I woke up to the sound of birds and thunder. Checking the clock it was only 1:20 AM, still a few more hours until I had to be up. The birds, it turns out, were the noises coming from the air conditioner. The thunder was from a massive storm that would greet us all later that morning. Not knowing whether this was a good thing or a bad thing, I went back to sleep…
The War Eagle 50k near Bentonville, Arkansas started, as most do, with packet pick up the day before.
I drove down from St. Louis, checked in, met RD Jeff Genova (great guy, dedicated to the sport and his race) and asked about the presentation that was being given by Luis Escobar. Now I know what most of you are thinking and no, it’s not THAT Luis Escobar, the 7th Marquis of the Guadalquivir Marshes, he died in 1991. No, I’m referring to the famous runner (anyone who’s read “Born to Run” (not the Springsteen Autobiography) will recognize him), photographer (he’s photographed runners all over the world, including the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico) and Race Director of the Born To Run Ultra Running Extravaganza. I was excited because the book had completely changed my attitude towards running and my form and was what got me started doing ultras.
So we kick off with a great presentation by Luis, complete with stories about Micah True, Luis’s Badwater races and, of course the Tarahumara. http://www.norawas.org/ The glimpse Luis gave us was inspiring. They run, but not for medals or buckles. They run for pride and they run for bags of corn to feed their families. Near the end of the presentation, Luis, who’s been down to Copper Canyon to run with them a number of times, translated the mantra they use in preparation for the race:
Earth is my body
Wind is my breath
Water is my blood
Fire is my spirit
He urged us to simplify our running. The Tarahumara run in sandals and loose clothing. That’s it. No GPS, no watches, just feeling the run. I resolved to not wear my GPS for the race the next day and just run by feel…
Ok, that didn’t happen. I’m way too analytical and after a sobering discussion with my wife, she pointed out that I would probably lose my mind if I didn’t have it. So, I resolved to wear it, but not to look at it too much. I should be able to do that.
So after a fitful night’s sleep and a re-taping of my toes (less learned- don’t tape your toes the night before, then go to bed without your socks on. The tape edges tend to peel away in the night) I was ready to go.
It was pouring rain as we got to the visitor’s center and the start of the race. The parks department was incredible, opening up the center to allow us to get in out of the rain and cold. I was surprised by the number of people there for the 50, 25 and 10k races despite the weather, but I shouldn’t have been. As I was learning, the respect for RD Jeff Genova and his team to run a safe race meant that just about everyone who signed up showed up knowing that if Jeff said “Go”, there was nothing to worry about. Because of the lightning in the area, we delayed about 30 minutes, but then got going a little after 7. My goal was to run the 1st half in about 13 minute miles, and run the second half in 14 minute miles to knock another 30 minutes off my PR. The rain stopped after about an hour and the sun didn’t come out, so the temps stayed in the ideal range. In addition, the aid stations were so well stocked and thoughtfully placed (about every 3 miles- and they included the INGENIOUS Peanut Butter Oreos! (NFI)), that after 8 miles, I dropped my race vest off at the Piney Road aid station and opted to run the rest of the way with just a handheld bottle. Losing that weight really helped.
I cruised into the Piney Road aid station at mile 15 averaging 12:35 (I had only looked at my watch a few times- I felt that showed INCREDIBLE discipline), so felt good about my plan and how things had been going. I had gotten behind a woman about a mile back and we had been chatting (narrow single track gives you three choices- hang on someone’s heels, pass them when possible or get to know them). Deb (not Bev as I previously reported. I think I was suffering from trail ear) from Kansas City (as I later found out) was running this race after completing much longer distances. We were running about the same pace, had a good conversation and I asked her if it was OK if we ran together a bit more. Running trails is very different than road races. In my experience, more people talk and help each other out. We both agreed that talking kept our minds away from the demons convincing you to slow down, so on we went. Out of the rocking Pine Road aid station and on to the second half of the race. Little did I know, but the GPS was acting up and it was not recording the full distance. So, as Deb and I hit an aid station at what I thought was 21 miles, we were actually at 23 miles and moving quickly. At aid stations, and at a couple of places along the trail, we passed other runners and it was Deb’s pull that kept me moving. As we hit the last aid station, I risked a glance at the watch and couldn’t believe our time. We were on pace for sub 6 ½ hours and only had a few miles left to go! The last mile climbed 200 feet, the first 100 of which was in .2 miles (10% incline) (thanks for that Jeff), but we motored through it. Deb and I finished in 6:15 and some change and then sat down for a bit. In the ensuing raffle, I missed out on the camouflaged doormat, but managed to score a nice timex sports watch!
What began with ominous skies turned out to be my best race yet, both from a time and an experience standpoint. Luis reminded us to “run gentle” and I was able to enjoy a run with minimal gadget use (did I mention I also ran the entire time without music? that for me is tantamount to torture normally, but I found I didn’t need it). Jeff and his volunteers made it so that we could all focus on the run rather than on what we needed to carry or measure. I’ll take these lessons with me as I go forward, and who knows? If less is better, maybe running free of the gadgets may be best? I’ll have to get back to you on that. By the way, here’s the elevation profile, etc if anyone needs it going forward: URL: