It's a very slow process - two steps forward, one step back - but I'm inching in the right direction. - Rob Reiner

March 19, 2013

Snakes on a Trail - The Race Report

I'm posting this again because I had an issue with my earlier post. I apologize if you've already seen this.

"I have had it with these $**@ SNAKES on this $**@ plane!" I have never actually seen this movie, but have heard this line from Snakes on a Plane a million times. For some reason the Tatur Three or Six Hour Snake Run just makes me think about it. I think it makes a lovely introduction to my race report don't you?

Awesome race medals. There were 2 different ones.

When Jim decided sometime last year that he wanted to do his first ultra race he had another race in mind, but it sold out before he could get registered. So, when he decided on the Tatur Snake Run in Tulsa, OK, well I had reservations....Snake Run...that doesn't exactly sound like my cup of tea. But I went to their website and found out that it's actually called the Snake Run due to the winding nature of the course and not the fact that there are venomous pits of vipers at every turn. As a matter of fact, it is a rarity to actually see a snake on the trail. Plus the race is held in mid-March...most snakes are still sleeping this time of year right? And they offered a pretty awesome snake medal and shirt, so I was sold.

Technical Tee...pretty awesome huh?
The race is pretty unique in that it is a timed event. You can either sign up for the 3 hour or the 6 hour race. You run as far as you can in that amount of time, and whoever has the most miles at the end wins. I had never done a timed event before, but I average about 2:30 for a half marathon, so I figured I should be able to do the 3 hour event without much trouble. Jim would be doing the 6 hour run for his first ultra (Jim's race report). You start out the race by running a 4.2 mile looped course (2.1 miles out and 2.1 miles back), then once you get to the point that you can no longer complete the 4.2 mile loop in the remaining time, you can do a half mile loop for the remainder of the race.

Going into the race, I wasn't too concerned with my ability to run for three hours, but I was a little concerned with my ability to trail run. I have only done one other trail race, and it was only a 5K. So in preparation, I completed ONE trail run before the race. Yes, that should do it. I mean I am graceful and never injured so I was sure I'd be just fine. Seriously though, I had planned on doing more trail runs but shortly after my first one, Kansas City was blanketed with 2 feet of snow. Which, as you can imagine stayed on the ground for weeks. There was no way to run on the trails, it was difficult enough to be able to run outside at all. The weather really put a damper on my intended training. Oh well, I knew I could still do it or at least I hoped.

The race was on a Sunday, but Jim and I ended up heading to Tulsa a day earlier than planned. Unfortunately, his grandmother had passed away earlier in the week. Her funeral was held in his hometown, which is about half way between KC and Tulsa. So after the funeral we headed straight to Tulsa late Friday night. So we had all day to wander around and relax. We headed over to RunnersWorld Tulsa a local running store to see if they had anything we couldn't live without. And of course they did. I picked up an awesome Salomon jacket on Winter Clearance! The people in the store were so friendly and even let us pick up our packets - even though packet pick up was the day before. After a little shopping we ate lunch and then saw Burt Wonderstone (not too Wonderful). Overall it was a relaxing day. The weather was GORGEOUS with a high in the low 70s, beautiful sunshine and almost no wind until late in the afternoon.........the weather would change though, and we were watching it like hawks.

We weren't going to let a little cold weather stop us...wait Jim is already cold.

Weirdest pre-race ever? This was Jim's idea..don't let him tell you different.

On race morning the temps were in the uppers 30s and weren't expected to get out of the low 40s all day. There were 15 to 25 mph winds projected and rain and thunderstorms! What had sounded like fun, now sounded kind of awful honestly. I had done the OKC Half Marathon a few years ago in similar conditions and I have to say to date, it is by far the worst running experience I have ever had. I have never been that cold or miserable in my life. You technically only had to complete one 4.2 mile loop to get your medal for this race, and I have to admit...the thought was at least crossing my mind.

Me & Jim pre-race with our matching stocking caps (not planned)

When we woke up it was cold, and it was windy, and it was misty, but at least it wasn't raining. I dressed a little warmer than originally planned and wore a long sleeve technical tee with the race shirt over top and a light wind breaker over that. I wouldn't normally wear the race shirt, but they went out of their way to have green shirts for this St. Patty's day race and I hadn't brought any green so I thought, what the heck? I only wore capri running tights for my bottoms, but I brought a pair of long pants with me in case I was too cold and wanted to put them on over the other ones. When we arrived it was pretty frigid. Feels like temperatures were in the low 30s. We were up pretty high on a hill and the wind was just whipping all around us. We got our timing chips and waited it out in the car. Jim's race started at 9, but mine didn't start until 9:15 so I stayed in the car a little longer.

