This race was every bit of the party I hoped it would be! The race originally started as a birthday run for two special Arkansas runners and since my birthday was just a few days away, I figured I’d sneak my way into the birthday fun too. I also loved the dirt cheap race entry, so there was that. Just four days before the race, I headed to the doctor’s office to see if my wrist would need surgery or not. I had broken it three weeks earlier playing soccer and it was still pretty swollen and hideous looking so I started preparing myself for the bad news. The doctor looked at it and not only decided that I didn’t need surgery but also allowed that I could run this 50k, provided I didn’t fall.
After a last-minute but strategically executed road trip, my mom, my sister and my two kiddos went to the Lake Sylvia swimming area and small playground just down the road as we waited for the race start. It was a toasty 102° and even the lake was somewhat bath like. An unexpected downpour effectively dropped the temperature by about 10 degrees but also made things a little steamy. It was going to be a hot night! I usually use a handheld water bottle but since I’m still sporting a lovely cast, I decided to just bring my hydration pack. Ten minutes before the race we realized the hose was cracked in half (it got smashed in the cooler)! We tried to tape it but the tape just kept slipping off so instead I held a regular water bottle with my free hand and put two extras in my pack. I had my sister cut a hole in the top of the water bottle so I could just drink from the top and wouldn’t have to open it left-handed on the run. Not going to lie, I felt pretty clever about that one. It wasn’t ideal but I feel like we made the best of it.
The pre-race meeting began and then off we went! After leaving camp Ouachita, we ran downhill for about a half mile on the road then hit the gravel forest service roads that we’d be on for the rest of the race. Then we started on the gradual uphill that lasted for about THREE FREAKING MILES. I knew the course had rolling hills but I think these should be described instead as “holy moley rollers”. True, the hills were never too steep but boy were they looooong. The hills were longer on the way in so I vowed to appreciate the downhills on the way back, even with tired legs. During this race I had the privilege of meeting some awesome runners, including two blind runners. One of these runners, Everett Elam, was running the 25k and his guide, Mindy Simonson, was a friend he had met through the Little Rock Blind and Visually Impaired Runners Club. They ran with a short tether between them while Mindy chose the safest path. They were so positive and just plain hilarious, it was great to run with them. I would have loved to stay but I wanted to run my own race so I continued on. Just a short time later I caught up with the Eric Yarberry and his guide, Jason Armitage, running the 50k. They told me that he was getting a little too fast on the roads and it was hard to find guides that could keep up! He placed second in a 5k which would be impressive in itself, let alone considering that he cannot see the path ahead of him. The hill kept going and so did they while I wished him luck on his first ultra and stayed behind. I am extremely impressed and am so thankful I had the opportunity to meet such wonderful people. In fact, I enjoyed talking with everyone out there – trail runners are seriously the greatest people ever.
The first aid station used to be water only but got bumped up to normal aid station quality, with snacks, soft drinks, ice and water which I already thought was great. Then we got to the aid stations at the 25k and 50k turnarounds which were seriously the best aid stations ever. I mean, they had everything and the aid station workers were above and beyond helpful. The aid station even had cold watermelon, which is something I fantasize about on my long runs even in the winter. They had salty snacks, fruit, ginger ale and even Dr. Pepper! They also had pickles which I despise (it even says so in my about me section) but everyone else seemed to like it so I guess I will allow it for next year. People were filling their water bottles and bandanas with ice but I didn’t have anything like that so I asked if they’d dump some down my bra and somehow it was the best idea I’ve ever had. I joked that it was the biggest my cup size would ever be! At the turnaround I decided to go for two scoops and joked that I was leveling up to a B-cup. But seriously, ice on the chest really helped cool down the core in the 80-90º insanity that we were running in. I sang happy birthday to the Momma Lou and off I went. After the first aid station I saw an arrow pointing into the woods but saw a glowstick up ahead. Luckily at this point I was running with a seasoned full moon 50k runner who told me that the arrow pointed to the location of last year’s aid station. My runner’s brain forgot this information on the way back and me and this other man ran the wrong way for a short time until I remembered the arrows were a lie! Just follow the glow sticks, easy as that. At one point two guys ran up and told me that I had almost stepped on a copperhead. I was in shock because I thought I had been scanning for snakes but yep, I had apparently missed at least two before that as well.
I ran back to take a picture, that’s how excited I was. That was the first time I had seen a live copperhead and since my husband is a park ranger and slightly obsessed with snakes, I needed a picture for a positive ID. After that I saw no less than five copperheads crossing the gravel path – never a dull moment! Most were passing by peacefully but one little guy tried to snap at a nearby runner. At one point, two copperheads crossed the gravel path going opposite directions, blocking my path. I called out to the runner behind me but he couldn’t hear until it was too late so he just hopped right over. I also saw several live scorpions which was another item on my bucket list so that was pretty cool. My light was at just the right angle to reflect the spider’s eyes in the woods and there were some monster spiders out there. There was one I would have liked a picture of but my phone was too sweaty so I didn’t even bother. Google “biggest wolf spider on the planet” and you’ll probably find one about that size. The good thing about this being on a wide path is that there was not one spider web to go through, something every trail runner can relate to. Just after the turnaround I started seeing little explosions of color on the ground and I was trying to figure out what it was. Then it hit me – it was throw up. Lots and lots of throw up. Somehow I was able to keep it together and didn’t join the club. I’ve been experimenting with different foods and have found a few things that work for me so that has helped. It also helps that I am starting to leave my middle-of-the-pack status and join the people closer to the back.
The finish line was great, there were so many people hanging out cheering on even us slow pokes. I finished in 100th place (out of 117) with a total time of 7 hours and 50 minutes at 2:50 in the morning. Nothing to brag about but I think it was pretty good training for my hundred miler this fall and anyway I had fun. It felt so good to be done and this was the first race I didn’t lose any toenails, maybe because I already lost the important ones. Since we were celebrating Christmas in July, a Christmas ornament was placed around my neck for completing my run. The best part, volunteer firefighters cooked a breakfast meal for the runners. Seriously, bacon and watermelon are the best after run combo in the whole wide world. My sister was there waiting for me at the finish and was a tremendous help. We walked back to the cabin where we took off my disgusting cast and she helped me wash my arm. Thank goodness my doctor gave me a replacement wrist sock because that thing could have been used to cause nightmares. Susy had warned us not to shower with our clothes on which was a fair warning. She said others find it disgusting while we see it as more opportunistic, haha! It’s so true though, when you get nasty enough it seems smart to rinse off first, then shower normally but I refrained. After showering most of the stink off, I hopped to the floor and got two and a half very short but restful hours of sleep before having to get up and head home. For this race especially, I could have not done it without my family. They are amazing and ridiculous, putting up with me and getting up at stupid hours of the night to help me on this crazy journey. I also want to thank race director Susy Chandler for putting on a quality race and for being hilarious. And thanks as always to the aid station workers for staying up all night for us stinky runners and pouring ice down my sweaty shirt. If you’re wondering if you should do this race – DO IT and prepare to party! That is, unless maybe you’re afraid of the heat, snakes, scorpions, the dark or plain old good fashioned fun.