Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ozark Trail 100 Race Report

The Deathly Hollows  (an adventure in the Mark Twain Forest)

     Waking up a bit after 2:00 am I started to prepare myself for the race. The cabin was in a slow motion of movement and chatter.  E-Sizzle, Gary, Frank, myself and three others all trying to ensure we had everything we needed for the race.  About 3:15 we headed down to catch the bus for our ride to the start. Two buses carried all the runners south 102 miles to the start line. The downside of a point-to-point race is the long journey in the morning to the start. The upside is when you get back to where you started everything you need is right there.

      I checked in with the race officials and boarded the bus. The ride was tough to sleep. I would doze in and out throughout the trip. At one point I over heard the bus driver say to one of the runners, "something scary would have to be chasing me to run that far." I found that very amusing.

The buses to take us to the start..somewhere in Missouri

      Around 5:30 am we arrived at the start. The same sort of silence from the cabin was on the bus. A low amount of chatter and a few people making last minute adjustments to their supplies. With only a few minutes to the 6:00 am I exited the bus and strolled over to the start. Not to come out to fast which was not anywhere on my plan I moved to around the later portion of the pack. Paul, the co-race director, counted down and sent us on way north back to the Bass River Resort in Steelville, MO.

       The pace felt very comfortable as I put my focus on watching the ground. This race is known for an extremely challenging surface. It appears that all the leaves in the Mark Twain Forest fall on the ground to cover all the surprises that lay awaiting for you. Ruts, roots, rocks and branches are all there for your discovery and usually without joy when you do find them.  The temperature was near 50F is my best guess. I only had two top layers and a pair of shorts and did not feel over/under dressed.

     After a few miles I dropped in with a group of  four other runners. This was nice because we were moving all about the same pace. Thus, the front runner of our group seemed to know the trail very well as we never had a need to stop and verify our whereabouts. The sun started to rise just after 7:00 am and came up fast. Probably because with no leaves on the trees it was much easier for the light to get through the forest to us.

Daylight begins just before the first AS

     Coming into the first AS, Mile 8,  at 7:46am ten minutes behind my plan I was not too worried with so many miles to go. I refilled my bottles, grabbed the usual food items and headed back on down the course. Within a few minutes the five us were all together. I enjoyed being at the back so that I could take pictures, enjoy the views of the forest and watch my footing. All the while still being lead down the trail with no concerns of being lost. The course is essentially climb a big hill, run along the top of it, run down the other side to the area called the hollows, cross a stream or two, then climb back up the next hill. Repeating this process over and over throughout the entire run. It is not a course that has big hills; it just has a lot of in your face non-stop up and down running. The other challenge, as I mentioned before, is the ground surface. So it is tricky to push yourself on the downhills not knowing what surprises are going to pop out from under the leaves.

Some try the rock approach...Some try the log approach
     Mile 14 was the first stream crossing in the race and by my best guess of counting there are about 20 crossings I encountered. Now being at the back still had some perks to it. I was able to watch each runner in front of me try to find the best route over the stream. 

     After a few more miles I was coming in the second AS, Mile17, 9:58 am. Now I was 25 minutes behind the plan and still not worried. Feeling good and enjoying the day was more of a priority to me.  My daughter Kylie had  made me play list for the run. The first track was Green Day  "Welcome to Paradise."  I started the Ipod just after sunrise, using only the left earplug to hear the music while being able to still have a conversation with the other runners.

    From the morning group I was now down to running mostly solo and occasionally with Adam, a runner from Kansas City, through the next few sections. He would ask what song was playing every now and again. I think he would then search out the song in his head and picture it too. Adam was surprised to find out my oldest daughter was 16. He guessed my age way under what I thought could be guessed, but hey that is a good thing.

Taken by we took turns snapping pictures

 The next two sections were shorter sections each one being 5.2 miles. The first one I picked up the pace and ran it in 1 hour 8 minutes. The next section I completed in 1 hourr 10 minutes. In the the middle of that section I was hustling along and my right foot kicked up a branch. While my right foot held it firmly to the ground my left foot came across it and toed it until gravity forced me over it sending me awkwardly down the trail trying to regain my balance. I shook it off then started back into running.

Looking out from the top of a hill 

On the way to AS 4 Johnson Hollow
      Arriving at Johnson Hollow AS 4, Mile28, I was about 28 minutes off schedule. The day was only a bit warmer than the start and ideally a great day for a long run like this. Spending  minimial time getting refueled then back on the course. At this point I was on my own for the next couple of sections. I didn't mind it at all the day was flowing along nicely.

     Reaching Gunstock Hollow AS 5, Mile 35, just before 2:00 pm I was now more than 30 minutes off plan. Still I shook it off knowing it is near impossible to predict an exact finish time for a race of this distance. At the aid station Eddie, one of Frank's crew and good friend, was there. He was quick to offer assistance to me filling my bottles and getting me food. We chatted briefly to verify all the others were still doing good and moving forward too.

