Thirteen miles into a sixteen mile run on icy, slushy, muddy, sloggy trail I proclaimed to my running partner Tina, “this trail has given us everything but dry”. She responded with “yes, everything… especially beauty.” That shut down the need to wallow in my misery, if only for a few moments. She was absolutely right.
The weather forecast the week prior to the race may have fluctuated some in temperature, but the threat of wintery precipitation never faltered. Anxious runners from all over Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee who registered months before anxiously watched the weather to see if safety on the roads would prevent them from making the trip to Mountain View, Arkansas for the Sylamore 25K/50K trail run. With temperatures on the cusp of freezing, a couple of degrees either direction would change sleet to rain or the other way around. Conditions on the trail itself are rarely a concern. The race goes on whether the trail is dry, wet, icy or slushy and runners are prepared for any and all those conditions.
At the pre-race meeting, race director Greg Eason advised all runners to be cautious, to pay attention to the trail conditions, and to abandon hopes of a PR on the course this year. As I paused to take a picture of the trail sign at Blanchard Springs, my camera was still out as I saw our friend Jeffrey Grove tearing down the hill toward a 1 minute course PR. Not everyone had as rough a day on the ice, slush and mud as expected.
Like last year’s pre-race cold snap and snowfall, this year the icicles hung from the bluffs like rows of glass knives. Although sleet fell on runners during the early hours of the race, as temperatures warmed, chunks of ice fell from lofty perches above the trail, leaving ice boulders scattered on the trail. The rising temperatures also meant that the ice and snow covered trails soon became shoe sucking mud-pits while the vistas from the higher elevations rewarded the leg burning climbs with mist rolling through the mountains.
Regardless of the chance for winter storms during the month of February, the Sylamore trail race is one of the most popular trail races of the year, selling out in minutes. It has become almost a joke within my own running group, that at the moment the temperatures drop, the Sylamore race hoodies come out for every post-run gathering or chilly outing. The race hoodie, or the beanie, is a runner badge of honor. Another piece of coveted trail race swag is the pint glass. As each runner crosses the finish line, someone is there to hand up an empty pint glass and customarily there is also a good friend waiting to fill that glass.