by Thomas “T.O.” Okazaki
November 17, 2007
I have never been to the state of Louisiana before and was looking forward to running my very first trail race there. Since it was a 50K distance, it would also count as my 9th state in which I had run a race that was a marathon or longer in distance. One more state and I would become eligible to join the 50 States Marathon Club.
I had thought about running the 6 hour event at the Ultracentric in Grapevine, TX but I decided against it since the start time was going to be at 3 p.m. that Saturday. I needed to be in Tulsa, OK the following morning to run the marathon there in order to complete a double 50K/marathon combo on consecutive weekends. The Louisiana Trail race just seemed to be a better option.
This is the first year that Sportspectrum USA has run the event. They are the same outfit that rolls out the very popular River Cities Triathlon in Shreveport, La. each year. I did not know how much experience they had in putting on a trail race, so I was a little concern how well organize the run would be.
Participants could sign up to do a half marathon, marathon or 50K event at the website or print out a copy of the race entry form. I noticed right away there was no course description given of how many or how long the loops were going to be or how many aid stations they were planning to set up.
So when I was packing up the car, I made sure to try and be ready for just about anything. I was prepared to carry a second water bottle and stuff my pockets with extra snacks, on race day, if I had too.
Counting in a couple of rest stops, it was about a 3 ½ hour drive to Shreveport from Dallas taking Interstate 20. I liked this part of east Texas with all of its trees. I made sure and dropped by the Louisiana Visitor Center to pick up a free state map along the way.
I stopped for gas at one of the very first exits on the west side of Shreveport and decided I had time to step into a Wal Mart I spotted close by to pick up some ice and snacks for the trail run tomorrow morning. I was glad to see they carried my favorite, Mrs. Baird apple pies. I know their bad for you but they taste great on a long trail run.
The Sportspectrum Store was located on the southeastern part of the city, just north of Louisiana State University of Shreveport campus. Packet pick up was suppose to end at 4 p.m. that Saturday, but since the store didn’t close several hours later, I’m sure a runner could have shown up a little late and still have gotten his race packet.
I was immediately impressed by the white, long sleeve tech shirt they were handing out with a dandy looking race logo on the front. There was also a very nice Japanese couple from New York there, picking up their race packet at about the same time.
Since I don’t often run into too many other Japanese Americans this far from the west coast, we quickly became very good friends. They must have been both really good trail runners because I later learned, after the race, that the husband had placed in his respective age group and the wife had won the marathon distance race!
Seeing there was no further details about the course and aid stations in the race packet, we asked the young man working the packet pick up about it and, of course, he didn’t know anything either. So it was going to be one big surprise on race day. Oh joy!
At least the young man knew about an Olive Garden down the road for a pre race pasta dinner. So I hopped into my car and went searching for the restaurant just down the road. I couldn’t find the restaurant, but I did spot a Macaroni Grill and sat down to eat a great spaghetti and meatball dish. After finishing, I stepped out and then saw the Olive Garden restaurant across the street. Didn’t matter, I liked the Macaroni Grill better anyway.
It was still about 5:30 p.m., so I decided to watch a couple of movies at a Cinemark Theater not too far away. I love catching up on movies when I go on road trips for races out of town, especially if I am traveling by myself. Saw “Beowulf” and “American Gangster”. Great flicks!
It was now dark outside, so it was time now and to go find a quiet place to park the car and catch some shut eye. It’s always a challenge to find a spot where the local police or a security guard won’t come by and ask you to “please” move along in the middle of the night.
I settled for a darken parking lot next to a small plastic surgeon’s office not far from the movie theatre. I push and tilt back the driver’s side seat, grab several pillows, a sleeping bag, put on a sleeping mask and set the alarm clock for 3 a.m. I drift off into la la land. Zzzzzzzz
Eddie D. Jones Park is located about 12 miles southwest of Shreveport. It used to be the old stomping grounds for both Fred and Char Thompson of NTTR when they lived in Shreveport. After the race, I can better understand why they loved running there so much.
