Friday, June 14, 2013

War Eagle Trail Festival 2013

2013 race logo (hand drawn by Ryan Holler)

Coming off of my surprising time at the Bentonville Half back in April I knew that I should be able to carry a pretty good pace through the 25k out at Hobbs. Scouting the competition it looked like a sub 2 hour time would be needed to get a podium spot and take home one of those coveted handmade Indian head trophies. Ultrasignup had me projected to finish 26th overall and run a time around 2h26m or so. Pffftt! That made the Farmer a bit angry. I went out a couple of weeks before the race and ran the course at about 90% effort or so and bagged a 2h15m running time with just a couple of short stops. Thanks to David Newman for actually crewing for me that day. How cool is that? The cold water at Piney was much appreciated. 

Mike Rush & Trae Etheredge battle in the 25k (photo by Luis Escobar)

As race day approached RD Jeff Genova made an announcement that Luis Escobar, trail running photography guru and a pretty bad ass runner, was coming to NWA to shoot pics at the race. Some of you may recognize his name from the best selling book Born to Run.  As a bonus, Luis was generous enough to present his incredible photo essay, Running With the Tarahumara, the night before the race at the Bentonville Activity Center. The photos are amazing and the stories that go along with them are compelling. Luis was an open book and the audience was fortunate to get a glimpse into a world that few Westerners have experienced. Thank you Luis, Korima, my friend. To learn more about Luis and his work check out his website and enjoy. I found Luis to be extremely genuine and generous. Make sure to look through the shots from the race, absolutely beautiful work. 

This is the third year for the current format of the race that includes 10k, 25k and 50k distances. Like last year I opted for the 25k. Why not the ultra? Well, I didn't have the desire to train for a 50k and the 25k was the more attractive carrot for me this year. More on that in my next post, stay tuned. Last year I finished 16th (2h25m) with so so training coming off the stress fracture. I certainly had a better base this year. My training was not focused as much as I simply ran after the Half and averaged about 40 miles per week. I did some hill work and tempo runs but stayed off the trails mostly to allow my ankle time to heal. Regardless, I felt pretty confident heading into race day. The last two years the story was the heat. But this year the forecast was for rain. A lot of rain. As in 4-6 inches the morning of the race and a good chance of severe weather. Mother Nature did not disappoint. The predawn sky on the drive out past Beaver Lake was lit up with lightning flashes as the rain fell. Fortunately, the park staff opened the visitor center early so that we could stay dry. I found a spot in the back of the nature room and got my stuff ready. The start was delayed about 30 minutes due to lightning. After wrapping up my routine I walked around and visited with some familiar faces and met some new ones. After some words from RD Jeff Genova and Mike Rush the 25/50 group headed outside to toe the line in the grey, rainy morning. 
Another great shot from Luis Escobar

I took up position near the front as I had decided to use the Tom Lane method at the start. This entails sprinting the 70 meters or so to the trail head and running as though your hair is on fire for the first 1 1/2 miles before the hill out of Van Winkle Hollow. Apparently I need to work on that as Tom was, like last year, off like a greased dart well in front. No worries as I was in the front of the pack. I love running in the rain. It makes me feel alive. Despite the downpour these trails handle water very well. My initial plan was to take things relatively easy until the climb above War Eagle Valley Overlook and then pick it up from there. No need to red line things in the first 4 miles, right? Well, it was pretty much pedal down from the get go for me. I had the sensation that my body and brain agreed on a pace that would be maintained for the entire race and it was go time. Climbing out of the valley I began to pass guys that I normally would not pass. Now, they were doing the 50k but I still would not see them under normal conditions. I pressed on and continued to pick runners off. About 4 miles in Jeff Erickson caught me from behind. He and I would race one another to the finish. 
Me at the Tatur Station. That's the fastest lawyer in the land, John Nobles, in the background. Notice the swim goggles. At the table is Dana Childress trying to make me eat Pringles. Photo by the Trail Zombie Ken Childress. 

The first aid station is 6 miles in and it was good to see Taturs Ken "TZ" and his wife, Dana, as well as the wounded Sled Dawg, John Nobles, from the Tatur group in Tulsa. A quick refill of my bottle and a slice of pb&j and I was off on the heels of Doc Erickson. We kept the pace honest and I'm not sure if I was pushing him or he was pulling me. I think more the later. The guy can climb smooth and strong. I kept thinking I might get him on a downhill section but I could never pull away. The next section to Piney we ran quick and smooth. At Piney fellow Rush Goats Aaron and Dave were manning the aid station, always good to see some running buddies. Topped off the bottle again and the Doc and I shagged out. At this point I thought we should be top 5 overall but I wasn't sure. We couldn't see anyone in front of us but there were two guys hanging with us. I could tell from their breathing that these two guys were working hard. I thought the descent back into the hollow might be a good chance to drop them and maybe pull away. We hit the switchbacks and the Doc and I got froggy. We quickly dropped one of the hangers on and by now the other was breathing really hard and his footsteps were becoming heavy. I know I glanced down at one point and saw a pace in the 7 minute range. We pressed on and the other guy fell off. It was now just the Doc and me. We flew through Townsend Ridge AS without stopping and it was confirmed that we were 4th and 5th. I mentioned to Doc how I liked the sound of that. He agreed. By now we were passing some 10k runners. 

The 2013 finisher's medal. That would make a nice belt buckle. Hmmm....

As we approached the turn at the bottom of Van Winkle Hollow and the long climb out my legs were feeling the burn. Doc and I hit the climb together and about 1/3 of the way up I felt the explosion. Boom! I had pushed it over the limit. The Doc continued on and I glanced behind me. I saw nobody across the hollow so I got to the crest as best as I could. Once there I began running again and well. The Doc had a good gap on me and I only had maybe a 1/2 mile to close it. No chance. I put my head down and tried to close it out as best I could. My time was 2h05m07s and good enough for 5th place overall. Choke on that Ultrasignup. We nearly caught the 3rd place finisher. I can honestly say that it was one of the most enjoyable racing experiences I have had to date. I crossed the finish line and shook hands with the Doc. 

I want one. 

Next year, I'm getting one of those trophies. I want one. 

Great weather, beautiful trails, excellent company, hot fried catfish, cold PBR, awesome shag carpets, the sickest shirt and medal design I have seen (shout out to Ryan Holler) and a free pair of Sole Sport sandals. 

For more info on the War Eagle Trail Races check the website below
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Both the 25 and 50k races are a wee bit short in terms of distance. The 25k clocks in with about 1,400’ of vertical and the 50k around 3,000’ total gain. I would highly suggest making a weekend trip of it if coming from out of town. There are some great family friendly attractions in the area including the world class Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the new Rogers Aquatic Center (water park), the 21c Hotel, War Eagle Mill and Cavern, and some outstanding local eateries. And don’t forget the Bentonville Square where you can check out the Farmers Market and First Fridays for some fresh food and kid friendly entertainment. 
25k course elevation profile

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