by Thomas Y. Okazaki (T.O.)
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
October 15, 2005
My Very First Ultra Run
Through the darkness, the haunting sound of a bagpiper pierced the night. Runners and their friends, scurried along down the road, loaded down with their gear bags. A huge campfire lit up starting area, it’s flames revealing the sign boldly pronouncing this year’s edition of the Palo Duro Trail Run.
I had been anticipating this moment for quite sometime now. This would be my first attempt to go beyond the 26.2 mile barrier. What better place to have my coming out party as an ultra runner than the stunningly majestic Palo Duro Canyon. The 50K distance was only about additional 5 miles more than my previous best, so I felt pretty good about my chances for at least completing that distance.
I had just started running on trails back in March with the RAW weekday morning groups on the wonderful Horseshoe Trails. Before then this runner was a 100 per cent “roadie”, until Mr. Tom Byno led me out on my very first adventure into the dirt. Gradually, my confidence increased, along with my lower leg strength. Finally I tackled the more challenging North Shore Trail at Lake Grapevine and found I really enjoyed the solitude and surreal beauty of being outdoors.
Final instructions were given and then suddenly we were off! A long single line of runners, with headlamps and flashlights trailed off into the distance. The full moon that was peaking over the canyon rim had now sunk out of sight, with the slowly rising morning sun just starting to peak over the horizon to the east. Practicing using lights beforehand on trails at night was a big plus. That being said, I still highly recommend running with an experienced partner for safety reasons, especially if your new to the trails, unless your the highly adventurous type!
I normally wear 2 knee braces and several hamstring wraps, but a heavy dose of weekly long runs and plenty of mountain biking up hills had strengthen up upper legs over the summer. This seemed to help cure my ilio band problems. Taking E-caps also ease my cramping issues, so without all that gear, I felt like Forrest Gump, when his knee braces came flying off! Run T.O. Run!!
Trail races our pure and simple. They harken back to time of innocence for racing. The first thing you notice about the T-shirts handed out at Palo Duro is that they are no sponsorship logos on the back. This event is truly a labor of love for race director Red Spicer and his dedicated group of volunteers. Everything was first rate and well planned from the pre race pasta dinner, camping and lodging all way down to a well mark trail and friendly and helpful volunteers.
During the first 6 mile loop, I managed to tag along with the “Ancient Brit”, Mr. Lou Myers. He was suppose to be 77 years old but sure didn’t move like one! I also had the 67 year old Mr. Jay Norman trying to chase me down the entire race. Simply incredible! Running and staying in shape certainly can turn back the clock for some folks. I continue to be in awe at how youthful some runners continue to look at both NTTR and at LGRAW.
I started to pick up the pace on the second loop, which was approximately a 12.5 mile stretch. Looking back now, I should have walked up the steep portions of the course and raced harder down the backside and flat stretches. A rookie mistake! I paid for it dearly on the third loop, another 12.5 miler. I ran into Miss Letha Cruthirds on several occasions and was inspired by the presence of this Grand Slammer and 2 time Western States 100 finisher, to keep on going.
You have highs and lows during long runs like this. After walking for a spell, I decided to stop and regroup at a small pavilion, at about mile 26. It was time to roll up the sleeves and get down and dirty! The last portion the course was perhaps the hilliest and most difficult. I was determined to attack this section with as much gusto and bravado as I could muster. Time to start emptying the tank!
This was my very first “overnight” camping trip in quite sometime. Mr. Marty Metzer and his lovely wife Miss Tia had generously loaned me one of their large tents to use. I normally sleep in the car, but having a good nights rest turned out to be a big plus during this portion of the run. I never slept so soundly the night before a race. It was so marvelous hearing the howls hooting and the coyote howling in the distance.
The last few miles went by like a blur. Coming down a small hill and then turning toward the finish, I was ready to bring it to the house! The course was lined on both sides by magnificent flags, waving proudly in the wind, representing all the different states and countries of runners registered to run at Palo Duro that weekend. I was charged with excitement as I approached the finish line. The moment was electric and it was a thrill I will not soon forget. It was wonderful having friends and acquaintances from both RAW and NTTR cheering at the end.
I am forever grateful for discovering the joys of trail running. I am totally convinced that training on softer surfaces can only benefit my physical health, help to prolong my running career and improve my mental outlook on life. I am completely sold on the benefits of running on trails and hope to participate in a few more ultras in the future.