Sunday, January 15, 2017

Ouch-it-ta Switchbacks 2017

I remember now what I said last year. Doing what will certainly be a long and grueling race, and then staying up all night before the race is stupidity. I did it again, though. The Ouachita Switchbacks s a trail race on one of the toughest trailz in Oklahoma. Tommy Brennan, a native to the local mountainous hellacious hills and wondrous single track has put on this 25K and 50K for the past few years. The Ouachita Trail runs from the one horse town of Talahina, OK to almost Little Rock AR. It is wild, rugged, and enchanting. I would actually feel wrong in calling it relatively flat.

We had a sketchy forecast in NE Oklahoma with a line of precipitation coming diagonally across the state and advisories of rain, freezing rain, and ice storms. But from every weather chart I looked at, it seemed it I got 50 miles out of Tulsa, it would warm up all the way to the race in SE Oklahoma. I left out in the wee hours of the morning and true t reports, it got above freezing near Wagoner, and warmed up a degree at a time until it was 52 degrees as I drove the final few miles to the campground. I found the place on a despite a starless sky, obscured moon, and thick fog, and found a place to park and shut off the motor and lights and tried to get a 45-minute nap. My obnoxious iPhone alarm stopped my trying, and I stumbled out of the truck and headed to the sign-up table. Tom greeted me and gave me my race bib and nifty hoodie (well worth the price of entry.) I was signed u for the 50K, but I knew I would most likely stop at the halfway point. (Not really halfway--the first out and back is close to 19 miles. With the 2nd out and back added, the 50K falls just a wee bit short of 30 miles.) More on that decision to stop or go on later. 

Tom offered an early start for those who felt they might need a little more time to finish 50K I was in that boat. Last year I took 7:57 to do the 25K, so going another 11ish was a concern. Still, with little to no training, stopping after 19 miles was ok by me. The trail is marked with blue swatches on the trees. Some blazes were faded, some were chewed off by bucks in rut. Some trees with blazes had fallen, so besides keeping an eye u for blue paint, and a nose to the trail, I got off course twice, and corrected it before I got much in the way of bonus miles. My first diversion led me down a ravine and I found myself abutted by large boulders. Perfect, or so I  thought, as I had failed to use the porta-pots before heading out. No wait--there were no porta pots, but there was lots of trees and rocks to hide behind and this was the perfect spot. It was still a little dark, and quite foggy. I had purposely hung back and let all the dozen or so runners get ahead of me the plan was sound until I heard a runner coming. And lo and behold, they took the same wrong turn I had taken. I quickly made myself decent, although there is an outside chance they might have seen a shiny white butt.

This would have been a better location, but you always find the good bathroom spots when you don't need them.
Picture taken by the speedy finger of one Clint Green
Since I started at 7:00, and the main start was at 8:00, and I had a bathroom stop, and a wardrobe change (not related to the bathroom stop--it was warmer than I thought and I tied my windbreaker around my waist), I thought the fastest runner (ok everyone knows it's Victor) would pass me by 8:30. I was wrong, though. I did not get passed until 8:45. But with a 60-minute head start, he caught me 
3 1/2 miles into the race.

Thank you for the picture Mark Plate
Doing my best sasquatch strut, I crossed the highway and my only steps on pavement for the race. It was a necessary evil. 

The first aid station was a little over 4 miles out. They were waiting and cheering us on. I had a handful of chips--the salt was what I needed. 

Picture by Clint Green
Last year this water crossing was knee deep. No dry feet possible. I was disappointed that you could hop skotch across on dry rocks, but of course, I did.

Clint was covered up with leaves with only a camera lens poking out trying t capture the true essence of trail running. Here is the zombie shagger, That's a shuffle with swagger.

I had to look it up--this is big Cedar Creek. Any trail runner with any kind of camera takes pictures of this. I have never seen water this color. Tommy Brennan says he drinks freely from it. I'd drink it if I had to. My Salamon pack had 2 liters and I never drained it--but I would have refilled here.

Here's a rare non-technical stretch of trail. I increased my pace to a solid 12-minute mile, but I lost it staring at my watch and gave back any time I had in the bank by taking pictures.

