Sunday, December 29, 2013

Otter Creek Trail Marathon 2013

The story of the day for the 2013 edition of the Otter Creek Trail Marathon, 16 and 8 milers was RAIN.  I woke up in the wee hours of Saturday morning to a deafening roar of rain on the metal roof of my small house.  Inches of rain were falling.  On the way there, more fell.  Once in the park though, the rain backed off which made getting to registration and prepping to run much more doable.  The crowd was noticeably light, and who could blame all of those who stayed home.  The trail system at Otter Creek is old and well built, but we had gotten an absurd amount of rain, and more was coming.

All three distances start together, and the perennial short distance ace, Murphy Sheets, rocketed off the front.  Behind him, a gaggle of young guys tore through the first mile or so, but things were sorted out pretty quickly.  A 16 miler I don't know, Ryan Althaus (wearing a Gopro and running for a fun lap), and I made up the lead group of three (well minus Murphy) by the time we were dropping in to Otter Creek itself.  The trail was holding up surprisingly well.  Huge puddles greeted us occasionally, but much of the trail surface wasn't too bad.  Midway through that first lap, it started to rain again - hard.  I enjoyed catching up with Ryan and the miles went by quickly.  We dropped our companion on the climb to the ridge and wrapped up lap one.  I had hit the ground only once and Ryan caught it on the Gopro - see attached.

Ryan peeled off to ditch the camera and said that he might come back out to try to catch me.  I wanted to run fast enough to ensure that wouldn't happen (not that I didn't want his company).  So, I just kept hammering on in the increasingly saturated woods.  The major descent on the second lap wasn't too bad, but the thing I noticed from the top of the hill was this spider web appearance on the forest floor.  It was whitish muddy water flowing down the hill on every trail and deer trail through the woods.  Otter Creek itself was becoming engorged and the trail surface along side it was like those first few steps when you're running into the ocean.  I had another couple much more spectacular wipe outs and made it through lap two feeling pretty solid - well mostly wet, but strong.

Lap three was all about just getting it behind me.  My body was fatiguing a little due to the strange foot placements and the all-over-core/back engagement that it takes to get through such terrain.  The two major water crossings were getting hairy.  As I approached the first - a back-filled spot with a set of wooden stairs in it, I noticed that two runners were skirting around it by climbing way up the hill which looked much sketchier to me.  Then once I saw the stairs, well the stair, I realized I was going for a dip.  I waded in to almost my waist and then climbed up the submerged staircase.  A volunteer, Mike Ford (who is an accomplished ultra runner) was running backward down the trail from his post at the Blue Hole aid station to make sure no one drowned at that spot.  One other crossing, which was just a matter of skipping over a few rocks just two hours earlier, was a pushy and loud rushing creek of white water by the third lap.  Things were getting hairy, and I was glad to be getting done.

I tried to maintain a decent clip through the second half of that last lap, but my body was feeling pretty worked from the strangely taxing water running that I had been doing for three hours.  The course had disintegrated to muck, standing water, or more frequently - running water.  Running uphill was more psychologically taxing because it appeared you were also going upstream.  But, when I got close to wrapping up that last lap, I realized that my time wasn't that bad.  In fact, I ran one minute faster that I did there last year.  Crazy.  It was bar none the wettest trail race I have ever done, on foot or bike.   I love Otter Creek.  It was my first marathon in 2008, and I've enjoyed every return trip since.  This one will go down as one of the best, most challenging and most rewarding ones yet.

Huge kudos to Cynthia Heady and Headfirst Performance for another fantastic event.  I love their races, partially because they're just great races, but mostly because Cynthia and Todd are wonderful people (and Cynthia's soups are to die for - sometimes I feel like I die a little running to reach that soup!).  

Next up, trying to rip a 50k PR at The Pistol then getting recovered quickly to come out and pace Troy Shellhamer for the final 20 miles of his 100 at the same event.  Hoping the Kentucky boys represent!  Happy New Year. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

White River Marathon for Kenya

Road marathons are one of my favorite disciplines in competitive running.  Sure a trail one would be much more enjoyable - a trail ultra even better, but there's something cool about racing this distance that deserves respect yet it is short enough that you can feel like you're running pretty darn fast.  Much less distance is much less fun - burning lungs, lactic acid dripping out of your ears - yuck.  However, much longer feels so much slower, especially on the mixed terrain of a trail ultra.  The marathon is like running the knife's edge.  Go a little too fast and it'll cut you, slow down too much and you can't get that time back. It's probably the event that is most driven by goal time - the PR, the BQ, the sub-5, 4, 3 hour, the Trials cut-off, or the Moose Mug.  Whatever it is about this discipline, it provides unique challenges and, when run well, huge rewards.

About 700 of us ready to roll. 
Each time I toe the line I have goals.  Sometimes I share them, sometimes I don't, and often I have various levels of what I want to accomplish.  Call them A, B and C goals.  I'll usually tell anyone my C goal - finish.  Even the B goal, if I'm feeling confident - PR (2:42:12 in this case) - I may let people in on if they ask.  But the A goal is one I prefer to keep a little closer to my chest, however it is the one that's first and foremost in my mind.  It's the one that usually will take a little risk, and, in the case of the road marathon, can result in missing the B or even C goal if it goes badly.  Last Saturday it was to run a 2:39.  I entered the White River Marathon for Kenya in Cotter, AR.

