by Aaron Yoshinobu
LBJ National Grasslands
March 24, 2007
The 9th running of the Grasslands 50 mile occurred on 24th March in mildly humid, warm, and dry conditions in the LBJ Grasslands, about 10 miles north of Decatur, TX. I arrived the night before in Decatur, met up with Jay Freeman, an 8- and soon-to-be 9-time finisher, and inspiration and co-conspiritor to my ultra-running. Before going out to dinner Jay introduced me to RD Suzi Cope. I made my first ultra-faux pas when I was perusing old issues of Ultrarunning with Suzi, chatting about wild and obnoxious ultra races and asked her if she’d ever done Barkley… “I was the first female to finish” the fun run! D’oh….
Up at 5 AM, ate a waffle, PB&J and banana at the Ramada Inn and met Jay and carpooled out to the TADRA Primitive Campground where the run begins in the dark at 7AM. The course consists of 4 different loops along rolling scenic horsetrails that form a clover leaf. Each loop has trail markers that are color-coded. A little route-finding is necessary, but it’s hard to get lost as long as you keep your head up. There are a few fun, technical gullies to cross with burms that make you holler and hoot while you run ‘em. The 1st and 3rd loops are about 15 miles each, whereas the 2nd and 4th are about 10 miles each. The center of the clover leaf is the Start/Finish and provides a nice base for support at the end of the second and third loops. Aid stations are closely spaced at 2-4 miles, and stocked with Succeed drink, various meds (S-caps, advil, etc.), plus the usual ultra food. Letha Cruthrids (spelling?) was working aid at about mile 34 and taunted me with Jagermeister! She said I should be able to PR the course, as she has in the past, if I had a drink! I’m not as tough as that Grand Slammer and so I declined her taunts, only to hear them again at a later aid station and at the finish! Besides, Suzi Cope has lengthened the course for this year’s race and so my time would be a PR!
I began the run in a large group along soft and sandy single track trails that meander through oak forests. Jay and I ran together and I enjoyed his self-effacing and gracious personality. I met a number of the North Texas Trail Runners gang; a fellah named Kim whom I left behind at about mile 8 only to have him pass me at mile 48 looking strong. Along this loop I also ran with a fellah from Brooklyn named Jacob. He was out to Grasslands for his first 50 miler; he’d run NYC Marathon a few times, but had never done a trail gig.
Somewhere around mile 10 I realized that I wasn’t going to suffer the ITBS and PF problems that have plagued me recently and so increased the pace. I soon met up with a wonderful fellah named Gerry from Colorado Springs. We continued the second loop together and talked about pacing, the use of GPS (gotta get one of these), balancing ultrarunning and family, future races, and running the Colorado Trail. Sometimes I wonder whether the running is the best part of ultrarunning or whether it’s the new friends that one makes.
The second loop was ecologically diverse and passed through marvelous Pine forests along a single track trail bedded in soft needles. Gerry and I continued together and he kept us abreast of our pace (~11/mile) using the GPS. I was feeling strong and given these splits, I began to think about the idea of maintaining that pace for the duration of the race. My original goals included: 1) finishing; 2) sub-11; and 3) sub-10. At this point, I began to think about that sub-10 hour finish. It was getting hot and the cloud cover had broken by mid-day.
At the end of the second loop (mile 25) I was feeling strong and really enjoyed the next 10 miles. At this point I began passing people and so while being elevated by the notion of improving my time, I was acutely aware of the possibility of cratering toward the end. None-the-less, I decided that I’d push hard for the sub-10 hour finish. I thought of that mental toughness that is required to overcome the will to walk. I thought, and I thought, and I thought… But in the end, thinking can only get one so far. From mile 47 to the end I struggled with what in retrospect was likely heartburn from too much Succeed and not enough fuel – but perhaps I’m thinking too much… I had to mix too much walking with running during the last 2 miles and watched my sub-10 hour finish vanish on my watch. I made it to the finish in 10:03 and change. In retrospect I should have just ran till I puked – that would’ve got me under 10 hours. After the race another, much faster runner said to me regarding his run, “I was done, before the race was finished”. That sums it up for me, too. I was 19th out of 45 runners; the winner, Chris Castorena, came in at 7:23.
A few minutes after receiving a medal from Suzi (and an offer for another shot of Jager from Letha!), I realized what a great run it was for me in terms of my overall performance and the new experiences from which I could muster future, better performances. I thank Jay Freeman for introducing me to Grasslands 50 Miler and the NTTR running community.
Three days later I’m ready to run again and feel like my ultra base is building strong. Psyched.
Loop 1: 3:06
Loop 2: 1:57
Loop 3: 2:48
Loop 4: 2:11
Official time: 10:03