Another runner catches up and passes me. At this point, I was ahead of two runners, that had also taken the early start--although we played leap frog all day.

I don't know the story of these rocks. To me, it does not seem like a natural occurrence. Someone called it a glacier rock slide. If there were power lines overhead, I would think the rocks were placed to discourage tree growth. Personally, I think the race should go right up the rocks to the top, and then back down--just for shits and giggles.

Amanda blew right by me here en route to her third-place overall female finish.

We had 5 miles that were mostly up--well except for a 200-foot drop which added to the 650' climb to the mountain-top aid station.  650' in a little over a mile. Doable. 
Last year, on a cloudy windy sleety frigid day, this was a great panorama shot, but was still beautiful in a misty foggy way today.

Ok--some Oklahoma obscure history trivia nerd wanna tell me the story of this monument? I'll buy you a beer.

Kate and Taylor were at the top. I had heard about the quesadillas from every runner on the way back down. And they weren't lying. Well, they WERE lying about the You're-Almost-There BS. But those melty gooey cheese stick-to-your-ribs snacks were the best!

No one seemed to be in a hurry to leave. Maybe it was the 1600 feet they had climbed in the last 5 miles or so.Maybe it was the food. This shelter is just that--a shelter for hikers on the Ouachita Trail. It's home when you're away from home. It's inviting. Come on in. Rest, have a drink, eat a bite, tell your story.The feel and charm of the place is amazing.

I made it there in just under 4 hours. My watch said 9.27 miles, andI had started it a little late--after I started. I felt like I was staring a 9-hour finish right in the face--and had no chance of even trying the 50K.

Picture shamelessly borrowed from Jamey
So I stepped up the shuffle a notch. I purposely tried to get a more rapid foot turnover going down the 600 feet and 33 switchbacks. (Yes, I counted them.)
I eventually ran into the motley Crew of William (Dirty Sanchez), Carrie, Jamey, and Jeremy WildMan Wiley. We chatted for 25 minutes, and they sent me on my way with a swig of Pie Hole, and a small bottle of Fireball. WOW. This was fuel for my state of being.I seemed to really pick up the pace from this point on. 

As I descended, it seemed to get colder. Strange--the opposite of last year when t was 20 degrees colder at the top of the mountain. Was this some type of temperature inversion? A heavy fog rolled in and seriously, you could not see more than 50 feet or so. I had my long sleeves rolled up, but slid them back down and thought about putting my windbreaker back on. but instead, I tried to stretch it out and run a bit more. In looking at my data from the race, I did average a quicker pace for miles 10-17.  During the run, I fell three times, but the worst was more of an unexpected slide on a slick rock. My bad knee buckled under me and my heel was jammed up my but (bending the knee far more that God intended it to bend. I quickly thought my race was over, but I got back up, tested it to see if I could bear weight. Hmmm. Yep. (Take a couple of steps.) Seems fine. Maybe I need to stretch it like that more often.

You know--when you make yourself, you can run up hills (or at least sections of them), run over rocks, over but over rocks and roots covered by leaves--that takes a special kind of stupid. Toward the end of the race, I resigned to walk sections where the footing was guess work. I guess what I'm trying to say is the wheels were falling off. There would be no hotdog finish--just a trot on into the finish line.

Another frustrating thing--one of my falls had resulted in my Suunto watch changing the screen fields--it was not showing anything but the time of day. I toggled around on it, and accidentally paused it, but turned it back on. So I knew it was still recording my miles, but not showing them on the screen. It turns out--I had somehow gotten it into multi-sport mode. So, Strava shows the run but gave me no credit for the distance or elevation in the Strava challenges. First world problems. :-/

I finished in 7:48. That's 9 minutes faster than last year. My idea of doing 50K here needs a lot of work. I may give it a go next year, but I'm also ok if I never do 50K here. Right now, I'd be happy to just hike more. And a little more training could not hurt.

Congratulations to my friend Victor for winning the 50K and smashing the course record. Hat's off to anyone and everyone who toed the line and got their race done. There's no shame in dropping down to 25K here--I did it and I'm not ashamed!!!

And an attaboy to Tom Brennan for putting on a good race.

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