 2nd and 3rd from the last! What a way to start out the race.

Tim and I cruising along early in the run.

Tim and I cruising along early in the run at the back of the pack.

Neither Tim and I were racing this event competitively so it wasn’t that big of a deal and we could do nothing about it. We just kept to a nice aerobic pace and had some good dialogue while enjoying the pleasant conditions. We figured we would start catching some runners eventually. If no, so be it.

The course was mostly flat with with periodic rolling terrain that helped keep all muscles involved in the experience. We traveled in and out of wooded areas and through open fields which always kept things interesting. Periodically we would pass some cattle hanging out and were most likely wondering what all of us goofy people were doing on their turf. I am sure they had to be thinking, “So they are supposed to be the more developed species? Ha!”.

tim-on-trail

We starting to catch at few of the runners after about three miles of running and then shortly after we saw the main group coming down from an aid station as we were working our way up to it.

Tim and I kept things rolling in a solid aerobic effort and gradually started to pick our way through the runners. There were plenty of “Good morning” and “Good job!” along the way. Trail runners are a social bunch, even during a race.

The journey was pretty uneventful until around 13 miles and then Tim decided to pick up the pace and head into more of a tempo run. My goal was to stay in my aerobic zone until 20 miles since my longest run of the year had been 15 miles so I figured I didn’t need to blow up with 10 miles to go.

grasslands-trail2

So what did I do?

Of course, I decided to be smart (wink wink) and up the effort a bit. At this point, Tim started putting the hammer down and I was trying to find mine. Where is that darn hammer!

I attempted to pass a guy heading down a moderate slope and as I passed him I decided to check out the local vegetation as my foot clipped something. I landed on my right shoulder and completed the roll. Did you know there are thorn bushes in this area of the country? I saw them myself.

The guy I attempted to pass said, “You should complete the roll and stand up next time” and he went trotting by my carcass on the side of the trail. This older gentleman was probably thinking, “rookie”. I said nothing in response to his comment and decided to perform a bit of a body scan to make sure I was all in one piece. Check! Ok, back on your feet and keep moving, the vultures started circling.

15 miles into the race, I decided to push a bit more. I knew I was shaking the implosion dice a bit but I was having fun so what the heck.

Over the next five miles, I was pushing a nice solid effort which felt like I was flying. It is amazing what 8 min/miles can feel like on a trail. It felt sub 7 min/mile on the road. I gradually caught back up to Tim and we had some words of encouragement for each other. He was still running extremely well and I decided to hold onto his coattails for as long as I could. Well, before mile 21 I had popped and Tim was gone. I was in damage control.

I was still mentally feeling good but physically, the legs now had one speed and it wasn’t very fast. This is that moment when I thought to myself, “Why didn’t I wait until mile 20 before I started to push like I had originally planned”. After briefly nibbling on that thought, it was time to refocus and keep moving as best I could.

A simple fact comparing road and trail running. Five miles on the road is a heck of a lot easier than five miles on the trail.

With five miles to go, I really had to dig a bit deeper than I was planning to for this event in order to keep myself from those 15 minute miles which equals walking. With no other runners around, it becomes just you and the trail! Life has a very simple meaning at this point; get to the finish line!

The miles are slowing ticking away as I take a peak at my Garmin Forerunner 305 a bit too frequently.

During one of my trance-like segments with about 3 miles to go, a female runner comes up on my hip and scared the wa-hoolie out of me. She flew by and disappeared off into the distance. I tried to latch onto her for about one second and knew that wasn’t going to happen. She was moving very strong and I was not. I wasn’t about to give up and kept moving to the best of my current ability.

With about 1/3 mile to go another runner (61 year old) came by me and surged. Another gear in my drive train was not to be found and he slowly separated from me. You gotta love endurance sports!

A final left hand turn and the finish line was in sight. The finish line was great to see and even better to cross.

finisher's medal

finisher's medal

Tim and I chatted a bit about the day, grabbed a warm sandwich provided by the event, and watched a few more finishers before calling it a day.

What a fun morning!

My unofficial Garmin total time was 4:01:29. (update: official time – 4:01:15, 6th overall) You can take a look at my Garmin 305 data which contains all kinds of information concerning the day.

Tim finished with a 3:57:42!

Also, a couple other trail running friends had some solid days. Mike finished with a 4:42:51 marathon and Matt knocked off a 8:31:09 50 miler. Great job guys! Both of them are Western States bound.

The current online results for all three distances can be seen here.

Race Schwag

Nice tech t-shirt

Nice tech t-shirt

I talked with the first-time RD through email after the race about a couple of the race day hiccups and he seems really interested in getting them resolved. I am confident these same concerns will be gone next year.

Regardless of the issues it was still a great event and special thanks to all of the volunteers that allow us to have such fun for the day!

Happy Training!

About the author

David Hanenburg David Hanenburg is the passionate dirt-lovin' creator of Endurance Buzz and has been playing in the endurance sports world since 2000 after knockin' the dust off of his Trek 950 hardtail thanks to a friend asking to go ride some local dirt. In 2007 he ran his first ultra on the trails and fell in love with the sport and its people. For more information on David's endurance sports journey, check out the About page.

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