Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Outback In the Ozarks 2014- It's Only Fun if it Sucks

“Daddy I am so proud of you! You worked so hard to get ready for your race and you did it!”

Words from my daughter Anna after arriving home on a sunny Saturday afternoon. My team and I had just completed something that a few years ago I wouldn't have even considered being a part of; something that I would have said only crazy people do; something that may have given me a heart attack. 

Early on a Friday morning myself and six friends loaded up and headed out to Eureka Springs, AR to run a 200 mile, 6-man relay race through the Ozark mountains. Thirty one and a half hours later not only did we finish, but we somehow managed to win the Ultra Division of Outback in the Ozarks!

The Race Course

Notice the red path near the top center. That is the overnight "Death March" we did a year ago. That thing sure does seem "nice" compared to what we just did!

I first heard of this race last year. As it typically happens, I saw someone else's post on Facebook about this thing called "Outback in the Ozarks".  It is a twelve person relay, patterned after the Ragnar series of relay races that are quite popular all over the country.  Only this one was local as it started twenty minutes from my cabin and ended 20 minutes from my home.  I texted a link to the race to a good friend who I was pretty sure was crazy enough to try it. The exchange was something along the lines of: 

Me: We should do this race.
Cary: Which one? The 12 man or 6 man?
Me: 6 man. 12 man is for girls. It's only fun if it sucks.
Cary: Ok. Let me check my calendar and I am in.

He is so easy!

From there it took a little more time to pull together the entire team. My brother was another easy sell. Again, it was a matter of fitting it into his calendar. Another friend and neighbor, an awesome athlete and Ironman surprisingly joined us as well (I say surprisingly because I thought this might be too easy for him). So that made four. The other two joined us last minute (or at least last minute considering how tough this thing was going to be) really only committing in the last few weeks before the big day. Overall, we ranged in experience from newbies like myself to a couple seasoned pros whom we were able to rely on for some really sound advice.


Like any other big event that I had no experience in, this took some planning. Planning included training, nutrition, recovery between runs, and logistics.  


For training I really didn't change a whole lot from when I got ready for World's Toughest Mudder in Dec. 2012. My normal fitness "routine" for a couple of years now has been 4 days of Crossfit during the week and either a 7.5 mile run with a 22 lb weight vest or an 8.75 mile hilly run from our cabin to the lake and back. Ramping up really just meant adding two additional runs during the week and increasing the distance of my weekend runs slightly. A month before the event I did the Hogeye Marathon just because I figured I needed to be able to do it by that point.Plus, it has a reputation as a "hilly" marathon. Haha.  Cary joined me as well to knock out his first marathon.  And finally, the last few weeks before the race, I did two runs separated by five hours of rest just to try to simulate the race conditions.


I went with the same Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem product I used for World's Toughest and the Hogeye. At this point I trust this product even though it doesn't taste all that great. I know myself enough to know that I start getting sick to my stomach after several hours of pushing myself and don't have an appetite. I can always force down liquids though.  Olive Garden provided food at exchange point 12 which was awesome but it caused some stomach pain for me on leg #15. I probably should have skipped it. By the way, my GPS says I burned over 6200 calories during my 6 legs.


After every leg I took in my nutrition almost immediately as I wanted my body to be able to process it before my next leg. I took in 900 calories after my first three legs and fewer after my final three legs which were shorter and easier. Scott provided some excellent advice concerning recovery as well; I put on thigh high medical tights immediately after my runs (Nathan and Scott did as well) and kept them on until right before my next leg. They made a HUGE difference as my legs really felt refreshed and ready to go all the way through the first four legs. I still don't understand how something tight helps with blood flow.


Nothing profound here. Just a lot of details and contingencies that needed to be addressed.  We looked at the legs and Nathan came up with a way of ranking the total miles by difficulty. Scott, our Ironman, got the most difficult position as runner #1 (somewhere around 38 miles and over a mile of elevation gain...ouch!). I got the second hardest grouping followed by my brother and so on.  The course was very well marked, we had detailed driving directions from one exchange point to the next, and we had been told very clearly that if we go over a half mile and don't see a marker we are lost.  Other than spotty cell service, which we expected, there really weren't any issues. As we understand it though, at least one team did get lost and it forced them out of the race due to a time cutoff.

