(Thanks again to Nicholas Norfolk for helping us with all the race coverage this past weekend. Check out his weekly podcast.)
What do you get when you have an Ouachita 50-mile course record holder, Bighorn 100 winner, Free State Trails 100k course record holder, and Big Dog Trail Run 20-mile winner? The answer is a strong field for 3 Days of Syllamo (S?l’-l?-m?). The 3-Day stage race features a 50k, 50-mi., and 20k. Runners can run one, two, or three of the races. No matter your choice, you are sure to discover the Ozarks and yourself.
The brainchild of 3 Days of Syllamo is Race Director Steve Kirk. He captures the serenity of the region and the difficulty of the terrain by modifying the course every year. He keeps you on your toes adding to the overall adventure.
Blanchard Springs Campground pavilion serves as race headquarters for this trail running haven. With the stage totaling approximately 96 miles of singletrack trail and climbing and descending 26,000 ft, to say the course is challenging is an understatement.
50K: This is a 100% singletrack loop course on the Syllamo Trails with 7,049ft of climbing and descending. Remember “Sick Rock Hollow?”
It appeared this year would be wet and wild. After suffering heavy rains on Thursday, one would have thought they’d have to pack a canoe, just in case. A pleasant surprise too many was Friday being a gorgeous day. A good day to be doing anything outside. As finishers came in, they commented that the first couple of miles were wet and messy, but the trail was marked well and in good shape. I looked on jealous yet again. To accomplish a 50k is a bucket list item for some, but those doing the stage would be back out there again Saturday. Anything can happen and runners were coming in with issues and tales of running “extra” miles. For some, wading in the creek was a way to provide solace after a hard day. Thoughts of uncertainty plagued many runners about continuing the next day. Whether it was because of injury or depletion of energy, it was a difficult decision…one many would sleep on.
50 Mile: This is a 99% singletrack out and back very remote course with over 15,386ft of climbing and 15,386ft of descending. Still dark outside, runners had to be up early for the 50-miler. Outfitted with hydration vests and headlamps, each was ready for the “fun to begin.” As my light shined on the pack of starters, their reflective gear was reminiscent of the movie Tron.
An early start:
After the 6 A.M. start, I headed to the first and last aid station, Gunner Pool. Upon arriving I saw Ben, whom I’d get to know really well over the course of the day. The ultrarunner buffet was stocked with Mountain Dew, cookies, pretzels, ginger ale, bananas, peanut butter crackers, gummi bears, and many other things essential to someone craving nourishment. Having only completed 10% of the run, many runners did not hesitate at the aid station.
After about 7 hours, the first runner returned. He had built a sizable lead and we didn’t see the next runner until almost 30 minutes later. This time they stopped at the station to refuel. We had restocked and made some additions to the table. The most noticeable addition was “God’s gift to cookies,” the addictive and ubiquitous Girl Scout cookies. Devoured by even those that gave them up for Lent, it was the sustenance needed to propel them to finish the last 5 miles.
The last runner came through at 6:15 P.M. I proceeded back to race headquarters. The sun had begun to set and darkness only added to the peril the runners faced. Ben had gone and strategically placed glow sticks to deter anyone from getting lost on the final trek to the finish. Cowbells, cheers, and applause resonated throughout the camp as headlamps danced down the path.
When everyone was in and accounted for, the feasting began. In the background there was a live Bluegrass band playing and runners were conversing about the day’s events. “Those S-Caps saved me.” “If you’re not looking down and being aware, you are going down.” “I had a fight with a bush and from the looks of it, I lost.”
The 20k was on deck for the final day. Unfortunately, Daylight Savings Time was that night and no one was looking forward to losing an hour of sleep.
20K: This is a 99% singletrack course that covers the yellow Syllamo loop going in a counterclockwise direction with 3,300ft of climbing and descending.
The rain decided it was going to attempt to spoil the party. It would make the course more challenging, but many in this group had already endured two days. There was no way the weather would rain on their parade. Limping, hobbling, or crawling were all acceptable options to get to the start. Any energy that had been conserved the first two days would be consumed on this day.
The rain cast a foggy haze over the mountains. Combined with the cooler temperature the stage had been set for the final race. As we prepared for the first runner to cross the finish line, we all had our guesses on what the time would be. The conditions will surely affect the time. I guessed 1:53:53. I won, but only because of Price as Right rules. David Wakefield, 2007 overall winner, was closer.
The first runner finished in less than two hours (1:52:20). The rest of the field soon made their way. Since many wore the usual running rain gear, a hat, changing into dry clothes was the mission after finishing. Congratulatory remarks and comments spread throughout the camp.
Rock/Creek Race Team Member, Nick Lewis (Memphis, TN), commented “Steve Kirk is an evil man” for designing those courses. He was second overall in the 50k and first overall in the 50-mile. He secured his Overall Male win by an hour and 10 minutes. The “little freak of nature” now has back-to-back Overall Male victories at Syllamo.
Pearl Izumi Ultra Running Team Member, Ashley Nordell (Sisters, OR), was the Overall Female winner and third overall. She was the first female to finish on each day. With her dad and newborn there to support, it was a great win to share with them. Syllamo has been good to her, winning every year she has competed. (Overall Female – 2007-2009, Overall – 2010).
Fresh off a 2012 Athens Big Fork Trail Marathon win, Trail Nerd, Darin Schneidewind (Lyndon, KS) was the Overall Male Masters winner and second overall. Last year he set course records in a trail marathon, 50k, and 100k. I’d say 2012 is going to be a good year for him.
Teddi Schneider (Lafayette, LA) was the Overall Female Masters winner. She is known to be relentless and ratchet on the trails. A frequent runner at Bandera Trail Runs, she, too, is off to a good start this year.
Three Days of Syallmo is a hellacious, but rewarding experience for runners, which is why many return. One gets to put their training and skill to the test while reuniting with old friends. In many ways this is a trail running family reunion.
Good food and good times seems to be a reoccurring theme. This is a place where the community supports each other. Finishing and surviving the onslaught of obstacles is the goal. And, the last person gets more of an ovation than the first.
To be in the presence of so many great runners was enriching. The aura of this event is one that has to be lived and witnessed firsthand. In some capacity, I will be back next year. Maybe I’ll take the Syllamo challenge. It couldn’t hurt. Well, maybe it could. Let me sleep on it.