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The Sunmart Experience

By Ken Johnson

The Sunmart Texas Trail Endurance Run has been held at the Huntsville State Park each December for the last 14 years. There are two events, a 50-mile run and a 50K (31 miles), both trail runs. With about 1,000 runners participating, it is the largest race in the U. S. over a marathon in distance.

Sunmart attracts the best long distance trail runners from almost every state and from around the world. It all starts with a first class buffet dinner in Houston the night before the race. Before dinner, you pick up your race packet. You are first issued a duffel bag and then go down a line to fill the bag with all sorts of stuff, enough to save half your Christmas shopping. On the morning of the race, breakfast is served at the State Park. The 50-mile race starts at 7 a.m. and the 50K at 7:30 a.m. Both courses are multiple loops, so the runners get to see their friends and the world class runners in action. I have completed the 50K run for eight years now and I am always amazed to see runners flying past me when I think I am doing so well.

Trail racing seems to be more of a social event. Especially at this race, you meet so many people from all over and you visit while you run or walk up the hills. There are aid stations every three or four miles and they all contain of variety of food and drinks, not to mention Vaseline and band-aids.

While time flies when you are having fun, everyone hits a wall at the end of their training distance. For myself, I seem to hit a wall at about 26 miles. However, with only five more to go, you muster the strength, endure the pain and you finish. It is amazing, though, how the fatigue and pain go away when you make the last turn and head for the finish line. Thank goodness, it’s over! The crowd cheers you on and you are given a finishers medal, choice of an embroidered afghan or tyvec jacket and a dinner at the Park.

The 2003 Sunmart culminated a training season for several Seven Hills Running Club members, who started running twice a week at the Huntsville State Park last August 1st. We started at 5 miles, quickly moved to 7 miles every Wednesday evening and then progressively longer runs on Sunday afternoon, up to over 20 miles. Of course, not everyone in the group intended to run Sunmart. There were days when we had 20-25 runners in the group. Some were not club members, but some have since joined the club. Along the way, we had several who dropped out due to injuries. Cecil Farrell and Ree Slovin and then Lindsey Tlustos. Lindsey had signed up for Sunmart and suffered a knee injury, which kept her out of the race.
Mark Nelson also suffered a knee injury two weeks before Sunmart, but was determined and courageously ran and finished the race in 7:32:13. Jason Sessions had the best time of 4:45:33. J.C. Guzman was second with a time of 5:33:51. Kyle Yanowski had a kidney stone problem during the race and was taken to the hospital. He will be okay. Jan Parks finished her first Sunmart 50K in 6:39:32 and didn’t even look tired. Congratulations, Jan. Hans Jaeger had been ill the week before the race, but still ran 6:48:28. Ray Alexander was right behind him with a time of 6:51:13. I knocked a few minutes off last year’s time and finished with a 7:16:46.

As you meet runners on the course during Sunmart, they remark about how lucky you are to live in Huntsville and are able to run at Huntsville State Park whenever you want. While trail running presents challenges that you do not find on the road, the serenity and the closeness with nature makes it all worthwhile.

Updated: 12/26/2003