This race could have been a disaster! All week the weather forecast showed 90 percent chance of thunderstorms taking place all during race day. I decided to register on the Tuesday beforehand because the RD assured me the race wouldn’t be cancelled. So I signed up and prepared for the race to be delayed by lightning and/or to run in the rain.
Well, by now I know that the forecast doesn’t exactly stay the same from day to day. Even though it consistently showed race day rain and thunderstorms, the day before the race the rain was forecast to hold off until at least 3 p.m. And true enough, we did not experience one drop of rain during the day! The sun was actually out and shining bright during the second half, making it a very warm finish!
Starting from the beginning, I left my house early Saturday, April 11, and made an uneventful drive to Groveton, Texas. This tiny town is kind of out in the middle of nowhere, and as I pulled into the parking lot of the Groveton High School football/track stadium, I could hear roosters crowing from nearby farms. It was very quaint. The stadium had real bathrooms which was awesome, and there was plenty of parking right at the stadium, so after picking up my bib I went back to my car and hung out there for a few minutes, getting all my racing stuff together.
The race started on the track at the stadium, and we headed out to a gravel road which was very rocky at some points. There were loose rocks scattered all over the trail at this point, so you really had to watch your step. This was maybe almost a mile long, then we got on more of a packed dirt road which led us to the real asphalt country road.
The scenery was beautiful! The road was open to traffic but it was a very low-traveled country road taking us past some farms and cows and wildflowers. We were on the road longer than I expected, about 4 miles or so. You could tell when the Davy Crockett National Forest started as we were surrounded by dense trees on either side of the road, but we didn’t actually enter the forest until about mile 5.5.
Once inside the forest, we ran down a dirt trail for a mile and then turned around at an aid station and took the same route back to the football stadium. There were some rolling hills on the course, and it definitely felt more difficult coming back to the start/finish then it did going out to the forest. Once off that rocky road, we entered the track and had to run around it, going back to the start/finish line. Half-marathoners finished, and marathoners kept going to repeat the same out-and-back.
I had an unspoken goal of breaking 5 hours, but the weather was warm and at the halfway point, I was at 2:29. As I went back out on the rocky road to start my second half, my right hamstring and left IT band were both pretty tight. I doubted I would be able to take the 2nd half any faster than the 1st, so my sub-5 goal seemed bleak. I focused on just holding off walking until I absolutely had to, and also made a goal to not really walk at all until the turnaround in the forest.
I did a pretty good job fueling in this race – the aid stations were packed full of stuff like pickles, oranges, and other things, but I didn’t know if I could stomach any of it. I started taking gels at 5 miles, and took one about every hour. I also had salt packets and took four throughout the race, plus drank Gatorade or water at every aid station (every two miles). That combined with running kind of slower in the 1st half really helped me. By the time I got to 20 miles, I was feeling strong. Leaving the forest, I felt good, and at mile 21 I looked at my Garmin and determined that if I ran at least 11-minute miles for the last 5 miles, I could break 5 hours.
This was no easy task for me, as heading back to the finish involved more hills and I was already tired. But as the remaining miles passed by, I kept between a 10:20 to 10:40 pace and only felt myself really tiring at mile 25. That also brought the rocky road, and it was a challenging finish. As I entered the track to do my loop and cross the finish line, I was doing a 8:35 pace and thought I might faint. But I crossed the finish line and the first thing the lady said to me was, “You got a sub-5!” I hadn’t even looked at the clock as I finished, I was so focused on that finish line! My final time was 4:57:21 and a negative split! My Garmin had messed up and apparently turned off at mile 18, so I did not have my complete time on my watch. There was no chip timing, but it probably took me 5 seconds at most to cross the start line, so that didn’t matter.
Finishers got a medal with a hilarious picture of a bear chasing Davy Crockett on it, along with a teddy bear wearing a tag with your finishing rank written on it. I apparently finished 27th – not sure yet how many runners did the marathon, but I know it was a small race. Afterwards, there were all kind of treats for free at the concessions stand including hot dogs, donuts, pickles, popsicles and lots of beverages. I got a Sprite and pickle for the road.
This was a really great race! Small in size, but the course changed up a bit and the parts that were run down the same country road had lots of pretty farmland scenery. I would definitely consider running it again – volunteers were great, plenty of aid stations and porta-potties, and I was very relieved when the race director wrote me back almost immediately early in the week, assuring me the race would not be cancelled due to weather. This was my 7th marathon, third in Texas. Though each of my marathons were very well organized and have special things about them, this race would probably be one of my top favorites so far.