Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas in the Ouachitas

Friday (Christmas day) I had all the Christmas festivities behind me, so a couple of friends and I headed to the Ouachitas for a bit of trail running. Burning off a few calories is a good thing. Burning them off here gave us a chance to preview the area for the upcoming 
Ouachita Switchbacks 50K/25 that happens January 16. 
Michelle, Clint, and I parked at the Pashubee trailhead, which is also a campground with all the amenities--except electric hookups, Oh, and no water. And no outhouses--but there are lots of trees. ;-)

Michelle points out our destination. All three of us are doing the 25K in the race, so I wanted to do the other side of the course to see what it looked like. Kiamichi River--here we come. Wet water crossings are the best.

Click on the map to blow it up a little bigger. The race start is right in the middle. Everyone goes to the left, and the out-and-back is 17-18 miles--depending on whose GPS device you are trusting. For sure, it's a bit long to be a 25K--BONUS MILES!!!

So after a group selfie--we were off.

Blue blazes mark the trail. I'd love this job--doing trail maintenance, painting blue swatches, taking pictures--does it pay decent?

It's fair to say this trail is technical in places. Within the first .4 miles, we three dry creek bed crossings, and one with a little water. 

No problem crossing at this one, although there are several crossings (the Kiamichi River I bet for sure) that it's be best to just plow in and deal with wet feet. Better than slipping and falling, although that would make for lively conversation.

Lots of rocks covered with leaves. What looks like an easy leaf covered trail is really a trap. Lurking beneath the leaves are well placed rocks placed since the beginning of time waiting to stub your toe, and better yet, send you directly to the ground via a face plant.  It was risky running a decent pace. I call it trails by braille. We did our best to kick most of the leaves off the trail.

I saw this little pond on the way out, but did not get a picture. I was glad Michelle got one.

We got into a long climb pretty quick. We climbed 600 feet in less than a mile. Not much running--but we powered on up. Doing this section in the later part of a 50K will be tough. The trail flattened out for about a quarter mile, and went right through a briar patch. I bet sections like this require some trim work a couple times a year.

And then there are rocks to big to hide under leaves. Rock gardens come in all different sizes. There are healthy.

There are also sections like this on the Ouachita Trail/ I did a portion on the OT in Arkansas a few years back that was a solid mile of this except it was also nearly straight up.

Clint and I took a goat-hike onto this rock for a better view of the valley below.

I took the opportunity to strike a Captain Morgan pose.

We abbreviated our out-and back, climbing 1140 feet on the initial climb and 1445 for the trip. We logged right at 7 miles.

On December 25th, I added my final tick to my tick-o-meter count--raising my total to 117 for the year.

I am excited to go back next month to go from Pashubee to Winding Stair and back--taking on all the rocks, leaves, climbs, and water crossings. And I now--more than ever--want to do an end-to-end fast-pack hike. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

TATUR Christmas Party Recap

The 10th annual TATUR Christmas party was last Wednesday at My Studio (where Laurie Biby and Beyond Ordinary Life Photography operates.) It seems hard to believe that we've had our year end celebration and awards ceremony for ten years. As trail and ultra running has grown in popularity and our membership has grown into the hundreds, the level of talent now rivals that of the well known trail running meccas. We have our own ultra elites, and the group runs to the Wichitas and Ouachitas are identifying these trail systems as destination areas for trail runners nation wide. Suffice to say, I am proud of our group--proud of my friends.
We catered in pizza from Hideaway, and not knowing for sure how many TATURs would be there, I ordered 14 larges all loaded. We ended up with less than half a pizza left. There was, however, a ton of yummy side dishes and desserts leftover. A couple of pecan pie offerings made it home with me, but John Nobles took most of the rest of the desserts. We were well fed.
Brian Hoover is usually the MC of this event, but he got an early Christmas present from the Grinch--a bad case of the flu. So Stormy and I shared the awards presentations and the usual blah blah blahs. Tammy Cryer took this picture, and Facebooked it saying I looked like a peacock speaking to my flock.

The Oklahoma Dirt Trail Series was a huge success this year. The way the point series works is like this:
1. The Oklahoma Dirt Trail Series is free to enter. No strings attached.
2. You get points for finishing races, and also for volunteering in races.
3. You get 5 points for the first race you do, then 10 points for the next, then 15 for the next, and so on. There were 13 races in the series, so if you did them all, you would get 65 points for the last one in the series. Total all those points and you'd have 465 points even if you finished last in every race. Again, volunteering also gets you points.
4. You get bonus points for top ten finishes. Win a race, and you get 60 bonus points. Finish 2nd and you get 55 points. 3rd place gets 50 bonus points, and so on. Finish 10th and you get 15 points.
5. Pumpkin Holler--our signature race awards bonus points for the longer distances (100K, 100M, and 135 Mile.)
6. Men compete against men, women compete against women.
7. Early starts and dropping to a shorter distance counts but those are not eligible for bonus points.

Below is the schedule for the 2016 Series. There may be another addition and a date change, so stay tuned.

