Ozark Foothills 50K (#2 of 5 of the 50K Mashup Series)



OzarkFoothills-2016-0730Date:  April 9, 2016

Distance:  50K (2 x 25K loops)

Official time:  6:59:15

Just two short weeks after the Clinton Lake Ultra, I participated in the Ozark Foothills 50K in Wildwood, MO.

Surprisingly, I recovered fairly quick after Clinton.  I was sore the Sunday after, but was able to walk pretty normally.  Monday I felt almost back to normal and went to my Monday night yoga class.  By Tuesday, all soreness and aches had disappeared.  I still let myself recover until Thursday, where I did a quicker-than-anticipated five mile group run.  From there on out, it was just short runs here and there, save for a 12-mile long run on Saturday.  It was definitely strange doing a sort of recovery/taper schedule that two weeks.

I wasn’t too worried about this race.  After finishing Clinton Lake, I had regained a lot of the confidence I lost when I was injured and not able to train as much as I wanted over the winter.  There were a lot of unknowns going into this race, but with a 9-hour cutoff time, I felt confident enough that I would finish.

One of the big unknowns was the course.  I grew up in the area this race takes place and spent enough time running in Missouri to know there are a lot more hills and rugged terrain than in Illinois.  The race website provided Garmin and Strava links to the course, so I tried to study those as best I could.  Still, without actually running the course, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  In a way, this has usually worked to my advantage.  I don’t like being “bored” on a run (part of why I run trails) and not knowing the course exactly lets me be “surprised” by what I find.  I liken it to an adventure.  I stuck to the usual “take it slow and walk the big hills” train of thought and pretty much decided to play this by ear.

THE RACE

6:30 a.m. on race day was a chilly 30-something degrees.  I had already told my parents (who we were staying with since they lived just 40 minutes away) to stay home and just meet me at the finish.  Bret wasn’t feeling well in the days leading up to the race and I had told him to stay at my parent’s house and just ride with them later in the day.  Despite what I said, he still woke up at 5:30 a.m., got dressed, and rode with me to the start, waiting with me in the cold as I picked up my race packet, used the porta-potty a few times, sat in the car for a while, and then stood with all the other runners as we listened to the race director give us instructions.  Finally, at 7:40 a.m., Bret gave me a quick kiss and a “good luck” as us 50K-ers took off!

The course consisted of a 25K loop, which we would do twice (there was also a 25K race which started 10 minutes before us).  I started off slowly, hanging out mid- to back-of-the-pack.  The course did not go immediately into single-track, so all us runners were able to spread out a bit more and pass as we pleased.  About a mile or so in, the course turned into a single-track trail and I settled in with a small group going at a perfect pace.

The first few miles were effortless, mainly because we were going downhill.  The entire time I kept thinking, this is easy because it’s downhill…don’t get too excited…eventually we’ll have to climb uphill.  

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The first few miles.  I was actually wiping my nose right here.

After the single-track portion, the trail widened out again and that uphill climb began.  I’m not entirely sure how long this hill lasted, but it felt like forever.  Even though I was feeling good, I knew running would wear me out really fast, so I stuck to power hiking the majority of it and running a bit when I really felt the urge.  I was able to surpass quite a few of the 25k-ers and maybe a couple 50k-ers (it was hard to tell without seeing their bibs).  I finally reached the top where the first aid station was, thanked the volunteers, but quickly continued since I didn’t need anything at this point.

The next portion is where things got confusing.  The course was well-marked, but if you weren’t looking up for the trail markers (pink ribbons tied around trees), you could easily make a wrong turn – which I nearly did.  Because the ground was covered in dead leaves, it was hard to see a clearly defined trail.  Thankfully, I never went off course, but I did have to carefully navigate my way around and look for those pink ribbons.  Luckily I caught up to another group of 50K runners going at a good pace and stuck with them through this area.  This area also contained another huge uphill.  Once again, I power hiked my way to the top and quickly passed these runners once the trail was clear again.

It was at this point when I was by myself that the photographer popped out on the trail and nearly scared me to death!

Soon after, I caught up with a woman doing the 50K.  We were pretty much going the same pace so we stuck together for a while.  We chatted quite a bit about our running history, upcoming races, everything.  I always say, if you want to get to know a person, run with them.  I’m normally not a chatty person on the trails, but this was a great distraction and she was super friendly.  We hung out together for quite some time and entered into the “rocky” area.

