by Suzi Cope
LBJ National Grasslands
March 25, 2006
The Grasslands Run is unique in North Texas with its extensive trails creating fifty miles of athletic excess. I created the event eight years ago out of desperation after moving from ultra running Mecca in Northern California. Terrain comparisons are not kind to the Grasslands, but the event offers all the endurance challenges and adds some interesting texture along with Texas size hospitality.
Finally we had an entrant this year who found the trail’s sand base layer much to her liking. Lisa Smith-Batchen is returning to the six day Sahara desert race (Marathon Des Sables) next week. Her win at Grasslands 50-mile was a perfect training run.
Without a world class event on the horizon, other entrants met their running goals during a stellar day of perfect weather and trail conditions. North Texas Trail Runners club members were the main source of volunteers, and created a large portion of the 42 finishers in the 50-mile event. The marathon course record was broken by Todd Reynolds and a field of sixty followed him. The half marathon record fell to Jeff Burrows, leading a field of 140.
The Grasslands Run 50-mile record of 6:25 is held by club member and perennial volunteer Scott Eppelman. Scott stayed home to care for his twin baby boys, while new mom Kelly Eppelman ran the half marathon. With perfect weather and trail conditions we could not help wonder if the window was open for a 50-mile course record. New NTTR member Ryan Loehding gave it a shot. His effort resulted in a fine 6:42:30 win, proving again that Scott set a very tough benchmark in 1999.
Another tough act to follow is Jay Freeman’s streak. Jay’s 50-mile finish was number eight. The only other perfect attendance record is held by my husband Michael, who works the race and has completed the half marathon sprint each year. His finish time reflects a brilliant strategy to avoid endless event related chores.
Runners are treated to RaceReady coolmax shirts, frequent aid stations featuring SUCCEED! Electrolyte replacement and post race Texas Bar BQ sandwiches. The awards include Montrail shoes and hats for winners, belt buckles for 50-mile finishers and Grasslands medals to all. Age group winners in all three events got RaceReady running hats with the NTTR logo. First 50-mile virgin finisher was Lake Grapevine Runners and Walkers member Jack Hase, in second place over all. First virgin in each distance got a Fuel Belt or Dirty Girlz gaiters.
The Salinas brothers, Santos and Mario, each finished the 50 running up the American flag lined chute. On leave from Iraq, Mario was awarded the camouflage pattern gaiters from Dirty Girlz.
At the end of a long day the volunteer staff is reduced to a dozen, and the sun goes down while we clean up, pack up, and wait. The wait is for the final 50-mile finisher. This year we were waiting for Steve Hall. Steve missed the cut off for loop three last year in his attempt at 50-mile. This was his year, and he was earning the finish the only way you can, one step at a time.
The scoring crew was getting a little silly, and I suggested we embellish the finish line with the remaining aid station ice bags. In the dark we built a glacier across the line and added red glow sticks, a blue flashlight and a white one to enhance the patriotic theme. The statement was sort of “when hell freezes over, Steve Hall will finish a 50”, and he did!