Outback in the Rain and Snow

The Community Bicyclist

Outback in the Ozarks is a 200 mile team relay event created and directed by Kimberlee and Todd Guinn. Kimberlee participated in a relay race up in Utah like this and has been dreaming and working on this race (while raising her family) for the past 10 years. It all came together this past weekend in Northwest Arkansas. The format was very interesting: for 200 miles of Ozark Mountains, full teams of 12 and ultra teams of 6 people passed a slap-bracelet baton from runner to runner – non stop. The course was divided into 36 individual sections ranging from 3 miles to 8.5 miles. Most of the course was run on dirt, county roads leading from one State/City Park to the next. We started in Lake Leatherwood park in Eureka Springs, ran through Hobbs State Park, Withrow Springs State Park, Lake Fort Smith State Park, Devil’s Den State Park, and finished in Prairie Grove State Park. If you are keeping up, that is a lot of Parks to see in one weekend!

The Naturals
The Naturals

A group of my friends and I decided to enter the Ultra Division (6 person team) and give it a go. This meant that we split up the 36 sections with 6 each – not clumped together, but runner #1 would run section 1, 7, 13, 19, 25, and 31, etc.. = most of us had to run about 32 miles total, with one poor soul picking up 38 miles. No big deal though, right – I mean after all, we figured it would turn into: run your section for 45 minutes to an hour 15, then rest for 4 hours. It couldn’t be that tough.. Besides, it was scheduled for the first weekend in May. That means you get to play frisbee and soak in the parks’ streams and lakes while you weren’t running. The week before the race the forecast was Sunny with a high of 72 and a low of 45 = perfect.

The pre-race captains meeting was at a restaurant in Eureka Springs. That is where we met the other crazy captains, some full teams showed up. The “Honey Badgers” even had matching t-shirts.. We met Kimberlee and Todd. They went over the course layout – the way things were going to flow, showed us the markers we were to look for and went over safety. And then went over more safety. And then made sure they covered safety again. Really, it was comforting that they were looking out for us and harped on safety. It really did turn into a mess when you have these cars all over the road, runners coming through and 5 or more teammates jumping out of cars cheering them on. The course was honestly the best marked course for a first time race – it was solid, spot on, no problems. For 200 miles.

Snow.....nice touch by the race directors.
Snow…..nice touch by the race directors.

Did I mention it was raining? The freak cold blast had made its way to Northwest Arkansas, and now the forecast was rain and snow. That changes things. We figure we are going to make the most of it. I woke up in Fayetteville Friday morning to the news on TV saying “in Kansas City, they received 3 to 5 inches, here in Fayetteville we had 1 and a half inches of accumulation.” WHAT? Luckily it wasn’t sticking to the roads. They staggered the start based on our submitted 10k times, so we started at 10:30am Friday morning. It was raining and a balmy 35 degrees at Lake Leatherwood. We started to the tunes of “I come from a land down under” by Men at Work – people dressed in their best Aussie gear. One girl was dressed up like a Kangaroo, and we were off on our adventure. Before we got out of Eureka Springs, the rain was back to snow, which is a little better when running because it isn’t as wet.

We passed the baton through our first set of legs over to Hobbs State Park without any real fuss. The roads were getting messy, my truck was getting muddy, but we all felt pretty good. The course led us south toward Huntsville, into Withrow Springs State Park. While we would run, the precipitation would change according to our elevation. It was snow when we were up high, and rain when we were in the valleys.

Darkness, snow, cold, run.
Darkness, snow, cold, run.

The dark came in and the temps started lowering. The snow really started to fall now. Big snow flakes were falling like a white out in Colorado. Cory had to run a 5.9 mile segment, completely uphill, in a blowing snowstorm, headlamp basically blinding you. Freezing snow into your eyes and burning your bare legs. “That was the toughest experience in my life!” He said as he fell into the truck.

From 2:00am to 5:30am, the blizzard like conditions continued. We drove the truck to the next turn so the runner could see when to turn because the headlamps limited distance to about 3 feet in front of you.

Waiting on runners.
Waiting on runners.

The sunrise gave us our second, or third wind and we started gaining momentum again. It warmed up to a nice 37 degrees. But we realized our calculations were right and at 6:00am, we still had another 11 hours of racing in front of us. That meant after 19 hours of: an hour freezing run, followed by an hour of recovery / body temp regulation, try to eat something, get ready to run again – and repeat – that we had 11 more hours of the same… With zero sleep. Actually I think I did get about 10 minutes of sleep on a floor of some church in the middle of nowhere one time. I also woke up behind the wheel of my PARKED truck one time waiting on a runner and I had NO IDEA where I was or what I was doing.

Wet, muddy, lonely road.
Wet, muddy, lonely road.

Then the run to Devils Den. Really I shouldn’t complain because at least I was running down into Devils Den, but it started sleeting like crazy. I was running in my rain jacket/shell with the hood on, trying to block the sleet from my eyes. It was tearing into my legs and running into my zip pits that I had unzipped for temperature. Now I was frozen and soaked. But I only had one last leg left. And again, poor Cory had to run the leg “Escape from the Devil”. A hellish 6.5 miles up and up and up and out of Devils Den. Did I mention it was uphill? The whole time in the truck we were hurting for Cory.

Arkansas Outside Gear Store
Looking to pass the baton.
Looking to pass the baton.

We then got into a little race with a couple of the 12 person teams to the finish. Everyone was pumped up to be finishing and we all caught our third or fourth wind. Running into Prairie Grove, I was so pumped. When I signed up for this, I thought 33 miles would be a good tough run. I have done a few 50k runs and was expecting something easier – heck, I was going to get to rest all that time between legs, right? When I was running up Summit Avenue in Prairie Grove, I was whipped! It was definitely a very tough race! I was very lucky to run on a team full of crazy running stud/studette freaks.. They inspired me to leave it all out there on the course. Cory, JB, Barb, Heather, Rob and I were team “The Naturals” and when we finished, I think we felt like The Walking Dead.

We did it!
We did it!

Outback in the Ozarks was a great race and I know it is building to be a premier event in the State. Kimberlee and Todd are very well organized, very committed to a great race experience, and have a wonderful backyard for this type of event. They were thrilled with the support they got from all of the State Parks for the race. It was a wonderful mix of an Ultra Distance run combined with the team camaraderie of an Adventure Race. I encourage everyone to head to Eureka Springs next year for the next installment of Outback in the Ozarks.

RESULTS!

Arkansas Cycling and Fitness
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One Response

  1. Steve,
    So glad you enjoyed your little “Spring” run with us! We obviously could never have anticipated the weather but in retrospect, it made for a truly unique race experience. We are so appreciative for your team’s (and all other team’s) participation. Our inaugural Outback in the Ozarks was all we dreamed it would be and then some. We are already planning and improving for 2014. Get the word out to your friends. They can find plenty of places to run in Arkansas, but nothing will ever top the Outback! Thanks again for your support!

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