Sunday, October 26, 2008

Palo Duro Trail Run 2008

Last weekend I went to Palo Duro Canyon outside of Amarillo, Texas, for a trail run. The canyon, sometimes called the Grand Canyon of Texas is located at the head waters of one fork of the Red River, is approximately 120 miles long and ranges from 6 to 20 miles in width. I think I have seen the canyon from the air before while flying northwest from Austin, but did not know what or where I was looking down on until this trip.

I arrived mid-day in Amarillo. After meting up with some friends for lunch, we headed over to the Palo Duro Canyon State Park and hung out at the campsite of some other friends. The area around the canyon appears as flat farm and ranch land for as far as the eye can see, until you get up to the edge and the canyon suddenly opens up below.

I climbed up the canyon wall from the campsite with Joe P to get some pictures. Once on top of the hills, it gave a good view looking down on the canyon floor. Joe pointed out the points along the course. We were at the southeastern edge of the developed part of the canyon state park, but the canyon extends a long way beyond where the park roads give easy access. The scenery reminded me of the badlands of South Dakota, except more ribbons of color in the canyon rock formations, and more greenery.

We headed over to the packet pickup and pasta dinner, which was included in the race entry. The food was good. As we ate, the organizers gave a talk with race information. Red Spicer, the long time race director who passed away earlier this year, and this gathering included a memorial remembrance. The training group I ran with paid respect by putting one of Red’s quotes on the back of the training shirt.

I had sprained my ankle twice in the last month, so I was not in the best shape for this run. I had started to come back from the first sprain after 2 weeks, and was running better on the trails than I had in a long time when the second sprain occurred, 2 weeks before the race. At the race start, my foot was not quite healed. It was still sensitive to some movements. If this had been a race in Austin, I mihgt not have started. But when the injury occurred, I had already cashed in the frequent flier miles, and we had a pretty good size group traveling up to the race. So I went anyway, not sure if I would be well enough to run or not. I figured I would at least get out and try a loop or two. But then they mentioned at the info session there was a finisher’s cap awarded if I could get through to the end. That changed everything. It’s not like I don’t have enough race caps in my closet, but the idea of walking away without that didn’t seem right, so I was planning to finish.

Race morning we got up early and drove to the park. We were within the first 15 cars in line to get in when the gates opened. We were able to park quickly and get our drop bags setup and everything. Due to a mix-up in communication, we did not pick up some of our friends from their campsite, and they had to walk a mile to the start. Sorry about that.

The course was mainly a 12.5 mile loop with race distances of 50 Miles (4-loops), 50K (2.5 loops) and 20 K (1 loop). I was signed up for the 50k. We started at 7:00am in the dark. The first 40 minutes was single track and constant stream of people. I ran carefully and deliberately so as not to twist the ankle again, and stepped off the track to let people pass on a few occasions. I could not run as normal, particularly on the hills. I had to e careful not to step on the ankle in ways that hurt on the un-even surface, so I ended up limping through the short ups and downs and proceeding at a slow jog pace. The course did not thin out for almost 2 miles. I managed to limp through the first ½ loop and was back to my drop bag at the start/finish aid station before several people from my group had left for the next loop. I grabbed my small camera in case this next loop would be my only full loop, and continued on.

The first 50 milers, who had done a 12.5 mile loop in the time it took me to do the 6-mile ½ loop, passed me for the first time shortly into this next loop. A mile later I realized I forgot to leave the headlight in my drop bag after the first loop. At this point I was still hopeful I could maintain this slow pace for the whole 50km. But a mile after the aid station I had to stop running. Since there were some motions that my foot couldn’t perform, I was compensating for it by adjusting my running form and putting more weight and pressure on other parts of the foot and I hadn't trained to run in this form. In time, those parts began to hurt, and it became too uncomfortable to run. There is pain that one can run through, and there are pain that feels like something is mechanically wrong. This felt like the later. It was not so painful that I couldn't endure, and I had energy that I felt like I could be running faster and longer, but it just felt like something was going to come apart in the foot. I wanted to finish, but I also wanted to run well and I couldn't really run this one. After a mile of walking and un-successful attempts to re-start the running, I conceded that I would not be doing the last loop.

The day before, Joe had recommended I hike out after the race to lighthouse point. I knew there was no way I would make it out after 50k, but I found my self at a trail intersection where it was maybe a mile or less out-n-back to see the lighthouse formation. I would not be able to get back to this place on this trip. I looked around to make sure no other runners would accidentally follow me, and then left the course to do a quick out-n-back. I figured since this would not save any distance, no-one would think I was cutting the course, and I would not be gone long enough that anyone would notice and start a rescue search. The first tourists I passed saw my race number and I had to explain that I knew I was off the course. So I took the number off to avoid explanation and hiked out to the view point, up a short steep hill and got to see the lighthouse hoodoo formation and also some good views of the canyon. I returned to the course and put my number back on and continued on.

I could only walk the rest of the loop. The foot was too uncomfortable to run on. The 50 mile leaders lapped me a second time on the same loop for me. A couple of the leaders have coached me for triathlons in the past, and we exchanged greetings each time they passed. They were in excellent shape. I took my time and some pictures on the way back to the finish. I did not go back out for the last loop after managing almost 20 miles, so no finishers cap for me. I hung out at the finish area and watched the others from the training group finish up, or pass through as they went back out on their last lap of the 50 mile course. I’ll save my foot to heal for another time, and hopefully come back next year for a good performance in a race of this distance. The day after the race, the foot was feeling much better than before the race, but it was still sensitive in places. We went back to the hotel for a quick change and shower before dinner in the town of Canyon. After dinner I did not manage to even get out of my clothes before I fell asleep on the bed on top of the covers.

Although I did not finish, I am happy to have gone there and see a beautiful part of the country I might never have visited if not for this race. Now I have some unfinished business with this race, and an excuse to come back sometime. Perhaps for next year’s 25th anniversary of the race.

More pictures: Start of Album, or skip ahead to race pictures.
Related Post: 2009 Palo Duro Race Report

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