Monday, February 20, 2012

Trails of Bentonville

The Bentonville Square

Recently, Brian Hoover, the Head Tatur over in Tulsa, put the call out for info on regional running trails. I offered to pony up on the offerings we have here in the Bentonville area. I thought a regional trail guide was a cool idea. There are simply too many gems out there. Then it dawned on me that I could kill two birds with one stone. Knock out a blog entry and gather info for the Trail Zombie. I imagine there are some local folks that are not aware of all the great trails we have in our own backyard. We are fortunate to live in an area that has numerous spectacular places to run and here are a few of my favorites.

The Crystal Bridges Trails
So why begin a trail guide with a photo of the entrance to a museum? Because it is a great place to run. Located just a couple of blocks off the Bentonville Square the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is nestled on 120 acres of natural Ozark beauty and features about 3.5 miles of multi-use trails. Scamper through the woods and pass by works of art, cross bridges over springs, and admire the spectacular landscape on these groomed and manicured trails. Where else can you go for a trail run and then see world class art on par with the finest collections in New York, Chicago, London or Paris in a facility designed by world renowned architect Moshe Safdie? Be ready for an easy run on these mostly crushed stone trails that offer some rolling elevation change and great views of the professionally landscaped museum grounds. For more details on the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the surrounding trails click here.

Rock Ledge Shelter
Shore Lunch by Dan Ostermiller

Cedar foot bridge
Stone bridge over Crystal Spring

To get there on foot from the Bentonville Square go North on NE A St. for two blocks passing the Lawrence Plaza Ice Rink & Splash Park. From there you can see the trail head for the Crystal Bridges trail at the parking lot for Compton Gardens. Follow the pavement down hill through the gardens. During the right times of year this could be a great day trip with a visit to the Farmers Market, a stroll through Compton Gardens, the Art Trail, the Museum, and of course some trail running down at nearby Slaughter Pen. Don't be surprised if you see a number of Rush Runners around as we often use the hill up Crystal Bridges to end our runs. In fact on any given Saturday or Sunday morning about 7:00 AM you will likely find a group gathering on the Square to start a run. And we love new faces some come join us. For more info on group runs and all things running in NWA check out Rush Running.

Slaughter Pen Hollow
Without question the focal point of the trail scene in Bentonville is the Slaughter Pen system. Designed and built by Progressive Trail Design this complex offers over 15 miles of single track ranging from easy to moderate along the wooded hillsides. Slaughter Pen has three distinct phases stretching from Compton Gardens almost all the way to South Walton, I-540 and Highway 71-B exchange. On any given day you can see hikers, cyclists or runners using the trails. And it is not uncommon to catch some wildlife out along the trails including deer and foxes. There are sections of the trails that are quite rocky and a bit technical but nothing too difficult. The bulk of the trails are located in Phase I. The easiest access is from the Bentonville Bark Park at 2400 S. Walton Ave. just west of the Hwy 71-B exit off of I-540. From the parking lot here (restrooms and water fountain available) it is a short .5 mile jog up the paved multi-use trail to the Slaughter Pen trail head just across the first bridge on your left. A large sign with a map marks the spot. The four trails here: Seed Tick Shuffle (Easy), Armadillo's Last Stand (moderate), Tatamagouche (moderate) and Medusa (moderate), account for the bulk of the Slaughter Pen distance. An out and back on each of the four trails will result in about 10 miles of distance and a couple thousand feet of elevation change.

About .5 mile up the paved trail from there (or 1 mile from the parking lot), just across the second bridge and on the right, is Phase II West. Again, there is a sign at the trail head with a map. You can also access this section from the middle of Seed Tick Shuffle in the Free Ride area (look for the bike ramps). This section contains three different trails: Urban Trail, Razorback Ridge and Angus Chute. This section is not used as much as the first section I described. Maybe it is the sewer plant you run past? I usually run out on Urban Trail to the small wooden bridge and switch to Razorback Ridge following that to Angus Chute which ends with a nice hill climb into a neighborhood. During this route you will pass the Bush Push, a nice, steep climb President Bush rode his mountain bike up a few years back. This route is around 5 miles and a thousand feet of elevation. Remember the little wooden bridge? On the way back go ahead and cross it this time. You will find yourself out on the paved trail. If you turn left and go a very short distance you will see the entrance to Phase II East just across the road. This is NE A Street. There is not a sign here but there is a fence with something that looks like a gate. This is a seldom used section but is quite fun. A little more rocky, hilly and technical these two small loops: Free Time and Rocky Ridge, add a little over a mile but are well worth the effort. As a bonus there is a small creek crossing here. 

Phase III of Slaughter Pen was designed specifically with cycling in mind but I have run it several times. It is located between the sewer plant and the museum on the west side of NE A Street. There is parking available nearby where Cub comes off of Tiger Blvd at NE A Street. From the parking area (a gravel lot) there are two ways to access this section. You can go up Cub halfway and look for the gated entry there on your left or use the entrance just before the viaduct to the south towards the museum. You will see the trail veer off the paved trail to your right and into the woods. You can get a couple of miles in here. Just keep in mind that these are bike trails and leave a little something to be desired in terms of trail running. One good aspect here is you can get a good deal of hill work in within a small area. For more info and maps of the Slaughter Pen trails click here and here.

