Well…it’s official. I finished an ultra-marathon. Didn’t say I “ran” an ultra-marathon, because that would be a lie. But I finished. 32.94 miles worth. My training plan prepared me for “a long day in the woods”. Truer words have never been spoken. Well, truer words may have been “a long, long, long day in the woods”. But that just may be my personal experience.
Although, if you have to spend a day in the woods, The Pumpkin Holler 50K was a nice way to do it – with exception of miles 14-18 (and the gravel on the road coupled with the fact that I run in minimalist shoes). This run is mostly run on gravel roads, with a stretch of pavement. Not sure how long the stretch was, because I was done in at that point. Nevertheless, I was thanking the road gods that paved that portion. Without that, I would probably still be there, curled up on the side of the road, hoping that a large truck would run over me and the end would be quick and (relatively) painless.
But I digress. Let’s go back to the start of this whole adventure…
I signed up for the Pumpkin Holler 50K in late July. I followed my training plan fairly well. Actually, for me it was better than fairly well. I completed all runs, maybe not on the exact day of the week, but my weekly time totals were spot on. So from a training standpoint, I thought I was ready.
The Pumpkin Holler Hunnerd events take place around a large nature reserve near Tahlequah, OK – beautiful country to run in. Absolutely gorgeous. It rained the day before the run, but the road was mostly dry and the few muddy areas were easy to navigate. Because of the rain, road dust was very minimal, which was nice.
I opted to stay home Friday night and drive over early on Saturday. Others attended the pre-race dinner and stayed either at the campground or in a local motel. I figured I would have a better day if I rested in my own bed. But to each his own.
I woke up a little after 4:00 a.m. and got dressed. I laid out all my running stuff the night before. I always do this before a race because I don’t function real well that early. I try and limit what I have to think about.
On the way, I stopped at a C-store in Tahlequah and bought an apple juice and a Clif bar to eat for breakfast. Wasn’t sure how much to eat, but thought lighter was probably better.
I arrived at the Eagle Bluff Campground where the race would start and finish. The campground closes for the season on October 1, but they re-open for Pumpkin Holler runners, friends and family. I have to say this is a neat setup. Some folks bring tents, others bring campers. It is a big, friendly group of people with one major thing in common…running. Below is a photo of the start/finish area.
I picked up my race packet and proceeded to get my race bib attached to my shirt. I was ready to rumble…except the race didn’t start for 40 minutes and it was 34 degrees outside. No problem – I put the rumble on hold and got back in the truck for a few minutes. At about 7:45 a.m., I locked up the truck and headed over to the starting area.
To start the Pumpkin Holler, Ken Childress (race director and head trail zombie) stands up and smashes a pumpkin on the ground (The Pumpkin Holler “starting gun”).
We worked our way out of the campground and onto the road – everybody falling into their initial rhythm. Despite the rain of the day before, the roads were in much better shape than I imagined they would be.
It didn’t seem very hilly when we started, just some rolling terrain. But that changed after only a couple miles. The first aid station is the Mad Dog Aid station. As you can see from the photo, they decorate their porta potty like a large fire hydrant. They also make these gingerbread cookies shaped like dog bones. Tasty treats indeed!
All the aid stations were about 4-5 miles apart. I knew this going in, so I chose not to carry any water with me. Because of the cool weather, I figured I would be okay. I probably would have been fine if I had carried my bottle(s), but I really detest carrying stuff. I need to learn to do that, but so far I have been able to avoid it.
I found a guy from Memphis, TN that was running about the same pace I was, and we ran together from about mile 10-17. It was fun to visit with someone that had come over just to run the Pumpkin Holler. He was running the 50K as a training run for a 50 miler coming up in December. Dang, here I was, running farther than I ever had before, and to many of these folks, this was just getting a long, easy run in.
Most of the gravel road had the two lanes packed down, and so I was able to run on what was basically a dirt path. That was nice, as I didn’t have to worry about tripping on roots and rocks, my usual nemesis. But from mile 14-18, there weren’t any lanes. The gravel stretched from side to side, and with the grade, I couldn’t get off the road. Four miles or so of running on large gravel in my minimal shoes – what had I been thinking??
At mile 17, I told Memphis to go ahead without me. I needed to walk some – my feet hurt! I felt light-headed. So much for my light breakfast. The fourth aid station was coming up at mile 18. I hung out there for a few minutes and drank some water and Gatorade. I also ate a PB&J and had some(more) Cheez-Its. I think I had a handful of those at every station. Tasty and salty.
With my head feeling better, and my feet still wondering what the heck I was doing, I took a little side trip called the Great Gourd Challenge (or something catchy like that). It is about a 3/4 mile out-and-back. Actually, it’s more of a 3/4 mile up and 3/4 mile down. I think this was the steepest hill I climbed all day. At the top of the hill, you sign a list and receive your “Great Gourd Challenge” pin (’cause it’s all about the bling, right?)
I grabbed another handful of Cheez-Its and headed on down the road.
At the next aid station, I decided to try a small cup of Coke. I don’t drink much soda, but I know many runners do, so I thought I’d try some here. It was really warm. I normally wouldn’t drink it, but hey, when in Rome…because maybe warm is how ultra runners drink their Coke. I think I’ll stay with water and Gatorade.
After this station, we turned off onto a paved road. I’m not sure how long we stayed on the pavement, but for quite a while, I couldn’t see any runners either in front of me or behind me. I wondered if I was in last place? Never been in last place, but I’ve never run a 50K either. I had quite a while to come to terms with this, and decided that even if I was in last place, by golly I was going to finish this thing!
I think there was about 6 miles of pavement, which is probably what saved me. Even though my feet were bruised from the gravel earlier, at least my running surface was flat and smooth now.
The pavement ended at a place called “Bathtub Rock”. And no, this isn’t a kids TV show. It is this really cool rock formation that has all these scooped out places that are like small bathtubs. I’m sure some of our ancestors probably used it for that very purpose. Here is a picture of it, but the picture doesn’t really do it justice. One bad thing about “Bathtub Rock”…the pavement ends.
Now I’m hobbling along, and talking myself into walking more than running. So I started running 100 steps, then walking 100 steps. Run 100, walk 100, the run 200, walk 100. Finally, I was running 300-400 steps and walking 100. I just wanted it to be over…actually, I wanted it to be over several miles before.
Somewhere along there, my Garmin showed that I had run over 26.2 miles. Great! I’m an ultra-marathoner. Where can I catch a shuttle? Oh, there’s not one. Put one foot in front of the other…put one foot in front of the other…
With 3 or 4 miles left, I reached the last aid station. What? Is that all? Heck, that’s like just a little 5K. No problem. Except for that bruised feet thing. And, my calves and quads, on both legs, were taking turns twitching, daring me to do something, anything, so they would have an excuse to go into major cramp mode. Walk 100, run 100. Not sure there was much difference between the two at that point.
Then, from out of thin air, the bridge to the camping area came into view. I make it across the bridge and follow the course around – and there it is…the finish line!
I think my “official” time was around 7:35:59. Maybe not the time I wanted, but like the song says, “you can’t always get what you want”. Or I could look on the positive side and say “Well, I really wanted to break 7:36:00 — and I did!”
After finishing, I had some great TATUR food, took a shower, got in some clean clothes and sat around the campfire visiting with other runners and their friends/families. A great way to end the day.
Ken, Brian, Stormy and everyone else who helped to put on this race, and especially the aid station volunteers, GREAT JOB! It is an excellent event in a neat place.
Will I do it again? Planning on it. Gotta get some different shoes though. Did I mention that there’s a lot of gravel…?
See you on the trails…
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