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. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Red Fern Half

I ran the Red Fern Half Marathon this morning--even though it was on pavement--even though it did not have much in the way of hills--but I just needed a good structured run that I would be committed enough to run at a decent pace. My usual Saturday and Sunday runs at a leisurely pace, and I m good with that. I have consistently run enough miles, and the extra time-on-my-feet is a bonus. The forecast for the day had heat advisories plastered all over every newscast in the state boasting 111-degree heat indexes. Heat training is a good thing if it doesn't kill you, and I did not feel it was my time to die today.

I got there early--a rare feat for me, and chatted it up with some friends. I parked 6/10 of a mile away, and after I got my packet, I had to hot-foot it back to my truck to drop off my race shirt, so I had about 1.8 miles on my legs to start the race. 
Miles 1-5.5
My legs felt heavy and if I listened to my body, I would have quit after a half mile, but I knew that I would get loose and relaxed and the running would come. 2.3 miles later after ascending 144 feet a nice gradual incline) I turned a corner and was treated to few miles of gradual descent. I passed a few folks and played leap frog with a few as well. From the start of the race, the sound of a distant rumble of thunder could be heard. It started sprinkling at mile 4, and by mile 5, it had turned into a steady moderately heavy rain. I was surprised to see it rain at all. I do not think it was in the forecast. My neoprene water bottle cover was reassigned to protect my iPhone from getting soaked. At the mile 5 aid station, I snagged a plastic bag that paper cups were packed in, and made a waterproof cover. No pictures, texts, or phone calls for the rest of the day.

Miles 5.5-10.5
This stretch was my least favorite. On a clear day, his would be a boring road. It's a 4-lane loop that bypasses Tahlequah. It gives people who need to get to NSU or to the other side of the city in a hurry without hitting every stop sign and red light in town. Lucky for us, they had coned off one lane so we had a lane and a wide shoulder to do this out and back on. The long trip quite interesting and a little frightening. This 2.5 mile out was a steady uphill, and the ever-changing wind was blowing hard mostly in our face, and it really picked up. The cloud to cloud lightning was now jolting the ground--making the hairs on my arms stick up, and some strikes seemed like less than a mile away. The rain quadrupled, and little bits of hail was mixed in with it. Then the wind speed doubled and then doubled again. The horizontal rain stung bare skin and the BB sized hail felt like it was impaling me. I expected to see blood streaming down my arms and legs from the little bits of hail. I pulled my hat way down over my face and down the left side on my face. I've been out in 40-50 mph winds and even in 70 mph winds once. This felt more powerful than anything I'd ever experienced, and I am certain it had to be at least 7 mph. I just kept my head down and stared at the road beneath my feet. after what seemed like an eternity, I reached the turn-around and started back what was a long gradual downhill and this insane wind was at least for a while at our back. No one takes pictures of rain such as this. Why?? The pictures never turn out to be as impressive and intimidating as they really are. And, no one wants to get their camera wet. I tried to find a good google pic, but there were none that compared t what we ran through.

I had caught up with Roger Yandell, who stopped his race for a while to protect a young boy maybe 
7-8 years old from the stinging rain, hail, and the wind. Roger used his body to shield the boy and assured him that they were going to be ok. The boy stopped and waited in a police car for his mom to come get him, so Roger and I kicked it up a notch.About the time we got off the bypass, the rain lets up. 

Miles 10.5 to the finish
Mostly downhill except for one short incline at mile 11 where we climbed 90'. My insole on my right foot was desperately trying to stage an escape. I stopped to put it back where it belonged but it crept right back out. Finally, I grabbed it and pulled it out. So, with two loose wet shoes, and one with no insole, I ran the last 3 miles hard--at 90% effort. Roger and I passed a lot of runners most of which were almost in shock for having endured the harsh weather. I had been carrying my glasses since it started raining, and had no idea as to what our time might be. I was expecting a 3:30 or maybe a little better, but to my surprise, I turned the last corner and ran toward the finishing mat, I saw the clock was ticking off the final minute before 3 hours. So I finished in 2:59 and change gun time and 2:58:57 by the chip. Running with Roger was a big help.

