Monday, March 18, 2013

Tatur's 6-Hour Snake Trail Race Review

Tatur's 6-Hour Snake Trail Race
About 1 mile to go and feelin' strong ... but REALLY ready to be done!!!
March 17, 2013
Tulsa, Oklahoma
1st Ultra Marathon Completed

Runners: 62 Six-Hour, 189 Three-Hour
Course: 2.1 mile out & back totaling 4.2 loop trail on Turkey Mountain
Temp: 41 Degrees
Wind: 10-15 NNE
SWAG: Short Sleeve Tech T-Shirt
Food: Variety of trail race food, chips, pretzels, chocolate, candy, fruit, barbecue pork after the race
Volunteer Support: Great, very helpful and friendly!
Water Stops: Basically a stop every mile
Crowd Support: Almost none
Miles Completed: 36.6
Time: 5:57:24
Overall Pace: 9:52/mile
Place: 7th/62 Overall, 1st/40-49 Age Group

Total Experience 1 2 3 4 5

Race shirt - short sleeve New Balance technical tee,
the actual 2013 shirt was green, but I traded mine for white
     - First race distance over 26.2, and only second trail race
       completed to date  
     - Ran 4.2 mile loop 8 times, and 1/2  mile finishing loop
       6 times for a total of 36.6 miles
     - Nice mostly flat course around the ridge of Turkey
       Mountain Urban Wilderness Area overlooking downtown
       Tulsa, Oklahoma
     - Small, but really well organized race with great volunteers
       at the rest stops and helping with timing
     - Started cramping at about mile 28, really affected pace
     - Carried "The Stick" for rolling out muscles for about
       8 miles, and got a rub down from one of the volunteers
     - Fell twice toward the end of the race
     - Passed Michael about 5 times during her 3 hour race,
       and then several times at the end with her taking pictures
     - Actual running pace was about 8:45, but spent way too
       much time taking breaks and rolling out cramps
     - Used bananas and Lay's potato chips as fuel, also
       consumed three gels
     - All of the runners were incredibly friendly and courteous
     - Great experience!  Glad I did it!
Finisher Medal
2013 Tatur's 6-Hour Snake Race Finisher Medal (left), medal for 1st Place in 40-50 Age Group (right)

Michael and I arrived in Tulsa, OK on Friday night, unfortunately after attending my grandmother's funeral.  The town I was raised in is almost halfway between KC and Tulsa, so we just headed to Tulsa a day earlier than planned after the services.

World Famous Pre Race Dance ... Michael gettin' down!!!
Jim shaking & shivering just thinking about the impending race conditions!!!
As I've said before, I really try not to disparage a race city.  For the most part I'm really never in the location long enough to make a fair and accurate assessment.  That being said, I've been to Tulsa many times over the years, and frankly, it's not really one of my favorite places to visit - however, I'm sure it has many great attributes that I'm just not familiar with.

But having 24 extra hours to kill in Tulsa wasn't the end of the world.  It gave us time to run by the race site and take in a little of the Riverside Trail.  We also picked up our packets at RunnersWorld of Tulsa as their local 5K St. Patty's Day Race was wrapping up.  We had great meal at regional favorite Hideaway Pizza.  And we even had time to catch a movie ... "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" (which I do not recommend).

For my pre-race meals, I usually try to eat as much chicken and rice as possible.  I'm sure there are armchair nutritionists out there who will let me know why it's poor race fuel, but it's always worked for me.  After finding the combination for both lunch and dinner, I felt adequately prepared for my 6 hours of running.

Michael and I both kept one eye on the ominous weather forecast throughout the weekend.  When we arrived in Tulsa, it was pretty much perfect ... highs of 65, light wind, sunny & beautiful.  But race day was projected to be 35 degrees, 20-25 mph winds, and rain, thunderstorms, and more rain!!!  So when I woke up on Sunday morning, the first thing I did, even before visiting the men's room, was peek outside the Hampton Inn room window to find out what was in store.
Everything was dry, but the winds were howling man!  I mean the flags were standing straight out and whipping around at about 15-20 mph just like projected.  At that point it seemed like it was going to be a long day.

