Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Armadillo 2018

As part of my ongoing "training", I traversed the Armadillo Ultra (for me it was a half ultra.) This ace at Osage Hills State Park is such a diverse combination of trails and terrain, that any trail runner should experience it. I have been a part of this race for the past 4 years, and the past two I have been able to RUN it.

I left out of Tulsa plenty early to chat with friends, get signed up, and ready myself mentally. AAs you can see from the above picture, I had not gathered myself mentally just yet. More coffee was needed.

My friends Gwen and Johnna are poised and ready to go. Gwen a 6'6" gazelle, graciously squatted down so I could get both her and Johnna in the same frame.

Thee long photo-arm of James captures the transformation of a zombie coffeed up. It's almost go-time.

Well, the usual crawling out from the start line was with me again. I should try actually running the 1st quarter mile in a race for a change. But here, I knew there would be a log-jam when we reached Sand Creek Falls. I also knew I would take some pictures, so I let the race go. I buried myself so far behind in tme that I was guaranteed a lonely solo run. Funny thing is, I kind of like that.

I have always wanted to rappel, and Roman was here to photograph my change of mind the moment my feet started dangling off the edge of an 80' drop.

Next was a run down to the old ball field. It was really just a field--should have been called a deer field. Today I saw four, but they were much too elusive to be caught on camera.

After the ball field loop, we made a loopy out and back and ran by another Danger Cliffs area. These were about a 30' drop to the water. I have seen people jumping off here but you couldn't pay me enough to do that. (Oh I probably DO have a price.)

A mile or so of flat double track with zero elevation gain. It was also a tunnel with thick tree cover. A tunnel, but not a wind tunnel. I had to hold my glasses through here because they were fogging up so bad.

To make the distances right, a series of out and backs had to be added, I have no problem with that, although those doing the whole loop twice for the 50K, these get to be a drag. I just love someone's sence of humor with this turnaround sign.

This access road is usually unfindable. Whoever mowed or weed-eated it is a hero in my books, The worst chiggers I have ever had (and maybe the worst case of chiggers in the history of the Earth) happened at this park to ME a few years ago.

Another out and back led to Lookout Lake. This road took us up a nice little hill and made for a brief bit of non-technical running. If you absolutely must run on roads, they should be like this one.

This lake is a postcard. If I fished, I'd fish here. They also have kayaks to rent, but I have kayaks, and I am positive I'll bring them here. And maybe fish.

I always take pictures of the aid stations and volunteers, and God knows I had time for that. I hit the first one twice since I left my phone in a campground bathroom and a camper brought it back to the aid station and I made a 2K detour to get it. and remembered to get a picture of Krystal and Lisa. The second aid station you hit three times, and I was so intent on eating that I took no pictures there. But thank you Philip and Sara!!

The reason I hit this station three times was because it was the beginning and ending of the two loops on the mountain bike trailz. These trailz winded around and had several switchbacks, It was like they had 10 acres to cut 5 miles of trailz, and they actually did a great job of it--whoever planned the construction of this playground.

Most of the way was shaded, but there were a few places where you could catch some rays. I actually ran these stretches faster to get through to the next shady area.

James Canfield caught me poking along through the woods. He had finished his 25K and was back out on the course taking pictures.

When James is not taking pictures, he kills zombies with the jawbone of an ass.

I finished in 6:32 and change. If I had only been just an hour faster, I might have been next to last place. But remember, I did add 2K running back to get my phone. But other than that, I just had a slow day. And took some pictures. And just about fell off a cliff. And had a poop stop (TMI !!!) All in all, I felt great, and kept my electrolytes balanced, and stayed hydrated enough to pee a couple of times. 

OH! And I beat a few 50Kers.

Justin Walker aka Jwalk did a super great job RD-ing this race. He marked the course better than I ever did. And, he never seemed stressed out although I am sure he was at some point--it comes with the territory.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

War Eagle--25K for me

My training--such as it is--has consisted of weeknight dog walks and races on the weekends. My goal race (or at least the first tier goal race) is Honey Badger--a 100+ miler in the flatlands of Kansas--that wide spot in the middle that has no trees. It has a 36-hour time limit which is only there to make it seem badass. The only thing hard about it is the potential for hot weather--July 7 on rural paved roads with zero shade--yep, it could be hot. So, to train for that, I need long slow runs in the heat, and War Eagle fit the bill.

 I remember this race when it was just a fat ass run--way back when the fatass description brought raised eyebrows and pissed off looks from anyone who's butt was bigger than medium. Probably less than 100 runners showed up to run on these winding twisting single track trail system. The race then was actually called the Tail Twister. Today there were 567 finishers, and probably a few who just threw in the towel mid-race, and a few who stayed at home under the covers. 

