3 Days of Syllamo – We all got chicked!

3 Days of Syllamo

is a stage race that takes place just outside Mountain View, Arkansas in the Ozark Mountains.  Day 1 consists of a 50k, day 2 is the 50 mile run, and day 3 is the final run of 20k.  For those wondering, that’s a 93 mile weekend all together.  This race took some thought to pack for.  Usually it’s one set of clothes to run in and then some layers in case the weather changes.  This one included planning for 3 days of running of various distances so I just packed the best I could without having to bring my whole closet.

3 pairs of shorts, 2 sleeveless shirts, 1 t-shirt, arm warmers, 3 pairs of socks (2 Darn Tough, 1 x Teko), 2XU calf sleeves, then the just-in-case items of CW-X 3/4 tights, wind breaker, and my Inov-8 line up of X-Talon 212’s, Flyrock 310, and Roclite 295

I took off from home around noon on Thursday so I could get down to Blanchard Springs campground in Allison, AR around 5:30pm to pick up my packet and meet up with my buddy David Wakefield who was kind enough to let me crash at the cabin with he and his wife.  I had initially planned on running in the team competition with my friend Caleb Chatfield but plans fell through so I decided instead of trying to find a partner, I’d just drop into the individual stage race to see how I fared.  I was not quite sure how I’d hold up over a 3 day event but my training has been pretty consistent the last few months with the exception of a week and a half in February when I traveling a lot for work and was sick.  I picked up my packet, met with David then headed out to grab some food before retiring to the cabin to try to get some sleep.

Day 1 – 50k

Luckily the first day does not start until 9am.  This is great for those traveling in that morning or to people like me who were on the road most of the day before.  David and I were up well before we needed to be, mulling around the cabin, eating, drinking our morning beverages.  Mine is good old coffee.  We jumped in my truck and headed to Blanchard Springs campground.

For the day I was keeping it pretty light.  I sometimes get bogged down in gear and end up with too much on me so I wanted to try to stay light.  For shoes, I was wearing my Inov-8 Roclite 295’s.  Good protection underfoot with great traction in a 10.5 ounce shoe.  I carried an Ultimate Direction Fast Draw Plus water bottle and holder in each hand with NUUN in each.  In the pocket of the water bottle holder I had a package of GU Chomps and in my shorts pocket I had 2 NUUN tablets, a couple of Endurolytes and a GU Jet Blackberry gel.  That was it, no drop bags, nothing extra.  I carried with me about 500 calories and if I needed anything else, I’d grab it from the aid stations.  The temps were going to tap out in the mid 50’s so I wore a short sleeve shirt with my arm warmers.  This ended up being the perfect amount of everything.

This course was tough.  Lots of tricky footing and climbing.  Steve Kirk, RD, had stated that “… 50k would be a great run but the 50 mile would be tough.”  This kept running through my mind as I danced around rocks and marched up the hills.  “Damn,” I thought  “If this is the easy one, tomorrow is going to be awful!” I just kept marching along, walking the ascents and running the flats and decents.  I met up with Cassie Scallon (WI) and Paul Turner (AR) and ran with them for a while.  Neither were running the full stage which made me a little nervous but I felt comfortable so I decided to hang with some company for a while.  This is what I love best about ultras.  The three of us moved back and forth in a line on the single track, taking turns leading and chatting the whole time.  Eventually Cassie who was only running the 50k decided to put the gas down and power it in.  I figured that was not in my best interest and maintained what felt to be a good effort without going overboard.