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The “rocky” area was my favorite.  The terrain, as you might guess, was rocky, but so beautiful.  This was where the sun hit and everything was starting to turn green and flowers were blooming.  It was a fun, technical area that I coasted through, eventually leaving my running buddy behind.  Around mile 12, we hit the last aid station on the loop.  There were quite a number of runners huddled around and I saw this as my chance to get ahead (being that I still didn’t need anything).

The next three miles until the start/finish area wasn’t particularly spectacular.  It was pretty much a slow ascent in the woods.  Mr. Photographer popped up again and told me “you’re almost there!”  I turned around and said, “really?”  I didn’t know how reliable the GPS was on my watch, so I didn’t trust what my mileage was at this point, just that I knew I didn’t have a whole lot farther to go.  He assured me I wasn’t too far away from the end of the loop.

I NEVER trust anyone who tells me “you’re almost there!”  This could mean five miles or one mile.  No matter how long though, it always feels like the longest part of the race and it’s torture!

A couple of miles later, I heard the sound of cowbells and cheers as I emerged from the woods and into the start/finish area.  I was around the 3:15 mark.  I stopped for a water refill and the race director was kind enough to take it for me and fill it up herself as I stood there to rest.  I looked around and many of the 25K runners had finished, sitting around enjoying the post-race meal and relaxing.  I was kind of jealous of them, but I had work to do!  Once the race director was finished getting my bladder back into my vest, I strapped up and headed back out for one more loop!

I won’t go into a play-by-play of my second loop.  Suffice it to say, my legs were starting to feel it at this point.  I spent much of this time alone.  That long hill in the beginning took quite a bit longer and I stopped at one point to take a photo at an overlook.

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Once I entered the leaf-covered area, I knew I would need to pay attention.  Chances of me happening upon another person or group were slim to none, so I knew to take things carefully and watch for all the course markings.  I made it to the top again without losing my way.

Around mile 26, I took a pretty good tumble.  I had outstretched my arms and was thankfully on dirt, but I landed mostly on my side.  I quickly got up and told myself to just keep going.  I was able to make a quick assessment and noticed I had only scraped up my hands and side of my right thigh (which would later turn into one huge, swelled up bruise), but I felt the adrenaline quickly rush into my system, which made me slightly nauseous and anxious all at once.  I was able to calm myself down and reached the final aid station.

I was pretty happy to reach the last aid station and see some friendly faces.  I also knew I only had about three miles left to go.  One of the volunteers remarked to me that there were only three or four women runners ahead of me.  I didn’t know if that was good or if maybe that meant there were only five women in the race, but it gave me a good boost of confidence headed into the last stretch.  I grabbed a handful of potato chips because I needed something salty and NOT in gel form and headed out for the last few miles.

I could see a few runners ahead of me, but because of the nature of the course, which winds its way up to the top of the start/finish area, I knew they were most likely a mile or two ahead of me.  No way for me to catch up in time.  I was also hungry.  At one point, a runner I passed back in the “rocky” area was making his way toward me.  As I said earlier, because of the winding trail, he could have been a mile, half mile, or less behind, but I refused to let him pass me.  So I dug deep and kept running as much as I could.

About a mile or so from the finish, I could hear people cheering and shouting words of encouragement.  I had no idea where these people were (I would later learn that there was an overlook where you could see the trail below), but all I wanted at that point was for it to be over.  I needed to eat.  Food was the only thing on my mind.

A short while later, I entered the start/finish area to applause, cowbells, and the sight of my parents and boyfriend snapping photos.  A young boy was playing the recorder and a little girl ran up to me and handed me my medallion.  I had done it – I had completed my second 50K within two weeks!

Post-race, I immediately headed for the food and ate, spent time with my family and boyfriend, and left for a shower and nap.

What I Would Do Differently

Overall, the race went off really well. Having been able to complete Clinton Lake two weeks prior, I felt confident in finishing.   However, I definitely realized I need more than just gels as my source of fuel.  I did bring along a squeeze pouch of baby food, but with less calories than a gel, I knew that could only take me so far (I had this at the half point just after starting my second loop).  After 25 miles, I was HUNGRY.  The fact that I was craving salt and reached for chips at that last aid station showed me I probably need more salt during the race.

Would I Do This Race Again?