After we gathered our food and extra clothing, we hit up the ol' World Famous Pre-Race Dance, and then headed over to the race, which was only about a mile from where we were staying.

As we made our way to the starting line to check things out, we immediately noticed the wind was FREEZING!!!  It wasn't raining, but there was a ton of moisture in the air, about 95% humidity, like it could start pouring any minute.  But it didn't rain all day. I had hoped that the trees that lined the course would act as wind barriers, which I later found out they would.  Once we started running it wasn't too bad, but milling around before the race got pretty chilly.

We also arrived at the course about an hour early in hopes of getting a premium parking spot a few feet from the starting line.  But even 60 minutes prior proved to be too late.  Vehicles already lined the narrow road leading to the start and we had to settle for a spot about 250 yards from the starting line, which wasn't as bad as some races ... but did I mention it was FREEZING!!!  It was probably a 3-4 minute walk.

Before the race, I took a few minutes to visit with some of the experienced trail runners, mostly asking questions about where to place my drop bag, pacing, and passing etiquette   This particular race had a turn around and rest area at the start/finish line, so it made it really convenient to drop my bag of race junk at an easily accessible location.

Parked about a quarter mile from the start - we couldn't even see the starting line from here
After that, I listened to a few final race instructions while fighting off butterflies, completing some light stretching, and finding an out of sight tree as a make shift port-o-pottie.  I wasn't as nervous as some races, but I was anxious to measure myself against some of the faster trail runners.  And then ... "On your marks, get set, go!"  My first 6-hour ultra marathon race was under way.

Start/Finish area with one of three aid stations, me in the center crossing the 1/2 mile loop mat wrapping up the race
The Race
Tulsa has a few different publicly maintained nature walks and wilderness trails.  The Snake Race was held at one of them, Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area.  It's a series of very well maintained bike and Jeep, dirt and rock trails Southwest of downtown Tulsa that provided a relatively flat and smooth 6-hour trail race.

Although the name Snake Race would imply dodging and avoiding asps for a sustained period, it actually refers the way the trail "snakes" back and forth with endless switchbacks and hairpin turns.  Runners basically head out on a 2.1 mile semi-looped course, jumping a small stream in two different places, before turning around and heading back to the starting line to complete one 4.2 mile lap.

The course was almost completely dirt, with a few smoothed over rocked formations that had surfaced to the top.  For a trail race, it made for a relatively smooth 6-hours of running.

The one concern I had going into this race was starting too fast.  And wouldn't you know it ... with adrenaline pumping, the leaders well within reach, and my testosterone peaking, I shot out of the gates way too fast!  It was a rookie mistake, and by now I should know better.  But I fell into the trap of trying to keep up with the leaders.

I had spent most of my training miles around 8:50-9:15/pace.  And I had promised myself that I wouldn't go under 8:30 ... for the whole race.  I quickly broke that promise with a series of 8:15-8:20's over the first 10 miles ... which was a little too fast at that point.  I felt good because I was in 5th place and I could see 3rd & 4th up ahead, and my breathing was smooth and controlled.  I really wasn't laboring at all.  But the trail, even though flat, was slowly taking it's toll on my legs.  As I lifted my stride ever so slightly higher than normal to avoid the small roots, rocks, and dirt formations on the trail, I noticed my hip flexors were really getting a workout.  It wasn't a problem at that point, but I began to feel them get a little tighter than normal.

Lay's potato chips ... fuel of champions?
But I soon found that the pace I was running wasn't the central issue to my overall performance.  In fact, after the race, my Garmin indicated that when I was running, it was at a 9:17/pace, which I could live with.  However, the time I was wasting at each stop was killing my pace, which ended up being around 9:52 overall for the race.  I was literally spending 2-3, and sometimes 4 minutes at the rest stops.  I really didn't need to stop that long, but I just wanted to make sure I got enough fuel.

