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This is a brief description of a race new on the Texas Trail Running scene, written for the benefit of others who may want to run the race in the future. It was the inaugural event and the RD, Tim Neckar, appeared interested in growing and expanding the run in the future.
The course consisted of one 10.3 mile loop that was repeated three times for the 50k entrants. There was also a 10 mile (The "Waco 1 – 0") event which started an hour later and ran the course once. This gave time to space the runners out so there was little overlap.
Looking at the venue (Cameron Park in Waco) from the Google satellite view ahead of time, I did not see how such a compact space could hold a 10.3 mile loop. Once on the trail, however, it became apparent that under the dense foliage of the park (seen from space thanks to Google) lurked a tangled morass of many trails, totaling probably twice that amount or possibly even more. Switchbacks, curves and crossings of other trails abounded. The trails were in good repair and quite narrow in many places, a feature that I like, personally, though it can make passing a little tricky. It would have been easy to forget that you were in a city, but an occasional audible clue (clattering diesel engine, siren, the sound of a car on an unseen nearby street) could bring you back. Horses and bikes shared many of the trails. I noticed that bikers tended to stop and wait for runners, how's that for a paradigm shift from the North Shore!
The pre-race information, though limited, promised trails that were "rocky, rooty, hilly and very challenging (but fun!)" Well, heck, that could mean just about anything. But, after running it, I'd have to say the description was dead on. It was a tough course. If you are hoping for a 50k PR, this is not your race. If, on the other hand, you want a challenge, yet not be overwhelmed, this will fill the bill. The 9-hour cutoff was a little demanding and there were a few that did not make it. An 8-hour cutoff would have been too severe.
There were rocks, roots and hills galore. I'd have to say (in my limited experience) the course was pretty technical. There were many, many places that there was no way you could negotiate them except by walking. Many hills were steep, and some were prolonged. A rainy event on this course would up the ante considerably. On the other hand, there were many parts that were quite runnable (and "fun"). There was a lot of shade, which also meant that if there was any wind blowing, cooling breezes probably would not penetrate to where the runners are. The temperature started at over 60 degrees on race day and climbed into the 80's during the run. Fairly tough, and a far cry from the East Texas Trail Run a few short weeks ago where it was in the 30's with a stiff wind. There were a few spots that were exposed, and when the sun came out, it tended toward the brutal. There was no way to maintain a sense of direction, so I gave up trying fairly early on. At one point on the second loop about 4 hours into it, the sun was out and coming through the trees at what seemed to be a shallow angle, like it was late afternoon. I looked at my watch and it was 11:15 AM. A surreal moment, which passed.
Some fairly unique aspects of the trail were:
A few people got lost on the trail, and as we all know, it's not a "real" trail run if no one gets lost. Your humble scribe was one of those, at least 3 times. On one occasion, it led embarrassingly to my coming through an aid station AGAIN, this time from a different direction! After making the wrong turn (invariably it was at one of the innumerable trail crossings), I would retrace my route and find that the junction where I went wrong was clearly marked, I had just not been paying attention (too busy watching for sawed off saplings!). The trails are quite defined, but the course does not always follow the individual trail you mebbe think it should. Something to be aware of. In my opinion, the fault was not with the marking, it was with me.
Aid stations were positioned at about the 3 and 7 mile points in the 10.3 mile loop. This seemed about right. One at the midpoint would not have been enough, and more than two on the course would have been unnecessary. The S/F area also was an aid station, plus the parking lot was close by if you needed something from the car. A suggestion would be to put your drop bag or ice chest near the finish line area, however, rather than leaving it at your car, as I did. The parking lot is off the course a short distance. The overflow parking lot would be some distance away if you arrived late and did not get a parking place near the pavilion. So retrieving something from a car in the overflow lot would not be as convenient. The aid stations were surprisingly well-stocked for an inaugural event, a nod to the race's management. I was even offered ice for my handheld water bottle on two occasions, a real luxury. It was doubtless a long day for the volunteers, waiting with little shade for an occasional runner to sally through. By the second and third loop, runners were pretty spaced out. I was by myself on the trail and at the aid stations most of the time, so I gather that we were separated by several minutes. Makes the volunteers' day go slowly, I know, but they did their very best until the very last and we love 'em for it.
On the personal side, I signed on for this race as a gut check to see if I was ready to take on the Grasslands 50-miler two weeks hence, my first trail run of that distance. Going from 31 miles to 50 miles is a big step. I'd hoped that I would be to the point where a 50k is "no big deal" before I made that step. I'm not there yet. My third loop was a lot more walking than the first and second, and I have come to accept it as the norm. I felt pretty good at the end of the race, and by the time I had changed clothes, rehydrated and eaten a fajita, I felt refreshed and ready for the drive back to Dallas. The next morning, I was not excessively sore or tired, so I take that as an indicator that all systems are green for the 50 miler. Stay tuned for the next exciting episode!