Nicholas Norfolk is at it again, this time on a 20 kilometer plus run through Petit Jean State Park. Follow Nicholas on his audio blog to find out more about running in Arkansas.
As Arkansas’s first state park, Petit Jean, provided a good example for future state parks to follow. Located in central Arkansas above the Arkansas River Valley, it is another testament to the natural beauty of the state. If you’ve ever been to Petit Jean State Park, chances are you’ve experienced the most iconic trail at the park, Cedar Falls Trail.
I recognized Dustin and Rachel Speer among the starters. They are the dynamic duo behind the Soaring Wings Half Marathon. It is arguably one of the best half marathons in the state. It is always good to see race directors supporting and running in other races.
Before the start, the race director mentioned there was the possibility of a surprise. We were given an overview of what was described as a lollipop course with a small stick. The Hoof It For Heifer 20k incorporated many of the lesser known, but equally as stunning, trails. Little did I know my surprise would be getting lost.
The start took us through the pavilion area before making our way onto the CCC Hike & Bike Trail. We crossed Arkansas Highway 154 and ran across the Davies Bridge before heading onto the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Boy Scout Trail. The trail was well kept and hearing the water helped me relax.
As we passed Rock House Cave, we paid close attention to our footing trotting over the geological formations known as Turtle Rocks. Around mile 3.5, we were notified there was a nice downhill section up ahead. Once we reached the bottom, carefully negotiating each rock to cross Cedar Creek was the mission at hand.
The downhill that was enjoyed earlier was now an uphill climb that was an unpleasant feeling to my legs. I refilled by water bottle when I made it to the top at the aid station. Seven Hollows Trail, a 4.5-mile loop, was up next.
We corkscrewed through dense vegetation, huge rock formations, and vast areas. There were a few streams to hop over, but I made sure to take a gander at the wildflowers. Appreciating the surroundings is one of the benefits to trail races. After finishing the loop, there was another aid station to replenish my energy. Who knew that oranges could bring you back to life?
We crossed the highway for the last time and ran through the Mather Lodge breezeway where the trail takes you past the Cedar Falls Overlook. This is where it became tricky for many of us. We crossed a wooden bridge and we were supposed to make a right. I knew this because I ran this part of the trail the weekend before. Instead, we made a left. Surprise, Nicholas!
It was after encountering runners along the way going in both directions that I decided it would be best to go in the direction I thought was correct all along. However, I was upset that I didn’t trust my first instincts. To my chagrin, not far from the finish I tripped over a tree root. It was like I was doing burpees because I sprang up as quickly as I fell down.
I heard the cowbells and people cheering as I approached the finish. I don’t know exactly how far I ran off the path because I was running naked, without my Garmin. Eventually, everyone made his or her way to the finish.
When a trail race has a cutoff time that seems to be very generous, it could be a sign the course is technical or maybe they anticipate you’ll get lost. Regardless, I had a good time. The course provided stellar views and the people enhanced the experience.
Anyone thinking about this race next year, remember to take a right once you cross the wooden bridge on the way back. If you do that, you won’t suffer the same fate as I did. Make a weekend out of it and enjoy the rest the park has to offer. There is something for every outdoor enthusiast.