Update 09/11/2012
PTD has been busy adding some new trails to Slaughter Pen Phase I. On the North end of the hill (at the main trail head) a section of trail now runs along the East side of the creek towards Walton Blvd and 71B. This trail will take you to a multi-use paved trail that crosses under Walton Blvd and 71B and kicks you out on the East side of the highway. You can continue on this trail almost all the way up to BC40 (the county road with the first traffic light) towards Lake Bella Vista. When you see the BMW motorcycle shop look for the trail to dive down and to the right off the road, cross under BC40 and continue to the lake. This connects you to the lake loop which is about 3 miles of paved trail all the way around. From the Slaughter Pen trail head to the Lake Bella Vista loop is less than 2 miles. On the North end of the lake there is a small playground and a memorial to our military veterans. From this parking lot you can continue due North (less than a mile of pavement) past Cooper Elementary School (turn right at the stop sign) and end up at the Blowing Springs trail head.

Blowing Springs Trail
Just a few miles north of the 71-B exit in Bella Vista is the newest gem in our local arsenal. Blowing Springs is quickly becoming a favorite among local runners for the scenic trails and smooth single track. Located just east of Hwy 71 off Dartmoor behind Cooper Elementary School you'll find about 7 miles of sweet Ozark love waiting for you. To find it drive east from the signal light at Dartmoor and cross the bridge (just north of Lake Bella Vista). At the stop sign near the school parking lot continue straight about a .25 mile and the trail head is at the parking lot. Again, there is a large sign there. The south side holds the older trails and more or less makes a loop using an upper and lower trail. There is a spur on either end with one leading down to the school and the other linking up to the far end of the north trails. The north trails have some long flatter sections and some pretty technical trail along the bluff line. These also form a loop with one spur on the north end up to Kingsland Road. As long as you keep your bearings on the paved park road you can't get lost. There are a few wooden bridges crossing the springs and it gets rather muddy with any moisture. A few of us did a lot of training here for Rocky Raccoon over the winter. There is not a bunch of elevation out here but there is plenty of great single track that flows well and is quite beautiful.

North Trail Bluff
South Trail Spur
North Trail Head Bridge

Progressive Trail Design is also responsible for these trails. A nice loop was recently added on the north side trails towards the back of the park and there are plans for more expansion in the future. There is also a trail that leads north from Blowing Springs all the way to the Missouri border. It is not on any map, is poorly marked, quite technical, lots of elevation change and you will get wet as it goes along some creek beds. In fact, we haven't yet made it all the way on foot but we are hard at work on it. We know it exist because the local bikers do it as a point to point route about once a year. About 30 miles in total from the state line back to the Square. After we finish it off I'm sure I'll post some more info on it. Kinda sounds like a future 50k course doesn't it? Mike Rush, are you listening?

Update 09/11/2012
The trail to Missouri has been completed on foot. Several NWA GOATS have made the trip on what is now simply called The Epic Trail.

Hobbs State Park
About 30 minutes from Bentonville in Hindsville, AR. you can find miles and miles of single track out at Hobbs State Park, home of the War Eagle Trail Races. The event is held in part to celebrate National Trails Day and for 2012 this will be on June 2nd. Swag includes hand made finishers medallions and a tech shirt with a hand drawn design by local artist (and stud runner) Ryan Holler. Check the photo below by none other then the Trail Zombie himself. The race director is local ultra legend Jeff Genova and of course Rush Running has a big hand in everything. Hobbs features a new 17,000 square foot visitor center and more than 30 miles of wonderful Ozark mojo on the 12,000 acres. Hardwood and pine forests, abundant wildlife (including the elusive NWA Goat), thong trees (unusually bent trees used by Native Indians to mark trails), limestone bluffs, views of Beaver lake and Blackburn Creek are just some of the things you will see. These trails are open to hikers, bikers, runners and horses. There really is too much to cover so if interested the best place to start is by clicking here. The elevation here is not terrible, mostly rollers, but a couple of spots will certainly grab your attention. Likewise there is nothing too technical and the trails are all well marked. We do most of our trail running on the Hidden Diversity Trail with the bulk of those miles on Little Clifty and the War Eagle Loop. If that's not enough for you then hit the Bashore Ridge and Dutton Hollow Loops or as we call them the  "Rabbit Ears". All of these trails are rated moderate to strenuous. If you're coming for the War Eagle be prepared for the heat and a great event. If you're headed out that way and have never explored the area, make sure to visit the War Eagle Mill and War Eagle Cavern. And make sure to take some time to visit with the park staff. They are always excited when we stop in and visit with them.

2011 War Eagle shirt

2011 War Eagle Medals & Awards

Lake Wedington

Twin Knob Bluff

On Saturday 11/03/2012 I returned to Lake Wedington for the first time since my college days more than 20 years ago. Funny how one can go for so long without visiting a relatively close by area with trails. Perhaps that is because, from those days when I preferred to cover dirt on two wheels instead of my feet, I recalled not being very impressed with what was offered out there. The idea on this day was to knock out a 24 training run. The trails at Hobbs were closed due to the annual youth gun hunt weekend. So I headed South. Lake Wedington is located on Arkansas State Highway 16 between Fayetteville and Siloam Springs. Technically it is located within the confines of the Ozark National Forest. David and I were planning on running the North Twin Trail. The trail head is located on the (duh!) North side of Hwy 16 near the entrance to the recreation area on the opposite side of the road. Look for a small parking area (maybe 12 spaces) and a sign board at the start of the trail. The trail is clearly marked in most areas by blue blazes. 