This race should be a "must do" for anyone who can possibly make it to northern Arkansas in late November.  It just happened to fit for me - post XC season and close enough to drive to, perfect sounding course (flattest, fastest as advertised on, small town atmosphere and following the White River, all sounded like good reasons to give this one a shot.  My girlfriend, Emmy, and I made the rendezvous at her family's cabin on Lake Malone and prepared for the haul to Arkansas the following day.

Friday was about a 7 hour day in the car, but I can't complain as Emmy drove the entire way allowing me to squirm around in my seat and kick my feet up.  We made the packet pick-up at Cotter School with about five minutes to spare but knew that we would have to come back and pick up my chip in the morning anyway.  It's comforting, though, to know exactly where you're going, and we even drove the double-out-and-back course.  After a hilarious and infuriating battle trying to locate some healthy carbs in Mountain Home, we eventually found a Thai restaurant where we scored some take out and got in bed at a decent hour. 

The course is unusual in that it leaves the school, drops about a half mile to the White River at Denton's Ferry then follows the river for another six plus miles to the first turn around.  Everyone runs back to Denton's Ferry and the finish line area, full marathoners turn around and go back out while the halfers finish.  No one goes back up the hill.  Marathoners head back out the out-and-back, which just goes a little ways further out to make up for the lost distance of the starting downhill.  The forecast looked pretty good for marathoning, not so much for my support, but ideal for a hard effort.  Blustery would best describe the day.  No hard headwinds in either direction, but consistently breezy and about 35 degrees.

The plan was simple, run nothing faster than 6 min/mi and nothing slower than 6:10.  I don't wear a GPS and never have - I actually enjoy doing the math mile by mile to figure out exactly how fast I'm running.  The field consisting of 5k'ers, 1/2 marathoners and full marathoners started together dropping down the hill out of Cotter.  Two 5k guys bombed down the hill and the rest of us settled in and got comfortable.  I had two young guys right with me who I soon found out were both running the 1/2.  We talked about pace as we rolled down the road and got a big chuckle when we hit the first mile marker in 5:42.  Whoops.  Then we came by the 2 mile marker in about 12:00 - too slow.  Finally by the 3 mile, we had it lined out to 6:01 pace and would pretty much keep it there.  A younger fella came off about at about 3 or 4 miles in, and my remaining companion was a 23 year old D2 runner, named Max, from a small college in MO.  His XC team had just missed Nationals, which is why he was in Arkansas running a 1/2 marathon.  He was a really smooth runner, and he mentioned perhaps running the full instead if he felt good, but decided by mile 8 or 9 that it was going to just be the half for him.  Shortly thereafter, he wished me luck and I was heading to the finish/turnaround alone.  Emmy was positioned at the entrance to the finish cul-de-sac with a bottle of GU Endurolyte Brew (the 2x sodium variety) so that I could run that short distance with the bottle and get good drinks then drop it back off as I came back out.  It worked flawlessly, and I had the first half behind me in well under 1:20.

Negative splitting is not my forte but I knew that a big positive split would be detrimental.  I didn't have any cushion to speak of and just had to keep knocking off miles.  6:05 was my mantra.  The double out and back format sends you back past your fellow runners a lot and they were all super-supportive.  Almost every single person I went by had something encouraging to say.  I would usually just give them the thumbs up and motor on - not that I don't like to say nice things back - I just couldn't spare the breath.  The miles went by fast.  The things that had been hurting through the past training cycle began to flare up again, but nothing was debilitating - nothing was slowing me down.  I considered pushing harder, then thought about how bad it would suck to break down in that last 5k.  I'd feel bad for a minute and considered slowing down, then thought about how awful it would be to miss my goal.  The river valley narrowed and I could eventually see the finish area off in the distance.

2:39:34 officially.  Felt pretty good about it for a moment as I enjoyed the high fives from the crowd and the hugs from Emmy.  But, by the time I was slipping into my sweats, I was wishing I had dug a little deeper - taken a bigger risk.  That's what is so enticing about running on that edge.  I stayed far enough on the safe side that day and ran a PR by almost three minutes.  I know I can go faster.

Got about 90 seconds recovery before I was answering questions. 
Gear and nutrition were dialed.  Brooks Launch shoes, Brooks ID singlet, Brooks Infiniti short, Brooks arm sleeves.  Two dollar Wal-mart gloves.  Craft base layer sleeveless.  Two GU Roctane gels (Island Necar), one bottle GU Electrolyte Brew (Blueberry Pomegranate 2x sodium).

Here's some media coverage:

Made it into one of those cool news write ups on

White River Marathon for Kenya (prev Mountain Home Marathon for Kenya) - Nov 23 - Cotter, AR
Matt Hoyes, 39 of Bardstown KY, earned the 2013 White River Marathon for Kenya with a 2:39:34 performance. He was previously won the Otter Creak Trail Marathon, and was also second there in 2012. He was also runner-up at the 2013 Eagle Creek Trail Marathon and third at the 2012 Rock 'n' Roll St. Louis Marathon. Mike Wendel, 50 of Chatham IL, was the runner-up in 2:54:15. Brad Atkins, 25 of Blacksburg VA, was third in 3:01:52.
Patricia Schaefer, 31 of Springfield IL, claimed the women's title in 3:12:59. She was sixth at the 2013 Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon in April. Jenna Griffith, 43 of Marion IL, took second in 3:28:07. Taking third was Ashley Dahlman, 27 of Marion IL, in 3:32:43.
Complete Searchable Results Here!

A local newspaper article from Mountain Home Arkansas:

And, the galleries page from

After 10 years at the helm, founder and race director (and Ironman triathlete) Laurie is stepping down.  This was only my first year, and I know she will be missed.