Monday, October 22, 2012

Pumpkins, Turtle Heads & Pickle Juice My Pumpkin Holler Race Report

For months I have been making baby steps forward in my recovery from a couple of injuries. And it has been that long since my last ultra. February and Rocky Raccoon to be exact. The comeback was intentionally slow and methodical. With plenty of work put in over the summer to begin building my base back up and a number of good runs and tune up races during training it was time for a big step forward. It was time to "get off the pot". In the last week I ponied up and put my name in the hat for the Pumpkin Holler 50k. This is the second year for this event near Tahlequah, OK. on the J. T. Nickel Preserve. Race day once again included the 50k, 100k and 100 mile options and this year a 25k was thrown into the mix.

The Bridge from Camp Eagle over the Illinois River to the Nickel Preserve (photo property of TATUR)

I really didn't have much of a taper. I did cut my mileage a bit over the last week but kept the intensity the same. And to complicate matters I started fencing lessons with my son the week before which included about 40 minutes of plyometrics (squats and lunges) three nights before the race. On Friday I actually found myself getting nervous. The idea was to use this much more as a long training run and not a focus race. But I have problems accepting that theory. I always have. I guess I'm too competitive. I had to remind myself that my longest training runs had been 16, 17, 20 and 22 miles and those were weeks ago. I also planned on incorporating a 25/5 plan of run/walk that I intend to use at Lookout Mountain.

The course is run mostly on rocky, dirt roads with a short asphalt section in the middle. There are plenty of rolling hills and a few bigger ones along the way. Fellow NWA Goat, David RTR Newman, was along for a go at the Holler. Always good company. Both of us were using this as training for the Lookout Mountain 50 miler due in December. So in the predawn darkness we found ourselves driving the back roads over to Oklahoma. I was fueled up well with a cup of oatmeal, some organic yogurt (with Udo's Oil) and a piece of toast with an egg and a smear of hummus. We arrived at Camp Eagle to join hundreds of others for a day of fun (and some cursing too) with friends, both old and new. Race day forecast was a low in the upper 30s and a high of 80 degrees. That last number had me worried. Thinking about it in my head, the smart thing to do would have been to go out very mellow and then if things felt good at the halfway point, turn it up a notch and see what happens.

A typical stretch of Pumpkin Holler (photo property of TATUR)
It was damn chilly as we removed layers and made final preparations. The sun peeked over the horizon just before the Trail Zombie began the race by smashing a pumpkin on the ground. And with that we were off and down the road. Three runners made a quick dash across the Illinois River and were out of sight in short order. I found myself in a rather large group settled in behind the leaders. It appeared that some folks were moving faster than they wanted in an attempt to warm up. I just wanted to find a more or less comfortable pace and keep it there. Since I despise having too much clothing while running I went with a singlet and shorts only. No gloves, long sleeves, jacket, trash bag, tights or what have you. And for the first few miles I was cold. I did have a pair of arm sleeves I was using. Much less for any protection from the cold but instead to have somewhere to carry my gel flasks since I like to have my hands free. And I don't like fuel belts either. I carried a 20 oz water bottle, 2 x 5 oz EFS Liquid Shots from First Endurance and a Vespa. That's it. No extra gels, electrolyte tablets or other fuel sources.

I skipped my first walk since I was still warming up. About 30 minutes down the road I was nestled in between two groups by myself when I heard footsteps behind me. Like right behind me. It was David. He normally doesn't run this pace so I had to ask. 

"What the hell are you doing?"
"Dude, I'm freaking cold. I'm gonna pay for this pace later on."

So we kept each other company until the first aid station. My plan was to be in and out quickly. No messing around, I want to make it a habit of being efficient. I already knew what I wanted there, water only in the bottle and if fresh fruit was on the table, grab a little. No cookies, PB&J, candy or chips. My plan worked. I was through the aid station in short order and passed a handful of folks that were slower making the transition. That pattern would last all day with one exception. I kept my Garmin on auto-pause and was only stopped for about 8 minutes total on the day. Not too bad. Over the next hour I slowly reeled runners in and passed them on the course or at aid stations. Several miles into the race there was a short out and back section. At the turn I was able to see that I was indeed in the top ten overall. I simply had to maintain it for 3+ more hours. I told myself, just kept moving steadily forward and don't waste time. From there on I would try to keep count of the runners around me. For midpack folks like me a chance at cracking the top ten doesn't come along every day. I wanted to do it. So much for a long training run. True story, Thursday night before the race I was driving home and saw a magnificent bluish shooting star in the western sky. I wished for a top ten finish.

Watch your step here (photo property of TATUR)

Shortly after that out and back the course turned into the wind and wound along mostly exposed road. The sun was in full effect and the temp was quickly rising along with it. I knew being steady on this long stretch would be important. By now the leaders were long gone and the group of us behind them found ourselves getting more and more stretched out. A guy in a green shirt and I had been within spitting distance of each other all morning so I introduced myself. His name is Matt and he lives near Tulsa. He had run the race last year and told me about a spectacular blow up due to going out too fast. He was determined not to make the same mistake this year. I suggested we keep each other honest for a while. So we did.

That's about right

I eventually pulled away as we hit one of the big hills. I got up it faster and true to fashion let my feet go coming down the other side. I picked up plenty of positions doing that throughout the day. I've been practicing my downhill speed all summer which was previously a liability for me. About two hours into the race and between aid stations I found a need for a pit stop. And not the easy water the dirt kind either. Mine would require "accessories" if you know what I mean. The leaves were too small around here. Does the term "turtle head" mean anything to you?

"Where in the hell is that next aid station?"

More Pumpkin Holler real estate (photo property of TATUR)

At mile 17 it appeared. And there wass Edward in his tie-dye shirt ready to help. Not with the turtle head issue but my water bottle. I passed my bottle to him and headed straight for the port-o-pot. Thanks for the help Edward, much appreciated. Back to the other issue, I think it was triplets. And for the record cheap toilet paper and sweaty butts do not mix well. I had no idea how many folks may have passed during my unplanned and extended break. It felt like I was in there for 10 minutes. I had heard runners coming through. I had no idea what the count was now. I sprinted to the table and grabbed a cup of soda and some banana. I saw some yellow fluid in a cup and saw Gatorade bottles. Gatorade sounded kinda good. I'll take that. Gulp! Uh oh, what the *@#$ was that? The gag reflex instantly kicked in but not before some of the pungent liquid made it's way down my gullet. The remainder ended up on the ground after being forcefully rejected. The nice lady manning the table looked disgusted. Pickle juice? Who the #!@% drinks that crap? Friendly suggestion, maybe we shouldn't have the pickle juice right next to the Gatorade?

No, it doesn't

Leaving the aid station I knew my hopes of going sub 5 hour were slim to non existent as the pickle juice and turtle head incident had sucked some life force from my soul. The next several miles which included the 4 miles of pavement were uneventful for the most part. The asphalt is a chance to make up some time but I didn't have it in me today. I finally caught up with the guy who had been in front of me for an hour at the table rock aid station. He looked beat. I picked his brain and asked the volunteers about the next couple of runners in front of us. It sounded as though I was in good shape for a top ten but I wanted to stay in front of this cat here just to make sure. I knew there were plenty of hills in the next stretch. Again, I told myself to keep steady and move forward. But I was starting to fight some demons. My feet and legs were beginning to ache and my stomach was going south. Not a surprise given the unseasonable temperature for the day. I could feel the first twinges of acid reflux kicking in. If I moved too fast my guts would tighten up. I moved well for a couple of more miles before the wheels began to wobble. Miles 24-29 were quite ugly. My pace really slowed down and my 25/5 plan which I had pretty much stuck to all day at times felt more like a  5/5 plan. Physically I was not 100% and mentally I was having issues as well.

I finally decided during mile 28 that perhaps an extended walk would help settle things down and allow some time to muster reserves for a push to the finish. I committed to it and began to walk with a purpose. I gave myself 8 minutes to work it out. Five minutes into it the guy from the last aid station passed me. I stuck to my 8 minute break. I watched him as he passed me and moved down the road. He was moving pretty good. Would I have enough to catch him once I began running again? Making up 2 minutes in two miles seemed like a tough task. My time was up and I began running again, the pace seemed OK. The guy in front of me was within sight. In my mind I attached the hook to him and began to reel him in. But it seemed too slow. Then he broke. He stopped running and began a slow walk. That was all I needed. I could smell the barn and picked it up. I made up the gap quickly and slapped him on the back as I passed. I tried to encourage him to pick it up, that we were almost done. He couldn't find the mojo in the moment though. I managed another 9 minute split as I crossed the river again and wound through the camp ground to the finish. As I approached I heard the voice of fellow NWA Goat, Shannon McFarland, over the PA giving me a shout out. I finished strong but wasn't sure about a top 10 yet.

Pumpkin Holler 50k elevation chart (Garmin 305)

It's always good to hear a familiar voice during a race. Jody McFarland gave me a couple of shouts during the race as she drove by along the course. At my first ultra nobody was more jacked up for my finish than Shannon was. Two weeks ago I paced him a short while during his podium finish at the Arkansas Traveler 100. High fives from him and RD Stormy Phillips as I crossed the finish line. After a quick check I found I finished in 9th place overall and a 30+ minute PR for the 50k distance. I have to be happy with that despite any mistakes I may have made. And just 10 minutes later David rolled in to claim 12th and 1st Old Guy. Get this, he PR'd by well over a full hour. He didn't have to pay the piper on this day. He's crafty. Stellar effort bro and I couldn't be more happy for my running buddy.

TATUR, as always, knows how to do ultra races. Thanks to Stormy, TZ, Brian, Edward and all the volunteers. Thanks to Camp Eagle for opening the facilities to us. The showers on site were very nice to have even if the water smelt like rotten eggs. All in all it was a good day. I have a solid feel for where I am at now and how much more work is needed for Lookout Mountain and a WS100 qualifier. Not that I would run WS100. I'm not stupid. 

By the numbers:
Time 5:21:27
9th place overall and 6th male
31.25 miles (Garmi 305)
Brooks Defyance 3 (road shoes)
2 Vespa
10 oz EFS Liquid Shot
1 turtle head
2 pieces of toilet paper stuck in my keester
.25 seconds, the amount of time to reject the pickle juice
3, the number of times we witnessed the yellow lab head pop above the river bank
1 dead possum

For more information on this race and all things TATUR visit their website here.

*Note: Immediately following my finish I downed a serving of Ultragen from First Endurance. It packs 320 calories and 20g of protein. I then made quick work of another protein drink that had 25g and about 300 calories. I am surprised at how good I felt the next day considering the effort I put in at the race. I had used Ultragen a few times while running in the Tetons this summer with good results there too. At this point I am sold on the stuff. 


  1. awesome race report and congrats on the top ten finish!!! I was there this weekend too, for my first 50K... had a blast! would have been nice if it was a little cooler towards the end but thankfully (and I never thought I'd be thankful for this) I've been in Houston the last two months for work so I guess I was mostly acclimated... oh and that dead possum scared the crap out of me!

  2. Rachel, thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings. Good Lord you must have been bored.
    Huge congrats on your first 50k finish. And a 5h29m time? Smoking! I'm from DFW and I avoid Houston at all costs. And the possum, ny buddy thought it was just playing dead.
    Keep running and best wishes.


    Red Dirt