Twin Knobs Bluff

From what I could find the trail is about 7.25 miles in length and we would run it as an out and back. The first couple of miles are pretty rocky and has some rolling hills. At about the 1.6 mile mark you come to a dirt road. The trail continues if you turn right and travel across the small spring that crosses the road here. Look to your left and watch for a rough, likely overgrown double track with blue markings. That's the trail. Another two miles or so and you cross CR 839 (dirt road) for the first time. Just past this is where the Twin Knobs rock formation is seen. This was worth the effort. Super technical single track (especially with all the leaves on the ground) travels along the face of the bluff before turning and then continuing between the two faces of the bluff that are split apart. Very scenic. I would put the scenery up there at the very top of the list here. Another turn and the trail goes along the backside of the bluff before diving down into the gulley below. CR 839 is crossed again as are a couple of other dirt roads. Eventually the trail winds along the bottom of a dense thicket before ending on the top of a large, wooded hill. There is another spur towards the end that leads to the Illinois Bayou but we were not able to locate it. 

In numerous places the trail is blocked by down trees but it is easy enough to navigate around all of it. We never really got off trail. The trickiest part is the first road crossing. There are signs of pretty heavy equine use on the trail and parts are kinda rough. There are stretches of very "runnable" trail but for the most part expect rocky conditions. The elevation is no big deal, we hit 1,600' of vertical for 24 miles out there. Just shy of 15 miles on the trail and then the dirt road leg. On the "out" leg of our run we decided that doubling up on the trail was not the best idea. Yes, it is that technical (compared to Hobbs of Blowing Springs). After we made it back to the trail head, we headed West to CR 839, found a good place to park and then completed the final 9+ miles on forest service roads. We just reached the edge of the WMA boundary before we turned to head back. Very little traffic, just a few hunters and horse riders out there. In the end I'm glad I returned and I'm super stoked to take my kids out to the bluffs sometime. They are gonna love it. To find the Twin Knobs bluff you will need to take CR 839 North from AR Hwy 16, maybe 3 miles or so. Look for the blue trail markings once you see the bluffs. 

Somewhere down the line I'll cover some more trails including the smaller Bentonville park trails, Lake Fayetteville and Devils Den. If you have any info on trails I missed let me know. And as always you can follow me on Twitter @RedDirtRunner. Thanks for stopping by and Cheers. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Finding a Silver Lining

Four days after Rocky Raccoon I met a couple of running buddies for an easy run around Bentonville. The idea was for me to go the first part of the half marathon course with them. The legs were a bit cranky getting started but after a couple of miles I was feeling OK, a little tired maybe, but OK. At mile 5 I felt a sharp pain in my right foot. It was on the outside portion of my midfoot. Several minutes later it was still there and I waved the white flag and turned back for the Square where I was parked. It was a slow 1.5 mile walk back. Whether walking or jogging or running the pain was there. As it was the rest of the day and the next morning. I iced it and then soaked it in a warm Epsom bath. Not much difference. I called Dr. Dan Fulmer down in Fayetteville to schedule an appointment for Tuesday morning. Dr. Dan is a nationally recognized expert in Podiatry and is the team foot doc for the University of Arkansas Track Team. In the meantime I did nothing. No running, walking, nothing. Period. I was thinking stress fracture because that it what it felt like but the location was wrong. Anyhow, I did not want to do anything to make it worse. 

I met Dr. Dan and relayed my recent exploits and described the problem. He took a look, poked, prodded and twisted said foot. His diagnosis was a relief to hear, not a stress fracture but a bad case of tendinitis. Specifically peroneal insertional tendinitis. There are two sets of three tendons that provide the bulk of stability for your foot. One set runs on the inside of the ankle and the other along the outside. These tendons connect to the ends of the metatarsals, run under the ankle and up into your calf muscle. My hot spot was at the head of the fifth metatarsal. If you run your finger along the outside edge of your foot from your heel towards your toes you will feel the end of the metatarsal just past your ankle. When he pressed on that I almost came unglued. 

Naturally I asked what he thought caused the inflammation. He stated that running 50 miles on uneven surfaces was the start. Contributing to the problem was my stellar case of Morton's foot. This is a "defect" in which the second toe is longer than the big toe. Or in my case, the second and third toes are longer. Call it Super Morton's foot. He explained that this "defect" creates a highly unstable foot resulting in excessive lateral movement. I asked about my choice of shoes for the race, explaining that I had used a more minimal type shoe that was very flexible (Brooks Pure Grit) for the first 33 miles. He felt that would have also contributed to the problem. Perhaps this is why switching to the Saucony Peregrine felt so good on that last loop as these are stiffer. He agreed. If you are in NW Arkansas and need a podiatrist, there is none better than Dr. Dan. If he is good enough to take care of Deena Kastor I think he is good enough for you. 