The Race

Team "Misery Loves Company"!
From Left: Chris Hudgens, Scott Hamilton, Dave Castronova, Nathan Marti, Cary Stokes, Loren Marti (me)

There were two start times and those start times were based off of our submitted 10k times. Roughly half of the 18 total teams started at 7:00. We started at 8:00 a.m. I guess that meant were were supposed to be fast. Unfortunately, we didn't have any idea until much later what times which teams started. This made it difficult for us to figure out where we stood during the race. Early on though it didn't really matter as we just needed to get out there and run!

Leg #3- (My first leg)

The first few rotations included legs that were generally longer than the final legs.  My first leg ended up being 6.8 miles of dirt roads with 639 feet of elevation gain (88 ft. net). This was pretty similar to my typical weekend run, just a little shorter with an extra 100 feet of gain.  We all put down our goals for each leg. This was mainly for planning purposes but I suppose it also helped hold ourselves accountable (although none of us ever worried about what each other put down).  My goal for this one was a 9:30 average pace which was slightly faster than I would normally do a training run at home. I figured the extra elevation change and running on dirt would slow me down but the excitement of the race would speed me up.  Scott and Nathan both knocked out their legs like champions and as Nathan slapped the runner's bracelet on my wrist he told me "I just passed someone, don't screw it up". Thanks. No pressure little brother. I took off running and a few minutes into the run I made the mistake of looking back. Of course there was some woman right behind me! I knew immediately it was going to be a miserable run because my brother would never let me hear the end of it if I got "chicked". And I knew as they drove past me to the next exchange point that he was laughing at me. Of course Scott confirmed later that he was in fact laughing at me! Just for the record, I have been "chicked" many times in other races and don't really have a problem with it. No offense to any ladies out there.  I learned in my first distance event that you can't judge the speed of anyone by size or gender. It did motivate me though. So anyway, the first leg was pretty much spent in panic mode, running faster than I wanted to. Too scared to look back but too scared to not look back. I finished maybe a couple of minutes ahead of her, passing no one and not getting passed either with an average pace of 9:13. Crisis averted!

Leg #9- (My second leg)

This one started at War Eagle and ended on Clifty Hwy just southeast of where we started. The distance was 8.13 miles with 805 feet of elevation gain (55 ft. net). The first two miles were a gradual climb out of War Eagle. Other than slightly tight legs in the beginning I felt fine and of course made the mistake of looking back. Another woman right behind me! And of course, odds are that this is her first run of the day (if she was on a 12 person team). More panic (yes I know that is stupid) for the next 20 minutes or so until I can no longer see her behind me. Finally I can relax a little bit. I get to the first measurable straight distance and I can see someone a few minutes ahead of me. Now I have the stress of trying to catch him! Eventually the pavement turns to dirt and I get my first "kill" of the day. I caught him and passed him. That was fun, now to stress out over him catching me! This leg was kind of frustrating because I went into it thinking it was going to be just over 7 miles. I got to mile seven and instead of getting to the next exchange point I got to a couple of pretty big hills. The bad thing about big hills, other than they are big hills and you have to go up them, is that people behind you appear to catch up to you as they run the flat or downhill section leading up to them. I looked back down the last big one and saw both runners right behind me. In reality they were at least a couple minutes behind. So for this leg, one kill and another crisis averted. Goal was another 9:30 pace and I averaged 9:21.

Leg #15- (My third leg)

By now it was well into the evening, about 9:30 p.m. We were a couple miles south of Huntsville in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. While waiting for Nathan to finish we noticed the four man ultra team waiting at the same exchange point. Up until this point, we didn't really know for sure how we were doing. After the first full rotation I believe we were second from the last through the exchange point and we thought we were 40 minutes behind the leading ultra team already. It was a little discouraging although I honestly hadn't given much thought to actually winning this thing. But this was cool because we actually had gained significant ground.  For the life of me, I can't remember if their runner got to this exchange point before us or not. What I do remember is how absolutely horrible this leg was.

