Saturday, March 1, 2014

2014 Run LOViT 100K Race Report

[Note: The 100K course has been changed significantly for 2015, my new Race Report for that year]

I would be hesitant to call the couple of large mass formations that I would be traversing over during the day at the Lake Ouachita Vista Trails area as Mountains, per se, more like really, really, big hills; though going by what passes as large hills in the relatively flat North and Central Texas areas where I mainly race, the daunting 600+ footers I would be facing at the Run LOViT 100K in Arkansas very well qualified as Mountains, regardless of what definition you prescribe to.  The two main imposing features of this inaugural race is Hickory Nut Mountain and Big Bear Mountain, both of which has you climbing over them twice during the two out and back sections of the race course, in between these two mountains are constant little rolling hills that rarely let up, all told, the elevation gain/loss totalled around 12,000ft (EDIT: From Garmin readings, it was more like 7K-8K ft).  After my DNF at Cactus Rose 100 Mile last year, I was looking for a new challenge, something I could throw myself at in order to test my readiness in taking on a 100 miler in the Mountains, and Run LOViT was seemingly created for me to meet that challenge head on.

My fear of taking on such a race with massive vertical gain was the real reason for all my manic hill training since Cactus Rose (I posted one too many hill training workouts on Facebook…), I was determined to take the hill training seriously this time and not to make excuses for myself any longer.  If I should fail at Run LOViT, it would either be because of a major injury or that I plainly wasn’t willing do what was necessary to meet the challenge; I took care of the latter part, but the former plagued me very early on and all throughout the race...nothing ever comes easy in an Ultra.  Speaking of nothing seemingly ever coming easy for me, my IT Band was incredibly sore for a couple weeks after the beating it took at Bandera 100K six weeks earlier (a race with around half the elevation gain of Run LOViT!), and even though I foam rolled twice daily and rehabbed it like crazy, it would still feel a bit shaky heading into Run LOViT.  As far as training goes, I mainly rested the first week after Bandera, then brought my mileage up to 32, 46, and 50 in the subsequent weeks, before tapering two weeks out; the focus again was on hill repeats at Cedar Ridge Nature Preserve in Dallas, where I’ve worked out a training plan of trying to climb at least 2/3rds of the elevation gain of the race during the peak week of training...climbing over 8,000ft of elevation gain/loss, with most of it on the same 125ft hill (just about highest you’ll find in Dallas...), becomes some sort of Buddhist exercise in self-inflicted suffering through tedium and perseverance over mental and physical fatigue; the lengths us Flatlanders must go through to train for Mountain Ultras is not for the faint of heart.

A Beautiful day for a trail run.

While not feeling very confident of my IT Band holding together heading into Run LOViT, I was excited to participate in my first race out of the State of Texas, and I heard such great things about the Ouachita trail system, that if nothing else, I would at least enjoy myself out there for the first 42 mile out & back section over Hickory Nut Mountain before I start worrying about taking on the Big Bear during the last 20 miles; besides, it would have been criminal not to enjoy the sunny and balmy weather (temps ranged from the 40s to a high in the 60s throughout the day), when just a few weeks earlier the entire trail system was covered in snow and ice!  With this being a first year race, only around 33 people showed up to the starting line, making it seem like a glorified group training run more than anything, but the lower key the affair, the less nervous and excited energy that’s in the air, and that’s the last thing I needed before a Mountainous 62 mile journey.  The race started off with an easy and brisk pace, as I was catching up with a couple friends whom I was at least planning on sticking with till we made it past Hickory Nut Mountain (both are stronger runners than I am, and I wanted to see how they chose to tackle that first monster climb), but after the first mile or so, we took a steep downhill fast and while I was blindly following them, stepped on a big rock, heard something pop, and down I went with a sprained I said, nothing ever comes easy for me in an Ultra.

