After completing my first 25K trail run at Dogwood Canyon last fall, I pretty much decided I had no interest in running Sylamore. Sylamore is a run that I have thought about for the last couple of years. I’m not sure what the lure is for me but it became a race to work up to and train for. My very encouraging husband, Jon (AKA: the ‘Stache), said I could do it…I just needed to train. The first time I considered signing up I was too late. The race sells out very quickly!! And that was comforting. So I thought I’d start working up. Having already accomplished a half marathon rather successfully, I clicked on the link for the Hoof It for Heifer 20K and registered. The “run” through Pettit-Jean State Park in central Arkansas was, in my mind, was more of a physical challenge than a run. Running was not even an option for parts of the trail. This 20K lead to the 25K at Dogwood last fall which lead me to the 25K at Syllamore this winter. I had talked myself back into the run and thought it would be the perfect birthday gift for my 40thbirthday, just four days after the race. I would be taking 40 by the horns and showing it I was in control.
Soooo…we arrive in Allison, AR; which by the way is not recognized by our GPS unit. I picked up my packet and hoodie. I was very excited to see it was actually a hoodie rather than a sweatshirt. And the colors are great too! The timing chips were explained by the kind guy from a different part of Arkansas. This is important because I asked how deep the creek was and he didn’t know. The creek crossing of this race has been my biggest fear. When David Murphy tells you “Don’t drown!” I get concerned. After all, that is NO WHERE in the motto….Run, Smile, Drink Water, Don’t DIE. Now I will confess, I have been praying for the weather and creek depth since registration November 1, 2013; 50 degree weather and low creeks. We have dinner and go to find our cabin. As we are driving along, Jon notes, rather surprised, that they still have a lot of snow. And they do. Ours had already melted. So this is what the weather man means by the “higher elevations in the Ozark Mountains” may get more snow.
On race day, typical preparations are made to get ready, get my gear, and head to the start line at the appropriate time. Jon made up my GenUCan at the cabin, I downed it, and off we went with extra time to worry. When we arrived at the start line we waited with the rest of the racers and then with ten minutes to go went out to acquire satellites, etc… That’s when we were told the race was starting a half an hour later 8:30 to allow the 50K runners to get across the creek before the 25Kers got there. Oohhh. So we waited a little longer and then acquired satellites again. Then the race director needed our attention. He told us that there is a lot of snow on the course and the water crossings will be slick come in and going out because of the temperature and the frozen stuff around the water crossings. OOhhh. With kisses, hugs, and good lucks I headed to the line and shortly after that we were off.
The first 6.5 miles can be described as ICE. The first hill we went down was packed and frozen over snow which was very slick! The creek wasn’t where I thought it was going to be but we arrived pretty quickly and stood in line to cross. Everyone was crossing in pairs so there would be someone to assist the other especially upon exiting the creek. The creek was COLD and a little less than knee deep. Perfect! Answered prayer! The creek exit was as expected and forewarned, slick! Water drips off of everyone and makes the exit rock difficult to maneuver. Then the rest of the water drains out of your shoes on the stairs up the hill. It was a slow crawl but everyone was making the best of it and everyone was right there together anyway. Once on top on the hill and actually on the trail (single track hiking trail), the conditions were more of the same frozen over snow. So we kept on going. Everyone in a line trudging along. The first waterfall and second water crossing found us very bottle necked again. One poor gal had fear-of-heights issues and stopped. We shimmied around her and crossed the water. (I felt so bad for her because I deal with this too. But I tend to look at the trail more than anything and that helps a lot!!) It was an incredible view. The rocks went up so high and the water went so far below. It is very difficult to look up and run! These first two miles took 45 minutes! Ugh!! The second mile alone 33 minutes to cross the icy water. The next few miles were more water crossings (large and small), rock climbs, and crusty snow. At one creek crossing the gals in front of me just sat down and slid to the water then crossed. I really didn’t want to get my bottom wet, so I tip toed across. I should have just had fun…
At some point the snow gave way to sand and dirt so we could actually get a decent run going. My botany trained eyes picked up on the surroundings: Spanish moss in the trees, a cane thicket that we actually ran through, reed thickets, and glades everywhere. The plants were so beneficial to the run. I was able to get out of some snow on grass along the side of the trail, hugged a few trees as I crossed rocks and water, and grabbed what every was handy to help pull me across. On down the trail, I looked at my watch and noticed we were close to mile 5. The aid stations were approximately every five miles. Good! Ha ha…the aid station was at 6.5 miles. I was beginning to get concerned about my fuel. I had trained for about 5 mile intervals. With the extra distance and with the half hour set back, I hoped I hadn’t gotten behind.
