Sunday, February 19, 2012

Cross Timbers Trail Marathon Race Report - Mud, mud, and more mud

It was raining as we huddled in the tent before the trail marathon start. I was at the Cross Timbers Trail Marathon at Lake Texoma, outside Whitesboro, Texas. Actually, my first trail marathon. My 4th marathon, and my 6th race of a marathon or longer. I had signed up just one week before. This was to be a "training run". What a crazy world I was now in that I was calling a marathon a training run. The big eye on the prize was that this was a test for me for the Gorge Waterfalls 50K in 5 weeks. That race has less steep gradients but 6500 feet elevation gain over 33 miles. Cross Timbers was a suitable exercise in finding out what that much climb meant because it's 5500 over just 26.2 miles and very steep climbs too for much of that.

I warn you this race report is long and a detailed narrative. But for me, this is my personal blog, so it's my record of what I did right and wrong to make sure I learn from it when I need to go back and revisit what worked and what didn't. This is my documentation, and if it's helpful or entertaining to others, that's just a bonus! You've been warned! ;-)

Marathon as Training Run? Test out all the ultimate race stuff
In this race, I had a lot of new gear and new strategies I wanted to test out for ultimately using at the Gorge Waterfalls 50K. I had trail shoes, my first ever pair, Brooks Cascadia, that I had gotten at Christmas and had used for a couple weekends of runs. I had my new Saucony running vest that I wanted to use for the damp conditions and waterfall spray at Gorge next month - and I'd never worn a run vest before and worried about chafing. I had my new Garmin Forerunner 910XT I'd only been using for about a week. I carefully chose my running hat and long sleeve San Francisco Marathon Ambassador shirt for the rain conditions. And I had my new hydration pack, the UltrAspire Surge, that had just come out on the market in December with very limited supply, so I snatched one up, and had been using it for just 27 miles last weekend so far. I'm normally a handheld bottle person but knew the Gorge Waterfalls 50K would have climb spots where I might need my hands. This race would prove the same, and I was glad I had the pack.

I was also trying to fix my nutrition. I can get sour stomach easily on a run, so I've found my nature is that if my stomach is good, I stop trying to put much in it so it will stay good. However, this led to what was probably hypoglycemia at mile 27 of the Wild Hare 50K, when I later tallied up only having eaten about 400 calories during the race up to that point. My plan was to consume a lot more calories this time. I feel like I spent as much time eating as running at this race, it was tiring work, but this explains why I'm going to talk more about what I ate through each aid station.

Race Day Arrives

Race day morning was temperatures hovering in the mid- to high-forties all day, with off and on rain. Winds at 8-12 miles per hour. I had gotten up at 3:30, yawn!, out the door by 4:10, yawn!, and was at the race site at 5:30 am. Checked in to get my packet, back to the car and ate my breakfast, then hung out until the start of the 50 milers. I got to meet Jeff, @HardCorpsRunner, who was running the marathon and his friend Jeff who was running the 50 mile. I was one of just a handful who stood to the side, wished the 50 Milers good luck in the dark, and cheered their start.

Back to the car to grab my pack and drop my headlamp I had used for just getting around the race site. Then to the tent to see more friends and hear the trail briefing again (had just heard it for the 50 milers an hour before).
My highly reflective running vest, LOL, along with Julie (@julie_runs) and Suann (@UltraLadySuann)
The race starts in the rain, and we first do a 1.2 mile loop on the pavement. It's because the trail is 12.5 each way so we need the extra mileage to finish the marathon. A girl Kirstin starts chatting with me, and I immediately enter "Happy Puppy" mode, which I would sadly remain in for the next 3 miles. I went out too fast. Too easy to do in a trail race that's single track as you just get carried along with the people ahead of you. Everyone's chatty and the distraction drives your pace even faster. I lose Kirstin the second we enter the trail, but within another mile I comfortably have a gal named Jen behind me and Jeff (@HardCorpsRunner) ahead of me. The happy puppy in me pays absolutely no attention to the terrain which would drive me mad on the back portion in the last few miles when NOTHING looked familiar.

The first (and last) 6.5 miles of this course are the toughest. Lots of up and downhills. At this point, it's a little wet, a little rainy, but still getting muddy. Around mile 2, I "paint my booty" by sliding down a muddy hill on my butt unintentionally.

