by Cory Adams
April is just a tough month there’s no getting around it. After writing that check to the IRS, maybe that disappointment of not getting into the Boston Marathon, or even just cabin fever, you need that chance to just let it all out and do something epic. It doesn’t have to be anything lavish or exotic, but you do need to do something that pulls you out of that funk you’re in and lets you see how awesome you really are.
If you live within driving distance of Little Rock, Arkansas you need to fit the Ouachita Trail 50 into your schedule because this is your chance to get out and be awesome. The race is far enough away from the city to let you unplug for a while but close enough so that you can enjoy what Little Rock has to offer. If you really want to go all out you can camp down the street from the starting line but you’re pretty close to some really nice motels, too.
To call this event an ultra would not do it justice. Instead I like to think of the Ouachita Trail 50 as an epic life changing experience that lets you know what you’re really made of. When you stand there at the starting line with all the other sole surfers you’re probably wondering what you got yourself into and you’ll soon find out.
Those beginning miles of smooth paved roads and the flat terrain lure you into a false sense of security until you hit those first few hills. Then the fun really starts when you get to the trailhead and realize that you get to go right back down what you just ran up. The roots and the rocks the first few miles of the trail will be happy to let you know who’s in charge as you make your way to what is going to be an epic life changing experience.
It starts to feel like just another run through the woods and out of nowhere this parking lot appears. You can tell by the looks on the spectators’ faces that this is the moment that you’ve been waiting for or dreading depending on how you want to look at it. The ascent up the mountain is not an immediate one and you have to slowly wind your way up the side of what really is a mountain. It may not seem that big when you look at it but once reality sets in that you have to climb it you realize that they do in fact have mountains in Arkansas.
The trail comes to an abrupt end and all you can see is a pile of boulders that seems to reach to the sky. This is the part of the course that makes you use every muscle in your body to get to the top of Pinnacle Mountain. When you get there it really is a beautiful view and you realize that it is a long way back to the bottom.
Reality hits you right in the face and you face the fact that you have to work your way back down that mountain. There’s not much of a trail that takes you down the mountain so you have to climb back down the boulders on the other side. Until you hit a set of switchbacks you will need to employ any and all means necessary to get down from the top of the mountain. It doesn’t have to be pretty but you will have to get back down from there none the less.
When you get to the second parking lot I suggest that you take in some fluids and catch your breath while deciding if you want to do the 50-mile or 50k. My legs were shaking so I decided to back off on the ambition and settle for the 50k because after all I was on vacation. At the time I regretted the decision but my legs and feet would thank me for it later.
This was the best part about the race though because you haven’t even covered five miles at this point and you already feel like you’ve accomplished something by climbing up and over that mountain. It’s perfectly okay if you want to throw in the towel after all those calories you’ve burned off, but you’re an ultra runner and one measly mountain can’t stop you now.
You get back on that trail though and you run through some of the most beautiful scenery the South has to offer for miles and miles. Just when you get used to the roots and rocks on the trails you make your way down a back country highway to an old rusty bridge you have to cross giving you that feeling like you’re on some kind of adventure. You cross that bridge and the highway and you’re back on the trail next to a spillway with the sound of that manmade water fall offering you sense of tranquility that you don’t get in many ultras.
Eventually after winding your way around a lake on what was once a paved road you hit the turn around point for the 50k. You’re relieved at this point in that it’s half over but you really don’t want it to end because the course is so inviting. At some point you have to turn around though because you don’t want the race director to send a search party out looking for you.
As you make your way back to the finish line you’re grateful that you don’t have to climb up and over that mountain again because once was more than enough. With each step that you take you’re going back over what you’ve already done and you can feel that sense of accomplishment getting stronger as you make your way towards that finish line. When you cross that finish line you’re not the same as you were before, so grab a beverage of your choosing and cheer on the others as they come in because when you saw that mountain, you didn’t think you could finish this adventure but you came together and made this thing happen.