It was a tricky finding the park at night. The route from the Sportspectrum Store involved lots of turns on different roads. I got lost several times and had to back track to get back on course again.
Finally arrived there around 5 a.m. and decided to just park the car and take another short nap until the race volunteers started arriving. I noticed immediately a few of the runners had camped at the start over night.
There was a very nice, permanent structure set up with a covered picnic table area and an enclosed room where the race day packet pickup was to be conducted. This building also offered several large bathrooms where runners could lock the door and change clothing after the race.
Nearby was a small nursery building with a hose and outdoor shower set up. This came in real handy after the race. Runners could come along and hose off all the dirt and also give their legs a nice cold water bath at the same time.
Around about a hundred participants gathered for the start. It was a small intimate gathering. I was delighted to see the Asian couple again along with a few other fellow Marathon Maniacs there who were planning on making the 6 hour drive up to Tulsa, OK after the race to the do the Tulsa World Route 66 marathon, where I also hope to be joining them tomorrow morning.
As I delivered my drop bag, I noticed there wasn’t that many of them at the start. I found out later that most of the runners there were opting to just run the marathon and not the 50K.
As the race director was giving out the final instructions, I found out then the course would consist of about a 13 mile loop, with the marathoners running 2 loops and the 50Kers doing the same plus an extra 5 mile loop at the end. All the 50K runners were instructed to have a small wristband attached before the start of the final smaller loop. It was very important that this be done, so that the race volunteers would know which way to send you on that last loop.
The race director did a final countdown and we were off! The first ½ mile was on a paved road, but after that it was all sweet trails baby! As usual, the start was crowded and not wishing to get locked in on a narrow single track with a really fast group at the beginning, I slowly drifted toward the back while we were all on the wide paved roads.
The first 5 miles of trail were very twisted with lots of ups and downs. It almost reminded me a little of the Turkeys and Taturs 50K up in Tulsa this past September, but with less rocks and roots. The remainder of the trail included some more jeep roads which offered an opportunity to really pick up the pace.
Overall, the course really made me feel like I was back home running the Horseshoe Trails at Lake Grapevine, but about 4 times longer. It was wonderful being out in the woods, with all the leaves covering the ground.
Runners would occasionally cross a wooden bridge over a small creek, with tiny leaves spinkled across the surface. The fall season has definitely arrived in this part of Louisiana!
The aid stations turned out to be about to be about 3 to 4 miles apart. They were well stocked and manned by very friendly volunteers. My favorite snacks for the day were peanut M&Ms and a new discovered treat, Hostess Ding Dongs!
There is a small lake that the runners get to run along side several times. It just added to the beauty of this great course. Occasionally you can hear the playful screams of the chimpanzees thru the trees of the forest. Yes that right, chimps! There is a facility, at this park, which serves as an retirement home for chimps who were at one time used for research purposes.
It’s an overcast day and that is keeping the temperatures way down from the previous hot weekend in Texas at both the Rockledge Rumble 50K and the San Antonio Marathon. I feel stronger today and finish the 50K in around 6 hours and 30 minutes. I am handed a finishers hat and surprised to learn I had won 2nd in my age group! I find out later that only 12 runners had signed up for the longer 50K distance. So it does pay just to show up to run, especially at some of these smaller trail runs, especially for us older fellows.
I did end up losing a few minutes on the final lap. Before I was handed an official blue wristband at the 2nd time thru the start area, I was inadvertently turned in the wrong direction by a race volunteer at about a mile out, who mistakenly thought my Lance Armstrong Yellow Wrist band was actual proof that I had completed the 2nd loop. Everything turned out fine in the end though. The race director and I agreed if I went back and covered the missing section, I would end up covering the required 50K distance.
On my final loop, I could hear the rumbling sounds of a woodpecker in the trees above. What a great place to run trails! I was envious of the friendly park employee, who I spoke to after the race that got to work at this wonderful park daily during the week.
This was a very fun trail race and I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to run their very first one in the great state of Louisiana.