Last weekend I tackled my first 100 miler, the Ozark Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run, as a way to see how I would handle the distance both physically and mentally. While far from having the elevation gain or loss of some of the more well known hundreds in the rocky mountain region, it was still an honest, point-to-point, 103.6 mile single track course with around 12,000 ft. of gain and loss. I chose the race mainly because it was one of the last few for the year to offer 4 points towards the UTMB lottery, and it was relatively easy to travel to. I also decided that I’d try and keep this trip as simple as possible – meaning, flight out Friday, then race Saturday to Sunday morning, and fly back Sunday evening. I would have no crew and no pacers, which I was hoping would keep my whining and/or tears to a minimum when things got interesting in the race. Wishful thinking? Time would tell.
Race morning began especially early with a 2:30am wake up, then a 30 minute drive to the race finish, and finally a 90 minute school bus ride to the race start. I tried diligently to get a little extra shuteye during the ride to the start, but cramped seats just wouldn’t allow it. Instead, I just tried to avoid freaking out while contemplating the day ahead of me while worrying about whether or not I put everything I might need in my drop bags. Earlier, I had dropped these off marked for the specific aid stations that either immediately followed a mandatory wet-foot water crossing and would need a dry pair of shoes and socks, and where I’d need to pick up might lights before sunset. I would thrown in some extras including NSAIDs, tunes, 5 hour energy shots, and cold weather clothing.
The start line was essentially just a pull off along the side of the road where the Ozark Trail crossed. 65 runners were milling about trying to stay warm before. I managed to find one of those portable heaters someone had kindly set up, and made a few new friends while trying to steal a bit of the heat. Then, before I knew it, the race director began a 10 second countdown followed by a simple “Go.”, and we were off down the trail. I had intentionally placed myself a bit back in the pack to start, just to allow myself to warm up and settle in. Within a few miles I was cruising along and started looking for spots along the trail to move up. After a few relaxed passes, I found myself closer to the front and it had finally thinned out nicely by this point.
About an hour in to the race the sun rose, and I could finally see what I was working with. Lots of plush singletrack, basically. A little rocky here and there, but fairly smooth for the most part. Out here in the Mark Twain National Forest the course constantly goes up and over, down and around a series of bluffs and gulches. None of the hills were that steep or long, but just at that perfect size to make you second guess EITHER decision to hike or run them. Miles 0-25 were uneventful, but I began to hit my first low point at about mile 30 when my legs started to feel the distance and my mind was still unable to comprehend the remaining mileage. Luckily, an aid station was approaching and I made sure to put my legs up for a few minutes while taking in a little soup and cola. Some might argue it was way too early for these niceties, but the body knows what the body wants – and I was in no position to deny it!
After collecting myself at 30, I was able to get it back together and continue to grind out the miles to the Highway DD aid station at mile 50 or so – only with a bit more hill hiking now. Here, I would pick up my lights and ipod as there would be no drop bag opportunities for the next 18 miles or so, and I’d risk running out of daylight before making it to that aid station. I had experienced all the fun of cutting it too close with lights back at the UROC 100k into Minturn where I basically had to stop and wait for a fellow runner with a light to follow. I preferred not to go through that “excitement” again! Hitting Highway DD, I stopped to enjoy the amazing cheese quesadilla and grilled cheese. I think I may have been enjoying them a little too much because I started to get the evil eye from the amazing aid station workers, and then not much longer after, got the whole “Get out of that chair and get on down the trail!” speech. Whoops – point taken! Leaving that aid station, I was a bit stiff in the legs, but after a little walking I was able to get back up to a run and moved well in that 8 mile segment to the next aid station, and even the following 9 mile segment after that into the Hazel Creek aid station at mile 68 or so.
It was legitemately dark and starting to cool off considerably at this point. My legs were pretty beat up by now, and they felt tighter than normal. I carried on. Hitting the Pigeon Roost aid station at 75 was another low point for me. Temps were probably just above freezing here, and I had underestimated my clothing choice for my lower body. Upper body, I was good with a t-shirt, long sleeve, shell-type jacket, and a winter hat, and some thick gloves. Lower body, just “manpris”. Amateur. This fact, compounded with the now icey water crossings, meant a shock to the muscles and an even more dificult time warming them up after each creek crossing. Leaving the aid station at mile 75 down a long gradual downhill, the lower body succumbed. Mainly in the form of my left IT Band exploding (or at least it felt like it) on the outside of my knee. At this point, I was 5 miles from the next aid station where I would have a fix in the form of ibruprofen waiting for me. With my knee spasm-ing, running downhill was out of the question. Running the flats or uphills I could do, but not without a noticeable limp. To not risk more damage I decided to hike with a sense of urgency until the next aid station in 5 miles. There I could take some drugs, and re-evaluate the situation. I didn’t want to drop, and I could always walk the last 25 miles or so – but at the time, that didn’t sound like a very enjoyable option.
Finally, I made it to the Berryman aid station at mile 80. I crashed in a chair, wrapped a blanket around myself to keep any body heat I might have had left, and asked for my drop bag. The aid station volunteers were awesome, and even offered to help change my shoes for me (yuck!). But I figured if I can’t even change my shoes on my own, then I probably shouldn’t still be in the race. Sadly, I couldn’t take that warm, thick blanket with me down the trail so I requested the second best thing – instant coffee and hot chocolate in my handheld bottle! After taking a little sip of this and re-upping on NSAIDs, I knew I could finish with only a minimal amount of walking. Out of the aid station, and back down the trail into the night I went.
The coffee and ibruprofen cocktail carried me on for the next 20 miles, and I would take on soup and gels when I would get a grumble in the stomach. Then out of nowhere, with 3ish miles to go (my garmin was dead at this point), my IT band spasmed for the 2nd time. I was close, but far at the same time. I began to walk again, and decided to put my head down and grind out the last few miles however I could. It was at this point when I noticed that the dark seemed to be closing in around me. My headlamp just wasn’t as bright as it was earlier in the night. I switched it off and back on quickly to double check that it was at maximum strenght. Sadly, it was. I imagined that due to the cold and length of the night, I was at risk of running out of battery with less than 3 miles to go. I thought to mysely that there was no way I would be stranded in the middle of the woods so close to the finish. So without even thinking about my knee, I did my best impression of a sprint that I could. I needed to get out of the woods and down to the finish/resort area fast. I suppose from the adrenaline or from me just not caring anymore my IT band calmed down, and I could run those last few miles down into the resort area with less than a mile to go. The remaining stretch was lit up with glow sticks, and reflective markings. The heavy frost on the grass into the finish line reminded me of just how cold it was out there, but at this point it didn’t matter. I was at the finish, and done in 24 hours and 8 minutes. I sat in a chair, ate some more soup, and just relaxed for a bit – the sun was coming up for the second time during the race by now and more runners would continue to cross the finish in the coming hours.
I hobbled over to my car to change into dry clothes, and then returned to lay in the cots they had set up at the finish to nap and watch other racers come across the line. Following the awards, I high-tailed it back up to St. Louis and was back in Denver by bedtime – 8pm. By now my legs were really feeling the effort, and I almost considered requesting one of those golf carts they use to shuttle people up and down the terminals. Thank goodness at least for the moving walkways!
All in all, I had a great first 100 experience. I would also highly recommend the Ozark Trail 100 race for anyone looking for a laidback race experience, with amazing aid station and aid station volunteers, all while on an honest-but-not-ridiculously-tough course.
I am excited to experience another 100 miler in the near future – once I stop walking with a limp, of course!