Sunday, July 23, 2017

Full mOOn 2017

Here's my report on the Full mOOn. Usually, my race reports are kinda long, but this one will be shorter. I signed up for this race a couple of months ago, knowing that it sometimes sells out. And knowing that late July can be hot and on the forest service roads near Lake Sylvia in Arkansas, it is always humid, I signed up for the 25K instead of the 50K. My grand plan was to follow the 16-mile race with a 15-16 mile run Sunday. I was riding with a friend who was also doing the 25K, and we'd leave after we were through and get back to Tulsa super ate but early enough to sleep some and not waste Sunday. But things happen. A health emergency canceled my friends trip, so I hitched a ride with Jana and Jenni--both were doing the 50K.

I have extensive experience with the 50K here. Besides the H&H, miles 9-26 have the worst hills and by that time, most runners are so fatigued that climbing hill after hill brings in thoughts of diving head first off the nearest cliff. But hill training is what I do now, and the more I thought about it, the more I was leaning to "up" to the 50K. So as I stood in line to pick up my packet, I rehearsed my plea to pay the difference and do the real mans race. But--I was told a flat no. and was jabbed with the snarky "If you want to do it, you'll have to come back next year." Maybe I misinterpreted the packet officer's remark, but it seemed snide. I didn't argue though. 25k would be just fine.

This race has really grown. The last time I was here, there were probably less than 100 entrants, and it was a fat ass run. Now, a paid entry gets you a nice tech singlet and first class fun aid stations. The 50Kers were served first, getting their packets and race start an hour earlier than the 25K. This seemed to streamline the flow of runners at the start line and through the aid stops. Good planning. At 7:00 pm sharp, the army of eager 50Kers were sent off. I had an hour to kill before my race, so I did the usual pre-race things--nibbling, hydrating, bathrooming, and making sure I had everything I needed.

At 8:00, we were sent off. I started at the end of the pack and shuffled along at a lower than walking ace it seemed. I just didn't seem comfortable running at all, but I knew that would come around. a mile of asphalt to some nice smooth gravel roads and the beginning of a 4.2-mile climb. A lot of people moaned and groaned about this hill, but the initial climb of 659 feet give an average climb of 157 foot per mille. That pales in comparison to some of the other hills ahead. I did my usual run 100 steps, walk 100 steps, run 200, walk 200, kind of going with what felt doable at the time.

I was one of the last 5-6 runners when I started the climb, and I passed a few peeps every now and then on the way up. At the first aid station, the road leveled out and we actually had a downhill or two. I had caught up with Misty, and we ran together for a mile or so. She charged the last hill coming up to our turnaround aid station, and I actually struggled on this ascent. I ate a few pieces of watermelon, a PBJ, and drank some coke, and a small cup of beer, and felt properly fueled. But starting back down the hill I'd just climbed, it felt like I had a bowling ball in my belly. I just could not get into a rhythm running. On a hill I should have been able to BOMB, I slowly picked my way back down. Misty took off like a rocket, and I didn't catch her until about a mile from the end of the race.

After a while, I had passed all of the runners coming the other way on their "out", and stopped to water the dusty road. WHEW! I needed that. That made running easier, and I was able to relax and stretch my stride out and increase my foot turnover. On a pitch black moonless night, on a lonely dusty road, I ran seeing only an occasional reflection of a runner's headlamp. Copperhead snakes are a common sight on this course, and I am sure a few people saw them, but my snake tally was zero. I did see several small scorpions and a lot of spiders. 

I  began to catch a few runners. I'd pull up beside them, chat a bit, and then shuffle on. Once I reached the final aid station, which was a little over 4 miles out, it was downhill for almost all of the rest of the way. I kicked it up to about a 95% effort, and all plugs were firing well. I passed 20-25 more people from there to the finish line. I do kind get energy from passing folks near the end of a race. Some people might call this rude, but hey--it's a race. And airing it out is what I need from time to time in my training. The final hill near the end of the race is a deal breaker. It's just 70' in .3 of a mile, but it's a walker for most. If I  ran at least some of it, I could pass two more runners. Or walk it in and maybe I could be that jerk that edges by someone right by the finish mat. I sucked it up and passed them on the hill. Turing the corner and charging down a steep paved downhill to the line, I finished in 4:07. With a bit more focus, that could have been a sub 4:00--which is still a slow time. The winning 50Ker finished in 4:12.

