Thursday, November 14, 2013

2013 Ozark Trail 100 Race Report - Cue The Banjos

Two weeks, two pacing gigs in a row, two very good friends. October 26 I was in the deserts of Arizona in lots of sand and heat with Lesley for her first 100 mile attempt at Javelina Jundred. Consider now the juxtaposition to one week later where I was in the backwoods of Missouri in fall foliage and freezing temperatures with Jeremy for his 8th 100 miler at the Ozark Trail 100 outside Steelville, Missouri.
At mile 17.5

Warning - this covers 12 hours of driving to get to Missouri, then 30 hours of crewing, and 22.3 miles (6 hours) of pacing. This sucker is long. But I love reminding myself of details later, and maybe some sections will bring a laugh to those who read it! And I have to say the last 4 miles of this race are decidedly epic and worth the detailed report. 

Halloween night, Lesley and I went to southern Arkansas where Jeremy lives. Lesley was recovering from her 62 miles at Javelina and had come along in her words "to provide the entertainment." A 4 hour drive and a night's sleep at Jeremy's, and the 3 of us left early Friday for Missouri. I drove the long 8 hours of mostly small curvy country highways to get to this remote area.

Packet pickup, pasta dinner, and trail briefing were easy and small. There were only 65 starters in the race. Then, we headed to the nearby Meramec Inn to get some sleep before our 3 am wakeup call.
Yeah, it's as classy a joint as you guessed from this picture.

Race Start

Out the door about 3:45 am for the 1 1/2 hour drive through Forest Service Roads in the middle of the giant Mark Twain National Forest to get to the start line for this point-to-point 100 mile race. The race would be mostly going south to north, and we were staying in the town closest to the finish, so it was a 60ish mile drive just to get to the start.

We parked, hung out in the car a bit, and then went to get Jeremy checked in and then huddle together in front of a propane fire box.

Then at 6 am, they were off! And now we had about 4 hours before we would see Jeremy again at mile 17.5.

First Crew Access - Sutton Bluff, Mile 17.5

Lesley and I left the start and went west, where you would go east to go to the crew access point. We were going to go into town for gas, a bathroom stop, and breakfast. A big dude in a big truck pulled up behind me at the gas station. He made me really uneasy - why is he staring and acting like he's about to get my attention? "Are you with the race?" It was a crew of obvious non-runners WHO HAD BLINDLY FOLLOWED US, thinking we were heading to the next crew spot. You should have seen his face when we told him he had to go back to the start 45 minutes away. An unintentionally wasted 90 minute roundtrip for him!

I decided to use Google (we had a cell signal, a rare thing, in this little town of Salem) to map us to the Sutton Bluff campground. An hour and a half away, we ended up in tiny dirt backcountry roads and inadvertently went by one of the later aid stations you usually shouldn't hit unless you were meaning to go there. We had to cross some low water concrete creek crossings. The first one freaked us out but we cried "It's a SUBARU" (Jeremy's car) and plowed through. We joked all through the trip that he was going to get back his car with one bumper hanging off.

We got there and parked. Then...
NAP 1 - 1 hour.
Then we groggily woke up, grabbed the chair, his drop bag, and bundled up, and went over to the aid station.

We only had to sit for 15 minutes before he arrived. Highlights of this stop: 1) I forgot, again, how to access the bladder in a Salomon pack, and it took me fumbling around for a couple minutes. 2) Lesley stole someone's beanie cap and flashlight off the picnic table thinking they were his, and 10 minutes later when we 3 realized they weren't his, she ran back to put them back. HA!

About 7 hours before we would see Jeremy again. He was in good spirits and moving well.

Second Crew Access - Brooks Creek, Mile 43.5

We hunted down the Bixby Country Store, one of the only places nearby to get hot food. We asked the man there what he suggested we got. "You girls ever had a CHICKEN WRAP?!?" He said it like it was this new age thing, some type of molecular gastronomy invented in France. "Um, Noooooooo," we said, thinking it was best to go with it. "Well, it has...." as he points to the menu on the counter which he then reads verbatim like he's filling us in on the secret family recipe, "chicken, lettuce, cheese, and RANCH DRESSING, all in a FLOUR TORTILLA." He's so pleased.

