09 November 2010

Ozark Trail 102...Consistent?

The legs met the brambles...pic taken after 3 days of healing!

Here's the short of it- 21:49:02, 4th. Solid 70 miles; slow 32 miles. Led for 73 of the first 74 miles.

Now the long of it- Overall a fun-filled road trip with my dad. We left for MO on Thursday and drove 825 miles to St. James. That night I put in my last run before the race- 4.2 miles on the hotel treadmill; felt good after 12+ hours of sitting. On Friday we did some recon work scouting out the various crew access points along the course. That afternoon we checked in at race headquarters and pitched the tent on the grounds of Bass River Resort. During the prerace meal I looked around and realized this had to be the first race in years where I did not know any of the runners or race staff...many of the inaugural finishers wished this years first timers "good luck" with a fair amount of sarcasm and chuckle in their voices. There were a number of stories of runners getting off course last year...just what I needed to hear after my experience in July. If there is anything I want from a race it is a well marked course.

Got into the sleeping bag around 8 PM. The overnight low was a brisk 20 degrees! Woke up at 3 AM promptly filled my bottle and grabbed a seat on the shuttle bus that would take us to the start. The bus got off course and we arrived at the start line 15 minutes before the 6 AM start. I got in the much needed "movement," shed my warm ups and got ready for the task at hand. Before the gun Ben Creehan introduced himself and I got a few more course related questions answered...the toughest part was to stay on track during the first 17. Two years ago there were 90 MPH winds that ripped through this section of forest. It basically looks like the area was bombed. The wind uprooted 100's of trees leaving behind root ball holes that were anywhere from 1-5 feet deep depending on the size of the tree. This area also had significant amounts of overgrowth due to an especially wet summer. Another race in the area earlier this year had to be rerouted because the overgrowth was impassable without brush cutters! We were told the area had been cleared...it had...and yet many "treats" awaited us. You gotta be tougher to run trails!

The other factor on this course was the LEAVES. I have never before run through so many millions of LEAVES! The trail was covered by 4+ inches of leaves. Since you couldn't see the trail floor each step had to be more conservative than usual. You didn't know if there was going to be roots, rocks, branches, small animals, or other obstacles to massage your feet and toes with each foot fall. After each foot plant I noticed I also had to lift my foot more than usual to clear any of the obstacles I couldn't see. This terrain shortened my stride and made it difficult to stride out and run confidently fast. Needless to say I hit the deck 3 or 4 times.

The race started in the predawn darkness and we began our trek on the Ozark Trail. I briefly chatted with Ben C and Kyle Gibbs in the opening mile. The pace was relaxed so I decided to take the lead. It felt awesome to run more than 6500 feet lower and breathe the thickly oxygenated air. This was the lowest race I have run- I think the high point was under 1500 ft. I got into a rhythm with the crunch crunch of every 2 dry leafed steps. It was neat to see how the trail resembled a dark corridor. Even though you couldn't see the trail it was visible to follow by the opening of the trees. After about 1:15 I turned off the headlamp. Soon after the leg shredding session with the infamous brambles began. My legs played a crucial role in clearing the trail for the runners behind me. By far it is the most cuts and scratches I've encountered on any stretch of trail or non-trail for that matter. At the Sutton Bluff Aid (17.6) Ben took the lead for the next mile as I took longer to fuel up.

I truly felt that this was the day I would run sub 20 or better for 100 miles. Legs felt great, breathing was relaxed- I believed it was coming together. Saw my dad for the first time at Brooks Creek (43.5) and motored on through. My 51 mile split at HWY DD was a comfortable 8:26. Things were going according to plan- I thought the CR of 18:38 was definitely within reach. At Martin Road (59.2) I was beginning to slow. No worries; still running solid. Coming into Hazel Creek (68.5) I continued the regression. Side note- this AS rocked! PoDog Vogler the AS Captain went above and beyond the call of duty. He ran a 1/2 mile back and asked me what I needed before I got into the AS. He took my instructions and empty bottle and sped back. I came into the AS with a full bottle awaiting and my fuel selection ready to go- thanks a ton! It was awesome! At this point I was sick of the sweet. Gels, Bloks, Coke, Cookies, I needed a reprieve. I turned a few heads as I put down a Miller Lite. Non-sweet, quick carbs, the change was great. I also got some beef jerky and soup before heading out.

A few miles later the headlamp came out. I was now running really slow but still running. My 70 mile curse was beginning to whisper in my ear. I had the feeling it was going to get ugly. Around mile 74 Ben C and pacer passed me up and looked strong- it looked like he could get the record. Coming into Machell Hollow AS (76.1) I was at 14 hours. Sub 20 was still more than possible...however the carnage hadn't begun. 26 miles to go...6 hours to do it...

By mile 81.5 (Berryman Campground AS) I knew there wasn't much run left in me. It was good to have the encouragement of my dad and AS people- I did my best to stay positive despite the fact the next 21 were going to be ultra slow! I fueled up on french toast, sparkling water and began the inevitable Death March.

At 88 (Billy's Branch AS) the temp began to drop into the mid 30's. Since I was hardly running it was tough to stay warm and I would "run" a bit to warm myself. At this station I stayed about 20 minutes to refuel and rewarm with grilled cheese, chicken noodle soup and hot chocolate. I needed to get my money's worth! Around mile 93 Kyle Gibbs and pacer passed me looking smooth. I somehow managed to "run" 88-95 in 1:30 and couldn't believe I had made it to the last AS at Henpeck Hollow so "quickly." 7 miles to go. One last pep talk from my crew of one. I was going to finish- I didn't drive 800+ miles for a DNF. My dad has also put in an A effort in crewing and race preparation for me...and there is honor in finishing...no matter the result.

The final 7 took me 2:13. Tommy Doias passed me around mile 96 running fast and strong as I hobbled along. I walked across the line in 21:49:02 and received my buckle from RD Paul Schoenlaub. Got it done. It was ugly.

Here's an organized visual of the destruction:

51- 8:26
76- 14:00
102- 21:49

1st 51- 8:26
2nd 51-13:23

What can I say? I am CONSISTENT! In the 5 100's I have finished I have gotten my butt kicked in the second half of every one of them! All 5 including my PR have had VERY lopsided halves. They show a tale of two races. This distance continues to befuddle me. All I can do is improve, that is the positive and I'm resilient to a thorough butt kicking- I have experienced the lowest of lows... and returned!

Towards the end of each year I get very ambitious for planning the upcoming race year. This year was no exception. Before MO I was toying with giving the Grand Slam a go for 2011. Nope. This grasshopper needs extra wisdom, experience, and training for the 100 milers. Humbled once again. Mentally it seems so easy to put 4 100 milers on the schedule. After I finish one reality comes crashing back and I realign my thinking. With that said I am looking forward to Western States and Leadville for 2011. If I mention anymore please give me a gentle slap and say, "Patience grasshopper!"

Finally, a look at how the podium runners improved from last years times. Great job guys, thanks for tips on the course! BTW I ran all 102 miles clean. No getting off course on this one!

1st- Ben Creehan 19:32 (22:59, 2nd in 09)
2nd- Kyle Gibbs 20:52 (24:12, 6th in 09)
3rd- Tommy Doias 21:03 (25:39, 8th in 09)