I walked up to the race in time to see Jim head out for his 6 hour adventure. I then waited for my race to start. Everyone standing around was absolutely freezing, but again, at least it wasn't raining. It was finally time for the gun to go off and the race to start! It started out on a nice downhill. Great way to start a race. It's a small race with only 189 in the 3 hour event, but get 189 people on a narrow trail and it was pretty chaotic at first. Lots of people passed me and I tried to stay out of the way as much as possible. As soon as we got down in to the trails, the wind wasn't a factor at all. You really couldn't even feel it. It never rained all day, so the weather actually ended up being pretty great for running as long as you had dressed appropriately. I found myself shedding my jacket after completing just one 4.2 mile loop, but quickly ended up putting it back on for the rest of the race. I was comfortable, never hot and never cold.

That's me in front...look at all those runners behind me. I'm actually thinking about ordering this photo. Pretty cool huh?

Luckily this is a fairly "easy" trail run. If you can call any trail running easy. It has minimal elevation and it's well maintained. You had to cross over small amounts of water 3 times (6 per loop) but they weren't bad. One was small enough you could leap across it fairly easily, and the other two had some boards thrown in them so you feet didn't get too soggy. There were plenty of rocks and tree branches to manage though and you really had to be careful of your footing that's for sure. I turned my ankle multiple times, and did the almost fall more times than I could count, but somehow I managed to stay upright the entire race and didn't injure myself. Jim did not, he fell twice, I'm glad he wasn't hurt because now I can say how funny I think it is. He preached at me over and over about how careful I needed to be and how easy it would be to fall and hurt myself. I gave him the same speech on the way home, and he really seemed to enjoy my cynicism. It was amazing though how many people you did see fall. They fell in front of me and behind me. I always checked to see if they were ok before going on. I got a few minimal scratches from loose tree limbs or a fallen branch, but no major deal.

I started out a little too fast, and easily ran the first 4.2 mile loop. I had to remind myself this wasn't a half marathon and that I had well over 2 hours left to go. So I slowed down for the remainder of the race. At first it was intentional, but fatigue definitely set in during the last part of the race and I slowed even more. After finishing my first loop, I noticed my left foot was starting to hurt. I stopped and took my shoe off, hoping that maybe I had a rock or my sock was just rubbing me. I adjusted my sock and shook out my shoe and took off running again. That didn't seem to help. All during the 2nd loop I could feel the ball of my foot hurting more and more and knew I was developing a blister. Luckily, since this is such a small laid back race I had stashed a bag close by with a change of socks and some body glide just in case. I stopped to lube up my foot and change socks. Tons of people passed me at this point which was pretty disappointing. I probably spent close to 5 minutes doing this, but knew it might be a life saver in the end. I started running again and it was still bothering me, but slowly as I continued to run, I started to notice it less and less. It was definitely worth the extra time!

I was really starting to fatigue during the last loop. All the climbing over rocks, etc was really getting to me. You use lots of different muscles in a trail run that you just don't normally use when road running. You have to pick your feet up alot more and those hips really get a workout. Somewhere during this third loop someone ran by me and said "Good job Michael" or something like that. I looked up, but of course didn't see anyone I knew. I had seen Jim several times, that's the cool thing about a looped course, but I didn't know anyone else here. I looked down at my bib and thought, no my name isn't on there. Then I thought, ok you are just getting delirious, no one said you name. Are you crazy? I really must be getting tired.

I finished my 3rd 4.2 mile loop for 12.6 miles with less than 20 minutes to spare. My goal going in to this race was to try for at least a half marathon. I thought, if I could do a half marathon in 2:30 on the road, surely I could do one in 3 hours on the trail? But when I had looked at the previous year's results I had noticed that only about 20 women out of 80 something had managed to do more than 13.1 and I'm usually in the bottom 25% of racers, so I thought maybe the trail would prove even more difficult that I expected. So, when I finished that last loop with time still on the clock I knew I had at least enough time to get in one half mile loop if not two.

The half mile loop was much more difficult than the 4.2 mile loop. It was rockier, and had more elevation gain. I was glad I didn't have much time left and wouldn't have to run it very many times. I gave it all I had, but I didn't have much left. I did manage to do an additional mile for a total of 13.6 miles for the day! I exceeded my half marathon goal and had a couple of minutes to spare. When I finished that last lap there were about 2 minutes remaining in the 3 hour race, but I knew it wasn't enough to make it around again, so I told them I was done. I turned in my chip and got my medal, and was so glad to be done. I was tired, and already sore. I was thinking about I couldn't imagine going another 3 hours!

