by Bill (The Trailgeeze) Rumbaugh
Turkey Mountain, Tulsa, OK
September 16, 2007
Turkey and TATURs, kind of a catchy name for a race put on by the Tulsa Area Trail and Ultra-Runners club held on Turkey mountain overlooking the Arkansas River. This was the second annual running of the event and I’m told that the inaugural event was a wet one with about 3 inches of rain falling during the course of the race. That would up the ante just a tad. I considered running the event last year, after all, Brian Hoover, the Race Director, put forth a convincing sales job. But looking at the map, I sez to massef, “If I’m going to drive THAT dang far, it needs to be more than a 50k.” The fuzzy logic being that longer driving miles mandate higher levels of self-inflicted abuse. (To run a hundred miler, I’ve heard that you might have to fly across the country!) But that was last year. This year what with the rainy conditions and practically zero trail miles during several training runs, I sez, what the hey. So I signed up, and am glad I did.
Day of the event dawned bright and clear with just a few clouds. The chill in the air was just enough to make me think about a light jacket as I stood around waiting for the start, pretending to stretch. But I knew my sleeveless Grasslands shirt from a year or two ago would be just the ticket once the running began. So I shivered just a bit as I waited with about 200 others for daylight and the pre-race briefing. I looked for the other NTTR’ers and found T.O. and Fred and Char Thompson but did not locate others of the clan, some of whom I had not yet met. The race was to be started with an exploding ‘tater, but the committee person assigned the task was evidently pyrotechnically challenged, and plan B (a short string of firecrackers) signaled the start a few minutes past 7:00.
All three events (10k, 25k and 50k) started at the same time. After a few miles, the 10k’ers peeled off to the right, headed for the end of their short day and the others went to the left to complete either one or two circuits of a 25k course, depending upon each’s particular poison. So there was quite a mix in the early going, old and grizzled, young and callow, speedsters and sloggers. On one particularly narrow technical section, I was surprised to see a very short person pass me as he ducked under a branch I pushed to the side with my hand. This must be one of the Soaps, five siblings with the surname of Soap had registered for the 10k event. He was evidently the 9 year old boy whose 7 year old sister was the youngest in the race. At the rate he was going, he would most likely be sipping lemonade in the shade before the rest of us are warmed up. Great start for the little guy as he was soon out of sight, ducking through places on the crowded trail where a full-sized person would not want to squeeze. He completed the 10k just a few seconds over an hour and his 16 year old brother was 2nd overall in the 10k event. Their Mom ran the 10k event as well. A running family, it would appear.
It became obvious early on that this course, laid out by Mike Snyder, was going to be no pushover. The course was much more technical than I anticipated, with more than its fair share of “rocks, roots, ruts and rubble.” Comparisons with other local trails are inevitable. It had more long sections of poor footing than the worst of the venerable North Shore Trail, and had the long parallel trails of Tyler, though it was hard to tell for sure since the vegetation was so dense. The roots in a few places were thick enough to rival Huntsville’s worst spots. But it shared the most features with the Waco 5 – 0 held in Cameron Park in Waco. First, it was an urban setting, and cars passing nearby could clearly be heard if not seen. Nearby Richard Lloyd Jones Jr. Airport launched and retrieved what sounded like WWII vintage planes (big, reciprocating engines) all during the day. The dense foliage protected us from the sun over much of the trail, and like Waco, the trail wandered about, crisscrossing other trails in the area. The trail overlooks the Arkansas river at a couple of points just as the Waco event provides occasional vistas of the Brazos. The trail also emerges from the woods a time or two to skirt a parking lot before plunging back into the greenery.
Before the race, Brian said that the course was “obscenely” marked with pink, and that there was more pink on the course than was seen at the local race for the cure which was held in town a week or two prior. I’d have to agree. I was thinking to myself as I was a couple of miles into the second 25k loop that the course was so well-marked that even someone notorious for losing her way (and you know who you are!) would have no problem here. But pride goeth before a fall, and a short time later I found that I had missed a turn and followed an unmarked section of trail. With the help of T.O. and another runner, the three of us reconstructed where we had gone wrong and resumed running with only a minor loss of time, and not a lot of bonus distance. It was obvious that the fault was ours, the trail was clearly marked, we had just not been paying attention. The trail is a demanding Mistress and one pays for his wandering attentions. That’s also why I have a scraped up forearm and bruised knee today. Not paying her the attention she deserves again, and she exacted her punishment. Ah, but then every encounter is worth the price, is it not?
The second loop is run in the opposite direction, an interesting Hardrock/Barkley-esque variation of which I approve. The course has a different look going the opposite direction, and you get to see the leaders as they come toward you after the turnaround. Two young, handsome shirtless athletic types came up the trail a few minutes apart while I was still an appalling distance from the turnaround myself. I saw later that they were DQ’d for missing a checkpoint. Most unfortunate, they were setting a blistering pace, especially on such difficult terrain.
