“We got a walker. Let’s catch him.” – One mile from the finish
Ouachita Trail 50 km in Little Rock, Arkansas was one of those last minute, fairly spontaneous decisions. Being four weeks out from the Jemez 50 mile, I was a little concerned with an ultra distance race so close since I have yet to prove I can stack ultra events like this and keep tweakage at bay.
After a few brief chats with my buddy Tyler about the run, my short-term ultra memory kicked in and we were both registered. I have to say I was pretty dang excited to run this classic race by Chrissy and Stan Ferguson in the heart of Arkansas. Hey, what Texas resident wouldn’t get a chuckle seeing “Arkansas Rules!” and “Texas sucks!” written on their race bib.
The night before the race I took a look at the course profile and aid station locations and decided to run with two handhelds (vs the Nathan Endurance Race Vest) and my classic Rockledge Rumble Nathan Running Vest where I stashed a Hammer flask, Perpetuem Solids, and the trusty Canon camera.
I really had no big goals for this one besides – run smart! This meant, stay in ‘easy’ mode through the Northshore aid station (mile 16.9) which is the far-end turnaround of what is a mostly out-and-back course (you fortunately get to skip Pinnacle Mountain on the way back). My 30 mile training weeks don’t allow for a lot of pacing mistakes. Burn too many matches early on can make for a long and painful back half.
Race morning saw near perfect conditions…at least to me…about 50F with a slight breeze. Tyler and I start near the back of the entire field of 50 mile and 50 km runners, about 200 of us. The first (and last) 2.7 miles is on a rolling road that leads us to-and-from the Ouachita Trail.
We took the road section very easy and drifted a few more spots to the caboose of this train. Enjoyed watching the skies light up on what was going to be a cloudless day, unlike the 5+ hour drive in constant rain the day before.
Once on the trail, we were welcomed to this amazing wooded world of majestic trees and moderate sized rocks…lots and lots of rocks that weren’t interested in moving no matter how nicely you asked.
Concentrate. Tread lightly.
After a little over a mile of singletrack, we arrived at the most talked about location on this course – Pinnacle Mountain. 700 feet. Run up it. Go down the backside.
Simple enough, except it looks like this.
After a steady, on all fours climb to the top…take a few pics…look around…beautiful. Down the backside you go. Not quite the same boulder field but it still required plenty of focused attention. My foot slid out once or twice on the way down, that made for an interesting hyper-extended back moment and a couple “Ohhh…Ahhh” from those following behind.
I have to say this climb was pretty damn cool.
To NorthShore mile 16.9
After the Pinnacle mountain loop, it was back to the varied terrain on the Ouachita trail along with a few short roads sections connecting the trail.
I simply continued the easy effort. During a climb, if the effort moved into the high side of moderate, I would simply power hike the rest of it. I was putting down 3-4 big gulps of water every 15 minutes. ~100 cals of Hammer gel every 30 minutes. 60 cals of Perpetuem solids (2 of them- Strawberry-Vanilla) every hour along with a couple Endurolytes. Energy levels felt great…and consistent.
I was all smiles and lovin’ it.
I was gradually moving through the field but not too concerned with it. Wished everyone well and continued my adventure.
I arrived at NorthShore aid station in 3:37 feeling like I was just warmed up. In the last mile to the AS, I noticed a significant number of 50 km runners on their return trip. I thought to myself, “this could be fun.” I was starting to get the itch to dial up the effort a little bit.
A great volunteer filled my water bottle as I grabbed another flask of Hammer gel and more Perpetuem Solids. I was feeling good.
The return trip
On the way back, I ran within that low-moderate to moderate effort. I also dialed up my Endurolytes to 3-4 per hour as I felt a couple crampy twinges. They went away after the electrolyte increase.
Simply put – This course requires concentration. Every single time I day dreamed for a moment and didn’t stay present to the run, I nailed a rock with my foot.
“How man miles till the next aid station?” – Ouch!
“I wonder how Wendy, Griffin, and Ainsley are doing?” – Dammit!
“What a beautiful day.” – Sh*t!
“Anybody up ahead?” – Arghh!
Fortunately no diggers in the rock gardens but I did take one body-plant in a nicely groomed and slightly muddy section of trail along Lake Maumelle. I think I clipped the one root located about every 1/4 mile.