This leg came in at 8.51 miles with 1,429 feet of elevation gain (713 ft. net gain!). The leg started with about a mile of rolling hills which allowed a person to get warmed up and loose. A half mile into the leg there was a point where I was supposed to hop in our vehicle instead of running the highway. Problem was we didn't realize where the ferry portion was so my ride was still back at the exchange point...I just kept running. It couldn't have been a tenth of a mile or so anyway.  Just over a mile into the run it was basically all uphill except for a few quick downhill sections that were too steep to enjoy. As I started the hill section I could see a runner ahead of me (of course another woman) and it seemed like I was gaining on her. Just more stress. I ended up passing her and getting my second "kill" and then of course my anxiety level shot up as I again felt like I was being chased. Around mile four I rolled my ankle and came really close to actually injuring it and taking a nice fall. For some reason I had forgotten to take my flashlight out of my pocket until then. Kind of dumb running in that terrain with just a headlamp. Around mile six some guy flew by me like I was standing still running with a nice smooth stride and a stupid smile on his face...the only time I got passed throughout the race. I am glad I didn't even see him coming because I would have had even more anxiety. Finally I finished, killing one and being killed by someone else. Target pace was 11:00 and I came in at 10:19. I was pretty happy as I never would have thought I could have done that leg at that pace even on fresh legs. When I compare this leg to the Hogeye Marathon, which people call a hilly marathon, the leg had the same elevation gain over only 1/3 the distance (and the Hogeye is a net negative course). As Dave said earlier in the day, "these things will recalibrate your sense of what a hilly course is". Um, yep. I was so excited to be done with this leg as the rest of mine were going to much much shorter!

After each of my legs, since I was the final runner from our vehicle, we had a nice break before we needed to be ready for Scott's next run. The runner from the four man team was waiting for his runner so we chatted with him for a while. They came up from Memphis (I think) with a three man, one woman team. Pretty interesting guy and it sounded like they all had some pretty good experience in things like 50 and 100 mile races. It was funny hearing him tell us how they basically drew straws as to which legs they would get and he felt like he got the worst of the legs and he was the oldest (60 years old). He looked more like 45. He also mentioned how this type of race was different for them because they can run all day long at slower paces but it is different when you run hard and then take a break.  I have so much respect for their team. Running 50 miles of this terrain, running HARD, is pretty crazy.  Unfortunately, it sounds like they ended up getting lost at some point and missed a time cutoff. They had to drop out of the race.

Somewhere around this point we realized or were told that we were actually the first place ultra team! How did that happen!?!

Leg #21- (My fourth leg)

This one started at 4:00 a.m. and was easy. 3.48 miles of mostly rolling hills, only one significant hill about midway. Only bad thing about this leg was that I had forgotten to put on my correct shoes and ended up running the entire leg (paved the whole way) in my zero drop, heavily lugged, Tough Mudder shoes.  It beat up my ankles a good bit as by now my calves were trashed and my running form was getting bad. I got one more kill on this run and it was nice to have an easy run for once. Target time was a 9:00 pace and I came in at 8:50. Elevation gain was 228 feet (net 4 ft. gain). If I could have run this leg every time, I too could have been one of those annoying smiley, happy people I saw throughout the race!

Leg #27- (My fifth leg)

By now it was 8:15 a.m. and we were all pretty tired. Nathan and I both had issues keeping our heart rates down. He mentioned his heart rate never coming back under 100 beats / min. well after he stopped running. Mine just seemed to skyrocket and I would lose my breathing as soon as I started running. This leg was a long steady climb of just over 600 feet in the first mile and a half. From there it was pretty much all down hill the rest of the 4.82 miles. My target pace was 9:15 which meant the plan was to struggle up the hills and fly down the backside. Didn't work out that way (well the struggle up the hill part did).  I ended up with a 10:16 pace instead and had a hard time at that! Total elevation gain was 654 feet (like I said, all of it in the first 1.5 miles) with 393 feet net.

We headed to Devil's Den State Park to wait for our runner and the start of the final legs for all of us. While waiting we checked with the Ham radio operator for the status of the other ultra team. They were three legs behind us and we believed they had started an hour earlier than us (they had not). Thinking we were a good 3 1/2 hour ahead of the nearest ultra team took away much of the stress. At least for me.

While waiting, we noticed a dog running up and down the hill into and out of the park. It looked like she was having a good time. By the time we headed up to the next exchange point to wait on Scott, the dog was there relaxing in the shade. She apparently liked one of the runners enough to follow them up the ridiculous climb out of that park for the entire 6 miles or so!

Running Dog!

Scott killed this run like all the others. Totally amazed me. I had mentioned earlier in our vehicle that my sister's van's brakes had overheated going down those hills when we visited a while back. They are that steep. Scott ran up those hills, after 32 miles of previous running, faster than I could do a flat course on fresh legs! Way to go Scott!