Due to the RD sending the crowd backward across the War Eagle bridge to an imaginary starting line, I started the race near the front of the pack--a freakishly strange spot for me to find myself. My plan was to run with Lynna, and did for about a quarter mile. I had the everything-malfunction going on. My pack was strapped on one notch wrong, one shoe was too tight and one was too loose. No wait, they were on the wrong feet. One Injinji toe did not feel right. I needed my bandana on. Bitch bitch bitch. I walked and fixed my pack, tied my bandana on, and decided to just suck it up on the shoe thing. Since by then, I was at the back of the pack, I ventured off on a gravel road to pee, and now was in my comfy place--way back in last place.

So, most all of my pictures were just of the trailz. And what beautiful trailz they are--very well groomed without many unnecessary switchbacks.  The tree cover was thick, and the skies were mostly cloudy for the first part of the race, and I lost my sense of which way was north or any direction. I knew up and down, but it seemed like for the most part, but had no clue of how the course would take me. Fortunately, it was very well marked.

At one point somewhere, there was a splinter tail that seemed to lead to an overlook. I took the turn and saw a group of cattle enjoying a float trip. I got passed here by some people who either got lost, found a porta pot and let the old guy pass them.

This is what running is supposed to be. Just dirt, trees, and a breeze here and there if you're lucky. The 25K ran one big loop. The 50K ran two of these loops. It gets confusing here though. They also had another small loop that they had to do. The starting line and the finish line were at different places. The 50K did not return to the starting line, but their second loop was short so they added on X amount of mileage to make it 31.1 miles. If that makes sense, then I have done a good job of splainin' it. It was my goal to not be lapped by a 50Ker. If they lapped me, then they were going more than twice my pace. (Ok, I am really slow.)

Because the 50Kers had this longer 5K-ish loop to do, I got ahead of a lot of them. I started getting passed by a LOT of runners, and they were actually not all that much faster than what I was able to do. It took me a while to figure out who these people were. Once I did, I felt relieved and started tucking in behind them and matching their pace. I reeled off a few faster miles in the latter part of my loop. Eventually, I did get passed by the 50K leaders though. It was easy to tell who they were because they about blew me over when they zoomed by.

We had a short section of gravel road that seemed a lot like Pumpkin Holler.

I went through quite a few Salt Sticks (my electrolyte capsule of choice.) I never ran out of water and made myself drink warm water the whole day. I stayed well hydrated and peed 2-3 times.

This sign struck me funny. Only now while writing this race report did I realize that this must have been a horse camp.

The best part of the race was seeing Dave Renfro out at one of the aid stations. He just came out to cheer the runners on. I was so glad to chat with him even though it was a quick exchange. Dave has battled cancer for a few years and has such a brave outlook on his situation. The picture below is a screen capture from his Facebook page.

Five days later, cancer took him from us. I was so sad and deeply grieved our loss, and his family's loss. 

My friend Kathy Bratton said it better than me:

"Rest In Peace Dave Renfro! I have never seen anyone go through a sickness with such grace and dignity as you did! I will truly miss your macabre sense of humor and your warrior spirit!!!"

I finished 294th out of 304 25kers. Hey--it's a top 300. I would bet money that those behind me were 50Kers who stopped after their first (longer) loop.

So what in this race is an improvement? I had to scrape to find anything. I held up good in the heat, drank and peed, I found a wee bit of speed late in the race--just a smidgen. I'm just gonna call it a decent LSD run. Plus, the shirt was nice.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Cavanal Killer 2018

For the third consecutive year, I ran the Cavanal Killer in Poteau, OK. This paved race is an 8K(ish) trek up Cavana Mountain which is affectionately called the World's Highest Hill.  Wikipedia explains it best:
Cavanal Mountain
Cavanal Hill, OK.jpg
Cavanal Hill viewed from the southeast side
Highest point
Elevation2,385 ft (727 m) [1]
Prominence1,775 ft (541 m)
Coordinates35°04′15″N 94°40′46″W
Cavanal Mountain is located in Oklahoma
Cavanal Mountain
Cavanal Mountain
Parent rangeOuachita Mountains
Topo mapUSGS Cavanal Mountain
Cavanal Hill (officially Cavanal Mountain), located near Poteau, Oklahoma, is billed by a local chamber of commerce as the, "tallest hill in the world", because the elevation of its summit is 1,999 feet (609 m).[3] The actual summit elevation is 2,385 feet (727 m) above sea level;[2] the difference in elevation between the summit and the Poteau River 3 miles (5 km) to the north is 1,960 feet (600 m).[4]

The billing is based on the delineation between a hill and a mountain, that being if the geographical feature were 2,000 feet or higher than its base, then it would be classified as a mountain instead of a hill. However, the Geographic Names Information System listing do contain several summits with "hill" in their names which are higher than 2,000 feet.

