Herb Parsons is one of my favorite trail/park areas in the Memphis area. I am pretty familiar with the trail mostly on foot running with my dogs and have actually mountain biked out there a few times (my first real mountain bike ride was actually a Trek demo out there a year back). Going out there can feel like a slice of heaven as you don’t hear any noise pollution and you can run as little as 6 or as much as 10 miles depending on the loops and the options to add on as you circle the lake. I have also found it to be a very friendly place to run with my dogs (save for the HUGE ticks that seem to hang out there).
I signed up for the Swampstomper 50K which is this upcoming weekend! I realized as I was writing this post that my first and only 50K (Sylamore) was run almost 3 years ago (YIKES). For some reason I was feeling the urge to do another one this year. I had been training to pace the St. Jude Memphis Marathon and figured I would add on some longer trail runs after that early December marathon and it should prepare me for the 50K. One of my friends had the great idea to sign up for the Herb Parsons trail marathon as my long training run for the 50K (approximately 2 weeks prior to the 50K). I signed up not really knowing what to expect as far as pace and planning to run it by myself.
In the meantime, my friend Beth mentioned doing some runs out at Shelby Forest to prep for the 50K. I had not been out to the Forest in a long time (I think the last time was when I did the Red Loop Challenge a few years back…hungover…not a good idea). Shelby Forest has some ascents and terrain that is definitely challenging for this part of the country so it is a good idea to work in some training runs out there prior to the Swampstomper 50K as you need to know what you are in for, especially if it is wet. The mud out there is pretty insane if it has rained recently. On our second weekend training run in December, my friend Beth decided she would sign up to do the Herb Parsons full marathon with me as a training run also (SUCKER ha)! Now I had a buddy to come with me and help me get through it so things definitely seemed more doable leading up race weekend.
The marathon starts at 8am and half marathon at 8:30am. Capped around 200 runners w/about 80 full and 120 half. Parking was super easy and accessible at the park (everything is within short walking distance – race start, parking, toilets etc).
The forecast for the race was not good. The Saturday before race day, it was sunny and in the 50’s (pretty much perfect) but the forecast for the Sunday was dire…80-100% chance of rain and the temps would drop throughout the day down below freezing with the potential of snow and ice. They had actually closed the area schools for the Monday after the race. Wind was also projected around 20mph.
We got there around 7am so we could get our packets. Once we got our packets, we basically sat in the car and got ready in the warmth. At the race start, all the full marathoners huddled together behind a line of chalk (right next to tent that had the packet pickup) and that was basically the start line. Herbs is a lake that you can do a loop around but the course was a down/back for both the half and the full. The half did one down and back and the full marathon did it two times.
To start, you run across the levee that is on the right side of the lake and then dip down to the right to enter the trails (so run the trail counterclockwise). The first few miles were pretty good, the ground was still pretty dry and the half marathoners had not started yet. It felt like the first aid station came up very quickly. Here are the mile markers where the aid stations were located: For the marathon: 3.35, 6.56, 9.8, 13.12, 16.5, 19.68, 22.9
The trail does not really any steep climbs. It is rolling and even has some great sections that are under pine trees and feel very smooth. The worst part about the trail on a normal day is the roots or really small stumps that can take you down quickly. The ‘turnaround point’ for the half marathon was at the mile marker 6.56 – this is where the down and back turned around and is actually at a road that the trail hits. The aid station was well stocked. The most challenging part here is at this point you were dealing with the faster marathoners doubling back and sharing the trail and the fast half marathoners passing from behind you. I found this frustrating (as you felt like you were watching for ghosts behind you). At times, it could take away the enjoyment that comes with the peace on the trails. As we turned and came back from that aid station (exactly back the way we came), around mile 9 is when the rain let out. So at this time, we were definitely getting soaked. Luckily, the wind was not terrible in the woods. The trees saved us from that. The parts where we were under pine trees gave us some reprieve from the rain but at this point you definitely started to notice the wear/tear on the trail from a mud and slip/slide standpoint. We ran down to the marathon ‘turn around’ which was basically the start line and then you run back in the way you came out for round #2. With the pouring rain and traffic on the trails of the down/back, I could tell that the second half of this race would not go as fast as the first half.
