by Thomas “T.O.” Okazaki
LBJ National Grasslands
March 25, 2006
My First 50 Miler
Grasslands. Never been to the place until last year as a volunteer working the finish line. Yeah, I had heard about this wonderful trail run by reading articles about it in the “award winning” LGRAW Footprint. In fact, I finally got to meet many members from both LGRAW and NTTR for the very first time in person on that day.
Up to that point, I had not yet run my first trail race. I got my first glimpse into the world of trail running. Despite all the rain and mud, I was chomping at the bit, wishing I was out there with everyone else. Well, that was a year ago, the big day had come again, at last.
I felt like I had won the weather lottery! What a pcture perfect day to run a fifty miler. The skies were clear, sunny with low humidity. I was told that the trails were as good of shape as they had ever been.
I had run the very rocky and hilly 100K at Bandera back in January. That being said, I still wasn’t sure what kind of time I could run a 50 miler on a more running friendly surface at Grasslands. There were other issues. My training routine was badly disrupted this past month due to moving. Also my stomach was acting up the night before. Despite taking some imodium, this nasty problem would come back to haunt me at Grasslands.
The start of the race was exhilarating. I got to hang out with some of the leaders for a short time, including Matt Ellis, Jack Hase and the eventual overall women’s winner Lisa Smith-Batchen. After that, it was all downhill baby. I quickly found out I didn’t have my A,B or C games, so after 10 miles I knew it was going to be struggle to pull this one out.
I did think the trail markings overall were good. As long as you kept your head up and made an effort to pay attention, especially at the intersections, I never strayed off course.
It warmed up quickly and I shed extra clothing and my fanny pack after the first loop. The aid stations looked well stocked, so no need to carry the extra weight. I slammed down a bottle of chocolate boost, grabbed some pretzels and was on my way again. I had no problem finding my drop bag. It must have been the biggest one there. Too bad they don’t give prizes away for that.
I quickly found out eating fig newtons wasn’t agreeing with my stomach. So I basically stuck to drinking flat cola and pretzels at the aid stations.
My right foot was bothering me a lot also. These Hardrock Montrails had served me well, but looking back now, I really should have bought a new pair for this race.
It’s only the second loop and I am power walking a lot. I am getting really concern about making the 5 p.m cut off time for the start of the 4th loop at mile 40. When you do a fifty mile event you have to be prepared to run all day long. I was feeling bad, but I was determined to make it to the finish.
One thing I really enjoy about trail running are the interesting characters that you come across. I had the honor of finally meeting Rene Villalobos. The man is a machine! He enters about every marathon and ultra on the calendar in the state of Texas.
It was uplifting to here the cheers and words of encouragement each time I arrived back into camp. I sure needed it at the start of the third loop! This was the toughest one of all. You have already gone 25 miles and now your going back out for some more. Also it’s another 15 mile loop, so it seems to stretch on forever into the afternoon.
There are these 2 very tall, radio towers that are not too far from the base camp. I was always trying to look for them to get some idea of where I was. It was always more uplifting to be running toward the towers than away.
As the day wore on, a steady stream of runners would pass by, until the last half of the third loop. I was pretty much on my own after that. I felt like Tony Stewart of NASCAR, trying to nurse his car with a bad engine, into the finish.
I remembered Rick Sanford’s advice and power walked thru the sandy sections. It reminded me of Redondo Beach of LA, but without any bikini-clad girls. Climbing out of some the steep gullies, I could only imagine how tough it would have been to scale these sections in the rain and mud of last year.
The color red never looked so good! I am now on the last loop and trying to pick up the pace. Only 10 more miles! I always love it when you hit the single digit markers to the finish.
Unfortunately, my stomach is really starting to act up now. I always dreaded this moment would finally come on a very long trail run. With about 4 miles to go, I couldn’t stand it any longer. Time to go find a good porta bush! Oh well, the horses do it out here so………. The Final Wipes that I had won at a NTTR Xmas party from Scott Eppleman really do work and saved the day.
I’m feeling much better now. The sun is starting to sink toward the west. I am starting to get flashbacks from Bandera as the daylight starts to dim. Time to make haste and get this over with!
You know it’s getting late when you start seeing glow sticks being hung out. You know it’s really getting late when you start seeing the sweep riders on horseback heading out. I also wanted to hurry and get back to camp before Marty Metzger ate up all the hamburgers!
Sunrise to sunset. As I hit the last mile, it’s hard to imagine I am almost nearing the end of another long adventure. I feel lucky to be alive and have the good fortune of still being able participate in fabulous events like this. The clock at the finish line reads about eleven hours, ten minutes and 48 seconds.
With this being my first Grasslands, I have a better appreciation of how difficult it is to run under 10 hours to qualify for Western States, even though the new standard for 2007 is now eleven. On the flip side, it pays to stay the course and finish what you started, no matter how bad you may feel.
It’s important to have multiple goals on race day and having the ability to make adjustments as the day wears on. Life is about choices and using your knowledge and experience in making the right call. See you on the trails.
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