Okay, 1 chicken wrap. And he sold us on the Dirty Fries too - french fries topped with pulled pork and coleslaw. Food was pretty good for what it was. But man, it was overpriced.

We had a long drive back to the hotel.
NAP 2 - 1 1/2 hours.

Another long drive to the aid station. We set up our chairs and again, only had to wait about 20 minutes. During that time, two girls came in, one looking frigid. Her sister (as we later found out) tried to convince her to take her arm sleeves. When she threw a minor "I don't wanna" fit, Lesley and I joined in on pushing her to really consider taking the arm sleeves. She ultimately did, and I'm glad because she was a frozen statue by the next crew access when we saw her.

Jeremy came in to the aid station with a smile. He changed his socks and shoes, added some layers, ate a bunch of food, and headed out. We wouldn't see him again until the middle of the night. About 7 hours later.

Third Crew Access - Hazel Creek, Mile 68.5

A long drive to the nearest big town of Cuba to eat at one of the "nicer" restaurants there because I wanted a good healthy dinner since it would be my last hot meal until I paced the next morning. The restaurant then proceeded to lose our order, finally get our food made, only for me to cut into my grilled chicken to find it RAW inside. Great - sorry, Jeremy, your pacer died of salmonella poisoning 3 hours before you arrived into the aid station.

The delay made us both mad because it shortened our nap time. No time to go back to the hotel for a nap. We needed to find this aid station and then car nap. Map the GPS to Hazel Creek Campground, which then proceeded to take us, in the dark about 10 pm, to the most backwoods, hadn't been driven on in 10 years, overgrown, narrow dirt road I had ever seen. We did see a few deer and a skunk. But we also felt like we were living in a horror movie. It was really creepy.

Finally at the aid station, we can only plan to nap until the earliest on a great day that we would see Jeremy.
NAP 3 - 1 1/2 hours.

We go over to the aid station. It's officially 32 degrees in the forest, but they say that's the coldest part of the course and about 10 degrees cooler. We are horribly bundled up. After a short bit, someone has heard on the radio that our runner had hit the previous aid station. We go over to the bonfire and hang out with some of the volunteers and crew there.

One guy works for the local fire department and is talking about their cool infrared imaging technology. "Yeah, not but 3 weeks ago, I found a murdered HOODRAT right over there, right behind those bushes."
Me: "Whoa"
Lesley: ... ... ... "Wait, you mean, like right over there?"
Him: "Right over there, right behind that sign."
Lesley: "WHAT?!?"
Him: "Yep, dealing meth. Lot of that stuff out here."
Then he pauses for a second and, given we were still shaky and creeped out from our drive to this campsite, he says in this thick accent: "Them's backwoods people. Life is ROUGH out here."
Cue the banjos.

We redo the math and realize we can stay in the warm car for a while longer. I can't even remember if we tried to nap again. I don't think so. Then, 30 minutes curled up in blankets and jackets in our camp chairs until Jeremy came in.

And one of Jeremy's only trail toddler traits "I DO IT MYSELF" emerged a little here. Shivering and shaking but still fiercely independent when he has two people waiting right there just to help him, plus several other volunteers. The volunteers at this station were excellent. Aid station captain helped push him out. He was cold but moving. It was 1:20 am. We thought we would see him in maybe about 4 1/2 hours on a good day.

Fourth Crew Access - Berryman Campground, Mile 81.3

A far less creepy drive to this stop. It took a little bit to wind down and I was a little hungry. And then yes, I was eating pita chips and hummus at 2 am. Like Lesley and I over half the tub of hummus. I was glad I had brought it in the cooler. Good hearty healthier calories then a lot of snack food.
NAP 4 - 2 hours

Then quite a while huddled under blankets waiting for Jeremy. No heater or bonfire at this stop. It was fairly barebones.

