My spring race season went into its second event this past weekend, and like the first, it was all trails. Just the way I like it.
Better than that, this was one of the more interesting concepts for a running event that I’ve seen. And seeing who the organizers are behind it, I’m not surprised.
Tulsa Area Trail and Ultra Runners (TATUR) is known in Oklahoma for timing and organizing races, particularly big trail and ultra races. But you’ll see these cats working what seems like scores of local 5Ks all over the state.
Anyway, TATUR Racing is an innovative bunch. Innovative is how I’d describe Sunday’s event, the Snake Run.
The race took place at Tulsa’s Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness, with the course mostly winding its way along the Snake Trail and the Kopperhead Trail on the west side of the park. One “loop” was a meandering 4.2-mile out-and-back.
This race is different than most. Whereas most races have a set distance in which you try to complete it as fast as you can, the Snake Run has a set time where you run as many miles as you can in that set timeframe. For this one, there were three-hour and six-hour events.
To make sure you wouldn’t get stranded in the middle of a loop when the gun sounded (an incomplete loop is not counted in your final tally, even if you almost finish at the gun), they also set up a half-mile loop where you could grind out some last-minute mileage toward the end of the event.
There was a lot to like about this one. Some 250 runners participated, and some of these cats were speedy endurance machines well beyond my meager abilities. It took place in a beautiful wooded area where I like to run anyway. And the organizers made sure to build a “fast” track, keeping the route high on the ridge so you could really pound out a lot of miles without the normal scrambles and hill climbs you see in most trail races.
First, a note about TATUR: They know how to do it right. The course was well-laid out, marked and efficient. Aid stations were well-placed and well-stocked. The volunteers were awesome and encouraging. And they had the timing down to a science. These guys/gals were absolute rock stars.
The weather kinda sucked if you were standing still. It was in the low-40s, humid and misting at race time, which is a real drag if you’re not moving. Ergo, the volunteers are saints. For runners, I can’t imagine better conditions. You never get hot, and the light mist made the trails good and soft, but not muddy.
Post race, with my clothes soaked through from sweat, standing around waiting for results made me re-enter freezing suckitude once again. I found my car and cranked up the heat. Hey, it’s not like I magically won some trophy with the miles I put up.
Like I said, the winners were fast. In the three-hour event, the top finisher hit 25 miles. That’s incredibly fast on trails, a figure that dwarfed the totals the rest of us mere mortals posted. Winners in the six-hour event pushed close to 40.
There’s a lot of strategy in a race like this, knowing when to ease back, when to turn it on, how to use the aid stations and when to pull the plug on the big loop in favor of snagging the last few miles on the short loop. Veteran trail runners (and past Snake Run competitors) had it down.
As much as I’d like to talk up the feats of these people, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that race organizers made this an accessible event for anyone, including novice trail runners. While the format requires some pretty cagey strategy for elite competitors, it is also conducive to beginners.
The same could be said of the course design. Stout runners will tackle hills or flats — they don’t care. But everyone can appreciate a course built for speed. For the novice/recreational runners, taking the nasty parts of Turkey Mountain’s trails out of the race made it that much more inviting.
(It’s not that the folks at TATUR mind a good, sadistic competition. They’ve got one in June that can only be described as hill repeat hell. I’ll write about that another time.)
On a personal level, I was happy with how it went. I ran the three-hour event. Knowing my speed on trails, I set modest goals — get two loops and change for starters, and if I’m feeling good, hit half-marathon mileage. I saw the Snake Run as a good way to build up to the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon half next month.
I ended up hitting three loops, ending the last one with about 45 minutes left. By that time, I was starting to tire (the clock at the starting line clued me in) so I knew trying for another 4.2 on the main loop could mean grabbing a bunch of miles that would not be counted if I didn’t finish it before the gun (remember, partial loops count for zero miles). So I ground out five half-mile loops to give me 15.1 miles.
Those numbers were good enough to finish 32nd out of 85 males, and 40th out of 173 runners overall. I’m used to languishing in the middle-back of the herd, so I was pretty stoked, yet not overly so given how much more the fellas ahead of me tallied at the end.
I have mad respect for the six-hour competitors. Not only were they out there that whole time, but among the top finishers, all of them had splits faster than any of mine. I honestly can’t envision myself doing what they did, but then again, I didn’t think I’d blow past half-marathon mileage in my allotted time, either. So never say never.
I’m pretty sure I’ll be back for this one. A well-run, well-planned trail event like the Snake Run has to be one of those must-go races, especially for those of us in T-town.
On Twitter @RMHigh7088