Back in Oklahoma last year I had the pleasure of spending a good part of the race with Chasidy. After some chatting about my goal she recommended a race in Texas. She had talked about how challenging the hills in the race were and said that she thought it would be something that I would like to do on this journey. Taking a look at the calendar for 2019, the Cowtown Marathon would fit in nicely so once registration opened, I registered.
Race: Cowtown Marathon
Location: Ft. Worth, TX
Finishing Time: 4:18:20
So far Kaela and I have been using 14 hours as our threshold for driving versus flying when traveling to a race. Doing my research I found that Ft. Worth, Texas was going to be around a 17 hour drive, but after seeing how expensive flights were, we decided to just make the drive and see how much of a difference those 3 hours would make.
The race was on Sunday, but because of the long drive we still left on Thursday after a half day in the office. There were some bad storms that were heading through the southeast and the most direct route to Ft. Worth (Nashville – Memphis – Little Rock) was not the best option. From flooding rivers to parts of the road with zero visibility, a new path was in order. The new route was only about 15 minutes longer according to the all-knowing Google, taking us west through St. Louis before making a southbound turn near Tulsa.
The plan on the first day of driving was to make it to Springfield, MO to get more than half of the trip out of the way, making for an easier second half of the trip. We had a typical drive on the way down, just talking about anything and everything. It was approaching dinner time and we were trying to find a place to stop to grab something quickly. Subway seemed to be our best choice and after locating one at an exit coming up, we headed that direction. The idea was to have a quick stop so we could get back on the road and not waste any time on this already long trip. I went in and was standing in line for about 10 minutes, with only one person in front of me. They were ordering 6 different subs. When I say different, I mean completely different. It’s like they were making sure that no two subs had any similar toppings. To make matters even worse there was only one person working. After another 5 minutes I just walked out and told Kaela we would just find another place to eat.
The “Hangry” in me was making me have a piss poor attitude and not a fun person to be around. We located a Panera that seemed to be not all that far off the interstate. I was wrong. About 5 miles off the highway and hitting a handful of stop lights we arrived to the shopping center. During this time I could not figure out what I wanted to eat and was just getting more frustrated for no real reason at all. As we pulled in, I noticed a Subway in the same shopping center. I let out a laugh and we agreed we would just try this one. Again, just a single person working but I was able to get out of there in about 5 minutes. Once I got some food in me, I apologized for my foul mood and we continued on.
As we headed through St. Louis, I started to feel my eyes getting heavy and knew that I wouldn’t be able to make it much further. Kaela started to look up hotels in the next hour or so to conclude the day. She booked a place on Hotels.com and shortly after we had to stop for gas as it made more sense to get tonight rather than first thing in the morning. While Kaela was walking Bella and I was pumping gas, I received a phone call from the hotel saying that the only rooms they had available were not dog friendly so they would be cancelling our reservation. Lovely! I started to look up new hotels and Kaela helped once we got back in the car for a new place to stay. These last few races have had some fun travel stories to go along with them. We arrived in our new hotel about an hour short of Springfield but overall I was pleased with the amount of drive time we were able to get completed on this first day.
In the morning, we woke up, grabbed breakfast and got out the door. Kaela was in the driver’s seat to give my eyes a rest and because, as she says, “I get us there quicker.” We were on the highway that we traveled back from Oklahoma so it was quite familiar scenery of just tons of cattle on both sides of the road. Back in the 75mph zone, Kaela was enjoying the freedom of the open road. We had a unique experience when getting off the highway. A few miles prior to our exit there was a toll booth for the turnpike which we paid our appropriate toll. I had seen some signs saying to keep your receipt if you are getting off the turnpike and I was thinking it was so you didn’t have to double pay as if they only charged when you were getting off. We approached the toll booth, provided our receipt and were kindly greeted with a refund of the “unused” portion of the toll. I compliment Oklahoma on what I’m sure is an accounting nightmare.
We were now going to be taking county roads through some backcountry of Oklahoma until we reached Texas. Every so often we would hit a small town and talk about its charm, or lack thereof, before getting back to 60-70mph zones. I looked up some upcoming towns as we were starting to get hungry and came across a Mexican restaurant that had some pretty good reviews that was next to a gas station, so really a win-win with the stop. Chavas in Muskogee, OK was delicious. Crazy large portions with fresh ingredients. I had a veggie quesadilla that was loaded with onions, peppers, zucchini and mushrooms. If you happen to be in the area (or lost in the area) I recommend stopping in.
