Steve and Paula Boone, co-founders of the 50 States Marathon Club, sure know how to throw a party. They are also accomplished race directors (two of their illustrious progeny are the Texas Marathon on New Year’s Day and the Davy Crocket Bear Chase in April). When the hype about the Mayan Calendar and predictions of the world’s demise began to dominate headlines, Steve and Paula put together a double marathon weekend to celebrate (or mourn, if need be) the event.
The website warned pessimists to sign up only for the first race (after all, the world would probably end that day) while optimists were encouraged to sign up for the Day After (or both). People who hesitated at doing full marathons both days could choose the half marathon option on either day. Since I enjoy challenges of this sort, I signed up for full marathons on both days. My husband decided to accompany me; after all, this was a trip to Texas and that meant fajitas. Even though Houston Hobby and Bush International airports were closer to the race venue than Austin, we used this trip as another excuse to visit our favorite city in Texas. We flew Delta into Austin on Wednesday morning and spent the night at Embassy Suites Town Lake on South Congress, a short walk to Guerro’s, fajita nirvana for us. This particular Embassy Suites is especially clean and attractive so we try to stay there every time we visit Austin.
On Thursday morning we drove our rental car to Humble and checked into the Fairfield Inn, a 5 minute drive to the race site. Packet pickup was Thursday afternoon, although participants could also get their packets each race day morning from 6 am until the marathons and half marathons began at 8 and 8:15 respectively. The races were chip timed but each morning we had to get our chips (which attached to our shoes) right before the races started. When we arrived at 3 pm on Thursday, there was a line of people outside the doors of what looked to be a vacant office building. In actuality, there were several rooms dedicated to the race site and we entered the first room to get our bibs (white for End of World and yellow for the Day After). We then entered the second room where we picked up our swag. Truly there was an amazing amount of stuff given to us! Since I was doing both races, I received a black short sleeve tech shirt as well as a yellow one, black and yellow baseball-type caps, and enormous black and yellow duffle bags. We spent a few minutes thinking about how we were to fit all this good stuff in our luggage on the trip home but decided we would manage to squeeze everything in somehow.
One of the good things about doing a Boone-directed race is the generous time limit. The website stated that we had to finish in 9 hours but at least 2 people took 10 hours that first day. Not a problem. It was a difficult course. More about that later. We had a late lunch/early fajita dinner at Taco Cabana, a fast-food Tex-Mex chain, and then returned to our hotel to get some rest and make preparations for the race. I was not anxious at all, uncommon for me but I was sure this was in part due to the lack of rigid time constraints. I fell asleep quickly and did not wake up until 3:30 the next morning. The weather was very cold, in the 30’s, but no rain thank goodness. I dressed warmly, with long pants and fleece vest, mittens and jacket and warm cap. We drove to the start, which was the same place as packet pickup, arriving around 6 am. Because we were so early, Steve and Paula were just getting things set up, so both Darcy and I pitched in to help. Darcy ended up volunteering both days and had a great time helping out. I did what I could to assist, at least until Paula called all racers to the starting line for a pre-race briefing.
The course was described on the website as “four loops on hard packed dirt roads through the woods in Humble, TX.” However, Paula cautioned us during the briefing to be very careful on the course because there were rocks and roots and grassy swales and hillocks as well as pieces of rebar and several short but relatively steep inclines and descents. Wait a minute! Rocks and roots? Rebar? What happened to hard packed dirt roads? All of a sudden, I began to feel a bit queasy and my nervousness quotient increased. I made my way to the back of the burgeoning group of racers and stood off to one side so I wouldn’t get trampled in the mad dash to the start. The countdown began and we were off. I stepped gingerly on the tall grass that hid toe-catching holes and watched my feet carefully, trying to maintain an upright position. The course followed a circuitous trail in a construction area. During the 4 loops we circled back and forth, around and around, and out and back, with runners and walkers in front of us, behind us, and all around us. On the few occasions when I managed to look up and take a long view of the area, I thought we looked like long lines of ants following each other.
