On a briskly cool, yet not terribly uncomfortable February morning, about a hundred runners met up at the base of White Rock Mountain near the Turner Bend Store near Mulberry Arkansas to put their running (and mountain climbing) abilities to the test. This fatass style (yet extremely well supported) 50K race is a part of the AURA Ultra Trail Series. The Arkansas Ultra Runners Association (AURA) puts on the Arkansas Traveller 100, Ouachita 50 mile, and other great events in the state. They have been doing this since 1989 – and definitely know what the hell they are doing. As far as I could tell the only difference between this and a full-on “race” is no entry fee, official timing, shirt or medal. All of which I am more than happy to live without. It does have all the spirit and soul of a great, low-key ultra – which is definitely infinitely more important to me than the medal or shirt. So, yeah, I love it.
This is my second consecutive year running the White Rock Classic. Last year, coming off my best EVER winter training blocks, I knocked off my fastest 50K time – just under 5:30 – and it took literally everything I had. While the terrain on a forest road course suits a faster runner, the 5000 feet of steep mountain climbing, and fast descents definitely add the challenge to the course. Coming off a very solid 6 weeks of training, I was hoping to get close to last years time. I had been eating very clean, lost some weight, and added a lot of high intensity cardio and strength training in with my normal training plan. I felt like I had a good shot at having a solid day.
With a 9am start time we decided on just getting up early to drive in for the start. Despite starting 10 minutes behind our planned schedule, we picked up Ryan and Johnny on the way and made it easily with about 30 minutes to spare -plenty of time to get final race prep done. Lisa Gunnoe gave the pre-race instructions and a few resounding gong strikes signaled the start of the race. Yes, a guy called “Bear” rang an actual gong. The start of the race is basically 3 miles up the base of the mountain. Candi and I planned to stay together at least the first few to enjoy each others company and warm up nice and easily. I have a bad habit of taking out too fast and paying for it later. I kept telling myself that it would pay dividends later in the race and I could pass some fools who had taken off (like I usually do) as if they had been blasted out of a shotgun. We reached the top of that first big climb and Candi and I were separated as I blasted off down the hill. I felt warm and loose and let it rip. For the rest of the way up to the White Rock Mountain overlook area that served as the turnaround, I just kept a nice rhythmic pace climbing and blasted the downs – keeping my legs moving fast trying to avoid pounding my quads. A majority of the climbing is in the first half of the out-and-back and I didn’t want to burn all my downhill mojo in the first half. Ultimately, I passed several people on my way to the top of the mountain, never getting passed myself. I was just shy of my halfway goal of 2:30, signing in at 2:33.
Lo and behold, my gorgeous wife had been right behind me most of the way – keeping me in her sights almost the entire trip up the mountain. Turns out we pass face to face about 500 yards after the turn! She said she was feeling great and running great – and I remind her that she is first female and is to, under no circumstances, let ANY of the ladies pass her! The final push to the top of White Rock is super steep and in and out-and-back course, what goes up must come down. The threeish mile descent after turning around is steep and fast! Candi actually caught me by the bottom and was flat FLYING! My hips felt pretty trashed at this point (mile 18-19) so I took a few “vitamin I” and she pulled away. I wished her well, pretty sure I would NOT be seeing her again until the finish line.
As usually happens in ultras, I experienced several ups and downs. About mile 22 I was having a pretty solid “down” and was really getting my ass kicked by another steep descent. Regardless of the craptastic place I was in my life at this moment – I refused to walk and just let gravity hammer me to the bottom. I told myself I would eat a lot at the aid station at the bottom and drink some ginger ale. I did exactly that, and it soaked in like a potion of healing as I climbed my way out of the aid station. At this point the food, pop, ibuprofen all kicked in at the same time and I never slowed down again. I caught up with the 25 year old physical specimen Johnny at about mile 26 and finally my wife with about 3 miles to go the finish. We run together for half a mile or so, but I pull away on the last sets of hills – feeling like a beast unleashed and bearing down on its prey. I passed 4 people in the last 5 miles or so and was smelling the finish line. Doing math during a race is not my strong point, but I figured it might just be possible to sub-5 hour this race if I could really put the hammer down. I gave it absolutely EVERYTHING I HAD the last three miles running splits of 7:30, 6:53, and 7:01 – unfortunately it was just not quite enough. I finished in 5:01:41 in 7th place overall, less than 1 minute ahead of Candi who took the female win!
The weather, course, and most of all people were totally awesome. This race brings out some serious speedsters and I was totally honored and surprised that I was able to take that much off of my previous time and get into the top ten of this group. I would encourage anyone who loves the outdoors to come run this race – it truly is a gem. Thanks to Lisa, PoDog, and the rest of the AURA members and leadership that put this together – it really is one of my favorite events of the year and on my “do every year” list. Hope to see you all next year!