A little over an hour later we stopped for some ice cream as Kaela was starting to get fatigued and I knew I wasn’t going to be much help with how exhausted I was. We found a local chain, Braums, and made the stop. We had seen these all over Oklahoma our last trip but did not end up stopping so we wanted to make sure we did this time. I had a milkshake which was super thick but put me in more of a coma than my exhaustion had previously.
On the never ending road we finally made it into Texas. Arriving around 5pm meant a crazy amount of traffic outside Plano and Ft. Worth. We just made the best of it and tried to keep a positive attitude on the route to the hotel. We checked in to our large suite (way to go Kaela) at the La Quinta Ft. Worth North. The room faced the highway but was fairly quiet so we didn’t have any issues. Once we were settled I went out to get some juice for carb loading on Saturday and ended up picking up some Girl Scout cookies.
While I was out I also stopped by to pick up Kaela’s dinner to-go. We had plenty of leftovers from lunch and that was going to be my dinner as there weren’t many vegetarian options in this part of Texas. I picked up her salmon salad from a restaurant down the street and had to do this crazy loop route to get on and off the highway to get back to the hotel. Once in the room I started to get my food ready when Kaela asked me if I had her dressing in a separate bag. NOPE. She had said it was alright but I was frustrated from the traffic driving in and was not going to let her settle for eating dry lettuce. I hopped back in the car and make the loopy drive to and from the restaurant to complete the meal. We ate and watched some Lethal Weapon (the t.v. series) before cleaning up and getting some sleep.
I woke up to knock out my shake out run. I made a short route that went around some of the industrial roads around the hotel. Legs felt heavy but seemed to move ok with no issues. After my run I noticed a small path behind the hotel that went along the backside of a farm. There were a handful of horses just hanging out, but they didn’t seem to give me friendly looks so I just moved along and made it back inside. I grabbed some breakfast before heading back to the room. We got ready for the day and made our way to the expo. There were a few shorter distance races taking place in the morning but I didn’t realize how many people actually were participating in these events. We hit a little bit of traffic on the highway heading to the Will Rogers Memorial Center and made our own little detour around some neighborhood streets.
The parking maps were a little confusing so we just circled around until we found a visitor parking lot for the university. We weren’t sure if it was open parking for the participants so Kaela stayed in the car as I made the walk to the expo. Walking out of the parking lot I slipped down a grassy hill and felt a little tweak in a knee. Great! Exactly what I wanted to happen the day before a race. I walked slowly trying to make sure I didn’t aggravate it. As I approached the street behind the expo and near the start of the race, I saw the streets lined in preparation for the last race of the morning, the kids 5k. They were going off in waves so I waited for a break before making my way across the street. I took a slight detour to watch the start of one of the waves and these kids were ruthless from the start. There was a small pile up of kids that could have been a lot worse but the volunteers were expecting it and were on top of clearing things up out of the gate.
I made my way through the small expo gathering my bib, t-shirt and some additional gels. The ladies at check in gave me a good laugh as they were asking if I was running “just the marathon” as they also had an ultra option. Their wording must not have fazed them but I’m sure there were a couple of smart asses that would snap back, “what do you mean ‘just the marathon?’”
After the expo we headed out through campus and north to Ft. Worth Stockyards. We ended up following some of the course and I took notice of the climbs that seemed to not end. I tried to shake it out of my head and decided that I can worry about it tomorrow while running it. We spent a few hours at the historic stockyards taking a look at some cowboys riding horses in the street, longhorns in the yard and a few of the “old town” shops that were lined up around the area. Definitely a touristy area but we finished up our visit with one of their twice daily cattle drives where they block off the streets and about a dozen longhorns are guided down the road.
Time for lunch. We headed over to Fort Brewery and Pizza to enjoy some delicious pizza and beer. The sun was shining out but with a pretty strong wind it felt really nice being outside. We took a little stroll after lunch, checking out some local shops. I ended up finding a cool looking Cowtown hat from a little boutique store. It was relaxing having a full day prior to the race to not have to rush around. After another beer stop for some sours at Collective Brewing, we attempted to locate a local park just so we could continue to relax outside. All we did find were lots of homeless camps or parks in not great areas of town. We ended up at a park near the hotel but the breeze had stopped and it was getting uncomfortable. We decided to head back to the room and just hang there for the remainder of the afternoon and evening.
I got my gear and clothes ready for the race before heading out to pick up dinner. Kaela had found this authentic local Italian place that had an extensive menu. I called Nikis Italian Bistro and place a take-out order. When I arrived it was clear that this place was authentic. From the ambiance of the inside to the staff, I knew this place was going to have amazing food without even having taken a single bite. Back at the hotel we set up at the table in our suite and enjoyed dinner while going over some course information.
