I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve grown more and more interested in trail running over the past year. During the Spring and Summer, I was running at Turkey Mountain, Tulsa’s middle of town technical trail heaven, once a week. My racing schedule included bookending the Summer with trail races. In March, I ran the Trail Madness 15k, and in August, I ran the 5 mile Escape from Turkey Mountain.
In reviewing possible races this Fall, I noted the Turkey and Taturs trail race as a possible option to test my fitness shortly before the Route 66 Marathon. It included 10k, 25k, and 50k options. Coming out of the Tulsa Run without any major issues, I couldn’t help myself and signed up for the 25k. The longest I’ve run on trails previously was 15k so 25k was a major step up. 25k also matched my longest run of the season on the roads.
The race started at the YMCA on the North side of Turkey Mountain, one not many people know about. I had been there before but only by the Turkey Mountain trails. I was forced to consult Google for driving directions. It’s on Olympia accessible from Skelly on the Southeast side of the Highway 75 and 44 interchange.
The 7am start left me a bit miffed, but it balanced out a bit with the time change that same morning. Nevertheless, I arrived in the dark and immediately became nervous about whether or not I needed a headlamp. Fortunately, the sun came up as scheduled (go figure) so only the earlier start to the 50k took place in the dark.
Turkey and Taturs was a bit smaller race with just 53 participants in the 25k. Knowing the length of the run and having no feel for the speed of other runners, I moved to the middle of the pack for the start. I still don’t know if starting mid-pack was a mistake or not. I ended up stuck behind competitors running 1-2 min. per mile slower than my goal pace of 9:30. On the single track trails of Turkey Mountain, it can take a while to find a good place to pass so I spent some time working my way through a handful of runners.
I once again experienced what has become standard fare in my trail races, closing on another runner going up a hill only to find I can’t hang with them in the flats and downhill. I spent a long time behind one other runner early in the race as a result. And, I hate having someone in front of me blocking my view of the terrain. Turkey Mountain is far too technical to shorten reaction time with poor visibility. Fortunately, the other runner stopped at the first water stop which finally allowed me to move ahead.
The route the race followed through Turkey Mountain was an interesting one. I’ve run a lot at Turkey Mountain, and I discovered new trails on this race. I honestly can’t imagine a scenario where you could successfully create a more difficult 25k course at Turkey Mountain. I prefer running uphill, but to be honest, it seriously felt like we hardly ever stopped going uphill. When we did stop going uphill, there were very few sections of easy descents. Many were steep and technical, the kind that slow me down and completely burn out my quads.
The YMCA sits at one of the lowest points of Turkey Mountain so the first 5k of the run gradually took us up to one of the higher points at Turkey Mountain. From there, we ran the section called Power Line which is a combination of steep up and down hill sections. There is a lot of loose rock in this area so the downhill is challenging if you’re concerned about twisting or breaking ankles, which I am.
From there, the race turned into the East side of Turkey Mountain weaving back and forth between Power Line and the main Turkey Mountain Parking Lot. There were sections within this stretch where the running was pretty straightforward, but there was a stretch of 5k around the 10k mark on a tiny trail I had never seen before. It was along this trail that I lost my gel flask from my hydration belt for the 3rd time only I didn’t see it come out this time like I did the previous 2. I ended up backtracking almost 1/4 mile to find the flask. After 3 drops, I might not have minded losing it, but I expected to need its contents before the end of the race. Littering on the trails, intentional or not, isn’t good so I went after it. 3 runners passed me during my backtracking which was rather frustrating but my own fault for deciding the flask might stay put the 3rd time. Needless to say, I carried the flask the rest of the run.
It was also in this section of trail where we saw our 3rd major obstacle. I’ve never seen a race where you had to jump over or duck under logs. I’m just glad they showed up in the first half of the race so I didn’t smack into them when doing my trail zombie impersonation later in the race.
After spending way too much time on that tiny little trail, the route turned onto a very commonly run part of the Yellow Trail. The smell of the Stink Plant below on the Arkansas River reinforced that I was finally back in familiar territory.
Seriously, why is that stupid sewage treatment facility there? They’re even expanding it right now which just defies logic. If we’re going to pay to put water in the Arkansas, do we really want a sewage plant right there by all of the recreational activities? I’m sure there are good financial and engineering considerations involved, but from a practical standpoint, it’s ridiculous.
Wait…where was I? Oh, yeah…
So, Yellow Trail. I covered that part of the run at a quicker pace because I know it so well. I was also angry about the backtracking so adrenaline was helping out with my pace. I managed to catch up with a few 50k runners, one of whom was really struggling. She fell badly as I approached, but she refused my assistance so I continued on. Hopefully she started feeling better at the next water stop or stopped because she didn’t seem to be in good shape when I spoke with her. If she didn’t know Turkey Mountain, I can imagine the run taking a much greater toll on her body than she would have expected from running other trails.
At about 11 miles, we came out of the trails at the Turkey Mountain parking lot and ran down the paved trails toward the Red Trail. I never run the Red Trail as it’s heavily used by cyclists. It was part of the Escape from Turkey Mountain route, but we ran it in the opposite direction. It’s slightly easier running, but you’re rewarded at the end with a trip up Lip Buster, the biggest hill at Turkey Mountain.
Lip Buster was a bit of joke at this point. My lower legs were shot, my breathing was labored, and my hip flexor on the right side was done. I ran maybe half of Lip Buster because it’s so steep it’s actually difficult for me to walk without slipping, but that was the only reason I ran. I stumbled from there into the water stop to begin the final 5k. I made the rather excellent decision at the water stop to request only half of a bottle refill because I could do 5k with half a bottle of water, right? Right? RIGHT????
WRONG! Well, sort of wrong. I finished pathetically. The last 5k was an eternity. Other than the first 1k, I was on trails completely foreign to me. Many of the trails on the West side that descend to the YMCA are pretty easy to run, but they managed to find some new areas that tested my legs’ willingness to do anything much less run a decent pace.
I also started running into 50k runners at this point which I found quite confusing. I was very concerned I had taken a wrong turn until another 25k runner I had passed at mile 3 caught me. I don’t think that guy’s pace changed at all for the entire race. When I passed him, I estimated he was running 10 min pace, and that looked like exactly what he was doing at 13 miles. It turns out the 50k runners were running the second lap of the course in reverse. That makes sense given the nature of the course, but it required a lot of hopping out of the way when I was so tired I could barely run.
I was also catching some of the 10k runners who started 30 minutes after the 25k race. That would have been fine, but I was so out of it that there was some passing and re-passing due to me having to walk a few times and tie my shoes. And shoes…we’re going to have a talk about that before the next race. How on earth did you manage to pop loose, and why did you wait until 14 miles?
Anyway, I stumbled into the finish at 2:41:04 for 10:23 pace, good for a middle of the pack 17th place finish.
All I want to know now is when’s the next race? Maybe next time I can try the 50k.