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.
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.