Here's the elevation of the 25K. But do not be wowed--the 50K course is a beast. 

For me, it was another long run in the books. It had some intervals of climbing, running bits and pieces of hills, some fast downhill work, and some working through a couple of bad spots--all good things on a training run. This was a rare run in the woods where I had NO TICKS. I had no chafing, no blisters, and so nausea. I took electrolytes and sea salt every hour and drank enough that I needed to pee twice. I managed a negative split, which is quite doable in the 25K.

At the grave risk of sounding braggadocios, I finished in the top 100 of males 99 and under. Apparently there were two males over 100 and they both beat me. Oh well.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Port to Fort--the long event--the long report

First off--I LOVE this race. Some years it is fun. Some years it's just plain EVIL. This year was the latter--but it was still fun.
The long event consisted of a short swim, a 5-ish mile trail run, 14-15 miles on the bike, and then a 4-mile canoe or kayak segment. Our team of Mitch Drummond, Roman Broyles, and I had chosen to kayak instead of canoeing. Although we wanted to register as a team, we had to go as solo participants since apparently, kayaks can go faster than canoes. but we still decided to stay together as a team--mostly.

Now I have done this event every year since year one. I am not a swimmer. In fishing lingo--I'm not a bobber, I am a sinker. My legs are dense n I go right to the bottom and can barely get back to the surface. This race has always made a provision for non-swimmers to use a flotation device. This clearly gives me no advantage since I am almost always the last one out of the water. This year was no exception. We were late starting, and the landing area was basically deserted by the time I dragged myself ashore. I am thinking anyone who says flotation device should not be allowed would be ok with me drowning. But I did kind of enjoy the 100-yard trip this year.

Then it was time to get down to business.I thought we could possibly catch a person or two--but we did not. The next wave of runners (the short event which did not include the bike portion) kept breezing by us.

This event is not so much a race for us as it is an adventure. They DO call it an adventure race.

About a mile into the trail run, the adventure got interesting. We ran into mud. It had rained a couple of times during the week, and this trail has a lot of flat areas where water pools up. I'd say most of the time there are mud holes.

Roman initially tried to keep his feet dry but that idea was shelved in quick order. This was some nasty mud. We'd see more. Much more. Way too much more.

The ropes. After about 4 miles into the run, we have a steep ravine we have to climb out of. Sometimes there's a log-jam here, but for us, we just grabbed the ropes without delay and scooted right on up.

 I snapped pics of Mitch and Roman, then tossed my phone up so they could get a pic of me.

Once up, we ran about 100 yards and had to rappel back down. We did have to waits briefly here. My pictures didn't turn out all that great. Mainly the pictures just didn't look like it was that much of a descent when in fact it was about a 30-foot drop.

From here, we had to wade a lot in the side of the navigation channel. The shore was mid-shin-deep shoe-sucking mud. It wasn't much better in the water, but at least it seemed less likely to pull off a shoe. Mitch opted to swim part of this--if only I could swim....

ODOT had constructed a new bridge over the Neosho River, but thankfully they have decided to leave the old iron one-lane bridge for pedestrian purposes.

Old bridges like this should be kept and protected. It's a shame to see them torn down.

We hit the transition area, restocked our water bottles and hydration packs and took off on the bikes.

The trail early on was well maintained and was quite rideable. I have not been on my bike since---well---last years Port to Fort. My bad!! But my team-mates ad about the same amount of bike training as I had. (I was thinking--just don't do an end-over, and hoping my bicycle butt would not hurt so bad I couldn't finish the race.) Other than passing between two trees about 20 inches apart, a few hairpin turns, a few super steep ups and downs, and a couple of places where the trail was right on the edge of a drop-off into the river, I was able to ride. I seemed to gain my confidence as the day progressed. I even plowed right through the big mud holes that we were seeing more frequently. 