I came in to the last aid station and out of curiosity asked what number I was.  “You’re in 8th” the person told me as I stuffed my face with food.  I was pretty surprised by this statement.  I felt I could run in the top 1/4 of the field but really had nothing substantial to base it on.  My stomach had been with me all day and with lots of miles left to go this weekend I figured I should keep putting the food in to aid in recovery.   I left the aid station and Paul hung back.   After a bit, I looked up ahead and saw my friend and fellow SLUG Paul Schoenlaub.  This actually worried me a bit.  Paul is a good ultrarunner.  He’s ran Hardrock, Leadville, and Western States to name a few.. some of those under 20 hours.  I slowed a bit when I caught up to him.  He’d been fighting a cold and let up a bit.  I was going to just cruise in with him, but he encouraged me to get going.  I just kept it easy the rest of the way and ended up 7th for the stage and only about a minute ahead of Paul.  I was actually within seconds of my 50k PR.  I run trail races and they differ sometimes by a lot from course to course so it’s not exactly a 1:1 comparison like a flat road race might be but still to finish 31 miles in 5:36.56 (on a tough course) and not be destroyed was ok by me. Interestingly enough I was not that far from the winner of the stage either.  Leif Seed had crossed in 5:07 and with 50 tough miles the following day, anything could happen.

I chugged down some Ultragen and stood in the cold spring fed creek for 20 minutes after coming in to help with recovery.  I don’t know how much each helped but it sure felt good to ice down.

Day 2 – 50 Mile

I was talking with my wife on the phone getting ready to go to bed after the 50k.  She asked how I was and I said “I don’t know what the hell I was thinking doing this stage thing.”  She just laughed and said “you’ll be fine.”  She was right, I just needed to get bed and rested for tomorrow.

We woke up around 4 for the 6am start.  I had my usual breakfast of oatmeal, peanut butter and honey along with a few cups of coffee.  I had brought my 2XU calf sleeves along.  I had worn them for training runs but never in a race, but if there was a time where I might need some extra support it was today.  I slipped them on then began to treat the hotspot I had on my left foot.  I had left my left shoe a little looser that I should have for the terrain and ended up with a small blister on the ball of my foot.  I lanced it then covered it up with a blister guard then brought out the old duct tape. Then came the Teko socks and the slightly more supportive Flyroc 310’s

We hit the starting area and David was feeling pretty rough.  He had grabbed 2nd the day before but was just coming off of the flu and it seemed to still be hanging around.  We worked our way to start line for this out and back 50 mile run with an elevation profile that showed 14,000 feet of climb (I think that number was high but it was still a lot of climbing).  My strategy was simple.  Start out slow, walk anything that resembled a hill and when I get to the turn around see what I had left.  I cruised the first hour or so with some fellow SLUGS, Stuart, Ellen, and Don.  We talked and just had a good time then after we hit about 5 miles I decided I was feeling ok and decided to pick up the pace.  I brought my headphones along for the day because no matter what race I run, I always seem to end up running alone.  I ran off and on with another group of runners until about the 10 mile mark.  From here on out if was just me cruising along by myself until I hit an aid station.

I came to the aid station around the 18 mile mark and asked out of curiosity what place I was in 7th.  “Not bad.” I thought to myself.  I threw down some chips, potatoes with salt, and a few gummy bears and headed out.  I just tried to stay consistent and keep my head right.  Before long I was out at the aid station at mile 23.5 (which I did not know the mileage of).  I saw Leif and Ashley in the tent getting their bottles and stomachs filled up.  They were the leaders and were about 2.5 – 3 miles ahead of me.  On this short 1.5 mile out and back I was going to get to see the next 4 runners who were ahead of me.

The first person I see on the out-and-back is Paul, he’s bounced back and feeling good and running really strong.  Next I see David who tells me he’s going to drop.  He’s been sick and not able to keep anything down. I exchange a few words of encouragement and keep pressing on.  Next I see Jamie Anderson (who came in 14 minutes ahead of me in the 50k) and Alyssa Godesky.  Both look good and we all exchange words of encouragement.  I get to the turn around and make my way back.  This little section was fun.  You got to see a lot of people either coming or going and give each other a thumbs up or high-fives and hopefully feed off of each other’s energy.  I see Ellen and Don here and they are all smiles which really helps.

I’m back at the mile 23.5 (now 26.5) aid station and see David wrapped in a blanket.  I ask him one more time if he wants to come back out with me but he declines.  He informs me that this is past the half way point.  I laugh and say “Seriously, I figured this was in the low 20’s or so!”  I became pretty excited here because I had “picked-up”  about 3 miles.  I think this goes to show where my head was at today.  I was not worked up about much.  I just cruised along and enjoyed the day.   I filled up my gut again.  Drop a NUUN in each water bottle from the baggie I was carrying and got out.  I’m feeling good and ready to pick it up now that I am pass the 1/2 way point.  I take off out of the AS and immediately miss the turn back on to the trail.  I realize it then turn back around and go back.  I ended up losing about 5 minutes here.