The Poteau Chamber of Commerce puts on this event, and from the number of sponsors listed on the website and on the back of the shirt, it must be a good fund raiser. 58 sponsors?!?!? WOW!! Pumpkin Holler needs that kind of sponsorship.

Two years ago, I was a couple of minutes past 9:00 arriving, and had to beg/reason/nag to get my packet. As race time approaches, they pack the crap up and get out of Dodge. Last year, a few friends came early and ran op and back down before the race. The faster ones in our gang got back barely  in time to get their numbers and shirts. I was slower and did not get mine. No provisions, no apologies. This year I was early enough and got my packet. But true to form, seven (7) minutes before the actual race started, the remaining packets were boxed up and put away. Anyone running late would have been out of luck. A few extra minutes would be courteous--just saying. Other than that, all the volunteers were awesome--friendly, great crowd support, and 4-5 aid stations PER MILE!!!

No I did not have a drone. But someone did. I borrowed a couple of screen shots from last years video. This year, we had nearly identical conditions. Cloudy and quite comfortable for the first hour or two.

I saw Russell Bennet and Arnold Begay before the race. I saw Arnold trotting back to his car just before the race started to get the chip for his shoe from his packet. No one told anyone about it, but us stupid runners are supposed to know that. I had noticed someone else with the yellow loop tab on his shoe, and had to go back to get mine. That, with a lengthy wait at the porta-pot (I just can't pee in a crowd) so I was starting out a little late. That's nothing new to me at all, and Arnold and I ran together for about three miles up the hill.

The first mile is flat for a while and then starts to ascend. After that, it's steep. I can shuffle the incline, but I can also walk it just as fast.For me, it's not really a race, but for most it is never a run. I'd say well over half of the entrants never run a step. The race busses the finishers back down to elementary school where packet pickup was staged. Most of the runners skip the bus ride and run back down. It's FUN. 

Arnold pulled ahead and finished 14 minutes ahead of me. But he ran back and paced me in the last quarter mile or so. I picked up my pace in the last 200 yards, and managed to pass 4-5 runners.

Instead of hot dogs, they had sandwich quarters. They were good. Fresh. But I was all set for a hotdog with a gross amount of mustard. Am I being whiney? I'll shut up.

Swiped a pic from Arnold's FB page. This even kind of looks like Cavanal.
Arnold and I went for a little reconnaissance run on some dirt roads that stretched across the ridge of the hill. There's lots of shortish gravel roads going left and right off on a mile long road that runs east and west. Picture fish bones. It was nothing earth shattering. Nothing amazing to see. No waterfalls. No caves, although I hear there ARE caves somewhere. There was one overlook, but it was less impressive than the one near the finish line. Basically we got in 4 miles on some boring roads, and picked up a few ticks.

Since we hit the finish line aid station again, we ate again. And refilled bottles/bladders. The run back down was glorious, but I was not able to hit it as hard as I did last year. Of course, I did do a 50-miler the week before. The sun had came out, and it was getting into the mid 80s. Just like it should in May.

And since I set a precedent for picture swiping, I swiped another.

The finishers medals were good. I am not one who even expects a finisher medal for 5Ks and other short races. It was nice to see they were heavier cast medals though.

The shirt was good. It's a cotton blend shirt in a good color. The artwork was good. I have got a few raised eyebrows wearing it since the first thing they see on the front and back is KILLER.

Since I am officially training now, I always try to find some aspect of my race that shows improvement. My finish time for the ascent was 1:31:51. I started 8:14 late. So my actual race time was 1:23:37. That would have made me the 91st finisher out of 206. I would have been the 53rd male finisher. I would have been 3rd in my age group. This time was a couple of minutes faster than last years time, although I had ran an up and down last year before the race. My average pace on the ascent was 16:44 while climbing over well over 2000 feet.

