Saturday, November 26, 2011

Ozark Trail 100 Miles Endurance Run

I waited until the 2nd last day (27 Oct) of the closing date before registering for the Ozark Trail 100 Miles Endurance Run in Missouri.  I had to wait until the last minute as I was not sure if I had recovered fully from the CDR.  Even then, I knew I had ran out of time to properly prepare myself for a 100 mile race.  My only expectation was to have fun while trying to cover as many miles as possible.  Before my trip, I tried to find out more about the Mark Twain National Forest, where the 100 Miles race would be held.  For comparison, Singapore (where I come from) has a land area of 694 km2.  In contrast, the Mark Twain National Forest, while not the biggest in USA, still has a land area of 6,100 km², of which 320 km² are Wilderness and National Scenic River area.  I.e. the forest is almost 9 times the size of Singapore!  The race would be a point-to-point course, with several water crossings, 12,000 to 15,000 ft of elevation and most importantly, with lots of leaves covering the trail.  Hmmmmmm...


I arrived at the Bass River Resort 2 days before race day.  The weather was great.  And I slept the rest of the day.  On Friday, I picked up my race packet and went back to my cabin to pack my items into the drop bags.  After dropping off the drop bags, I went back to take a nap and didn't wake up till it was time to attend the pre-race briefing and dinner.  I took note of some important information, like to always make sure the course marking is on my right, to not be worried about a fire which was burning in another part of the Mark Twain National Forest, etc.  There was a lucky draw conducted after the brief and runners won additional race event tee or a year's subscription to Trail Runner Magazine (if I remembered correctly).  I went back to my cabin to rest early, since runners taking the bus ride to the race start would have to report at 3:00am for the 3:30 bus ride.  I didn't sleep well, waking up every hour to check on the time.  Maybe I had slept too much in the day.  Or maybe I was just too excited or too worried.  I finally woke up again at 2:45am, changed into my race attire, took my hydration bag with my other race items, and walked to the Race HQ.

Race Packet Pick-up

Deposit of Drop Bags

Race Briefing and Pasta Dinner

It was not very cold but if you weren't doing anything at 3:00am in the morning but waiting, in November, in USA, it could be cold.  I took shelter inside the Bass River Resort's store with some other runners.  Then, someone mentioned that the buses were here and we went out to check-in for the race before boarding the bus.  I spoke briefly to a Filipino runner.  The rest of the runners looked so experienced and prepared, while I was nervous.  Journey to the race start was about 1hrs 30mis.  I closed my eyes and tried to sleep but couldn't.  I endured for the rest of the journey and when we eventually reached, I stayed on the bus to keep myself warm.  :p  But soon, everyone was getting down the bus and I followed.  It was about 5:50am, another 10 minutes before race start.  Luckily, there was a fire burning in a furnace right next to the Start Point.  I went over and stood right next to it, with a few other runners.  Then, I removed my windbreaker and gloves.  I was ready!  And at 6:00am, the Race Director, flagged off the start and off we ran.

Race Reporting at 3:00am

Gathering of Runners, Volunteers and Supporters at Race Start

Ozark Trail Endurance Run

Distance to 1st Aid Station @ Grasshopper Hollow: 8 Miles; Time taken: 2hrs 05mins
We cheong into the darkness with our headlamp and/or hand-held lamp.  The trail was like what was mentioned by the Race Director during the briefing, covered with leaves and leaves and leaves.  It was soft but not too slippery.  I enjoyed myself following the runners in front at a comfortable pace.  Occasionally, we walked on the uphill portion although it was runnable.  Well, better saved the legs early. Weather was great and I wasn't feeling cold.  By 7:35am, the sky was bright and I could switch off my headlamp.  The runners were also spread out by then.  I arrived at the 1st aid station just after 8:00am.  I took some photos, grabbed some food, drank my favourite milo in my hydration bag, thanked the volunteers, before I left.

