Sunday, January 14, 2018

Ouachita Switchbacks 2018

It's Sunday night, and I'm on the mend from my third Ouachita Switchbacks race I ran yesterday. Dubbed as Oklahoma's toughest 50K, I completely concur with the label. I have run 25K here for the past three years, admitting my lack of ability to go for the full monty. The 25K (actually a generous 18 miles in distance) is more than enough to wear my leg bones down to a nub. 

Johnna and I made the red-eye drive from Tulsa and arrived in time to get her to her aid station for the early starters. I then headed on to the start/finish and had the need for a short run into the woods to visit the outhouse--actually a grove of trees decently out of sight from the road. Five minutes later, I was parked .3 miles from the packet pickup table. 

Hoodie and race number in hand, I jogged back to the car and ditched my coat, pinned on my number, and began the return trip to the starting line. Halfway back, I realized my gloves were too much so I scurried BACK to the car, swapped the arctic grade ones for a light pair of running gloves, and headed back AGAIN. I'm notorious for starting races late, and in this race, I gave the fields a 10-minute head start. Apparently, I had started my Suunto when I turned on the GPS, and I had racked up 1.2 miles bathrooming and running back and forth to the car. SO as bad as trail runners are at doing math in their head, I had a 1.2milemileage difference and  10 minute time difference to deal with. I guess I should have cleared my watch.

Here's my always-expected sun-shining-through-the-trees picture. It was 21 degrees to start the race, with no wind--at east for a while. I wore Injinji socks with a thin wool sock over them. Fleece lined tights, a merino wool shirt, my lucky Pumpkin Holler fleece vest, and an oversized fleece beanie. I was barely warm enough and it turned out to be nearly perfect.

Starting late, I had the trail all to myself for a few miles. I did manage to pass a few people, some of which passed me later.

At mile 4, the trail crossed HWY 259 where the first aid station was.

My friends Lynna, Johnna, and David were cooking cheese quesadillas and hot chocolate. I did partake. sadly, the Fireball had been drunk.

I had no problem crossing the creek. There were more than enough boulders to hop across.

During this stretch, my fingers about FROZE. I now see why--a bank of clouds moved in. Also, looking at my Strava data, I slowed down a minute or so through here. It was a long gradual uphill, and the north breeze had picked up a little. Did I mention I was using my trekking pole? That kept at least one hand out of my vest pocket. I know--I'm whining.

Plus, I took a few pictures through here.

It's always cool doing a race that's an out and back--you get a chance to see a lot of old friends you haven't seen in a while. Michelle stopped so we could get a selfie together.

After that, I began the mile-long upward trek up the Winding Stair Mountain Switchbacks. There are 33 zig-zags to traverse, and you climb 600 feet in a mile. Many (like myself) are a little wore out at that point in the race anyway. The climb is worth it though, as Kate Ellisor and a host of other volunteers had a variety of snacks and more cheese quesadillas.

This was my turn-around. he 50Kers however, continued on to Horsethief Springs. I have been on that stretch of trail, and know it to be super-technical. God used that stretch of land to unload all the surplus rocks when He was creating the world. And that being said--one 50Ker ran the race in sandals.

Finally, the sun came out again. I had a lot of downhill trail from here, but the long section of switchbacks was too steep for me to let it rip. After that, I had almost a mile of uphill, and then four miles of gradual decline. I actually gritted out what felt like 13-minute miles but Strava disagrees. The last half mile before I reached the last aid station--the wheels fell off.

The last half mile before I reached the last aid station--the wheels fell off. It was a beautiful stretch of the trail, the sky was blue, the sun was peaking down between the trees, and I took a few pictures. And then I just could not make myself run from there. My bad knee hurt. The hip above also hurt. The two inflamed areas joined forces so the whole right side of my body was screaming for me to stop. When I stopped, it just hurt more. I decided right there that I'd drop at mile 14. Lynna would let me sleep in her car until they were through with their aid station. I had nothing to prove and no reason to go on.

Well, they wouldn't have it. They assured me I could do it. It was only 3.7 miles--just a little over three miles, and I had more than enough time. (It was a solid four miles, and I would be flirting with darkness.) My Suunto had me at 15.95 miles, so I walked to the end of the parking area so my watch would read an even 16 miles. (Remember, I started with 1.2 miles on my watch.)

Then I thought--oh what the hell. I'll go for it. David supplied me with some Aleve, and Lynna loaned me her headlamp, and I trudged out. 

A half mile later--I was glad I didn't quit. This last section of trail had a lot of flat sections, the uphills were gradual. Any steep section was brief. The only rocky spots were short dry creek crossings. I had mental notes as to how far it was from each of the small ponds. I knew this section well.

Ahh--the old toilet tree. This is one mile from the finish line. Rumor has it--my friend William Dirty Sanchez Barnes and his girlfriend Carrie USED this as a toilet. I didn't peak in to see if it was true.

I did a steady jog for most of the final miles. David West met me .25 miles from the finish with a bowl of potato soup. It was wonderful. I ate most of it, and then trotted on into the finish. RD Tommy Brennan met me there with congratulations, a nifty commemorative hat, and a handshake.

Three years of finishes in the long 25K. My hats off and I heartily applaud all those who finished--especially the 50K finishers. 

Another friend, Justin Franklin, won the 50K handily. This is after smashing the field the week before at the Athens/Big Fork Trail Marathon. Back to back wins on the hardest 50K in Oklahoma and the hardest marathon in the world. Wow. I am so privileged to have such amazing runners for friends.

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