I/m not sure how many people (if any) dropped. This was a race that the runners will never forget. With the super-charged lightning, sheets of sideways rain,  high-speed wind, and hail--it was a race to remember. Major congrats to everyone who endured.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Mowdy Ranch Mustang Run

 Super duper early June 10, BfkaM and I drove to rural Coalgate (pardon the redundancy) to run the Mowdy Ranch Mustang Run. Early June is a tough time for Oklahoma runners. It could be a semi-cool day, or it could be the hottest day so far in the year. Any rise in temps at all can lay you low--not being acclimated to the dreaded H&H. Last year I attempted the 50K here, and by noon, it was well into the 90s, and I wisely stopped at the marathon distance. This year, remembering my struggle, I entered the half marathon and looked forward to finishing with a smile on my face, eating great post-race food and drinking a couple of cold beers.

The full and 50K started at 5:30, but our start was well after sun-up and was pleasant albeit a little humid. A good crowd thundered off down the trail like it was a race or something while I assumed my place in the back of the pack under the pretense of taking pictures.

Some of the routes were tractor roads, while at least half of it was winding single track. It was through this section early in the race where last year we witnessed a huge heard of wild horses running free--enjoying watching us as much as we enjoyed seeing them.

The course has a series of trails north of the start/finish that makes up around 7 miles of the course. The south end has another 6 miles or so.  Full marathoners do it all twice, while 50Kers get to do the north loop a third time. Copperhead Road is where the north trailz get interesting.
It's narrow that starts out flat and increases to a slow climb, winds around a creek, and finally hairpin turns right up a steep grade into a boulder-strewn labyrinth that begs you to slow down and breathe in the view.

 I never felt a wave of insanity coming over me, but apparently, BfkaM did.

I took several pictures along the way, but few turned out. My phone was pretty fogged up in my pocket.
 I skipped the aid at the start/finish--it was not really an official aid station I assumed because you would probably cross the mat and screw up the timing results. I think that happened a LOT since in updating the Oklahoma Dirt Trail Series, I noticed a lot of people who finished two different distances.

The first aid stop on the south loop also served as the last aid stop there. I loaded up on watermelon, ate a few chips, and then trotted on.

BfkaM and Ihd stayed together for most of the way. But at mile 8.5578 I had to stop to answer a call of nature and Mr. Drummond kept on trucking. I tried to keep a steady pace, but my efforts seemed off this day. Soon, however, I caught up, and strangely my energy was surging. I picked up the pace and tried to maintain s decent run or the final 4 miles or so.

Buzzing around this lake, I smelled the barn. I decided to try to pass anyone I could--maybe end up in the middle of the pack.The final mile or so is pretty much out in the open and is a steady uphill. Uphills are my candy and I just kept reeling them in. When I saw the finish line a quarter mile ahead, I gave up on trying to catch a group that was just nearing the arch and managed a 3:27:58 finish.

I got my medal, my bbq, beer,  and I  don't know how many slices of cold watermelon.

 Chrissy ran the half and just buried me. Laura ran the 10K and was all grins. Everyone eems to LOVE this race.

 Cameron and Brandon notch u another marathon finish to their credit. I think it's past their nap time.

This is a race that I'll come back to do every year. The support is great. The aid stations good, the course amazing, and when they run, the ponies really put on a show.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

My least favorite arachnid

On the sidebar of this blog, I have installed a tickometer--a gauge of how many ticks I pick off of my body during the year. It's kind of done in fun, but still, I am amazed at how many ticks find my hairy legs. I'm just a tick magnet!!

Most of them are removed before they get some meat, but a few sink their pinchers in and begin their feeding. While tick bites have some potentially dangerous consequences, most of the time, an annoying itch and a small sore stays with you for a couple of weeks.

But get bitten by a tick carrying Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever, you're in for a longer recovery time. Symptoms crop up several days to a few weeks after the bite--a red, circular-shaped rash may develop around the bite and flu-like signs including lethargy, fatigue, nausea, fever, headache, stiff neck, body aches, and fatigue, along with arthritis, stiff necks, severe headaches, temporary paralysis, memory loss, mood changes, and sleep disorders.

Now, this is not to say that one tick bite will cause Lyme Disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever--those are rare occurrences, but one should pay attention to their hairy legs, and nether-regions when trail running or hiking in the woods.