Total Time Taken: 2hrs 05mins (8:05am)

1st Aid Station: Grasshopper Hollow

Distance to 2nd Aid Station @ Sutton Bluff: 9.6 Miles; Total: 17.6 Miles Time taken: 3hrs
By the time I left the aid station, I was alone.  But soon, some runners caught up with me while I stopped to take more photos of the trail.  I ran for a while with a young man.  It was his 2nd attempt at the 100 Miles distance and hoped to complete it.  From what I gathered, he should be still studying and I asked for his age.  I began to understand why his friends thought he was crazy.  I thought he was crazy as well.  Otherwise, why would a 16-year old be doing something like running a 100 Miles race?  After 20mins or so, I found myself trying hard to keep pace with him and I asked him to press on and wished him all the best.  Now, I was running on my own.  The trail markings were clear although the trail was not.  But I had to be alert as there were sharp turns along some parts.  On the whole, this leg was very enjoyable.  The hills weren't as bad as in CDR although the footing could be as treacherous as well since you couldn't see what's hidden beneath the leaves.  I fell once while running down.  It was very painful as my new tights had a thread coming off.  :(  I reached Sutton Bluff at around 11:05am.  I saw the Filipino runner (Kenneth if not wrong) and he told me he had to stopped as he twisted his ankle.  The volunteers there helped me to retrieve my drop bag and I unpacked 4 milos into my hydration bag.  I also removed my race belt (hanging around my neck since start of race, and then left it on the table for good!)  I took a some potatoes, more photos before leaving.

Total Time Taken: 5hrs 5mins (11:05am)

2nd Aid Station: Sutton Bluff

Distance to 3rd Aid Station @ Stillwell Hollow: 5.2 Miles; Total: 22.8 Miles Time taken: 1hr 30mins
After leaving Sutton Bluff, I walked the road portion and only started running when I reached the trail.  The trail was really beautiful and I was really enjoying myself.  Perhaps too much.  Then, half way through running, I felt it.  Sigh.  The back of my right knee was feeling sore.  The same kind of soreness that I felt after coming down from Mt Hamel in the CDR.  The same kind of strain that put me off running for over 2 months.  It was not a good sign.  I also realised that I left my race belt with my bib in the last aid station.  Sigh again.  Why on earth did I remove the race belt was beyond me.  Why ddin't I wear it on my waist was also beyond me.  I was clearly not thinking.  Feeling the strain and being demoralised, I slowed to a walk.  Just before I reached the 3rd aid station, a runner ran past me.  (I found out that he was Leonard Martin later on).  Upon reaching, I declared to the volunteers that I left my bib in the last aid station and asked if I could continue.  I also told them that I need my bib as I left the cabin key inside the race belt pouch.  They told me not to worry and promptly radioed to the 2nd aid station to arrange for the race belt to be brought back to the Race HQ back at the Bass River Resort finishing line!  That was a nice gesture!  Thanks!  2 more runners came into the aid station but Leonard didn't waste anytime.  He grabbed whatever he needed, and left in a jiffy.  I reckoned that was due to the next aid station being just 5.2 miles away.  In hind sight, I should've done the same.

Total Time Taken: 6hrs 35mins (12:35pm)

3rd Aid Station: Stillwell Hollow

Distance to 4th Aid Station @ Johnson Hollow: 5.2 Miles; Total: 28 Miles Time taken: 1hr 45mins
I decided to power walk to the next aid station as I did not want to aggravate my old injury.  Soon, the 2 runners I met at the earlier aid station passed me.  And I knew I was losing time to make the cut-off.  Along the way, I saw 2 different groups of riders on horses.  It was a pleasant distraction although the fresh horse dung along the way wasn't.  I decided to take more photos since I was walking.  I started running when I no longer felt the strain, and power walked whenever I felt it coming.  There was another creek crossing, just before reaching Johnson.  I only had 10mins spare.  I decided that I won't make the next cut off and spent even much time eating and taking photos.  I enjoyed some coke before I left.

