Sunday, March 20, 2011

Grasslands Trail Half Marathon Race Report

Wow, where to start... I want to keep this short, relatively. This was my first trail race, my 21st half marathon, and my 2nd half marathon of 2011 with a 14 week old baby born by C-section at home too. Grasslands is a trail race with 26.6 (full) / 13.5 (half) / 50M distance choices in Decatur, Texas. I'd heard it was mostly pasture. Instead it turned out to be a beach without an ocean to go with it. The course was mainly deep soft sand which absorbed each step and played havoc with ankles and quads. There were small quick inclines and declines of multiple feet, and a couple creek ravines that were mostly hoppable, but otherwise no major climbs. The temps started about 65 degrees, with a thankful cool breeze, but with an 8:30 start time for half marathoners, it would be around 80 degrees when I finished.

After picking up my race packet race day morning!
Since Decatur is 1 1/2 hours away for me, I stayed with Fawn (@milanorunner) at a hotel in Decatur the night before - she was running the 50M (crazy awesome runner, and ended up 3rd overall female!). I was up at 5:20 am, left the hotel 6:20 am. Yes, my race didn't start until 8:30. But all my friends doing the 50M and 26.6M started at 7:00 and 7:15 am respectively. It was great connecting with so many friends with all the time I had before my race!
Corina captures me mid-bite of bagel, hanging out with 1 1/2 hours to my race start.
With marathoner friends Greg S. and Michelle B.

Mark O. gets a pic at the start line with Michelle and Erik K.

Greg T. volunteered as he's nursing a sore Achilles before the Boston Marathon next month, and Stacy M., a newer friend from Twitter and Dailymile!

Fast marathoner friends Nick and Shaheen. Nick's recently been bitten by the trail running bug and is signed up to run the Jemez 50-miler!

New friends G and Dawn
I wasn't sure about this whole trail thing because I am typically such a planner, preparer, overanalyzer about race courses and my strategies.  It turns out there's a reason to not get hung up on trying to understand the route. In the moment, you are just constantly scanning the horizon for a marker for which way to go while watching a couple steps in front of you at all times, checking footing and trying to pick the optimal path. It was tiring yet at the same time, that mental intensity meant the miles went quick and I couldn't be a Garmin GPS obsessor because glancing at my pace and mileage often would have resulted in a faceplant.

Early on, you could tell the crowd was different. We hit a gate only a 1/2 mile or so into the race and everyone quietly and patiently waited single file to pass through this tight bottleneck. Same with a creek ravine shortly after. A few roadrunners freaked at each point, but everyone else's casualness was calming and relaxed the situation.

Around mile 4 was when I had my "this is really real" moment. A small group of us were passed by the lead marathoner who had to do our blue loop after they'd done a white loop in another section, and we blindly followed. We came upon a few who were deciding that we'd gone the wrong way. We went with group majority decision, you don't leave the group, and backtracked as I told about a fork I'd seen before a pile of deadwood that could be the correct path. We found it, got back on course, and were only off course for a tenth of a mile or so. Within another 1/2 mile, I saw a man ahead of me take a tumble, turn it into a somersault, and go down. Luckily he was okay, but now I was a little freaked out with those back-to-back trail reality moments.

I hung out at the aid stations around miles 3.8 and 10 for 7 minutes total between them. Again, what a different atmosphere in this casualness. I took advantage of that, emptying sand out of each shoe at the mile 10 station, grabbing pretzels at the first station, and getting a mini-Snickers and orange slice at the second.

At about mile 6.8, I realized that with keeping my eyes on the ground, I'd forgotten to take any sort of energy gel - oops. No wonder I was starting to fade a little. I took a GU, and later I would decide to take another at mile 11. I had to walk each GU because I could not handle squeezing GU, drinking water, AND watching my footing!

The last couple miles I was passing lots and lots of walkers. The mile splits below will look odd with the aid station stops included and my slow walk breaks for taking my GUs, but this is where I was thankful I had maintained pretty even splits through the entire race. I felt like I looked strong coming into the finish.

In the end, a 3:08 finish time for 13.41 miles. Now hold on a second. I did a 3:01 at Austin Half Marathon 4 weeks ago, and now I had gone 0.3 mi longer with 7 minutes (checked my GPS download) of "break" at aid stations in sandy, hot TRAIL conditions and was only TOTAL 7 minutes slower?!? I know, I don't get it either. But I felt like I had a great race day and felt strong. And with my next trail race, Hells Hills 25K, in 2 weeks, when I finished Grasslands I asked myself if I could have just done a slow 2.1 miles further on this course to a 25K, and my body said "Yes". So as long as the terrain isn't too much harder, I'm not going to freak out about the next race.

By the way, before the race started, new friend Tracy said, "I hear you haven't really done trail until you bleed." Well, some thorny bushes got me in the calf, those are the blood streaks on my right leg. And my legs aren't normally splotchy like that - it's all the sand that basically caused us to all have sand-blasted legs as it got kicked up the whole time.

At home, since I felt like I'd used all sorts of muscles with uneven terrain and high knee lifts avoiding falls, I did an ice bath. Here's me for 10 minutes with 40 pounds of ice and some extra cold water.

Next week is Dallas Rock N Roll Half Marathon on March 27. I have 19 weeks until my first marathon, the San Francisco Marathon on July 31st!

Split paces in min/mi (note I hit the Lap button at one odd spot so that explains some disjointness):
Mile 0.0 - 1.0: 12:40
Mile 1.0 - 2.0: 12:56
Mile 2.0 - 3.0: 13:50
Mile 3.0 - 4.0: 14:13 (stop at Aid Station 1)
Mile 4.0 - 5.0: 13:23
Mile 5.0 - 6.0: 13:21
Mile 6.0 - 7.0: 13:59 (took GU towards end of this mile, so was walking more than usual)
Mile 7.0 - 8.0: 12:53 (got faster! Must have been the GU at the start of this mile, LOL!)
Mile 8.0 - 9.0: 13:43
Mile 9.0 - 10.0: 15:50
Mile 10.0 - 10.5: 19:40 (stop at Aid Station 2)
Mile 10.5 - 11.5: 14:51 (took a GU in here and walked through taking it)
Mile 11.5 - 12.5: 14:32
Mile 12.5 - 13.41: 13:26


  1. Great report and great run! So glad we got to meet up again. Good luck with the rest of your season.

  2. Yay! It was fun, wasn't it? I really enjoyed the whole "trail" scene and the laid back atmosphere. Can't wait to hear about Hells Hills. I wish that I could join you.

  3. Congrats on the trail half! It sounds like a lot of fun - reading that makes me want to give one a try! :)

  4. Awesome! Congrats! Sounds like a blast. I'm targeting a trail half in November and I have no idea what I'm getting into - guess it's time to start trying some trail running...

  5. Looks fun! I was wanting to do that one! Have you hit up the trails on Lake Lavon? They are beautiful and very close to us here in Allen. Literally 5 minutes!

  6. I've heard the trails are MUCH harder, so it sounds like an amazing time to be so close to the Austin time and so soon post-baby. Amazing. And btw, you look amazing in the photo too. Are you sure you had another baby?

    Trail is definitely on my list for next year.

    Hope to see you this Sunday at RnR.