Sunday, March 12, 2017

#unlearnpavement (Land Run 100)

The Land Run 100 is a gravel bike event in Stillwater. I have only dabbled in gravel grinding, and I'm sure I'm ripe to swept headlong int the craze. This event, in particular, offers a choice of 100 or 50 miles, and a year ago, Arthur Elias--a trail running buddy who also bikes, introduced a 50K gravel/dirt road foot race to be held in conjunction with the bike festival. I, along with a group of Tulsa friends ran the race last year and had a blast. This year, the 50K run sold out pretty quick, and the bike races were full almost the first day of registration.

We have crazy weather in Oklahoma. In February, we had four days of temps over 80--one as high as 87 degrees! Then along comes March, and things change. I had this little dirt road 50K lined up to do, and the weekend forecast looked like the weatherman was playing a joke. The forecast called for 100% chances of rain, with daytime temps in the low 50s falling into the low 40s with strong north winds by mid-afternoon. Last year, the red dirt was sticky clay in a few places due to some rain earlier in the week. But this year, we had scattered showers during the night and on into the day. And so, the stage was set for a grueling trek on the country roads south and west of greater Stillwater.

I added this race to the Oklahoma Dirt Trail Series, and our Tulsa contingent was large. Counting a few non-Tulsans who are in the Dirt Series, we accounted for 30-35 of the 100 runners signed up.

Bobby Wintle, owner of District Bicycles, was the emcee and after sending off 1000 bikers, he addressed 100 shivering runners. We were ready to run--body heat was fleeting. 

At the sound of a civil war cannon, we took off at varying speeds. Mitch, Johnna, Lynna, and I were content to take the back row and ambled down 7th Street to Main. Funny that "unlearnpavement" starts and finishes a gravel run on paved streets. But the venue is perfect. There were multiple places to grab a bite or a coffee or beer. This has to be one of the coolest city blocks in America.

Soon enough the running crowd was spread thin. I had to make a rest stop under a bridge. Ironic that I dispensed of vitamin-laden gold pee on empty cans of gold spray paint. Somewhere someone is walking around with a gold esophagus. 

Johnna and I were running and shuffling along solving all of the world's problems. We passed Michelle, Alicia, and Jessy who were on a funny picture taking campaign. We missed the crazy llama that so many people saw. I have heard that they like to spit on people so I would have kept a fair distance away had I saw him. We eventually caught up with a guy who was running his first 50K. In fact, the furthest he had ever run was a 5K. at mile 6 he was mostly walking, and we found out later that he dropped at 10.6 miles. Once the course turned north into the wind, it was hard to keep your core warm if you were not pushing the pace enough to keep your heart rate up.

The course was well marked, although due to our over-thinking things, we had two intersections where we scratched our heads making sure we were going the right way. Note to self: Make sure you have a PHOTO of the map in your phone or in your pocket on runs like this.

At about mile 9, the road turned north--right into a 30 mph wind. This nice red dirt road had been freshly graded. It also had a splattering of brief heavy rain and was a slight but steady uphill grind. Now it's no secret that I love hills. I really do. I am not likely to even do a flat race. But this road was two steps forward 1/2 steps back. Slip and slide. 

And this gorgeous red clay caked up on your feet very quickly. Call it cross-training: walking with 10-pound weights on each foot. Mitch mentioned after the race that each goodie bag we received when we checked in had little paint stirring sticks that doubled as mud scraping sticks. How I wish I had known that, as they would have been handy all day long.

We rolled into the first aid station, drank some hot chocolate, sampled some Tailwind, and took a nip of Fireball. We were told that the muddy roads were past us, and the next section was much better. It was a little better, but we still had to do our best to dodge the sticky spots.

I should mention that I was again using my trekking poles, and these helped greatly with the slip and slide in the mud. they also were a huge boost on the uphills. All I had to do was give what felt like 10% more force in planting the stick and I went right up the hills like they were nothing. These poles will be a huge tool for me in a couple of difficult ultras I have coming up this year.

Finally, at around mile 13.6 we turned south. The biting north wind was at our backs, and while we were not setting any land speed records, we did increase our pace by two minutes per mile. We had a cheering section. A herd of cows took an interest in us and followed us for almost a mile along a fence line. We'd stop, they'd stop. They followed us until they came to a fence and then mooed as us as we went on.

A couple of city folks in the country taking pictures of cows. (Like they've never seen a cow before?)

At mile 21, a course marshal in a jeep came by and told us that there was a really bad stretch or road ahead, and he could give us a ride through it. We kind of laughed and said we'd be fine. He said he was gonna check back with us, and we turned a corner and got into some dark brown slick mud. It was not sticking to our feet quite as bad but is was just like walking in grease. Then we descended down into a low spot where the lay of the land channeled water across the road. Now this was not a creek--just a big mud hole.

