Seabrook Lucky Trail Challenge (Seabrook, TX) – March 15/16, 2014

I had heard extremely good things about the Seabrook trail races and since I am always up for a challenge (and an extra medal), I thought this would be a wonderful spring trip back to Texas. I could choose from two challenges: the Pelican challenge (a half marathon on both Saturday and Sunday) or the Trail Challenge (the half on Saturday and the full marathon on Sunday). Naturally, I decided on the Trail Challenge and as soon as registration opened last October I signed up.

Our flights to Houston-Hobby, Texas, were uneventful and Delta even upgraded both of us on the longer trip from Atlanta to Texas. Darcy and I picked up our rental car from Hertz and then drove to a nearby Taco Cabana for lunch. As soon as we had our fill of fajitas, we drove on to On the Run @ Clear Lake, a running store that was the site of packet pickup. My packet consisted of 2 colorful bibs with my name printed in large letters on both. (Just a parenthetical note here – I really liked having the large typeface because during the races I was able to actually see and call out the names of other runners as we passed each other). For timing, there were two old-fashioned square IPICO chips (one for each race). In addition to a short-sleeve gender-specific tee shirt (black with green), we were given a black polyester cap and a pair of sports socks; all items had the Seabrook Lucky Trail Marathon logo on them. These were nice to have, but I was really looking forward to the three medals and I was not disappointed.

We stayed at the Hampton Inn Houston NASA-Johnson Space Center, one of the host hotels. It was a short driving distance from Rex Meador Park, the race site. Our only problem during the three nights of our stay was the paper thin walls. On the first night, we could hear one of our neighbors snoring and the on the second, we were woken up just before midnight by a loud party in the room next door. A call to the front desk remedied the latter; security gently reminded the partiers that they could continue their celebrating in the lobby. That gave me a few more hours of sleep.

The race series on Saturday consisted of a half marathon and relay while the races on Sunday included a half, a relay, and a full marathon. The time limit for the Saturday races was 4 hours. On Sunday, the time limit was 6 ½ hours, with an early start for marathoners needing more time. I opted for the early start – it gave me a chance to take it easy and not stress over meeting a stricter time limit. It turned out to be a good choice because I was really tired after completing the half. The first mile of both courses is on wide city streets; participants then move onto the Seabrook trails and essentially (with one brief foray crossing another street) stay on the trails for the rest of the time. Half marathoners run two loops of the course and marathoners run four loops. I was not crazy about the multiple loops but I was resigned to the idea. I knew it would be a challenge and I really wanted those medals.

Weather on Saturday was close to perfect. The temperature at race time was around 60 degrees and rose to about 70 during the day. A slight breeze helped to keep us cool, despite the rising humidity. We started promptly at 7:15 am, just as day began to dawn. Once on the trails, it was peaceful and tranquil. The number of runners was manageable and that was good because the trails were often narrow and the out-and-back nature of the elongated loop course meant that people were constantly coming up behind me as well as running towards me. It was not really a problem on Saturday. I took my time because I wasn’t sure of the terrain on the first loop. During the second loop, I was more confident but still watchful. Signs with arrows were set up to point us in the correct direction at each turn and there were at least 3 aid stations (with water, Gatorade, and bananas and oranges) on the loop in addition to the one at the start/finish line. Volunteers were magnificent – I can’t say enough positive things about how helpful and supportive they were. This was especially true on Sunday when the inclement weather and wild winds made staying at their posts a real problem. They were real troopers!
I finished the half marathon in 2:55, placing 2nd in my age group. At the finish line, I celebrated with green beer (after all, it was St. Patrick’s Day weekend); there were also hot dogs and hamburgers but we decided to treat ourselves with fajitas at Taco Cabana again. We did stay for the awards ceremony and I received a glass beer stein as a prize.

Now that I was familiar with the course, I was not especially worried about doing the full marathon on Sunday. My main concern was the tedium of walking multiple loops. However, I knew the trails were well-groomed and the scenery pleasant, so it would no doubt be more of a mental challenge then a physical one. I was prepared or so I thought.

On Sunday the weather was still quite warm but was expected to turn much colder later that evening. It had rained Saturday evening and there was about a 30% chance of rain on Sunday. Since the early start began at 6 am (giving us an extra hour and 15 minutes), my husband and I headed out around 5:30. We met up with some other Marathon Maniacs, including Jess and Teresa, and took a few photos. Just before 6, we headed to the start line and were ready to go. A couple of volunteers served as guides to lead us on the course (several people were signed up only for the marathon) and in the darkness it was good to have their expertise. I did use my headlamp but I was glad when the sun finally rose and I could put it away.

Around 8 am a line of storms began to come through and we were treated to thunder and lightning as well as rain. Mostly the rain was light and drizzly but occasionally it came down much harder. The main problem was what last evening’s rain had done to the trail during the night. It was now a muddy mess, similar to what I experienced during the Delirium Mudfest back in February. My shoes, my legs, my clothes – all were a big mess. Thank goodness for my gaiters! They kept the tiny pieces of gravel from entering my shoes and causing blisters and abrasions. I noticed only one other person wearing gaiters and thought that very strange considering the pebbly nature of the course. I was just so grateful for remembering to bring them with me.

It was hard to get those four loops under my belt, especially the second and third ones. The trails on Sunday were much more crowded and – even though I hugged the right hand side of the trail – there were a few times when fast runners clipped my shoulder or elbow. By the time I began heading out for the final loop, the crowds had thinned out some. I was worn out, muddy, and exhausted, but I threw caution to the winds and really pushed myself around on this last lap. It was at this time I met up with Charlene, another early starter, who was anticipating entry into the Maniacs when she completed this race. We stayed pretty much together for the last couple of miles and ended up crossing the finish line together. I was pleased to welcome her into the Asylum.

My finishing time was 6:24, definitely not my best, but I was very happy to be done. This time I got a marathon medal plus my special trail medal. All three medals are very big, extremely colorful, and well-worth all that mud I plodded through! I waited around to see where I placed in my age group, but the results combining early and regular starters had not yet been compiled so we left. It turns out I won my age group (okay, so I was the ONLY one in my age group, but still). I decided to make the stein I won for the half do double duty and serve as my award for both days.

I would certainly recommend these races for walkers, but with the caveat to wear gaiters and be mindful of the crowded trails on Sunday. For those who want to do a half marathon, the Saturday event is probably the wiser choice because of the smaller number of participants. But for walkers desiring all the bling that comes with completing one of the Challenges, definitely take the early start and bring a light.

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