Brave Roman rode across this bridge. I opted to walk my bike across. Roman was in good spirits at this point--maybe 1.5 miles into the race. Then the rain began.

It was still fairly cool, but very humid. The rain was refreshing at first but was the subject of much cussing in the coming miles.

The trailz kept getting worse. This portion of the race was an out and back, and the solo riders and teams had absolutely no joy on their faces. No "good job", no "looking good". Several of them warned us that it was just crazy ahead. Ridiculous. Worst mud they'd ever seen. One rider had just thrown his bike away and was gonna run it in. I soon realized that one could run this trail way faster than it could be ridden.

With about a mile to the turnaround, we hit a steep downhill which ended u in a ravine that had a trickle of water and knee deep mud. I tried to carry my bike across, but it felt like it weighed 100 pounds--maybe it did. With no tools other than my fingers, I dug thick clumps of sticky clay from between my fork and tire, from the rear fork, from the back gears and derailer, and near the pedals. It was futile though. Rolling the bike for 10 feet and it was clumped up again. AND--we had a 30' climb that was slick sticky mud in a slalom. Slick mud. Nasty mud. It had many colorful names. I used my bike as a crutch and jammed my heel into the mud trying to make a foothold. It took 10 minutes to go 20 yards with a 30-foot climb.

It was bad for most of the rest of the way. There was one stretch where we had a freshly mowed-down trail and that added grass clippings and straw to the wads of packed adobe clay locking up our bikes. We bottomed out in a creek crossing, and I dragged my bike upstream for 20 yards to a deep spot and gave my bike a bath. I was able to dislodge 80% of the mess, and could then carry my bike up the next muddy hill.

I mentioned to Mitch that I was 60/40 on staying the course and was considering taking the paved road back, but Mitch would have none of that. So my decision was to tough it out. When Roman heard the idea, he was leaning heavily to taking the pavement back. Then the trio of Vinita girls came in. Gina Day, Jodee Whitworth, and Candy Williams rolled into the turnaround. Two of the three had stashed their bikes back where the mud got bad, but Gina was riding hers. They were all smiles and seemed like they were having a blast. I asked if they were gonna take the road back and was met with a resounding NO. This swayed Roman into enduring another 7 miles of mud.

It was certainly not any better on the way back. The rain was past, but the sun was trying to peek out and it got warmer. The humidity was 100% I bet. Every 10 feet or so during a lot of the way, we'd have to stop and dig out mud so our wheels would roll. 

I started trying to ride a little more and found I could go about 50 feet between mud diggings and riding through the big mud puddles helped wash out a little of the thick clay. The mosquitos woke up after the rain stopped and were feeding on any skin that was not mud covered when we stopped to pick out mud. Since we had registered as solo runners, I assumed it was ok if we didn't stay together.

The Vinita girls outpaced us from the turnaround since they had stashed bikes, but I caught up with them at the mid-course aid station. Geeze--they were having fun! The aid station guy gave us the option of taking a good gravel road north to the pavement, since there had been multiple reports of the next gravel on the course was tearing up derailers. The girls welcomed the idea, and I wish I had taken that route as well. I wanted to stay on the official route though (stupid) and when I got to the one-mile dirt mud road, I discovered that they had sprinkled a little gravel on top of it. Think of it like sprinkles on a donut. The mus was relentless as ever, but now there were marble sized rocks mixed in and grinding into the chain and sprockets. I quickly found I could not ride on it, and could not even push my bike through it. To my left was a mowed hay field, and I made my way over to see if I could go that way. Riding picked up some nice straw that now mixed into the concrete mixture that was locking up my wheels, chain, and gears. Clean it out and clean it out again and again. Pushing the bike was slightly better than trying to ride. It seemed like five miles, but it was just one--and finally, I reached the paved road.

One more mud picking and now I could rice. I did my best to get all of the rocks out of the gears, but I left a lot. Riding on the road, I heard and felt many small rocks being pulverized. Hopefully, have not ruined my gears.