We were worrying about why we hadn't seen him yet when he showed about 6:10 am. And he was pissed. "I did extra miles," he said. After a road crossing, the markers had become scant in the dark and he had to find his way and double back to make sure he was even on the trail at one point. He was not happy.

We wanted to keep ahead of the cutoff which was at 6:45, and there wasn't much going on at this aid station. We threw our blankets around him and worked at getting him food and changing his layers. Just like at Hazel Creek where he had insisted on rebuttoning his flannel shirt with his frozen fingers, he insisted this time. "NO," I said firmly. "This time I am helping you." "Fine!" he said grumpily. Yep, more of "I do it myself!" just like my 2 year old.

Time To Pace...In the Dark - Heading to Mile 90.1

We left the aid station 25 minutes before cutoff. We needed to keep moving. Of course I was afraid of some sort of sleepwalking episode like Lesley had. We couldn't afford 25 minute miles for any length of time. I knew we needed a 19 minute pace if we left seconds before the cutoff. Based on when we walked out of that aid station, we just had to average 20 minutes per mile.

It was about an hour and a half until the light. I was shaky on the terrain seeing it in the dark for the first time. The leaf cover was considered light this year. Most trees hadn't dropped their leaves yet, at least until the last 7 or so miles, when it would be inches thick on the ground. But there were roots and lots of rocks of various sizes and loose vs embedded. I'm not graceful, and I'm nightblind.

Jeremy picked up on my worry and said he wouldn't run until light. Phew. Thank you!

He was in a good mood and we chatted away. I told him stories about what Lesley and I had done all through the day. He'd laugh at some, chuckle occasionally. "Okay, this is going to be okay. He's not super grumpy. He's not going to bite my head off."

Once dawn came, aside from me marveling at how beautiful the forest was in the morning light, he started running flats and downhills a lot of the time. When he wouldn't immediately, I would say, "This looks like a nice runnable section" or "This would be a good place to run", and he usually would. Gentle urging.

I had heard the first aid station, Billy's Branch, at 8.8 miles from where he had picked me up, could be as much as 2 miles further by GPS than they had reported. So we were wary to count it down. And this was a good solid stretch without aid. But at 8.5 miles, a guy was standing there. I said, "Wait, the pacer isn't supposed to hallucinate people!" It was awesome - he walked behind us and rattled off every food thing they had. He sold Jeremy on having some soup and offered that they had some instant coffee and could add some hot chocolate to make it taste better. Jeremy really perked up at this.

18:19 pace through this 8.8 miles.

The Loopy Section - Heading to Mile 97.1

At the aid station, he sat down, but I didn't want us staying long. They refilled our water and got him soup. They started the coffee/hot chocolate mixture heating. When it was ready, I snatched it and took a sip. I asked, "Can you add 2 ice cubes?" They said, "It's not too hot." I said, "It's hot enough, and I want it warm. I don't want us to sit here. I want him to drink it and go." It worked. He gulped it down, and we left.

Jeremy says later he was kinda out of it this section and a little loopy. But he didn't seem so much that, just that he got a little quieter sometimes. Pacing is about reading the room - sometimes I would chat away, and sometimes I would just walk quietly.

He didn't want to run the flats and downs as much through here. I would gently urge, "This is a great section for running a little." And he'd say, "No." Okay, I had to try. We were still making cutoff so I didn't need to push him.

At mile 93.6, we did stop and I included him in the tradition Lesley and I had of the "single digit dance". As soon as you have less than 10.0 miles left in an ultra, well, it's just about counting it down now. The dance involves mostly a small rah-rah in the arms and little to no leg, knee, or hip movement though! Jeremy was even game for doing a selfie, a rare occurrence, but he had his camera and I had no phone to do a really effectively do a self-portrait, so I took his picture instead.

45 minutes in he chastised me for not telling him to eat. I had misunderstood his semi-coherent explanation of his food needs when we had left the aid station. He got a little grumpy and distrustful of my competence for a little while after that.

A mile or so later, his mood must have changed because he wanted to get the selfie done. So he pulled out his camera, and we posed. Nice of him when I know he doesn't like selfies. I really liked how the picture turned out too!