Aid Station 1 - About 3.7 miles in
Jen, Jeff, and I hit the first aid station. I've already had a half pack of Honey Stinger orange chews. I eat a peanut butter cracker and grab 4 gumdrops. In and out - do not "move in" to the aid station! A little while later, I have my first GU. We climb up and down massive hills criss-crossed with rocks and roots. I lose Jeff and Jen during this time because I occasionally stop to take pictures. Every time I come around the bend I'm amazed at the next up or down hill. About 3 1/2 miles in, the 180 half marathoners, who started a half hour after us but didn't have to do the initial 1.2 miles of pavement, start to catch us. As slower runners, we get caught by a lot more of them, and I'm constantly having to move off the trail in this very narrow single track to let someone by. My hands start to feel cold (it was in the 40s) so I pull my gloves out of my pack and put them on.
See the little person at the top!
Mile 5 or so and now the half marathoners are coming back on this out-and-back route. So I'm stepping off the path for letting slower half marathoners pass me, and again for the oncoming fast half marathoners. It's a bit chaotic, and slowgoing. And inbetween all of this we're still climbing up and down these giant rock-laden hills!

Aid Station 2 - About 7.7 miles in
This aid station has every kind of cookie, cracker, or chocolate you could ever want. I get a peanut butter and chocolate chips ahoy cookie, half of a slice of chocolate orange, and a couple pretzels. We finally hit some runnable nice "normal" trail, but I feel so tired and sore between my early too-fast miles and all that climbing. I muster a run and keep it going. I eat another half pack of Honey Stinger chews. I finally start to feel in a rhythm. But there's always something I hit to slow me down again. Another really rooted section, or out of nowhere a bunch of lava rocks, big ones.

A little while later a deep sandy beach (I think of "Sandlands", Grasslands, and chuckle in that moment). Around mile 9 we even hit an asphalt road (a blessing) for a little bit, athough the steep gradient up to the road sucks for the reward of road.
An example of one of the "better sections" of trail - less muddy, less rooted, less rocky - but still a lot of elevation. See how much further down she is! (Photo Credit: Bryan Moore)
Aid Station 3 - About 11.5 miles in
Another couple pretzels, a few gumdrops, and an orange slice to enjoy down the road, and I'm off again. Some major sinkable mud spots through here with nice opportunities to submerge a foot deep enough in the sludge to get your foot just wet enough to make you give out a "Yeow!" This spot feels pretty runnable though. It starts to warm up and right before the next aid station I take off my gloves.

Aid Station 4 (Turnaround) - 13.1 miles
It's 3hrs,45min into the race. It's warmed up some so I remove my gloves as I approach the aid station and have the volunteer shove them in my pack. A nice volunteer asks if we need to refill my water pack. I tell her I'd filled it to 60 oz this morning and didn't feel like I'd drunk much. She checks anyway, I'm down to like 15 oz! Great sign I'm hydrating well! They refill it. I have a cup of coke. I hate coke, but it had worked so well when I got sick at Wild Hare 50K that I've decided to continue on that as "rocket fuel" for this race. The volunteer asks what I want and fills my hand with 4 pretzels and two delicious chocolate truffles.

Back on the course where everything will look different but slightly familiar on the "back" portion. Another half pack of Honey Stingers, and a GU over the next few miles. I try to call Elaine because cell reception has been awful. With no data at that moment I want her to help communicate to Steve and my mom how I'm doing, but our phone call cuts in and out. A short bit later I have enough bars to text, but I always seem to need a full 3 out of 5 bars to tweet, so I text Elaine.

It's a little over 4 hours in and it has started to rain again. Big drops this time, not a light rain. This rain would continue and only get worse up until the finish 4 hours later.

I knew it was going to be a long day out here. I knew about the climbing yet to come in miles 20 and beyond. I was working hard to keep a steady run pace for these runnable sections. And the phrase that I kept thinking was "I'm Enduring." Over and over again. "I'm an endurance athlete... And I'm enduring." It's highly likely I'm DFL (Dead F*&%ing Last) in this race, "But I'm enduring." This mantra would carry me through the second half of this race.

