by Bill (The Trailgeeze) Rumbaugh
Tyler State Park
February 10, 2007
It was a return to “Switchback Central,” better known as Tyler State Park for another running of the East Texas Ultra Runners 25k/50k race, also called the East Texas Trail Run, or simply “Tyler.” Hosted by race director, Paul Stone, it is a well-established and well-run event. It is relatively close by the Dallas area just off of I-20, and comes at a good time slot, the second Saturday in February. Best of all is the course. The 50k consists of three times around a 10.3 mile loop through a section of Tyler State Park. The 25k course shortcuts the loop the first time through but traverses the entire loop on the second pass. So the 25k’ers get to see the whole course, too. The terrain is a little hilly in spots, but most of it is runnable, especially if you have trained on hills. I really like the feeling that you are “in the woods.” Occasionally you might hear a vehicle on a park road, but other than that, you get the feeling you are pretty much away from civilization. Though most of the trees are deciduous and therefore leafless at this time of year, they are close by the trail and there are a lot of them. The aforementioned switchbacks allow the climbs to be more gentle, but mostly they are there to get a lot of trail miles in a relatively compact site. I thought at one point that a plan view of the course would resemble an oscillographic recording from a lie detector test. But it’s all good. One thing it does do is to give you some idea of who else is on the course, running about your pace. If you have not run the course, one thing to be aware of is that, as you approach the Start/Finish area, you see the parking area through the trees as you near the top of a slope and think you are nearly there. Guess what, that is only the “pseudo-finish” and you still have the better part of a mile to go before you are at the true S/F line. Just a little teaser to be aware of.
We got up early and drove in “the morning of.” I picked up my packet and returned to the warm car to fish out my bib number and finish the pre-race preps. I was dismayed to find that the shirt which had cool graphics on it was burnt orange in color, not “pumpkin,” not “international,” “melon” or whatever orange, but a solid burnt orange. Being the Aggie that I am, I would not wear it, and could not think of anyone who, not having actually run the race, would wear it either. So, I donated it back to Paul, to have on hand in case there was a rush of late registrants. Next year, maroon is the color, right Paul? Maroon. (Just kidding, anything but B.O.) As racetime approached, we stood around the fire or jogged the parking area to stay warm. I recognized several of the other runners, some NTTR members (Lethal Letha, Tom Crull, Mark Dick, Buddy Teaster and Matt Crownover come to mind), others not. I noticed one car had Mississippi personalized plates which read TRL RUNR, how cool is that. As we gathered for the pre-race briefing, Tim Neckar (RD of the Waco 5-0) told me that he still had not received my entry for his race coming up in 4 weeks. I told him that I plan to send it in, but wanted to see how Cross Timbers goes first, a 50 miler that will be a real challenge for me. A few words of wisdom from Paul about the course and we were off in 32 degree temperatures under an overcast sky.
100 yards down the road, the 50k trail splits off to the left and we are on the single track heading off into the trees. The 25k’ers head down the asphalt for a significant distance before they migrate to the trail on their shortcut to the far side of the loop. Early on I was running about the same pace as a gal in black tights and a black shirt and hat. For some reason, I decided to pass her instead of biding my time. After awhile I caught up to and settled in behind Ryan, a frequenter of the North Shore trail I’m sure some of you have met (I don’t know his last name). He is a pretty good runner who was hoping for a good outing this time after the heat and humidity got to him during the Rock Ledge Rumble last November. He was running behind a gal named Pat from Boerne, TX, whom everyone seemed to know. We were joined by the gal in black and found that she was Iva, from Mississippi, the one with the cool license plates. She mentioned that she had met Tom Crull at Palo Duro two years ago. (Really now, is there anyone who does not know Tom?) It was a good experience meeting these folks and getting to know Ryan a bit better. We ran a good part of the first loop together. We were shuffled a bit as we cycled through the S/F area and I went out on the second loop alone. I knew Pat was ahead of me by several hundred yards and that Ryan and Iva were behind me. Ryan soon caught up to me and we ran together for a time. He politely passed me and gradually pulled ahead, eventually passing Pat. It took a good part of the second loop for me to catch up to Pat, since we were running about the same pace. Eventually I did catch up to her and we resumed our conversation, started on the earlier loop. She knew someone who worked the same place I did when I lived in San Antonio, and on and on, you know how it goes. As we emerged from the pseudo-finish loop, we saw Ryan heading out for his third loop, he was looking strong and having a good day. Pat and I left the S/F area for the third loop about the same time and chatted for awhile longer. I mentioned that I’m tired but still feeling good. Would she mind if I took the lead, adding that she was welcome to it if I get too slow for her. She said she was also feeling pretty good and was just going to enjoy the third loop. Sounded like a plan to me. “Feeling good” is a relative term, of course, after having run over 20 miles. By that I meant nothing hurt too badly yet, and though I was pretty tired, I still had some gas in the old tank. My heart rate was behaving itself, thanks to the cool temperatures which had crept into the low 40’s by that point in the event. So, feeling good, I ran many of the uphills I would have walked this far into other races without my heart rate monitor beeping frantically at me to back down. I realized that Pat was a good distance behind me now and I was by myself for a time. At the first aid station (3 miles from the start) I caught up to Michael Arredondo and another gal who knew my name, but I’m sorry to say I don’t know hers. We ran the rest of the second loop more or less together and chatted intermittently. The third loop Michael was behind me but not by much. A short distance before the first aid station, Paige Henderson caught up to me, looking strong. She mentioned that she had fallen earlier and bruised up her side. I grazed a bit at the aid station “buffet table” and she took off heading up the steep hill past the aid station. I told her I would see her at the finish, since I knew I would not be catching her. I pretty much ran the remainder of the third loop without company, though I expected Michael to catch up to me sooner or later. It was at this point that I realized I was having a good day and wanted to make the most of it. Frankly, after my poor to intermediate showings this season, I was in need of a good outing to boost my confidence going into the Cross Timbers Trail 50 miler in two weeks. So I pressed the pace, determined to finish strong. As I neared the ‘pseudo-finish’ with Jay Freeman pointing the way, I knew a PR was out of the question, but I did not care. I was doing better than I had in too long of a time, and wanted to finish this thing in decent style. Michael was getting closer and I thought, well if he catches and passes me, he certainly earned it and more power to him. I came out of the woods alone, circled around to the finish and crossed it about 6:42 according to my watch, a good showing for yer humble scribe.
