Posted on the Ultralist:
Date: Thu, 19 Nov 2009 15:09:24 -0600
From: Earl Blewett
Subject: Ozark Trail 100 report (long)
Dear Runner Folk,
This is long, I know. However, it’s also the longest I’ve ever been out on a 100 mile course by 5 hours, so there was a lot to write about.
Ozark Trail 100 2009 by Earl Blewett
Crunch, crunch, crunch! That’s how 29 hours or so went by for me last weekend. The ankle-deep, dry oak leaves on the Ozark Trail were impossible to escape for most of the race. Only a few places on the trail were bare plus the roads at the end. If you stopped and listened you could tell if another runner was catching up to you or if you were coming up on someone ahead. I finished, but it was slow and ugly.
When the announcement of a new 100 mile trail race to be held in Missouri came out I signed up for it right away. I had been looking for an October or November 100 for 2009. I don’t deal well with heat so I like to do my long run that time of year. I’d also done the Berryman Trail Run in Missouri several times over the years. The Ozark Trail makes up part of the Berryman loop and is both scenic and quite runable. The downhills aren’t too steep or technical and the uphills aren’t too long.
I did not have a good training year. We are demolishing and renovating part of our house as well as adding two bedrooms and a bathroom to the back. I spent a lot of time working on that instead of running or biking. I got sick at my old race, the Lake McMurtry Trail Run (50 km) in April and dropped down to the 25 km. I was entered but missed the Berryman Trail Run (50 miles) in May due to a bad case of contact dermatitis (cleaning up the yard for construction). To cap things off, I ended up aggravating old tendon injuries when I felled two trees and dug out the roots to make way for our underground power, phone and cable lines. That killed biking from August onwards and limited swimming. So spring and summer pretty much sucked for training although I did regularly force myself to get up at 5:30 am and run 10 miles. It’s in the 80’s F, even at that time with high humidity but that’s as good as it gets in Tulsa in the summer. I did a 25 mile run in the mountains in Montana (Devil’s Backbone) and ran 25 miles on trails in Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan, Canada in July but that was it for long runs all summer.
My plan for last minute training was to use two local 50 km races that were quite technical to get ready for the ups and downs of the Ozark Trail then to finish off with an easy 50 miler to improve my endurance. An easy 50 miler, so that I could hope to recover from it in time for the race.
So in August I began training at first light on Turkey Mountain in Tulsa, for the Turkey and TATUR 50 km Race to be held September 13th. This was quite enjoyable as Turkey Mountain is covered in oak and other trees. It is a ridge that rises from 600 to 900 feet on the west bank of the Arkansas River in south Tulsa. I live a few miles away and used to train there a lot. I had a map of a previous years T & T race and used it to run some 10 – 15 mile training runs. Race date approached quickly so I only managed a few runs. The race day was very warm to start but rain began within 30 minutes of the start and continued for hours. The course was muddy and treacherous but I had a good solid run. Unfortunately, I fell and injured my left knee later in the race.
The second technical race was to be the Flat Rock 50 km in Independence, KS, only two weeks after T & T. I run it or volunteer at it most years. My knee seemed to have healed enough to run the race so I did. It had rained the night before the race and the course was slick but cooler. I had a good run, finishing strong in the best time since 1999. However I fell twice, once on each knee, and they were sore. I had another two weeks, supposed to be active recovery, before the next long run.
In the spring, I’d looked at the race schedule and decided that the Heartland 50 Miler, near Cassoday, KS, would be a good last race before the Ozark Trail. I had two weeks to recover from Flat Rock, and the falls. I didn’t think the knees would heal enough for the race but my last run four days before race day was pain free. Heartland went well without further knee injury. I didn’t run fast, 10:05, but had a strong second half of the race and finished feeling strong. It was 35 F at the start and 37 when I finished with a nasty wind out of the north. I was pretty sure that the Ozark Trail
would be more sheltered, if it ever got that cold. Unfortunately, I managed to fall on the gravel road and hurt my hand, limiting the swim training I could do.
The week after Heartland, my wife and I spent a couple of days at Greenleaf State Park in east central Oklahoma. I managed a 10 mile run on the very challenging hiking trail. The knees were doing fine. Now a three week taper, and some active recovery. My version of active recovery is a massage, shorter training distances and swimming. A viral infection and the damaged hand prevented me from swimming, except once, three days before the race.
Likewise, my running was almost non-existent. I was just glad I got sick two weeks ahead of the race, not one week or just before.
I did the usual obsessing before the race which got me organized ahead of time (I make lists). I like maps and I did watch what I ate the last three days before the race. I used to have a cast iron stomach but the last few years there have been problems. So pasta and chicken not cheeseburgers, before the race.