At the aid station, my family was waiting on me. What a treat!! Jon helped with my GenUCan and pushed me out the aid station. But not before I grabbed a warm potato dipped in salt. YUM!!
The next section can be best described as SNOW. After leaving the warm, friendly, helpful aid station, we went up the hill in the snow. It was crusted over snow that was beginning to melt the whole way to the turnaround point about another 2 miles. The challenge with the snow was that once the foot was planted and then pushed off there would be a slide. Down, push, slide. Down, push, slide. Kinda like running in the loose sand at the beach. ALL the way out and back. This becomes very tiring on the legs. I decided quickly I would definitely have more GenUCan at the return to the aid station to keep my energy going. At the turn around, I punched my bib and headed back. 8.? miles!! My mental conversation went like this: ‘Do these race directors even run???? If they run, they would know how much a runner plans and trains for specific distances and would keep the run to the actual length!!’ Back up the mooshy snow covered hill. The sun had come out and while so refreshing to see, was beginning to melt the snow which caused more sliding when pushing off. I went ahead and took a Pocket Fuel for some calories and energy. I think it was a good decision. It sets very well on my stomach and tastes like Nutella. WIN-WIN!
When I got back to the aid station I had hoped to see my family and have some help with the GenUCan. I didn’t see them at first but Jon found me. He was such a good help!! I refueled and headed back out for the last leg.
The snow had mostly melted on most of the trail and made a lot of MUD. Some of the mud was very thick and tried to take the shoe but most was very watery: mud puddles and mud rivers. This kind of mud doesn’t bother me and I don’t mind running through it. The lady in front of me did not like mud, though. I stayed behind her for quite a way and passed when the opportunity politely presented itself. Along this stretch my legs tightened up, feeling like I was going to have a cramp. Ireallydidn’t want to cramp. So I ate the majority of a packet of sport beans. They have electrolytes in them and would keep the cramps away. I kept looking for that first waterfall. Finally I found it, and then kept going, ready to find the finish line. Those first steps now presented a different problem. My sore legs weren’t going down those semi slick steps in a normal upright position. So I turned around and went down the steps like a two year old. It worked. I made it back to the creek! It was still cold! The end was getting closer but I wondered how that hill was nearly five hours later… It was still frozen over and slick! The sun could not get to the surface to melt the snow. Somehow there was a little gravel road showing through on one side. I managed to continue running up most of the hill. My body felt great, less my legs. My energy was good and I felt strong. The top of the hill was such a welcome sight. As I trotted down, I noticed my shoes felt funny. I think there was mud on the bottom. It finally came off and felt normal again. When I got to the road crossing, there were cars coming. Really!! So I paused and waited. I was not going to risk finishing the most exciting race to date. My boys met me and ran with me till I turned to the finish line. They told me someone was coming up behind me so I gave it all I had and “sprinted” to the finish line. It was not going to hurt any more or any less. I was really surprised my legs even moved that fast aft 5 hours and 30 minutes. Jon said I had a stone cold look on my face. They were not passing me in the finish corral.
I received my finisher’s glass and then grabbed a slice of pizza, oh that tasted so good, then went to get my time. I really felt good. Strong. It was a great race. My help was outstanding. I would not have finished as well without them. The fuel was spot on. I would highly recommend it. The race was beautiful and challenging. The snow made it an extra challenge. I’m so glad I did it. I hurt. But if it was easy, everybody would do it. Come on 40. It’s gonna be a great decade!!