Paige was there in the S/F area and so was Ryan I congratulated them on their strong finishes. Michael was in by that time and I congratulated him as well. I was already shivering by then and declined the post-race hamburger until after I had changed into dry clothes which I then proceeded to do. Pat came out of the woods about then and headed for the finish. I cheered her on. I was mostly through changing when Iva emerged. I wanted to cheer her on, but thought it probably inappropriate given my current state of attire, she’d probably think I’m some sort of pervert! (Hey Iva! Woo hoo! Looky here!) Fully dressed, I got my burger and as I was about to head for the car, in came Sue Yates. She was hoping to break 7 hours, but was bummed because she missed it by a narrow margin. Feeding my face in the car, we hung around awhile hoping to cheer on any remaining finishers. A check of the parking area showed few cars remaining. The grounds around the pavilion had been raked clean and things were pretty much packed up to go when we decided that must be about it. So my long suffering, patient wife, Mariana pointed the car West to return to what passes for an otherwise fairly normal life. I struggled valiantly but unsuccessfully to stay conscious and keep her company during the return trip.
A few miscellaneous musings. The trail is deceptively treacherous. Many of the rocks are about the same color as the fallen leaves covering the trail. I saw a higher than normal percentage of folks go down. I did a spectacular face plant myself during the 25k last year and had a catch and a save to my credit this year. (A catch is where you go down, but catch yourself on your hands, sort of like a quick unscheduled push-up. A save is where you nearly go down, but by uttering karate yells amid windmilling of your arms, you somehow avoid it. Extra points if you head off into a patch of poison ivy while you execute this maneuver.) The fine folks who maintain the trail have painted some of the rocks and roots to make them more noticeable. I think many of us found some that they had missed. The finisher’s prize is a laser-engraved plaque made of granite. The engraving has the year and a small inscription proclaiming the bearer to be a 50k finisher. A durable memento of a pleasant day in the woods of East Texas.
Attire pretty much runs the gamut at these temperatures, though I did not see any shirtless men, usually there is at least one of those, regardless of the temperature. My skin layer was wicking shorts and a tee. Over that was my long sleeve technical RLR shirt with ½ zipper and a sleeveless technical tee over that. The sleeveless tee can be readily removed should the sun come out or the temperatures climb. Medium weight nylon shorts, a running hat and lightweight gloves were it for me and it was a good choice. I was concerned about ear protection early on, but found the temperatures have to be below freezing before I really need it. I wore a headband last weekend on the North Shore when it was in the 20’s and it felt good on my ears the first few miles. By the time it had warmed up to where the puddles were no longer frozen, my head was sweating. Saw a lot of folks on race day in tights, jackets and stocking caps. I warmed up in a Tyvek jacket but shed it right before the race, which was a good move, one less thing to worry about, as Forrest Gump sez. For the first time in a race I did not carry a handheld water bottle. I carried one in an Ultimate Directions bottle carrier, which has room for a 20 oz bottle plus a few small items. My normal race gear has been a fanny pack full of stuff I never used, plus the handheld. Found that the bottle carrier worked good, I felt balanced and unencumbered. There were enough hills to walk up that I had no problem waiting for them before I pulled out the bottle to drink. Maybe I’ll need the handheld during warmer weather, to drink from more frequently, but time will tell. The bottle carrier worked well for me on this race.
I think I speak for all the runners when I say, “Bless the Volunteers.” People who get up early to go set up an aid station and then stay on duty, ever-attentive, all day long are the best. Red Spicer (RD of the Palo Duro Run) was at the second A/S. Here is a guy who drives in from Amarillo to man an aid station here, and I know he mans one at the Grasslands Run, too. Some dedicated folks out there. Can’t thank them enough for giving up their Saturday so we can go play in the dirt. Of course the RD has an even bigger job. Paul is the guy at the top who makes it all happen. To the casual observer, it appears to be a well-oiled machine, but undoubtedly there are minor emergencies to deal with constantly when putting on an event like this. It’s to his credit that we never see them. Amazingly enough, he even remembered my name from last year, what a guy. Good goin’, Paul.
If you have not run the East Texas Trail Run, be sure to put it on your calendar for next year, it’s a definite keeper.