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.

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