Yes, I think I would, but probably not next year and it most likely won’t be a race on my yearly calendar.  I WOULD do more races put on by this group and the race director was fantastic.  As a matter of fact, I do have a 50K in October in roughly the same area with the same director which I’m looking forward to.  Everyone was super supportive and I think they did a wonderful job with the course.  It was super challenging with double the elevation gain of Clinton Lake and rockier terrain, but still fun.  Missouri does not play around (which is part of the reason I’ve always been hesitant in doing races in Missouri), but I’m glad I was able to do this and have my parents there, too.

Next up:  Grand Canyon 50 Mile.  Gulp.

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The patented “Tanya Derp Face”

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Clinton Lake Ultra 30 Mile (#1 of 5 of the 50K Mashup Series)

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Date:  March 26, 2016

Distance: 30 miles (3 x 10 mile loops)

Official time:  6:13:45

I completed the Clinton Lake Ultra.  This is not something I thought I’d be able to say today and even now, after all is said and done, I’m still shocked.  Let me backtrack:

TRAINING

Last year I signed up for the 50K Mashup Series.  This is a multi-state event wherein the participants must race five out of six predetermined 50K races over the course of 2016.  I was a bit hesitant to do this, but other than my 50 miler at the end of May, I figured as long as training went well, I could pull this off.  Plus, one of the races is local, two are held near my parent’s home in Missouri, and another is held near my brother and sister-in-law’s home in Kansas City, which meant I only need to worry about accommodations for one of the races and it gave me a good reason to see family.  I also love traveling for races and not knowing anyone, which eases my anxiety in thinking that everyone for some reason cares about how I do (I think it’s more about comparing myself to others who I know, but that’s a whole other story).

I started 50K training sometime in very late December.  For most of January, I trained out on the Clinton Lake loop with a friend of mine, getting to know the course and strategizing.  Sometime in late January/early February, I strained something in my hip flexor area, which eventually created a whole lot of tension all throughout my upper left leg/hip area.  I took a few days off here and there, but every time I ran I felt tight and in slight pain.  Pretty soon I noticed I was limping throughout most of my runs, which was when I knew I let it get too serious.  I decided to take some extended time off and work on cross-training (mainly cycling) and strength-training.  It was hard to lay off the running, but I’m glad I did because it forced me to focus on strengthening up my hips and glutes, which I desperately needed.

I didn’t start to feel better until the first week or so of March.  My longest run was 16 miles in January, which was nearly two months earlier and since then I hadn’t put in much mileage.  I was freaking out.  I almost dropped out of the Clinton Lake race and the Mashup series.  After discussing this with friends, Bret, and family, I decided the best course of action would be to go to the race and see how long I could hang in there, treating it as training run for the 50 miler and less as a “race.”  If I had to drop at some point and DNF, I would, especially if I started feeling any pain.

Two weeks before the race, I ran 15 miles on the road and felt really good.  I figured this was a good sign that I could at least do half the distance and feel strong.  After that, I slowly tapered and kept my pace super slow (I sort of had to, since not training kind of set me back).  I did one more 12 mile training run on the course and that went very well.  Thankfully, my hip no longer felt sore and I was running like normal again.  All systems were go for race day.

THE START

Even though I told myself in the weeks leading up that this would be strictly a training run, my race day nerves were at an all-time high.  I had to force myself to eat the night before and morning of the race.  The one thing I had going for me in this race was that I knew the course and was able to plan for all the ups and downs.

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It was cold at the start.  I talked with many of my fellow local running friends and a few runners I just met (including a woman who told me all about the vaseline she had to put in between her butt cheeks to prevent chafing).  I knew to start off slow and not let the adrenaline get to me.  After some quick words from the race director, we were off!

THE COURSE

Whoever thinks Illinois is completely flat and you’re just running on flat prairie land is completely wrong.  My watch registered 2,458 ft of elevation gain over 30 miles. There wasn’t a whole lot of “flat” trail running.  If I hadn’t trained on the course, I’d probably be in for a real surprise.  Thankfully, I knew the course well and knew not to go out too hard and fast hike all the uphills.

The loops starts off with about a 1/4 mile stretch of road – uphill – which then took us into the trail.  The course is mostly single-track dirt trail with another short section of road which connects the two halves of the loop.  The second half contains a short section of prairie (it was in this area someone put a fake snake on the ground, which thankfully, two runners warned me about so I didn’t have a heart attack!).

