RD’s Report by Suzi Cope
LBJ National Grasslands
March 26, 2005
Grasslands Run 2005
It was a mud blister. The seventh annual Grasslands Run is now referred to as the MUDLANDS II. Texas weather destroyed the normally benign LBJ National Grasslands trail system in ’02 for the first Mudlands, but this year the rain started at 2 AM race day and continued throughout our three events for a second soggy time. The survivors of Mudlands I compared the consistency of the trail surface but the only conclusion was that a finish at any pace was impressive.
The premier 50-mile event fielded 45 entrants and from that group of trail veterans only two did not start. The remaining 43 started in a light rain, which steadily soaked and chilled the field down to only 21 finishers. At our central command post TADRA campground the aid tent was filled with drop bags, food, beverages (including SUCCEED!) and typical endurance supplies. The ultra runners came sliding in as they finished each of the four different loops, to refuel or bail. One competitor was sitting in a chair evaluating his status and trying to describe his epic effort to a small crowd of volunteers. Among a litany of valid concerns, he pinpointed the biggest reason for dropping, as a large blister on one foot. We have all been there, and agreed it was good enough for a DNF on a day like Mudlands II. As he pulled off the sock on his injured foot, we all bent over to get a good close view. With astonishment the runner peeled away a walnut sized clump of a mud blister from the ball of his foot. At first he laughed with relief, then seemed to recognize that his valid excuse had just been dissolved.
Mark Henderson never had a shot at the course record 6:25 set by NTTR’s own Scott Eppelman seven years ago. Nobody was going to be running a Grasslands PR. After the first two loops Mark squished up to the half way point at TADRA shivering and mentally scattered. This course is not billed as difficult but the conditions made it way more than Mark had bargained for a week after Cross Timbers. He frantically thought out loud, and gathered confidence to continue. As Mark ran to his tent and grabbed a vest, Todd Reynolds caught him for the first and last time. I think that was the slap Mark needed. His winning 8:33:58 was 14 minutes ahead of Todd. Mark Henderson’s win at 45 years of age indicated it was a day for veterans.
It was also a day for local knowledge. North Texas Trail Runners well-kept secret is Barbara Hitzfeld. Her usual low key approach includes arriving late annually to the start. Barbara and husband George began about ten minutes after the start, with a smile and wave. Barbara is not the kind of entrant to ask who the competition might be, or to scope out the awards in advance. Little did she know that we had Molly Gibb, from Colorado, out there ahead of her. Molly and Barbara are the same age, 43, but Molly has traveled extensively competing very successfully at the international masters level.
Somewhere out there Barbara slipped by, and finished in 10:51:19 which allows an interesting comparison of the conditions. Barbara won Grasslands ’04 in 8:59 with little strain. The 2003 edition saw a great competition with Cathy Tibbits setting the course record 7:31 and Barbara finishing third by a minute behind Canadian Sally Marcellus in 7:41.
The women’s finishing field is easily summed up by adding NTTR member Meda Bourland, another 43-year-old, five minutes behind Molly, completing her first 50. Sandy Powell from New Mexico was the only other woman to finish and was also in the tough 40-45 age group.
All 50-mile finishers received belt buckles and Neon Lime green racing singlets from RaceReady with FINISHER on the front. Surprisingly we had some virgins completing their first 50 on an extreme day. RAW member Chris McConnell finished his first 50 with a smile and the standard five pounds of mud caked to each calf. Several runners narrowly missed the 4pm cutoff at 39.3 miles, including favorites Dave Billman, Marty Metzger and Steve Hall.
Truly remarkable is the only finisher over 50 years of age. Jay Freeman, 57, got past the mud blister factor to finish his seventh annual Grasslands Run. IMPRIMIS founder and CEO Valerie Freeman gave up her half marathon entry to take on the biggest aid station on the course. There was no way Jay could drop out, with our sponsor, his wife, still out there, serving over four hundred wet, tired runners.
The aid stations were incredible as always and Lake Grapevine Runners and Walkers station was very popular. The IMPRIMIS station’s scones were raved about, and few runners knew we had to abandon one station due to a locked park gate. NTTR’s Mark Dick was thrilled to play with his little red jeep when an aid station on the 50 mile course became inaccessible due to mud. Dave Emerson was lucky to survive riding with Mark to set up the station, and then worked all afternoon before hanging on for the ride out.
Britt Starnes and Glenn Hamilton did the big job of delivering aid equipment all day, and Britt’s folks ran their aid station besides babysitting Samantha. Todd and Melanie Dunn were spectators in ’04 and returned to manage their own aid station. Dan Schindling was back for the Grasslands B&B spot. BIG RED Spicer requested ice at his station though it was cold and rainy. Seems the beer was a priority only bested by the best legs competition. Fred and Char Thompson joined NTTR and promptly volunteered for an aid station at Grasslands, while Buddy Teaster was convinced with a comp entry in the marathon. Like all the other volunteers, Buddy says it was a great experience and he truly enjoyed helping his fellow runners.
All the aid stations are needed to support the 50 mile event, but the TADRA campground start finish area requires many more volunteers. Just to get started Tom Crull and Drew Meyers hiked out to retrieve runner tear tags. Scott Eppelman managed the finish line with able assistant Paul Tidmore and new NTTR member Tom Okazaki. Sarah Brown set up the post race aid station for the marathon and half. Rick and Kim Carr awarded all finishers their hard earned singlets.
The guy that really amazed me was David Wood. David is from Oklahoma and has run at the Grasslands. This year he brought a friend, Bret Sholar, and convinced him Grasslands is a great first time 50. Imagine the ride home! David started the weekend by picking up our ice supply Friday night, and then helped all morning with directing runners onto the correct trail. Finally he stepped up to our new and unproven computer results system. Before the last 50-mile finisher, the generator went home, the computer left, and David was among about a dozen people left to see the final finisher in 13:15:02.
Bret Sholar. The drive to Oklahoma was still long, but undoubtedly there was plenty to talk about.
The marathon was so challenging that only the winner Sam Thompson broke 4 hours. Shelley Egli was first woman. NTTR’s own Jay Norman at 67 toasted his age group competition in 5:57 while Tammi Starnes and Kelly Eppelman came in together at 6:09.
One RAW member completed her first marathon finishing MUDLANDS II.
RAW’s own Jon Korte ran an incredible race under the extreme conditions. First he gave up five years to his 33-year-old competitor Jeff Burrows. It was quite a horse race with the two even at the last big ditch. Apparently Jon went down, and lost the two seconds that separated them in the finish chute. Clearly both runners had put it all on the line.
Jenny Noblit was first woman and was followed by 16 year old Shelly Castorena nine minutes later in 2:08. The top twenty included Richard Senelly recently moved from Honolulu to Trophy Club. At 60, Richard will be tough in the local age group, with the Grasslands win at 2:10. RAW grabbed the last two top twenty with age group winners Pres K2 and Karen Robertson.
For the first time in seven years, the last twenty finishers did not include our original race sponsor my husband Michael Cope. Michael weathered the conditions better than many DNFs and even slid into the 113th finisher slot of 136. At 4 hours he arrived smiling, then disappeared from view just before the bump in the finish chute. The next we saw of him was muddy gloves, fanny pack, knees and shins. He was well past the mud blister syndrome in his first fall of the day.
Our sponsor IMPRIMIS appears on the back of the famous RaceReady entrants trail shirt. Of the 325 entrants divided among the 50, marathon and half marathon events, 65 did not start. Just the thought of a mud blister worried some. We can’t promise anything but Texas weather, great aid stations, the best shirts, and another challenge March 25, 2006.
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