First 42 mile Out & Back section

The sharp pain felt like someone took a knife to my right ankle, I sat on the side of the trail for several minutes waiting for it to subside, but I knew it was more than just a simple ankle tweak, and if I would’ve waited any longer it may swell and grow stiff quickly…I had to keep moving.  I walked and shuffled the next couple miles testing out the ankle, and joked with other concerned runners passing me by that I twisted it on purpose as a self-reinforcing pacing mechanism designed to keep me from going out too quickly.  After a few miles, it started to feel a little bit better and I was running at a decent clip, until I stepped on a root tweaking it again, sending me crumpling down into the ground crying in more pain.  I was only walking when I tweaked my ankle again, and almost instinctively fell to the ground when I felt it twist, to immediately take the weight off of it, but it still felt like a lightning bolt of pain shooting through me, nonetheless.  Only 5 or so miles into the race, I couldn’t take much more jolts to the ankle like that if I wanted any hope of finishing, and berated myself to stop enjoying the scenery and focus on the trail like a laser.  At the base of Hickory Nut Mountain now, I at least had an excuse to slow things down and hike up the winding switchbacks of the 600+ footer; with all my focus on hill training, climbing up Hickory Nut Mountain felt unnervingly easy for me (I use to die on hills less than half of it’s height...), but highly validating all the same in my ad-hoc training methods.

Climbing up the the many switchbacks of Hickory Nut Mountain, courtesy of

Climbing up Hickory Nut Mountain was one thing, going down the other side was a harrowing adventure all it’s own; unlike the smooth switchbacks guiding you up the Mountain, the way down on the other side is much steeper and was littered with leaf covered rocks the entire descent.  I’m pretty sure it took me longer on the way down, than on the way up, as I slowly shuffled across the unavoidable and leaf hidden rocks, sending minor jolts to my ankle repeatedly.  By this point I was fearing I was putting too much weight on my left leg to favor my right ankle, making me extremely worried that the imbalance of force would cause the IT Band over my left knee to flare up again.  Safely down the Mountain now in one piece, I quickly caught up with a lady who had been out on these trails before, she assured me the next ten miles to the Denby Aid Station turnaround point would be relatively smooth the whole way through; thanking her, I picked up the pace to make up for all the lost time shuffling up and down the Mountain, and made extra effort to evenly distribute the force of my stride between my two legs, grimacing through the pain if I had to.

The trip to the Joplin Aid Station 12 and half miles in was rather pleasant and smooth, but I was still highly uneasy with my tender ankle going in, and when I expressed my concerns about whether or not I could finish to my friend, Elizabeth Kimble, who was volunteering there, she offered to pace the last 20 miles with me if I thought it would help.  Well...hell, I had to finish now, I don’t often get to run with good friends I meet out of state (we met at Rocky Raccoon last year, being practically the only two people there in Vibram Fivefingers), and hanging out with her for 20 Mountainous miles in the dark sounded fun and exciting; my goal then on was to watch out for roots like the trail snakes that they are and pace myself to preserve my legs for Big Bear Mountain.  To be honest, I was not looking forward to this section of the trail, on observing the course profile above, it just looks excessively flat and boring compared to the imposing Hickory Nut and Big Bear Mountains, but it turned out to be my favorite section of the race, by far.

With smooth terrain, pleasant creek crossings, gorgeous sweeping views of Lake Ouachita, and constantly rolling hills making it easy to pace myself (just hike the uphills and run the downhills and flats, simple enough), the next 17 miles to Denby’s Bay and back again (another aid station Tompkin’s Bend is the halfway point between Joplin and Denby) was where I started to build up the confidence in myself and my ankle to see this race through to the end.  Not that it was entirely a walk in the Park, mind you, the constant rolling hills quickly adds up to punish your quads, and the temperatures reached high’s into the mid 60s by this point, causing many runners I met on the trail to cramp up and battling through nausea and stomach’s been freezing cold for the past few weeks and months, many were probably caught off guard and didn’t adjust well to the sudden warmth; being from Texas though, the heat didn’t bother me particularly too much (I took three Endurolytes every Aid Station, and started to supplement them with S-caps when it got warmer) and there were occasional breezes from the Lake providing relief.  Anyhow, I immensely enjoyed this section of the course, more so when I started putting ice in my socks to numb the ankle pain, and ended up taking way too many photo’s of park benches and views of Lake Ouachita. 

