"Enjoy the weather, it's the only weather you've got"
When I picked up my packet on Friday afternoon one of the race directors, Stan Ferguson, told me the forecast called for rain, which meant we wouldn't be able to go over Pinnacle Mountain for safety reasons. I was really disappointed! I wanted to complete this race in its normal format, including Pinnacle Mountain. But there was nothing I could do about it so I just adjusted my mental plan.
The next morning I woke up at 4:00 AM to get ready to run. There was no rain! I drove to the race start and stood around with the other runners ready to go. Race Director Chrissy Ferguson, in her usual style, said the weatherman was "an idiot" and that since there was no rain we were going over Pinnacle Mountain! Most people cheered, a few groaned. She went over a few other details of the race, then we lined up on the road and were off.
We ran about 2.5 miles to the trailhead and then entered the trail. This part of the trail is nice, mostly downhill. We ran another 1.5 miles to the first aid station. I grabbed a PB&J, refilled my bottle, then began the long climb up Pinnacle Mountain. Pinnacle Mountain isn't that high, but you can't run or even walk up it. You have to scramble up, hands and feet and arms and legs. The picture below is of runners cresting the peak. You can see the large boulders that make up most of the ascent and descent - there's no trail, just boulders to scale.
On the way up there was a guy above me running in a kilt. I told him I was really glad he was wearing bike shorts under his kilt otherwise I'd be staring at his "equipment" all the way up the peak.
I finished the climb, had my picture taken by a photographer, then quickly started down, passing a few people who were more cautious than me on the descent. Once I reached the bottom I felt like the biggest obstacle of the race had been overcome. My legs were tired but didn't feel trashed, and I took off running at a reasonably fast pace. We returned to the aid station at the base of the mountain and then headed off on the Ouachita Trail. The weather was mid-60s, overcast and humid. I was drenched already.
The next section is not very hilly but very rocky. I had forgotten how rugged this trail was. My feet were hurting from the rough terrain (I don't like my trail shoes - I need something with a little more support and cushioning). Around mile 6 my right knee started hurting. This was my other fear for this race, after Pinnacle Mountain. Two weeks ago when I ran the Texas Marathon twice I had pain in my right knee and thigh toward the end of the race. I only ran two times after that race, short runs, and on the second one, an eleven miler, my knee started hurting again. I decided to take the rest of the week off and try to heal before OT. But going into the race I knew things didn't feel right and I might have some problems. I was discouraged that they were already starting at mile 6. I was carrying Advil but I wanted to wait as long as possible before taking anything. So I ran on.
The next major milestone in this race is the North Shore aid station at mile 16.0. If you are a 50 mile runner you are allowed to switch to the 50k at this point and still be considered an official finisher. Considering the pain in my knee it was tempting - I would already be halfway finished instead of 1/3 through. But I knew I wanted the 50 mile finish so I ran right past the 50k cutoff and into the aid station. I refilled my bottle again, had some coke and a jelly biscuit, then headed out. My knee was killing me and I knew I couldn't wait any more so I took two Advil. That left four more in my pack, so I needed to pace myself.
After leaving North Shore we ran into a section that was much wetter than the previous sections. In this section there were large puddles and muddy spots covering the whole trail. Sometimes you could go around but often you couldn't. There were also many, many water crossings that you couldn't jump across, so you just had to splash through the streams. I accepted that there was no way to stay dry and just started splashing through the mud and water.
Next I made sure to stop at the unmanned aid station around mile 19.2. This is where I made my mistake last year - I didn't top off my bottles here, thinking the next aid station was closer. I got dehydrated and had to drop.
This section, from North Shore at mile 16 to Hwy. 113 crossing at 24.2, is the most runnable part of the course. I did some good running here, still feeling the ache in my knee and now my hip and quad.
I ran into the Hwy. 113 aid station and chatted with the volunteers a bit. One of the women said, "You're the happiest person we've seen in here all day." Then one of the guys said, "Are you Marshall King?" I was surprised and said I was. He said a friend had forwarded an email to him last night about my fundraising efforts. Apparently he had told the other aid station volunteers and they had been talking about it. He said, "We were talking about the prostate earlier." I replied, "Wow, I'm sorry I missed that!" After a few more seconds chatting I headed out for the 2.4 mile section to the turnaround.
I hated this section. The trail is confusing and not that runnable, there are at least a dozen water crossings (that you do twice, out and back), and I was impatient to hit the turnaround. It was also during this section that a gentle mist began to fall.
In this section I passed a guy named Paul that I met at Three Days of Syllamo. He had been running strong earlier but he looked like he was struggling. We talked for a bit and he said it just wasn't his day, that he wasn't having the kind of race he wanted to have. I asked him if he'd seen "The Big Lebowski" (one of my all time favorite movies) and he had, so I reminded him of one my favorite lines: "Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes the bar eats you." After a few more seconds I took off (Paul would later get his second wind, and after we passed each other a few times he took off for good and finished somewhere ahead of me).
Finally, the turnaround, at mile 26.3. My marathon split was about 5:22 or so. Time to head back to the start. I found that while running my knee felt pretty good, but after standing around at aid stations it was painful to get going again. I usually had to limp out of the aid stations and it felt bad. But after a few minutes things felt better and I was able to run normally again.
The mist continued and I continued splashing through mud and water. My feet hurt but I didn't feel like I was getting any blisters. It started to rain a little harder and the rocks got slippery so I had to be more careful with my footing. About a mile out of the Hwy. 113 aid station (28.4) I slipped a short way down a creek bank. The fall was minor but on the way down I put my hands out to stop myself; my water bottle hit a rock, the top popped off and all my water poured out. Dang! I had about 4 to 4.5 miles to the unmanned water drop. Not much I could do but keep going. Luckily it was a cool, damp day and I had been hydrating well.
Other than having no water the next section was uneventful. It rained gently off and on. I got pretty thirsty but eventually I made it to the unmanned drop (mile 33.4) and refilled my bottle. I ate a gu, drank a little extra water, then took my next pack of Advil.
At the next aid station, North Shore (36.6) I joked with a volunteer as I ran in, "Could I get any wetter?" At that moment a huge downpour started. Clearly the answer was YES. Again I ate, drank coke, refilled my bottles, then took off. I couldn't believe I only had 13.4 miles left. I told another runner, "Now I know we'll finish; the question is, how long will it take and how painful will it be?"
The next section is pretty rocky, and the rocks were really slick by now. Also, the heavy rain created puddles everywhere! There was no such thing as dry trail any more - it was wet, really wet, and submerged. I was walking more than I wanted to in this section but I was really getting tired.
The rest of the run was uneventful. I ran into the last aid station and chatted briefly with the volunteers, including the same guy who had received the email about my fundraising. They told me there were four miles left. Four miles! Sounded too good to be true. I ran/walked the 1.5 miles of trail to the park road, then ran/walked to the finish. I was so close to finishing under 11 hours but I just couldn't muster enough energy to run much. I ended up running into the finish at 11:03. Because of the rain the finish line had dissolved. I ran up to a tent with volunteers inside and said, "Where do I stop?!?" They said, "Here! You're done!" And so I stopped. RD Chrissy Ferguson handed me my beautiful, handmade finishers award, I talked to her briefly, but all I really wanted to do was get my drop bag, get in my car and get in a bathtub!
Fortunately I only had one small blister on the tip of one toe. My knee and hip are still hurting and I will probably see a doctor this week. Other than that I am feeling pretty good and don't seem to have any other issues.
This is a great race with a challenging course, great volunteers and great race directors. I don't know when I'll be back but I definitely recommend it!