What about the treatment? He taped it up and said to leave it on for a few days. He also suggested contrast baths (ice, warm, ice) and a 7 day cycle of Celebrex to help ease the inflammation and reduce pain. He gave the OK for walking but suggested holding off on running for a full week. So that's where I am at right now. It feels better. Far from 100% but better. I had to back out of a cool local half marathon this weekend. It is the inaugural Pea Ridge Battlefield Commemorative Half Marathon and is limited to 25 runners. I am bummed about that. On the upside, my spot went to a solid local runner that I know and I'm sure she will represent, maybe even take first place. My plan now is to slowly ease back into running next week. I will keep it all on hardtop and use my Superfeet inserts for a while to help stabilize things. Hopefully this will allow me to go into the Bentonville Running Festival in decent shape at the end of March. Going for a new PR is likely out, I'll just keep my base and look to the Hobbs War Eagle 50k in June as my next focus event. 

So during my down week I came up with an idea since I was getting a bit stir crazy and I had a desire to make something positive out of being sidelined. A 30 day challenge for myself. After Rocky I more or less decided that I want to return next year with a goal of breaking 9 hours for the 50 miler. That's a full 65 minutes off of my time this year. I think I have a good chance at that if I get stronger. First, core and upper body work. The cardio is there already. I need to beef up my chassis though to achieve that goal. The challenge then was to devote 30 straight days to this end. I came up with a 20 minute core/strength routine largely based on info found at Strength Running. If I can make it a habit that will allow 90 days to test it out before Hobbs. Why Hobbs? Because it is our local 50k and I want to break 6 hours there this summer. I blew up last year and lost over an hour covering the final 3 miles. That won't happen this year. And for the record, I'm gunning for you Shannon McFarland. You better have your head on a swivel brother.

Update 02/21/2012: I tried running this past Saturday and shut it down after 1 mile of jogging. My foot was still quite sore. I have no plans to try again until Thursday. It is feeling better the last couple of days. I plan on a walk today and cycling tomorrow. I did miss a day of my 30 day challenge too due to being sick. I guess when it rains it pours sometimes. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Rocky Raccoon Pt II The Background

Ryan and Rocky

It's nice when things fall into place isn't it? I had been thinking for some time about taking a shot at completing a 50 mile trail run. Like many, I suppose, I was hesitant. The jump from 50k to 50 miles can seem like a rather large one. Especially when my last 50k resulted in my first DNF. Click here to read that story. I had some real doubts about attempting anything more until I mastered the 50k distance. My mind works like that. But after examining the DNF and chalk talking every imaginable angle of it with grizzled veteran trail trolls my thoughts began to change. A sample of race reports from last year at RR was all it took to hook me. I contacted Mike Rush (10th place RR50 2012) and put the idea out there that perhaps we could get a group together to throw it down Tejas style. Mike and I both hail from the Lone Star State. He was all over it. Apparently he had already decided he was all in before I mentioned it. So the feelers were put out. In the end there was just one other local runner that joined the fray, David Newman. However, as fate would have it, another local, Ryan Holler, was tapped at the last minute to pace a mutual friend for his first attempt at 100 miles so we had another sucker along for the ride. Upon further examination Ryan was planning on sleeping in a vehicle. That was unacceptable to me. I offered up a spot on the floor at my parents house in Corsicana for Thursday night and the same at our hotel in Huntsville Friday night. As for Saturday night while pacing Tim Harrington, he was on his own, because David and I were headed back to comfort in Corsicana as soon as we were done. So that's it, we were set. Shortly after picking up my son, Philip, from school on Thursday we headed south. I thought it only appropriate to include an invitation to the mini me and include him on the adventure. He was stoked because it meant one less day of school that week.

I posed for this one. 

As we rolled out of Ozark country we naturally talked about running and got to know each other a little better. Ryan and Philip drew Spartan warriors in the back. We learned all about shoe design from Ryan too. Interesting stuff. We reached Corsicana about 11 o'clock that night. It was, of course, great to see my folks. My dad was a dedicated runner for many years starting back when the movement was booming in the 1970s. He was a regular at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, ran a marathon PR of 3h26min and twice logged a monthly total of 450 miles. So he loves having runners around to swap war stories. And yes, he even broke out the old pictures of him running Dallas White Rock (with me tagging along near the finish). One of those photos made the front page of the Dallas newspaper. Nothing like running a marathon in a cotton t-shirt and a stylish sport watch with a metal band. But this trail running and ultra thing is all new to him. He thinks we are a little weird. And my mom simply loves to have company over. Trust me, you will not go hungry in her house. Friday morning found us eating up plates of sausage and egg casserole, bacon, fruit bowls, muffins and such. After that mom and dad worked my buddies over with questions. Soon it was time for lunch so we headed downtown to an Italian joint for pasta and pizza. And since we were in Corsicana we stopped off at the Collin Street Bakery before leaving for Huntsville. We picked up some cookies and a chocolate pie. After a round of well wishes and good byes we loaded up and split for Rocky country. 

Chocolate Meringue pie is a great post race snack.

