The nutshell version of my experience in the Ozarks this last weekend;
Day 1- projectile vomiting, typical first race of the season blues.
Day 2- keep your head up-missing a turn can really blow your race and your mind.
Day 3- 14 miles doesn't seem far after nearly running 90 in the previous 2 days.
The longer version;
The journey to Arkansas was a long one. Our direct flight from Salt Lake to Little Rock was canceled and we had to travel through Atlanta. This put us later than we expected to be the night before the races began. Once we made it to Arkansas it was as though we were on a different planet. Not different in a bad way...it was just so different from March in Wyoming (green grass, and all the dirt and rocks a person could want to run on). How cool is a place that has a "Toad Suck Park?" We ate some amazing Catfish at a little Mexican restaurant in Clinton which was still reeling from recent tornadoes. Smashed houses and debris were scattered everywhere.
Day 1- 50k
We arrived about an hour before the race to check in. We quickly found out that with no other teams entered Matt and I would have to decide if we still were going to run together or not. We decided to give it a go anyway and make decisions as the race unfolded, we knew we had our work cut out for us with the defending champion and some tough local runners in the mix. From the start John Muir, from Arkansas took the lead and we followed closely behind. It was a mental relief to have someone who knew the trail well guiding through the race. The trail is rocky with tons of trees. It seemed as if we were constantly going up or down. I knew my quads would be hating me before our adventure was over. The thick trees and winding trail made it difficult to keep my bearings. We made a bit of a move before half way and took over the lead. We reached 15 miles in just over 2 hours. Kevin Ricks who was crewing us informed us that John was not running the stage, he (john) had said as much but we wanted to go for the "W" anyway. We pushed on through the race, getting slightly off track several times but still maintaining a slight lead. For most of the race I had been pushing my food and fluid intake, hoping to help with my recovery for the following days. This however caught up with me. At about mile 25 my stomach erupted with some serious projectile vomiting. It was obvious that my body wasn't absorbing anything as I chummed for razorbacks on the trail. This has happened before and usually doesn't throw me off pace too much. This time however I felt dizzy and was seeing double, causing me to lag behind. Several times I thought I would have to sit down. I could sense Matt's anxiety and I was just as anxious. He waited patiently as John passed us and disappeared around a bend. We talked briefly and decided it would be best if Matt went a head. He sped off to catch John and I staggered in to the finish. By the time we returned to the start/finish area Matt did just that finishing first, John finished second, Josh Nordell third, and I was 4th. I was a bit bummed but I knew the time could be made up the next day that was rumored to be 50-ish miles long with 16,000 ft. of gain.
Day 2- 50 miles
We started at 6 a.m. It was a bit tricky dancing through the rocks in the dark but the temperature was cool and we made good time. Matt carried two bottles and I wore my Black Diamond pack which allowed us to push through the first 2 aid stations. By the time we hit Aid #2 at about 10 miles we decided to put on a little spurt to widen the gap on the second pack. Directly out of the aid station we crossed a bridge, and headed up the hill. This is where we made our big mistake. Right after the bridge the race course took a sharp right-hand turn off a small double-track road. It was well-marked but we missed the flagging. We questioned our judgement several times but felt like we should keep going. 25 minutes later we hit the panic button. As we hustled to get back on course we were increasingly bummed as we realized how much time we would have to make up on the leaders. By the time we got back on track we were down over 50 minutes. I have never been so devastated during a race. It was as though I had to go through the entire grieving process before I could get back on track. I felt angry, sad, depress, denial, the whole nine yards. As a battled through my lull, Matt rallied and took off after the leaders. The course was out-and-back so we knew we would get a glimpse at our deficit after the last aid station. By half-way I had closed to about 25-30 minutes on the leaders, thinking I might have a chance. But after reeling Matt in and making another charge at them we realized that unless there was some serious carnage, we weren't going to catch them. As it turns out we were the only carnage, only catching one runner who later passed us with just a few miles left in the race. We gimped into the finish in about 10:44, wondering if we could still make a run at first overall the next day. The highlight of the day was the herd of razorbacks I saw and the burger and onion rings we had for dinner.
Day 3- 14 miles
I woke up about 2 a.m. and I wondered if I was going to be able to run. It felt like my left quad was going to burst out of my skin. My IT band was stretched banjo-tight and I could barely make it to the bathroom, let a lone nearly 25k. As we got to the race start we speculated on our chances but we saw that we were a distant 4th and 5th, with only one runner to catch as the leaders had nearly an hour on us. The race start was kind of cat and mouse as we ran through the parking lot for our last bout with the trails of Syllamo. Right away Paul (who had 3 minutes on Matt and 13 on me) took off and the competitive fire returned. I felt better than I expected but I still wasn't running downhills well due to my IT band and quads. I just couldn't open up like I wanted. The miles went by quickly and when I hit the last aid station I knew I had about 5 miles left. I gave it all I had left and managed to run mid 1:50 to finish my weekend.
Like every race I feel like I have learned (or relearned a lot). The trails and the people of Arkansas were simply amazing. Despite not finishing how I expected to, I was able to spend time with the best of friends, make new ones, and test my early-season fitness in a spectacular setting. In the end it was a great training week in preparation for Bighorn. Special thanks to the Ricks for sponsoring and arranging this trip, Andrea for keeping up with everything on the homefront, and all my sponsors, Patagonia, NUUN, Black Diamond, and Clif. On the flight from Little Rock, we hit some turbulence and the gentleman seated next to me turned and said with his mustachioed-toothless Arkansas drawl, "Jest lahk runnin' over a dawg." That just about summed it up for me too.
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