Sunday, February 20, 2011

Back to Cross Timbers

Last year, I ran the 50 miler at Cross Timbers, 2 weeks after running the 50 miler at Rocky Raccoon.  I took a looooong time to finish, almost 15 hours.  So this time, I decided to head back for the marathon.  I was glad I did, for many reasons!  It was a great day, and, as usual, a great race.

The Cross Timbers Trail run, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this weekend, claims to be the oldest trail run in Texas.  It's run on what they call the "Toughest Little Trail in Texas."  They won't hear any disputes from me!  The course is an out and back, run twice for the 50 miler, and once, plus a loop at the beginning, for the marathon.  They also have a 5 mile and 1/2 marathon, which feature the toughest first section of the trail.  They say the marathon course has 5510' elevation gain and loss, but my Garmin said about 7400'; I'm going with Garmin.  Either way, there's a lot of up and down on the course.

The 50 mile runners took off in the dark at 6:30.  By the time the marathon started, at 7, there was plenty of light.
I arrived early enough to get my number, have a drink, and cheer for the 50 milers as they started their long day.  I also ran into a few running bloggers whom I keep up with via their blogs: Mark Smith (The Naked Runner), Dave Elliot (And the Adventure Continues), and I saw, but didn't get a chance to say hello to, Dave Hanenburg, who maintains an informative blog covering trail running all over the region (  The more of these races I run, the more a sense of community I feel with this great group of people: trial runners!

Soon the sun came up and it was time to begin the marathon.  The race director reminded trail running newbies not to expect to run their usual marathon pace, to expect to add about 30% to their usual marathon time.  I chuckled to myself; I thought, more like 50% if I'm lucky, possibly more!  After the marathon correction loop, we started up the trail.  I started at a pretty conservative pace, forcing myself not to pass what I perceived to be slower runners.  (I have learned that most of those slower runners are faster than me anyway!)  After a couple of miles I fell in with Mac, from Mississippi, and Jared, from Lewisville.  Mac, a seasoned road and trail runner who has run all over the country, told us about his favorite races and tried to recruit us to come run at some races in Mississippi.  Jared has been running a few years, but this was his first trail marathon.  He set a great pace, so I just stuck with him, Mac right behind.
At this point, I practically have to go on all fours.  Coming down this portion is harder than going up.
Mac was slow coming out of a couple of the aid stations, but always caught right back up.  He left the turnaround aid station before Jared and me; I kept thinking we would catch back up to him, but this experienced runner who was at least a decade or two older than me left us young bucks in his dust.  Jared and I ran together for a few more miles, but he was having some stomach issues, so I ran on ahead.  I didn't hang around long at the finish to see him cross the finish line; I'll be scouring the race results to see whether he ended up finishing.
I love this course!  Almost 100% rooty, dirt single track, winding through the woods.
For a few miles after I left Jared, I was able to pick up the pace a bit, but once I hit the rough part, the last few miles of the race, I went pretty slow.  The trails overall were in much better condition this year than last, with no spots that forced you to run through mud.  It was quite a bit warmer than last year.  I was getting pretty hot at the sun crept across the sky.  I imagine the 50 mile runners had a hot afternoon.  I remember those last miles as miserable, dark, and lonely, as I struggled toward the finish line last year.  They weren't all that much easier this time.  I was hot and ready to be done, but I was buoyed by the fact that I only had to do it once!  The end was near!  Those are still some pretty long miles.  I was beginning to smell those burgers, in my mind at least.
The Cross Timbers trail doesn't have long climbs, but there are lots of short, steep ones.
I finally crossed the finish line, 5 hours and 55 minutes after I started (58% longer than my road marathon PR, thank you!).  The burgers were hot and delicious, the drinks were cold, and my body was grateful that I didn't have to turn around and do it again!  Last year I remember coming into that tent to replenish my drinks and gels, smelling the burgers, seeing the marathon and 1/2 marathon runners happy and relaxed, and forcing myself to go out and run some more.  That was tough.
Don't forget to pause and take in the views of Lake Texoma!
Speaking of tough, at every race, I see and meet more tough runners.  There was the nice lady with the trekking poles whose age I won't speculate, but who has to be older than my mother (70).  She was attacking those trails with vigor I hope I have when I'm that age!  I got to visit with Fred Thompson, an NTTR fixture who has run trails all over the place.  He's in his early 60s and going strong.  I asked him his secret, but he laughed and said, "I don't have a secret, I just love to run!  If you love to run, you'll keep going!"  I don't know what distance he ran yesterday, but he probably did it faster than me.  And of course, I always admire those tough guys who keep a steady pace, out there in front, running 50 miles at a pace I can keep for 10 miles on a good day.  One of the great things about trail running is that everyone's welcome: those speedsters at the front, the slow ones at the back, and everyone in between.
Buddy Teaster, one of those steady runners, was well into the second out-and-back of the 50 when I met him on the trail.
In sum, Cross Timbers 2011 was a reminder of why I love trail running.  Any trail runner (or hiker, which I was for a good portion of the day!) will love this trail.  The race itself is executed flawlessly.  The volunteers (so many!  so dedicated!  so helpful!) kept me fueled up and always had a kind word, ready to serve.  I must say I was happy to have run the marathon rather than the 50 mile, although I may have broken my course-slowest record had I attempted it.  (I also got to see Zippy's 4th grade Longhorns win [Yippee!] and take Elliot to see the Baylor Bears lose to Tech [Boo!])  Next time around, maybe, just maybe I'll sign up for the 50 mile race.


  1. Your combination of seemingly unrelated interests - trail running and reading - has a special significance for the future of humanity, as you'll see suggested when you reach the last paragraph of my new post on the blog You are a role model!

  2. Mr. Ayres,
    What an honor to be called a "role model" by such an accomplished runner and prolific writer! Thanks! I'm afraid the depth of commentary on my Reading Glutton blog is as mediocre as my race times, but I have fun doing both, and that counts for a lot! I'll be checking out some of your writing; looks like interesting stuff.
    Best, Paul