January 21, 2017
Jack Brooks Park, Hitchcock, Texas
Two years ago I started the Horseshoe Trail Run 25K race. I did not finish. Not feeling I was ready to tackle the course, the following year I volunteered. This year, however, I was ready to get my revenge.
I spent the week before the race the same way I do every race—obsessively checking the weather and course conditions. This time it was for a reason. You see, when I DNF’d Horseshoe two years ago—my first DNF ever, btw—heavy rains the night before made the course a mud fest. And it was looking like it was going to be a repeat for 2017.
The rain began early in the week, but it stopped by mid-week. A fellow Team TROT runner previewed the course the day before. It was not too bad, he said. That night a thunderstorm came through. Because “it’s a Rob race.” I’ve you’ve never run a Trail Racing Over Texas race, you should know to always expect the unexpected when it comes to the weather. Rain, mud, floods, hurricane force winds—you name it, it’s happened. This race was no different.
Knowing what the course conditions would be like, I packed the two pairs of trail shoes with the most aggressive tread I own—Altra Superior and Brooks PureGrit. I also made sure to pack my “toe kit” and plenty of extra socks. With my drop bags ready to go and my outfit laid out, I set my alarm clock for 4:30 a.m. and went to bed.
I arrived at Jack Brooks Park at 6 a.m., parked, and began my final preparations—put on shoes, set up chair and drop bag, and picked up my bid. The 50Kers had already started. As I was waiting for the 25K start, I visited with team members from Team RWB and Team TROT. Ten minutes until start time, Rob Goyen, the race director, gave us a quick briefing on the course. Three minutes until the gun, I lined up. And then we were off.
Almost immediately we were in ankle deep water. The slippery hills were a challenge. I spent too much time on my hands and knees trying to get up the steeper hills, only to slide back down to the bottom when I was half way up. I finished the first of three loops (five miles) in just over two hours. My stomach was rebelling against me. I wanted to quit at that point, but as I came in to the timing mat, Rob sent me out again. But first I had to take care of business. I hit the aid station, grabbed a few snacks and refilled my water bottles. Then I cleaned several clumps of mud out of my shoes and assessed my feet. My feet were feeling fine, so I didn’t change out my socks or shoes. Next stop was the port-a-potty. And finally I was on my way again.
The second loop was slower, but getting over the hills seemed easier. The mud was starting to dry out and it became very tacky, which made for better traction. Only three hills were still super slick. Oh, yeah, the course is a mountain bike course so there are numerous hills, drops, and wooden bridge crossings. My stomach continued to act squirrelly. At the second aid station, a fellow runner gave me a piece of ginger candy to help with my stomach. Thank you, runner!
I continued. Every step grew heavier. Literally. Mud was weighing down my shoes. As I was trudging through the river-like course, I started to question why I was even there. I was alone, the occasional runner passing me up. I was not having fun. What made me think I was cutout to be a trail runner? And just as I was about to give up, I had two more miles to go. Then my watch shut down, battery drained. What felt like three hours later, I saw what I was looking for—the 25K exit sign. Hurrah! Now it was a quick jaunt down the road to the start/finish line. I was definitely done.
But Rob sent me out for my third loop. Turns out I wasn’t done. Mentally, yes, but physically, no.
Another cleaning of my shoes, food, and ginger ale, and I was back out on the trail. By this time, I couldn’t even feel my feet anymore. As I slogged through that first section between aid stations, I kept thinking about that Karbach beer waiting for me at the finish line. Then I remembered about dry January. All this work, and not even a beer for me at the end. Rats!
I managed the last loop by breaking it down by landmarks. First it was the runnable section. Then the hill before the aid station. The aid station. The tough hill. Followed by the 5K exit. The hill that wasn’t the hard hill—yes, that’s what I called it. The skinny bridge. The other runnable section. The hill with oyster shells—I wished all the hills had those shells that made it easier to climb. The spider bridge. Hell II. More water. The hill I had to flop like a seal to get over. More water. Hell I. The 25K exit. Little by little I chipped away at the distance. Every land mark I passed was the last time I had to see it. That’s what kept me going. And then, there it was, the finish line.
Rob was waiting for me with a big smile and a hug. I finished.
Official time: 6:58:09
Big thanks go out to the volunteers. The volunteers at the main aid station were phenomenal! They made sure I was taken care of, filling up my water bottles, making sure I got some calories, and just feeling good all around. The volunteers at the second station were just as fantastic. They made sure my water bottles were clean so I didn’t have to drink from muddy nozzles. And they made sure I didn’t go the wrong way, like I was about to on my first loop.
Thank you to the runner with the ginger candy. I really wish I had gotten your name, or at least your number. The candy really helped! Thanks to all the runners and my teammates for the encouraging words and cheers along the way.
Thank you to Galveston County and Jack Brooks Park for letting TROT put on a fun race. And last, but not least, thank you to Rob and Rachel Goyen for putting on a fantastic event and making sure we are well taken care of. Thank you!