Unexpectedly & Surprisingly, this somewhat minor blip on my radar, turned into a much bigger event than it should have been. Initially, I had signed up for the half-marathon, same as I did last year. Mark Lindsey, who had created this race and the course, was supposed to mark the course, same as he always does, but a family misfortune was such that he had to leave town, and a big 'ask' from him was for me to mark the course in his stead. Mind, I don't know this park all that well, and I certainly don't know the course, certainly not enough to mark it. But, I had 2 weeks, so I came out as soon as possible to learn it. Mark was to meet me at 2pm on Monday, but I was worried, so I arrived 2 hours earlier to get ahead of the curve.
I know the course somewhat. I had helped Mark once a few years ago, and I had run the half marathon last year, but understand: running a course and knowing a course are not near the same thing. I start where we always start, and took off on foot, working out the first 4 or 5 intersections half-heartedly. I wasn't sure, but followed what felt right. I was good til I got to the 1st split, and then the 2nd both on Wookie Way. I took the long way at both splits, but filed them both in mind to ask Mark about later. Another split at Rock Garden of Greatness, I remember we skipped, so I dodged it. I cross Abby Road to stay on Wookie to the next left on a jeep road that I guess on. At this point the trail is so much easier and non-technical: what I suppose would be a very fast bike track. The next intersection is marked with an arrow to turn right onto a ghost of a trail, so I stay strait instead of taking the ghost. Five minutes later, I know I'd guessed wrong, so I leave the trail to cut over onto the main park paved road.
I call Mark, and he's just entered the park, so he drives by and picks me up. Well, I got about 6 miles of it right, and he tells me what to do about all the questionable splits on Wookie, so I now have half the course in my head. We drive back to the start, where we reset. We drive down and park my truck where Abby Road meets the paved park road and hike in from there. Just to be sure, we go back directly to where I knew I'd gone wrong earlier. This time we take the ghost trail which is soon onto the nasty big powerline hills. We follow course around to the place where the trail drops down to the 2nd aid and comes right back up again. We start down, but only for a few minutes. Mark attempts to describe the stop point, so, we don't go all the way down, but turn around and head back up. We cut over to Well Rd and back up to a quarry area. There appears to be 2 quarries in the park, but I never do get the two of them sorted out.
We bounce back and forth along here as Mark cuts over at intersections to show me as much where not to go, as he shows me where to go, and also the track where we cut back later. So, we don't follow the course strait away as we had been doing earlier. I hear what he says, and it makes sense, but I'm still not sure I'll remember each point as they begin to stack one on top the other to the point I'm certain a few will slip out and get lost.
We skim the turns of South and North Croton but don't enter upon either one. We turn back and pass a whole set of trails each with the same name: Chicken Foot, then reach an intersection where I understand the 5k to go left, but the 13 miler to go right. Immediately we're at an intersection of 5 trails we go strait thru, then another intersection and another and now I know I'm lost. Mark points out where the 5k joins back in and soon after we're back to the start. He walks me thru the first part of the 5k and explains the rest, but we don't walk the whole thing, and soon after he's taking me back to where we left my truck at Abby Road.
Two days later, I drive back to the park. I get my friend Fumi to go with, with the intention of running the entire 13mi loop. I drop a cooler with drinks just off the road where the 3rd aid will be on South Croton. We start off well, and manage all the turns as I've been told by Mark to and thru Wookie with each of the correct splits: left on the first split, right on the 2nd, skipping the Rock Garden. I take the ghost turn correctly this time, all the hills, and even the drop down to the aid station. This time, I head all the way down to Well Road, before heading back up. Now on to the parts I kind of know, but not well, and all this I do from cross correlation of what I recall from Mark, my memory of running last year, and instinct. I think I get this all right, but I do have my GPS on, so I'll cross check when I get home. About mile 10 is where the 5k merges in, and I make the turn, pass by all the intersections I came at from the other side with Mark the last time, pass by all three Chicken Feet, and on to where the 5k cuts out. I cant say for certain if I'm at the correct place for the major 5k in & out, but do know the 13 miler keeps on strait. I make that big turn where 5k and 13mi split, scoop on down for all the turns correctly back into the finish and done. Anyway, Fumi and I are done fro today.
I plan to go back to the park again, but due the storm damage down in Houston, most of the gas stations in Austin have run empty and there is no gas to be had, so I don't go back again until its time to mark the course, which is the following Wednesday.