Scott after his final leg

Leg #33- (My sixth leg)

By now it was 1:00 p.m. and I have to admit I was pretty tired. We knew we had the race in the bag at this point so it was just a matter of not dying.  This leg was 3.58 miles with 151 feet of elevation gain and a net change of -70 feet, my first and only leg that ended lower than it started. Who got all the downhill runs!?! This was rolling hills all the way and most of it on a highway. I just wanted to get done. I wanted to just run nice and slow and consistent but I had apparently forgotten how. I ended up running around a 9:00 pace, having my heart rate and breathing skyrocket at that rate, and then walk up the hills (which were laughably small compared to the earlier ones). Target pace was 9:15. I didn't even come close although I think if this was still a race and I had someone chasing me I might have been able to come close. I ended up at 10:25. I can't tell you how relieved I was to be done. I was tired, it was getting hot, and I was in no mood to do any more running!

Done...and Tired!

From there it was off to the finish line at Prarie Grove Battlefield State Park to wait on our final three runners complete their legs. At approximately 3:39 p.m. after over 31.5 hours of running, Misery Loves Company crossed the finish line as the first place ultra team!


This race was an amazing experience and I couldn't have asked for a better team. We all came together and had a great time even though we were certainly miserable much of the time.  The majority of us had never attempted anything like this at all but yet we sucked it up and somehow managed to pull out a win! In fact, we actually held our own quite well with the 12 man teams as well, placing 5th overall out of 14 teams that finished. We logged just over 201 miles with an elevation gain (we think) of approximately 5 miles and an average pace of 9:25 per mile.

My totals were 35.5 miles, 3906 feet of elevation gain, 1183 feet of net gain at an average pace of 9:46 per mile. As I mentioned earlier I burned over 6200 calories during my runs. Let's just say the BBQ waiting for us at the end of the race was especially delicious!

Final finishing times for Competitive* teams:

Start TimeTeam NameFinishing
8:00Team eNeRGy29:04:06
8:00The Mud Hogs30:19:20
8:00Lake Area Runners30:28:15
8:00Misery Loves Company31:39:25
7:00501 Years of Experience31:58:20
7:00Soul Runners32:11:15
7:00Zen-E-Thang But32:26:30
8:00Running Rednecks32:30:15
7:00On the Run33:02:14
7:00GBP Final Cut33:05:12
7:00White River Roadrunners33:25:15
7:00Between a Walk and a Hard Pace35:19:49
7:00Blazing Saddles35:39:20

The race itself was very well organized, the trail was clearly marked at all times. That by itself is a big accomplishment. 200 miles is a lot of road to mark. I really can't think of a thing that we could complain about. Well, except sleep. Sleep would have been nice. The race director and her husband worked their butts off to put this together and their work paid off. Thank you Kimberlee and Todd for such an amazing experience!!

On a personal level, this thing was pretty tough. I have never run so hard for so long in my life. Getting chased, the pressure of brotherly harassment I would get if I got chicked, and the nature of the race all combined to somehow push myself harder than I would have thought I would have run. I swear I was running in a panic almost the entire first three legs. Comparing this to World's Toughest Mudder is really an apples to oranges comparison. WTM was a very slow continuous slog. We walked a majority of the 50 miles we covered during WTM.  This thing was very intense for short (generally an hour or so) periods of time. My body was more beat up after WTM but my energy level was completely wiped out during Outback in the Ozarks! Oddly, my legs are actually less sore than they were after my latest marathon. I guess the rests between legs and the varying terrain which drove varying muscle movements were the key. Now I just need to figure out why my heart felt like it was going to explode during the last two legs!

Anyone looking for an awesome challenge and a fun time should check this thing out! Seriously! It is something you will always remember. If the ultra version scares you, do the 12 person and have a blast!

As to next year, who knows. It makes me sick to think of pushing myself this hard again but as we say, it's only fun if it sucks!

One by one, our legs got crossed off!

Scott handing off to Nathan after his fifth run.
Team photo after the race. Loved the shirts we got.

Cary wiping down after one of his legs. He is so sexy when he is sweaty!

Chris handing off to Dave during their first legs.

Dave handing off to Scott for his second run.

Another blog writeup on the same race from one of the other ultra teams: