Emerging from the dark and gray days of winter, my own spring race schedule finally started. Rather meekly, I might add, with just a 10K trail race, but it’s more of a building block thing and a chance to take part in an event I’ve heard a lot of people talking about — the Post Oak Lodge Challenge.
It’s been described to me as a difficult course, A few insiders I know say the trails are not particularly technical, certainly not like the trails I am used to running.
But I was warned about the hills. There were the typical ups and downs on trails, but there were also two sizable hills that picked up some pretty good elevation in a short amount of distance, including one that is the highest point in a three-county area around Tulsa. That might not sound like much to my friends who live in mountain states, but from the top of one of those hills, you are looking down on the towers of downtown Tulsa.
The Post Oak Challenge is held at a sprawling site in the Osage hills northwest of Tulsa, and it’s actually a two-day event with a whole slew of races. Saturday was all trails — 10K, 25K and 50K events that wind through some beautiful, hilly terrain that’s a mix of woodlands and open prairie.
Sunday’s races included mixed road and trail (“troad”), with lengths of quarter-, half- and full marathon. A lot of people did doublers. Some of those stayed the night at the event’s host, the Post Oak Lodge.
Anyway, I was working Sunday and I’m progressing at a measured pace. I looked at this as an expensive group training/trail run.
One of the coolest things about it was meeting friends there. A college bud of mine who’s a duathlete, Monica Mullins, ran the 10K and was right on my heels. She’s an amazing story of how cycling and running can change your life, and she’d whip me in a road race. Monica finished 2nd in her age group, and a couple of her friends there finished first and second in theirs (young pups). They also ran the quarter marathon, so all three were doublers.
There’s a fella named Michael I know from my gym who also ran the 10K. He dusted me.
And then there was a co-worker of mine, Paul Tyrrell, who did the 25K. He’s the one who gave me a lot of intel on the course from past experience. He’s run lots of marathons and a few ultra trail races, so he’s a stout runner and a dang good editor to boot.
We’ve been blessed with some rain and snow lately, but I figured four days of sunshine and wind would have dried things out. Not so much. Early on, the wet and muddy parts were frozen (race time temp was about 30 degrees or so), but that quickly gave way to melted, muddy messes in certain parts of the course.
That’ doesn’t bother me, at least not if it doesn’t stick to my shoes, which it didn’t (the new Inov8’s performed great, by the way). But it did bother others, who tended to gum up the course by gingerly (and slowly) side-stepping the mushier parts. Most of the trail was singletrack, so passing slower runners was difficult. Should have started much closer to the front of the pack.
Trails through the woods tended to be semi-technical, but nothing too difficult. So in that aspect, Post Oak is not hard. I am still surprised at how many runners did not take advantage of gravity and bomb down the downhills. Most folks are really cautious, which slows them down, puts more wear on their legs and makes it tough on folks like me who would rather commence with said downhill bombing. Think quick, go light and move, people. You just have to practice. If you get good at moving downhill fast, you save time and energy on trails.
(I should note, however, that people dealing with chronic back or knee injuries can be excused here. No need to exacerbate pre-existing conditions.)
What made the race tough were the hills. The first half of the course was pretty easy. But crammed into the last 4K or so are two significant hills. The biggest of the two is the first one, Holmes Peak. From its base, you climb about 400 feet to the summit, with a steep pitch at the very end. I’ll admit, I hiked a third of it, but I did run the last stretch, then rushed down to flatter, friendlier trails.
The side cramps were hitting me pretty good about then, but I managed to control that before hitting the last 2K. That’s where the second big hill came into play.
The folks who organized the race have dubbed it “The Hill From Hell,” and market it pretty hard as the crux of the race. It is a tough climb, mostly because you go up a portion of it, drop back down and lose all that elevation, then regain it through a series of switchbacks until you hit the last steep pitch at the top. There is a friendly beer aid station at the start of this climb, and as you’re going up, you can hear the music at the finish line playing. The last 1K is all downhill, then across a flat field.
I think Holmes Peak was the harder of the two, but The Hill From Hell had a muddy portion that send me for a spill and left a nice lump on my shin. Hey, you’re not trail running until you fall, right?
For the lucky ones running the 50K, they got to do both hills twice.
If you follow this blog much, you know that I’m slow. I am getting faster, but I’m still slow. Pre-race, I looked at the dudes who’d be running with me, and my thought was, “I hope I don’t finish last!” Everyone looked pretty stout from a running perspective — tall, lean, athletic. The good news is I didn’t finish last. I finished in the bottom third of all male runners, and about the middle of the pack of all runners with a 1:20 time.
I also scored 3 free brews. One at the beer tent aid station (PBR), two at the finish line (Michelob Ultra and Bud Light). All beer is good during/after a trail race, but Bud Light wins the taste test. I don’t know what hipsters like about PBR, and rest assured, in my non-post race mode, none of the above touch my lips.
The overall winner finished it in 49 minutes. I tell you this only for perspective, and I won’t get into the winning times of the million other races that happened over the weekend. You can find them here, though.
Needless to say, this will be an annual event for me. I love Turkey Mountain, but the hills at Post Oak are a good change of scenery, and while they lack the technical challenge of Turkey, they offer another stiff test in their size. If I can run those hills strong, good things are going to happen.
Two weeks from now is the Snake Run at Turkey Mountain. That one, for me, will be three hours of trail running. Stay tuned…
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