We arrived shortly before the race briefing and met up with Mike and his son. Mike's better half was out testing the trails for us. Following the briefing I met a couple of folks that I had become familiar with from the Tejas Trails Facebook page. Before I forget, big shout out to Laz for grinding out his first 100 miler, cheers! As the crowd thinned out Ryan wanted to chat with Karl Meltzer. They had met a few months back at Pinhoti 100 where the Speedgoat had lowered his own course record to defend his crown and Ryan placed 9th in his first hundred. I mentioned this in my race report but I'll say it again. We all hear about the elite runners in the ultra community being approachable and I can now say that is certainly true. I was introduced and he couldn't have been much friendlier. He was amped for his race and wished us well on our endeavor at 50 miles. At my last big road race, and every other one,  the elites were quarantined from us regular folks.  That was nice to experience firsthand. We then got our packets and headed over to the hotel. David had found us a room at the La Quinta. But we couldn't get in because the key cards didn't unlock the door. David got to walk down to the lobby in the rain. Sucker. From there we made our way to The Homestead for dinner. There we met Mike and his family who came up from Houston along with Michael Mortensen from Denmark. Something like 24 hours of travel time from his house. That's serious folks. This rascal came all the way from Denmark to tear it up at Rocky 100. He and I met on the Tejas Trails FB page and I had invited him to join us for dinner. The wonders of social media. He mentioned it was his first trip stateside and the first time driving a car with an automatic transmission. He mentioned that he had figured out what the P, R and D were on the transmission but wanted to know what the other letters meant. I told him not to worry about that, he had all the important ones down. For the record, The Homestead was great. Attentive service, good turnaround on the orders and the food was hot, fresh and tasty. I opted for the 6 oz fillet, mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables with a garden salad. Make sure you leave room for dessert. They even had a jazzy quartet throwing down some good dinner tunes. 

The first selection looked sinfully good. (R. Holler)

After wrapping up the post dinner chatter it was out into the drizzle and back to the hotel. But not before stopping at the beer store for some post race hydration fluids (which, sadly, we ended up being too tired to partake of when the time came). At the hotel we couldn't get into our room again because the cards still wouldn't work. David got to go down to the lobby. In the rain. Again. Sucker. Or so we thought. It seemed to take a little extra time for him to come back. When he does arrive he tells us that while in the lobby he sees some guy at a laptop who looks like a runner. So he hits this dude up:
David: "So, are you here for the race?"
Mystery Man: "Yes."
David then inquires "So, what's your goal?"
The guy says "13 hours"
David realizes it's non other than Hal Koerner disguised in that awesome lumberjack beard. Meanwhile Ryan and I are standing on the balcony in the rain. Who's the sucker now?

In the room we quickly settle down, get our gear lined out and hit the sack. We had discussed getting out to the park to watch the 100 mile kick off at 0600 and decided if the weather was sketchy we'd just fore go that to stay dry. Well, at 5 AM it was raining rather hard so we took a little extra time getting some breakfast. For me it was a hard boiled egg, a waffle, some yogurt and orange juice. We piled in the van and braved the wet roads down to the park along with everyone else. We ended up parking east of the Nature Center so we got a 1 mile warm up jog to Dogwood. In the rain. Toting our gear. In the dark. Fun times. I thought 50, 51, what the hell is the difference? We found ourselves a little cover under a corner of the last tent and waited for the start. And then we ran. In the dark. Through the rain and mud. I won't recap the race because I already did that here.

Dogwood Crossing post race, directing traffic, texting and looking good. (R. Holler) 

After my finish I grubbed down a bit at Dogwood before I met Ryan who drove the van around to the finish area. He suggested hitting the shower but I didn't have a towel. He said just use some dirty clothes to dry off. It then dawned on me that there was a good use for that race sweatshirt after all. That shower was great as it fought the chill off and washed away most of the grime. I got dressed and drove the van back to the Dogwood crossing where Ryan had returned. He was now stopping traffic for runners. I joined in as best I could and tried to keep my legs from seizing up by shuffling my feet and lightly stretching here and there. It charged my tank to cheer on the runners whether they were finishing up 50 or heading back out for another 20 mile loop on the 100. Most were hitting loop 4, a few the final loop and a couple just loop 3. I had to think to myself how daunting a task it must have been to trudge on into those dark woods with all that muck and the chill settling in the park. From there I watched as Hal, then Karl and Oswaldo raced in to finish their races. David was calling with updates on his status. After he finished up I did for him what Ryan had done for me. That only seemed fair. Ryan had geared up and was down at Dogwood prepping to pace Tim for the final 40 miles of the 100. After I shoveled David into the van we began our return trip to Corsicana about 90 miles away. We stopped to fuel up and I thought to myself these people must be wondering what is wrong with these two guys getting gas. Why are they walking so funny? There definitely some looks. 

About half way home I really began to get tired. I couldn't tell you where but we gimped into a little gas station and I get myself a package of peanut butter crackers and a Starbucks coffee shake thing. I figured a little protein, some sugar and a dose of caffeine would do me good. I popped a cracker in my mouth and immediately felt the sting. On my last loop out at Park Road I opted for a cup of noodles. Without testing it I dumped half the cup in my mouth. I'm guessing the temperature at 300 degrees. The roof of my mouth and tongue was now burnt beyond hope and raw. The little bit of salt on that cracker just rubbed right in there. More good times. From then on I stuffed crackers in the sides of my cheeks, got a drink allowing them to soften up and then chewed with my molars. Back at my parents house we drug ourselves in and I collapsed on the sofa. It felt so good to take the weight off of my feet. Finally. I decided that the sofa would work fine. I could put my feet up on the back. I drifted off to sleep sometime after midnight. At 5 am dad woke me up accidentally not expecting me there. We chatted about the race and I ate a plate of eggs and a piece of that chocolate pie. Back to sleep this time in the bedroom. After sunrise we had a buffet of my farm fresh eggs I brought from Arkansas, more fruit, oatmeal, some sausage and potato casserole. And we told everyone of our adventures. David and I then headed out for a walk clocking about a mile around the block. It felt good to move. Along the way my sister drives by and stops. She had driven down from Dallas to get in on the action. Back at the house, dirty clothes into the wash and then more chatting. But this time it was about the adventure mom, dad and Philip had Saturday. They had gone to the safari park at Fossil Rim and baked a cake. The cake was actually a homework assignment and Philip got bonus points for actually making a cake.  Shortly after that Ryan sent a text that he and Tim were finished and he was headed this way. Congrats to Tim for grinding it out in his first hundred. We met up near the highway and headed back to the house. Mom was already fixing Ryan a plate of warm food. By now Ryan had been up for about 34 hours, most of it on his feet, through all that rain, crewed for me and David and Mike and paced and prodded Tim through the dark and mud all night. He deserved a plate of warm food. We even saved him a piece of pie. Well, half a piece.

Philip taking lessons from his Ninnie on the finer points of cake making. 

Before long it was time for us to push north. Ryan was asleep within minutes. We stopped in Dennison for Whataburger. These boys had never enjoyed a Whataburger before. Ryan woke up. He ate and then went back to sleep. David spilled my drink all over the floor. The old timers were giving us strange looks. I think it was Ryan's compression socks and leather shoes. Maybe it was my argyle hat. We made it to McAlester, OK before stopping again. I needed more caffeine and sugar. Philip and I found this cool machine that makes shakes. Next to it is a cooler full of different frozen shakes. You pick your flavor, pull the lid, put it in the machine, choose your setting (thin, regular or thick), push a button and there you have it. The machine mixes it all up. While paying for them we saw a guy buy a 4 foot long beef stick. No joke. It's called the Whippersnapper. Back in the van. Ryan is still sleeping. We check to make sure he is still breathing. Good to go. Back in Bentonville I kick David out at his house and then Ryan before Philip and I head out to our house in the sticks. Mission accomplished. 

It's great to be able to do something like run a 50 mile trail race. It's even better to share that with friends and family. My parents were so wonderful opening their home to me and my friends. It beats the hell out of a hotel any day of the week. Not to mention the home cooking. We even had a fresh sheet cake that mom and Philip made for us. Try getting that at La Quinta.

The Players

Mike Rush: Local running stud, owner of Rush Running and former member of the Razorback Track Team at the University of Arkansas. He got off course, logged some bonus mileage and still finished in the top ten with a time of 8:04:47. He says he's coming back for a shot at 7 hours flat. He wants some hardware.

Mike Rush celebrates with Miles after his Top 10 finish. (R. Holler)

David Newman: David committed early on and then was stricken with an ITB injury. I think over the last month his longest run was 10 miles? Yet he toed the line and gave it a shot. And damn if he didn't finish. All I know is that this dude must eat nails for breakfast.

David "Roll Tide" Newman (R. Holler)

Ryan Holler: Crew Cat Extraordinaire, Pacer, and all around Lead Cheer Person. Part Jedi, part wizard and all good. Ryan will downplay his role but he was a big part of our success. I know he had to cover at least 50 miles after standing on his feet all day.

Ryan "Gandolf" Holler, the Jedi takes a snooze after 34 hours.

Philip aka Felipe: This is the fourth time Philip has gone on a trip for a race with me and I always love having him around. He drew a Spartan, made us cake and sported that boss of a hat liked he owned it. And he finished all of his homework before we got home. How can you not love that?

My Parents: They rolled it out for our crew. It was a completely wonderful trip because of them opening their home to their half weird youngest child and his two crazy buddies. Good company, great food and more than comfortable accommodations. Next time, I want them down at the park. As nice as that hug was from Ms. Joyce at the finish, I want one from my momma and pops.

Mom & Pop, thanks for being a part of it all. Love you!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Rocky Raccoon Race Report

What do you get if you mix together miles of plush south Texas trails, a couple inches of rain and hundreds of trail nerds? The answer: Rocky Raccoon 2012. Part I of my report will be dedicated to the race itself. I'll reserve the road trip aspect of things to Part II. 