Beth and I were averaging 11 min/mile for the first 13 miles. Our goal was 13 min/mile (our 50K training pace) but part of me got pretty excited in that first half but also thinking how I wanted to cover as much ground as I could while the weather was not terrible. Coming back onto the trails from the levee again…you were running against a lot of the half marathoners that were finishing. We really didn’t get lapped by any full marathoners so the people behind was not so much of an issue this go around. There were a couple sections around 3 miles into the trail that were very slick and with over 100 folks tromping over them, they became a little challenging to navigate as the rain kept pouring down.
It had been awhile since I had been out on a long trail run (longest run before this on trails was 16 miles). Around mile 17, I got terribly hungry. No pain in my muscles or limbs but really really hungry. I felt myself dropping back before we hit our turnaround again. When we got to that aid station at 19.68, I drank a coke and ate a few chips (have never done that in the middle of a race before) but I was desperate. The last 7 miles or so were definitely drastically slower than the first 18-19 miles of the course. We embraced the hills by walking them (so slippery) and combined with being hungry and starting to feel tired, I just didn’t want to risk falling and potentially hurting myself and not being able to run my 50K. On the bright side, my IT band was feeling really good! Not really having a goal other than to finish at or under 13 min/mile pace, I felt like we were still having a good race. Beth and I definitely discussed ‘lets just finish this thing’. There comes a point where every step you take, the water inside your shoes is sloshing around like it is inside a sinking ship. I could not believe how heavy with water my shoes got (mud was still not as bad as it can get out at Shelby Forest but it was very muddy too).
Beth and I finished at 5:19:xx which was around a 12:10 min/mile pace. I was very pleased with that considering the trail conditions and how we felt the last 6 miles or so. I was happy we finished! When I looked at the results, I noticed that there were only 48 full marathon finishers and we came in #30 and #31. I remember the race had nearly 80 folks signed up for the full so I felt proud that we had pushed through as it appeared quite a few people either dropped down to the half or totally avoided the full due to the weather.
Upon finishing, we got a finisher’s medal. There was no fanfare (that is pretty normal with trail races). We literally just ran by the tent at the start line (that was the finish line) and there were a few snacks on the table. It was FREEZING at this point as we had stopped, we were soaked, muddy and the wind was blowing. There was no building for us to go inside and change (just port o lets) so I literally took off my shirt and put on a sweatshirt and wrapped a towel around me at the car (just to warm up). We were lucky there was a nice lady waiting for her husband to finish and she offered to take our ‘finish line’ photo ha! She was so kind to take several photos and then text them to me.
Our swag bag at the start had a car coaster with the race name/logo on it and they gave us some of those throwaway gloves for the cold which was useful.
I would do this race again just from the pure convenience of the location and I really enjoy the laidback atmosphere of trail races. Maybe next time they can change the course so we don’t all run over one another.
Here is the website for the race:
– Plenty of easy, free parking.
– Plenty of port a potties at the start.
– Packet pickup was super easy and literally a tent right by where you parked.
– Low key race w/no drama since it was such a small race.
– Well stocked aid stations that were placed in good spots when you needed them.
– Course was marked well with chalk. Easy to follow.
– Down/back course for a half marathon and a full on trails did not feel optimal.
– Not much food left at finish line (seemed like the half marathon folks and faster full marathon folks had eaten most of it). All that was left was a couple bags of open chips, some soda and some small candy bars.
P.S. Unrelated to the race…but part of my goals for myself, I have not had any alcohol in the new year! 15 days without it. Sometimes it is very hard (especially as I am used to celebrating finishing a marathon with some beer or a margarita) but I am doing it…this is my virtual pat on the back!