Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A little run at Spavinaw

We had another trail outing Sunday--this time back at the Spavinaw WMA. I have run here several times, and each time I am intrigued at how many miles one could run if he had all day to do it. We met at RunnersWorld at 7:30 and picked up Lynna on the way through Inola. Our crew this time--Lynna and I, Kathy, Russell, and Caroll.

My intent was to try some different trailz than what we've been on before, but I could not resist starting the same way I always go. Not 1/4 of a mile into the first loop, we took a side-spur that turned out to be a dead end--but as is normal for trail runners, it was gladly accepted as bonus miles. At least now I know where that trail went. Very soon after that, we began what was a 213' ascent in .3 of a mile--basically a double Lipbuster. There had been a recent control-burn, and about half of our run we saw charred leaves and underbrush, and old deadwood smoldering. It was oddly beautiful.

The beauty of Spavinaw is everywhere. There is not a 'blah" spot anywhere. Yes, there are great hills, and nice crazy-fast descents, and enough flat sections to give the hill-haters something to feast on.

What I love about running here is the sound of wind whispering through the towering pine trees. That, and running on a carpet of pine needles.

Lynna and I found our happy pace as the the others were one notch faster than we were. But Russ, Caroll, and Kathy waited for us at each intersection. At the top of one such intersection there was a hollow but still standing tree with smoke drifting out of an open knothole near the top. We were just certain we had found the Keebler Elves tree, and cookies were-a-bakin'.

Now I know my way around at Spavinaw fairly well, and to me it looked like we needed to go right. But there was a sign (recently placed?) that said the right turn led to a private group camp which was  down a long dead end road. So, we went left.

The road we took was a long glorious descent and we thundered down it. I was looking for the road to round a hill past a deep ravine to the right where I had previously spotted what looked like caves. But instead, our sweet downhill spilled out into a valley on what I was pretty sure was Ground Hog Hollow Road. It became clear to me that we should have went right at the Keebler Elf intersection.

My legs were agreeing with the running and I caught up with Russ and crew. He was looking at the map he had on his phone and had figured out the same thing I had. No matter, because I wanted to see different stuff anyway.

Lynna decided to take Ground Hog back to where we parked, and the rest of us decided to go south, or west, or somewhere. That's when I looked up and saw what looked like a leprechaun beckoning us to try a mysterious route into the woods. We thought for a second and then--well--why not?

This nice lesser-travelled dirt road led in a southeast direction past a couple of fields that were no doubt planted to fatten up deer for the hunters who like to shoot them in the fall. This IS a Wildlife Management area anyway.

During our whole run, I never saw ANY wildlife. I'm sure they are there, but well hidden.

Our road fizzled to almost nothing resembling a route, but we followed what looked like a rarely used 4-wheeler trail. It eventually turned back into a maintained gravel road, and to a T-intersection where we had the choice of going west and tackling another huge loop, or go right and run into the paved highway where we could pop right back into the woods on another lesser-used road. Since my stomach was growling, I voted for the shorter route back. It was inching past lunchtime.

The next couple of miles were mostly downhill, and we finally spilled onto Ground Hog Hollow, and took what I thought was the final ascent and descent to where we parked. I was wrong, as to took us to the Keebler Elf tree. That's still puzzling. We went left, and it was mostly downhill from there including a super steep loosely-graveled final stretch. 

I ended up with 12 miles. Lynna had got back to the car and did hill repeats while she was waiting on us. Russell being the overachiever that he is, put his Iron Horse signature on the run by repeating the last hill.

We hit the Country Cottage in Locust Grove on the way home, and replaced every calorie we burned on our run. It was a satisfying day to say the least.

Next trip--in a few weeks--maybe McGee Creek.

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Final A-OK

Yesterday, I ran the last A-OK Trail Run. Due to an odd request by a neighbor, there will be no race here in the coming years. (I hope minds will be changed...)

Picture by Scott Bailey
 A formidable crew of Bryan Formerly Known As Mitch (BfkaM), Kathy, and JFrank left out from RunnersWorld at 4:30-ish and made it there in time for me to take the early start, and in a spineless state of mind, I opted to take the regular start which I knew basically assured me of missing the 4 hour cutoff, where I'd settle for 25K. My thoughts--I didn't want to have everyone waiting for me, I don't need a run where I feel like I failed to meet my objective (I know that sounds wishy-washy), and I do have a 50K coming up in two weeks that I WILL finish since there is no place to drop (unless you got an Uber pick-up on a rural dirt road that could be impassable due to mud.) Oh heck--AOK is an awesome 25K, and now I could take pictures and yak it up at the aid stations--my specialty.