I’m back at the aid station from mile 18, now 31.5.  With David out, I’m now in 6th.  I ask where the next 2 are in front of me and I am informed they (Alyssa and Jamie) are about 7 minutes ahead.  I grab a few things from the AS, pick through my drop bag for a few items I think I’ll need in the closing miles and head out.

The next manned AS is about 9.5 miles away and there is an unmanned water station about 1/2 way.  I was hammering the downhills and just feeling good.  I was hustling up the climbs with a fast walk and running smooth when it was flat … which was not very often.  I see a couple of coolers up the way.  I was to the unmanned AS.  Just as I crossed the little creek and was about a tenth of a mile away, I see Jamie finishing up filling his bottle then he spots me and takes off.  I had almost made up 7 minutes in the last 5 miles.  I eventually caught Jamie and Allysa who had been running together for a bit.  Man was I glad to see them.  They were the first people running the same direction as me that I had been around since about mile 10.  They asked if I had ran the day before and I said, “yes, sorry.”  I could tell they were doing fine, but hated to damper their spirits by telling them I was a stage competitor.  But, in true ultrarunner fashion they stepped aside and told me to go.  I even said I’d hang with them for a bit just for the conversation but they would not have it and told me to get moving.

I was alone again but approaching the next aid station at Barkshed 41 miles in.  My cousin from Little Rock said she, her husband, and son would come down and try to meet me on the course.  As I looked down from the trail running along the bluff, I could see their red car below and knew they had made it.  I charged forward feeling energized and also trying to bank a little time so I could talk to them for a bit before taking off.  This was the last manned aid station and I had single digits to go.  I was feeling pretty good but did not want to run in on fumes.  I was stuffing my face, drank down some beef broth, and chugged some coke.  Rocket fuel!!  As I looked over at the sheet taking down the names of runners who were through, I noticed something.  The first place male (Leif) from day one had dropped which put me in third and meant I had a chance of moving up in the overall.  I said I had to go to my cousin Jennifer and her husband Bryan (who had ran Little Rock Marathon the weekend before, way to go Bryan!!) walked with me back to the trail head.  I thanked him for coming (and taking pictures) and told him I’d see them in a bit at the finish line.

 coming into Barkshed AS at mile 41

Now I was sitting in 3rd place for the 50.  Crazy right?!?!  I knew Alyssa and Jamie were strong runners and could not be that far back so I was going to have to work to stay ahead.  Not only that, but Jamie had 14 minutes on me going into today so I was going to have to hit it to make that up with so few miles left.  I have a general rule of thumb when I am wearing headphones that  I won’t touch the controls, I just take whatever the next song is and go, but I gave myself a pass to hit next if the song did not fit the pace I was trying to run.  I was running hard and really focused so focused on running that not once, but twice in the next 9 miles, I lost the trail and had to back track.  The first time I got confused by the arrow coming off the trail onto the fire road.  One clearly showed to go right, but there was another one that ran all the way across the road and pointed straight at me.  “Did I come from that way?” I thought.  There did not appear to be any single track there but the arrow was throwing me and  I just did not remember going across this bridge up the way.  I ran back and forth from the trail head to the bridge twice (about a tenth of a mile) to get my bearings.  Finally after about 5 minutes I decided to go over the bridge and soon spotted a couple of water jugs at the unmanned AS.  With 4.5 miles since the last AS and 4.5 to get to the finish line I decided I had enough liquids to get me in and kept going.  Now things were looking familiar again, right?  I crossed out into this open grass prairie, hopped a log, climbed up a short little climb and had lost the trail.  I walked a little bit and could not see any more of the blue flashes marking the trail.  I walked back down, retraced my steps and again ended up on this little bluff overlooking the river again but no trail.  “DAMN IT!!!!!!” I screamed then grinned to myself a bit over the situation.  I was trying to make up time running, but was shooting myself in the foot by not looking.  Sort of like running late for something, so you speed and get pulled over only to make yourself later.  That’s exactly how I felt.  Finally I went back to the prairie area and walked forward paying extra close attention this time.  There was the maker! The trail forked and I took the wrong direction.  Had I been paying attention I would have not done this.  “Geeze, I’ve got to get my head out of my ass” I thought.  I pressed on hard and knew the finish line was close.  I was running along the bluff and could her people talking.  They saw me from below and I heard the cow bell (thanks Jennifer) and cheering.  I was so glad to be closing in on the finish.  When I crossed the finish line I just threw my water bottle to the side and smiled.  Happy to have ran well but really ready for this one to be over.  David was waiting just on the other side of the Finish line and gave me a big hug and pat of the back.  He is a stats hound and said right away. “Jamie has 14 minutes on you, where is he?”  I told him I passed him with about 12 or so left and was not sure and that with me losing about 10 minutes to getting lost 2 more times he could not be that far behind.