No problem here--or so we thought. I loaned Johnna one of my poles, and we waded across. Johnna wisely stayed int the ruts. I took the slightly higher road and tried to stay out of the standing water. Bad idea.Th ridge of mud on either side of the puddles was soft mud 10-12 inched deep. This was shoe sucking mud,, and I almost lost one. Laughing ll the way, we made it across. The marshal in the Jeep had been watching. We waved him off,  and he waited until we were across, and then did what any dude in a Jeep that was already mudded out--he plowed right on through the mud. We chatted with him a bit. He told us that every runner behind us had dropped, and we were the last ones. HAHA. I am a frequent DNF-er anyway.

We hit the next aid station at mile 22.6. I grazed on pretzels and frozen Snickers. (Yes it was that cold.) They even had a porta-potty--the first we had seen on the course (not counting all the trees.) With nine miles to go, without even thinking about it, we sped up by about another minute per mile. When we reached the pavement, we shaved another 30 seconds per mile off, and our last mile was actually our fastest of the race. Johnna ran every step of the last five miles and said that was the first time she'd ever just ran it in from that point in an ultra. 

Bobby was waiting for us, as he was for every runner and biker, and gave us a big hug--like a long lost friend. He's just super.

I'm really kinda proud of this elevation profile. Oh sure, I called it relatively flat--and compared to a lot of races, it is. But the yellow spikes do look formidable.

I will be back to do this race again. I truly think if I  could get my training in gear, maybe become more proficient with the trekking poles, lose a few pounds, do some core work--maybe I could think about a PR in the 50K. OR--here's a thought. I mentioned Arthur Elias earlier--he actually started early and ran the 100-mile bike course a few years back.  Wouldn't it be cool to have a 100-mile ultra here??

Big time congrats and thanks to Bobby Wintle, Trey Nixon, and everyone else who spent so much time working to make this event the success that it was.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

AOK was A-Okay

Sunday was the 23rd running of the AOK Trail Run, a 25K and 59K near Atoka, OK on property owned by Mary Ann Miller. Mary Ann is 80 years and has miles and miles of pine needle covered trailz and forest service roads on her property that once a year she shares with a few trail runners. I have run this course three times, and my 50K PR of 6:15 was earned here 8-9 years ago.

I put this race on the Oklahoma Dirt Trail Series this year, and was thrilled to take a team with me to give it a go. Mitch Drummond, Travis Jennings, and I made the drive down and arrived about 30 minutes before the race start.

Quite a few of our group were there. Lynna Gilstrap, Travis Jennings, Bryan M Drummond, Arnold Begay, Russell Bennett, Jeremy Harrison, Jenn Erin, and Chery Kastl were there all earning coveted points in the Dirt Series.

As usual, I was in the outhouse when the gun went off. (Not really--this picture was from 2009.) This authentic outhouse is a two-holer. I have yet to see anyone share the facility. 

After a pre-race briefing, we were given the official GO, and set off on nicely groomed forest trailz. And rocks. The initial climb from the campground had about a mile of boulder-strewn trail, but after that, it tamed down quite a bit.

This was my second outing with my trekking poles (aka trail sticks) and I was pleased with their performance. I finally got the rhythm down pat and they became a fluid part of my zombie stride. My plan is to use these at Cloudsplitter to give me a slight bit of extra propulsion and to give me a bit more confidence on technical descents. 
The course is a T formation. Years ago before I ran the race the first time, a friend described the course as a route across Mary Ann's property, and on dirt roads in a T-shaped course. In my mind, I pictured straight section lines, and it sounded kind of boring. But this course is far from mundane--it winds around beneath the pines making you wonder what is around the next curve. 

This year, there was more single track trail than in years past, but still about half of the course was dirt roads, and most were runnable despite the 1300 feet of climb for the 25K course.

There was a bit of shenanigans here and there along the way. Not sure what this toll booth was doing out in the sticks, but I still stopped and bought my ticket.

Coming down what we thought was the last hill, and being a few yards from the finish line, the trail veered to the left and up yet another hill. I kind of remembered that going out, but it was still a bit of a rude shock. Seeing this pond meant we were close to the finish, but we still had a quarter mile to go. 

Mitch and Travis moved ahead as I stopped to take a couple of pictures (I had been chasing them all day) but I caught up with them. Being nice guys that they are, they slacked off at the final stretch and let the old man trot ahead of them, keeping me from being DFL yet again. I had made the decision to not go 50K since I have the LandRun 50K this Saturday. While I probably could have gutted out another loop, my body was happy to stop after 15-ish miles.

All finishers got these sweet hand-made awards and a jar of honey (also sweet.) 

We ate chili and warmed our bones for a while, and finally hobbled down a rocky hill to where Mitch's Jeep was parked. I still think a walker would be a nice thing to have after a race. I should have used my trail sticks.

This is a race I need to do again. Mary Ann promises to have it again if she's still around. To some, that sounds a little morbid, but Mary Ann faces each day with exuberance and enthusiasm--loving life one day at a time. She is a jewel.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Post Oak Challenge

Years and years ago, Johnny Spriggs--a good marathon running buddy, told m about a possibility of a new trail run at some lodge NW of Downtown Tulsa. Post Oak Lodge. He told me there was already some trailz there, and many more miles of trail could be cut, and he wanted to have a new trail race there. As his little pea sized brain got into gear, he approached me with the idea of having it the same weekend as the Snake Run. The idea was runners from all over the united states would flock to Tulsa to get two marathons in two days. Now Johnny and I had done a few doubles, andI understood the fun insanity of this, but after some consideration, I told him I thought that was a bad idea--that having both the same weekend would hurt the attendance of both races. He disagreed, but to honor my concerns, held his new race on an earlier weekend. So in February of 2010,  the first Post Oak Challenge was ran. And now, 8 years later, the race is booming.