After the race I got in line for food. I waited quite some time, and got to the front of the line to realize it was BBQ sandwiches. I don't like BBQ on a normal day; I certainly didn't want it after a race. I'm pretty sure I would have thrown up. Lots of people were enjoying it, and I'm certain it was great, but I passed and moved on. I grabbed a soda instead for at least some calorie replenishment. I had a protein bar in the car and a banana in the hotel. I realized I was already freezing! It didn't take long to remember how cold it was as soon as you had stopped moving.

As I was leaving a lady walked up to me and said "Hi Michael". I looked at her kind of dumbfounded. She said "You don't know me, but I read your blog". Say what?? This was my first time experiencing this. I have met up with other bloggers intentionally, but never met a reader who just recognized me. It was pretty cool! She told me that she reads mine and Jim's blog. She lives in the area and was doing the race so she thought she'd say hello. She was also the person who had said my name when running past me on the route, so at least now I know I wasn't crazy. She introduced me to her husband and we chatted briefly. She was super nice and it was so cool to meet someone who actually reads my rambling. So a huge shout out to Crystal! Thanks for reading my blog!

After that I headed back to the hotel. Luckily, Jim and I were only staying about a mile away, so I still had about 2 1/2 hours to get back to the hotel, stretch, shower and change before he finished, which was really nice. I know I couldn't have stood out there and waited for him or I would have frozen to death.

I headed back to the race with about an hour left to go. I figured Jim would really be starting to get tired and could probably use some extra cheering. He was down in the long loop so I didn't see him for awhile, but when he finally emerged he was ready to start the half mile loop so I got to see him and cheer him over several times which was fun. I was also cheering on all of the 6 hour people as they would go by. They were young (as in 2 boys about 9 - which was totally crazy and much, much older). It always amazes me to see all kinds of different people out there pushing themselves to their limit. Testing their's truly an inspiration!

Jim finally finished and did an AWESOME job for his first ultra - finishing 1st in his Age Group! I was so proud of him. We got him back to the hotel and showered and then we went out to celebrate both of our accomplishments at the Cheesecake Factory, because nothing says success like 3,000 calorie cheesecake.
Jim and I post race with our medals
Overall, I thought this was a great race! It was small and laid back. The course is not overly technical for a trail race and the volunteers were terrific. They braved the cold for more than 6 hours, but always had a smile on their face and were so helpful. I had a great time, and I can totally see why people fall in love with trail running. In spite of the fact that you were on a looped course I was never bored. Part of that is because of the scenery and part is probably because you are so consumed with not falling. But the time went by so fast. I also like the fact that I didn't feel so "slow" as a normally do. You have to run at a bit slower speed on trails and there were lots of people who were slower than me. In road races I'm usually bottom 25% but for this race I was middle of the pack overall and even higher in my age group and among women. They had some issues with the half mile timing mat, so results aren't official yet, but based on the 4.2 mile loops only I was 84/189 overall; 27/88 women; and 4/20 in my age group! That's the highest I have ever placed. I'm pretty sure I need to become a trail runner!!

It's a great race and I would highly recommend it to anyone thinking about their first ultra or first trail run. I'm super, super sore, but it was a great way to challenge myself. I'd do another trail race in a heart beat!


  1. Awesome job!!! And boy oh boy, you find the BEST medals :)

    Happy recovery!!

  2. Congratulations!! Great job on the race, making the distance that you were shooting for and for not freezing.

    I love the hallway picture.

    Can you explain what the word 'technical' means in describing a trail race? I read that all the time, and have no idea what it means.

    Great job both of you!

  3. Oh - and totally get that picture - from another slow runner, you look like you're kicking serious butt!

  4. Congrats you snake charmer you! :)

    I would have eaten that BBQ sandwich on your behalf! HAHAHA! It's been about a year since I ran a trail race and I sure do miss it. So much more fun than pavement but they're so tough aren't they!?

  5. Sounds like a good first trail race - very cool shirt and medal!

  6. This race sounds really cool and those medals are seriously awesome. I may have to come run it next year just for one of those babies. Congratulations to you both!

  7. That race shirt is hysterical. Congrats on your race!

  8. Great race babe ... Dang, you probably won an age group award or somethin'!

  9. That race shirt is the BEST! and congrats on reaching your half goal and handling the trail conditions!