We had over 275 participate this year, and a few runners either ran or volunteered in EVERY RACE. Those crazies are SueAnn Bement, Jason Bement, Jeremy Wiley, Mike Rives, and Ken TZ Childress. They were awarded antique brass compasses.

Those in the top five in the standings were also recognized and awarded brass compasses as well. Those in the top five in the points standings were Jenny Bailey,  Tammy Cryer, Jana Graham, Krystal Brown, Zach Harris, Victor Brown, and Daniel Jennings.

And the winners of the Oklahoma Dirt Trail Series were Travis Jennings, and Sue Ann Bement.

Since our first Christmas party, we have awarded the amazing Silver Spud awards for TATUR of the Year, Most Imp[roved, and various other categories. This trophy is often given the most prized position on a runners trophy shelf. I myself have one to show, and no one visits my living room without having my shiny Mr TATUR staring them down.
Winning the Rookie of the Year was Tammy Cryer. Tammy is a cheerleader for TATUR. She like to stir up trouble and stirs us competitiveness like no one I have ever seen. She has completed everything she has set her mind to--which just shows she's stubborn. That will get you to the finish line nearly every time.

Winning Most Improved TATUR was a tie in the voting. Clint Green and Daniel Jennings both took home Silver Spuds for this honor. Daniel finishes in the top 4-5 in nearly every race he enters--often just a few minutes out of the lead. Clint has gotten back into running with a vengeance. He spends 98% of his spare time on the trailz--often heading to the Wichitas or Ouachitas, or Black Mesa, or Albuquerque, or Arizona. That's beside running a ton of our trail races.

Most Inspirational was an easy vote this year. Mike Rives is a decent guy--does a lot of races, volunteers a lot. But a green gremlinish looking creature lurks around him--sometimes hiding in the shadows, sometimes riding on his shoulder, and usually reeking havoc. This creature--Meego--gets into people's heads and makes them think they can do things that sensible people would NEVER do. Meego is bad at whispering things about races in your ear while you're at the computer and before you know it, you've signed up for a 100 miler. He hangs from the tents in aid stations encouraging you to take another shot of Fireball--or TWO!! It's no wonder that his bib number is 666. So this year, I say Mike had better share his Silver Spud with this little monster--or he might let the air out of his tires.
Jbob Jones won Most Beast-Up Feet. This trophy can be awarded for one who has endures massive blisters or toenail mutilation in a race, or for logging a LOT of miles, or for doing a significant string of races (which can also lead to blisters and missing toenails.) Jbob lined up six 100 milers in six consecutive weeks--and then went out to haul in the belt buckles,. He finished the first three with flying colors, but had an injury take him out of the Ouray 100m (a race that has a crazy amount of altitude to deal with.) Since then, he has been Mr Volunteer, and late in the year jumped in and ran well in a couple of races. 

Best Performance in a Race went to Justin Franklin. My money is on Justin every time he toes the line in a trail race. Justin won two very impressive races in Kansas this past year. He ran Prairie Spirit 100, and won it in 17:24--a 10:44 minute/mile pace. Then he ran 109.8 milers in the KUS 24 Hour race easily winning it. His performance at Prairie Spirit earned him the Silver Spud.

Female TATUR of the Year went to Jana Graham. Jana does nearly every race we have, and is usually top three. She is also a faithful volunteer when she is not racing. It was an easy vote.

Male TATUR of the year was a complete draw. Travis Jennings and Victor Brown both nabbed Silver Spuds for their outstanding years. Victor is a vibrant force in any race he enters, always finishing in the top two. ;-) He also is an ambassador for the Dirtbag Runners. He and his buddies John Nobles, and Justin Walker have worked hard at keeping the trailz blazed in the Ouachitas. 

Travis Jennings started his year taking third in the TATUR Six Hour Snake Run. He already had the trail running bug, and did every race in the series after that. He also spent HOURS volunteering. Pumpkin Holler 100 was his target, and he trained diligently for it--running long doubles every weekend. At Pumpkin Holler, with 90 miles under his belt, he stopped to rest at East of Eden and warmed himself in a chair beside as camp fire and went to sleep. He woke up and stood up--and one of the aid station workers said he didn't look so good to which Travis replied that he didn't feel all that good either. Then he fell face first into the fire. Aid station volunteers quickly snatched him out of the fire and smacked out the burning embers that had melted to his jacket. He had a minor burn on his chest--and the incident woke him up and he belted out his remaining miles in quick fashion. 

Both were deserving, and the vote was a draw. Happy to see them both win the honor.

Philip Berry then awarded another prize. He spoke of a volunteer who served selflessly at many an aid station, who rang a cowbell like no other cheering tired runners on, and spoke of an award that was five years in the making--and then called his girlfriend Sarah Crowley to the front. He summarized her accolades and as he fished a small box out of his pocket, said he thought he'd just ask her to marry him. 
Sarah was speechless, knelt down beside him, and by the kiss and embrace, I am sure there was a yes in there somewhere.  