Denby's Aid Station and turnaround point

I arrived back at Joplin Aid Station in good spirits and was pretty surprised to find myself at the 30 mile point in around 7:20 hrs and squarely on target to meet my goal of finishing the first 42 mile out & back section in 10 hours, gimpy ankle notwithstanding.  I sat down to rest a bit, eat everything that was put in front of my mouth, and joked around with Elizabeth and the other Volunteers...perhaps I was stalling and didn’t want to leave, it just dawned on me that after frolicking through that pleasant section of the race course, Hickory Nut Mountain was waiting for a rematch; Elizabeth had to quite literally kick me out of there.  On my way back, just outside the base of Hickory Nut, I passed a Lady immobilized with nausea and stomach problems, fearing if she’d able to make it up that Mountain again.  I’ve never really had to deal with those problems (only on short occasions), maybe it’s because I’m use to the heat and humidity living in Texas, so I’m kind of shocked at how debilitating those conditions can get for some runners during a race...and here I am complaining about my ankle problems, but otherwise feeling great; I wished her luck and headed on my way, I had a Mountain to re-conquer.  

Hickory Nut Mountain is a lot more intimidating coming back from the other direction, the climbs are steep and rocky, as opposed to the gradual and smooth switchbacks from the starting direction, reminding me of the hills I faced at Bandera...only over twice as high.  I did my best Anton Krupicka hands on thighs climbing impression, and powered up the 2 and half mile, 600+ footer in about 45 minutes, only stopping on the occasional bench to catch my breath.  I relaxed a bit at the Aid Station on top of Hickory Nut Mountain, with the course mainly going downhill the rest of the way and the temperatures starting to drop, the worse was over...until it get’s worse again at Big Bear Mountain, but I was really looking forward to picking up Elizabeth for the last twenty miles, and barreled my way back to the Crystal Springs Pavillion Start/Finish area just outside of my target at 10:20 hrs.

How I pictured myself looking climbing back up Hickory Nut Mountain…
Image from - Runners World

At Crystal Springs now, where it quickly turned pitch black outside just after arriving, I sat down for awhile to enjoy some delicious vegetable soup and crackers, which may or may not have played a role in my legs falling apart later on, but I’ll elaborate further once I get there (it’s something I’m still working out the kinks on during long races into the night).  I put away the fuel belt I was wearing and strapped on my Hydration vest for the long 7 mile stretch up Big Bear Mountain before reaching the turnaround at Brady Mountain Rd Aid Station, and left to take on the Big Bear with Elizabeth roughly 15 minutes after arriving.  I felt shockingly great heading out for the final 20 mile out & back section, my legs felt recovered and my ankle, having bothered me for the last 40 some odd miles, was finally starting to feel more normal...or maybe I was just more worried about how Elizabeth would do on our trip to notice any of my own aches and pain.

Last 20 miles (it's more like 22 Miles, really...) over Big Bear Mountain and back

Elizabeth had been injured since her finish at Arkansas Traveler 100 some 4-5 months ago, and have hardly ran a step since, this would have been her first double-digit mile run, you know, just an easy 20 miler twice over a Mountain to shake out the cobwebs and all.  There was 7 and half hours to make the trip though, and we talked about making it an easy hike...soon after we left though, she practically led the entire way, dragging my half-dead carcass along for the ride.  I joked about her spending the last 4-5 months tapering for this run, as we made the first 3 miles to the Bear Creek aid station (where I had my fill of Ramen soup and potatoes) in just under an hour.  Now at the very base of Big Bear Mountain, I was looking forward to slowing things down a bit as we made the initial 500 foot climb before it plateaus up top in a series of rolling hills, finally dropping steeply into Brady Mountain Rd.

On top of the plateau of Big Bear Mountain now, Elizabeth really let loose, and I found myself struggling to keep up with her again, so I desperately needed to slow her down, by doing what I do best, that is talk, and talk, and talk about anything, and everything, and everywhere in between.  I listen to an absolutely unhealthy amount of NPR news and radio programs (not to mention reading a ton news and magazine articles), and as a I result, I can talk just about every topic there is, I’m not exactly sure how my brain works, but pick a topic and I can seemingly recall a story I heard about it on NPR; as long as we were talking, we weren’t running much, and my legs were given a reprieve up on the plateau section.  I think she eventually caught on to my ploy and started gunning it the last 3 or so miles to Brady Mountain Rd, finishing the first 10 miles in a *blistering* (for me anyway) time of just over 3 hours.