To start off it must be mentioned that course conditions were less than ideal. By no means am I complaining. After all, folks, this is trail running. However, for the uninitiated, what this means is that the conditions made this scamper exponentially more difficult to many a racer this weekend. I must also disclose that this was by far the largest trail race I have participated in to date. Rocky Raccoon was 20 years old this time around and for the first time registration was closed. In that regard I feel fortunate to have been a part of it. This was also the first time that I have been in a race that featured world class ultra runners. Like many, I have heard about how approachable these elite athletes can be. I can now attest that it's true. At the race briefing on Friday afternoon I had a chance, thanks to a running buddy, to meet Karl Meltzer. There was a line of folks that he worked his way through, taking time to shake hands and share words with each. At my last road marathon the elite runners were more or less quarantined from us regular folks, hauled around in private vehicles, had handlers and so forth. Later that night another in our group accidentally met Hal Koerner in our hotel lobby. He didn't recognize Hal due to that boss of a beard he was sporting. Thought he was just another runner and started chatting him up. When David asked the as yet unknown runner what his goal was for the 100 miles and the guy replied "about 13 hours" the gig was up. 

Dogwood, start of loop 2, photo by R. Holler

As we rolled into Huntsville State Park it had been raining for hours and there were no signs of it letting up. We arrived about 30 minutes prior to the start and ended up parking a mile from Dogwood. So we got to do a mile warm up jog down the park road. "Hey, we're going 50, what's one more?" Still raining we found refuge in a little corner of one of the tents. I saw runners decked out as if it were below 30 degrees and snowing. I saw some a guy in sandals ready to toe the line. And there were lots of trash bags being worn. Once it started we all scampered across the mat and headed out into the woods. Trying to keep pace among about 400 runners on a trail, in the rain, in low light conditions can be tricky. Especially when some folks found it necessary to keep their shoes dry by slowing down and tip toeing around puddles. It took a couple of miles before I could pick my way through and things got strung out enough to have some room. My strategy was to keep as even a pace as possible, that's what works for me. I had three goals for the race. Finish in under 12 hours, finish in under 10 hours and see how far I could push myself. I thought about having simply finishing as a goal at one point but decided, as Stuart Smalley would say, that is stinkin' thinkin'.

The "Bloody Nipple" shirt.

Once I found my happy place I quickly settled in got comfortable. The course is quite different from what I am used to up here in the Ozarks. It's wide single and double track stuff, mostly a sandy dirt mix, a few roots here and there, little elevation and only a handful of rocks. For us NWA GOATS this course is paradise. On the first loop I planned on being very chill and simply wanted to get a good look at the course, identify any potential obstacles and stay relaxed. And that's precisely what happened. I came back in at Dogwood in just over 3 hours for the roughly 16.5 mile loop. As promised, Ryan Holler was at Dogwood ready to pass out my goodies. My wish list was a Vespa, a Stinger waffle, 4 Gu gels and a few S! caps. After refilling my bottles I made the turn and headed back out for the second of three loops. Shortly into it I realized that I should have changed shoes. I started in Brooks Pure Grit and had the Saucony Peregrine as a back up. My feet were just starting to feel the miles but no way was I going to turn back. A change would have to wait. I told myself to focus on the task at hand and not to worry about the shoes or my feet. The second loop went much like the first and I came back to Dogwood at about 6 hours and 17 minutes. As I passed Ryan I asked him to get the shoes and a change of socks ready. Getting a pair of clean socks and dry shoes felt great. As I headed out for the final loop I knew breaking 10 hours would require some work. And I was headed into uncharted territory as my longest run to date had been 33 miles. I knew I would finish. The question was how quickly? By now my mantra was in high gear. I ended up reminding myself repeatedly to not be scared. That I wouldn't rig up and bonk. "Don't be scared to keep at it, do not slow down, yeah my feet kinda hurt but so what? Don't be a p*$$y." I condensed that down to simply, "Don't be scared." Despite sore feet and a hamstring getting sketchy all I needed to do to was pick 'em up and put 'em down. Through the next several miles everything continued to stay steady. Throughout the day I stayed on top of hydrating and fueling and had no GI issues. I did, however, suffer an injury. All the rain and miles had washed away my Slather by Skin Strong (which worked wonderfully on my feet). Like an idiot I forgot to pack any extra. I wouldn't have even noticed it except for a passing runner pointing and exclaiming "Bloody nipple!" I just flipped my shirt up over my head and behind my neck like we used to do while playing soccer as a kid and continued forward. At the first hint of a sour stomach about mile 40 I popped a ginger chew and knocked it out. The final pass through Park Road as I waited for one of the wonderful volunteers to fill my bottles my right leg seized up. I tried to jog it out but it refused. I looked at my Garmin and saw it was about .5 mile to reach 46 miles and decided to walk it out and reassess at that point. I used the extra time to take some deep breaths and get some fluids down. When the watch chimed in I started a jog up that incline and the leg responded as it should. My pace was slower than it had been those last few miles but that was OK. Admittedly, I was relieved to make that last left turn and see the finish up ahead. Ryan was ready and snapped some pics. But not before I slowed to put my shirt back down. Not only did I want my Rush Running shirt to show up in my finish line photo I wanted to spare my family the embarrassment of my shockingly pale belly in any said photo. A quick glance at the watch told me I could get 10h5min if I picked it up and I did. Of course, I met Joyce at the finish where she presented me with my finisher medal and gave me a warm hug. That was fantastic. 

