Oklahoma was in full on crazy weather form leading into the 2015 Trail Madness hosted by Fleet Feet Tulsa. Just 4 days prior, I was training at Turkey Mountain in 50 degree, sunny weather on a mix of dry and muddy trails, but by the time the starting gun fired on Sunday, March 1st, a couple inches of snow and ice covered the trails. It was my first ever run in the snow.
Yes, you read that right. It was my first run in the snow. I stick to the treadmill when the weather isn’t cooperating. If I could convince my wife, I would move somewhere Winter doesn’t exist, where it’s 90 degrees year round.
Trail Madness consists of 3 race distances: 4K, 8K, and 16K. Last year at the inaugural Trail Madness, Fleet Feet setup two courses, a 4K and an 8K, with staggered starts. The 16K runners ran with the 8Kers and completed the loop twice. This year, Fleet Feet wove all of the courses together and used a single water stop to serve all runners with the 16K again being 2 loops on the 8K course.
For the 16K, we started at the South end and worked our way up the Eastern most red line. Where the red met yellow and blue, we turned North on yellow and stayed to the East. We then ran back to the intersection and turned West on the blue staying to the North side. Then turning back on the Southern blue trail passing the intersection and taking the Western red trail back to the starting line.
One thing Fleet Feet Tulsa did for this race that was really great was to provide a diagram of the water stop traffic flow. They had volunteers in place directing traffic, but it was nice to have that little bit of extra preparation for what would happen during the race.
It was a well-thought out design, but I must admit I preferred 2014’s route along the outskirts of Turkey Mountain. Who wants to spend a couple of hours running around Turkey Mountain without the opportunity to smell raw sewage or slip off the side of the mountain and die? Oh…
So, let’s talk about the race itself.
Before I ever arrived at the starting line, I lucked into some good decisions. The most important decision I made came around 10:00 am the day of the race.
Did I mention Trail Madness takes place in the afternoon? This year’s race started at 1:00 PM. That’s right, you early birds. We got to run in the middle of the day. Ha!
Anyway, I began to get very nervous about the snow and ice the morning of the race. The weather forecast had called for mid-40’s up until the last 36 hours before the race. On Sunday morning, it was obvious the snow was not going to melt anywhere on the course. So, I wanted more traction.
In preparation for the 2013 Route 66, I had panicked about wintery conditions as well and looked up every possible traction option. The recommendations were all the same: screw your shoes. I may have worded that poorly. Let me try again: put screws in the tread of your shoes. Most Google experts called for #6, 3/8” hex head screws, but Home Depot had nothing but #8’s. There wasn’t time to be picky so I took hex-headed #8’s over the pan-headed #6’s that looked like they would be good for ice skating.
Back at home, I inspected my Altra Lone Peak 2.0’s and decided that there wasn’t a suitable place to screw them without damaging the shoes and/or feeling one in my feet during the run . So I hauled my neglected Cascadia’s out of the closet, grabbed the cordless drill, and went to work. Notice the perfectly positioned rectangular pieces of tread along the side. As a mid-foot striker, that area was the most important to me, and it was solid.
Having never run with screwed shoes (there has to be a better way to say that) before, I took my newly screwed shoes out to the driveway for a quick test. Between the slope of the driveway and the icy paths left by our vehicles, I figured I could knock myself out of the race in short order and forget about running 16K in freezing weather on snow and ice. Much to my dismay, I couldn’t slip even if I tried. I could push off just like I was wearing rubber soles on Oklahoma asphalt in July.
At this point, we could digress into a discussion of traction characteristics of parallel vs. perpendicular hex head slot orientation, but we’ll save that discussion for a scintillating article in the future…all I know right now is that image is driving me crazy. Why did I not line up the slots???? And while we’re at it, what the hell Brooks? Why do the arrows go one way on the inside and the other way on the outside????
Before I waste hours fixing that picture in Photoshop, let’s move on to fuel. I’m working hard to carry less gear in my races, and Trail Madness was no exception. Normally, I would run a 9 mile run with a handheld, but with my reflux at the Tulsa Run along with a fear of needing my hands to brace for impact (snow and ice, remember), I didn’t want to carry anything. Belts are an invention of the devil, and the pack just seemed like overkill so I went with….the Tennis Elbow Gel Flask.
How do you get a gel flask on your arm? My first thought was to strap it to my iPhone carrier. Unfortunately, my iPhone carrier’s strap was too big, and it’s the wrong size for my current phone. Aside from that, I didn’t really want to carry my phone at Trail Madness. That meant the hunt was on for something that would fit on my arm and stay there because it’s always good to try something new on race day…
After a bit of searching, I stumbled onto my old tennis elbow strap which I’ve also been known to use for ITBS. My Ultimate Direction Gel Flask fit perfectly so we were up and running. If you attempt to do this for a trail run, please note that I have added velcro to my flask to keep it in place. The gel flask wants to be free, and if you hit a bump in the road, it will make a run for it. And take it from someone who’s been there twice, there’s nothing more annoying than backtracking for a gel flask during a race.