Total Time Taken: 8hrs 20mins (14:20pm)

The Very Clear Course Markings

4th Aid Station: Johnson Hollow

Distance to 5th Aid Station @ Gunstock Hollow: 6.8 Miles; Total: 34.8 Miles Time taken: 1hr 56mins
I saw a 3rd group of horse riders just leaving for Gunstock Hollow.  By then, I accepted the fact that I won't make the next cut-off.  I was happily enjoying walking the trail.  After yet another bigger creek crossing, I tried running again.  Somehow, I was able to sustain for quite a distance.  Something which I wasn't able to in the last section.  I decided to adopt a run-walk system where I would slowly increased my running distance and decreased my walking distance.  I didn't feel any strain and I didn't anticipate the walking that I did previously would do me good and allow me to run for much of the way to the 5th aid station, though it was not at a fast pace.  I reckoned that I could perhaps just made the cut-off.  I pushed myself a little harder and I knew I was near.  If only I knew I was that near, I might have gone for an all-out sprint.  I arrived at Gunstock Hollow just after 4:16pm and saw my one and only drop bags at that aid station, while the volunteers had already cleared up the place.  The aid station captain informed me that she had to pull me off from the race as I had missed the cut-off, even though it was just over 1min.  Sigh.

Total Time Taken: 10hrs 16mins (16:16pm) - DNF!!!

To 5th Aid Station: Horse Riders, Creek Crossing, Gunstock Hollow & Totally Trashed TNF Rucky Chucky

Towards End-of-Race and Post-Race
I woke up the next day at 1pm plus and walked to the finishing line.  There was a small crowd gathered.  Everyone was excited.  Runners, volunteers and supporters.  At around 1:48pm, someone ran out from the trail and more people followed behind.  It was the last runner (Frank Dietiker)!  He crossed the finishing line in 31hrs 51mins and was the winner of the Last Mule in the Barn Award.  The award presentation followed quickly.  I was happy to hear that Logan, the 16-year old young man from Wisconsin completed his first 100-miler and congratulated him. :)  Well done, kiddo!  After almost everyone left, the last runner, Leonard Martin, came back and cross the finishing line at 32hrs 50mins!  Although he missed the cut-off, the Race Director presented his hard earned buckle to Leonard.  This is something I hope the orgainsers in Singapore could do.  No one signed up for an ultra to DNF and if the runner had completed it even though it was off the cut-off, he truly deserved the finishing buckle.

Races in USA were really different from Singapore in that the volunteers there were all spontaneous and awesome.  They were like a part of your family and made you feel part of them.  When you come into the aid station, they offered food and drink, and retrieved your drop bags without you asking for it.  Sometimes, you were so comfortable there that you wish you could stay longer with them but of course, we shouldn't, especially for a back-of-the-pack runner like me. :) I really enjoyed running inside the Mark Twain National Forest.  It felt surreal.  And while there is no easy 100 Miles Race, this race was actually pretty runnable.  As for myself, I could only wondered "what if".  What if I didn't take the 50 over photos that I took along the way?  What if I didn't fell down?  What if I just ran over all the creeks instead of wasting time to find the best spot to avoid getting wet?  What if and what if?  DNF the race by 1min plus was really painful.  All I could do is to register for next year's race, make sure I come into the race 100% fit, take lesser photos for my blog, run slightly harder and I am sure I could finish the race.  If I could cover 67km (approximately 42 miles) within 11 hours for the Canadian Death Race which is even much tougher, I'm sure I could complete the Ozark Trail Endurance Run.  Especially with this year's experience, I am very sure of that.  See you all next year!

From Top L (clockwise): Frank Dietiker (Last Mule in the Barn Award); 16-year old Logan Polfuss with Mum; Last Finisher Leonard Martin; 1st Female Masters Susan Connelly


Andy said...

Don't be too hard on yourself. It sounds like the main issue was your knee pain. You gave a good effort and may be good for your knee that you stopped when you did.

Good luck next year! I ran in 2010 and would like to run it again.

Ripley said...

Thanks Andy. I will definitely try it again. :)