Sunday, January 6, 2013

Athens-Big Fork 2013

Happy New Year.  The first Saturday in January has been, for me, an occasion to head down to the Big Fork community center, just east of Mena in the western Arkansas Ouachitas for a trail run that heads south on an old postal trail over 8 distinct mountain ridges, then turns around and comes back.

Big Fork Community Center.  The running water (new this year) was a nice perk.

This year's run was actually my 5th consecutive... it seems to have become somewhat of a rite on my calendar.  The weather this year was perfect.  Last year we had thick fog that turned into actual clouds at the top of the peaks, it was incredibly beautiful.  This year's race day was cold, overcast, and perfect.  There was still quite a bit of snow visible from a foot of Christmas day snow 2 weeks ago, especially on the northern hillsides.  It made for some beautiful vistas when looking across the valleys.  I started the run with a friend from Fayetteville, and we ran together for about 90% of the day.  We found ourselves mixed in with a group of folks (obviously not from around here) who first asked about crew access points (none), kept taking wrong turns from which we called them back (although most people run bonus miles at some point or another), and delicately tiptoed through every creek crossing (there are about 30, all calf-deep thanks to the recent snow).  We separated from them at the Blaylock Creek aid station, 5 hills in and the fun run turnaround.  I think they eventually settled in at some point during the back half, and figured out that the rawness and simplicity of this run compliments the challenge.  This event definitely does a good job of breaking down the often overdone business of running into its most basic elements: nature, terrain, perceptiveness, and toughness.  Forget about the fancy stuff, it's just you and the trail today.

JP and I enjoyed a nice section after the Blaylock Creek aid station, and noted that hills 6, 7, and 8 were all pretty tough, especially 6.  I used to think that 15 was the worst, but I've changed my mind.  6 had recently been bulldozed to create a fireline for some forest fires that occurred in the area a month ago.  6 was also the most difficult coming back down (which is 10 inbound), and it was there that I realized my downhill running has gotten worse.  I kept the brakes on, and was very tentative in picking my way down on the technical sections.  Where did that come from?  Gotta work on that.  We cruised into the turnaround with a large pack of marathoners, probably at the heart of mid-pack.  I have a love/hate relationshp with the Texarkana crew that mans the turnaround... love their raucous joviality, hate that they are already enjoying their beers at 11am while I have 8 more hills to climb.  The back half does a good job of breaking everybody up, and I anticipated picking off some inbound runners with the large and tenuous provision that we could keep the wheels on and keep a steady pace.  Steady climbing, cautious descending, repeat.  I felt strong all the way through the Tatur aid station with about 4 miles to go.  I  was anticipating running the last hill, because it's one of the easiest (there are only a few truly runnable hills), but I couldn't seem to find the gas pedal again once I left the aid station.  Not that I didn't have energy... I wasn't bonking.  I just didn't have the control or footwork to pick my way around one more rock, one more root, one more ankle-wrapping thorny ivy.  The bottoms of my feet felt bruised, I was kicking everything in my path, and I was just tired of trail.  Once I got to the trailhead and back onto the gravel road, however, I was running with plenty of strength, which is refreshing if you can make it to that point and feel that way.  Apparently I surpassed my threshold for gnarly trail, but was fine with everything else.  I finished in 6:25, 17 minutes off of my PR (last year).  I think that I could have been a good deal faster with some better downhill running.

No-frills finish line

Done, sitting at the finish chatting, drinking a Modelo, and waiting for runners.  

The most pleasant part of the run was that my two very common issues (stomach bloating and leg cramping) never happened.  What did I do?  I drank Gu Brew, Gatorade, and Heed, took 3 S Caps throughout the run, and ate your run-of-the-mill aid station food (potato chips, oatmeal pies, gu, peanut butter crackers).  Maybe it was the ideal temperature.  Regardless, I felt great, and other than the downhill skill deficiencies, I had a strong run.  I dread it during the few days prior, can't believe it's that time again when I'm finally climbing those first few hills, and then enjoy it immensely once I get onto some of the higher hillsides and soak up the sense of place.  See you next year.