Saturday, October 25, 2014

Pumpkin Holler 2014, from my point of view

Pumpkin Holler Hunnerd started out as a far fetched idea back in 2009. A couple of RD friends from Missouri and Arkansas were talking of having a 4-state 100 mile series with Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma--but there was no annual 100 mile event in Oklahoma. Since I was a newish RD of the Snake Run, and Lake McMurtry, I was asked if I would be interested. I was--but I was also very overwhelmed by the idea of taking on such a huge project. I buried the idea for a year, but in 2010, the wheels started turning. I am a big-time map nerd, and had considered the Ouachita Mountain range. I know a lot of these trailz, and they are indeed awesome, but would be so incredibly difficult that the finish rate would likely be less than 30% for 100 miles. Plus, mapping out a good route and the fact that it's a 3 hour drive from where I live left me discouraged.

But one night while browsing an Oklahoma atlas, I found a possible route that wound around the Illinois River. Dana and I made a Sunday afternoon drive to Eagle Bluff, crossed Comb's Bridge, and drove around the 28 mile loop around the Nichol Preserve. Within 5 miles, we knew we had a good location. It actually did not seem that hilly DRIVING our Jeep, and I felt describing the course as "relatively flat" was fair. I DID do a couple of training runs there and admitted that a couple of the hills were real grinders, but by then the "relatively flat" description was branded on the new website. It's now a joke that follows me around like a stray puppy--but I like it.

Now, with the Pumpkin Holler Hunnerd being 4 years old I have been forgiven by most and have been fortunate enough to show this gem of a race course to hundreds of trail runners.

Eagle Bluff Resort has been supportive of our race from day one. They close for the season October 1st, but open back up for us giving us the perfect setting for our race--plus we have the facilities all to ourselves.

We started in 2011 with a 100 mile, 100K, and 50K. The race has grown a little, shrunk a little, expanded, and improved every year. In 2012, we added a 25K. This year, we added a 10K and a 135.6 miler. Why 135.6 you ask? Well, the course has always been purposely a bit long. I believe in giving a little extra for the buck. A little more hills, and a little more miles. One loop is 31.9 miles. Yes, that could be shortened, but 31.9 is such a good round number. Two loops is 63.8. The 100 milers actually run 103.7. (sounds like a radio station, huh? Adding a 4th loop brought the total to 135.6. I like it that it's longer than Badwater (was.)

Picture by Travis Owens
Eleven crazies thought 135.6 miles was a good idea. Given 40 hours to complete the distance seemed generous enough. Having run 100+ miles there myself in a fat-ass event in 2011 and also running Rouge Orleans 126.2, I KNEW how tough the 4th lap would be for these runners. Running through the night two nights in a row makes staying awake nearly impossible. On one hand, I thought that everyone COULD finish the race. But I also wondered if ANYONE would finish. My prognostication was that after the opening out and back and two loops where the runners would have 72 miles on their legs and still have two whole loops to do--the lure of stopping would be great. Time would tell.

Picture by Travis Owens
At 10:00 pm Friday night, we fired the starting gun, smashed a big pumpkin, and sent them off into the night.

Mitch was waiting for them at the Waffle Stop aid station at mile 4. I am super impressed that he was willing to set up for them. He camped out all night after they were through and was up and at 'em for thew surge of 100 milers the next morning, and then for the 25Kers who came by his aid station twice. Co-RD Stormy and I drove up to see the runners as they came through for waffles. As RDs, we found it necessary to test out the waffles and bacon to make sure it was good. It was.

Wearing a chrome plated Skeletor mask, Stormy commanded everyone's attention, and missed nary a detail for the eager racers.

I hoisted an 18 lb gourd above my head early and had to not show weakness as the two minutes to go time ticked away. with a half a second to the gun fire, I smashed that bad boy into the ground.

We started at 8:00 am sharp. The 100 mile, 100K, and 50K were on their way. No one tripped or even kicked the pumpkin parts.

There were a lot of friends doing their first 50K, 100K, and 100 mile. It would be a day of success stories for the most part.

Each race had different pumpkin trophies for the top 3 chicks and dudes.

The 25K and 10K did not start until 10:00 am, so I had a bit of down time. I led my Savannah Corner aid station workers out to their post, made a quick visit to East of Eden, and then hurried back to the starting line.

10:00 cam and went. Another smashed pumpkin, and then I had work to do.

Jbob, who was in the 135.6 mile race came back through sometime in there, and looked like he was out for a leisurely jog. Employing trekking poles, he moved quickly building a huge lead in the 135.6 mile race.

I made a tactical error in not getting the Great Gourd Challenge set up while at East of Eden. I though I would have plenty of time to get there after the 10:00 race left, but three runners had made the climb to find nothing. One runner actually added a mile or so to his run, and came back dop0wn the hill empty handed and aggravated--and rightly so. I caught the other two while they were on their way down--and I'm glad that East of Eden aid station captain RockStar Ed gave them a heads up as to where to turn around.

Once I set up the table and iced down a cooler of beer for the weary climbers, I took off to catch the runner who was shortchanged. I finally found him 6 miles later, and gave him his bandanna and apologized. He was understanding, but I feel rotten for messing up his race.

Last year, we had our table, and remaining awards stolen at the top of the hill. A lone table of orange bandannas would have probably been swiped had they been put out much earlier. Best solution would be to have that table manned. Maybe I'll just move the whole aid station up there.

Picture by Jessi Wiley
Once back, I gobbled  a couple of hot dogs, and headed out for another loop.

Laurie Biby (Beyond Ordinary Life Photography) and Alecia joined me for the ride. Laurie was out for more pictures, and Alecia wanted to see the course and her twin sister Mishelle, who was running her first 50K.

The first aid station on the course was Mad Dog. Kevin Lemaster mans this aid station every year. He has the usual aid station goodies, but also a lot of healthy choices. My favorite is the ginger bread dog biscuits. Kevin's company Ultra Gator, one of or sponsors, made finishers shirts for all the runners--complete with their distance and their name. They were well received, and a surprise for most of the finishers.

It was a great day for picture taking, as you will see in the photos below. We were about a week or two early for the spectacular colors of fall, but a deep blue sky and bright sunshine made it easy for even me to get a couple of good shots.

The Out and Back aid station ran by Joel Everett and the Muskogee Running Club server bacon and pancakes. I sampled a pancake which were delicious. I found one that was crispy--tasted like it was almost fried in butter, and had m&ms melted in. OMG! Amazing!

This field just before the decent into Savannah corner is always picturesque.

I caught Laurie in action.

Savannah Corner was in a lull in the race. All of the runners had came through and they had a little down time.

Heading south, I spied a new (to me) road that was gated off. It might make a good undercover run someday.

We stopped every half mile or so for more pictures. Laurie has the makings for a great slide show video for next years race.

Brian was a little over half way through his run when we saw him. This was his first 50K, and at this point he had ran further than he ever had. We chatted for a bit, and headed on.

The clouds were just begging to be photographed, and we took 20 minutes getting the next mile or so.

Kate Ellisor and RockStar Ed Carden manned East of Eden. They were also at the junction for the Great Gourd Challenge, which I mentioned above.

This elective one-ish mile addition earns a nifty bit of bling. In past years, it has been pins which you could wear for the rest of the race. This year, it was orange bandannas.
Most--but not all--were claimed. All of the beers were drank. :-)

Onward. We drove toward Hard Up Ahead, and finally began to catch a few more runners.

And we stopped several times for more pictures.

I figured out how to use the panorama setting on my iPhone!!
We may or may not have visited the Pumpkin Hollow Cemetery.

Hanging out at Hard Up Ahead, we got to see Kelvin, Melissa, and Jorge, who teamed up and ran together. All of them were attempting their first 100 miler, and all looked to be in good spirits. Melissa had a huge crew--her husband Rick, friends Deanna and Libby, and pacer Jason. They swarmed her like a Nascar pit crew, changing her shoes, socks, and shoving her food and drink. In a 100 miler, every minute counts while in the aid stations, and they wasted no time.

Earl Blewett and Chuck Streit worked Hard Up, with help from Michelle Bates. I never have to worry about these guys. They are as experienced as you can be when it comes to ultras.

Heading north on the short paved section of the course, I caught my friend Ron Ruhs. A Nebraskan and a charter member of GOATz, Ron has been to every Pumpkin Holler so far. Last year, he came up short in the 100m and this year was running 135.6. He looked strong and steady. I swear this guy is never grouchy.

But maybe being grouchy is just not something that happens to people running 135 miles. Bryan Carpenter seems to be enjoying himself. Bryan trained for this race harder than anyone I know. He consistently logged over 70 miles a week, running 10-12 every day and back to back marathons on most weekends.

Wess Rupell, Philip Berry, and Sarah Crowley worked Bathtub Rocks. No lack of experience at this stop either. I did not get a chance to eat what they had, but I bet there was bacon sometime during the day/night.

It was possible to get across Bathtub Rocks with dry feet. I did not manage to though. I heard tails of people slipping during the night. Someone put glow sticks showing the best route for a dry crossing, which was a great idea.

I have always said I'd like to soak here. Once, I did dip my tired feet in the water and it instantly healed them from all infirmities.

This small pool here is at least chest deep, and ice cold.

Picture by Jessi Wiley
It's possible this picture is out of sequence. It may have been taken near Savannah Corner.

Last Gasp--some people's favorite aid station because it was near the end. This aid stop is just a little past 100 miles for those going that far. That's when the cussing begins. Shorty and Travis Jennings worked here all day and night and day.

We finally caught Mishelle, who was running with K2. Mishelle is less than 2 miles from her first 50K. K2 still had another lap for his 100K, which he finished with ease.

Here's some first timers. Sue Ann Bement is almost half way through with her first 100K. Her hubby Jason (with the ZZ Top beard) did the 100 mile last year, and was a paid pacer for her endeavor. Jeremy, who just started running in June, is doing his first 50K--and he finished upright and feeling great. I hear he wants a buckle next year.

Picture by Jessi Wiley
We ran into Kathy heading out for her 3rd loop. Kathy was just mowing down the miles en route to a 135.6 mile finish.

Picture by Jessi Wiley
Night fell and the traffic slowed down. By now, all of the 50Kers were done. Only the 100K, 100M, and 135M were still out--maybe 60 runners total.

Picture by Jessi Wiley
The campfire was a welcome place. Chilled runners crept in close, and runners between loops warmed up, but only briefly. Staying too long makes it too hard to leave.

After 6-7 round trips around the course checking on things and delivering food refills and such, I managed to get a three hour nap in.

Laurie was up before dawn looking for the perfect river shot. I think she got it.

My buddy Ron finished 100 miles and earned that elusive pumpkin buckle. He decided to not try his 4th loop, and the race rules allowed that.

Sometime early, Jbob Jones finished the 135.6 mile race. Jbob took a two hour nap, and Kathy Hoover made a hard charge, getting within 7 minutes of him before she bonked. But she kept moving and ate a bit here and there and got back on track.

Picture by Jessi Wiley
Kathy crosses the bridge for the final time and 135.6 miles, and finished first chick.

I'm very proud of Kathy. She ran Arkansas Traveller a couple of weeks earlier, and had a nearly perfect race at Pumpkin. I have heard her say "never again", but I bet by next year she'll be taking on the challenge again.

Geoff Hanley finishes his first 100 miler, and takes third place.

Scott Smaligo also finishes his first 100 miler. Coleen Shaw-Voeks

Coleen Shaw-Voeks sneaks down from Kansas under the radar and takes third place chick in the 100 mile. Not a first timer--Coleen had finished Western States, Leadville, and several other tough 100s. I was honored to have her do our race!

Jenny Bailey finishes her first 100. John Nobles was her crew babe, and took good care of her all the way.

More first timers. Kelvin Reid finished with a torn calf muscle. He hobbled the last mile--but what would anyone do with just a mile left to go? Melissa Bruce ran a very well executed race. I knew she could do it but everything would have to go well for her. She ate right, stayed hydrated, kept her electrolytes regulated, only had nausea visiting the porta potty--did they smell that bad?

The last of the 135 milers--Josh Ruckman. Josh finished the last loop with a broken bone in his foot. There is no quit in that guy. He let out a roar as he crossed the line that shook the leaves in the trees. What a beast!

Click here ----->  FULL RESULTS 

Picture by Jessi Wiley
Dana worked her magic for the whole race. Her job starts weeks before the race buying and organising aid station supplies. She set up and served the pre race dinner, set up and ran the aid station at the start/finish, worked with some nurse/first aid stuff, and then spent 5 hours after the race picking up and packing the big truck. Then she drove the big truck home. a 100 mile race lasts 7-10 days for her. There would be no Pumpkin Holler without her.

Many thanks are do to so many people. My co-RDs Susan Melon Westmoreland helped me promote the race on Facebook--she did a better job than I did. She rounded up sponsors we have never had. Hammer Nutrition, Udder Cream, and BioFreeze were on board thanks to her. Susan took my vague idea for the race shirt and reworked it and made it awesome--converting the art to vector for me. She embroidered the hoodies, and made the orange Great Gourd Challenge bandannas. Then she was all day, night, and day at the start/finish, as well as helping me load up the aid stations on the course.

Stormy was the MC on the mike for 30 straight hours. He was alert and witty non stop. Besides being a little funny looking, he is just plain funny. Often, he did double duty talking the tired runners in for their last 1/4 mile, and then handed them their medals, trophies, and finishers shirts. Then after the race, he had to drive to Dallas. Who needs sleep anyway?

Brian Hoover/TATUR Racing used a new timing system this year. It worked very well. There were only one or two hiccups, and he corrected those pronto. The format worked so well, he caught an 8 hour nap--lucky dog!

My son Jason saved the day by smoking a couple of pork shoulders on short notice. All the ultra runners were treated to great bbq. My daughter in law baked all the deserts for the pre-race and helped Dana get things set up. They both were life-savers. Thanks so much!

Russell Bennett ran the roving aid station for the 135 milers on their first loop. He then did a lot of the gopher work during the next day. He stayed well into the afternoon Sunday helping pack things up.

Thanks to Laurie Biby for her great photography and promotional videos.

Kevin Lemaster and Family were set up and ready for the 135 milers Friday night, and stayed with Dana way after the race to help pack things up. He was the creator of the finishers shirts. They were a big hit.

Thanks to Joel Everett and crew at Out and Back, to Elden Galano and his crew from Kansas who ran Savannah Corner, to Kate Elisor and Ed RockStar Carden at East of Eden, to Earl Blewett and Chuck Streit at Hard Up, to Wes Rupell and Philip Berry and Sarah Crowley at Bathtub Rocks, and to Shannon "Shorty" Jennings and family at Last Gasp. Also, cant forget Mitch Drummond at Waffle Stop. Mitch then went on to pace Lynna Gilstrap on her second loop of the 100K--her first.

Thanks to Travis Owns and Jessi Wiley for being in the right place for some great pictures. I am sure I have forgot to thank someone--I always do.

Each year, there has been a dog story. The first year, a basset hound followed runners all around the course, and I received a phone call from a resident asking if we had seen it. Many of us had--but I do not think it ever made it home. I talked to the lady a couple of times. Last year, a white lab ran the loop at least twice, and it was completely exhausted at Savannah Corner when I went to pick up the aid station. I left it some water and leftover sandwich stuff. I hope it made it home.

This year, this little dog followed runners all around the course once twice, three times. I saw it all over the course in my drives around the loop. Some people think it may have ran over 3 loops which is close to 100 miles. When I saw it at the start/finish, it was so friendly, greeting everyone like we were long lost friends. The next morning, it was tired and climbed up into peoples laps. Several people took this picture of her curled up in this chair. No, she did not drink the beer.

Kevin Lemaster and family agreed to take her in. Kevin made a few calls to area vets, but found no one who had reported her missing. Two days after the race, I received a call from a lady who said they'd lost a blue healer with red/white markings. that did not sound like this dog. I mentioned to her that THIS dog had been all around the loop. I don't really know why I texted her this picture--but when I did, she said THAT was her Missy!! Then, I had the task of calling Kevin to tell them that the dog he and his family had fallen in love with was gonna have to go back to it's home. :-( I put Kevin in touch with the customer so they could make the exchange.

But in their conversations, it came out that the dog belonged to this lady's mother-in-law, and she was wanting to give it away a couple of months ago. Kevin then offered to buy it. After a day of waiting for an answer, Kevin received a call from them and they told him they had decided to let them keep her. Kevin and the Lemasters named this sweet girl Pumpkin.

This was a great year for our race. It was not a record attendance, but numbers were up quite a bit from last year. There may be a couple of changes for next year. Can't leak out the details yet, but will soon!!


  1. Thanks for another great race TZ! I look forward to coming down every year - Ron

  2. Awesome! I'm super-excited to come out to your race in 2015, and gut through the 135.6 mile distance. Please offer it again! :-)

  3. Ooops, I was going to say, this is the best dog story I have heard in a long time.