Monday, January 20, 2014

My Ouachita Switchbacks 25K Report

Jason, Amy, Mikey, Ginger, and me at the finish line
The alarm went of at 2:45 a.m. Saturday morning. Within the hour I joined Amy Nash, Ginger Becker, and Mikey Whittiker in Jason Smith's FJ Cruiser. We were headed to the intersection of Highways 59 and 259 in Eastern OK for the second running of the Ouachita Switchbacks 25K and 50K

Jason had seen the Facebook post by Tommy Brenan, the race director and founder, on Tuesday, and the three of us had taken the bait for a no-training, why-the-heck-not, it's-a-trail-run, adventure.

The 4-hour drive to the Pushabee Trailhead near Big Cedar, OK, was filled with getting acquainted, two pit stops, and keeping everyone awake. "Sleep deprivation is part of ultrarunning" is one of my mantras so no one napped. We watched the sun and temperature rise to about 30 degrees when we turned off the highway and parked our car at a campsite to begin our trek through the Ouachita National Forest.



One of the reasons I love trail running is the people who run on trails. Trailrunners and trail running events are laid back. Tommy Brenan and his race exemplify that spirit. Tommy said he put the race together because he ran these trails all the time and wanted his friends to run it with him. So, in the spirit of a bunch of friends meeting up on a Saturday to run in the woods he put the race together. We signed in on a spiral notebook, got our bib numbers (that didn't all match) and picked up our hoodies (pretty cool ones at that). We then went to the car, geared up, and returned to huddle with the other fifty or so 25K starters in time for Tommy to shout, "Okay, go!" And, we were off.

The trail is a narrow, single track, rock strewn trail that wound through trees, along and through streams. Winter had set in completely so there were no leaves on the trees; they were all on the trails, which made for uncertain footing and holes that were hidden from your view. 

The race blog described the trail this way:
"This is a very tough and arduous course...The course is very technical single track with substantial elevation gain.  The 25K has 2982 feet of elevation gain." 
We were warned...  

Ginger and Amy on rock slide


We ran along a river and crossed several streams that required only one or two steps on rocks to get across. One crossing, however, demanded we wade through the water. It was shin-high and winter-cold, but the temperature helped swelling feet to feel great--both out and back!

The greatest challenge was the 33 switchbacks that rose to the turn-around at the top of Winding Stairs Mountain. These came at about mile 7, so you were pretty worn down and still had to make the ascent, descend the switchbacks, and return the over 8 miles back to the start/finish line. It was along that trail though that we had the most scenic views of the area.

View from Winding Stair Trail

This was one of the most difficult yet rewarding trail runs I have completed. Multiple types of terrain and views kept my head in the game. Monotony was never an option. The 17 to 18 mile course challenged us in every way, but I loved every step along the way. I forgot to mention the weather: It was ideal...except for the wind when you got to the ridges and peak. As long as we were in the troughs and trees, we were warm. Get up on the heights and the cap and gloves came back on. Again, no monotony on this run!

Tommy Brenan and the volunteers were fabulous hosts. The aid stations were well placed and well stocked with the kindest folks to serve us as we paused in our pain and ecstasy to refuel and rehydrate.

You can find our finishing times on the facebook site. I came out on top of the bottom half, which is where I usually finish. Jason burned up the course despite his bloodied knee. Amy, Ginger, and Mikey finished strong, and waited patiently eating hot potato soup until I showed up. 

I highly recommend you plan to participate in next year's run. It will be worth the trip and soreness the day after.

Next run? Cross Timbers Half Marathon on Feb. 15. Join us!

(Pictures came from various runners who posted on the facebook event site. Thank you if you recognize your photo.)

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