Even though I had gone out a little fast, my real concern was not getting enough to eat with each stop.  I had brought mostly bananas, Lay's potato chips, and Gu Gels, which worked in training.  Each time I got back to the start/finish area, I took some time and chowed down ... but it was a little too much time.  I watched as runners would pass me, and then I would gradually overtake them again somewhere later on the trail once I resumed running.  It was like a game of trail "Leap Frog".

Michael was running the 3-hour race and I kept seeing her smiling face on the out & back which gave me a huge boost.  I made it fairly easily to the half-way point, and then the ol' trail started to get a little lonely and little boring as the 3-hour folks all vanished.  I had brought my iPod for the second half of the race, but when I fired it up as a little mid-race reward to myself, it was completely dead, which really bummed me out a little.  I don't "need" music when I run, but it makes the same old cold & lonely trail loop a little more tolerable.

Rolling out lower quad muscle cramps with "The Stick" over the last hour of the race
During the second half, I noticed the leaders start to change position a little.  The two lead guys were really falling back to the rest of the pack, and the the guy that had led most of the race actually finished behind me.  But the two guys that I had spent most of the day pacing had somehow found a burst of energy and vaulted to the 1st & 2nd positions.  It was really interesting to watch.  As the day wore on, I was less concerned with placing ... and more just with finishing strong.

This was the first time I had ever been over 26.2 miles in a race, and for the most part, my first pseudo-ultra marathon experience was very positive.  I maintained a good pace without any trouble.  I didn't have any stomach related accidents.  And most importantly, I finished.  However, the one issue I had to deal with was continuous cramping ... which rarely ever bothers me when running.  In the last hour of the race, I had to consistently stop and roll out my lower quads with "The Stick".  I actually even carried it with me for the last couple of loops, stopping to roll out every so often when things tightened up.  And at my last stop on the 4.2 mile loop, one of the volunteer girls actually rolled my quads out for me while I enjoyed some fruit.  (I think one of her friends might have taken a staged "incriminating" photo while she was on her knees in front of me, but I was too tired to care at that point.)  I don't know what I would have done without having "The Stick" with me, but I was so glad that I had packed it in my drop bag!  I was probably the single thing that helped me finish as well as I did.

At mile 31.5 ... I fell for the first time.  It sucked!  I had seen 7 or 8 other runners fall throughout the race, and while I had stumbled a couple of times myself, I managed to stay upright.  But my legs were getting really heavy and I honestly don't even know what I tripped on, but down I went.  And then, about a half mile later ... I fell again!  This one wasn't good.  I rolled completely over, almost doing a somersault down an incline.  I didn't get skinned up, which is amazing, but I was covered in dirt and it hurt.  I was really ready to be done at that point!

When we crossed the 4.2 mile loop mat near the end of the race, if you couldn't make out and back on another full loop, you began circling a half-mile loop as many times as possible for the remainder of the race.  The half-mile circuit was much rockier, steeper, and tougher than the full loop.  I really had to focus because I didn't want to hit the ground again on those rocks, plus ... well, that's just about it!

Michael & me after our races, with REALLY tired legs!
Every time I began another loop, I saw Michael there snapping pictures and screaming for me ... just like all the girls used to do in high school (ha - I wish).  It really gave me an adrenaline boost and got me going for one more lap.  All together I added another 3 miles to my total on the short loop for a total of 36.6 miles.  It was the furthest I had ever ran. And I was EXTREMELY glad to stop running.

To be honest, I had pretty lofty goals for my first long trail race.  The Snake Race had these really awesome snake trophies for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd overall.  I really wanted one, and thought they were possibly in reach.  If I would have managed my race a little better at the outset and not wasted so much time, I might have been close, but I ended up with 7th place overall, and 1st in my age group.  No one older than me beat me in my first 6-hour ultra marathon, which was pretty cool!

