Horseshoe Trail Run 50K
The Horseshoe Trail Run 50K was an appealing race to me because it was a drastically different ecosystem and temperature than any race I had done yet this year. Additionally, I thought that the shorter distance would be ideal given the fact that I was only three weeks out from my last 50 mile race. My training was not exactly where I like it to be prior to a race due to tendonitis that I developed in my extensor digitorum tendon after my last race. This forced me to take nearly a week and a half almost completely off from running. My intention was to run a very quick 50K, last September I ran around 3:52 and spent the latter portions of the race walk/jogging due to poor in-race nutrition. I assumed that if I stayed on top things, eating and drinking the necessary amounts, there would be no reason I could not hold at least 7:15 pace. However after about 15 minutes of being out on course I realized that this was not at all a possibility. However, I never anticipated the true misery I was in for as the day progressed. It became less a race and more a test of mental resolve.
The day started with several small misfortunes and they all culminated into a making for a challenging, mentally draining and fatiguing day. My morning started around 1:00am when my alarm went off and I made some scrambled eggs, grabbed my handheld water bottle and a change of clothes and was off for Jack Brooks Park in Hitchcock, TX. It was about a two hour and forty-five minute drive from my rental house in Giddings, TX and I arrived one hour before check-in. I pulled into a parking lot in what I thought to be the race entrance and waited there until some opened the gate for the entrance. However, after following the car in front of me to a dead end, we realized that we picked the wrong entrance, so I pulled up the pre race instructions and we hustled to the correct entrance. I got checked in and quickly filled up my water bottle, unfortunately I did not bring nearly enough water for the ride down and started the race a little dehydrated – mistake number 2 for the day. Additionally, I did not bring a headlamp because when I had raced in Olympia, WA a few weeks earlier it was bright at 6am, and I assumed that the Houston area was far enough east in the central time zone that it would be light by the time I toed the line – mistake number 3 for the day. I had a difficult time picking my way around the tight turns, protruding tree roots, slick muddy sections and shin deep water filled trail in the dark.
Finally after about 25-30 minutes of running the sun peaked out and light was filtered through the thick canopy. I came through the first lap with Jeff Ball and Gabe Leatherwood in around about 57 minutes, and we hit the trail again. During the second lap it was pretty much down to Jeff and I and we crossed the start/finish together in about 2:03, meaning that the second lap was about 6 minutes slower than the first. During the third lap I lost Jeff after I had a difficult time climbing some of the slippery hills. As the course became more difficult to maintain footing, and more energy was expending trying to stay up right as opposed to propelling forward, I knew that my goal would become finishing not racing. I believe I came through around 3:18, meaning that lap three was completed in about an hour and fifteen minutes. Before starting out on the fourth lap I stopped for a time and just stretched out a bit and collected myself. I was no longer concerned about trying to catch Jeff or hold my place, just survive the race and not see a DNF by my name.
My nutrition was decent during this race, but I would not say that it was my smartest outing in terms of food, electrolytes or water. I had debated bringing my hydration vest, but because the race was a 50K I thought the longest I could possibly be on course was 4 hours, therefore it did not seem necessary – fatal mistake number 4. Because I was out on course for about the same amount of time it takes to cover 50 miles, and the temperatures sored into the mid 80s with stiflingly humid air, I quickly became depleted of water and electrolytes. Hind sight is indeed 20/20, and after reflecting on the day, the hydration pack could have made for a much more comfortable run.
The fourth lap was atrocious; I think I came through in about 4:50, meaning that that particular loop took me about an hour thirty-two minutes. I could barely stay on my feet during the fourth lap, I cannot remember how many times I slipped and fall on my face in the murky water on the trail. My water bottle was caked with mud and every time I drank I was sure that I was ingesting copious amounts of giardia and other protozoa. It would take me several attempts to crawl my way up the slick hillsides and as a former restoration team worker for the National Park Service it killed me to see the mangled trees and mutilated trail. However, it was necessary to make it through the course and with the amounts of rain that central and southeast Texas received this year, I’m sure the vegetation will have no difficulties recovering.
The fifth lap consisted of about 30% running and 70% walking, even on the flat sections I could not keep my footing in the mud which made running a futile practice. The last lap seemed to drag out forever and I have never been more ecstatic to see a finish line. I came through holding onto second place in a time of 6:32:27; which means my last lap was a whopping one hour and forty-two minutes. I have never been closer to dropping an ultra race in my life, and that includes passing out at the Fish Hatchery in Leadville for an hour back in 2012. I feel that this event was extremely important to me, first and foremost, it knocked my confidence back tremendously and really made me rethink my perceived mental toughness. It provided a very different form of training that factored in balance and ability to propel on a compliant surface and it t made me realize that the hydration vest is essential in the Texas heat no matter what the distance.
I believe that Robert Goyen has discovered a whole new genre of trail running with this event, which I would describe as swamp ultras. Despite its difficulty and misery that it caused me while I was out there, I look back on this event as one to remember. I think anyone that spent even a few hours out there on course could share some great stories, laughs, and memories. Thanks again to Apryle and my parents for their continued support of my unique hobby of ultrarunning and of course I have to express my gratitude to Robert Goyen and the entire Trail Racing Over Texas crew and volunteers for putting on such a memorable event!