Picture borrowed from Tiffany Fiedler, who ran and crushed her first 50K
There was a good contingent of Tulsa runners and Dirt Series types so all day I saw friendly faces out on the trailz.

This race is held on Mary Ann Miller's property near Atoka, OK. I think the name comes from the location as opposed to the race being described as A-Okay. It's far better than that. Mary Ann describes it like this.

"Scenic out-and-back course on well-defined private roads and trails through pine and hardwood forest.  Enough hills and rocks to prevent boredom."

There was a brief ceremony before the race recognizing Mary Ann for her kindness and racing accomplishments. I ran the Dallas White Rock Marathon in 2007, and on a bitterly cold day at mile 4 had her pass me and left me to wallow in my own slow pace. I did pass her a little later in the race but she finished well ahead of many runners finishing right around six hours.

A group of runners crowded in for a pre-race picture, and I ducked out of the picture to snap one of my own. We were sent off at 8:00, and I was fiddling with my watch and just walked the first 50 yards and let the pack get ahead.

The race course crosses the dam before tucking into the woods for about a mile of winding twisting single track with pine needles and lichen-covered boulders.

The trail found it's way back to the other side of the pond no more than 20 yards from the starting line, and then headed up a gradual climb. 

I had the usual issues with overdressing. I wore a tech t-shirt and a long sleeve tri-blend over that. it was cold and threatening drizzle at the start, so I had a light-weight rain shell. The rain shell came off pretty quick, and the long sleeve shirt was dropped on a pine sapling at the one-mile mark.

The first aid station was at a T-intersection where we went left for 3/4-mile. This was a great downhill, and I picked up the pace and clumsily passed a few runners. It was fun. might have been frightening for those who dived out of the way. Nerding out on my Movescount app shows I hit a 7:40 pace for a brief time. I managed to catch up with Lynna and BfkaM. My shuffle equals their power-walk, and we played cat and mouse for about a mile and then I stopped to pee and never caught back up.

Scenic out-and-back course on well-defined private roads and trails through pine and hardwood forest.  Enough hills and rocks to prevent boredom.

There are lots of out-and-backs on the course. In fact, the whole course is a big out and back, This lets you see all the runners--those who are lighting the place up, and those who are within passing distance if you run a little more. Kathy was doing the 50K and doing so at a quicker pace than I was. Each time I saw her, she had gained some ground. Her passing me from behind (lapping me) meant she'd finish twice my distance in far less time. She did pull off that feat, but several of the 50K runners did.

The second aid station was a busy place. Runners hit this stop three times per lap. Dora had the table well stocked. Homemade cookies, PBJs, Reeces Cups, mini-Snickers, huge pretzels, and a ton of other stuff. I just grazed here each time through. Russell and Arnold were miles ahead of me and were having a good race. They both probably PR'd.

Twice we had to go through a gate. One had to be opened and then shut, and the other was easy to slip through with minimal limbo skills. I knew the way the course went, and ducked through and headed to the right. I had a long gradual downhill that just went on forever. I stretched out my stride and focused on staying smooth and relaxed. Running just felt good, and I just KNEW I could catch BfkaM and Lynna. Upon rounding each curve in the road, I was just amazed that they were nowhere in sight. Finally, after running more than a mile, I rounded a corner and saw the driveway into the area where the race STARTS!?!?! My immediate thoughts were that I had passed the turnaround--but where were the other runners I should have seen. THEN, it hit me--I had turned the wrong way at the gate.

I wasn't mad even though I took a grouchy-looking selfy. I just made a mistake. The course went the same way last year. We drove past the turnaround on the way in.I just made a wrong turn and added 2.8 miles to my run. Truth is, although I do have a wee bit of a competitive nature, I do not mind being last in a race, and I often am. I socialize too much and stop to take too many pictures. I'm just me. That's what I do. I added 2.8 miles and 207' of elevation gain to my race. Some people accused me of doing this on purpose. No one filed a missing person report, but a few friends wondered what the heck happened to me.

Heading out on the out and back going the CORRECT way from the gate, I was passed by JFrank, who lapped me en route to his 50K win. He finished hours ahead of 2nd place. (I may be exaggerating about the margin of victory, but in the words of Uncle Donald, "It was HUGE.") 4:12 was his time. I'm not sure if that was a course record, but it could be.

So from here, I just jogged it in. No bombing the downhills. No fast and furious finish line antics. I just trotted across the finish line and called it good.

Picture by JC Runner
I had a bowl of delicious chili and a couple of Miller Highlifes and hung around to wait for Kathy. Kathy finished her 50K in 7:34--a 2:30 first half and a 2:34 second half for a virtually even split.

We can keep our fingers crossed that something changes and this race is held next year. I'm glad I got to do it one last time.