Wednesday, June 13, 2012

War Eagle Trail Running Festival

2012 hand drawn logo by Ryan Holler

In recognition of national Trails Days the premier ultra trail event in NWA, the War Eagle Trail Running Festival, was held June 2 at Hobbs State Park Conservation Area on the shores of scenic Beaver Lake. This year the event again featured races at the 50k, 25k and 10k distances. Proceeds from the event are shared equally with the Rogers Lions Club and the Friends of Hobbs organization. It was exciting to see such an increase in the level of participation with runners coming from far and wide, both greenhorns and veterans. There were NWA Goats, Taturs, Nerds, WARriors, JRRs (or is it Runarounders?). 

Finishers medals and place awards by Becky Christiansen

The race was well supported by park staff, the Friends of Hobbs, the Lions Club and numerous volunteers. Some of the main sponsors included Rush Running, Salomon, Power Bar and Mohawk Industries, all of them throwing some swag into the prize bin for drawings. At least a dozen vouchers for free Salomon shoes were passed out, plenty of Sole brand sandals, some Ultimate Direction fuel belts and a sweet fuzzy, white rug. There was free grub too. And speaking of swag, the race shirt did not disappoint. Dark grey with black ink featuring not one, but two hand drawn designs by local runner, NWA Goat member and full time Jedi, Ryan Holler. The finishers medallions (different for each distance) were once again handmade by local artist Becky Christiansen. Members of the Lions Club manned a grill at the finish throughout the day cooking up hot dogs, Catfish John's provided a truck load of catfish, chicken and hush puppies. Maximum Performance Spine & Sports had a tent to work the kinks out post race (Steve worked magic on my sketchy calf). There were tents and chairs for relaxing in after the race as well as the excellent Visitors Center. And if you knew who to ask a cold beer was possible. I'm just sayin'...

Tom Lane & Dave Wilgus of NWA Goats both finished in the top 10

Down to business now, let's talk about the trails. The bulk of distance is covered on the two main loops at Hobbs, those being War Eagle and Little Clifty. The 50k course includes the "rabbit ears" which are made up of the Bashore Ridge and Dutton Hollow loops. There is very little hardtop in this course, I would say less than 100 yards from the start/finish in front of the Visitors Center to the trail head. There is a 1 ½ mile spur to the main trails which has a descent into the first ravine which of course means a climb on the other side of the creek. There are a couple of creek crossings but these are normally dry. You only see water in them if out running in the rain. After hitting the first section of main trail there was a short dirt road section, about ½ mile, down Townsend Ridge to the first aid station before getting back onto the trails. I missed seeing the TATUR group here this year, they were great last year. Other than that, it is all flowing single track loaded with rollers under the tall hardwood and pines. There is nothing super technical or steep but there are a couple of longer, sustained uphill and downhill sections. 

The big news last year was the weather as the mercury topped out at in the mid 90s with a blanket of humidity heavy enough to choke a mule. The heat/humidity punished many last year, especially the back of the pack runners. This year the big news was the weather. Recent rains greened up the vegetation and squashed any dust on the trails. The 0630 start had some humidity again but the temps were in the mid 60s and would only warm up to the mid 80s as the 50k race wrapped up later in the day. 

Mike Rush 1st Overall 50k (Podium Images)
Marilyn Caufield 1st female 50k (Podium Images)

On to the race action. In the 50k feature Mike Rush (Rush Running) started strong and continued to pull away from the competition throughout the course. He blistered Hobbs with a time of 4h09m30s. Mike followed this performance up with an overall win at the Mammoth Marathons (Utah and Idaho) the following weekend. He finished 3rd and 6th on consecutive days to take the overall victory out there. He looks to be in good position for a strong run at Leadville. Local goat Shannon McFarland (Rush Running) ran a big PR (as usual a strong performance from him) on is home course to take second with a time of 4h32m55s. He told me afterwards that despite running so well he simply couldn't keep sight of the leader. Jake Anderson from Westlake Village, TX rounded out the podium in the men's race in 4h39m34s. In the women’s action first time ultra runner Marilyn Caufield (Rush Running) stayed steady, despite a nasty fall, to claim 1st place and 9th overall with a time of 5h01m08s. She rolled in with blood on her chin, hand, arm, knee and what looked like an alien on her elbow. It was just enough to hold off Alison Jumper from Fayetteville, AR. with a time of 5h01m46s. Lori Enlow out of Tahlequah, OK. (also training for Leadville 100) ran a great race at 5h27m41s to take third for the females. In fact, these three gals ran well enough to claim 9th, 10th and 11th overall. Overall the top times were much faster than last year. 