I had a camping site right across from race headquarters. Normally for 100 mile races I treat myself to a hotel room but I was feeling cheap. Originally I was going to tent but then decided to sleep in the back of the station wagon. I remembered how hard it was to break camp post-race, one year when I camped at the Arkansas Traveler. I had taken Friday off but didn’t get out of Tulsa until lunch time. I have made the drive up I-44 to Cuba, MO then over through Steelville to the Bass River Resort many times for the Berryman Trail Run. It went by quickly and I pulled into the resort around 5:30 pm in time to check in to my site and get my packet from Paul Schoenlaub (RD). I didn’t eat much at the dinner, just some pasta and a brownie. Paul’s pre-race talk was well attended and he described a lot of the course and the markings to the runners.
I retired to the wagon, got organized for the very early morning to come and was asleep before 8:00 pm. I got up before the alarm at 2:30 am and walked over to the shower/bathroom area under the Bass River Resort building. I
managed to get my contacts in without too much difficulty and had a cursory shave with an electric razor. There were already plenty of runners milling around and all over the resort people were stirring. I went through my pre-race checklist and managed to drag myself and my equipment over to a bus by 3:15 am. I am not a morning person. I checked in and got on the bus for the drive to the start. I did manage a window seat and hoped I’d be able to doze on the trip.
I had brought my breakfast (pre-cooked oatmeal) onto the bus but ate it before we got going. That was good as the swaying bus made me nauseous. Not a great start for a race. There wasn’t a lot of conversation on the bus, I think everyone was sleepy. We got to the Highway 72 just after 5:00, about an hour before the race start. This gave me plenty of time to get in line for the portapotties. They were on trailers and would be driven around to various aid stations all weekend. Apparently they flushed but I didn’t try and figure out how. I got my GPS working, readied my wristwatch and waited around for the start. To start with a flashlight or not? I had waivered back and forth on this. It was a clear morning and looked to be light very soon, so starting without the light turned out to be a good idea. If it had been overcast daybreak may have been delayed enough to warrant the light. My single AA Fenix flashlight went into my mile 34 drop bag at Gunstock Hollow so I wouldn’t have to carry it all day. I didn’t have a drop bag at the 43.5
mile Brooks Creek aid station and knew I wouldn’t reach the 51 mile Hwy DD AS before it got really dark. During the hot, hot day I would be glad the light wasn’t at the 43.5 mile AS as I didn’t think I would get there before
dark. I didn’t.
The runners milled about on the Hwy 72, with only a handful of people getting near the start line. I shook hands with Michael Adams, a fellow TATUR (Tulsa Area Trail UltraRunner) and wished him luck. I didn’t expect to see him again, even at the finish. He’d be done so far ahead of me he might be home before I finish. He went on to run 23:23:22 and finish in third place. Way to go Mike! I tried to insert myself farther back in the crowd, but no one seemed to want to be near the start. Paul counted down the seconds and then we were off.
It wasn’t that dark and I parasitized another runner with a flashlight for 10 – 15 minutes. The noise of all the feet shuffling through the deep layer of oak leaves was pretty loud but people strung out along the trail quite quickly. There were no leaves left on the oak trees at all. It was very pretty and you could see a long way into the forest.
About 30 minutes in we were on a road trace and I was running behind a couple of runners who went right by the flagged turn. I got to embarrass a friend (always fun) and yell at them that they were off course. The turn on the left had lots of flagging but there had been a flag on the right side of the road so it probably distracted them. I know some other people that ran right by this turn as well. I enjoyed my glow of superiority briefly.
I didn’t want to go out too fast since it was going to be a long day so I took it easy. However, I got stuck behind 15 – 20 runners that were going too slow. They were walking the downhills, which I don’t like to do this early in the race. I also like to be alone in the woods, not part of a mob. I mooched along as the last runner for a while until another runner caught us and passed. I followed him all the way around the group. Leading the group was Dave, who had a big beard. I’d see a lot more of him in the afternoon and night. This was about 40 minutes in. The runner that had passed the group left me in his dust and continued on alone. It was a beautiful morning, calm and clear. The woods were lovely although the damage from the spring storm was obvious. I did pass the lady with the prosthetic leg. She’d beat me handily at Heartland a month earlier but seemed to be having trouble with the uneven trail. I had my worst fall of the run trying passing another runner. The leaves slipped under my left foot and I went down hard on my right knee. I had several pretty deep gashes in the knee and they would bleed spectacularly the rest of the morning. The knee didn’t hurt
at all, my lower back did. It was a problem for a couple of hours then the pain faded away.