It was also around this time that two filled water bottles felt like 20 lb bricks in each hand. In training I had been mainly running with a pack.
I was consistently moving through the field and enjoyed a few brief moments with Arkansas athlete, Katie Helms, as we picked up a handful of used gels hanging out in the middle of the trail prior to an upcoming aid station and tossed them into a garbage bag hanging from a tree another 40 feet down the trail.
2.7 miles to go
After this nasty stair stepper climb off the Ouachita Trail, it was back on the road for some rolling black-top to the finish.
I hadn’t seen another runner for the last 2-3 miles but like a mirage in the distance I see movement. Could it be…another runner? He was moving steady but wasn’t flying. Let’s try and catch.
The initial segment of road was a big old downhill that felt like a 1/2 mile. Watching his turnover as compared to mine, I could tell I was gaining. By the end of the half mile quad testing scamper, I came up on Arkansas athlete, Robert Williamson.
Coming up next to Robert, I asked “Are you ready to push to the finish?”
Robert – “This is all I got.”
I offered some additional words of encouragement and dialed up the pace. Robert latched on – I was stoked!
Over the next mile we pushed what felt like a steady effort. Off in the distance, I see someone walking one of the double rollers.
“Dude, we got a walker. Let’s catch him.” This turned out to be Michael Maguire from Louisiana.
I also said, “Of course, I will likely be walking that hill as well.”
As Michael moved off above the rollers we lost sight of him. Robert and I found a way not to implode and ran through all the rollers.
As we crest the rollers, I can see in the not too far distance Michael walking again. We were closing and he didn’t know we were coming. Robert drifted back about 20 meters so I tried to inspire some silent encouragement highlighting the target up ahead.
One mile to go
And then it happened…
Michael took a look back.
Our cover was blown.
Robert and I both gave a grunt of disappointment.
Michael was back running and held us off to the finish. Afterwards he mentioned using a few colorful words of inspiration to get himself moving faster to the finish. We had a good chuckle about it.
54 seconds after Michael, Robert and I cruised in together in 6:03:55.
What a day.
What a race.
What an experience.
Post race thoughts
- I executed my race about as best as I could on the day.
- Pacing – Easy effort to the turnaround and knowing I still had another gear for the return trip worked well especially for my low mileage approach.
- Course – Great variety of terrain. Lots of fixed rocks on the singletrack which required plenty of attention. Pinnacle was fun…and would be an entirely different beast if raining. Rumor had it, the additional miles for the 50 mile were less rocky.
- Nutrition – Flask of Hammer gel (Montana Huckleberry), Perpetuem Solids (Strawberry-Vanilla), and Endurolytes. Smooth energy levels for the entire run. Upped my Endurolyte intake from two to four during the last couple hours to relieve some twinges in my legs. I was likely averaging ~250 cals/hr. One bottle of water about every hour.
- Training – 30 mile training weeks (that include quality) requires brutal honesty on race day. You can experience a lot with minimal training and proper pacing.
- Gear – The Altra Lone Peak’s were great on these trails. I just wish they could be a couple ounces lighter. I would go with two handhelds again. The running vest was also nice to store nutrition and camera.
130+ Photos and Six Ant Bites Later
After a few moments to regroup and enjoy a cheese burger, I scraped off some of the dirt and goop stuck to my body and took a collection of pics (up on the Endurance Buzz FB page) at the finish and out about a 1/2 mile from the finish.
To add a bit of additional excitement to this process, I stepped in a fire ant mound. My body is allergic to fire ant bites and I swell like the Pillsbury Dough Boy. In my frantic attempt to clear them off my shoes and ankle. I take 4-5 bites on my ankle and one on my ring finger. Nice.
My ankle and finger immediately start swelling and burning. Unable to pull the ring off, I use the best lubricant I had nearby…spit. After organizing my thoughts and salivary glands for a good one, I hit the mark and began twisting the ring. Eventually it came off.
Back to taking photos and cheering on runners to the finish.
A special thanks to Chrissy and Stan Ferguson and all the volunteers for such a great event.
Thanks to my wife for taking care of our tribe solo for the last 36 hours.
A big shout-out to Rick Merriam for helping with a tender right Achilles in the final couple days before the race.
Thanks to Tyler for teaming up on this adventure. Good times!
Be active – Feel the buzz!
David – EnduranceBuzz.com