Since I made running a full-time hobby back in 2002, I’ve completed many different type of races in many conditions.
I sweated through two Grandma Marathons along Lake Superior in Duluth, Minn.; fought through the hills of Fort Worth for a full and half marathon; and waded through the snow for a 5K and 10K one Valentine’s Day at the Haltom Stampede.
But none of that prepared me for what I encountered Saturday on the LBJ Grasslands outside of Decatur at the Grasslands Half-Marathon.
I ran the race in 2006 on a dry course with near perfect conditions, finishing in 1 hour and 47 minutes.
Saturday, let’s just say conditions were the polar opposite.
Hearing the rain pelt the roof when I woke up Saturday, I knew I was in trouble. But having paid my entry fee, I wasn’t going to back out.
Driving through the pouring rain to the Grasslands, I did ask myself for the first of many times, “What was I thinking?” Upon parking my car and having a volunteer tell me not to pull over too far to avoid getting stuck, my sanity was questioned again.
It took less than 30 seconds after I got out of the car for my shoes to become covered in mud as I walked through the then light rain and darkness toward the starting area. I watched the marathon runners take off on a slow trot, splashing through the mud. The group included Decatur boys basketball coach Roger Brown.
During a walk back out to the car to get rid of clothes, the rain halted but was soon replaced by little pellets of sleet that lasted only a few minutes.
Around 8:10 a.m., with 20 minutes left before the start of my race, I left the safety of my warm car for the final time and made the slow jog toward the starting line.
Huddled with less than half of the anticipated group of runners for the half-marathon at the starting line, we started to see runners in the marathon come by on their first loop caked in mud. It gave us a little preview of what laid in store for us.
Right on time at 8:30 a.m., we were told to start. Unlike most races with a sprint off the starting line, there was just a slow splash through the mud.
Less than a mile into the race, I started to realize how tough the day would be as my foot got stuck in mud, ripping my shoe off my right foot. I watched my Nike Free sink in the deep mud puddle and hopped on one leg to get it and put it back on.
A few minutes later came the steepest hill on the course. I tried to run up and immediately found myself sliding back down. I soon realized the only way up was crawling on my hands and knees. After what seemed like an eternity, I made it up the hill to hear someone say, “It’s good to see, I’m not the only that’s had to do that.”
I thought to myself that my childhood dream of being a contestant on Double Dare had come true, except there was no Mark Summers or television cameras to capture this.
Caked in mud from the knees down, I didn’t realize the cost of crawling up the hill ’til I got to the first water stop a little over four miles in. A volunteer pointed out the blood dripping from my right knee. After making sure the cut wasn’t too deep, I took a couple sips of an energy drink and took off again.
Not long after the water stop, I followed some runners in front of me who took a wrong turn. A half-mile later or so, we realized there were no fresh tracks and had to run back to get on the course.
Just what I wanted to do today, run some extra mileage.
Along the slow course, walking was not something you did because you were tired, but instead out of necessity to keep from falling face first in the mud.
I chatted with James and Amanda from McKinney for about a half mile. Their friend had told them about going to Waco Saturday to run what was supposed to be the hardest half marathon in the state. The three of us wanted to send the guy a message at that point to tell him we found one that was harder.
The occasional snowflake fell, making this trek seem only more surreal with its contrast to chocolate-milkshake of soil.
After 10 miles, I came to the second water stop and ate a couple of cookies before heading out for the final 3.5 miles. I had hoped the worst was behind us. Not quite.
The terrain only got soupier as I neared the finish line. I briefly talked to a guy who was going to do the 50-mile race but was dropping out because of the pain in his feet caused by wet, bunched-up socks. It was a pain that I shared. As I complained about not having the proper footwear, he pointed out it wouldn’t have mattered if I had spikes on to get through this.
Stopping every few minutes to secure my shoes on my feet, I slowly crept to the finish line.
In three hours exactly, covered in mud, blood and sweat, I completed this crazy obstacle course to receive a medal that I definitely felt I had earned. Though it took more than an hour longer than any other half-marathon that I have finished, it will be a time I will never forget.
Decatur runners win awards
Decatur runners Ryan Montcalm and Dean Ferris won awards Saturday at the Run to the House 5K in Denton.
Montcalm won the master’s trophy, running a 21:02. He was second overall.
Ferris was a second behind Montcalm, finishing third overall and winning the 45-49 age group in 21:03.