by Suzi Cope, Race Director
LBJ National Grasslands, Decatur, Texas
The borrowed pick up truck broke down only minutes after I emptied the last of two trash loads in the forest service dumpster. As I sat behind the wheel waiting for the tow truck on Sunday morning, the day after the sixth annual Grasslands Run, you might expect I would be unhappy. Actually, as race director it was the first peaceful moment in weeks, and my chance to think about what North Texas Trail Runners with our sponsor IMPRIMIS, had managed again. It felt good, very good.
Texas weather was the greatest challenge to both runners and volunteers. The LBJ National Grasslands trails are dependable in distance, but entirely unreliable in texture. 2002 was the Mudlands, still spoken of with great reverence. You had to be there to believe the consistency of the trails. This year we had the opposite, for the first time it was a day at the beach. Any moisture will pack the sand trail to near perfection making a fast track for the three events, 50 mile, marathon and half marathon. Instead we had dry breezy weather leading up to race day, and the sand traps deepened accordingly.
275 runners registered before the entry cutoff and received our standard Grasslands entrants RaceReady coolmax running shirt sponsored by Dallas/ Ft Worth staffing solutions company IMPRIMIS. CEO and founder Valerie Freeman supports the run, her husband Jay runs and finishes the 50, and their family always volunteers. We could not do it without them.
Race day was overcast, hot and humid. Our 7:00 a.m. start for the 50 mile seemed comfortable, if you were a volunteer. The 8:00 a.m. marathon and half marathon also got away under a cloud cover. Jon Korte actually lowered his half marathon course record by a couple minutes, winning in 1:26:26. Petite speedster 21-year-old Sarah Reardon completed her first trail run four minutes behind Jon, and third place of 121 finishers.
The marathon runners handled the blue 14.4 mile loop well, under cloud cover, but the sun began to burn through as they worked on the yellow loop for a finish. Local favorite Jack Hase pulled off another win, in 3:27:46 and on the distaff side Shelley Egli posted a 4:03:08. Only six runners went under four hours in this tough event among 60 finishers.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, the start area was becoming a party. As the 50 mile runners finish a loop they come through this area for aid and encouragement. The burgers started grilling and the coolers came out. The first runner through was 17 year old Denton, Texas runner Chris Castorena, who did not stop for aid.
Grasslands run has fabulous aid stations every two to four miles throughout, and each has friendly volunteers and extensive support materials. As the day warmed into the mid 80s, every aid station offered SUCCEED! Electrolyte replacement drink, ice, water, food, and all manner of ultra amenities. The classic Freeman aid station gave away new MONTRAIL bottles of ice water to half marathon newbies as they came to their thirsty senses, eight miles into the run. HAM radio operators monitored all stations this year and kept aid captains Glenn Hamilton and Britt Starnes on the run with resupply demands.
Half a dozen couples started the 50 mile, and some even stayed together. Hardened Texas runners like Joe and Joyce Prusaitis tried to support each other mentally through the miles. They were passed late in the day by local speedy couple, Barbara and George Hitzfeld. First time 50 mile entrants Helene and Alan Walker ran on different but equally successful paces.
The afternoon turned into a lovely picnic. Oliver Clint Smokehouse cooked up 400 prime burgers, and family members hiked the 10 km trail for fun. Dogs played everywhere, and some ran in the half marathon, eating ZUKE’S POWERBONES at every aid station.
The 17 year old was still running hard, and only started to look over his shoulder on the fourth loop. That is when experience caught Chris, in the form of St. Joseph, Missouri ultra runner Paul Schoenlaub. At 44, Paul is a veteran and looks at Grasslands as another training run on his way to a Grand Slam attempt this summer. I think Chris gave him more of a workout than he planned, finishing only six minutes back. The 6:32:15 win is still seven minutes over Scott Eppelman’s solid course record.
Though we were all thrilled by young Chris we were in awe of Drew Meyer’s incredible run 7:48:38 at the age of 56. Ultra running is full of amazing people over 50, but this was a stunning performance, and fifth place finish under harsh conditions. There were a dozen finishers over 50, plus Herb Jarrell and Dan Little who are both 60.
The youth factor was interesting in the 75 percent finish rate. Our first virgin 50 mile finishers were Dustin Grott 19, and Jeremy Haynes 21 who crossed the line together in 8:51:42. They each earned a belt buckle besides the finisher award of handsome black embroidered sweatshirt and pants. 50 mile runners also received a copy of Neal Jamison’s terrific book Running Through the Wall and a North Texas Trail Runners bandana.
What the women’s race lacked in speed this year, they made up for in grace. Winner Barbara Hitzfeld spent the day working her way up through the field running with her husband George, after their routine late start. Kimberly Pilcher and buddy Rebecca Watkins finished together in 9:20:41. Our local 50-year-old wonder woman Letha Cruthirds had a tough day, but persevered to beat her age group challenge from California, Jan Levet. Jan announced with a smile that she loved the course and would be back.
The local running club Lake Grapevine Runners and Walkers turned to the dirt and members won the half and full marathon. Five RAW members finished their first 50 on the Grasslands course this year, including club President Kelly Richards, who impressed us all with her ultra style finish chute barf.
Grasslands run is a favorite of runners trying their first trail event. Ashley Farmer from Fort Collins, Colorado and her sister Lindsay of Seattle, Washington ran their first trail run together here, also completing their first marathon! Veteran ultra runner Barbara Bellows challenged her sister Katherine, of Seattle, to the 50 mile. When Barbara bruised her foot in the last lap she took her shoes off and ran barefoot in the sand still encouraging Katherine. They joined Jerry Wasicek and the sweep rider just after sunset, for the final race finish time of 12:28:14.