I get Joyce to help me and also an old friend of Marks: Steve. I get to the park early, and sit one cooler full of drinks at aid 3 (mile 9) and another at what I think is Abby Road on the other side of where I'd gone last week. I go back to the start, where I open up Chris's trailer to collect the marking materials. I take all the wooden stakes, load what I can in a pack, then take the rest to the same place I put the coolers to split out the rest of them there. None of the marking materials are ready to be used. I have to put together a pack full of signs and I fill it with as many as I can of arrows, wrong ways, and the distance signs of 5k,10k, half-marathon, and marathon. Also load in a staple gun, staples, mallet, and a quadrant of water bottles. I load a 2nd pack full of all the ribbons for both courses, being different colors for each route. The 3rd pack is crammed full of as many wooden stakes as will fit. Its about all the 3 of us can carry. I look around for caution ribbon, but all I can find are five 50-gallon trash bags full of unrolled ribbon crammed in each. Aint no way we wish to carry all the extra trash bags, so I decide to do what I can to mark the course without then. Just like the old days, before we got started using the caution tape. And so we go, overloaded and ready to hike one big loop with a bit of side extensions here and there to do the 5k as we do the big loop.
I send Joyce up to mark the short 5k out n back leg, just so I'll know when I get to it on the other side many hours later. That done, we start off, tagging every turn with arrows and wrong ways while Joyce hangs confidence flags. Its slow work, stopping at every cross trail to pound one or more wooden stakes in the ground, staple the correct signs on each, then pack up and move to the next. There are places on the course where this is done every 50 yards, and there are others where we walk for a quarter mile with nothing to do but hang flags. Usually, we use the caution ribbon to block major turns and sort of herd the runners into chutes to control the direction, but without the caution, we take more care with each sign and flag. By the time we got to Well Road on the other side, in the middle of the hills, we check over at the road for where I left out stash of cold drinks and extra stakes. I cant find it at first, and soon realize I'd missed my mark by a ton. We all hike down the park road 3/4 a mile before we find the stash. Damn, I don't mind being off a little with this, but it really pisses me to realize how far wrong I guessed. This costs us an extra few miles and a good bit of wasted time.
Back on, we finish the hills, and then pay a good deal of attention creating a chute of dead tree branches at the intersection of the long out n back to the aid. This takes awhile, marking this major turn at the hike down to the aid, which I'm still not sure exactly where it is. We stop at Well Road, and cut back to the intersection we'd already grown pretty damned tired of. Over to the next major intersection where we'd hit Well Road again, I'm uncomfortable marking a route to this road and then turning back without any caution tape. I see no way to mark it clean enough to not get people lost, so I back the route up about 30 yards off the road and cut thru the trees, bushwhack to the other trail heading back up. It works out well and so we leave it.
The next 2 miles are easy enough to mark, but murder to hike and run. Probably the most rugged and technical part of the course, but pleasant being out of the sun in the shade of the trees. This is the area of 3 or 4 cut thru sections I mark easy enough. By the time we reach the 9mi aid stn on South Croton, we're about done in. Steve is having some issues with his medicine to keep his diabetic sugar balance, having had no idea how long all this was going to take us. We'd already been going for 6 hours and expect anther 2 to get done. We take some time to refresh with my stash of ice cold gatorade, coke, and water, plus a new load of wood stakes and good to go. At the 5k/13m merge, I have Joyce flag the 5k section down the way we're not going, but the 5k will come from. At this point, the 2 courses merge, so its time to hang both sets of flags for a few miles. Joyce takes one bag of flags, while Steve takes the other to hang separate flags, each specific to their separate courses, while I walk ahead to each intersection to pound stakes and staple signs. And so we march past the Chicken-Feet to the major 5k crossroads which Joyce had marked at the beginning of our day. We spend some time here making sure we mark it as good as possible for all the comings and goings that will happen here during the race. The 5k will come up and turn right, make the big loop, then turn right again to go down the same trail they had come up to start. Also, the 13 mi loop will simply pass strait across without hiccup or turn. This takes a lot of signage and time.
Another quarter mile and we have to mark a similar intersection. The 5k goes left to where Joyce had hung flags earlier down from South Croton, but the 13mi course turns right, and so we mark it with posts, signs, and ribbons. More time! Just off this, we reach the intersection like a train switching yard, with trails heading off in 5 directions. It's too much for what little I have left with posts and signs, so I simply post one arrow to go strait across, with nothing else at all the other trail heads. The 5k has such an odd and convoluted finish that it's hard to explain it cleanly. It gets back within a 100 yards of where it starts, turns left, crosses quite a few intersections and reconnects with the 13mi course just before the finish. Its important to know exactly where it reconnects, because of the flags we need to hang.
