Trail runner Thomas Gulch, 42, of Kingwood, made a stop at Lake Texoma this February in his pursuit of taking on a 100-mile race in December. Gulch took home the first place trophy at the Cross Timbers Trail Run held on Feb. 17 at West Juniper Point on Lake Texoma.

This is the 37th year for the run along Lake Texoma, and this was Gulch’s first time taking part in the annual event.

“I got interested in trail and ultra running almost one year ago after reading a book titled, ‘Living with a SEAL,’” he said. “The concept intrigued me and as I did more research I became hooked on giving it a try. Since then I have become obsessed with pursuing a 100-mile, possibly even one of the 200 milers. I ran my first ultra [marathon] last November in Utah completing the Antelope Island 50k. Then in December, I completed the Loup Garou 40 miler in Louisiana. In January, I completed and took 1st overall Masters Division at the Piney Woods Trail Fest 50k at Lake Houston Wilderness Park (my training trails), and of course the Cross Timbers Trail Run 50 miler.”

Gulch finished the race in 12 hours and 28 minutes after the 6:30 a.m. start to the Cross Timbers race.

“This event is run on some of the most challenging terrain you’ll find in the state, especially during a rainstorm,” he said. “But, it is also some of the most beautiful terrain you will run. It is a very well organized event with a great race director in Libby and great volunteers out at the aid stations to support and cheer you on.”

Born in Michigan, Gulch is not new to the wilderness and outdoor trails. While many people would see the Lake Texoma terrain as cumbersome due to the rockiness, Gulch finds outdoor running de-stressing and he enjoys the scenery.

“My longest run was the 50 miler at Cross Timbers, I plan to attempt my first 100 miler in December at the Loup Garou in Louisiana,” he said. “During my peak training leading up to a race I average anywhere between 50-70 miles per week of running. With limited access to trails near home or work I typically spend Saturday and Sunday out on the trails. I also do 2 to 4 spin bike sessions per week of a minimum of 90 minutes each. I also do regiments of yoga, stretching, foam rolling, and stick rolling to try and keep muscles loose.”

In the short time he has spent trial running, Gulch said he has not had any major injuries.

“Worst was a partial tear of an ankle ligament,” he said. “During the Loup Garou at around mile 11 I got my ankle caught up in some roots on a descent and took a hard tumble. At the time I figured it was just a sprain and kept pushing on at a much slower pace than I would’ve liked but just finishing was my goal at that point.”

Gulch said he has enjoyed trail running competitions because there is a community aspect to it.

“Also, after I met some other trail runners and running these ultras I notice a big difference between road runners and trail runners,” he said. “Pretty much every trail runner acknowledges each other, asks if you are doing OK, encourages you, or willing to stop and help find your shoe that got stuck in the mud and came off. For the most part with road runners I get acknowledged about half the time, they are focused on pace/speed not their surroundings, and generally just not as friendly.”

Distance runners from all over the United States gathered for the Cross Timbers Trail Run. For the 37th year, runners faced trail hazards like tree roots, rocky terrain, steep climbs, and cliff drop off to the side of the trail in order to complete the races five-mile run, half marathon, marathon and 50-mile run.

During the February race, runners also had to deal with slick terrain as a result of the rain that morning.

“People are spent when they finish,” race organizer Libby Jones said. “The trail has 400 flags. It is a hard trail. You have to pay attention to every foot fall. People are still going to get lost. You cannot zone out.”

Jones is the founder of The Active Joe, a trail run series that took over the Cross Timbers run last year.

“The Active Joe, it’s about the average Joe that gets active,” Jones said. “We like to celebrate that. That is what this race is all about.”

This year there were 17 states represented at the race with runners coming from as far as Great Britain. The youngest runner was 6 and the oldest was 72.

“I get a lot of new trail runners that want a new challenge,” Jones said. “The trend now is that people really like being challenged. They love trail races. They love Spartan challenges. They like obstacle races. A few years ago, it was all about color runs and foam runs. Now, people want to get out of their comfort zones. People love the mental challenge of a run like this.”

There were 40 volunteers who clocked in 215 man hours before the start of the Feb. 17 race. More than 200 runners competed in the race.

“Trail runs and races are a fun way to get out into nature and explore your local surroundings or find new places, all while running, walking, and power hiking,” Gulch said. “Granted everything entailed in trail runs are not for everyone. It’s a bit of a different mindset. I’m not sure why trail running doesn’t get the same notoriety that road races do. Maybe because of accessibility or limited number of trail runs versus road runs throughout the year.”