My family is a pretty active bunch. My siblings and I grew up playing year-round sports and my parents would often play pick-up games of basketball or baseball or football with us in the yard. With four kids and a grand total of six years between the oldest and the baby, my parents were basically raising a little sports team. They had to tire us out somehow, or we would’ve destroyed our home.
My siblings and I all dabbled in running during high school, mostly because there weren’t a lot of sports options in our small-town school, where the average graduating class was about 30 students. A track team was the only sports team that could be supported during the spring, so we ran track. I continued to run in college and my sister also eventually decided to join her college cross country and track teams at about the same time my brother was finishing up his high school running career. I guess my mom grew tired of watching all of this running and decided she wanted to join in on the fun, too. She picked up running during her early 40’s (while kicking cancer’s butt, I might add) and has been an inspiration to so many since. In the last few years, my older and younger brothers have run their first full marathons, my younger sister continues to effortlessly jump into races and run impressive times, and my mom has cut 10 minutes off of her half-marathon time (PR: 1:51), and very recently almost broke 50 minutes in the 10K (50:03) at the age of 50. And I certainly can’t leave out my sister-in-law, who just over 6 months after having her second child, ran a 39:20 10K—unreal. Due to an old baseball knee injury and various feet issues, my dad is confined to biking and walking on the treadmill each morning, or he definitely would be out there with us too—it certainly doesn’t stop him from being at the finish line for every one of us. Running has definitely become a family affair.
I wasn’t too surprised, then, when I was easily able to convince my family to run a 200-mile relay through the Ozarks in northwestern Arkansas in May. Of course, none of us had actually ever been to the Ozarks, so we didn’t really know what we were signing up for. Hilly, you say? Ehh, I’m sure we’ve seen hillier. In retrospect, we had not, in fact, ever seen hillier. Not even close.
Although we are a large family, we were only half of the 12-member team we needed. Thank goodness we have adventurous friends! Some great friends traveled down from Wisconsin with my family, another awesome friend flew in from Dallas race morning, and the Oklahoma contingent of myself, Scott (Downard) and Scott’s sister, Sara, drove over to Eureka Springs one unseasonably cold, rainy afternoon. We spent the evening prepping our gear for the overnight race, but I don’t think any of us were prepared for what was in store.
We awoke the next morning, May 3rd, to snow-covered ground. It was the first snowfall in May in Arkansas since they started keeping those sorts of records in the early 1800s. I swear. Google it. It continued to rain or snow for the entire 29 hours and 16 minutes we were running. The entire course was on mountainous, muddy dirt roads in backwoods Arkansas. Ankles were rolled. Knees were skinned. Teammates were lost, and then found again. We were chased by dogs. We dodged skunks. Our sanity was questioned repeatedly by the locals—our crazy choice of outfits for the various contests along the way probably didn’t help. Vehicles were stranded in deep, thick mud (not ours, thankfully!). We each ran 3 times, all of us at some obscene hour at some point, on little over an hour of sleep in a cramped SUV. And It. Was. Awesome. And possibly one of the most challenging events any of us had ever participated in. The mixture of little sleep, continually running in mud on non-stop hills and jumping back into a cramped SUV for hours was an exhaustive combination that is unmatched in any athletic endeavor I’ve ever participated in.
I was as sore as I’ve ever been after racing a marathon. I was continually inspired by the grit and toughness of each member of the team as they set off on their next leg, up the next hill, always in the rain or snow. I’m so grateful to have such tough, motivating people in my life.
Following the completion of the relay, the event organizers put on a fun BBQ and presented awards. This was the inaugural Outback in the Ozarks relay, and the race directors ran a fantastic event even with the uncontrollable, insane weather that made the course less than ideal. Northwest Arkansas is beautiful, and we spent the next few evenings in a cabin on Beaver Lake reminiscing and recounting our adventure through the “Outback”. I highly recommend this race for anyone who wants to spend a fun, active weekend bonding with friends and family. If you’re the organizer of the team, your teammates may just spend a few days after the race cursing your name, but they’ll thank you for the great experience once they forget about the pain and exhaustion. Right, team? Guys? ….right?
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