There had been strong rains in this area the week before and all the oak trees were completely bare. I’m used to being in the Ozarks in May, for the Berryman Trail run, when the foliage is lush. It’s quite a change. The trail was ankle deep or worse in oak leaves. The hidden rocks and roots were treacherous. There would be many times that I wished I had on shoes heavier than my Brooks Beasts as I navigated the “Braille Trail”. I picked up a few blisters that I wouldn’t have gotten normally.
The first aid station came up pretty fast, Grasshopper Hollow. I grabbed some banana and re-filled one of my bottles. Since many of the aid stations were 8 – 9 miles apart I was carrying two 26 ounce bottles. I had drunk 1 liter on the bus ride to the start and only drained one bottle in this first section. I had a baggie with boiled potatoes that I was slowly munching on.
I wanted to eat small amounts of bland food to complement the race drink. More potatoes, some pretzels and animal crackers were in my drop bags along with Ensure. Between the race drink (Heed) and the Ensure, I would get half of my calories in fluid form. I was also carrying a pouch with a camera, an eTrex Vista GPS unit in a holder and a topo map wedged into the belt. The Golite bottle pack had a compartment with my albuterol (asthma), paper towels in a zip lock, some meds and a baggie of potatoes. It worked out well, no chaffing.
I was wearing shorts, a short-sleeved, coolmax mesh shirt and a light, coolmax singlet; my usual warm weather race wear. I had planned to carry a hydration vest packed with clothes not fluids. I’d worn it at Heartland in the cold and it’s nice knowing you’re carrying warm clothes. I’m glad I put the vest in the 51 mile drop bag. As it turned out, I would run the entire race in the singlet and shorts. It cooled off at night and my fingers got cold in some of the hollows where the cool air settled in the early morning but I never needed anything more. At Heartland, as the cold north wind blew,
I was thinking how sheltered the Ozark Trail would be. I was thinking of the forest with leaves. If it had been windy we would have really felt it. The tree trunks and bare branches don’t give much shelter. However, the weather was great all night long.
The section after the first aid station was very scenic but had taken terrible damage from the storm in the spring. There were trees down everywhere, hundreds and thousands of trees. The root balls, holes and down trees made this the toughest part of the course. It was demoralizing, negotiating your way around obstacles on the narrow single track trail and thinking how hard it would be to do this another 90 miles. If I’d known this was as bad as it gets it would have made the race a lot easier. I managed to get a big splinter in my left hand. I didn’t fall on it, I wasn’t even running at the time. I was climbing around a root ball and over a down tree. When I pulled the >1/2″ splinter out, I bled for an hour. I wish I could have seen this area of the Ozark Trail, the Karkaghne section (pronounced Kar-Kag-nee) before the storm swept through.
I have chronic plantar fasciitis and tape my feet for support. I knew this race had multiple water crossings but figured I could stash taping kits in my drop bags and re-tape as necessary. It’s surprising how well tape can stay on, if your feet aren’t continually wet. I use Leukotape-P, which has very aggressive adherent properties, combined with a good pre-tape adherent, JC-6. These are used by physiotherapists and podiatrists. I knew if I could get across the water at mile 14 I had a good chance to go 30 miles with dry feet. Paul Schoenlaulb, RD, didn’t think I’d make it across the Bee Fork at mile 14. However, I went 50 yards upstream of the marked crossing and shinnied over two down Sycamore trees. As I was crossing, Teresa and three other runners splashed through the water. There were so quick I didn’t get a
picture of them. I really like the water in the Ozarks. Unlike the muddy red stuff in Oklahoma you can see through this water and it looks good enough to drink. I washed all the blood of my hand in the creek and felt fresher.
I followed Teresa and the other runners up the rise onto the river bluffs. In this section I really started to slow down. It wasn’t the climbs, I couldn’t run fast on the downhills. No idea why things were so slow. It wasn’t that hot yet. It was only 15 miles into the race. Even if I’d gone out too hard I’d still be able to run more than 15 miles before regretting it. I ran harder in the T&T 50 km and Flat Rock 50 km races which were on comparable, if not harder terrain and didn’t feel this lousy. I had been sick for 5 days, recovering just the weekend before the race. I wondered if that had anything to do with it. My diet pre-race had been very careful.
The views of the Black River were great. I tried to get some photos and managed to get a runner in one for scale. A herd of 6- 8 runners went by as I was trying to get a shot of the bluffs and river. It was Dave and the others. I followed them down the decline. Paul was standing under a cliff taking pictures when we went by. I should have asked him to get a picture of me. There are more pictures of me in this race than usual though. I think >20 people passed me from the Bee Fork crossing to the aid station.
