Report by Bill (The Geeze) Rumbaugh
Cameron Park, Waco, TX
March 11, 2006
This is a brief description of a race new on the Texas Trail Running scene, written for the benefit of others who may want to run the race in the future. It was the inaugural event and the RD, Tim Neckar, appeared interested in growing and expanding the run in the future.
The course consisted of one 10.3 mile loop that was repeated three times for the 50k entrants. There was also a 10 mile (The “Waco 1 – 0”) event which started an hour later and ran the course once. This gave time to space the runners out so there was little overlap.
Looking at the venue (Cameron Park in Waco) from the Google satellite view ahead of time, I did not see how such a compact space could hold a 10.3 mile loop. Once on the trail, however, it became apparent that under the dense foliage of the park (seen from space thanks to Google) lurked a tangled morass of many trails, totaling probably twice that amount or possibly even more. Switchbacks, curves and crossings of other trails abounded. The trails were in good repair and quite narrow in many places, a feature that I like, personally, though it can make passing a little tricky. It would have been easy to forget that you were in a city, but an occasional audible clue (clattering diesel engine, siren, the sound of a car on an unseen nearby street) could bring you back. Horses and bikes shared many of the trails. I noticed that bikers tended to stop and wait for runners, how’s that for a paradigm shift from the North Shore!
The pre-race information, though limited, promised trails that were “rocky, rooty, hilly and very challenging (but fun!)” Well, heck, that could mean just about anything. But, after running it, I’d have to say the description was dead on. It was a tough course. If you are hoping for a 50k PR, this is not your race. If, on the other hand, you want a challenge, yet not be overwhelmed, this will fill the bill. The 9-hour cutoff was a little demanding and there were a few that did not make it. An 8-hour cutoff would have been too severe.
There were rocks, roots and hills galore. I’d have to say (in my limited experience) the course was pretty technical. There were many, many places that there was no way you could negotiate them except by walking. Many hills were steep, and some were prolonged. A rainy event on this course would up the ante considerably. On the other hand, there were many parts that were quite runnable (and “fun”). There was a lot of shade, which also meant that if there was any wind blowing, cooling breezes probably would not penetrate to where the runners are. The temperature started at over 60 degrees on race day and climbed into the 80’s during the run. Fairly tough, and a far cry from the East Texas Trail Run a few short weeks ago where it was in the 30’s with a stiff wind. There were a few spots that were exposed, and when the sun came out, it tended toward the brutal. There was no way to maintain a sense of direction, so I gave up trying fairly early on. At one point on the second loop about 4 hours into it, the sun was out and coming through the trees at what seemed to be a shallow angle, like it was late afternoon. I looked at my watch and it was 11:15 AM. A surreal moment, which passed.
Some fairly unique aspects of the trail were:
Cedar trees comprised much of the tree population trailside. Their blue berries were in abundant supply around them. They lose their needles all during the year, which leave patches of brown by the side of the trail. Many of these brown patches were more blue than brown such was the density of the berries. I don’t know when I’ve seen so many of them. Runners’ feet would crush them as they passed by, infusing the area with the scent of cedar. Very pleasant. Especially if you are a gin and tonic fan.
The area must be a great habitat for trees. There were many saplings which had the audacity to grow up in the middle of the trail. The diligent folks who maintain the trails (hats off to them) cut them off pretty close to the ground. But, since nothing dulls a chainsaw blade quicker than getting in the dirt, these herenow saplings are sawed off about an inch above the ground level. This leaves an ideal obstacle that just invites face plants. I saw a lot of them which had the dirt around them loosened considerably. Which means that several people had kicked the crap out of them during the event. I know I kicked my fair share of them. Something to be aware of.
There was an area with lots of tall (>10′) saplings with trunks between 1 and 2 inches in diameter. It looked odd to see so many all in one area.
Many places had small saplings right up next to the trail. With the narrowness of the trail and its curvaceous nature, it did not take a lot of imagination to see yourself as a downhill skier clearing gates on a slalom course.
Many of the trails had names marked by a series of newly-painted signs. The signs sported various names, some cutesy, others enigmatic. Some examples are, “Powder Monkey,” “Shyst,” “Johnie,” “Cal 56,” “Rio Perdido (Lost River),”Have Faith” and “Root Canal.”
There was a section of trail which ran through a stand of bamboo for 200 – 300 feet. There was enough of it to suffuse everything with a pale green tint. The wind made a whispering sound as it blew through the leaves. Very unique.
After the bamboo, you cross a road, do a difficult climb (the aforementioned “Root Canal”) and then it is downhill from there to the Start/Finish Area. So the bamboo is something to look forward to, especially if you are on your last loop. The downhill into the S/F area was appreciated, you always want to look strong for the cheering spectators at the finish and a downhill makes it easier, even if you are well and truly whacked at that point.
A few people got lost on the trail, and as we all know, it’s not a “real” trail run if no one gets lost. Your humble scribe was one of those, at least 3 times. On one occasion, it led embarrassingly to my coming through an aid station AGAIN, this time from a different direction! After making the wrong turn (invariably it was at one of the innumerable trail crossings), I would retrace my route and find that the junction where I went wrong was clearly marked, I had just not been paying attention (too busy watching for sawed off saplings!). The trails are quite defined, but the course does not always follow the individual trail you mebbe think it should. Something to be aware of. In my opinion, the fault was not with the marking, it was with me.
Aid stations were positioned at about the 3 and 7 mile points in the 10.3 mile loop. This seemed about right. One at the midpoint would not have been enough, and more than two on the course would have been unnecessary. The S/F area also was an aid station, plus the parking lot was close by if you needed something from the car. A suggestion would be to put your drop bag or ice chest near the finish line area, however, rather than leaving it at your car, as I did. The parking lot is off the course a short distance. The overflow parking lot would be some distance away if you arrived late and did not get a parking place near the pavilion. So retrieving something from a car in the overflow lot would not be as convenient. The aid stations were surprisingly well-stocked for an inaugural event, a nod to the race’s management. I was even offered ice for my handheld water bottle on two occasions, a real luxury. It was doubtless a long day for the volunteers, waiting with little shade for an occasional runner to sally through. By the second and third loop, runners were pretty spaced out. I was by myself on the trail and at the aid stations most of the time, so I gather that we were separated by several minutes. Makes the volunteers’ day go slowly, I know, but they did their very best until the very last and we love ’em for it.
On the personal side, I signed on for this race as a gut check to see if I was ready to take on the Grasslands 50-miler two weeks hence, my first trail run of that distance. Going from 31 miles to 50 miles is a big step. I’d hoped that I would be to the point where a 50k is “no big deal” before I made that step. I’m not there yet. My third loop was a lot more walking than the first and second, and I have come to accept it as the norm. I felt pretty good at the end of the race, and by the time I had changed clothes, rehydrated and eaten a fajita, I felt refreshed and ready for the drive back to Dallas. The next morning, I was not excessively sore or tired, so I take that as an indicator that all systems are green for the 50 miler. Stay tuned for the next exciting episode!