On this same day, there was a race in Arkansas that I'd love to run sometime. The Mount Magazine Trail Run--around 18 miles and much more elevation gain than Cavanal. Probably gonna do that one next year.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Heartland 50 2018

I decided to run the Heartland 50-miler this year as part of my training for the upcoming 100s I have on my plate. It's a race across the Kansas prairie, more specifically in the Flint Hills. My long-time friend Chrissy Whitten, by my request, is my running coach, and pacer for my goal race--the Tunnel Hill 100. Chrissy is a great motivator,, and has the gift of gab which for me is a requirement for good pacing. She has transformed herself into a running machine in the past few years and is faster than me in most if not all aspects of ultra running. Still, she is one who dedicates herself to encouraging when she is in that mode. Her help today was invaluable.

With a 6:00 am start, it was dark for the pre-race briefing, but was not so bad that we needed headlamps for the first few miles of the race--but a few runners still brought them. Chrissy is all about selfies and lots of pictures. I take quite a few pictures during a race as well, but I was able to tone my photo-op-stops down and focus more on keeping my feet moving. Most of the pictures in this post are hers.

This is about 2.5 miles into the run. Mike Rives ran with us for about 6 miles or so, and then shifted into another gear and pulled ahead. Chrissy and I were running well. We did not have a mile over 13 minutes until mile-9. 

The sun was up. Not a cloud in the sky and the temperatures were heading into the 80s.

The prairie is big. It seems to go on forever. So big is the land and so far the horizon, that the sun has to expand itself to illuminate everything. Seriously, this is not a photo-shopped picture. (Would I do something like that???)

Every year that I have run Heartland 100 or 50, I have taken a picture here. Kansas is flat, but it has hills that lead to the sun.  

Mike Rives and I chugged along toward the horizon, and never get there. This is one of the things that has messed with me mentally. Because at times you can see clearly for 8-10 miles with nothing but prairie, it seems like you are running but getting nowhere. In the Heartland 100, miles 28 through 43 finds you in a place with such wide open space that it seems like you never move. In this section, there are no fences along the roads, to trees, no telephone poles--only a cattle guard every 2-3 miles. It's even worse at night.

We hit the Battle Creek aid station and I grabbed a PBJ, some Pringles, and a couple of pickles. I had a lot of snacks in my pack--so much that the pack seemed lumpy and heavy. Later, I discovered that either I had spilled some water while filling my pack or had sweated enough to get five Whole Foods chocolate chip cookies wet. They were liquidfied mush, and quickly became field mouse food.

One can have a feeling of movement by counting the hills you top. But just over the summit is another hill, then another then another. Having company is such a plus.

The wind was at our back--a northwesterly breeze. I turned around and let the wind cool my sweaty body down. The wind always blows here. Two years ago, it was sustained 40+ mph, and running into the wind was like climbing a steep incline, even when you were actually going downhill. A few people returning from the 50K turnaround commented that the wind was brutal, but I have seen worse. If it kept us even slightly cooled when it got into the 80s. It did actually reach 87 on our return trip.

Chrissy, the quintessential selfie taker, took several with me lagging behind. I was on my game here and sprinted to be close enough so as to not appear to be dragging arse.

This is cattle country, but there are also horses. Mustangs maybe?

Tiffany Fiedler and Matthew Stroupe catch and pass us. This was Tiffany' first 50 miler, and she did awesome. 

My favorite pic of the day!!! Chrissy took several of her waiting. I think that may be a hint of some kind? Now to be fair, I was hydrated well. And every now and then, I need know. So at least SOME of these hurry-up picks are from my 60-second pee stops.

Cows. They eyeballed us like we were weird. The thing is, the only people they ever see is farmers driving by, and maybe their rancher person who brings them a huge round bale of hay. Ok, and these cows were probably not even old enough to have seen a runner before.

I didn't get a picture the Lapland aid station on the way out but did get pictures of the signs they had. This one was my fave.

I don't see how anyone could get lost on this course. There were signs at every intersection, and flour arrows in the roads. But, if someone did blow by a turn, they could go on and on and on for miles and miles.

And you thought there was no water on the prairie. Wrong. It seems to me that I got down into the water at one of the ridges on the way back the last time I ran 50 miles here. 

A good place to twist an ankle. I have yet to do that, but these cattle guards definitely slow me down.

Every year, I expect to see Uncle Wayne's Sushi Bar open for business. It has yet to happen. This concrete building that has one end of if torn off looks so out of place. It looks like an old tire shop. A landmark or an eyesore?

Another creek so inviting that I wish I had stopped to soak my feet.