Aid Station 3 again - About 15.5 miles in
The volunteers were so great about asking as you approached "What do you need?" And I've gotten good now at knowing what I want before I get there. I immediately ask for coke. They're out and someone is on their way with more. Sad panda. I flounder. That's not in my plan for them to be out of coke. He starts to list off everything they do have. He says, "Boiled salted potatoes." My ears perk up. They will have those at Gorge Waterfalls 50K, I should practice with that. They are exactly what you can imagine - someone boiled whole potatoes, they covered them with salt, then sliced them into rounds, and they are sitting there cold in a tupperware. A sarcastic YUM. I take two slices. They taste as gross as I expect them to, but they are heavy good carbs so I know they are helping me. I also grab an orange slice for the road. The orange slices are more distraction than anything else, and slow release of some flavor as I work to gnaw every little bit of juice I can get out of it.

I go through the beach area again. I laugh out loud because I feel like with a picture you might think it was a stormy day on a beach in Hawaii or something. I snap a couple pictures to remember that feeling.

Dirty camera screen, but still - do I look like I could be on a pretty beach on vacation? LOL
Another mile down the road I hit Jeff who has decided to powerwalk the second half of the course because he didn't really train up for this race (he's there because he's the driver for his friend doing the 50 miler). I give him the choice, come with me, or keep doing what you are doing. We decide to stick together. I was glad for the company.

At this point, I'm cold and want my gloves on again. But my hands have begun to swell and my gloves are normally pretty fitted. Note to self: need gloves in one bigger size. I had to go glove-less the rest of the race with numb hands. Brrrr.

Aid Station 2 again - About 19.5 miles in
So happy when the clock was about 5hr,45min when we got here. That gives me hope for making the cutoff at mile 20 at Gorge Waterfalls (about 6 hours for that cutoff).

We hang out for a few minutes here because we know what's ahead. We know we have to go back through the hilly section next, and it's been raining nonstop for about 1 1/2 hours. This is also where it sinks in how well I picked my gear because I would actually forget it was raining at times because I felt so well protected by my running hat, vest, and long sleeve shirt I had chosen.

My friend David comes through on his way back out on the 50 miler. He was having such a strong run and had a smile for us. He ended up finishing 50 miles on those wet and muddy conditions in about 10 hours. Insane!

I grab a cup of Coke at this aid station, and I down half of a Dixie cup with some sort of mix of nuts and chocolate chips and yogurt chips. I'm a picky eater, so it's funny for me to slam a cup of some combo of foods I would normally look at suspiciously and ask what's in it.

And then it got ugly. Things have become MAJORLY slick. These major up and downhills are covered in rocks and boulders. I thought about and told Jeff the story of Courtney (@cisforcourtney) who a while back had tripped and fallen out on a trail run and hit her head pretty badly on a rock when she fell. That story scared me so much as I went through this course. I wasn't so worried about getting muddy or slipping and sliding, it was sliding and hitting a root or a rock badly.

The limestone dirt has foamed into a slippery mud. Imagine... 30 50-milers have already come through here out AND back AND back out again, 90 marathoners have already come through here out AND back, and 180 half marathoners have come out AND back, and it just keeps raining. They've frothed up the dirt into major mud for the very back of the marathon pack, which means me and Jeff.
All you can do is walk and slide through it. 50 Miler back out on his second loop.
We take turns trying to pick the least slippery path. On downhills my hands frequently have to go down in the mud when I take a slip. We joke that I'll write "Trudging" into my next training plan, because I seem to have the worst center of gravity and balance. I feel like I've written a scene for a Monty Python skit, "We're peasants... we trudge... it's just what we do."
A great picture of this slipper mud (Photo Credit: Bryan Moore)
Aid Station 1 again - About 23.7 miles in
It felt like we would never get there. And so much wouldn't feel familiar. One of us would say, "Are we sure we're still on the path?" and then there's a white flag right in front of us. Yeah, we were tired. We hit the last aid station, and I feel like I've eaten as much as I've been running. I do TWO cups of Coke at this point, and a couple pretzels, and decide I'm done with food.

A half mile later Jeff and I come upon Becky. She's like a cartoon. There's a short steep hill. She tries to climb it and sliidddddes back down. She's able to laugh about it, but she's been there a couple minutes...and later joked she wonders how much longer she would have been there without us. I go first and almost rip my tights on the tree root I decide to basically use just upper body strength to pull myself up on since my feet have no traction. Jeff goes next and stops at the top. He tells Becky to grab his hand to pull herself up and helps her to the top. We all stick together through the end of the race.

