by Deborah Sexton
Maumelle Park, Little Rock, Arkansas
April 21, 2007
Since I am pacing a friend at Massanutten on May 19, I was looking for a hilly, rough- terrain long run to prepare for that race. The Ouachita Trail 50K was perfect. This course is covered in rock from start to finish with only a few short stretches of flat trail. In addition to most of the trail being up or down, there also is a wonderful mountain of rocks called Pinnacle Mountain that you must climb over on your way to the turnaround point. Race director Chrissy Ferguson has mercy though. You run around Pinnacle Mountain on your way home so you do not have to climb it twice.
This race is a classic out and back. The 50K runners turn around at 16 miles, after doing a 1.7-mile out and back and the 50-miler runners turn around at 26.3 miles. It has a pretty aggressive cutoff for a course of this difficulty, only 13 hours. I failed to make this cutoff last year at Northshore aid station (36.6) miles when I attempted the 50 miler.
The race start/finish is in Maumelle Park, Little Rock, Arkansas. There is a large pavilion and permanent bathrooms. These are supplemented by porta potties as well for the race. It’s fairly easy to find, just a couple of turns off a major highway that runs through Little Rock. As long as you get there early enough, you can park right there at the park so it’s very convenient. At the end of the race, there is a hose with nice cold water to wash off the worst of the dirt and sweat. Then you can sit down and enjoy a freshly grilled hamburger or hotdog with potato chips or salad, macaroni salad, brownies, and other goodies.
All entrants received a Race Ready performance shirt in light blue with the Ouachita Trail logo on it. Finishers received a beautiful hand-made clay medallion with the race logo on it that had been glazed. You had your choice of several colors and it came on a home-spun looking piece of twine. It was a fun and unusual award.
Chrissy gave us final race instructions about 15 minutes prior to race. And in her usual tradition ended her instructions with a statement that “Texas Sucks.” Being from Texas, I also found these same words had been written on my bib number with a little smiley face. If you go to Arkansas Traveler 100, you also will be told that “Texas Sucks.” And you also will be told that “Hunters Suck” too as they frequently pull down race markers and glow sticks. I’m not sure why Texas sucks but when I asked Chrissy’s husband Stan about it, he stated that he “loved Texans.” All the same, if any Texans go to this race, it may be safer not to admit you are from Texas. J
The race started promptly at 6 a.m. It was around the mid-50s. The temps would go up to around the low 80s during the day but a breeze helped make the temps more bearable. The trail had some muddy sections from the storms that had come through the week before but it was mostly restricted to a couple of feet of mud that could be hopped over in one step. Otherwise the trail was pretty dry. There are quite a few stream crossings also in this race, but none that can’t be hopped over. No major shoe-wetting water had to be crossed.
Both races start at the same time. The first 2.7 miles is out on a highway that takes you from the park to the trail head. At the start, runners covered the road and moved aside for the occasional car. It was still dark but starting to get light so no one used flashlights since there was no real fear of falling on the road. There were several long climbs on this road as well as some downhills before you hit the single track trail. From that point on you were on trail the whole way except for one more section when you came back out on a highway, crossed two bridges and then hooked back up to a trail again. This section was less than a mile. In a way it was a nice break to be able to run again as the rocky trail was difficult to run on.
At Northshore aid station, which was 16 miles on the way out, the 50 milers kept going but the 50K runners turned left and ran a 1.7-mile out and back. At the turnaround, you had to grab a ticket that you turned in when you returned and started on your way back to the finish.
All the aid stations had plenty of ice, which was a blessing since it got pretty warm during the day. All the volunteers were simply wonderful and the selection of food and drink was varied and generous. No one went in need of anything.
This race was a little closer than I would have liked to Umstead, at which I did about 77 miles on March 31. However, I went because I felt it would be good training for Massanutten and because one of my training friends, Shawna Brown, wanted to go and was looking for someone to make the five-hour drive with her.