Even then, we were well within a 12-hour finish until mile 17 when things started slowing down a little. What causes a pace to decline? Well for me, socializing at aid stations (I tried to get in and out quickly), taking pictures (I kept that to a minimum), equipment malfunctions (more on that later), blisters or chafing (I never have issues with these by using the magic concoctions my DW makes), hills, and fatigue. It's fair to say that fatigue may have begun to be a factor here due in part to the hills. Every now and then someone would catch up and pass us. Joe Galloway caught us just before we reached the turnaround at Teeterville Road. We visited with Joe for a while, and Chrissy ran ahead to the aid station where her drop bag was to change shoes. 

The Lawrence Trail Hawks ran this aid station, and it was awesome. They were so helpful--filled my hydration pack, gave me ice, watermelon, and BACON!!

Chrissy had a plan on the way back. Intervals. We would run from telephone pole to telephone pole, or to the next corner, fence post, road kill, muddy spot in the road. And by run, she meant more than the zombie shuffle. Shuffling was ok, but it had to be faster. Up until mile 26, we had been mostly in a 17-18 m/m funk. After mile 26, we reeled off 8 miles in the 14-16 minute range. She is a motivator, to say the least. 

A road kill pic. This is the remains of good size snake. I am thinking it might have been a venomous one since the head was a bit wider. Or maybe it was just smashed out wider.

The good pace thing came to a halt around mile-35. We had a one-mile downhill that we ran with a decent effort, but we descended into a creek bottom where it was actually wooded, but the breeze was gone. After that, we had a half-mile uphill grind right out in the sun with no wind. Then a one-mile gradual downhill again with no wind. I was overheating badly. I was out of water, and when I reached the aid station, I needed to sit down in the shade and regroup. Lynna had driven back out following her 50K to get her drop bag, and I was so tempted to quit. AT the aid station, I sat down under the tent and drank some ginger ale and a whole bottle of water over ice. They filled my pack and stuffed it with ice. Chrissy was ready to go, sensing the time was ticking away. 
I was slow to get moving and stopped to take a picture of the aid station since I had missed earlier. Trying to cross the road and get my pack on, I must have seemed to be in a stupor. I just could not get the thing on and the straps hooked. Something was wrong. Finally, I got the straps snapped, but it felt bunched up, and I could not get any water to flow through the tube.

So, I stopped again, took the bladder out, and it seemed like they had taken it out of the pack and put it in backward--an honest mistake. I got it back in, snapped the straps, and it stll would not let the water flow. Tried to rearrange things and it still would not work. Finally, after the 5th time messing with it, it worked. So, my time at the aid station and the time messing with my pack--I burned 30 minutes +/-. Not a complaint to anyone but myself. I can do better.

Picture was taken after what was my 4th or 5th time to take thigs off and then on.

When things go bad in an ultra, they almost always get better. I know that. It's why I should never quit. And get better, they did. We did our intervals, mostly running down the hills, and running the first part of the uphills, and the last little push at the top. We distanced ourselves from a couple of runners behind us and were catching up with a couple of others.

At Battle Creek, Eldon gave me a couple of popsicles which really hit the spot. I asked for a glass of ice and ginger ale and took time to drink it. Then one of the aid station workers said I needed to get moving and used the C-word. (CutOff) That rattled me out of my chair, and Chrissy spotted a couple of guys in the race, not more than 200 yards ahead. We reeled them in and went by. One of them was having something going on where he had to stop and stretch every so often. I found out later that the other guy had thrown u a couple of times.

Chrissy didn't like the way these cows were looking at her.

Things that go bad are followed by things going well. I began to find that running faster was easy. Miles 46 and 47 were in the 13-14 m/m range, and then I decided to powerwalk the rest if the way in. Had I knew that keeping that 13-14 m/m pace would have put us within striking distance of two other runners, I might have been able to eek out another bit if speed.

Goal number 1 was a sub 12-hour finish. Goal two was to beat the sun. We were gonna be close on that one.

I like it that they put a couple of signs out telling you that you were 2 miles out and 1 mile out. We finished in 14:31. Slower than last year. The sun also dipped down over the horizon just before we finished.

Tiffany and Matthew waited around to see us finish, which I appreciated.

I like this run, but I do not have to do it again. I said that very thing two years ago, and I was back this year. Maybe I'll do the 50K and see if I could PR in that distance.

Hardees was awful. Bad burger, bad fries, and the pop tasted funky. The convenience store that adjoined the Hardees had chocolate milk, which was awesome. That's really what we needed anyway.

Here's the flat elevation profile. It looks pretty obnoxious, doesn't it? It's not all that bad going out, but it's a doozy coming back.

The real ultra was the 30-hour drive home. Chrissy drove straight through. I stopped and took a2 hour nap, and made a couple of other stps to slap my face around a bit and drink coffee. I made it home around 4:00 am.