Friends--it's been a good year. I'm sure we'll have a hard time topping it in 2016--but it'll be fun trying. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Half and Half review

A few days have passed since the Half and Half Marathon--a trail half, a road half, and a full if you do them both. This race is the creation of kathy Hoover, Barbara and Derk Pinkerton of RunnersWorld-Tulsa. Held the 2nd weekend of December, this is the final race in the Oklahoma Dirt Trail Series. 

I put the course together the first year trying to incorporate the easiest trailz on Turkey Mountain, and from this map and with a good knowledge of the course, you can see that it has most if not all of the easier routes, with a few necessary tougher trailz used to connect the dots. It's an out-and-back and is pretty accurate on the distance considering how tough it is to measure dirt trailz.

I had great help marking the route the day before. Bryan Carpenter, Michelle Bates, and Clint Green spent their Saturday in the woods tying ribbons and marking turns. The race could not happen without great volunteers.

While Saturday was a warm windy and dry day, Sunday was warm, wet, and not as windy. It had rained all night long, and rained off and on throughout the race.

Both races started at 9:00 am, with the trail runners heading west and north up the big hill and into the woods. The road marathoners took off down the paved trail. 

During the course of 6.55 miles, runners got spread out, but still a lot of the crowd stayed together in a train of sorts. Here, Cassy approaches the 5 mile aid station.

I am sure every runner started out tiptoeing around the puddles, but unless you had a clear rocky path, it was best to plow through.

I love all of our aid station workers, and since I was not in the management end of the race, I don't know who all helped out--but William Barnes, Michelle Bates, Kathryn Ivey, RJ Chiles, Shorty Jennings, Mike River, and Meego held down the fort here. 

As is usually the case with this bunch, there was a plethora of goodies to satisfy your nutritional needs and quench your thirst. They specialize in a variety of drink options, many of which will warm your spirit. And their concoctions are tried and proven as evidenced by the exuberant expressions on their faces. 
William's street tacos are amazing. There are a lot of runners who just don't get eating strange food while on a run. Running trail races and particularly ultras can and should change that mindset. 

But the highlight of the race was the rain swollen creeks. These pics are the creek below Pepsi Pond. The race course did not take the trail in the picture. This is usually a dry creek bed. 
But the trail did cross the creek here. This was rushing water, and knee deep on some people during the rainiest hours of the race.

I didn't take pictures during my run. Thanks to Michelle Bates, Tammy Cryer, Leaha Kopp, and Charles McGechie whose pictures I swiped from Facebook.

A shout out to others who worked aid stations and helped in other ways. Clint Green and Candice Brown ran the course early to check the course markings. Stormy Phillips, Philip Berry, and Sarah Crowley were at the turnaround aid station. Ken Saveth and Kevin LeMaster were at the Pepsi Bridge aid station.  I don't know who all to thank at the start/finish and on the road course, but it took a sizable group to take care of all the goings on. Thank you to all who were a part of putting on this fun event.

FULL RESULTS  can be found here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

An impromptu hike/climb/scramble

It was 4:15 pm and I was north of the town of Ft Gibson heading toward the dam on the way home.  I noticed the river was way up, and it looked like ice swirling in the current. I found a place to pull over and scrambled down a 30' embankment to get a close-up picture. One wrong step, or a loose rock dislodging would have sent me into the stream. Worse yet, I would have ruined my iPhone!! 
I made my way up the incline to where I was parked, and noticed the steep bluffs towering above the river. With an hour to spare before darkness fell, I decided to do a little climbing and scrambling.

What looked like cliff dwellings had my attention, and a hiking I did go. It took all fours, and grabbing every green tree (as opposed to dead ones which snapped in my hand.) Two steps forward, one slide back. Maybe this wasn't a good idea?

Which way to go? I used rocks to step on (some loose, and a few were solidly planted), branches to steady myself, and finally made it to the base of the bluffs.

I followed the bluffs northward, hoping to find a cave or signs of possibly where a big cat had bedded down. All I saw though, were possum and/or coon tracks and an occasional deer hoof print.

A couple hundred yards and I decided to retrace my steps and see what lay further south. In a few places, there was a walkable route--almost trail-like--with several overhangs where an animal (or hiker) could get out of the rain. 

Here, my path took a diagonal orientation, and I leaned sharply to the left in passing through, using any crevice as a hand hold. Wouldn't recommend this trip during the summer months, as ticks, chiggers, and wood mites would feast on your flesh and blood.

This was the best overhang I found--flat enough to actually camp here. And what a view indeed.

Was it a hawk, an eagle, or a vulture? There are all three in the area.

It's hard to really capture how amazing this place was--so I made a short video, panning the view. 

I had tramped all over the side of these bluffs for right at an hour, and decided that in 15 minutes, I'd be in the dark with only an iPhone for a flashlight.

One last re-track north, and I found a drainage that fed back to the road. Slipping and sliding, I made it back about a half mile from my truck. No twisted knee, no sprained ankles (both were a real possibility) and I can say I did a little climbing.