This past weekend I participated in the inaugural Franklin Mountains Trail Runs, but not as a runner. What? I know. Well, this was a perfect opportunity for me to give back to the sport I love by volunteering at the race throughout the weekend. The event was organized by Trail Racing Over Texas, a husband and wife team, Rob and Rachel Goyen, who are very passionate about trail running and ultramarathoning.
The race was run in Franklin Mountains State Park on a 50K loop with over 6000 ft of elevation gain, including a climb to N. Franklin Peak (7192’). Since the race is run on gnarly, rocky, technical single-track trail, several shorter distances were also offered, a 5K, 10K and half-marathon. The shorter races also included plenty of climbing and knee scraping rocks, giving finishers bonafide bragging rights not to mention some colorful bling.
My efforts started on Wednesday when about 10 volunteers began hauling water 2.5 miles up to a remote aid station on Mundy’s Gap. The trail is very steep in places and climbs about 1000’. I used a backpack to carry four 1-gallon jugs and carried one in each hand. In addition, some very hearty volunteers also hauled food, tables, canopy, Gatorade coolers, and a bunch of 7-gallon water jugs. A park ranger helped by driving the heavier stuff part way up in a UTV, but a narrow washed out section of old road prevented him from going further.
Since Team Red, White and Blue was the beneficiary of the race, I also worked the Team RWB booth at packet pickup Friday afternoon. I talked to a lot of runners about our mission, which is to enrich the lives of veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activities. I should also mention that over the past month I had been recruiting and coordinating our volunteers to ensure packet pickups and aid stations were manned on race day.
The highlight of Friday evening though, was getting to meet Western States 100 founder, Gordy Ainsleigh, the first to run a 100 mile horse race on foot in 1974. The race director, dressed in a neon purple Día de Muertos suit with matching tie, introduced Gordy to a packed house. Dr Ainsleigh gave some inspirational words and then explained that he had suffered a concussion when he fell at the Javelina Jundred several weeks earlier. Since he hadn’t completely healed yet from this injury, his doctor recommended he wear his climbing helmet during the 50K race. To help Gordy fit in with the Day of the Dead theme, Rob promised he would have his helmet painted purple in time for the race start. I really thought he was kidding, but just check out the photos of Gordy.
My race morning started at zero dark hundred with a hike up to Mundy’s Gap with Heather and several other volunteers carrying bread, oranges and bananas. Santiago, the course sweeper joined us, but continued on to N. Franklin Peak with wristbands to give each 50K runner, their proof of making it to the top. It was light by the time we reached the pass and we had our little encampment set up in no time complete with PBJs, fruit, cookies, pretzels, goldfish, potato chips, gels, crackers, and pickles. Yes, pickles.
Our first customers, the front runners visited us about 1:45 after the 6am start. At mile 10.45, they were running about a 10 minute per mile pace! I’m lucky to do 17 minute miles on a good day on this trail. I thoroughly enjoyed watching all the runners and especially entertaining was seeing the look on their faces when our aid station captain, Jeremy pointed the way towards the 7000’ peak. Needless to say, there was a lot of cussing going on. “JESUS, WE HAVE TO GO UP THERE!”
Well, at least we were waiting to serve them a pickle and Hammer gel smoothie with Oreo crumbles on top when they returned after their 4 mile trek. It was great seeing all my running friends working so hard to finish this course. 170 runners ran the 50K representing Team RWB, the Run El Paso Club, Juarez Running Team, Houston Area Trail Runners, Albuquerque Runners and even one guy from Great Britain.
Of course Gordy came through sporting his purple helmet, matching running skirt and a bloody knee. After his trip to the peak and back, a few youngsters were running behind him, completely out of breath, trying their damnedest to keep up with him. Well, I’ve got news for you; you’ll need to have a lot of grit to keep up with this mountain man!
Our aid station became quite busy at times as large packs of runners arrived at the same time, but Jeremy and Heather did an awesome job taking care of them before they continued on their epic journey past the tin mines, along Scenic Road and Sotol Forest, through Hitt Canyon, up the Northern Pass and on to the finish.
We also saw our share of scraped hands, elbows and knees not to mention swollen ankles, wrenched knees, upset stomaches and all the other things that come with a day spent running a brutally tough Texas mountain race where everything bites, scratches or stings. One runner came back from the peak with a shoe that had completely disintegrated so we wrapped duct tape around it and sent him on his way. Another guy was running in only Luna sandals and Injinji socks. Well…not only in sandals, but you know what I mean.
Once most of the runners had passed through I made a trip down the mountain with some of the gear and then hiked back up to help breakdown the aid station. By this time, it was quite hot and we had a tough time on the way down carrying bulky items like storage bins, tent canopy and water coolers.
I spent the rest of the day at the finish line ringing my cowbell and cheering for my running family as they finished the race. Everyone I talked to loved the course even though there was a great deal of "carnage”. Shane, our Team RWB Captain even stitched up a ladies knee after the race. On her blog, Woman on the Run, she said, "Rob Goyen even presents me with a 'Best Carnage' award — a good thing to offer in a race as tough and technical as this one...Thank you, Shane, for the seamstress work on that knee." Runners also commented on how well the course was marked. “The excellent trail marking was very appreciated. Even with my eyes glued to the trail in hope of avoiding further blood loss, there was never any doubt as to where to go.”, said Gordy.
There were over 400 total finishers in all four races and for many brave souls this was their first trail race or ultramarathon. Indeed there were a lot of rock stars in the mountains this past weekend. All the winners and finishers, Rob and Rachel (TRoT), Cesar (Texas Parks) Mike who mapped and helped mark the course, Leesy (Visit El Paso), Shane and Team RWB volunteers, aid station captains and TRoT volunteers, ultra legend Gordy Ainsleigh, Myke Hermsmeyer photography and the list goes on and on. I can’t thank my fellow Eagles enough for all their support with this race! While everyone was truly awesome, the real rock star of this event is the Franklin Mountains that I so love. See you on the trail.
|(Photo: Trail Racing Over Texas/Myke Hermsmeyer)|
Don't miss this photo gallery by Myke Hermsmeyer