We came into Henpeck Hollow aid station, and there was Lesley! It was about 9 am and starting to really warm up from the freezing temperatures although it was still probably low 40s. I stripped off the pants I was wearing and put on the shorts she had brought, and I took off my pullover. Jeremy left a layer too. We didn't even sit; we wanted to go!

Pace here was about 18:45.

Bring It Home - Heading to the Finish, Mile 103.6

He was back in a good mood and his previous loopiness was gone. We had no worries about making the final cutoff. The scenery changed and the leaves got a lot thicker. Jeremy started really moving - I'd been behind him the whole time. I never led, so he always chose the pace. More running and less walking, we were bringing down the average pace to around 17 minutes per mile. We slowly passed a couple people those first few miles.

Then at some moment, he flipped a switch. And even with hiking uphills, we started averaging 12 minutes per mile. I was struggling to keep up with him and huffing and puffing out a recovery on the uphill hard walk paces. Note that even at the beginning of the race he had averaged 14:00s. He had not run this fast THE WHOLE RACE.

Suddenly we caught up to Jerry (a sweet guy who always had a smile that we'd seen off and on throughout the race), and the two sisters with the arm sleeve episode from earlier. All in all, in only 6.5 miles, we would pass 7 people. Out of only 38 finishers. Who passes 20% of the field in the last few miles of a 100-miler?!?

Jeremy seemed to get a real kick out of seeing me struggle to keep up. I think it made him run harder. He had joked for weeks about trying to drop me out there. I'd been a little worried since he's much faster than me. I didn't want the embarrassment of coming into an aid station without my runner. But here we were and suddenly it was coming true. He kept insisting he wasn't trying to drop me.

We would scream down these downhills, all thick leaves hiding rocks and roots. And while I was terrified, I was also laughing. I felt like I was racing, except the person in front of me had done 80 more miles than me. Hard not to laugh at that. At one point I yelled up to him while we running hard, "I can't tell the bleached leaves from the rocks." And he gleefully yelled back "Then avoid them all." Yeah, easier said than done.

One mile left and we came out into a field. The start of getting to the finish. He said he could see someone way way ahead of us, then saw me huffing and puffing, at one of the few times we could walk side by side, and said, "Nah, we don't have to catch them." I took a couple deep breaths, then broke out in a trot, "Let's get 'em." Gah. I was dying.

But we did. And the pacer for that guy laughed and said, "Is that a pacer struggling to catch their runner?" Um, yeah, my finest hour.

Then he passed another guy, and we could see the finish at the end of this field. He knew he had a sprint left in him like when he ran Fat Dog, and he was ready to go. And I can't pull a 9 or 10 minute mile on fresh legs, let alone after 6 hours in the woods. So he said, "I'm going to go." But first he pulled out his camera to give me something to do while I slowly came in. He told me to take some pictures of him and the beautiful scenery and off he went.

When I finally arrived and walked around the finish corral and under the flagging about 45 seconds after he finished, Lesley was standing there so happy to see him finish. I was so proud of not just another 100 miler for him, but in his attitude the whole 22 miles together and the beast mode he had exhibited in the last 4 miles. We gave each other a big hard hug. It was really an awesome last hour and a great finish.

30 hours 48 minutes. No cutoff worries ultimately, because he was 1 hour and 12 minutes before cutoff. He ended up placing 30th out of 38 finishers out of 65 starters. Solid midpack.

Rest of the Story

The rest of the story is simple. We all got cleaned up at the hotel and then a long 8 hour drive back to Magnolia, Arkansas, most of which I drove. Urgh - tiring. Lesley and I made the last 4 hour drive to Dallas the next morning.


Isle Du Bois 55K Trail Race on December 7 and then Dallas Marathon on December 8. Local races don't usually get me excited, but trying the big task of doing 60 miles in 2 days, with the first day having some decent technicality with rocks and a cutoff that makes me nervous? Now that's a fun challenge!!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this great story, Libby. And Way to go, Jeremy. I was thinking about trying the 2014 Ozark Trail for my first 100-miler, and this just gets me more pumped up.