Croom Zoom 25K / 50K / 100K
Running a trail 50K is a real challenge that I’d recommend to any marathoner. If you can complete 26.2 on pavement, you can do a trail 50K. Or if you can do a road half marathon, you can do a trail 25K. The experience is very different than a major road race and a fun change of scenery. There are differences in race day planning so hopefully my experience will give you some guidance on how to prepare and execute a good race.
The Croom Zoom is near Brooksville in the Withlacoochee State Forest. The route starts out on a limerock road for about a mile and then continues into loops on single-track forest trails. With a 6 AM start, headlamps are required for the first hour or so of the run. For my local friends, the trails are quite similar to San Felasco. I would say they are a bit tougher than the Millhopper side of San Felasco, but a little easier than the Alachua side. The hills were more than I expected but not in steepness, just in length. There were a few long steady climbs during the course.
Standing on a dark road at 5:58 AM, the race director addressed the audience of headlamped runners. “We have some Boy Scouts camping here this weekend. They are great at helping out in the park and really enthusiastic about picking up litter. So enthusiastic, they picked up about 2 miles of our trail markings yesterday afternoon.” The crowd noise was a mix of laughing and groaning. “We got out there and re-marked so it should be fine. There are glow sticks the first few miles.” He continued with a brief course description, locations of aid stations and other general announcements.
The course was VERY well marked. I went slightly off course a couple of times but it was based more on my carelessness than on the course markings!
I ran the 50K while my friend and old high school teammate, Steve Wilcox, decided to run the 25K. My start was 6AM and his at 7, so I saw him driving into the park as we ran the first mile. I was jealous because I could have used the extra sleep! I fell in behind a runner who clearly wanted the lead. He is an experienced trail racer from New York so while I thought he would be tough competition, I had to believe the warm temperature and humidity would be a challenge for him. We were joined by a guy from Tampa who said he’d been on the Croom trails before but only on a bike. All three of us were new to the course, running in the dark. After about 8 miles, I decided to take the lead and push the pace. It was light enough to see the trail and still relatively cool. My strategy was to gain some time during the cooler conditions, knowing it would soon warm up. I stopped at each aid station and drank at least 3 cups of water and consumed 5 PowerGels during the race.
My plan worked well in some ways. I did build a gap that the other runners couldn’t close so I won the race in 4:24:09. However, the last few miles were pretty slow and I had some leg cramps. I’m not sure if it was a hydration issue or some other nutrition based problem. With temperatures in the high 60s to low 70s and humidity at 98%, I know I needed water and lots of it!
I ran in trail shoes but noticed many of the runners were in regular training shoes. The trails at Croom had lots of roots in some spots but generally, your regular running shoes would be fine. I was pleased with the Salomon Mantra2 shoes I ran in. They felt nice on the sandy trails and on the occasional spots with mud and roots, I had good traction.
The post-race celebration at the Croom Zoom is like a family picnic. There are grilled burgers, hot dogs and other food. The runners gather and share stories from the trail and cheer for the 100K runners who are still passing by on their way to another loop. My friend Steve entertained himself by watching me suffer from ab muscle cramps while trying to untie my shoes.
Croom Zoom is a well-organized event and I came home with a T-shirt, a finisher’s hat and a super-cool trophy. For my marathoner and half marathoner friends interested in a new, fun challenge, I’d recommend Croom Zoom.