In keeping with the theme of the two races, there were funny signs at various points along the course saying things like ‘caution: alien trip wire’ and ‘dry quicksand area.’ The latter referred to one of the several locations that had sand several inches deep. Other areas of the course were full of sharp rocks and dangerous roots. I caught myself tripping frequently but somehow managed not to fall. Others were not so lucky. I personally witnessed several people tumble and I heard of others who fell hard and suffered cuts, bruises, and broken noses. There was one all-too-brief section of asphalt; I found myself looking forward to that road area so I could speed up, lift my eyes, and relax a little. The rest of the time I watched my feet and the ground. Although I was trying my best to hug the right-hand side of the trail, several times faster runners would ran right into me, hitting my shoulder, and that was disconcerting.
We had to do FOUR loops of this course. By the end of the first loop, I admitted to myself that I was not having much fun, although I tried to put a positive slant on the experience. I began to think that finishing this race might take me longer than 9 hours. The course was fairly well-marked but still hard to follow since we turned back around on ourselves so much and it was easy to take a wrong turn if we missed a directional arrow. Although I felt strong enough to complete all 4 loops, I was not certain I wanted to do it all over again on Saturday. Of course, if the world ended I wouldn’t have to think about it . . . .
During the last two loops, I walked with Nick from Kentucky, another Maniac, and the time passed much more quickly as we chatted and watched out for each other. I thought the trail was very hard and I have to be honest – I didn’t like it much – but I did like meeting new people and seeing friends I had met from other races, including several that had been with me at the UltraCentric in Grapevine. A LOT of maniacs were there, including Larry Macon, Jerry Lopez, Maryann Ramirez, Cheryl Murdock, Lois Berkowitz, Dave Mari, and Carol Goslin.
Several people complained that the course was longer than 26.2 miles and it indeed felt like an ultra. However, since I do lots of ultras, the distance itself was no big deal for me, and the difficulty of the course was more of an issue. The course was not a certified one; heck, these races were really just for fun, so 26 or 27 or 28 miles, it really made no difference, although the longer I was out there the more the opportunity to fall!
I crossed the finish line in approximately 7 hours (results haven’t been posted yet), a personal worst for me, but the medal more than made up for the embarrassing finishing time. It was large and heavy, with an elaborate design embossed on front and back, and it was encased in a red box with a yellow silk lining. Pretty impressive. I asked Steve Boone if the medals were the same for both full and half marathons and was told yes, they were identical. That was when I decided to drop to the half marathon the next day. I would only need to complete two loops and could take my time. We would be able to leave for Austin earlier in the day and not be so rushed. Since I was using these races as part of my training for an upcoming 72 hour race, I could take it easy and not have to worry about getting injured. I felt good with that decision.
So it was back to the hotel for a shower and then a late lunch at Taco Cabana. Afterwards I made preparations for the next day’s race and went to bed very early. Saturday was a repeat, more or less, of the preceding day, minus 2 loops. The weather was still cold, with a heavy fog immersing the race course during the pre-dawn hours, but it was supposed to heat up to 70 degrees later in the day. I dressed in lighter layers but still kept my mittens and hat on. Darcy and I did our volunteer stint (and Darcy stayed on for awhile and then returned to help out while he waited for me to finish).
Another good thing about Boone-directed races is that Steve and Paula really do listen to runner’s comments. They heard people complain that the course was ‘long’ and so they shortened it a bit on Saturday by cutting off a loop. They also must have heard comments about the technical parts of the trail and the holes lurking in the grass because it seemed to me that the grass had been cut or mowed down (or maybe runners had just trampled it completely) so it was not so dangerous. Still, I had to keep my eyes on my feet and the ground. If friends did not call out my name as they passed me, I probably didn’t see them. I finished my last loop of the day with Frank, another Maniac, and again, time passed much more quickly while we chatted.
It took me 3 hours and 45 minutes to finish (unofficial results). I received another huge medal, this time with a smiling face in the center. In addition, because I had completed both races, I also was given a commemorative coin, a smaller replica of both medals. Racers were also given little squeezie toys with our finishing positions on them. Post-race there was pizza and cookies and soda. I found an empty room to change clothes in and then I was ready for the drive back to Austin. Along the way we stopped in the small town of Elgin where we had some great Texas barbeque at Southside Market. We spent Saturday night at the Hampton Inn at the airport so we could get an early start for home on Sunday morning.
I highly recommend any race that is directed by Steve and Paula Boone but this particular race series was a once-in-a-lifetime event. I’m glad I had a chance to take part in it.