We had some thunderstorms in the area about two days before, but lucky for us, the trail was in perfect condition.  There were only two small areas that were muddy and slick.  And for the most part, this wasn’t a super technical trail.  While there weren’t many roots or rocks to navigate, there were quite a few fallen trees we had to hop over.  Overall, I only managed to stumble once, and that’s because I was focused on the photographer who popped up ahead of me to take my photo (thankfully, he either didn’t catch my stumble or didn’t post it in the gallery).

The end of each loop led us back to the starting area, where we had to run around the parking lot, then back out again.

MY RACE

Each loop brought a different set of challenges.

The first loop consisted of finding my rhythm and navigating my way around the other runners.  With any trail race on single-track, there’s the inevitable “conga line” in the beginning.  Since my strategy was to start slow, I tried not to get ahead of myself and try to pass a bunch of people.  I knew at some point, most likely the first aid station at the halfway point, things would spread out considerably and I could get ahead of anyone if needed.

I ended up in “pockets” of runners.  I’d run with a group of three or four runners and then they’d either get behind or get ahead.  Then the next little group would pop up.  The most surprising part was that everyone seemed relatively quiet.  We would exchange words here or there, but nobody was especially talkative.  Or maybe it was just the people I happened to be around and the talkative groups were in other areas.

The nice thing about this course is that there are mile markers.  Every mile marker I hit the lap button on my watch to make sure I was making good time (I believe I had to maintain an average 16:00 min/mile pace to make the 8 hour cutoff).  I finished the first loop in just over two hours.

The second loop was easily the most fun and easiest.  I found myself mostly alone, save for a mile I ran with another runner.  This was when I really settled in to an easy pace and the endorphins kicked in.  I had to remind myself though not to go too hard just because I felt okay.  I was so paranoid that one wrong step and my hip would flare up.

It was halfway through this loop that the first place finisher (and new course record holder) flew past me.  I’m normally very aware of my surroundings on the trail, but he came up on me out of nowhere.  I turned my head and saw him approach…fast.  I stepped out of the way and he zoomed past me.  I think I blinked and he was gone.

Loop two was done in exactly two hours.

Loop three was where the struggle came in.  I knew as soon as I finished the second loop, I was going to finish this race.  I also knew I could theoretically walk the entire loop and still finish under eight hours…but I wasn’t going to do that.

My legs started getting tired.  Each hill looked bigger than before and I definitely needed to walk more after each climb.  Crazily enough though, I felt better when I was running than when I was walking.  For some reason, my legs felt a lot heavier while walking.

Mentally, I stayed in high spirits, mostly because I knew I was going to finish this race.  Like my first 50K last year, I knew that once I hit the 20 mile mark, I could start counting down the miles left to go in single digits, which made it easier.  I kept telling myself, I already ran 20-s0mething miles…what’s a few more?

The last three miles seemed to drag on forever!  It was around this time I started thinking of food.  I had been sustaining myself on gels for the duration of the race and while I wasn’t hungry, I also couldn’t stomach another sticky gel.  I wanted real food.

As soon as I ran into the parking lot, I was ecstatic.  Bret had only arrived shortly before and was sitting in his car as I approached the lot.  Thankfully, he was parked right in front and I waved my arms at him like a maniac telling him to get out of the car.  I ran around the lot and through the finish with an official time of 6:13:45.

Then I nearly collapsed into Bret’s arms and sobbed.  I did it.  Then it was immediately food time.

WHAT WOULD I CHANGE?

To summarize, I think this race went off fantastically.  Nothing hurt, I never bonked, and I never felt hungry/dehydrated.

Since I had trained with strictly gels, I only consumed the exact flavor GU/Clif Shots I trained with and drank water for the entire race.  I was so worried about eating something at an aid station and causing gastrointestinal issues.  My strategy was also to not spend time at an aid station unless it was to use the bathroom or refill my hydration pack, so snacking wasn’t an option for me.

However, I did get entirely sick of gels near the end and I doubt I could stay on GU alone for anything longer.  I was craving real food. Going forward, I’ll experiment with different types of nutrition I can carry with me.

WOULD I RUN THIS RACE AGAIN?

Oh, hell yes!  While not a fan of multiple loop races, three is manageable.  I also really enjoy this course.  It’s nice to have an ultra like this so close to home and where I can actually train before the race.  I would love to continue doing this race each year and try to improve on previous times.  And no ultra is complete without thanking the race directors and all the volunteers who make this happen.

Next up:  Ozark Foothills 50K on April 9th!