At one point we tackle an uphill where I felt like I pulled a glute muscle because I had to pull myself up on roots and lift a leg to a plateau a good 3 feet up from where I was. Ow.
I've just finished climbing the uphill. You can see Becky using tree roots to climb up behind me and Jeff.
The puddles in the last mile have gotten deep, and we just stop trying to avoid them. And we're thankful to be out of the slippery up- and downhills. We keep up a slow run all the way to the end.

Just a tenth of a mile from the end or so and I hit a slick spot and go down on my hands and knees. And slide a couple feet. My hand and one knee hit a sharp rock that stops my sliding. I come into the finish with the muddiest knees and hands ever, the finish crew is laughing. :-)

8 hours and 4 minutes. What a long day! Non-stop rain the last 4 hours. 5500 elevation gain and loss. Minor cuts all over my hands from grabbing trees for support on slippery muddy sections. A cut and bruise on my knee from the fall & slide that careened into the rock near the finish. Sore hamstrings and glutes from climbing. And definitely the hardest race I've ever done, and that includes the two 50Ks I've run.

I have a small wood plaque etched with the race logo for finishing. Of course my hands were so muddy that right now the plaque is a muddy mess and I'll have to take a hose to it, LOL.

And so nice to have my friend Corina right there when I finished, and the race director Teresa with a big smile!

Next Up: Gorge Waterfalls 50K
Plane tickets are booked. In 5 weeks I'm off to Oregon to tackle a very tough, but incredibly fun and beautiful, 50K with 250 other crazies! I may not make the time cutoffs at each aid station, but I won't know if I don't try. So I'm going for it!


  1. Awesome story and detail Libby; loved living the adventure with you and your new friends.
    Proud of you for your ongoing dedication!!!
    Best always,

  2. Yea yea yea!!! Great news! You can totally do Gorge! Loved the details in the race report! We need to talk about rain gear! I was talking to Fi about it today. I need a rain jacket or shirt or something, so remind me next run to pick your brain on that one!

    Congrats on the race! That looks incredibly hard! Proud of you!

  3. I say this every race but gosh darn it you are a rock star! Awesome "training run".

  4. YES!!!! U are awesome and you're going to Gorge!!! I love you for going for it fearlessly! Great job!

  5. I enjoyed your write-up! Great finish on a tough day. That's a tough course when the weather's perfect, much less in the constant rain. And I think I'm very jealous of the Gorge race! Looks like a beautiful place to run! I'll check back in a few weeks for a race report!

  6. I love the photo of the root climbing. Coke IS rocket fuel.

    Good luck with the Gorge, it looks like a blast!

    Bryan Moore

  7. I found a link to your race report from the Cross Timbers FB page. You ROCK for completing the marathon distance and I want to thank you for the report with pictures.

    I ran/walked/trudged the 1/2 and can now show people your pictures and let them see a bit of what was out there.

    I also want to thank you for putting on the New Year's Double... that was my 1st & 2nd 1/2s.

  8. Congrats Libby on enduring! You continue to amaze me, that you can do all that and be a wonderful mom too! I love how well prepared you were for the weather and also your beach photos! Glad your injuries were minor, feel better soon! I have a 50K in May that I'm looking forward to (Ohlone Wilderness Run). Have a lovely trip to Oregon and get back to California before too long!

  9. I love those pics, it was a nice race event. Congratulations to all the participants for a great job well done and looking forward always for more updates. Thanks for sharing !

  10. Wow! What a race! Way to go and you totally should have taken a muddy picture of your plaque! Happy to hear you are going to do Gorge Waterfalls 50k! You are so right! You won't know if you don't try! Loved reading this thinking the whole time of you coming back to it in prep for other races.

  11. Libby, your blow-by-blow Cross Timbers story is one of the best I've ever read. Having been running at CT for the last 25 years or so, and having been RD with my wife, Betty and running buddy, Jack Johnson for seven of those years, I'm intimately familiar with the trail. And, I can honestly say the trail conditions were about as bad (not quite - no high water or really temperatures) as I've ever seen them. Fortunately, I only ran the 1/2 Marathon and was probably home, cleaned-up and in bed by the time you finished :)

    Have a great run at Gorge Waterfalls 50K. It can't be any more difficult than CT was.

    Jay Norman