I had two concerns going into this race. I had been having a little pain from plantar in my left foot. Umstead had not made it worse but this course was much rougher. Also, I am in between trail shoes. I had gotten the plantar from running in my old trail shoes too long. I had tried New Balance 809s at Umstead and my feet hurt the whole race. In the meantime, I had ordered two different pairs of new trail shoes to try, but had not had an opportunity to try them out yet. Having just had a bad experience running in a new trail shoe at Umstead, I was unwilling to try out a brand new pair of shoes at Ouachita. So I decided to run in my road shoes.
My game plan was to just keep up with my friend, Shawna. She had run Hog’s Hunt 50k the same day I ran Umstead. She tends to go out much faster than I do, but I hoped because the distance was only 30 miles that I could be able to keep up with her until she pooped out and slowed down.
On the way out on the road, I pushed to keep pace with her. I really hate not warming up first but didn’t want to lose her in the first few miles. I also noticed that the road was bothering the plantar. Thank goodness we finally reached the trail and my foot felt better on the dirt. We started on a down hill descent on the very rough, rocky, rooty terrain. You really had to pay attention not to stumble.
We cruised into the first aid station which is actually the parking lot for people wanting to hike Pinnacle Mountain. There we discovered some wonderful aid station person had baked homemade oatmeal cookies bursting with cherries and raisins. Yum yum. Those were good. We started up the trail which was a pretty steep incline until we reached the base of Pinnacle. This is basically a big pile of rocks. No trail at all, pure rock climbing. I really like this mountain. You lose a ton of time scrambling up it, but it was a break from the usual run. I like of like the huffing and puffing as you look for hand holds and foot holds to pull yourself up. It takes around 20-30 minutes to get all the way up.
I got to the top and there was a photographer taking photos and two other volunteers making sure people were OK. I asked if there was a rock up there I was supposed to kiss or something. I felt like I had just summited Mount Everest and this should be acknowledged with some sort of ritual. The volunteer pointed out a rock I could kiss if I wanted to but I decided I shouldn’t take the time, so I just blew a kiss to the rock and that would have to suffice.
The way down is steep but there are rock steps that make it much easier to climb down. As you get lower, it turns into stair-stepped trail and then it empties out into another parking lot. This is not an aid station but there was volunteers there again checking off your number as well as an ambulance in case the mountain was too much for someone.
I turned around and started walking backwards waiting for Shawna to come down. I have always been faster going up the hills and she has always been faster coming down. I saw her descending after a few minutes and we hooked up again and were soon back on the single track trail. During this section, I stepped the wrong way on a rock. Without the steel plate of my trail shoes, the rock cut right into the exact spot of my plantar. I experienced a sharp jab of intense pain and for the next 30 minutes it was very painful to run on it. I would have slowed down or even walked to give it some time but that meant losing Shawna who was running like a bat out of hell so I just gritted my teeth and kept going.
Shawna’s goal was to break eight hours and with that mountain in the way, that’s a tough goal to meet but she was going to give it her all. We kept going and hit the aid station at Lake Vista. We shot through there and headed on out to Northshore, which was the 16- mile mark. About 1.5 miles short of Northshore there’s another little aid station with ice, drinks, and some food. We stocked up there and headed out to Northshore. By now we were starting to see people coming back from the turnaround.
During this stretch I found I could no longer keep up with Shawna’s pace. I would start to catch her on the hills but I couldn’t match her pace on the flats and the downhills and she soon faded from sight. My foot was really hurting and I was just still too tired from Umstead. I got to Northshore and Shawna had already gone on. I grabbed a Boost and some Coke and headed out to the turnaround. Unfortunately, this is on pavement, which made my foot hurt more. I really felt like crap, I was tired and wishing I hadn’t come.
I drank my Coke and walked ran to the turnaround. Shawna passed me coming back looking strong. When I got to the turnaround, I broke open my Boost and drank that on the way back. I handed in my ticket and started the trek back to the finish. I was running on the sections that I could and walking the rest. I was really dragging with my head down. After about 30 minutes I looked up and realized I was off the trail. No blue markers on trees and no blue flags hanging anywhere. Crap, just what I needed. I had a chance of doing 8 hours and change and now I knew I’d just blown that. I turned around and started heading back to where I came from hoping to see where I had missed a turnoff. Over to my right in the woods, I saw some blue flags. Great, and I went over to them.
