I made it a goal of mine at the end of September 2015 that I would dedicate my training to ultras for the upcoming 2016 year, so I found a race and started training strictly for it and nothing else. I’ve run a couple races with Trail Racing Over Texas throughout 2015 and decided that I’d start the new year out with running The Horseshoe Shoe Trail Run Race 50K on January 23rd as my first ultra. I put in a ton of training and was extremely confident with where I was in my training to do this race.
Last year this race was offered in May, the trails were extremely muddy with ankle deep water from all the rain the Houston area had received and several of the GTStutters had run this race and DNF’d. This year the race directors, Rachel and Rob Goyen decided to move the race to January because the weather would be cooler and hopefully dry and those GTStrutters were back for redemption this year.
Jack Brooks Park is known as the toughest mountain bike trail in the Houston area. It’s a great mixture of climbing, drops and windy single track in the trees. The trail consist of primarily single track with a lot of roots which is another reason why I choose to do this race as my first ultra…an unfamiliar and challenging trail.
The race location, Jack Brooks Park in Hitchcock is a good two hour drive from home and of course I drove up the morning of since it’s a rather local race. I had to get up at 2 a.m. and leave by 3 a.m. that way I made sure that I have enough time to get to the race location on time since I’ve never been to Jack Brooks Park before and Rob had mentioned in his race email that one entrance to the park would be closed race day.
I arrived at the park a little after 5 a.m. The parking area was less than a quarter mile or so from the start/finish line so I had plenty off time to gather my hydration bag and put on a light jacket. Packet pickup started at 5 a.m. but my amazing friend Ana had picked up my race packet the evening before since she was camping on site, so that was one less thing to worry about doing before the start of the race. I made my way to find my fellow GTStrutters that had already arrived and to get my bib in place.
The weather was perfect for running but not so much for just standing around waiting for the race to start. It was a very cold 32 degrees and a little windy. Rob made a few announcements about the course and said that there were a few muddy spots on the trails but overall the trails were dried and packed down. Woohoo! Great news! Let’s go!
The 50K runners were set to start at 6 a.m. and our course would be five 6.1 mile loops with each loop bringing us back to the start/finish line. We were lined up at the start line about five minutes prior. Rob said a few last minute words and wished us all good luck and to have fun on the trails but be careful. He advised us to take the first loop slow since we were running in the dark with headlights. My strategy for this race was to run it safe and not kill myself as I was using this race as a training run for a future race.
The countdown from ten began….5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and we were off. “Is this the real life? Is this just a fantasy? Caught in a ultra, my escape from reality.” I started somewhere near the middle of the pack and quickly made my way to the front behind a couple other female runners who were going at a pretty good fast pace. The first quarter mile or so led us to the trail entry into the dark woods where we zipped through turns and jumping over roots in the pitch black with trees overhead which blocked any moonlight. We came close to making a couple of wrong turns as it was really dark even with headlamps. I honestly couldn’t tell you if there were any hills during the first loop even though there were because I was in a zone and just running and doing my best to stay with the two ladies in front of me so that I wouldn’t get lost.Passed up the first aid station at mile 3 so that I wouldn’t lose time. Towards the end of the first loop I met Scott Tyner, who is from the Tyler area; White House to be exact. We ran together for the last couple miles of the first loop and came in together (1:19) as we started our second.
I continued through to the second loop while Scott stopped to change gear. I came across Strutters Angela, Tara and Amanda on this loop. As soon as I saw Angela, I was like “Angelaaaaaaaaa!!!!!” They were doing the 25K and were on their second loop. I wished them good luck and was on my way. I was trucking along down the trail when I heard Scott come up from behind me, he caught up quit and we chatted a little about his strategy and his upcoming 100 miler at Rocky Raccoon on February 6th. I told him that I had a couple friends running the same race then he went ahead of me giving me the opportunity to video a little on the course. I was averaging about an hour and twenty minutes per loop so I made a finish goal of 7 hours and made sure that I had that documented in my video lol. As I came in from second, I was burning up in the jacket I had on so I ditched it and my flashlight at the start with Becky Howlett and was back on to my third loop.
