For the uninitiated, “ultrarunning” is defined as running any distance over a marathon (26.2 miles). So why would anyone sign up to run a 100K or 62 miles? Well, there’s usually a mix of unhinged, unsettled, and restlessness involved in that answer. For me it’s all that, plus the desire to push the envelope and see what my limits truly are. My limits are more frequently mental rather than physical. Yes, these things do hurt, but the biggest challenge I’ve encountered yet is to convince myself that it will all be over soon and that I will cross the finish line without serious or permanent physical trauma.
One of these sadistic races was held recently just outside of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Dubbed the Pumpkin Holler Hunnerd, pronounced with a twang, this course is a big 30-ish mile loop through the Nickel Preserve, the largest private preserve in the Ozarks. This race was a homecoming of sorts for me, as I grew up not far north in Delaware County. And, as a card-carrying member of the Cherokee Nation, it was nice running in a place I could feel at home (Tahlequah is the capitol of the Cherokees). To top it all off, I tricked three of my buddies into pacing me on this run, so I wouldn’t be alone in the suffering for a change.
It was a cold start, but before long I was warmed up and feeling good. I caught up to the two race leaders after a couple miles and kept up with them for about 18 miles or so. One gentleman, David Box went on to finish 1st in the 100-mile event; the other, Harry Hayde, would take the top spot in the 100K race.
The course was beautiful, winding along a dirt road shadowing the Illinois river for most of it. There were plenty of climbs, some steep; but overall, no more than just about 4000 feet of total gain. Trees were just beginning to turn shades of yellow, orange, red, and purple. Pines were plentiful as well.
The pace was quick (for me) during the first loop. I set a personal record (PR) for the 50K (about 30 miles) at 5 hours and 5 minutes. At the start/finish line, I picked up my first pacer, Tyler Green, and we logged about 8 or 9 miles together. It was good to have someone to talk with again after so long running alone. We had some incredible homemade ginger snap cookies and coffee at the Mad Dog aid station, and I’ll admit I had more than just a few.
My second pacer was Andy Balthrop. We ran and walked about 8 miles and had some good conversations. He’s an economics professor at the U of A, but he maintains an interest in all manner of esoteric topics, so there was never a lack of dialogue to be had. It was during this stretch that I crossed the 50-mile mark and set a PR for that distance of 9 hours and 22 minutes.
Third pacer was Job Olguin, a transport logistics professional and good friend. I think he may have had more excitement and energy than I did leading up to this race. It was dark by the time I picked him up, so we were running with headlamps. By this point my legs were hurting quite a bit, and I did have to walk most of this last stretch. Job was a big help and a good sport for sticking with me through this most difficult stage of the race.
It had gotten cold again after dark, so I was motivated to run the last mile or so to the finish line. My place was 4th overall, and 3rd overall in my gender category. Placing was a genuine surprise, as I had never done so well in an ultra before. The total distance for this run was just about 65 miles and took me 13 hours and 33 minutes to complete. I can’t thank my pacers, fellow runners, and aid station volunteers enough for making this a very enjoyable event.
At SALT I always encourage my clients to find physical activity they love, and really lean into it. Not everyone likes running, and that’s understandable! Maybe you’re into cycling, climbing, kayaking, or hiking. Spending time outdoors is good for your mental and physical health. We are lucky to live in a region with plentiful access to natural areas – take advantage while you can! Your future self will thank you.