I crossed the high water ford on the Black River and hiked into the Sutton Bluff aid station. I had some more bananas and potatoes and re-filled my bottles. There were lots of people around as this is the first crew meeting point and it’s a beautiful place. There’s quite a walk up the road after this aid station until you get back onto the trail. Well, it’s supposed to be 1/3 of a mile but it seemed longer. I walked up with Dave but he disappeared ahead once we got to the trail. I was about to begin a very ugly 7 hours.
It was broad daylight now and getting warm. The record high for this day was 79 F but I ‘m sure it got to >75 F during this day. I had a rough time, unable to run and not sure why. I’d done the 50 km runs and 50 miler recently and finished all strongly. I should have had endurance and been able to run. I didn’t. I walked and ran through the next few aid sections, Stillwell Hollow 22.8 Miles, Johnson Hollow 28.0 and Gunstock Hollow 34.8 miles. I was passed by a few people but not that many. There were quite a few water crossings, I had to get my feet wet at 28 miles. I washed my hands and face at each crossing and it made me feel a bit better. I kept leapfrogging with two runners although they were moving faster than I was. They kept stopping and lying down in the streams. I was hydrating and eating potatoes and bland foods. I picked up my first drop bag and a bottle of Clip2 at 34.8 miles. I was going really slowly. Somewhere in here they told me I was in 50th place.
During the section between Gunstock Hollow 34.8 and the Brooks Creek aid station at 43.5 miles my mind kept doing calculations. No matter how I figured it, if I kept the same speed and didn’t slow down at all I wouldn’t be able to finish under the 32 hour time limit. I always slow down on the second half of a 100 mile race so this wasn’t good. In most 100 mile races, I do the first 50 miles in 10 hours then slow down. I had hoped to do the first half of this race in 12 hours. Not today. I figured I would ask the people at Brooks Creek if I could continue on to 51.0 miles and drop at the Highway DD aid station. They didn’t allow crew at that station and I didn’t know if I could drop there. I figured I’d hit Brooks Creek about sundown, after 5:00 pm. I hoped that night would have fallen by then and maybe I would get better after the station. At 4:00 pm the sun dropped below the hills; I forgot it gets dark early in the mountains. I came back to life. I was able to run consistently again, even uphill. It felt wonderful and I passed a few people before coming into the aid station in the dark. No more thoughts of dropping out.
When I came into Brooks Creek at 43.5 miles, it was packed with runners and crew. Teresa was there with her daughter and another crew member. She’d been having a rough day. There were a lot of unhappy looking runners and crew
milling about. Apparently I wasn’t the only person really sucking out there. Teresa called it a day. I had no drop bag there but re-filled my bottles, had some food and headed out. They told me I was in 36th place as I left the station. How many people dropped?
I ran steadily through the next section to Highway DD, 51.0 miles. I had a single AA Fenix flashlight that was more than adequate. It had a lithium battery and was as light as a feather. Every 15 minutes I changed the hand that held it, breaking the hours up. I passed quite a few people and had no trouble staying on the trail, even with no glowsticks. At Highway DD I took my night gear out of the drop bag. I put on the hydration vest full of clothes, stashed the single AA Fenix light in my pack as a backup and put on my headlamp. I had a two AA battery Fenix light for the real night running.
I set off from the aid station and continued strongly. Around mile 54 I scared a deer up from its bed. Boy, were there a lot of water crossings in the dark. I lost count around 15. This is the Trace Creek section of the Ozark Trail. I had some soup at the Martin Road AS at mile 59.2 then the wheels started to come off. My stomach got really upset. I wished I hadn’t eaten the chicken soup back at the aid station and wondered if I’d gotten a bad dumpling. The smell of Heed alone was enough to make me vomit. I managed to keep things down but I couldn’t run. The bouncing really hurt my stomach. I tried animal crackers and pretzels, which usually work for me, but they made my stomach worse. I ran and walked to the next station. It was really frustrating, my legs felt great and I had lots of energy but I couldn’t run without wanting to throw up. Somewhere in the dark I saw an old stone fireplace and chimney. I’m not sure exactly where it was.