After dinner, I finished getting my items prepped and packed up my bag. We were able to get a late check out to allow me to shower after the race but I still wanted to have my bag packed with everything other than the drive home clothes to save some time. I cleaned up, stretched and set my alarm, and then it was time for bed.
A race with a 7am start meant back to my normal super early alarms. I got up and cleaned up my face, took Bella for a quick walk and then made my way to the lobby with my laptop and food for breakfast. The breakfast section was not yet ready since breakfast didn’t start until 6am but the overnight associate was nice enough to place out the toaster and jelly for me to use. I started up the playlist and then started working on some course plans.
The first thing I needed to figure out was the weather situation. Somehow Texas was colder than it was back home. It was 38 degrees currently compared to 54 at home, and at the race start we would be in the low 40s. The high for the day would only be in the mid 50s but the sun was going to be shining so I knew it was going to feel a lot warmer. I decided to wear my light weight tank and deal with being cold for the start.
Next thing to tackle was the hills. There were a couple sustaining climbs early in the race that seemed to break people down from race reports I had read. I decided that I was going to try the mentality of a negative split again and make sure that I didn’t get eaten alive on the front.
Before I knew it, it was getting to the time I need to start getting ready to head out. I make sure to stop eating 2 hours prior to a race, but we had a 20 minute drive to the start and then needed to find parking and make a 10 minute walk to the start. Add in that I would probably need to use porta-potty before entering the corral, I wanted to make sure I gave myself enough time, so I needed to head back upstairs and get this show on the road.
Once we stepped outside I was instantly freezing. This weather was just nuts, Texas is supposed to be much hotter than Ohio! I turned the seat warmer on in the car and aimed the heat on my feet to keep them nice and toasty. We hit just a little bit of traffic heading to the parking area. The race parking was in a similar location to where we were the day before, but that parking lot filled up first. After circling the block once more we noticed that there were spots on the side of the road and started a trend of cars just pulling in and parking.
Chills went through my body again as soon as I stepped out of the car. I sat and got my socks and shoes on before gathering my things to make the walk to the start. Shortly down the road the chills started to really get me so I ran back to the car to grab my gloves as the jacket and beanie were apparently not enough. Kaela and I discussed her plan to see me to make sure that we were both on the same page and I helped her get situated with the roads that we were crossing so she could get her bearings. In the lot outside the start I debating on using the porta-potty or not and Kaela easily convinced me that it didn’t make sense to wait until it was bothering me. She held my water bottle and glasses while I did my business.
Feeling a little lighter I gathered my stuff from her and walked to the start. We heard the Star Spangled Banner and I wanted to make sure Kaela had enough time to get to her spots, so she took my pre-race photo and Igave her and Bella a kiss before she took off. I was a few corrals back so when the race started and people were jetting to the front, I knew that it would be a little bit until my group would be starting. I tied my shoes and gathered my nerves and emotions with a quick prayer. I was relaxed and told myself to just enjoy my time out on the road today.
As I made it over to my corral, I ran into a listener of the podcast who had told me he would be running the race. It was crazy that we happened to be in the same corral. Parker was from Georgia and was starting to work through his 50 states journey with what I think was his 2nd or 3rd race of the year already! I noticed I was actually stuck in the group that would be behind mine and pushed my way through to get in a better starting position. I took off my jacket and got some interesting looks from those around me. With the temperatures in the low 40’s, people looked as though they were eskimos and that I was the crazy one getting ready for the gun show (get it, yes I know bad joke).
Just like every race start, people were taking off way too fast. I just got into a groove as we made a quick turn down a lengthy downhill to start. I made sure to hold back not to let my stride get too long to prevent issues later. Kaela was on the side of the road about 1/2 mile in snapping some photos. The photos made me laugh when I look at them as you can see how bundled up everyone else is and I apparently missed the memo. We wrapped into Trinity Park before hopping back out on some neighborhood streets.
Miles were clicking by nicely and I quickly showed up to Kaela after mile 2. I gave her a quick smile and rounded the corner heading north. Shortly after this I caught up to Parker and picked up a conversation. We chatted about races, training, weather and really just about anything that came to mind. It was nice having a conversation to pass the miles and get my mind off the task at hand. We had similar goals for the race so that also helped.