Mitch had his own Kayak, and we borrowed two kayaks from Kathy. One was a super long slender kayak, and I greedily took that one thinking it would be FAST. It was not. I found out later that this was a white water kayak, and has no rudder. Keeping it going straight in the water was nearly impossible. I'd get it going straight and after five alternating side to side strokes, the kayak would cut to the left like it had a mind of its own. No amount of paddling, back paddling, or using the oar as a rudder would straighten it out. I'd end u dead in the water, and start all over again. Finally, I figured out that if I took very light strokes, I could keep it on a line for about 20 strokes per side.

Once this bridge comes into sight, you think you are almost there. Wrong. You see this bridge from about two miles away, and it seems to be moving away as you paddle toward it with all your might. But finally, I reached the port and rowed my spear shaped ship to the shore. The girls had made good time on the bike and canoe and beat me there by an hour. They were the first place women's long course team.

Roman and Mitch came in shortly after, and we all felt whipped. I had tick bites, chigger bites, mosquito bites, and poison ivy. Us guys also took home a third place trophy for the men's long course team. The team that was second was a coed team, so we actually were second. And also last. It was a long day. I am certain that I will not do the bike next year if it's muddy. But for sure, I plan to never miss this race.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Cedar Lake/Talimena Drive/Ouachita Trail

The usual Sunday group of traveling trail runners was small--like just me and Brian. I was looking for 15-16 miles, and Brian was looking for the same with a well-placed decimal. He brought his drone and his Go-Pro and some sort of turkey-neck looking camera holder. He was looking to try out some of his new gadgets and make a MOVIE or two.
I picked Cedar Lake--I've been here a few times, and knew that there were lots of distance options, and I had plotted out several potential routes including the 3-mile trail around this scenic mountain lake in SW Oklahoma. Since I am signed up for one of the toughest 100s in the US,  I NEED HILLS, elevation gain--even more than I need distance. Climbing 100 feet blows the desired running pace out the window, but it gets to where those moderate grinders start to seem like gradual downhills, and I am banking on that switch in perception being my key to finding the finish line at my 100 this October. 

Since it was just me running, I skipped the flattish shoreline trail and instead jumped right into what turned out to be a 
9-mile climb to the top of the Talimena Drive via the Horsethief Springs Trail and an old gravel forest service road. 

The Horsethief Springs Trail is mostly single track, quite technical in spots, and has an incredible 3-mile climb that just hits you in the gut.

Since ticks have been so bad this year, I slathered my legs liberally with Deet and drenched my shoes Permethrin, with a toxic gear treatment spray. I had intended to stay mostly on the forest service roads but as I trotted by the trail head, the call of the trail was too strong--so......deep into the woods I did run.

But a mile later when I crossed Holson Valley Road, I veered off onto an old logging road I had eyed earlier. It was coarser gravel than what you see at Pumpkin Holler but was not nall that bbad and no hindrance at all.

Around every curve in the trail, the road just kept going up. My own punishment!! It seemed to me that this might never end. Focusing on a steady shuffle and found my overall pace in the lower 18s. While this probably seems super slow, 18 m/ms will get me a belt buckle in October.

This is a good route--I will definitely come back for more of this insanity. Brian was meeting me at the top, but when I got there he was missing. At the top, I found that apparently, 2400 feet hills make for good cell phone signals. With both of our phones GPS's spitting our locations, we met up right away.

Brian was just down the road a couple of miles at the Winding Stair Campground and he sped right back to where I was. He told me about the Emerald Vista, and that there was a downhill and then a hellacious uphill between the Vista and where we were. He offered to give me a lift and I declined. I needed the elevation.

The Talimena Scenic Highway is famous for the Fall Foliage, but today it was all green. My two mile run on pavement here was so amazing--almost cool weather, a nice steady breeze to chill my sweaty shirt, the smell of pine trees coupled with the gentle whir of the wind sifting through the tall branches, just me and infinite expanses of blue sky approving of my quiet shuffle on a Sunday afternoon.