There I was even more confused. These blue flags were basically in the middle of the woods. There definitely was no trail by them. I assume they must have been leftover from some other event. At that point, I was turning in circles completely lost. I started calling out, “Hello, Hello” in a loud voice. No one answered me. I wasn’t even sure which way I had come but I started walking in my best guess direction (always dangerous for someone with virtually no sense of direction to do). I kept calling out “Hello, I’m Lost.”
Finally two women heard me and yelled back. “We’re over here!” So I followed their voices and found the trail again. I pushed myself to catch up to them and met Elaine and Donna, both from Arkansas. I was kicking myself for losing at least 30 minutes purely from lack of paying attention. When I had done the out and back, I was approximately two miles ahead of Donna and Elaine and they had caught up while I was meandering.
They were both very nice and I was happy to have someone to run with. I was in pain and it helped to forget how much farther I had to go. We finally reached the Lake Vista aid station again. Elaine and Donna filled their bottles and started the long climb up. I had to mix some Clip II and get some Vaseline and I took a little bit longer. As soon as I could, I scrambled up the hill after them. Once we got to the top of the hill, thankfully, they both were still walking so I pushed and was finally able to catch them again.
We kept moving and finally came back out to the road. We crossed the two bridges and got back on the trail. By now I am struggling to keep up with them. They both ran the entire road section and I pushed as best I could but I was getting slower and slower despite all my efforts. I hung on for a little more of the trail but on the next big climb I lost them. I could not keep up.
I was pretty miserable and just wishing for the nightmare to be over. My knee starting hurting as well, I think it was because I was favoring the foot with the plantar and not firmly planting on the ground. When I pulled into the last aid station with four miles to go, I had to sit down. That four miles may as well have been 40. I knew it was going to probably take me at least 90 minutes to finish as there were plenty of steep climbs still go and lots more rocks, rocks, rocks. Man, I did not want to do it. The bad thing about sitting down is I noticed even more that my feet were just throbbing.
The 50 miler winner cruised in at this time. He got his bottle filled, grabbed some food and was off running like a demon. The second place guy was hot on his heels. I finally got up determined to get the death march over with and get this race done. I crossed the road and started the steep climb up to Pinnacle Mountain. A guy named Johnny Spiggs came up next to me and we walked and talked for the next two miles or so. He was from Tulsa and liked to do double marathons. He had just done a marathon a week for the past six weeks. He had done the Sunmart/White Rock double. He was moving pretty good so I was grateful because I could keep up with him and was moving faster with him that I would have by myself.
We finally hit that road that takes you to the finish. We kept walking and then he said he was going to run on the downhill. I said OK and ran with him. Aaagh, this was agony. We got to the bottom of the hill and he kept running but I had to stop. I pulled to the side and crouched down to bend my knees. I looked down the road and saw another runner trudging toward me. I waited for him to catch up and walked the rest of the way in with him. His name also was Johnny and he was from Little Rock. So we chatted about past races and what we ate and drank and blah blah blah. And although I didn’t think that road would ever end, it passed the time more quickly to talk with him. We finally reached the entrance to the park. Johnny informed me he was sprinting in and he took off doing about a seven-minute mile. I pushed myself to a shuffling jog to get myself past the finish line in 9:01.
Shawna was there looking all showered and pretty in black pants and a yellow top. I just plopped down right on the pavement hoping no one would make me get up for several hours. Aaagh my feet really hurt. Those rocks just pummel your feet. Chrissy came up and presented me with a handful of the ceramic finisher’s awards and let me pick my color.
Shawna finished in a great time of 8:21. She didn’t break eight hours but at least she didn’t get lost.
I was just so happy to be done. I told her I was never going to run again.