It started with a freezing cold morning boon-docking at the Wynne, AR Wal-Mart parking lot when the 5:30 am alarm went off. I reached over to my strategically placed remote start and hit the button to get the heat flowing. While 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. A fellow Dirtbag Runner, Jeffrey Genova, mentioned this little race with big hype for the killer terrain and the six mountains the course covered. Unfortunately, the ABF 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 and 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. This is when he mentioned the Village Creek 25K would be the next weekend. Checking the map, it looked so far from where I currently was in Bigfork, AR. Part of my plan on my journey is to not push through places just to get to the next. After ABF I drove south to explore Crater of Diamonds State Park and LoVit trail system at Lake Ouachita for four days. I then found myself only two hours away from the area of the race Michael mention. Sweet! Race Time!
The Village Creek 10K/25K had a legendary first year with crazy rains the night before just like this year’s ABF which apparently made the course a muddy mess. When I got to the area I headed straight to the State Park to see if I could scope out the course. This is when I ran into a couple of the Muckas Running Club guys (Jody and Ethan) setting up for the next days race. We told me how I could preview the race course climbs 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 a shortcut in the woods that would led us back to the Visitor Center. No course preview for me.
Race Day Morning; It took five of my six years in California to get the warm weather blood in me and now I find myself freezing in my van. After starting the van with my remote start I drove the 30 minutes (I now drive like a grandpa to save on gas and to also keep my stuff from flying all over) to Village Creek State Park to get for the race. Before I change I do a quick baby wipe shower because there’s no sense in freezing with a real shower (from my water jugs) 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 start of the race/fun run the group at ABF 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 with the biggest grin thinking, “wait til my ass gets sweaty, I’ll be leaving that baby wipe scent on the whole trail!” Well, that guy turned out to be the RD for Village Creek. I have not told him the story of that day but he will find out when he reads this post.
With the baby wipe shower done, I had to do a race day registration so I got to the race tent early. Waiting outside helped me acclimate to the morning cold before the race would start. 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 if they are only running the shorter race. For me running a race is only about running with the people and enjoying the beauty, not breaking the course record. The frozen horn semi blows! We are off!
The start of the race is about a 1/4 mile of wide open field til you come to a bridge that takes you into the woods. Four of us stuck together pretty much til the 10K/25K split. Then it is just me and Logan. I let Logan set the pace as we chatted about our lives and how running has changed them for the better. After the second turn in the course I could tell the course was well marked so my worries of getting off course began to settle down. I am horrible about remembering course details because I like to zone out. I do remember there were a few creek crossings and one creek crossing in particular I remember well! 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. As he crossed I noticed down the bank a little bit there was a short jump so I took the route instead. When I caught up to him I told him there would be an easier way to cross our left with a little jump down and a short jump across the water.
As we continued running we ran by five white tail deer on the trail. The deer apparently didn’t know outrunning us would be difficult because we met them a couple more times as we followed the curving trail. The only really difficult climb on the course was up the pipeline. At the top of the hill would be the aid station and turn around point. From the mid point of the climb we could see that no one was even close to us so we power hiked to the top. Jody and Micheal were at the aid station to cheer us on and lift give us a boost at the half way point of the race.
On the way down we met the third place runner overall and also the first place female. She was hauling up that hill! As we hit the bottom of the downhill we met the next group of runners. They were behind by a good mile and a half. A couple of the guys from that group later told us that they thought they were the lead males. Once they noticed Logan and me flying down the hill that they all became serious about who was going to be third place male! On of my favorite things about running races is seeing all the runners push through the pain. Going through the roller coast of emotions during a race is something we all experience as runners. We cheer each other on knowing that forward progress is our best friend!
Ok remember the creek with the cracking ice? I forgot to mention earlier this is an out and back race. So I assumed after all of the runners crossed the ice would now be back to a normal creek crossing. As neared the creek crossing I stopped to “water the trees” because I didn’t want to be cold and have a full bladder if I got wet. As I was catching up to Logan I was wondering if he would take the route to the left like a mentioned earlier. Running up to the creek I heard what sounded like “HIT THE VINE!” I came up to the creek bank, I see a vine hanging, 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 his own pit stop and he told me to keep going without him. With the around two miles left 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 coming around the bend. So I kicked it in gear to finish the race strong.
This race was awesome! The aid stations were well stocked and the home made sweet rolls after the race hit the spot. The finisher medals were 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! A big thanks to Logan for sharing the miles with me during the race and for the finishers beer too. A special thanks to Jody and his wife Stephanie for inviting Pup and me to their home for the great pre-race meal (homemade chips and deer burgers!). That pre-race meal may have sealed my first place finish!