When I sat down over Christmas break to plot out my January – May training for Comrades, I came across the Seabrook Lucky Trail Challenge. This event requires a marathon on Saturday followed by a half marathon on Sunday. Bingo!
The arrangement of the Seabrook Lucky Trail Challenge was perfect for my Comrades training. By expecting myself to get up early and go run another half marathon less than 20 hours after finishing a marathon, I could test my body to see how I would do running while tired. Also, putting over 39 miles on the legs in 26 hours is a solid reality check of endurance capability.
A Few Notes About the Seabrook Lucky Trail Challenge Course
The course is basically a lasso with two different out-and-back-spurs in the loop part of the lasso. Each loop was just over 6.5 miles, so the marathon was four loops and the half marathon was two loops. The course was perfectly marked and marshalled, with mile marker flags easily visible and any road or bridge crossings monitored by officials. The only downside to this logistical excellence was that, in a four loop race, one must pass a LOT of mile markers— like 26 of them! It’s good mental training to be constantly reminded of just how far you’re running.
The trails at Seabrook are, thankfully, not “real” trails; rather, they are gravel running paths. This was good for me, as trail running is not my favorite. And while gravel is more forgiving on the legs than pavement, running on paths does require the small muscles in the ankles and feet to work in a way they usually do not.
The course is flat. It’s basically at sea level, skirting the bay. The only elevation change was going over a few wooden bridges, with a max gain of five feet or so. In that regard, it’s not exactly great training for Comrades, but I’m not complaining!
Saturday- Seabrook Lucky Trail Marathon
I arrived early on Saturday morning because I needed to pick up my packet. The process was smooth and quick, so I grabbed my things and went to a table under the pavilion where other excited runners were gathering. As I was pinning my race number to my Comrades Wildlands Conservation Trust shirt, a woman asked, “Have you run the Comrades?” Turns out she was there to support her sister who was running Seabrook as her Comrades qualifier. Small world!
My race strategy was to run the first 20 minutes (until the crowd thinned out), and then walk 1 minute. I would then run 4 minutes and walk 1 minute for the remainder of the marathon. My goal was to finish feeling comfortable under 4:45.
I went through the first mile in 9:32, so I knew I didn’t need to go any faster than that. I was a bit worried about the looming half marathon on Sunday, and I knew that running too fast on Saturday would make the second race a beast.
I went through mile two in just over 19 minutes, so I jogged easily until I hit my first walk break. We had just entered the marshy section of the course, and the trail is wide but windy. As usual, I moved as far to the right as possible before starting to walk.
I continued to execute my strategy, feeling good despite the warm (68 degrees) and humid (90%) weather. I was glad to have my bottle of Tailwind with me, even though the aid stations were well stocked and staffed. It was blessedly overcast for the first loop. I hit the six mile mark at bang on one hour, so I knew I’d settled in to a good pace. At the end of loop one, I grabbed a quarter PB&J and kept on going.
The second loop still had decent cloud cover, but the trail was a bit more crowded as we marathoners were now comingled with the half marathoners (who started 15 minutes after us). I stuck to my run/walk plan, always trying to be mindful of sharing the trail. I think loop two was about a minute slower than loop one– and still feeling easy and good. I ate another quarter of PB&J, ditched my now-empty bottle, and couldn’t believe that the half marathoners were done.
Two loops to go.
By loop three the sun had emerged, and it was getting steamy. I kept to my strategy, and I even found myself passing some half marathoners and marathoners. That’s always motivating, but I knew I couldn’t really speed up. There were still too many miles left to run. Loop three was a minute or two slower than the previous loop, but I still felt good and steady.
A lot of people would be annoyed by the multi-loop course, but for a training run it’s ideal. There is mental stamina involved in knowing how many more times you have to pass a particular point. By loop four, the course is familiar, and I could check off literal milestones as I approached (and passed) them. The volunteers at the aid stations were plentiful, helpful, and cheery. I was happy to take all the water they could offer, both so I could drink it (to help wash down my Sport Beans) and pour it on my neck.
It got really sunny and hot for the last loop, and I was worried about slowing down. I stuck to my plan, and loop four was faster than loop three. My finishing time came in at 4:27. More importantly, I felt strong at the finish. Hot, sweaty, and dirty…but strong.
There was tons of food at the finish, but the only thing I really wanted was a fruit ice bar. It was positively delicious.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t hang around for the award ceremony (2nd female 40-44) because I had to get over to the Kemah Boardwalk to meet my husband and kids. After all, they kindly agreed to donate the last weekend of Spring Break to my running plans. Walking around the boardwalk was good to flush my legs. I drank so much water I thought I’d float away. I did a little stretching back at the hotel. Then we had an early dinner of sandwiches, and it was off to bed.
Sunday- Seabrook Lucky Trail Half Marathon
Waking up Sunday morning, I was happy to feel that my legs were actually quite springy. I quietly gathered my race stuff in the dark of the hotel room then headed to the race course.
Once again, there was an excited buzz in the park pavilion at the start/finish area. The weather was really unbelievable– 66F and 100% humidity. No, for real:
It wasn’t raining, but we were all just standing in a cloud. Lovely. I opted not to wear my Comrades cap, feeling like I didn’t need anything to make me any steamier than I was going to be.
I opted not to carry my bottle with Tailwind again, instead relying on the water + Sport Beans combo to get me through. Here’s the thing about ultra-training: a half marathon isn’t that long of a run. Ridiculous, I know. All I wanted to do for the half was 2:30 or faster– basically, just get the miles in and get it done.
My legs were pleasantly responsive in the first mile, clocking in at 9.32– exactly the same as the day before. This energized me with the hope that the half marathon wouldn’t be a complete slog. I chose to employ the same run/walk strategy as for the marathon.
I had to laugh at myself when I missed the Mile 3 flag for my split time. I had already passed that point NINE times! Oh, well. I was feeling good, and I knew the run/walk would get me through the day.
Somewhere between Mile 4 and 5, I experienced something that in twenty years of distance running I have NEVER before experienced. As I started running again after a walk break, another runner shouted at me, “Just f***ing pick a pace and run!” He was someone I had leapfrogged several times already, and clearly my run/walk was annoying to him. I responded politely, “I have a strategy, and I’ll run my race and you can run yours.”
I kept going, finishing loop one in 1:02. Apparently, running under 2:30 wasn’t going to be an issue.
The fog never lifted, which was good because it wasn’t hot and sunny….but the humidity was relentless. I kept on top of my hydration. I think the run/walk was a great way to keep cramping at bay, too.
I can’t really remember much from the second loop, other than I tried to look around and take in the scenery. The only problem was that it was so foggy I couldn’t see much beyond 20 feet in front of me. Knowing the course made me feel more confident, since I could easily predict how long it was til the next mile marker or water station.
My legs felt strong enough that I toyed with the idea of running in (no walk breaks) from 10 miles to the finish. Then I reminded myself that this was a training run, and I didn’t need to do anything more than just get it finished. This training season has been about focusing on doing the work that gets me to Comrades healthy and whole on June 4th. So I kept to the run/walk as planned.
I finished loop two in an hour and change, making it my fastest loop out of all six that I ran in the Seabrook Lucky Trail Challenge. My dad had set that as a goal for me, and I went for it. I was a little worried when I went through the first loop so fast, but it felt good to bring in a 2:01 half marathon on marathon-trod legs.
I happily collected my medals– one for the half and one for finishing the Trail Challenge– grabbed a burger from the well-appointed after party, and hit the road amazed at how foggy and humid it still was.
I may be an ultrarunner, but I’m also just a soccer mom who had to get her kid back to Austin for a 2pm kickoff.