Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Running the Seabrook Trails

There are some really beautiful trails in Seabrook, TX. They skirt along bayous and salt marsh and along the shore of Galveston Bay. I have really fond memories of these trails, going back to when I first started running, first joined the Clear Lake running club back in 2001. We'd sometimes get our longer Saturday runs in on these trails. Arriving before sunrise, we'd gather in the Meador Park parking lot, our club organizers setting up snacks and drink on tailgates, ready for us as we passed by after each 3- or 6-mile loop. If we got there early enough, we were rewarded with a fabulous sunrise at Pine Gully Park, our turnaround point. It was tradition to run out onto the fishing dock, all the way to the end - almost 800 feet - to slap the railing, and then head back toward land. Such great times back then.

Pine Gully Park, with its 800 foot fishing pier

I brought a new running friend David to that park to get our 18 mile run in as we prepared to run the 2003 marathon together. I remember, as we were in the last 3 mile stretch, he challenged me with a math problem to see how fried my brain was at that point. I laughed as I struggled with it, mostly because it was a math problem I would have struggled with even if I'd not just run 15 or 16 miles. It was a fun, chilly December morning. And a fun run together a month later in the Houston Marathon.

David and I near the finish line of the marathon

David and I post-race with finisher medals from 2003 Marathon

A year after that 2003 Marathon, some members of our running club organized a marathon/half marathon race event called Seabrook Lucky Trail Marathon, starting and ending in Rex Meador Park in Seabrook and running these trails out to Pine Gully Park...two laps for the half marathon, four laps for the full. That was the last time I ran on these trails.

But then, this past summer, a running friend told me she planned to fly into Houston to run this race and would I be interested in doing it with her. I offered to pick her up at the airport and let her stay with me for this event. She planned to do the two-day event - half on Saturday, full on Sunday. I planned to do only the full on Sunday, at the time needing to get that full marathon to qualify for Marathon Maniacs, and maybe volunteer at the race on Saturday. As we drew near to the race date, I learned that she was no longer planning to come to do this race. So, since I no longer needed this full, having already qualified for Marathon Maniacs, I contacted the race organizers and changed my registration from doing the full to doing the half on Sunday.

I was curious, after all these years, to see if the trails were the same as I remembered them. Crushed gravel over sand for much of the distance, plus some boardwalks near the bay as the trail passed through salt marsh. Back when I last ran on those trails, there were a few stretches that passed through fairly dense forest and we sometimes had to duck to pass under low branches or skirt low-lying spots that were sometimes muddy, sometimes filled with tree roots.

Race day morning I got up at 5;00 AM, ate breakfast, and then got in the car at about 5:45 and started my drive to Meador Park in Seabrook. I estimated about a 30 minute drive to get there and I planned to park about 0.6 mile away at a strip mall parking lot, one we were told would serve as overflow parking if the elementary school parking lot closer to the park was full. So rather than take my chances at the school, I decided to just park at the overflow. The walk would do me good as a warm-up and also help with post-race recovery.

It was plenty early, not even light yet, and it was very chilly, the winds 25 mph straight out of the north. I had a long, cold wait to the start. The full marathon runners were turned loose at 7:15 and then the half marathon runners at 7:30. I'd forgotten about this little detail, thinking the race started at 7:00.

But finally we were crossing the start line. The first mile or so was on local streets, a good idea since it was still barely light. We ran north up N. Meyer Ave and then turned right onto E. Meyer Ave toward Toddville Rd, where we picked up the gravel/sand trail. I have so many memories of running on this trail. I remember the parking area about half way to Pine Gully Park where our club used to set up a table with snacks, water, Gatorade, the parking lot and turnaround point at Pine Gully, the traditional run out to the end of the pier...

The trails were greatly improved over the interim years since I'd last run on them. Wider, smoother, vegetation cleared at the narrower points along the way. Just as beautiful as ever, and we were treated to that sunrise as we got onto the boardwalks through the salt marsh near Pine Gully. It really makes the miles go by, and even though a half marathon required running the loop twice, it wasn't boring and I didn't mind it at all.
Seabrook Lucky Trail Half Marathon, two loops, data from my Garmin GPS watch

This race has grown enormously over those 12 years since our club first started it. It has gone from being a "locals" race within the Greater Houston running community to one where runners come in from all over the country, even outside the country, to run it. Its reputation is widely known for being an excellent race with great organization and support, super race swag - a hat, socks, nice technical fabric shirt - and kick-butt after-race party with beer, red beans and rice, wide assortment of chips, yogurt, ice cream, hot dogs and hamburgers grilled on the spot, and with all the condiments and trimmings to go with.

Really great race "swag" including nice tech fiber hat, shirt, running socks

With that growth however comes a downside for the Sunday races. A half marathon is held on Saturday, and then a half and a full marathon on Sunday. I ran on Sunday and found the trails to be very congested, with runner traffic heading in both directions, sometimes four abreast - two in each direction - as faster runners tried to overtake the slower ones. For us very slow runners it sometimes meant getting pushed off the trail as the very fastest runners sought to maintain their pace and line of trajectory no matter what. And of course, the faster marathon runners passed me a total of 7 times as they made the four loops. It is my only complaint for an otherwise really excellent event.

When our club first instituted this race, it was a one-day event with a very small field of runners, only 317 runners total between the two distances. Today it's grown enormously and even though there is a runner cap for each event it is now perhaps too high for the Sunday combined event, almost 600 runners this year.

But I survived, got jostled just a little by the swifter runners, and then I was crossing the finish line and getting my really cool work-of-art finisher medal.

Really great finisher medal with beautiful ribbon

What's so really cool about this medal is that it stands on its own!
Under the large picnic pavilion there was ample beer - dyed green for the occasion...cool! And so much food, I didn't know where to start. The red beans and rice were excellent. Cookies galore! I sat down to start digging into my beans, when one of the race directors, a long-ago friend from our running club, came over to greet me. I was wearing the shirt I'd received from that very first year of this event and he wanted to get a photo of me in my shirt and my finisher medal in front of one of the borrowed pelican statues from town. Seabrook has 6-8' tall pelicans scattered about town, painted and donated by local artists and businesses. Seabrook Pelican Path

One of the many Pelicans scattered around Seabrook

It was so great seeing him again! He was thrilled that I chose to wear this vintage cotton t-shirt, pre-dating the now-vogue tech fiber shirts, clearly a collectible item these days.

My vintage Seabrook race shirt from the race's first year, 2004.
Note the #1 on the pelican's race bib, signifying the first, inaugural year.
I sat and chatted a bit with a gal who was also in that running club many years ago and whom I have run into at various local races over the years. But beer downed, beans and rice finished, and cookie nearly done, it was time to start heading toward my car, 0.6 miles away, and get home.

Nice race, extremely well-organized, and glad that I came back and did it 12 years later. Now to start looking ahead to the Rome marathon!



2 comments:

  1. It is cool the you could run the same route so many years later and see the changes. It is unfortunate that you get jostled around so much by the faster runner, maybe a loop wasn't the best idea.

    That medal is pretty great though.

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  2. Just a little jostling, just meant breaking stride to step aside for them. Personally, I think the cap on registered runners is just a little too high for what the trails can handle. But otherwise a really great race.

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