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.

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.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Devil's Den

Our loosey-banded group of Sunday trail runners ventured east into the Boston Mountain Range in western Arkansas to run the Butterfield Trail. This was my 5th time to run the 15-mile loop trail, and our early start was thwarted by my dropped wallet as I scurried out of the hoses at 6:20 resulting in an extra trip back to the house, and of course a coffee stop and pee break along the way. Johnna, Alicia, and I picked up Lynna in Inola on the way, and Misty met us at the campground. We filled out a very detailed entry form for our free permits and took off around 9:45 with big plans for tackling all 15 miles of this rugged trail.

The map provided by the visitor center seemed accurate, but from a past experience with paper trail maps on a rainy day, I took a screen shot of it and hoped to keep my phone dry enough to access if needed.


The CCC built dam--the signature photo for the park--as flowing well and picturesque. We parked here and began a counter-clockwise trek around what is one of the oldest trailz in Arkansas. I have run the trail in both directions, and prefer this way because of a significant water crossing that is forded early in the loop when ran the other direction.

The sign at the trail head pointed us to this swinging bridge, and we headed left (south I think) but retraced our steps after a couple hundred yards as it seemed wrong to me. Actually, this is the finish of the loop when running it clockwise. Oh well--we had a Kodak moment on the bridge.


The trailz were well marked and maintained--much better than the last time I was here in 2008. That trip was plagued with downed trees, heavily overgrown trailz, and missing trail markers.


For the first mile or two, we ran along Lee Creek, a peaceful stream with an occasional small waterfall. This overlook was 20 feet above the water, and we considered the depth of the water below and ruled out jumping.

It had evidently rained during the night or early morning. The trail had a few muddy sections, but there was no problem keeping your feet dry. Any sloping rock and all fallen logs and exposed roots were trodden with caution as most were quite slick. The above pic was the start of a long climb--just under 500 feet of ascent in one mile.


Vistas like this were rare. The forest was dense and even if it were sunny, 99% of our run would have been in the shade. During this stretch, the trails greatly encroached with leafy undergrowth, an occasional brier, and pea-sized cockle burrs. We also began hearing distant thunder rumbling. At mile 4.5, it began to rain--lightly for a minute, and then the sky opened up.


We had just reached a boulder-strewn 95' descent. These moss covered rocks either had some grip if you were brave enough to trust it, or were slick as snot. The rocks were so big, my trekking poles were of no use, and despite the fair measure of caution exercised, I took a tumble and ended up on my back. It looked worse than it was. My fingers were bent back, but other than a very minuscule scratch, I was fine. I scurried on down to a flatter section where there was a huge rock overhang and crouched down under it to stay dry. 


There was room for all of us, and we waited out the rain for a while--long enough to eat a nibble or two of snacks, and soon the rain lessened and we resumed our journey.

The rain gods saw us on the move again and opened up the gates on us. It was glorious. Running in the rain is amazing. Once you get your shoes soaked, then no water puddle, no 30' long stretch of underwater trail, and no stream crossing is avoided. Plowing through becomes the procedure of choice.

The trail ran alongside this stream for a mile or so. I wad out and soaked my footsies, and wished I had a fly fishing rig. 


We found several primitive campsites alongside the stream--complete with all the amenities. A huge firepit, Flintstone-style furniture--chairs, couches, love seats, Johnna was relaxing in a sandstone recliner, and my chair had a stone swivel seat.


Lynna and I consulted the map. There was the single track trail, and also in places a 4-wheeler road or sorts. I wouldn't take a jeep down these roads, but those quad ATV could traverse the route easily. I am sot sure if these campsites are more for hunters, or backpackers. The park ranger told us that the campgrounds can be booked out a year in advance. I;m not sure if he means these places that are 5-8 miles from the park office.


The rain increased again, and we could hear the roar of the creek and saw that it had come up dramatically. In one place, we backtracked to take a look, and by then, it was a raging muddy river. Rushing water is a beautiful sight, but muddy water just does not have the same appeal.


At mile 10 we reached the bluffs. We rounded a hairpin turn to this waterfall. I had not seen water running here in my prior trips, and a little more rain might have made this a masterful sight.


A small box canyon ran upward from the base of the waterfall. This passageway was so inviting. I took a few pictures but few of then turned out. my lense was wet and I had nothing dry to wipe it off. 
This picture came out ok. The weird thing through here was that the ground was dry powder-like sand--like it had never rained.

On the far end of the box canyon, there was a narrow chute where with a little climbing you could squeeze through the end. There was also a way you could scramble up a bunch of loose boulders to the top. We might have explored these options but it was getting a little late.

The next 2.3 miles were uphill. Way uphill. We climbed 750 feet, but really it did not seem as bad as the climb earlier in the run. This ledge was a scenic overlook. I walked right over to the edge and looked down. Dizziness quickly followed. It was a good 80' down to the floor of the canyon below. I then laid down on my belly and inched over to the edge and took a few pictures downward. None really turned out, and none showed the frightening height. Someone had camped on this ledge. I'd advise not drinking if you were camping here.


We had made an executive decision to take the road back to our cars when we reached it. The trail crossed the road we came in on, and the intersection was on the highest point on the course. Taking the road meant two miles of paved, gradually descending switchbacks. This turned out to be a very good decision. 
When we got back to where we parked our cars, the little waterfall over the dam was now little Niagara. This meant the water crossing we would have hit a mile from the end of the Butterfield Loop would have been too dangerous to try. We would have had to either bushwhack for a mile along the riverbank to the main road or worse retrace our steps back up what would have been at least a 700-foot ascent and then run back on the main road. If this had happened, no amount of glossing over how cool bonus miles were would have saved me.

Back at the cars at last. Most everyone was all smiles Alicia had some sort of bug and was not feeling well. We rehydrated, ate a few snacks that Misty provided, put on whatever dry clothes we could find, and began our drive back home.
My Strava data. The route we took gave us about the same mileage we would have earned had we ran the last section of trail.


I'm proud of what we got done. 3281 feet is a good amount of climbing and certainly is what I need for my training.

Next weekend, we have Mowdy Mustang Run on Saturday. I will most likely run Sunday but will keep it closer to home.