I felt good and just continued with the way I was running and being cautious, so I thought…I tripped over a massive root and landed belly first like “there’s a root, there’s a root canyouseemybellysploptothegound” because I’m just a muddy girl, I need no sympathy. I got up quickly, brushed myself off all the while saying, “really April, really!?! what the hell, focus!!!” I laughed it off and was thankful that no one was behind me to see my not so gracious fall and was on my way again. I saw Brandee and her friend as I was coming in from my third loop, they were doing the 25K and Brandee whipped her phone out like the paparazzi and snapped several pictures as I ran by. Buddy Howlett was at the start and asked if I needed anything. I told him that I just needed to stop long enough to get the dried mud out of my shoes. I told him my plan was to be finished by 1 p.m. (7 hours) and he said that he and Becky were going to clean up and change back at their hotel and that they’d be back before then, so he made sure I wasn’t there more then a few minutes before starting my fourth loop.
I grabbed a couple of PB&J sandwiches on my way pass the start aid station because I felt a bit hungry but not starving and I made sure that I continued to stay hydrated with my Advocare Rehydrate every two miles. I felt like this was my fastest loop because I was moving at a faster pace then the last two loops and running all the hills as to the last loop I was walking the hills and running everything else. I felt good so I just went with it. I passed Brandee and her friend on their last loop and again, paparazzi!!! She is great about getting those pictures of her friends when they’re running and she got a handful of hilarious ones this time. Somewhere between the second and third loop I lost my new trail buddy Scott but I knew we’d pass each other at some point at least one more time before the finish. He’s a seasoned trail runner who has way more trail races under his belt then I do. Low and behold, as I was coming in the final stretch of the pavement, Scott passed me. He was starting his final loop, so he was about a half mile ahead of me then. Coming into the start turnaround, all the Strutters who had finished their 5k and 25k race were cheering me on. I stopped for a minute at the aid station for some pickles and a quick potty break then on to my final loop!
Whew! Much needed potty break done! Still feeling good endurance wise, my feet were hurting a little and it was a bit hot going back out to my last loop (quarter mile in the direct sun with a super thin black jacket) and I couldn’t wait to get back in the woods where it was cool and shaded. All the runners had pretty much torn up the muddy spots of the trail and those spots were sticky and slick. I decided to slow my pace just a little and walk the hills and run everything else like earlier. I think loop four did a number on my feet but I was making good time and I really wanted to hit my goal finish time. I kept looking at my watch to check the time. At 12:40 p.m. I still had about three miles or so to the finish line so I picked up the pace a bit. I was in search of the home stretch to the pavement of out the woods with every left turn and ended up running into Don Davis on the course again.
As I neared the exit to the street out of the woods, I got a bit choked up. I was actually going to finish my first ultra. As I neared the finish line, everyone was cheering and clapping. Rob gave me a high five and congratulated me on my finish time for my first ultra as I crossed the finish line.
I was thrilled to receive my bottle opener finisher’s medal and pint beer glass as well as tons of congrats and hugs from my GTS family! I was emotional to say the least and Angela wasn’t helping me with trying to hold back tears lol. She was emotional too as it was my first ultra, so to move pass the emotions she offered to get me a beer to which I was very happy to get.
After the emotions of finishing settled, I made my way around to everyone to congratulate them on their races as they’d been finished for hours before me. Ramiro and Jeremy had grilled some food for our group and I was starving. I mean starving but it took me a while to wind down before I was actually able to sit down, eat and enjoy it. I just wanted to see everyone and ask about their race.
Sitting around waiting for our final 50K runners to come in and drinking my post race beer provided by Karbach Brewery, I found out that Amanda had indeed run her first 25K and farthest distance. Woohoo! Tara had signed her up for what she thought was a 5K until they got to the 5K cutoff, that’s when Tara informed her that she was actually signed up for a 25K. So funny but she did great and finished like a champ!
Lots of awards for this race as the TROT Cup awards were held as well. Buddy, Becky, Brian, Dawn, Misty all received Lead Foot awards for running six or more TROT races in 2015. Buddy, Becky, Dawn and Brian also placed in their AG so they got lots of bling!
GTStrutters won the TROT Cup for Best Overall Team for the second year in a row! Thank you Dawn Burris for talking me into doing my first 25K TROT race at Brazos Bend 50 back in April 2015.
Mama, just killed an ultra. Official finish time 7:18:02, 4th place AG and 24th Overall. Even though I missed my goal finish time that I set to reach, I’m extremely proud of my finish time and the training I put into doing this race.
It was a challenging trail and one that I won’t soon forget. Thank you to my GTS family, Trail Racing Over Texas, Rachel & Robert Goyen, Team TROT, Altra Running, and all the amazing volunteers for all of the incredible support. I can’t wait to run my second ultra marathon at the Trail Racing Over Texas Brazos Bend 50 Miler in April!