Hands down without a doubt the toughest 50k I have ever done! Also the most beautiful.
The weather was perfect for the “unofficial” Ouachita Switchbacks 25k and 50k runs. The brainchild of RD Tommy Brennan is a spectacular meandering single track trail run through the Ouachita Mountains in Oklahoma that begins and finishes at the Pashubee Trailhead near Big Cedar, Ok.
I started the race dead last, did not plan it that way but that is what happened and it worked out great. Heading west from the trailhead the first 3 miles or so were gentle hills with a few rocks and roots thrown in just to keep you paying attention to the trail. This was run easy just chatting with others and making some new friends while making sure that we remained on the trail. We soon crossed the highway and arrived at an aid station. A short distance later came the first water crossing and by being careful I was able to stay dry.
After a short climb the trail ran along the side of a hill on a shelf. Up and down I went always having to keep an eye on the trail for rocks and hoping nothing bad was hiding under the leaves. Who knew Oklahoma has a Glacier? Well sort of anyway except in true Oklahoma style this is made of rocks. No running across this! On the other side awaited downed trees, rocks, leaves, thorns, rocks and oh, it was rocky too!
The first series of switchbacks awaited taking me downhill on slopes that surprisingly still had traces of snow on them and then the climb began in earnest. A series of switchbacks going up the other side. Able to run about eighty percent of it and still feeling great although far more tired than I expected at this point. The reward was a spectacular view and the aid station at the turnaround. I took a short break visiting with others, taking pictures, and eating before beginning the return journey.
Crossing the water proved a little harder on tired legs and in went the left foot quickly followed by the toes of my right. The cold water felt great for about five seconds before my foot started going numb. No matter I still had about four miles to go back to the trailhead so I could start on the backside. At this point I was beat. My legs were tired, I was hungry and trying to decide if I should continue. My legs and mind said no. My heart said continue. Arriving back at the start I checked in, refilled my hydration vest, and told them I was heading out and did not care if I finished DFL. Tommy told me they would be right there waiting for my return at they cheered me on.
A short down hill, a little flat area and then about a 2.5 mile climb began. No run left in the legs so I walked. Calling myself stupid for continuing on. Wondering if I would finish before dark. About two thirds of the way up I sat down on a boulder, ate a Cliff Bar and some tylenol. I decided right there this would not become my first DNF so I got up and continued the climb. Near the top the front runner passed me headed in. Neither he nor his dog looked worse for the wear.
My second wind kicked in and I started running again, slowly because this side was more technical than the front, but running. Not long and I hear runners coming up behind me. They would have caught me before the aid station had they not stopped to talk. Deb and Coleen passed me at the aid station and we ran more or less together the rest of the way. After crossing the cold waters of the Kiamichi River to the final turn around we headed back in to the aid station and then the long climb back to the top.
Running down the other side I made a newbie mistake by running around a very low branch. I knew better and had forgotten about the thorns on the other side which is why I went under it on the way up. Oh well no slowing down, just run on through and smile about it.
As promised I finished dead last. Never happier to do so. A cold beer awaited and I felt great.
I am already looking forward to returning for a rematch next year, that is simply how good this run is.
Nothing like a good hard mountain trail run to show you any weaknesses. I now know where I need to focus my training.
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