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Having a conflict with Grasslands, I thought Hogs Hunt 50K, put on by Race Director Paul Stone (of Tyler fame) would be a nice change of pace from the Northshore Trail - a pleasant spring jaunt through the woods of Huntsville State Park, with no rocks. Crisann was planning to go for the 25K and she offered to drive, which meant I did not have to drive home after the 50K. Perfect!
We had a nice sunny drive down on Friday afternoon looking at the bluebonnets and other wildflowers, picked up our packets at the park (Paul said there were about 250 folks entered, 90 in the 50K) and carboloaded at Chili's. There was a little rain showing on the weather forecast for Saturday.
Paul was unable to obtain the F-16 flyover (like White Rock), so he arranged for a much more spectacular start to his race on Saturday morning just before sunrise - just as we took off from Raven Lodge, a perfectly timed massive thunderstorm hit, complete with an incredible lightning storm, blinding rain, a flash flood and a tornado watch. Lucky for us, the Park Rangers allowed the idiot trailrunners to continue on their quest. Crisann was not too keen on the lightning all around us. I said lightning would probably hit one of the tall trees, not us, so she would only have to get out of the way quickly if one fell (of course I made that up, having no scientific information).
It turned out the little rain on the forecast was one of those bright red sections on the radar screen of the weather report. The lightning and pelting rain continued for 40 minutes. We were soaked before we got off the pavement (at 1 mile), although the sun was supposed to be up it was very dark, and, when we stepped off the pavement at 1.1 miles, we found the trail had become a rushing stream of several inches of water. It was 70 degrees so being cold was not a problem. Being wet was at a whole new level, though.
There was no course map and I just expected the 2-loop (each 15.5 mi.) to pretty much match the Sunmart or February Rocky Raccoon courses. However, it was only partially the same course - for example, it did not go up and over the dam. It is a really nice course though - with parts of it on a dirt/sand fire road and most of it on winding trails through the woods, almost all shaded. I was used to the winter look of the Park (Dec. and Feb.) - it was almost like a different place with dogwoods and other trees in bloom and bright green all around you. And during an overcast, rainy day, the light green trees really shine with color.
The rain and mud really defined this run. In almost 30 years of running (12 on trails), I believe this is the hardest rain and the most mud I have ever encountered. I missed the Grasslands "Mudlands", but Crisann was there and says we had more mud at this race. We estimated that more than half of the course was running water or deep mud.
After the hard rain stopped, there was some light rain on and off, so the only remaining issues were slogging through the mud/wading at the water crossings. By mid-afternoon (and the end of the race), it was a sunny, beautiful day again.
On the dirt/sand fire road, which is on the first section of the course, the sandy parts covered with water were fun to splash through, like being a little kid. The sloping parts were like a giant red-mud 'slipe 'n slide', hard to get up or down without seriously sliding around. On the sections through the woods, there were black mud-pits everywhere (not just the usual 3-4 low spots). The shoe-sucking mud can really slow you down. There were several water crossings, needless to say, which were deeper for some reason on the second loop (runoff or something).
The theory about just running through the middle of the mud (instead of trying to step around) is generally a good one with a couple of exceptions. Running through a nice 30-foot long puddle on the fire road, Crisann found that not being able to see a deep hole in the bottom of the puddle can be a problem. She took a header into the water there (and so did several others). The good news was that she landed in sandy water, not the black mud. And the shoe-sucking black mud on the woods section was so deep, it pulled you down as you tried to run through. There was no way around it anyway. Our shoes stayed completely soaked for the whole race, no chance to dry out a little between water spots.
All of this mud made the course much more challenging than normal. Crisann took off after 2-3 miles on the first loop as she is faster than me and better at running up hills. Despite the mud challenge, she made a big effort and finished the 25k in 3:06. My legs felt trashed after just 1 loop of fighting the mud, but I did go back out for the 2nd loop and finished in...... well, I did beat the 8-hr time limit.
We looked for other NTTR folks, but found none. Usually you can find some others. I think John Morelock was there, but neither of us know him and could not find him Sat. morning. After Crisann moved on, there was no one that I knew, but lots of nice people from the Houston area.
Paul Stone puts on an excellent low-key race. There is no pre-race or post-race dinner, but that really didn't matter. The t-shirts were nice, the aid stations were well placed and had everything we needed, from PB & J sandwiches to Poweraid to E-caps (and Deborah, they had ICE). The volunteers were especially helpful and upbeat despite the weather. The entry fee is more reasonable than most races.
We want to encourage more people from NTTR to go down for this race. Without the extreme weather this is a great course to relax and have fun on-- with its easy rolling hills, lots of woods, varied terrain. It would be a good first 50K for people getting started in distance running (along with our own Rockledge Rumble, of course). I am sure this race will be dryer next year. :)
Paul Stone does have a knack for 'special weather" races. He actually made a special "snow-day' for us a couple of years ago at the Tyler run.
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