Post Oak Lodge is on a huge acreage and is a splendid mix of elegant and rustic. Runners--mostly out of state runners--can rent one of the guest lodges, sleep in the same bed for a couple of nights, eat gourmet meals, and best of all--walk right out their door to the starting line. I did the double the first year, running a slow 50K, got lost, and got bonus miles, then repeated the fun the next day in the marathon. I have run a couple of the shorter distances since then, but never the multi-day. In 2012, I volunteered to work an aid station, and have been back every year since then. It's a whole weekend party and has been more fun every year.

This year, the RDs at Post Oak added a third day, giving runners a chance to triple--run a marathon/50K/marathon, or any combination of shorter distances on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. For those who felt two days was enough, or those who had to work Friday, the double was still an option.

Post Oak has had to scramble each year to come up with new trailz. They share property with the Tulsa Botanical Garden, and part of that land is heavily fenced off to keep hungry deer from eating the botanical displays. The RDs have turned into trail-cutting gurus, and from what I've heard, this year had the best trailz ever.

Our aid station--Meego's Cantina-- and the other aid station ran by Stormy and the Snowman have evolved into state-of-the-art buffets. All three days, we had 6 tables of treats, a variety of drinks (more on that later) and a kick-ass sound system.

I had plenty of volunteers and had intended to spend a lot of time taking pictures of the runners. But to my shame, I spent a wee bit too much time socializing and snacking. I did manage to get a super quick shot of Victor as he streamed through our area. Victor did not run Friday but won the 50K setting a course record with 3:57. The next day, he won the marathon running a 3:30.This is on a fairly tough trail with some serious hills.

I eventually got time to run a little and jogged the course backward for a few photo moments. Here I caught Deborah Burkhart and Janet Holland cruising on a gradual uphill grind.

One of the staples at our oasis was PECAN PIE. My friend Abby brought a gorgeous pecan pie to the Half and Half last December, and I decided we need it at all races. 

We cut it into small piecess, and I just could not leave it alone. I should have just went running. Saturday, I ate the LAST PIECE, and minutes later, Chrissy Whitten bopped in and was so excited to have a bite before climbing the final Hill from Hell. We,, I felt about two inches tall telling her I had polished it off.

I made sure to NOT make that same mistake on Sunday.

A few random pics. Brandon is holding a leash and has Miss Taylor, a white greyhound, dragging him up and down the hills. Is that cheating?

On the left is MikeRives--bartender extraordinaire. We had a dozen different mixed drink options as well as a good selection of beers, whiskey, and Fireball. William and Carrie had no shame in having the slowest time on the course each day. They spent 30-45 minutes at every aid station--especially if they had drinks.

A lot of crazy drink/food inventions pop up at our aid stations. In a past race, William created the "meat shot"--a pinch of bbq brisket dropped into a shot of Fireball. It's actually quite good, although many people were repulsed by the very idea of it. But at Post Oak, we had no brisket--but we did have bacon. Many tasters felt the bacon shot was better than the meat shot since the bacon was a little chewy. I agreed.

We had tortillas and cheese-->Cheese quesadillas! We also had Nutella--Nutella quesadillas. And we had crazy aid station workers-->Nutella&Chees Quesadillas dipped in Fireball!!!! This creation meets the zombie seal of approval!! It was amazing!!

As with all the pics, click on them to enlarge. Stormy published a collage of photos from his place. I wanted to go over to visit. (They would probably say I was spying.)  Having Wes Rupell in their camp meant a plethora of gourmet hors d'oeuvers. 

Watt Design Photography was the official photographer and took tons of great pictures. This one of Victor topping Holmes Peak captures the only place during the race that he walked.

Post Oak posts results of all the races and all of the doubler and tripler awards. Lael Wever won the big triple having the best combined time for all three races. 

And the awards abound. Besides medals for finishing each race, there were age group awards and huge wooden plaques for displaying the medals. If you were fast enough, you needed a wheel barrel to haul your bounty to your car. Christine Fischer had an armload Sunday after her race.

I had put out a notice on a couple of weeks prior to the race soliciting volunteers and had an overwhelming response. Mike Rives, Lynna Gilstrap, Alicia Bell, Deana Jessy, Alecia Cartwright, Ken Saveth, RJ Chiles, Summer Chiles, Leaha Kopp, Misty Roland, David West, and Angela Childress volunteered for one or all days. There were several others who ran one of the shorter distances and volunteered at our aid station after that. At one point Saturday afternoon, we had 14 people pitching in at our aid station. The task at hand was never a drudgery. Many thanks indeed. I am sure I'll repeat this insanity next year.