“Oh won’t you…show me the way, everyday?”
Last year, while I was recovering from my broken ankle and still entrapped in my fiberglass prison, I headed up to College Station, TX to captain an aid station at the Millican Ultra and Trail Runs. College Station is a mere 90 minute drive from Houston, so a group of us from my trail running group, HTRex, decided to drive up and check out the course.
Ironically, all 5 of us decided to run the 25k and leave the “Ultra” part of the course for another time. Some of us (myself included) were still recovering from various long ultramarathons and wanted a relaxing morning on the trails.
The day started early, WAY early, with a 3:30am wake-up call. We had decided to meet at the park to carpool at 4:15am, probably a bit early, but we could always sleep in the car upon arrival. A positive to this plan was getting a primo parking spot only a few yards away from the start line. Especially nice, as the start temperature was in the mid-upper 30’s.
We waited until pretty much the last moment we could before the start in the car. The 10k runners were sent off at 7am, while the 25/50k runners went off 5 minutes later. The race started with a 1k loop in a field and then off into the trails on the Millican Reserve.
The first mile was pretty quick, in ~8:00. It was a fairly non-technical mile, so I wasn’t too concerned. The second mile was even quicker in 7:52. However, after the first 2 miles, things became much more technical and twisty-turny.
Shortly after we entered the single track trails, we approached packs of the 10k runners. Most of the runners were very courteous and shifted over to the right when we were passing left. It still took energy though. After a few dips and climbs, we approached the first fun adventure of the day, a water crossing!
The stream crossing was fun, about thigh-deep water a few yards in width. Refreshing change of pace, even if temperatures were still in the 40’s. The next several miles were much of the same. Dips and rises, twists and turns. Parts of the trail had mildly technical footing. Small stray tree stumps, pebbly sections and muddy patches were the primary challenges on this part of the course.
At this point, it has become clear to me that I fell into pace with two other runners behind me. I lead as they followed closely behind. I started noticing that their watches were beeping mile markers much more quickly than mine. Each mile of mine seemed to be ~0.15 miles longer than theirs. I kept that in the back of my mind for pacing later in the race, as I’d hit the finish much sooner than 25k on my watch and to not let the pace on my watch get into my head.
About 5.5 miles into the run, the lead 50k runners passed by (they did 2 x 1k loops to our 1). Shortly after that, we broke off from the 10k runners. Finally, some real estate! It was getting tiring to pass the 10k runners on the single track.
I started opening up my stride and settling into a steady pace. More than a few spots on the trail were covered with a thin slippery glaze of mud. I had slid a couple of times already, but was able to stay upright. Around 7 miles into the race, I finally went down. Thankfully, it was just a muddy slip with no exposed roots around. Just a little shock to the system.
The two men I was running with went on ahead and I decided to slow it down a bit and be a little more deliberate with my running and foot placement. I couldn’t risk myself for my races this season by doing something silly in my offseason.
Around this time, the trail got even more twisty and turny. However, now there was a series of dips and rises that were actually a lot of fun. I’m really not good at running them, but they are good to practice. I noticed at this point that the flexibility in my left ankle was holding me back a bit. The range of motion on my ankle isn’t very good going uphill and it was locking up a little bit on the ~30ish deg short inclines. Good to know I have a challenge to work on while training for Cascade Crest this summer.
After a few more miles, we were out and onto a faster jeep road. Time to make up some time and pick up the pace. My legs were starting to feel the fatigue of RR100 at this point, but I also was more than halfway done, so I knew I could keep the pace for another 5 miles.
Along this road, there was an unprotected cattle guard, which we were directed around and back onto the Jeep Road. This is about where I think things went wrong for me and several other runners that I was running with and around.
There were no signs that I, nor anyone else I was running with saw. However, somewhere along this point, we missed a turn back into the single track trails…
Somewhere, just before mile 9, we encountered a trail intersection. There were 10k runners intersecting our paths. We saw no signs telling us where to go nor any flags past the intersection. Without further guidance, we took a right, in the direction of the 10k runners.
From here on out, the trail was fairly non-technical in good conditions. However, today was not that day. Section after section of mud pits awaited us on this path. More than once, I went up past my ankles in mud. I had to be even more deliberate with my footing, but was determined not to walk any of the race. Once I even nearly lost a shoe in the shoe-sucking mud, but was still able to keep my average pace in the 8:3x-range for the section.
Much sooner than I anticipated, ~11 miles into the race, I heard the finish line much more clearly than I thought was logical. My heart sank a little bit. We went the wrong way…
I then saw the final hill and the finish line banner. I stop for a moment for the next runner to catch up to me and consulted with him. We both had similar mileage readings on our Garmins (mine was still WAY off compared to those who I was running with). Something was definitely up.
Upon crossing the finish line, I was announced the “Female winner of the 25k”.
I was doubtful that would last. I knew we had to have done something wrong. My watch read 1:43, much quicker than my road 25k PR (2:00). No way, even with a short course, would I be that fast. Based on my calculations, I was trending towards a 2:09ish finish.
Lots of confusion ensued at the finish line.
In our strung out group, there were 6 runners who had gone off course at the same place. Before that, there was at least another runner or two that missed the same turn as well. Clearly, there was a turn that had it’s markings either moved, blown away or otherwise not present. The Race Director was on his game and got someone to that location to direct the rest of the runners onto the correct course.
At first, the Race Director, decided he would issue awards based on pace-graded calculations. Seemed the fair way to do things, as there were so many runners who were diverted. Most of our group were running ~8:35 average pace for the race (based on their Garmin outputs).
Nearly 20 minutes passed and only a runner or two has passed through the 25k finish. Each runner that finished, we asked what each of their Garmin readings. The consensus was landing on 14.3ish miles, about 2 miles longer than our Garmin outputs.
I then did a little mental math, for another 2.5 miles, even averaging 10 minute miles, would place me at a 2:08 finish (1:43 + 25 minutes). I really felt like going back out for another couple of miles to get my “money’s worth”. However, the longer the confusion around where things went wrong lasted, the colder my legs were getting.
I then waited for the second lady to pass the finish line…
She crossed at 2:16 on the race clock. I became increasingly confident I would have won the race if I weren’t diverted.
Still, things didn’t seem right.
Around 20 minutes later, the Race Director approached the group of lost lambs once again with a new proposition. As we didn’t run the whole distance, but there was a quorum of us who made the same mistake, how about custom medals for our finish?
Still didn’t really seem right to us. We didn’t need medals and honestly we didn’t care about any missed out AG or Overall awards as much as we cared that we missed out on running the entire course in earnest.
A runner new to the College Station-area, Jeff, had a fantastic idea! How about entry to next year’s race so we can get revenge on the course?
Thankfully, the Race Director agreed that was a fine course of action. So, now I have some revenge on another course to get!
I’m confident I can go sub-2:10 on this course, maybe even sub-2:05, even on tired legs. So, that’s in the plan for next year. It really is a fun course, just wish we didn’t miss the course marking. I’m not one to really miss markings, as I’m a pretty experienced trail runner at this point.
The thing that really bugged me the most was losing out on the opportunity of resetting my trail 25k PR. It was at 2:27 and I had the opportunity to take nearly 20 minutes off. Now, I have a bit of unfinished business with this race…
HTRex had a great time though, many placed in their Age Groups and it was a beautiful day to run in the woods!