At the Brady Mountain Rd Aid Station, I was absolutely wiped out, while the pace was faster than I would have liked at times, it wasn’t anything I couldn’t keep up with, I think it had more to do with my Nutrition...or lack thereof over those 7 miles between aid stations.  Like I mentioned before about the delicious vegetable soup at Crystal Springs being my downfall, I seem to have a really hard time stomaching gel packets and solid foods during the night after running 40+ miles all day and subsisting on 2 gels/per hour and other random trail food, and once hot soup hits my stomach, by that point, it doesn’t want any other food.  For the 7 miles we just ran in about two hours, I think I managed to suck down a total of 2 gels and a funsize Snickers bar (which I’m pretty sure I owe Elizabeth dearly for), which is nowhere near enough to sustain 7 Mountainous miles!  Making matters worse, the aid station had no stove with them to heat up Ramen noodles, I had to make do with cold broth they whipped up, some potatoes, and I tried to take down some pretzels...I wanted to cry, in fact, I did cry when I went into the Porta-john, as my legs were trembling and starting to tighten up.  I quickly composed myself, got out of the Porta-john, and tried to take down more food (luckily, they had Donuts with them as well), while waiting for Elizabeth to take care of some developing blisters.

Leaving the Aid station, my legs were incredibly stiff after sitting down for awhile, it’ll be a long two mile climb back up the plateau though, so we hiked the entire way allowing me time to loosen them up.  I couldn’t quite loosen them up fully though, soreness in my quads were starting to develop, making it hard for me to lift up my legs very high, I couldn’t manage anything faster than a trot now.  After struggling to keep up with Elizabeth for the first couple miles on the plateau, we eventually ran into Rene Villalobos over the series of rolling hills, and settled into a long conversation while riding this section out together.  The guy is pretty amazing, and a bit scarily obsessed (and that’s coming from an already obsessed crowd of Ultra Runners) with running tough Ultras nearly every week and putting on his own personal Marathons when he can’t find one to run; for instance, this is his 4th straight week of running Ultras 50 miles and up, starting with Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile, and Rocky Raccoon 50 Mile in the subsequent week, then Cross Timbers 50 Mile after that (which is a ridiculously tough one with over 10K vert!), and now he’s out here running Run LOViT 100K and he would have tried to run the Cowtown 50K road Ultra the following day if he could have made it in time!  More power to him that he’s able to do these things for an older guy, but I could never see myself going that far with Ultras...running 11 of them last year for me seemed stupidly excessive as it is, but some people are just wired differently and Ultras is peculiar sport that seems to draw all these endorphin junkies in.

We made it out of the series of rolling hills and started to approach the descent side of Big Bear Mountain, I said goodbye to Rene, as Elizabeth threatened to leave me behind while she was screaming on the downhills (I could tell she missed it out on the trails after having been gone for so long); with my legs feeling a bit more recovered, I screamed down after her, the thoughts of hot Ramen soup at the Bear Creek aid station kept me going at a decent clip.  Upon arriving at Bear Creek, I made the fatal mistake of sitting legs were finally starting to feel decent again, but the moment I sat down everything seemed to freeze up immediately, and the long wait to heat up the Ramen didn’t help either.  After getting up to leave, more soreness was enveloping my quads in a vice grip, I couldn’t run any faster now than a 16-18 min/mile trot over the next relatively flat 3 and quarter miles to the finish.  With the pace we were going, the 18 hour race cutoff was starting to threaten us, so we played a game of “chase the rabbit”, where every time I would come even remotely close to catching up with her, she sped on ahead 15 ft or only got a bit frustrating when I thought she really did run off to leave my decaying carcass to the Raccoons.

Despite my sad excuse at an imitation of running, we were still on pace to make it in under 17 and half hours, that is till we got lost for around 10 minutes a mile away from the finish *sigh*.  Going downhill, there was a very sharp right turn that we totally missed, but so did quite a few other runners as well, since there’s also a small little bridge heading left into a clearing until the trail eventually vanishes.  Since the beginning of this Out & Back section had a few dead trees still left on the trail from the recent winter storms to climb over, we thought we were back at this section, and wandered around aimlessly for several minutes in the thick brush searching for trail markers.  We eventually doubled back from where we came, when I finally spotted the trail marker for the sharp turn, the question now was...did we come in from the left or the right turn?!  After some debating we took the right turn for several minutes, until we ran into Rene coming at us from the opposite direction, yep, we took the wrong turn again, argh!  Finally knowing which direction to head in, we were both ready to be done, I mustered what little life I had left in my legs and we ran it in to finish the race in 17:46 hrs.

