Tour de Bayou 2010

Unknown to me living way out here in the ‘burbs, the HARRA (Houston Area Road Runners Association) has been holding a Tour de Bayou for several years. The Tour de Bayou is a series of runs in the parks and bayous of Houston, with the tracks laid out to create hills (which, if you’ve been to Houston, is a neat trick). The runs are free, and my hat is off to HARRA and the volunteers who set these up.

I’d taken a break from running in February and the first half of March to let my knees and my IT Band un-swell, and this seemed like excellent punishment to get myself back into it.

For those of you that don’t run in Houston, it is one of the flattest places to run (which I imagine is one reason why the US Olympic Marathon trials will be held here) and in April it starts to warm up. At the 6pm start time for these races it was upper 70s or lower 80s.

My notes on each of the legs are below. Bottom line: it was a lot of fun, a great way to visit some of the parks around town and I will certainly do it next year, hopefully in good health.

Stage 1: Spots Park; 3.1 miles; 28:40; 9:15 pace
79 OverAll; 42 Masters Men
Theme: Show up, sign up, run up and throw up

Spots Park is a bowl, and the HARRA setup folks made the most of it. The track they laid out had runners going up and down the edges of the bowl 4 times, out and back, two loops. I waved to my wife on each loop, and she noticed my face getting redder which each pass. None of my flat running had prepared me for these hills, no matter how slight they were. It was a good run, a beautiful day, a slower than normal pace, but the first stage (on April Fool’s Day) was out of the way.

Stage 2: White Oak Bayou; 3.4 miles; 30:50; 9:00 pace
87 OA; 48 Masters Men
combined: 31 Masters Men; 59:30
Theme: Water…gasp… water…then happy anniversary

I am, and always shall be, a coffee hound. Since my normal running time is in the morning, this usually doesn’t bother me. But these 6pm runs made me think twice. A long and skinny course at White Oak Park was marred only by a couple of hills that were so skinny they stopped the run, forcing single file and walking in some points. Should have made up some time in the flats, but towards the end my 18 cups of coffee started giving me some cramps. Or maybe it was eagerness to be done, as this stage was on my anniversary. My wife let me take her to see Cats at Miller Outdoor Theater; the play didn’t stink but I sure did.

Stage 3: Shepard at Memorial; 3.8 miles; 33:16; 8:45 pace
91 OA; 45 Masters Men
combined: 26/37 Masters Men: 1:22:18
Theme: steep hills and bat crap

My pace was improving, the knee wasn’t swelling…and you’ve got to love the smell of bat guano in the evening. Not as populated as the bridge in Austin, but  a good population of bats live under one of the bridges we ran beneath on this run. There was one very steep hill down and a log-jam hill up near the beginning that slowed down the run times. And it being mid-April and humid, it was already sweltering in Houston.  We did one lap down to two laps down and back.

Stage 4: Ho Chi Minh trail, Memorial Park: 3.1 miles; 28:44;
91 OA; 50 Masters Men
combined 21/30 Masters Men: 1:47:50
Theme: roots, gulleys and skinny trails, then Kenny G?

Right behind the Rugby field we occasionally visited for games to play on at Memorial Park there is a series of color coded trails for runners and mountain bikers. Rains earlier in the week made it slippery. The course at the beginning and end was on the wider trails, but it rapidly turned into single file; if you were caught behind runners slowing down, you had to brave the jungle, or wait for a widening. I went to pass on one of these wide places, and slide in some unseen mud, stopping myself before falling all the way. The last bit was a sprint to make up lost time, passing a few folks before one gent got the better of me in a foot race. I’m not sure why I ran fast at the end, since we were heading to a Kenny G concert because my wife won tickets; turned out the concert exceeded my expectations.

Stage 5: Ho Chi Minh trail, Memorial Park; 3.74 miles; 30:23; 8:07 pace (unofficial, no times posted yet)
77 overall
combined (not posted yet)
Theme: saving the best for last

Instead of going behind the Rugby field, we headed east along Memorial drive and dove into the trails there. Several mountain bikers were on the trails, making it a bit cumbersome. Most stopped and moved to the side, some tried to continue pedaling while 200 runners streamed by. This was my lowest finish and best pace of the entire series, and my knees felt great. Though we didn’t win any of the prizes they were giving away after the race, we did treat ourselves to Real Ale at the Hobbit Hole.

If you haven’t done this race and you live in Houston, you should. It is a lot of fun, different than road races. HARRA has also been doing a Fall warmup series for the Tour, which I’ll attempt to do as well.

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