 

I really did not care that much.  More than anything, I was really pleased with my 2 performances on a tough course.  I had ran a good 50k the day before then backed it up with a strong 50 miler.  I felt like this was a really great start to 2010!.  I hugged my cousins and grabbed some Ultragen, and some bean, rice, and sausage that was cooking up at the finish line.  I saw Alyssa and Jamie coming down the hill and they finished 18 minutes after me.  Since David and Leif had DNF’d and my 3rd place finish today I was sitting in 3rd overall by just a hair under 4 minutes over Jamie.  This was crazy!  However what I was hoping to be an easy 20k to finish the weekend might not be.  I might have to really run it hard to stay in 3rd.  I picked up my stuff and headed toward the truck.  Jennifer, Bryan, Corrigan and I were going to go get some food.

We ate some burgers and fires (and I had a chili cheese dog and a shake too) and talked for a few hours.  I had a great time visiting with them and was really happy they made it down.  We said our good-bye’s and I headed back to the cabin.  David was down but was giving me the run down on the next day.  He just told me “Make Jamie beat you.  You have 4 minutes on him so just get on his heels and make him determine the pace.”  Ok, I thought, that’s what I’ll do.  Luckily I was exhausted or the thought of having to actually race the next day would have kept me up all night.

Day 3 – 20K

I was up and feeling solid.  Not 100% by any means, but given the fact that I had 80+ hard miles on my legs, I could not complain too much. David got up and ate breakfast with me and chatted about the day.  I had brought my uber light X-Talon 212’s for the 20k but decided to forego the racers and stay in my Flyroc’s again.  I again put on my calf sleeves and duct taped my feet.  I was out the door and ready to do this.

Unfortunately, the race would not happen.  A runner had taken a wrong turn somewhere in the last 9 miles of the course and had not come in the day before.  All the runners decided to stop the race and go look for the missing person (who was found and ok).  I wrote an article for iRunfar.com where you can find more details.

Overall

While I was bummed to not run the last day, I was glad to be a part of the effort to find the missing runner.  I was also really pleased with my performance.  It really goes to show, anything can happen in ultras.  There is a lot of distance out there to cover and anything can happen and did.  A previous year’s overall winner was out early with an ankle roll and the top 2 men from day 1 both DNF’d the 50 leaving the it wide open for the upper mid packers to fight for a spot.  I hung around just long enough for things to fall my way and finish in 3rd.  My friend Paul finished 2nd and Ashley took the overall, running great both days.

A stage race is a great format that I will do again.  It really is a test of your training and knowing how to run enough to do well but hold back enough to get back up the next day and do it again.  You have to eat and hydrate during the race on day 1 in anticipation of the next days.  You have to get food in after the race to make sure you are not calorie deprived.  You also have to figure out ways to minimize swelling and breaking down.  It is a great testing ground to find out if your entire training plan is correct.  On top of the personal stuff, you also get a chance to hang out with some great people for a few days as opposed to the normal one day race format.  The course, the people, the RD, the AS workers, everything about this race was good.  I recommend anyone wanting to try something new while getting to take in some really beautiful scenery.