Before I get too far into this one, it’s time to ‘fess up.
I could blame my conditioning on a case of the flu I got earlier in the winter. But the truth is, despite how nasty that got, it happened in January and it’s late March now. I got over it, signed up for races, and got to training again.
But then I got a little lazy. So I struggled my way through the Post Oak Challenge 25K, backed off marathon training and just sort of meandered. I’ve been lifting pretty hard, but running? Eh, not so much. I’ve run, but not seriously.
So I’ve put on some weight (now at 180 pounds) and lost a little stamina. And this is where I was at the start of the 2014 Snake Run, a Tulsa trail race event that has you logging as many miles as you can in either 3 hours or 6 hours.
Naturally, I chose the 3. I did the same race last year and had a blast. So how would this year go? Well, hang on a minute while I get some preliminaries out of the way.
First off, the race course is one where organizers deliberately picked the easiest loop possible so folks could go fast and far. It’s still on trails, and there is still some up and down involved. But nothing like the rest of the trails at Turkey Mountain. So it’s a fast track. The main loop was a 3.75-mile out-and-back. There was also a half-mile loop where you could eke out some final mileage before your time is up, if by chance you didn’t think you had enough time to finish a big loop before the clock read zero. That’s important, because an unfinished loop — even if you’re within yards of the finish — counts for nothing.
The winners: There were some impressive showings in this one. If you were going to earn that coiled-snake trophy, you’d have to burn rubber.
In the 6-hour race, Jeanne Bennett threw down an impressive 36.75 miles to win the women’s field.
For the men’s 6-hour event, Nick Seymour blasted out an amazing 43.75 miles. I can’t imagine running 6 hours, but even if I did, I probably wouldn’t have logged much more than 30, if that. And only if I were actually in marathon shape.
The 3-hour race also saw some significant accomplishments.
Reed Echohawk snagged 22.5 miles to win the men’s event. Right on his heels, and second place overall, was women’s division winner Katie Kramer with a stout 21.25 miles. Just so you know, Katie did a 20-mile training run the next day.
That’s the kind of person who wins these things. The rest of us mere mortals settle for finisher’s medals, though these were pretty sweet.
The race: Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been dogging it a bit this spring, using the flu excuse a little too long, eating a little too much, and running far too little. My goal was to improve on the 15.1 miles I logged last year, and hopefully much more.
But about midway through the first lap, I knew I was in trouble. I’d been shadowing a couple of reasonably paced people, but found I was sucking wind at the turnaround point. On the first. Freakin’. Lap.
It didn’t get any better on the way back as I struggled into the check-in point for Lap No. 2.
At this point, I had to rethink everything about this race. No way you quit before you get 15, I thought. Or a half marathon. I was hedging my bets.
So it was about here that I actually had to think about what I was doing mid-race. Really think. Coast those downhills. Use your glutes going uphill. Catch your breath on the flat. Run your pace.
Then Lap 2 was done, and I felt OK. My body had settled into a more acceptable rhythm. Or let’s just say, something more sustainable as Lap No. 3 loomed.
Each lap slowed me down some, but not too much. But given my conditioning, the last thing I wanted to do was bonk mid-lap and then either limp to the finish line out of gas and almost no time left (and well short of beating last season’s result) or, worse yet, crash and burn and run out of time before that third lap was completed. With about an hour left, I decided to head to the short track.
This is the place where you finish off your mileage toward the end of the race, but most people don’t starting circling this route until there’s about 30 minutes left. So for a few turns, I was pretty much alone, pounding out half-mile loops on a slightly tougher set of trails.
The goal was to set a pace where each loop would be at least as fast as the previous, and it worked. I was winded and quite sore, but for some reason I was able to block it out and keep my level of effort constant. I pulled into the finish line with 3 minutes to spare, having lost count of how many turns I did around that loop.
As it turns out, the strategy worked. Preliminary results had me at 15.75 miles, good enough for 13th place (out of 55) for the men and 21st out of 144 overall. There’s a huge gap between me and the leaders, but I was just happy to do even just a little better than I did a year ago.
Fun stuff: Other cool things happened. Somewhere on the second loop, a woman’s voice called out from behind me.
“Are you that guy with the blog?” she asked. I turned around and saw a gal I didn’t know, but conversation was welcome at that point.
“Proactiveoutside?” I asked.
Turns out that Kris Rider is a regular reader. We chatted it up for a bit, but she was clearly faster, so I had to let her go do her thing (she finished with 17 miles even, 14th overall and 5th for all women). I caught up with her post-race and we talked more, where she told me that she and her husband like to hike and climb the 14ers in Colorado. I pronounce Kris and her hubby (who is also a trail runner) as “officially rad.”
There were familiar faces there — TZ Childress, the race director who also walks the walk (multiple 100-mile finisher), Matt Carver (who can run me into the ground and was out cycling the trails that day) and a gal named Ellen I’d met on a Turkey Mountain cleanup day a couple of months back.
She’d run the race, and we walked back to the lot and shot the breeze. This time of year, she normally does a Bataan Memorial March, and she told me about a guy who survived it who still shows up to those events. Ellen is a WWII history buff, as am I, so even though walking down the hill was slow and a little painful, it was awesome to swap stories about the little historical nuggets we’d uncovered over the years about that war.
Closing thoughts: One thing about the Snake Run: It’s a game within a race. For the serious competitors, there is a lot of gamesmanship. Even for those of us just competing against buddies or ourselves, strategy is a part of it. How well you pace yourself, and when you pull off the main course to the short track is the difference between a PR or, among the top runners, a trophy.
But with all things that are trail running, the people are what make it great. Runners, volunteers, the whole bunch — that’s what keeps pulling me back to trail races. You can have fun at huge events or local 5Ks, but there’s nothing quite like the trailrunner tribe.