It started with a freezing cold morning boon-docking at the Wynne, AR Wal-Mart parking lot when the 5:30 alarm went off. I reached over to my strategically placed remote start and hit the button to get the heat flowing. Laying under the covers waiting for the warmth, I began thinking to myself that Arkansas was making running a race very difficult. My previous race attempt was the weekend before at Athens Big Fork (ABF) Trail Marathon. Fellow Dirtbag Runner, Jeffrey Genova, had mentioned this little race with big hype for the killer terrain and six mountains the course covered. Unfortunately, the race ended up being postponed due to heavy overnight thunderstorms that caused flash flooding throughout the Ouachita National Forest. The race director did allow the runners that showed up to do a 15 mile fun run that climbed the first of the mountains then along the forest roads back to the start. This is where I met Michael from Muckas Running Club before the race started. We swapped conversation and a little about what I was doing with my life and he mentioned the 25K the next weekend. Checking the map, it looked so far from where I currently was and part of my plan on my journey is to not push through places to get to the next. After ABF I drove south to explore Crater of Diamonds State Park and LoVit at Lake Ouachita for four days and found myself only two hours away from the race. Sweet! Race Time!
The Village Creek 10K/25K had a legendary first year with crazy rains the night before like this year’s ABF but it apparently made the course a muddy mess. When I got to the area I headed straight to the Park to see if I could scope out the course and see what the highest climbs were going to look like. This is when I ran into a couple of the Muckas Running Club guys (Jody and Ethan) setting up the tent for race day. We got to talking on how I could get to where the race climbs were without doing the whole course. The pup and I took off to scope it out but less than a mile in he (Jayden) was already gimping (probably because of the cold weather and his old ankle sprain injury) so we took the shortcut in the woods that lead back to the visitor center. No course preview for me.
I took me five of my six years in California to get the warm weather blood in me and now I find myself living in a van freezing before a race in Arkansas. After the van warmed up I drove the 30 minutes (I now drive like a grandpa to save on gas and to keep my stuff from flying all over) to Village Creek State Park to change and prep for the race. I did my quick baby wipe shower because there’s no sense in freezing with a real shower when I am going to take another freezing shower after the race. This is also where a funny story comes into play. At the ABF race I did the same thing; just a quick baby wipe shower. Before the race the group gathered for a picture. After the picture was taken a guy next to me jokingly said, (can’t remember the exact words but close) ‘all I could smell was baby wipes and baby powder in the group!’ I looked at him and smiled but I had the biggest grin thinking “wait til my ass gets sweaty, I’ll be leaving that scent on the whole trail!” That guy turned out to be the RD for Village Creek and I never did tell him the story that day. ( I got distracted as usual.)
I had to do a race day registration so I got to the race tent early. This also helped me acclimate to the cold while waiting in line as we all tried to cram into the small tent for heat. Bib check, timer chip check, watch and water bottle check, trying to keep warm in 18 degrees double check! Standing at the starting line and nervous about getting off course, I ask the guys around me who is running what race. This helps me so I don’t chase someone out too fast. For me racing is only about running with the next guy, not breaking the course record. The frozen horn semi blows and we are off! The start is about a 1/4 mile wide open field til you cross the bridge into the woods. Four of us stuck together pretty much til the 10K/25K split and then it was just Logan and I. Logan set the pace as we chatted about our lives and how running has changed them for the better. Like any group run we also had our silent running. After the second course turn I knew the course was perfectly marked so I could zone out with no worries. I am horrible about remembering much of the course, but there were a few creek crossings and one I do remember. The deepest creek we came across was around mile five or six. Since we were the first ones, it was still iced over. Logan went first but with every step he took the ice shattered so I decided to hop across by going down the bank a little bit. I found a perfect spot. When I caught up to him I told him that on our way back it would be on our left with a little jump down and a short jump across the water. Before we reached the pipeline, we got chased by about five white tail deer down the trail. The deer apparently didn’t know outrunning us was difficult because we met them a couple more times as the trail curved around. The only really continuous climb to me was the pipeline climb to the top where the aid station and turn around would be. From the pipeline we could see that no one was even close to us so we power hiked the climb to the top. After the turn around we met the third place runner overall/ first place female. She was hauling up that hill! We hit the downhill and that’s when we met the next runners. They were behind by a good mile and a half. A group of guys later told us that when they noticed us flying down the hill that they all became serious about who was going to be third place male! My favorite part of the races is seeing the runners come along! Pain, happiness, and freedom is something we all share as runners and we all cheer each other on knowing that forward progress is our best friend! Now, remember that creek that Logan cracked the ice on? We were coming up on it and I stopped to water the trees because I figured getting wet was bound to happen with most of the runners through and a full bladder wouldn’t help the case. As I was catching up to Logan I heard what sounded like “HIT THE VINE!” I came up to the bank, saw the vine, and without missing a stride I swung that baby like George of the Jungle! That was EPIC! That jolt of adrenaline carried me through the last four miles! Logan and I laughed about it for a good while down the trail. That’s about when we hit the last downhill section. With two miles left Logan had to make a pit stop and I continued to fly down the trail. The last two miles by myself made me consider stopping to hike. That’s when a deer ran in front of me on the trail so I made that my excuse to hike for a second to watch it gracefully run and jump through the woods. My break was short lived as I looked back to see Logan come around the bend. He was catching me so I kicked it in gear to finish the race strong for my first first place ever! This race was awesome! The aid stations were well stocked and the home made sweet rolls hit the spot after the race with my beer. The finisher medals were cool and unique and they gave out nice quality long sleeve tech shirts, which was a nice bonus!
Thanks to the Muckas Running Club for putting on a great race and being friendly and informative. Glad I met you guys at ABF or I may never have had this awesome experience! Also, special thanks to Jody and his wife Stephanie for opening their home and for the great meal (homemade chips and deer burgers!). That pre race meal may have sealed my first place finish!