Bringing it home, photo by R. Holler

Checking my Garmin data I am pleased with how steady I was able to keep my pace throughout the day on a sloppy course. I attribute that to a couple of different things. First, my training was pretty much spot on. I combined a schedule from Relentless Forward Progress and mixed it with some tidbits from fellow ultra runners to come up with my own. My focus was on long doubles over the weekend and of course plenty of elevation (compared to Huntsville) here in the Ozark foothills. I avoided hardtop and ran on trails as much as I could. There was no speed work (track stuff) but I did a "hot 6" or so every week. I did in training what I planned to do in the race. That meant two full bottles, one S! cap per hour and a Gu every 45 minutes for every run. I did ditch one aspect of my training and pre-race strategy. During most of my long runs (over 3 hours) I used regular walking breaks. I had set my Garmin to chime a time alert every 13 minutes and every mile. When I reached a mile I would walk until the time alert sounded and then kick off again. The reason I decided to forego that was personal preference. When I get tired I have found that getting back in gear after a walking break taxes my willpower. I didn't want to face the temptation of extending a break a little longer "just this time". So I would see how far I could run. Second, my hydration and fueling were spot on. I started early on the fluids and kept it going all day. Besides the gels (every 45 minutes), S! Caps (1 per hour) and waffles (1 per loop) I had something at every aid station. Chips or cookies, maybe some fruit, pretzels or noodles. I started off the race wearing a tech shirt and shorts, that's it. No jacket or gloves. Several miles into the race I saw people still sporting trash bags and thought how miserable I would have been doing that. One dude was even wearing a ski jacket. Seriously? For me, anything above 40 degrees I'm good with a shirt and shorts. I have to think that my attire helped to regulate my body temp and sweating better than wearing a big plastic bag around my core. 

Something that struck me during the race was how few runners actually ran uphill. And by uphill I mean slightly elevated inclines. Then I realized that if you live in Houston or other similar areas it's hard to find hills. Honestly, our guys would hesitate to even call them hills. I am fortunate in that on any given day I can go out and run Slaughter Pen, or Blowing Springs or Hobbs or Devils Den and easily get three, five, eight thousand feet of elevation change or more inside 24 miles on rocky, fairly technical terrain. It was a huge benefit that made the Rocky Raccoon hills and trail seem easy. Mike Rush was absolutely correct when he convinced me to run the Athens Big Fork Trail Marathon (9,000 ft of elevation change) a month before Rocky. He said that Rocky would seem like a piece of cake after that. Looking back I can see that ABF was a huge confidence booster. Read my race report for ABF here. The most difficult aspect of the hills was how slippery a couple got later in the day, traction was at a premium for sure. Perhaps doing hills regularly takes any hint of trepidation out of them too. 

In the end I am quite pleased with the result. Not only my time of 10:05:30 (especially on a sloppy course) but with how well my body did hold up and that my energy level never dipped low. Rocky Raccoon is full of great volunteers, is organized very well, is a fast course and a perfect first time event for a 50 or 100 miles. I give a huge shout out to everyone that was out there in any fashion or role. There were volunteers that spent up to 30 hours or more of their time making this happen. In the rain, mud and through the night. Complete strangers at road crossings that would cheer on the runners. Some of them I saw on every loop. 

Volunteering at Dogwood crossing, photo by R. Holler

After I finished and was cleaned up I found myself back at Ryan's spot on the road just up from Dogwood. As the sun set in the west and darkness fell upon Rocky, I took up his role crossing guard/cheer leader so he could prepare to pace Tim the final 40 miles of his adventure. I stayed there for about three hours until my buddy finished. As the runners passed by I was struck with how much grit it would require to make that turn into the woods, in the dark, on that water logged course to start another loop. And yet they kept coming. That's dedication. That kicks ass. That is why ultra trail running is simply epic.

The data: Garmin 305 showed 48.86 miles at 10:05:22 and about 6,500 ft of elevation change. Good enough for 53rd place out of 366 starters. I think I can do 9h15m on that course which might put me in the top 25 next year.

The gear: Brooks Pure Grit (33 miles) and Saucony Peregrine (17 miles). Balaga trail socks and Slather skin protectant from Skin Strong, I had zero blisters and one minimally bleeding nipple. Pearl Izumi shorts (love the zipper pockets), Pearl Izumi compression shorts (another zip pocket). Tech shirt (Rush Running) and tech hat (Inca Runners).

As a side note I performed a little test on my shoes. It seemed to me that my feet seemed to be less wet in the Peregrine compared to the Grit. This highly scientific examination consisted of putting my shoes in the bath tub and filling them with water (they needed to be cleaned anyway). Hands down the Peregrine emptied faster than the Grit. It wasn't even close. So there you go.

As always you can follow me on Twitter @RedDirtRunner


Update 02/07/2012
Got a post race massage today from Carlie at Excel Massage in Bentonville. This was a Thai Yoga style massage and I walked out feeling noticeably better. My left leg was rigged up tighter than a snare drum and my right calf/hamstring sore as hell. Carlie worked it out though.

Update 02/09/2012
I was talked into a run Wednesday morning by a couple of buddies. I felt I could do 5 or maybe 6 easy miles. The body was a little cranky getting started but it felt OK to be moving. At mile 6 the wheels flew off. Pain in my right foot. I was about 1.5 miles from my truck. I grinded out another mile before throwing in the towel. After getting back home I soaked my foot in an ice bath and then a hot epsom salt soak. The back of my right knee is also pretty sore.