In addition to many mile marker signs, the trail marking committee put up a lot of other commentary/wisecrack type signs which kept the mood light. Near what appeared to be a sewage treatment plant was posted, “OK, who farted???” At the bottom of a long rocky climb, the marking crew had installed a Staples “Easy” button by the side of the trail with an invitation to use it if you don’t want to make the steep climb ahead. (It didn’t work.)
Trailside, the poison ivy was a slightly different strain than what we see here in North Texas. We are used to seeing it grow into bushes resembling small trees if left unchecked. This had more of a vine-like quality to it as it stayed close to the ground and climbed up on other vegetation, sort of what one would expect ivy to do. There was plenty of it, but it seemed to keep a genteel distance and did not appear aggressive, unlike the Texas variety. I kept pace with a tiger swallowtail butterfly for a short distance. Seeing it fluttering amid the woods reminded me of my youth in the Midwest where they are much more common. Given the technical nature of the trail I could not pay a lot of attention to the surroundings (that Mistress thing again) but did notice a fair number of acorns and pecan pods which had fallen. I idly thought that all the deciduous trees would give that trail a distinctly different character in the winter when the leaves are down. But I guess that’s true of most trails.
Just over two miles into the first loop was a section which followed a clear-cut area for power lines. It was easy going early on, while the sun was yet low and legs still fresh. I found myself looking forward to it, knowing that I would have this thing in the bag by the time I got back to that point. By the time I actually arrived, however, the character of that area had changed. It was now exposed and tough, as sections of trail near power lines often seem to be, baking under the mid-day sun. The heat absorbed by the rocks and vegetation came at me from below as the sun beat down from above. My conditioning from recent long Saturday mornings under the under the Texas sun paid off as I charged this section like I knew what I was doing. I only walked the sections that were too steep to run. At the bottom of the last climb some sadist (I’ll get you, my pretty!) had posted a sign, “Cold beer at the top!” Well, I do love a brew, but we know it’s a bad idea to consume alcohol during exercise. As I scrambled up the hill, I thought, well what could a couple of swallows hurt, and it would certainly hit the spot. Especially if it was cold. Or even lukewarm. I really thought I had passed the last aid station a couple of miles back, but presently an “easy-up” hove tantalizingly into view. Could it be??? Maybe it’s an unofficial beer stop hosted by the local hashers (a familiar sight at many marathon venues – I love those guys). I struggled up the last hundred yards and approached the white shelter all out of breath. Hoping, yet not daring to hope. As I filled my handheld for the last time with cold water, I asked the Aid Station guy nonchalantly, “So, where’s the beer?” He replied that he had nothing to do with putting up that sign. (Curse you, Mike Snyder, for toying with my emotions here!) I thanked him and the lady in attendance for being out there for us anyway, complimented him on his kilt, and headed “right, then right again” per his instructions. Ahh, back into the most welcome shade of the canopy. How I took thee for granted all those miles!
It was undoubtedly a long day for the aid station volunteers, and I made a concerted effort to thank each and every one for being there for us. If I missed a couple, I’m sure other runners made up for any lapses. We do owe these folks, and I have been one myself, though not nearly enough times. I have to mention the “Hawaiian” aid station. As I approached it on the first loop I could hear the chatter of the people and music from the boom box. Then I heard and saw two attractive young ladies, one shouting into a megaphone, encouraging me onward saying things like “Good job! You’re awesome! What a runner!” and the like. They were clad in grass skirts and brassieres made from two coconut half shells strung together with cords. Over regular running garb, of course. My standard hackneyed, timeworn comment for people who are obviously way too extroverted is to say, “You need to come out of your shell!” Just as I said it, I realized with her current attire that it had a different meaning from the usual. We both laughed at the double entendre as I passed. Hey, I’ll take credit for any and all witticisms, accidental or not. I again passed by this gal and her partner late in the race when runners were few and far between, and thought to myself, it takes a special person to spend hours in the sun just to entertain an occasional passing runner. I thanked them both quite sincerely for contributing to the race and said I had been looking forward to seeing them for many miles. Something else that I really appreciated was that there was ice available for my water bottle late in the race at many of the aid stations. Ice water only lasts for a mile or two at most, but it is sooo good while it lasts. Something I have really come to relish and appreciate during any long run.
Chatted with Catherine from Oklahoma City a brief time on the second loop. She is an experienced trail runner and triathlete. As I asked her for her name I told her I was Bill and that my “nom de dirt” was The Trailgeeze, trying to be funny. She said hers was Catherine but on the trails in her area she was the “Trail Princess.” How about that, another person with a fake name, what are the odds? She is also a nurse. Out of curiosity I asked her if she was on duty when the Murrah Federal Building was bombed back in ’95. She was, and it was evidently quite an experience dealing with that aftermath up close and personal. She said earlier that the Rockledge Rumble was on her calendar, so I hope to renew her acquaintance in November.
During the rehydration process after the race, I chatted with Fred Thompson briefly. I appreciate his perspective as we discussed how unexpectedly tough this trail was. He said, “For a mid-September race, this one’s all you would want.” Pretty much sez it all. Not my best 50k time, but then this was no place where a PR could be attempted with any degree of sanity. This one deserves a thumbs up.