At the next station, Hazel Creek 68.5 miles, I tried some ramen noodle soup and a banana. They didn’t help, just made it worse. I had had altitude sickness at Leadville and ran the entire race on bananas and ramen noodle soup. Fortunately, I’d run fast enough the last twenty miles so I had enough time to walk it in from here. I had a bottle of Clip2 in drop bag and I took it. In retrospect, I wish I’d taken a bottle of water with some salt. They said only 12 people had reached the Berryman Station so far. The next section was rough. I walked it all. Actually, I walked the entire rest of the race. When I got to Machell Hollow at 75.1 miles I found I could eat soda crackers and sip water. I took two soda crackers and re-filled my water bottle at each station and that’s all I had the rest of the race. My stomach settled down but running 10 – 15 strides was enough to get it boiling again. I kept walking, seeing Dave occasionally. He couldn’t go downhill well so I was catching him here and there. I helped the same runner and his pacer get back on course twice. Dave led them back once. The course markings were fine but there were a few sparse areas. I looked at the GPS when I needed to and it showed me on the race course so I felt better each time. That’s one of the main reasons for having it.
I walked strongly to the Berryman aid station at 81.5 miles. This was part of the course I’d been on many times. I left my night gear in my drop bag and carried only the small flashlight out of the station. They told me I was now in 30th place despite only walking. There were about 8 runners in the station when I left. Daylight came and I didn’t get the rush of energy I usually do. Of course, I already had lots of energy, I hadn’t been running at all. Another walker caught up with me. I didn’t recognize Rob Apple with short hair. I usually see him at the Berryman race. We were in an area where the trail runs inside the rim of three great hollows. They are wonderful to see in the spring, all green but now you could see so far down the bowls it was beautiful. I walked quickly with Rob for quite a while until we caught up to his girlfriend and they started running and moved off ahead of me. They had run the Javalina Jundred (JJ100) the weekend before. It was nice walking the familiar Berryman loop but distance seemed to pass very slowly.
The last two stations, Billys Branch 88.5 and Henpeck Hollow 95.0 miles came and went. It got really warm and I guess sunblock doesn’t work as well the second day, as I burned some. I was passed by two runners but passed one person myself. Most of the trail seemed to be downhill. The course ran over the newly constructed part of the trail and was very scenic. I didn’t like how we went up a mountain at the end though. Finally I got to what I thought was the road. I couldn’t find any markers and backtracked until I ran into three runners. I had been going the right way so I turned around again. I really wish I’d run some of the road, approximately three miles. What did it matter if I started puking now? I didn’t realize I would be passed by eleven people (nine runners in the race) during this short road section. I guess they’d been saving it for the easy running at the end.
A group of five runners caught me near the end and walked in with me. The finish never seemed to appear. Finally the Bass River Resort and a banner could be seen in the distance and they ran in to the end. I finished in 30:32:39, a personal worst for 100 miles by more than five hours. I was very happy to be done and get my buckle. I finished in 36th place and there would only be 56 finishers of the 126 starters. Two Tough days.
The course was challenging and beautiful. However, none of the up and down hill sections were that steep. The several inches of leaves on the trails, hiding the footing beneath, definitely contributed to my slower time. The down trees, root balls and holes made the trail slower as well. The heat slowed things down a lot. I think it was the reason I felt so terrible during the day on Saturday. When I finished on Sunday it was 78 F.
The trail was well marked and the aid stations were great. I’d be happy to try this race again but next year I’ll be at the Mother Road 3, 100 miles on Route 66 in Oklahoma. I think I could be in the 28 – 29 hour range pretty easily.
I’ve never been sick so long or walked so much in a race before. It took about an hour after the race before I could think about eating. Later that afternoon, I nearly lost it in the Cuba, MO McDonalds. The thought of a Big Mac and fries was enticing but a whiff of the fried foods had me running for the bathroom. I managed to hold everything down but ended up pale and soaked in sweat. I changed my order (which I’d paid for) to “to go” and took the food back to my hotel room at the Super-8.
I like to hang around the finish at most races and socialize but I’d promised my wife to call when I finished. She worries. My cell phone (AT&T) has never had reception at Berryman or Huzzah Valley and had none at the Bass River Resort. I tried their pay phone but it wouldn’t connect to the Sprint or Verizon network, whichever my wife has. I’ve been spoiled with a cell phone the last few years, I forgot phone companies did that. I did know which hill to drive to for reception but I stayed around for a while, showering, trying Brian’s phone that had one bar and talking. Then I thanked
Paul, loaded my gear in the wagon and headed off for Steelville. I managed to leave a message for Jen, she had started teaching by the time I got there, then drove for Cuba. I had planned to sleep at Bass River Resort for a few hours but it was so warm that it was uncomfortable in the car. I got an air conditioned room at Super-8, made some more calls then slept until 2:30 am. I drove home, arriving in Tulsa in time to take my wife to breakfast. I didn’t die or cripple myself, so a successful 100 mile race.
Photos by shandrohan
Full race results are available at St Louis Ultrarunners group.net
Earl L. Blewett Slow Swimmer
137 East 34 Street Slow Biker
Tulsa, OK 74105 Slow Runner