Are ticks bad this year? Some people think that a hard winter kills off the tick population, but after the winter we had a couple of years ago with 3 feet of snow and low temps of -31° in places in NE Oklahoma did very little in killing off the tick population. My tickometer registered over 100 ticks the following spring and summer--the second highest total since I had the tickometer installed. I have a friend who performed an experiment on this, taking two ticks and putting them in a paper cup, filling it with water, and then freezing them. After two weeks, he took the cups out of the freezer and let them thaw. After an hour or so, both ticks were walking around like nothing happened.

Ticks are hardy creatures. Pick one off and try to kill it and you'll find--they are hard to smash. I will toss them into a creek, or into the toilet if I get one home. Smashing them with a hammer works. Putting them in the microwave is also effective--I once put a full engorged tick in the microwave, and 15 seconds later, it exploded. The microwave went in the trash and I bought another one.

I have found that ticks are less active in the super hot months (like last summer and the summer before.) I THINK they are like us--they find a shady spot and chill, waiting for cooler weather. I also think a fire like we had on Turkey Mountain a few years ago killed off a lot of ticks. To the best of my knowledge, I have not picked up a tick running across burnt brass.

But there are places where ticks are very much alive and well, in mass quantities, and ready to feed on any moving creature with blood. Earl Blewett and I ran at Greenleaf a few years ago in mid-March. He had told me ticks were sometimes bad, but we believed we were going early enough in the spring that ticks would not be a problem. We were wrong. About 4 miles into our run, I noticed an army of freckles moving up my legs. We had run through an area where there was a heavy infestation of seed ticks, and we were their food. We would run a 1/2 mile, and stop to pick off ticks, brushing them off by the dozens. After our 18 mile run, we visited the showers in the park and scrubbed thoroughly, and escaped with only a few bites.

I had a similar experience a few years ago at Walnut Creek on the north side of Keystone Lake. I was trying to find some trailz, which turned out to be not so great. But it was great for a throng of eager ticks. I cut my run short, and my dog and I loaded up in the truck and bought a can of bug spray at a convenience store and I sprayed my legs, clothes, and truck down,. and bathed and gave my dog a bath. I probably had hundreds of ticks both of these times--but this was before I began logging them. When a tick latches on, there are many ideas as to the best way to remove them. Old school methods included burning them with the tip of a match, covering them with Vaseline to suffocate them, tying a string around them, tweezers, and even going to the doctor. I think it's good advice be careful especially when they're firmly attached or embedded to NOT pinch or traumatize the tick so it does not regurgitate into the bite. Squeeze them as little as possible. Tweezers may or may not be the best solution. My best advice is to keep a watchful eye, and remove them quickly--with your fingers. Get them off your legs before they have a chance to bite--before they climb up under your shorts--before they get to a hard to find/reach spot. The longer they are latched on, the worse the itch, and the greater probability of disease.

When an engorged pregnant mother tick lays her eggs, she deposits THOUSANDS of eggs.

This mama tick is well fed and ready to lay her blob of eggs.

Disgusting as this is, here are about 1,000 baby ticks waiting to hatch. And they will be hungry.

Obviously, we as humans are not a tick's primary food. The deer tick gets its name from the fact that the deer population keeps them fed. We are able to pull ticks off as soon as we feel them, but I suppose a tick on a deer is there until it dies, of an engorged mama gets knocked off when a deer rubs against a branch.

I do not know the story of the following pictures. Given that the deer is laying on a towel, it is fortunately in the care of humans. Hundreds of blood sucking ticks have completely covered it's eye, biting even it's eyeball. Sad.

Those who HATE SNAKES probably have mixed feeling about this picture. I was surprised that ticks could even bit a snake with their dry scaly skin, but that shows what I know. Ticks will bite anything with blood.

This next picture is disturbing to me--so much so that I probably should have not included it.

This dogs owners should be tossed into a vat of ticks--if the dog actually had owners. This is generations of ticks giving birth, and multiplying exponentially. Friends--please look your dogs over for these blood sucking parasites.

This year, my tick count is at 178 for the year. I picked up 127 Today on a trail run on some new trails. I felt like I was the main course on a buffet line! Spraying with Deet helps, but only a little. Shaving my legs might give the 8 legged critters less to grab onto, but I have not committed to that yet.

Finally, I just HAD to include a movie preview to the 1993 movie Ticks. This classic B-rated flick had Seth Green in a staring role when he looked even more like a kid than he does now, and Clint Howard looking actually uglier than he does in real life. Enjoy.