I found the campground and graciously gobbled up the extra bonus mileage running down to the Emerald Vista where Brian was chilling out at a shaded picnic table with an old gray-bearded man who had for years enjoyed the same pleasures as I--but on his Harley Davidson. It's not always running that puts you in that zen state. We were kindred spirits, and I was glad we had met him.

My plan was to run back to Cedar Lake on a parallel trail--but I was a little unsure of how to find where I needed to turn. (I've figured out now where I would have needed to go.) Being the spontaneous glutton for punishment that I am, I realized I was not far at all from the turnaround aid station we see in the Ouachita Switchbacks. In about the same distance I would run back to Cedar Lake, I could hop onto the Ouachita Trail at Winding Stair Campground, and turn to HWY 259 where the first Switchbacks aid station is. I would gain two more good climbs, and also still enjoy a 3-mile gradual downhill. This is how bad ideas always come into existence on my running trips!

After a good OUCH of a hill, I reached the top and began the long descent with 33 switchbacks. I was a little surprised that a lot of the trail was overgrown. I had weeds and natural vegetation slapping my bare legs and knowing that this could be a really ticky area, I was quite glad I had used Deet and Permethrin. Only two ticks advanced past my sprayed legs. Both were beginning their drilling when I felt them and hastily removed the bastards.

I forgot how technical this trail was. I had run 9 miles on pavement and good gravel roads. Now  I could not pick up my feet enough and kept kicking rocks. I was slower running downhill on the technical stuff than I was coming uphill on the forest service roads. I never fell although I did slightly bruise up the bottoms of my feet. But the worst thing on this 6 miles of single track was the spider webs. They were old webs--strong, thick webs. The wind drag was significant. I found a good spider web stick, and sure enough--every time I'd swat one down, I'd get plastered in the face with another. It seemed like no one had used this trail since the Switchbacks race.

Both times I have run this before, it was in the dead of winter, and during leaf-off, the trail looks way different. I was sure I was on the right trail--there are not many off-shoots on the OT. I actually stopped twice and looked at Google Maps, which has the OT outlined, to see if I was still on the correct route--and I was.

The best part of the trip--a mile from the end, the trail goes by a stream that has cool aqua-green water. There's a primitive hike-in campsite, and with no onlooking campers present, I shed my clothes and took a dip. (Well, almost all my clothes!)

Brian was getting a little worried about me, but I came in on pace--just the estimated mileage was wrong. I ran almost 7 miles on what I thought should have been 5.5.

15.1miles point to point. I'd run this route again!!

This was one healthy climb.
Hopefully next week we'll have a few additional runners.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Chasing Armadillos

I ran the inaugural Armadillo Ultra today--well actually did the 25K. This race was the Osage Hills Relatively Flat Trail Run (actually a marathon, half, and a couple shorter distances) and this year, Justin Walker and Victor Brown operating as the JV Collective revamped the course and rebranded the race with promises of live armadillos scampering around on the course.

All of the trailz were used in coming up with a true 25K serpentine loop. Not shown on the map are a few out and backs around the ball field, and north of the upper campground. We also used the blue and red mountain bike trailz. We had super duper hot weather on tap for the weekend, but the trail running gods intervened, and a cool front moved over and early just before the race started, about an inch of rain was dumped in the park making for some slippery mud. The high only got to about 80 degrees though, and most runners were through before the sun finally popped out from behind the heavy cloud cover.

 I had Fathers Day obligations and was not able to get to the race until just after 12:00. I missed the pre-race meeting, the course explanation, and the rabid armadillo warnings.

RDs Justin (aka Jwalk) and Victor pose with Laura for a photo shoot before things got started. Obviously, I borrowed a few pics from Jwalk's FB wall. I also took a few pictures along the way and swiped one or two from my past race reports. 

I started my 25K over 5 hours late, so I did not get to see hardly anyone. Most people surely thought I was not there. I had signed up to run but offered to pull course markings. Jwalk graciously told me he wanted me to run it, and I was glad to do just that. My goal was to finish under 5 hours, which seemed like a tall order since my legs were dead from my half yesterday.

