Rocky Hill Ranch 50K
by Deborah Sexton
It was a great day for a race. Driving into Balstrop, Texas, with Jay Norman on Friday afternoon there was a little rain, but by Saturday morning it has passed over and the trails were dry. We checked out the race start on Friday night but there was nothing going on there. Apparently pre-race packet pickup was somewhere in Austin so we got a famous hamburger at the Rocky Hills Saloon and went back to the hotel. There are several hotels along 71 East in Balstrop. We stayed at a Days Inn, but there also was a Best Western and some others. The race start was about 15 minutes from the hotel. Pretty easy to find, but mainly because Jay knew where it was. No signage.
The race started at 7 a.m. and the temperature was about 55 degrees. Plenty of porta potties with a minimal wait time. Iíd guess around 200 people took off when the race director shouted Go. The vast majority of the trail was nice soft dirt and pine needles. A wonderful surface to run on with the heavenly smell of pine needles in the air. There were a few spots with lots of loose rocks, but not so many that it was a real chore to deal with.
The race was two 25K loops. In the last 2-3 miles of the course there are some gradual uphills that take about 5-10 minutes to get up, but again, overall this course was not extremely challenging. Definitely easier than Northshore. You run through some fields where all the spring wildflowers were in full bloom.
Plenty of aid stations. A water/Gatorade station around 1.5 miles, a full food aid station at 5 miles, a full food aid station at 7.5 miles, a full food aid station at 10 miles, a water only station at about 11-12 miles and the final station was at 13.5 miles with water, Gatorade and gels. So you really could not run out of water. One station even had ice! Woohoo!
I never saw Jay after he took off with Lynn Harkey. I ran with a very nice Baptist minister, David Johnson, from Odessa for most of the race. I had met him at Cross Timbers this past March, and he kept me moving at a pace just a little past comfortable. I came in after my first loop at 3:18. David had pulled ahead of me and so I cruised through the start finish without stopping, hoping I might catch him again and not have to run by myself. About a mile into the second loop, David comes up behind me. He had changed socks and shoes and so I had passed him at the start/finish. So we preceded on together and I gritted my teeth and hung on to his heels.
At the 10 mile aid station, I took off without waiting for David and was surprised he never caught up to me. I hustled and caught up to Denise who had been leading the entire race but we kept catching up with her at aid stations. So she and I talked for the next 45 minutes and then she really started dying. With about 2 miles to go I looked at my watch and knew Iíd have to hustle if I wanted to make my goal time of 6:45.
So I held my pace and left Denise. I passed the last water stop and had 1.25 miles to go. I knew I was going to have to run hard to make 6:45. I kept going and I thought that just around the corner was the finish. I started to get excited thinking, Iím going to make it. Unfortunately, what I saw was a long stretch of fence slightly uphill that I still had to cover. Crap! (Thatís not what I really thought but canít be having swear words in race reports can we?) I looked at my watch 6:36. I didnít think I could make it.
As I slogged up the hill, I was trying to decide if I wanted to run hard and keep trying or be happy with a 6:50. The uphill was not making it any more fun. But I reached the top and said to myself, all right letís go and I ran full out. The dirt road had hardened grooves in it that made it harder to go fast but once I hit the grass into the finish I pushed as hard as I could. I really didnít think I would make it but maybe my past two weeks of speed training paid off. I crossed the line at exactly 6:45:00 on my watch. I was close to throwing up as the girl hands me my finisher T-shirt and a nice bottle of warm water.
I think Jay was surprised to see me as I walked to the car where he was. (He finished 16 minutes ahead of me.) I was more than an hour behind him at Grasslands due to the little detour I decided to take to the finish. He holds up his arm, which had a nice long line of blood running down it. In an attempt to pass Marshall King, who had just passed him in the last mile walking, Jay had picked up his pace when a rock jumped up and tripped him. He fell hard with his chest hitting a big rock. Ouch!
I had only taken 7 more minutes to run the second loop so I was very happy I had held a pretty steady pace and felt I ran my best race. It was good enough for first place in my age group. Jay ran a solid 6:29 and took first place in his age group. He had some issues (in addition to falling) and would have liked to have done a 6:00. Lynn Harkey took fourth female overall with a 5:29 and also took first place in her age group. The male winner did it in 3:50 and the female winner in 5:08.
The race entry shirt was a white performance fabric tank top with a gel holder pocket in the back and a Rocky Hills Ranch 50K design on the front. The finisherís award was the same design on a plain white T-shirt but it said finisher at the bottom. They did have small sizes though, which was nice. The ďawardsĒ were glasses that had the Rocky Hill Ranch artwork and the word ďawardĒ at the bottom. First place age group finishers also got a white T-shirt that said ďBorn To Run.Ē
Jay was busy handing out NTTR applications to newcomers like Marshall King and Zak ?? so I think we may be seeing some new members soon.
We did have to pay $2 for parking when we drove in Sat. morning. That was kind of weird. Iíve never had to pay for parking at an ultra before. But I had a blast. Itís a great beginner trail and very well marked. There was not a single spot where I had to make any decisions, which for me is a very good thing. I really loved the trail. I hope we can get more NTTR members out next year.