Jeremy Provence 1st overall 25k (Podium Images)

In the 25k race a couple of runners threw down some sick splits to claim top honors. I’m talking 6:30/mile pace for the overall winner (Winslow, AR.) Jeremy Provence. He put down a wicked time of 1h41m03s. Not far behind was second overall Cassy Russell (Tulsa, OK) with a time of 1h44m30s. I think I could have taken them on my Kawasaki dirt bike. Local stud and NWA Goat Stephen O'Neal (Rush Running) claimed 3rd with a 1h53h53s effort. For the females, Olivia Eves (Arkansas City, KS.) won at 2h20m12s, second was Melissa Warner (Tahlequah, OK) at 2h28m52s and third was local Lynne Williams (Fayetteville, AR.) with a time of 2h33m35s. Like the 50k, the 25k times were noticeably faster this year. 

The 10k race was claimed by Craig Adams out of Bentonville in 49m54s. Ryan Bickerstaff (Palo Alto, CA.) took second at 50m24s and out of Mountainburg, AR. Tommy Griffin earned a spot on the podium by running a time of 51m37s. For the gals Corina Miller (Little Rock, AR.) was first at 1h01m00s, Leslie Johnson (Fayetteville, AR.) got second with a 1h02m50s run and third was Christina Gervasi from nearby Rogers, AR. with a time of 1h04m18s.  

As for me, I signed up on day 1 for the 50k. Needless to say, that was before I had my stress fracture diagnosed and all that entailed. I told the RD, NWA Goat and local ultra guru Jeff G-Unit Genova, the week before that I was out on the 50k. I dropped to the 25k to avoid disaster. Going in I felt anything under 2h30m would be a victory for me. My longest run since the sfx had been two weeks before at the Joplin Memorial Half (PR). My longest training run had been a measly 5 miles. But I hadn’t been on a trail since February. I knew 25k would be tough at this point. I borrowed a play from Tom "Slow" Lane (he's headed to WS100) and started fast to get some distance on the field before the first climb to avoid a traffic jam. There is little room for passing for the first few miles on the course.  I settled into a groove and kept up with a small group of runners for a few miles before realizing the pace was a bit fast for me. I was already feeling my heart rate was pushing the limit. So I stepped aside allowing a few runners to pass me and I waited until they were out of sight before starting up again. We had a good gap on the next group so I found myself alone in the woods. And that was fine. I could now run my race and not be tempted to keep a pace that would have been over the line for me at this point. Over the next 10 miles I simply tried to run a moderately hard pace. I ran the downhills hard and just tried to maintain an even effort uphill and on the flats. My ability to run uphill has been erased during my rehab. A few of the runners that had been ahead of me in that initial group fell back far enough for me to pick off before the finish. I even managed to pass up some 10k participants. In the end I finished 2h25m, beating my goal and good enough for a top 20 finish. Best of all, I didn't feel completely beat down and was able to enjoy watching the remaining runners come across the finish line. There was plenty of time to catch up with old friends I haven't seen in some time and to meet some new ones. Lots of good folks out there.

The dash to the trail head (Podium Images)

The following day my quads were trashed and stayed that way for a few days. The good news is that my foot and shin were fine. Amazing how things change. Six months ago this would have been a nice follow up run to a long 25-30 mile trail run the day before. Now it was all I could muster. Baby steps… This was the most involvement I have had in the prep for a race behind the scenes and a little dirty work after the finish line is taken down and the crowd is long gone. Although my contribution was small it made me realize how much the heavy lifters do. Thanks to Jeff, Mike and all the other volunteers and behind the scenes folks. It was a great event and I had such a good time out there. A special shout out to Christian Moore who flew in from California and Nicholas Norfolk who came in from Little Rock. These guys came all the way just to volunteer and help make the event a success. Thanks guys. It was great to watch members of the Rush Running Team do so well. They claimed 6 of the top 10 spots in the 50k, had a handful of PRs and a few competed on the trails for the first time. Congrats to one and all. I hear musings of some ideas for next year including a Friday night meet and greet as well as an aid station full of bikini clad girls.

*All race photos courtesy of Podium Images