On the way to Brooks Creek AS 6

Self-portrait action photo

Another one of the many crossings

The Famous Trail Marker that leads you along

     Following the course I found to be very straight-forward process. These OT markers were nailed to trees throughout the entire course, usually on my right side. In addition, there was ribbon placed between the markers. Sometimes you would be running for a long period of time and see neither, but there was no option really in leaving the trail. It is hard to explain how you know that you are on the trail, but when you are on this course you know it. If there was an intersection it was very well marked. Not once did I have to stop and verify my whereabouts. So the co-race directors deserve some credit for making such an easy to follow route.

        Working my way through the day I passed on through AS 6 and reached AS 7, Highway DD, around 5:50 pm. Now I was about 50 minutes off plan. In the larger scope that meant about a mile minute. This was my only drop bag location. I changed out of my waist pack and into my nathan pack & evening gear. Looking around the aid station I noticed Eric, another Michigan runner, changing his gear too. I said, "hello" and wished him well as I headed back on to the trail. 

Hello Moon!! Full moon and no leaves.
      Leaving here I knew that the sun would be dropping soon. As expected just about 7:00 pm it fell right out of the sky as the full moon made it presence for the night. Shortly, after taking a picture of the moon I turned my headlamp on and my pace remained relatively the same. The darkness did not seem to make much of a difference in pace; it was apparent that the leaves were still dictating the pace.

      Now arriving at Martin Road AS 8, Mile 59, about 8:15 pm vs the plan of 7:33 pm I was still holding together. The plan was designed with a slowing down of pace after the halfway and here I was moving now at a 16 minute per mile. Not feeling the best in my left leg I chalked it up as a normal all day of running discomfort. A few minutes out of there Eric had caught me and expressed he wasn't moving as fast either. We agreed it was nice to have some company so from this point on we stuck together and pressed forward. Now we were both starting to powerwalk a bit more than run.

      Hazel Creek AS 9, Mile 68, took a long time to reach. It was a long 3 hour and 30 minute journey to cover those nine miles. Placing us just over a 20 minute per mile. It was nice to be here and see some familiar faces. Eddie was the first to greet us taking our bottles and gathering some food. PoDog was in charge of the AS and taking good care of us too. In addition, PT was whipping up some of the best soup there.  It was nice to sit down for a minute and talk to everyone as Eric attended to his feet. This is when I noticed that my knee was really starting to hurt more than a minor pain.

Master Chef PT making some potato soup!!

    Out of there and heading to Machell Hollow AS 10. The next 6.5 miles took us 2 hours and 45 minutes which is now pushing near a 25 minute per mile. Nothing was easy anymore every uphill and every downhill became a challenge to navigate. Mentally I was calculating splits verifying I was going to make the 32 hour cutoff still.  It seemed optimstically possible at this point. I figured my knee would eventually numb up from the pain and I could out last it to the finish. 

Machell Hollow showing Xmas Joy
      Here I was now at Machell Hollow, Mile 75,  at 2:40 am vs the plan of 12:20 am. It was an audible in my head, "hey you can make it. 27 miles in just over 11 hours." I sat down ate some pasta chatted with volunteers and snapped a few more pictures. 

      Some of the best moments were shared in the aid stations. The volunteers that came out to support this race were amazing. If there was no cut-off you would very well stay longer and enjoy their company. 

     Leaving here I noticed that every stride was beginning to hurt even more. Since I was trying to avoid adding more stress to my left knee I had now a growing pain in my right hip from changing my stride. Again, doing more calculations along the way to the Berryman AS mile 81, I started to worry about the cut-off. Finally, I broke down and found a branch on the ground to break into a five foot walking stick. It came in useful as there was another big stream crossing. I crossed the stream by balancing on a large tree that was over the river. At this point I thought if I fall in it can't really be any worse. Successfully, I made it across and worked my way on to the next AS. About a mile from the AS I told Eric I was not going to be able to keep up anymore. My left leg was no longer bending and was swelling up all around my knee. He pushed on and I slowly made my way along the Ozark Trail. I checked that last mile split and looking at an additional 20 miles to cover in 8 hours 50 minutes was not going to happen. I did not see any reason to cause more possible damage to my leg and not be able finish. Now if my pace would have made it able to finish I very likely would have kept going just to get that buckle. 

       Reaching Berryman AS Mile 81.5 I surreneded my bid tag and dropped from the race. It was 5:10 am putting me 3 hours behind my plan. The volunteers took good care of me and found me a ride to the finish. I enjoyed the entire journey. Running on trails is always incredible to me and this course is 99% all trail. I am very sure I will be back to run this again.

Great job to Paul & Stuart for putting together a great race!!!

1 comment:

  1. Awesome on keeping the positive attitude, Steve. Sounds like you did what you had to do. Top priority should certainly be your health. Live to run another day! How's the knee doing now?