I’ve always been wary of having a Pacer along during an Ultra, and have been reluctant to ask for any help, part of it has to do with my “Go it alone” mentality of wanting to feel like I accomplished these Ultra feats just relying on myself...which is a ridiculous notion when I come to think about it, since I receive help all along the way from Aid stations, but I digress, I’ve just always been more comfortable as a solo runner.  Then there is the issue if I could stand the person over 20+ miles while running in the dark, and the uncomfortable feeling that I would need to talk for most of the time, lest they grow bored of me and regret ever coming of the reasons why I can be particularly talkative on the trail sometimes.  Also, I could end up worrying about the condition of the person I’m running with (such as this being Elizabeth’s first long run in several months), more than my own, and start to neglect the basic upkeep of nutrition.  Regardless of all those concerns, if you can find a pacer you enjoy being with and can develop a good rapport and understanding together...and their willingness to kick your ass into high gear once in awhile to make cutoffs, a good Pacer can make all the difference, thanks Elizabeth for seeing me through to the end.

I really enjoyed the diversity of the trail system they have at Lake Ouachita; it has it all from smooth forest covered trails, challenging Mountainous climbs, towering Pine trees to make you feel intimately small amongst the giants, and gorgeous sweeping views of the Lake and other beautiful scenery to take in.  You’ll be hard pressed to find such raw and abundant natural beauty in Texas (only Bandera comes close…), and areas like that supposedly covers half of Arkansas...I can see why they call it “The Natural State”, and I can’t wait to go back to explore more of the trails and mountains there.  As for a summary of the race, I felt, and so did many of the other runners I talked to, that they should have started the race at around 6-6:30am instead of the 8am start time; this way many of the runners in the mid to back of the pack could have had some daylight left to actually enjoy the views from Big Bear Mountain, instead of running it entirely in the dark.  Also, while the first 42 mile section of the race course was ran impeccably well, the last 20 miles definitely needs more attention, for starters hot soup or ramen during the cold night is a must to keep runners going, especially those who grow sick of gels and can’t take down other solid foods late into the race.  It was a first year race though, and I’ve always been told to expect to be the guinea pigs while they work out the kinks for next year.  Overall though, I enjoyed my race experience there greatly, and I’m intrigued at the prospect of a 100 Mile distance they have planned for next year...there might be a good chance that I’ll be back to take on that new challenge.

Maybe next year I'll get to enjoy the views from Big Bear Mountain...

As for my own plans after this race, I’m not really sure now, quite honestly…  My original plan was to use Run LOViT 100K as a primer for an eventual run at a Mountain Hundred in the summer, like Bryce 100 or Bighorn 100, but now that I've completed the race...I don’t quite believe I’m ready to go the distance over the Mountains yet.  Races such as Run LOViT with massive vertical gain is just too new to me (I have mainly ran relatively flat races in Texas), my legs simply fell apart after 50 miles, same as what happened at Bandera, and Cactus Rose as well; I just don’t feel it in my gut that I have the experience yet to attempt a Mountain Hundred, and that it would be for the best for my longevity as an Ultra Runner if I stuck around the 50 Mile to 100K distance for awhile longer to try and build more experience and speed under my legs.  With that said, I’m now targeting the Jemez 50 Mile Mountain Trail Run for my first attempt at a high altitude Mountain Ultra, got to take the small steps first before you start dreaming big after all (not that a 50 Mile Mountain Ultra is exactly small...).  On my way there, I’ll be stopping by Possum Kingdom 55K and the Ouachita 50 Mile Trail run in late April, and I already can’t wait to get back to Arkansas.

Enjoying my well earned soup & crackers for finishing.
Elizabeth holding me up at the end.
The results on the day after...

1 comment:

  1. What a journey! To take on all of that on a twisted ankle is just wow!