Other than changing my mind about what to wear about 20 times (number and types of layers…I don’t care how I look), the only other change I made to my gear was duct-taping my shoes. As far as blocking wind and water, it worked great while it lasted, but it didn’t last long. The duct-tape starting pulling off of my shoes in the first mile. I removed it around 1.5 miles, and as an added bonus, I dropped a piece out of my pocket on lap 1 and stopped to pick it up on lap 2.
So let’s talk about the race itself.
At the starting line, I made a mistake. I lined up mid-pack. Now, I had a good reason for making this mistake. I was concerned about my ankle and the footing on the trails so I wanted to start slow. That said, I didn’t want to start quite as slow as I did. My first mile took a little over 10 minutes, and it required a lot of questionable passing which tends to take its toll later in races. My guess is I was running 11-12 minute pace in the first 0.5 mile and 8 minute pace the last half mile.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad or slow about 10+ min/mile on those trails. It’s just that I had planned on running 9 min/mile especially on one of the only uphill sections of the course. I lost at least 1 minute in that first mile, and it likely cost me 4th place.
Once out of the larger pack, I stayed with some other runners for the next couple of miles which were a mix of mostly flat and downhill running, the latter part of which became fairly technical with a combination of rocks, roots, and tight turns. Once we broke out onto Powerline, though, it was on. The race skipped almost all of the downhill Powerline running and gave us two of the most difficult uphill climbs.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, I passed the 4th and 3rd place runners on the 2nd hill only to stop at the water stop at the top allowing them to pass back. If I had known I was in 3rd place, I would have been a little faster moving through the stop. As it was, I think I gave them a good 30 second head start for the final loop of the first 8K.
I also managed to find the perfect sized rock somewhere on the West side near a little wooden bridge. I think I may have been too focused on not slipping on the wood and not focused enough on the rocks I was trying to tiptoe through to get to the wood. For the next 1/4 mile, I thought my race was over. I kept running, but I couldn’t imagine how I was going to run 10K more on an injured ankle.
Chalk it up to the cold I guess, but my ankle felt solid enough to continue by the time I reached the end of the first loop. Again, if I had known where I was in the race, I would have hoofed it up the hill a little faster, but I stopped at the starting line water stop where I filled my own cup and lingered way too long. Another 15-20 seconds blown.
By the time I reached the top of the hill, I caught what I know now was the 4th place runner. He was walking hills due to poor traction from his shoes and because they were just tough, technical inclines. And, he forced me to walk briefly as it was single track trail fenced in by boulders through that section. When he stopped at the top to adjust his shoes, I didn’t expect to see him again, but 2 miles later, he caught me.
He stayed behind me until we broke out onto Powerline, a much wider section of trail. We chatted for a bit in the flats, but as we hit the first incline, I took off leaving him to fight with his lack of traction on the 2 inclines. I then stopped for my last time at the water stop and in so doing, allowed 4th place to catch me again. I didn’t expect to be able to hang with him for the final 3K of the race due to much of it being downhill, but to both his and my surprise, I was on his heels until some 8K lap traffic and extremely technical downhill running allowed him to open a gap.
Once we leveled off approaching the parking lot, I pressed pretty hard and closed most of the gap, but I was out of gas and knew I couldn’t take my screwed shoes onto the curving, wet pavement at that high a pace. There was also a nasty little turn back onto the grass to get to the finish line that would slow me down further.
I’m not sure how far behind him I finished, but once you took my mid-pack start into account, I was only 3 seconds behind him on chip time. That’s why I say my lackadaisical approach to the start and water stops cost me. If you add it all up, I might have been competitive for 3rd place had I wasted less time at the water stops, but at the very least, I should have been significantly ahead of the eventual 4th place winner going into the final 3K.
That said, it was a fun race. I met some new people, put up a decent time, got some nice race swag, and most importantly, did not go home in an ambulance.
The real question now is can my ankle survive 25K at Post Oak in just 5 days time? And then turn around and survive another 16K the very next day? It should be interesting. One thing is for sure, though. I’m lining up closer to the front at Post Oak, and I’m carrying my hydration pack. Trying to get the right mix of fluids at the water stops is for the birds. I’ll tweak the mix as I go and stop only if I need to refill a bottle. Then maybe I’ll revisit the minimalist fuel plan for the OKC Memorial Marathon where water stops should be a bit quicker to navigate or just go back to the dreaded fuel belt.
Trail Madness 2015 Results:
- Overall 5th Place
- Age Group 2nd Place
- 9:12 Pace
- 1 Lost Glove