And so we finish up the 13mi loop, take a short break, cut Steve loose to get his levels right, then Joyce and I head back out to finish the 5k loop. We'd already done most of it, but, it's a confusing finish we have yet to do. But, we have no stakes left, but for a few nubs of wood. And so we mark it, without wooden stakes or caution ribbon, but we get it done. All in all, it takes about 8 hours, and we still have to go back around and collect our coolers and drop off a tent Mark wants me to leave at the mile 9 aid.
I call Mark on the drive home and thats when I get wind of a minor change at the end of the 5k that I may have done differently. I call Chris and tell him about the bags of caution flags I didn't use. He's surprised. He wanted me to haul them as is. There was some concern the course might not be marked good enough. I go home anyway. Joyce and I are wiped out.
I drive back out to the park again the day before the race, on Friday with my mountain bike to finish the 5k. This time, I find a few rolls of caution flag, so I load a pack again for marking, and go in. I ride the 5k loop, using a liberal amount of caution ribbon at every intersection I come to. I keep my GPS on just to make sure I have the 5k loop distance. I take the new trail at the end of the loop and mark it, then go back and take down the part I'd marked wrong a few days ago. I then bike over to check a few other major points and see that Chris has already patched up with caution ribbon plus pins and posts to make the major intersections clean. I'm done, so head back to my truck and home.
If that's all of it, it would have been well enough already, but I come back a day later on Saturday to run the marathon. With 2 more complete loops, I'd have close to 6 loops out here in the last 10 days. Fortunately, it's a lovely 66 degrees on race morning. Hobbs and I plan to hang together for a bit, both of us needing a long run today as a trainer for a longer run later in the year. We walk out easy, and start to run once we top the first short hill. Ryan's behind us, starting easy as well.
Hobbs has rabbit in him and as expected, keeps surging ahead, then pulls off and waits for me. And so we roll til we both hook onto a group of 3 led by a very strong consistent woman, and there we stay til the hills. We each walk up at our own best effort, and run down with varying skill for the first hill, but it was on the 2nd hill descent, that Hobbs and I go past the others. They're all most likely better runners and more consistent than either of us, but we know downhill running better than most and so we cruise on by and up the 3rd hill just ahead of them. Again at the downhill into the 2nd aid, we add more distance and thus go back up ahead again. One more downhill to Well Road put us well ahead. The next 2 miles, as I already know, is a very fun rough and tumble path of rock obstacles that is pure fun to dance thru, all of it under shade. Still, we have 2 loops to run, so we back off and walk now and again, when we could easily have been running. A few of those we passed earlier pass us in here as we intermittently walk. I don't need anything at the aid, so I slow here but don't stop.
At mile 10, we turn off the North Croton trail onto a wide open and completely exposed track which is part of the 5k loop. It's smooth, flat, fast, and boring. I find myself going a bit faster now and again, with Hobbs beginning to lag behind. By the 5k spin off point and a mile out, Henry is starting to cramp and walk a bit more. I wait now and again such that we come in one right behind the other but I'm worried about his chances at this point. We talk about him getting out, but when I get up to go, he comes with me.
We walk a good bit right out the gate and beyond. I make sure to run each down tilt, but the rest of it we walk. I sure hope Henry gets his bearings oiled up and gets right after a bit, but as we roll along, I walk less and less. Henry tells me to go on and he'd work it out, but I have a hard time cutting loose. I don't stop at the 1st aid and Henry is a few turns back by then, plus I think he might take a long watering break, so it's here I cut loose. It's also where Nick Draper hooks on, replacing Henry. Nick starts talking and I reply all the way through the hills and into the next aid.
Joel Olivares is sitting here when I come in. He's giving me some playful grief, so I reply in kind til he leaves with hopes to never see me again. Nick stays with me and we find Joel again sitting at the 9mi station. I don't need anything, so I keep on thru and Joel pops up and comes with, joining our train. And so the 3 of us continue together onto the wide open sun baked track with no shade. We're all motivated to get it over with, but it's Joel with the energy to push up on the only slight rise on the loop, and so he separates from us, and soon after goes Nick. It seems like a good time for me to take a walk break and never do get my wind back up, nor feel the urge to push the pace from here on in. I take a lazy saunter in and damned glad to finally be done.
We, Henry, Ryan, and I had talked about possibly going back out when done to get another 5k just to get some more distance today, but only if we weren't trashed when done. Well, I wasn't trashed, but I'm rather enjoying myself sitting in the shade with Henry, Kuss, JoAnne, Joel, and others. I simply sit and give up on any more distance ideas. It's done. I'm done. Henry had stopped soon after I left him and walked back for a clean 20 miles, while Ryan came in soon after me. It was good. It was done.