Tim Neckar, a running coach based in Houston, started the Toughest in Texas trail runs about 5 years ago. Runners can choose the 5, 10, or 20 mile course, or the 50K. Twenty-five or so of us lined up for the 50K start at 7 a.m. The course, 3 loops of about 10 1/3 miles, runs through the park, up and down the trails, which get lots of traffic from mountain bikers. As befits the needs of mountain bikers, the trails feature lots of long climbs and descents. The names of the trails, marked like ski slopes with green circles, blue squares, or black diamonds to rate difficulty, reveal what runners can expect: "Sidewinder," "Vortex," "Rio Perdido" (that's Dangerous River, in case you don't know Spanish).
Like many races, the highlight of this race was who I ran with. For the majority of the race, I ran with Stuart Skeeter and Joe Prusaitis. Stuart, an experienced trail runner and long-time family friend, has been running ultras for years, and has finished numerous 100 milers, so this little run was nothing. In e-mail exchanges before the race, he went on about not being in shape for this race. I don't know if it was humility, or if he just had a good day, but he seemed to be in pretty good shape to me! If you know trail running at all, then you know Joe, the king of trail running in Texas. As founder of Tejas Trails, he directs some of Texas's best trail runs. A veteran trail runner, he has completed an amazing number of ultras, including finishing the Hardrock 100, one of the toughest mountain ultras ever (the course includes a summit of a 14K peak), and less than 2 weeks later completing the Badwater Ultramarathon, the "world's toughest footrace," which starts every summer in Death Valley, where temperatures are easily 120-130 degrees. When I first started getting into trail running, Stuart told me how lucky we are in Texas to have a large number of races. It's not luck, though. It's Joe!
|My feet deserve a medal for what I put them through.|
I started the third loop alone, feeling pretty sluggish, but Joe quickly caught up with me and I got to draw some energy from him for a couple more hours. The first part of the loop is consistently tougher than the latter portion, so we suffered through those miles together. Then at the aid station we were greeted by my brother, Mark! That was a treat, to have him pace us for a while. He's run this race every year it's been run, and runs at Cameron Park for fun, so he knows the trails. Unfortunatly, I was about at the end of my rope, so he didn't get much of a run in, going as slowly as I was. The three of us ran together to the next aid station, and after about the mile 7 marker, with a little more than 3 miles left, Joe took off, showing his finishing strength. I was in my late-race 15-20 min/mile struggling to the finish mode.
|Jacob's ladder. It's steep.|
My beautiful wife and 3 terrific kids at the finish couldn't care less about how slow I was. They weren't very eager to get hugs from stinky, sweaty me, but they were still happy to see me. Stuart had finished in about 6:15 (undertrained. Haha!), and had stuck around to see me cross. Joe had finished about 20 minutes before; I got to introduce him to my family and visit with him a bit more. A burger and two cans of Dr Pepper made for a perfect finish.
This was a fun race, but the race organization, aid stations, goodie bag (nice gloves and technical shirt), and post-race spread were all overshadowed by the great trails. Which is as it should be. I loved Cameron Park when I lived in Waco, and it's even more lovable now. Anyone who lives in or around Waco and doesn't spend some time here every now and then--whether for a hike, a trail run, a mountain bike challenge, or just to sit on a bluff overlooking the river--is really cheating himself.
|This crew was a welcome site at the finish line. No, Zippy, I don't want to climb Jacob's Ladder again!|