Sunday, April 17, 2011
Ouachita Trail 50 - 2011
Before I tell this year's tale, a little background information on my previous experiences at the OT50 is in order. My first 50 mile attempt came here about 8 years ago. While I did finish, I suffered terribly. So much so that I did not do another 50 miler for two years. It took me nearly 9 1/2 hours to finish and was definitely my toughest ultra up until that time. I also did the 50K here about four years ago and again suffered from the mid April heat and humidity and the course just beat me down.
Last year I bravely decided to take on the 50 mile race once again with an eye on the course record and maybe even sub 8 hours. I had a great day. It never got too hot and I stayed strong the entire race and did manage the course record at 7:56.
So this year I thought it would be great to go back and attempt to steal the 50K record from good friend John Muir who had set the bar high at 4:15. The forecast was cool if not downright cold for mid April so I thought my chances were good for the record.
My friend Josh Snyder came with me and he was running his first OT 50K and only his second 50K ever so he was excited, if not a bit nervous. I'm surprised my tales of woe and misery did not scare him off.
At the start was all of my good ultra friends who are too numerous to name here. In fact, it feels like everyone who toes the line at these events are good friends whom I seldom get to see. I suppose it is because we all experience similar ups and downs that only a 31 or 50 mile race and dish out. So we all have experiences that are unique to ultra runners. This is why I seldom discuss my ultra running to others because it is just something you must experience.
Also at the start was Nick Lewis. Nick was aiming at my 50 mile record and it was great weather to go after it. I was really hoping my record would last for more than just a single year.
So we start at 6 a.m. in the darkness with just a tiny hint of daylight on the horizon. The first two and half miles are on road and flat with a few good uphills thrown in. Finally we break off to the trail and a mile later we are at the base of the famed Pinnacle Mtn. Pinnacle is short but very steep. You cannot run up it. You cannot walk up it. You can only scramble up it on all fours. Luckily the climb is very short, maybe only a half a mile or so.
So a lead pack of runners who by the way are being lead out very quickly by Nick begin up the mtn when we realize that we are already off the trail! I realized the mistake, because I had taken the same wrong turn when my family and I hiked Pinnacle a couple of summers ago. So we turn around and maybe lose only 5 minutes, 10 maximum. It was going to be tough to get the record, not it is really going to be a challenge.
At the top of Pinnacle, we are greeted by beautiful sunshine and a terrific view. It is the best part of the race to be up there as the sun comes up. It really makes you just stop and appreciate life and all it's joy! Unfortunately, I could not stop for long to enjoy it because my friend Josh had taken off down the mountain. We were still trying to pass other runners who had gone ahead of us when we made the wrong turn so there was a little traffic, but Josh was flying down the big boulders like a man possessed. I quickly lost sight of him and thought he may have gone the wrong way.
At the bottom of the hill, I caught up to him and he told me we were in second place behind Nick. I thought for sure there were still others ahead of us but I guess he was right. As for Nick, he was gone. Nick was going all out. Either he was going to smash the course record, or he was going to bonk spectacularly while trying to do it.
I settled into a comfortable pace with a level of effort slightly below my marathon pace. The trail goes across a long bridge and then back into the forest around Lake Maumelle. The trail is rocky and has a lot of little ups and downs. The entire trial is runnable but that is part of what can wear you out because there are no walking breaks if you want to finish fast. I moved pretty well and felt good. My posture was good and the race seemed effortless. It was no time at all and I was at the turnaround. I hit the turnaround (mile 17) at 2:35. I had 1:40 minutes to run 14 miles. It was going to be very tough but not impossible. I began to push the pace slightly and thought I could really pick it up as I got closer to the finish.
But each time I got to an aid station, the chances of me breaking the course record kept fading. With 12 miles to go, I had only 1 hour and 22 minutes to make it. That's a 6:50 pace on trail! That is going to be tough. I tried to pick up the pace in an effort to make it but the next aid station made it clear that I could not get the record. 7.9 miles and only 45 minutes to run it! That's a sub 6 pace and that is just impossible.
So I just tried to stay strong and focused and maintain the current pace. I ran rather effortlessly without too much discomfort. It was so much better a run than Grasslands or Sylamore where I just struggled terribly. While my speed was not what I had hoped, it was a very good run and I definitely needed that. I think the weather has everything to do with how I perform and the weather was good.
The last two and half are back on the pavement and with the cooler temperatures, this section was not too bad. In the past, this section has beat me down as it does most everyone who are trying to get to the finish. You are in full sun on the road and it just seems to go on forever. But this year the weather was cool and at last I reached the finish like in 4:34. John Muir's record was a lot tougher than I had thought and I will have to try again some other year.
I found out that Nick had hit the turnaround for the 50 miler in 3:56. Last year, I got there in 4:14. He was already 18 minutes ahead of my pace!! He would finish in 7:26. Wow! Very humbling indeed. Like the Eagle's song, "Everybody's talkin bout the new kid in town." Great run Nick!
The OT 50 is a fun and very challenging spring race. Stan and Chrissy put together the best races! It is so much fun to just hang out at the finish, have hamburgers and beer and visit. I wish we could have stayed longer.
Posted by Mountain Trail Runner at 8:28 PM