After the Sand Creek Falls, I climbed up to the guest lodge and the cliffs before heading into the woods. There were a few muddy spots, but for the most part, I never got my feet muddy at all.

A quick visit to the edge of the diving bluffs, (you could not pay me enough to dive off these buffs!) and then it was on to the Creek Trail.

This is the flattest section of the course. By now, I was loosened up, and I stretched out my stride hoping to catch up with a slowish 50Ker on their second loop.  From there, I crossed the main campground and headed up a rocky section of trail to the Lookout Tower, and over more rocks and roots to the old amphitheater. Just beyond that was an intersection where we did two different out and backs. The first ran back south along a fence line to the end of the upper campground. I did a slight detour to a water hydrant to top off my bottle and then returned to do a different out and back which led to a jeep road that I did not know about. This road dead-ended but was about a half mile of nice runnable gravel road down a steep hill, and then I got to go back up what I had just descended. 

Because I had started so late, the first aid station I would have had was shut down, but I was still doing good on water. The trail popped out on the road, and then a trip down an old paved road to the lake was next. This small lake is beautiful. I'd love to see a trail cut round the lake, and I'm not the only one. The RDs and Bryan Drummond spoke with the park ranger after the race about just that, and I'd say from eavesdropping that it is likely to happen.

After doing the lake out and back, I headed to the mountain bike trailz. There was an aid station here that the 25K hit three times. Pip and Sarah were holding down the fort, and they had a variety of food and COLD Gatorade. I needed that. And I gorged myself on boiled potatoes and salt. Rocket fuel! Pip dumped my tepid water and filled my Quik Trip-bought Smart Wate bottle with cold water.I was all set! And the best thing--I hit this fully-stocked aid oasis after the red, and the blue loops.

The first tenth of a mile down the trail from here was a mud slalom! There were lots of exposed roots that served as steps but could also send you into a body-slide mud bath. I was careful, but once through it, I RAN! I felt great and actually increased my pace by nearly two minutes per mile on the first loop. (secretly, I was trying to catch BfkaM who was only around 20 minutes ahead from what I heard. The Red loop is 3.1 miles and is quite rocky or most of the way. The blue loop is 2.5 miles and has a long rocky climb,  but then has over a mile of smooth fast single track. This 5 1/2 miles twists and turns with lots of switchbacks, and has very few scenic vistas. The sun was out in full force, and the mid-60s had given way to low 80s. I was no closer to catching BfkaM, and I was ready to be done. 

After each loop, we crossed this creek. I am betting this was a wet-shoe crossing earlier in the morning.

I walked with Pip for a while after leaving their aid station for the final time. He was pulling course markings, and I had my mouth crammed with potatoes. Somewhere along this final 
1.5-ish miles, I checked my Strava and determined that if I pushed the pace, I might be able to wrap things up in under 5 hours. I tried to speed up my foot turnover and tried to stretch my stride--all to very little avail. I also did not realize that the course returned to the far south end of the lodge and descended back to the waterfalls. My five hours slipped by as I was climbing the wooden steps out of the river bed, and I still had around .3 of a mile to go. My final Strava data says I did 15.7 miles in 5:05:44, but has my moving time at 4:35. I don't have auto-pause on, so I am not sure how "moving time" is calculated, but I like that number better.

JV Collective had some great awards for the finishers and winners. These hand-made coffee cups and hat pins were awesome!

 The trophies were outstanding as well,

To my knowledge, no one saw an armadillo, but there are some here. This guy was roaming around on the trailz here a couple of years ago.

I love the shirts. It's a cotton/poly blend and is quite comfortable. It's sublimated, so it should just look better with age.

15.7 miles by my running app. I did have a slight misread and added maybe a tenth by the ball fields. So it that was a tenth, the course is within 250 feet of being spot on--can't get much closer without using a measuring wheel.

Strava says I ascended 1264 feet. I'll take that.

Justin and Victor did a GREAT job from all that I saw and heard. Sorry, my race write-up did not include more info about other people--I ran alone for 100% of the way.