At mile 4 we hit the climb that I noticed yesterday driving around and Parker and I just tackled it like it was nothing. Being from Georgia he knew how to run hills and we made a point to those around us that these Texas hills weren’t going to slow us down. As we made our way in and out of neighborhoods we had some great crowd support and volunteers. One small annoyance with race was regarding the water stations. The volunteers kept calling out that they had Gatorade but the electrolyte drink of choice was Nuun. So it broke my heart a little bit when I’d take a sip and realize one that it wasn’t Gatorade and two that it was poorly mixed Nuun. I had just started using Nuun because I knew it was going to be at the race but since I wasn’t 100% comfortable with it yet I decided to keep Tailwind in my handheld and just use the aid stations for water.
Shortly after mile 5 I started getting this feeling like I was going to pee down my leg. I let Parker know I was going to go ahead to the next porta-potty and maybe I’d see him later on in the course. After a quick pit stop I felt much better. I guess it was a good thing that I had to pee and that it wasn’t the color of maple syrup, so maybe my hydration plan was working so far.
Around the 10k mark we hit the stockyards and the uneven bricks that lined the streets. I had worked my way over to a trash can on the side of the road to throw away my honey stinger gel wrapper when one of my gloves I had wrapped in my belt fell on the ground. When I tried to stop myself to pick it up I tripped over a brick and almost ended up on my face. I did that arms flailing trying to catch yourself move and ended up feeling it in my leg once all was said and done. I just stood still to gather myself and did a quick joint test before picking back up the pace. After all these years of running I am trying to actually pay attention to my body so I make sure I not only get through this race but can also continue to do so.
Through the stockyards, up a steep climb to a parking lot and then back around to Main Street for a slow descent on some open road. Trees and shade were not abundant on this section of the course and as the sun was unblocked in the sky, it started to warm up quite a bit. We took a detour because a section of Main Street was closed and we crossed by some old warehouses. I remember the lone DJ just jamming away in the middle of an abandoned parking lot. I gave him a thumbs up as whatever he was playing was definitely getting me going (I have no clue what it was, I just remember liking it).
Taking a slight turn back on Main Street, I could see the biggest climb of the course. People were already moaning as we approached it just by the look. I’m not going to lie, it did look quite daunting from this angle. You were just looking straight up with the end being downtown Ft. Worth. On the approach I noticed Parker just ahead of me. I realized I must have been going a little faster than pace to be able to catch up to him already and used the hill to keep me in check. I came up to him and we tackled this hill together. Once we were on the worst of it, we shortened our stride and just powered through it. It was a little more than 4% grade for a half a mile but I’m thinking my watch may have under calculated it.
At the top we made a few quick turns and were in downtown Ft Worth. Parker said that he had some spectators waiting for him somewhere close by but wasn’t sure where. I gazed around the streets and thanked those in the crowd that were cheering us on. Within the buildings the crowd noise carried but it also felt 10 degrees cooler with the breeze cutting through me. Towards the end of the downtown stretch we noticed the signs indicating the split was approaching. This tends to be a sad portion of the course as we lose most of the participants, which also means less crowd support on the roads. But having some good company around me I was ready to take on this section of the course.
We followed the road to the right continuing downhill under the highway before hitting a fun little ½ mile open road climb. I had a brief moment of wanting to go back to the turn around and take the shortcut. Parker and I talked through it and made it to the top in one piece and were greeted with a smooth downhill. We turned right on Magnolia Ave, where Kaela was parked on the left side of the road. This was the road where we had lunch and visited the shops so it was familiar territory and I was able to zone out just a little bit and just run. Kaela asked if I needed anything and I just ended up handing off my gloves as the sun was out in full force.
Around mile 12 I took a look down at my watch and realized that I was moving way too fast. My legs started to feel heavy and I wasn’t sure why until I noticed the time. I needed to get my pace in check if I was going to make it through the rest of the race. Quickly stopped at porta-potty (yes again) at mile 13. I hit the first half in just over 2:02. Negative split was not going to happen so the goal now was to race smart for the second half. It seems that the conversation kept us moving at a great pace but it did cause me to vary from my initial plan.