After the race Michael and I grabbed a recovery meal at The Cheesecake Factory, but my stomach was pretty uneasy.  I also began wondering just how bad my legs would hurt the next two days.  Pretty much worse than any other race!  But it was a great experience that I'm glad I took advantage of it.

I can't say that I "fell in love" with trail running or ultra marathons during this process.  I proved to myself that I can easily complete a distance longer than a marathon.  I really don't thing a 50 or 60 miler will be any trouble at all.  I'll probably steer clear of the 100 miler.  But I'm going to put them all on hold for now.  I just really don't enjoy the training.  It's much slower than I enjoy running, and it's a lot of lonely back-to-back runs on the weekend.  Plus, I still have a lot of speed goals that I want to accomplish.  But in the future, I can see ultra marathons possibly becoming a part of my running.  And if they do, I would definitely do the Snake Race in Tulsa again.  We had a great time!
... be great today!


  1. Congrats on joining the > 26.2 club! Any race that is fueled by bananas and Lay's potato chips is a good race.

    Loved the medals. Well done on a hard-fought race my friend!

  2. Hey, congrats on the ultra and the age group award! I think 7th overall for your first ultra is pretty darn good. I think I would have just died in the cold. Interesting how the race played out: since I know nothing about ultras, I'd be intrigued to watch the pacing strategies and see who still had energy at the end of six hours. Was passing the 26 mile point a mental drag or anything?

  3. Grace - I'd been to 30 a few times, so 31 started messing with my mind a little, but I was so tired I was really counting down the minutes more than anything.

  4. Congratulations! That is a beautiful finisher's medal (well earned). As a side note, I didn't even know about cramping until I started trail running. Now that trails are all that I run, I work long and hard at avoiding the cramps. Congrats once again (& on your placing)!!!

  5. Great job! That is such a long time to be running. Ouch to the falls. They did have a great medal and shirt. Isn't that just like an iPod to not have any battery when you really need it!

  6. Congrats on your first ultra and your placement! I had to get past the name of the ultra and make myself keep reading. Thanks for clearing up why it is called Snake Trail!

  7. Dude.... you inspire me.

    Awesome job on your first ultra. You are a beast!!

  8. So, I'll go out on a limb and say that this race is far more impressive than any other race you've ran including the BQ and the B. It's your first ultra and you pick up hardware! You fall down! You get back up. That's how winning is done! (I heard that last part in a movie but I like it and saved it for this comment).

  9. Congrats on the ultra!

    Hey, as an aspiring 50 stater (6 down, 44 to go) I just found your blog and find it awesome. Your story of qualifying for Boston at Top of Utah almost brought ME to tears. Love the race descriptions. I'm running Boston in 4 weeks and can't be more psyched. When's your next marathon?

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  11. That was a great run despite the falling and the feeling sick afterwards. It's tough going into unknown waters but you managed it brilliantly.

  12. So proud of you babe!! You rocked that ultra just like you always do!

  13. Thanks Edgemont Dave, best wishes at Boston!!! My next marathon is in Idaho later this year.

  14. That's an impressive pace for the trail! Congrats!!!!

    I just had a head slapping d'oh moment....why on earth have I NEVER thought to throw the stick in my backpack?!?!?! That is the best. Idea. Ever.

  15. I really enjoyed reading this and it sounds like you did everything right for your first ultra which is pretty amazing. I do have to say that I think Michael's medal is cooler than yours....whats up with that?

    Congratulations and good luck with your goals for the rest of the year.

  16. Congratulations, Jim! It sounds overall like a great experience. And though all of those long training slogs weren't really your cup of tea, the race went off perfectly--and now you have a huge endurance bank to draw on for your speedier goals. Great pictures as usual, too.

  17. Amazing. Congratulations Jim. This is such a huge accomplishment you should be so so proud. Awesome pictures also!!

  18. Congratulations! It sounds like you were really well prepared (especially bringing the stick - best equipment ever). Great race!!

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  20. Great race! Congratulations! I did not know Lay's are the food of champions, but I've been wrong before!


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