We spent the next few miles in and out of neighborhood streets. The sun was shining and temperatures felt like they were increasing but the spectators’ wardrobes said differently. I’m thinking the sun was starting to play tricks on me. I kept on top of fluids and kept moving. I caught back up back to Parker after losing him at the last potty stop, but I kept some space behind him for us both not to get stuck in conversation and take off again. Around mile 16.5 we hit a street of makeshift aid stations. A handful of houses had tables at the end of their driveways offering just about anything you could need and a few things that sounded good, but beer was not ideal with 10 miles left. It was definitely a party atmosphere that brought up the mood of all the runners as we went by. I drank some pickle juice, grabbed a handful of pretzels and M&Ms and went on my way. A few turns later a lady had a table set up with a spread of McDonald’s breakfast. She had everything from sausage biscuits, egg mcmuffins, hash browns and even candy, to water, Gatorade and soda. She was well aware of the kind of food runners wanted to have at this point in the race being tired of typical gels and running snacks.
Kaela was standing at the corner at mile 18 for the last time that I would see her. She had anticipated my need and had a waffle ready for me. She could tell that I was wearing down just a bit and wanted to give me some real food to push through. I walked for about ¼ mile while eating before picking up the pace. Around mile 19 I had to pee yet again (I really don’t know what this was about). There were no porta-potties at this aid station as we entered a park and down the bike path so I just took a few steps into the bushes.
We ran down the bike path for a little ways before joining back up with a neighborhood road. This section was really nice with lots of shade on the road to give some break from the sun. It was also a net downhill section which helped give the hamstrings a break from the climbing. Parker was back in my sights and even though we had become running buddies I made a secret goal to finish before him (when he reads this it’ll be the first he actually knows of it). Around mile 22 there was a small steep climb on a turn and he had stopped to walk and I powered through the hill to take advantage of my opportunity. As I passed him, we wished each other luck but I never looked back.
At mile 23 we got off the road and made our way back on another bike trail called Trinity Trail. We followed this along the river, under the highway and back into Trinity Park where we started the race. My legs were hurting but I didn’t want to stop as I felt Parker was on my heels. I still had not turned to look but I kept looking ahead and worked on picking off each person I saw in front of me. I would take a quick walk break to shake out the cramps that were creeping in before getting back to the pace. The 4:20 pacer came up behind me and I worked to stay with her. She was laser focused with no one running with her but sticking to her pace. It didn’t last very long as my legs were not digging that pace.
There was a turn around that would wrap us back to the start and I had it in sight. Those doing the ultra (it was a 50k) would be heading out for the additional 5 miles they needed before heading back the same way I was heading. I was so glad that wasn’t having to do the extra distance, especially since it was just 2.5 miles out and back on the bike path. I made it to the turn and at this point I could see down the trail where I came from and Parker was not in sight. I felt a cramp building in my left quad so I power walked to let it rest until I hit the “1 mile left” mat.
There was a sign letting us know there was just a mile left but what it failed to mention was that it was completely uphill. My legs were burning with each step as I powered through with the little energy I had left. The road wrapped around the arena before making a final right turn with just a tenth of a mile left. They announced my name on the intercom as I came in and it pushed me to turn over the legs as quick as I could as I raced to the finish.
As I came in the finish a gentleman asked if I was the guy from Ohio they announced. I said yes and he started with the “O-H” and I stopped him midway through the H and said “NO.” Even in my exhausted state I could have some jokes. I saw Kaela on the side with Bella in tow and it brought a smile to my face. I gave her a kiss before following the herd of finishers into the food area. They had adecent selection of food with ice cream at the end just before picking up a finisher’s shirt. Nothing like two shirts from one race!
Kaela met me at the end of the finisher area and we walked around to keep the legs moving but at a much slower pace than normal. I grabbed some chocolate milk, ate my ice cream and got some information from Kaela’s journey as a crew member running around Ft Worth. We made our way to the start area to get a photo with the starting line but this time with my finisher’s medal. We headed back to the hotel to get me cleaned up before heading out of Ft Worth. On the way out we stopped at In and Out burger for my first experience and it did not disappoint (well my stomach wasn’t happy that the first beef I had in a few months was a greasy burger, but totally worth it).
This race was a journey. We ended up traveling over 2,200 miles round-trip in just 5 days. Lots of windshield time but the company could not have been any better. As far as the race is concerned it went much better than I could have expected. 4:20 has been my new goal lately to try to consistently hit and after running such a fast first half I was worried about how I would shake out in the second half. I made some smart nutrition decisions, in addition to slowing down my pace, and I think that was the game changer. I need to figure out why I had to stop to pee like 5 times but hey, even with those stops I put up a great time.
If you are looking for a well put on race in Texas, the Cowtown Marathon would fit the bill. Organization pre-race and during the event was fantastic. There was great crowd support and the volunteers were top notch. One recommendation though, Texas is a further drive than you realize from the Midwest (haha).
Next up we head in the opposite direction into the great flat plains of South Dakota!