A-OK was not on my radar, not even the periphery, prior to about two weeks ago. I was introduced to this race by friends of Karen who are on a Facebook page called Dallas Dirt Runners. The first time I saw A-OK I thought that it would be a great 50k supported training run for me as I build toward Lake Martin 100. What I didn’t expect was to have the time of my life out there. A-OK is such a classic old-school race that it only allows 75 athletes to enter and you have to mail (Yes, the USPS) in your registration with a CHECK. This part of the process freaked me out to the point that I emailed the race director to ask if I could either register on race day or PayPal her the money. Why? I have not the foggiest of clues as to where the post office is in my town and writing a check seems so foreign. Mary Ann (RD) replied to my request with a ‘do not have paypal’ and fortunately Karen was kind enough to mail the check and reg form from her office. A-OK was going to happen.
A-OK Race Morning
Weather was calling for 32* and an 80% chance of freezing rain so I decided that I would leave at 5am to make the two-hour drive to Atoka, Oklahoma and be there in time for the 8am start even if I had a pit stop. When the alarm went off at 4am I jumped out of bed, got dressed, made breakfast (toast, peanut butter, banana, honey and cinnamon) along with coffee.
I opened the garage door and the cold air hit me like an anvil but it was refreshing. As I walked in and out of the garage as I packed the car I made a mental note that it had to be colder than 32*. Sure enough when I turned the car on and the temperature showed up it was 28*. Oh boy! At least there was no precipitation. I made the drive up with no issues except that the further north I drove the colder it got. At the race site the car temperature showed 20* and A-OK was not A-OK at this point.
A-OK Loop 1
At 5 minutes until 8:00am the race director gathered the athletes and because of the weather there were probably 25 instead of 75. She read the directions and without as much as a whisper said GO. We were off and sure enough the group of us went in the wrong direction and had to back track quickly to get on par.
Since the race starts at 8:00am there is no need for headlamps or flashlights and I cannot thank the RD enough for making it an 8am start time. The first 3 miles (which are also the last 3 miles) of the loop are all uphill with very few spots for flat footfalls. There is nothing but rocks and roots and leaves. Those leaves are covering more rocks and roots and it is not an easy beginning. In my mind I had hoped to finish around 5h15m – 5h30m based on last week’s Cowtown Ultra but as the steps ticked off in these three miles I thought…..6-6h30m is more likely.
When you reach aid station 1 you notice that they are unmanned with food on the table that is still in the bags and that just made me laugh. This is old school running. About 1 mile after that aid station you hit the first turn-around point where you SIGN-IN. My fingers were so frozen I could barely grip the pen to write my bib# and approximate time.
2 miles later you are at another aid station which is manned and they have all sorts of cookies, candy, chips, and drinks. I made the turn without going near the station since I had my hydration vest on. This could have been a mistake because about 0.5 miles down the road when my watch went off and I went to take a sip the nozzle was completely frozen and no liquid was flowing. This is a flat stretch of 2.5 miles in an out and back that is part sand, part dirt, part ice. As the leaders were coming back I started counting and realized that I was in 10th place overall. I figured a few of these racers would only be doing the 25k so I could sneak up a few slots as long as I ran a smart race.
After the 2.5 mile stretch you start to head back toward the start of the loop. At one point you are going downhill and you make a left at this body of water. In my mind I thought that I needed to be very careful on loop 2 because with tired legs and a tired mind I could see myself taking a header into the water. I crossed the 25k of the A-OK Loop 1 finish line in 2:24 and felt great. I noticed that three of the guys and one girl in front of me were not heading back out. I was now in the Top 7. Not bad.
A-OK Loop 2
The first 3 miles of Loop 2 were harder than Loop 1 which makes sense but the hills seemed to climb for forever. I was a bit distraught about this and did everything I could to keep a positive attitude. When I reached that aid station and sign-in sheet the mind picked up the body. I felt better and realized that I wasn’t as cold as I expected but I knew that I needed fuel. I decided that I would grab whatever looked good at the next aid station. Peanut butter cups just about jumped into my hands and they were consumed in record time. A quick drink of two dixie cups of water and I was on my way.
5 miles of flat sections was perfect. That is until I tried to cough and realized that my left check was frozen. I must have dribbled a bit of that water on my face and sure enough it froze. I kept trying to smile to keep it from freezing and that did the trick. This section is an area where you can run and that is what I did. I counted the athletes coming back at me and I was in the same spot. 5 guys and 1 lady in front of me. When I reached the main road my mind went into a very dark place. I was questioning my sanity. I was cursing my legs. It was not good but I kept putting one foot in front of the other. Right around this time a car passed me and the driver gave me a thumbs up. Lesley and Libby passed me in their car and we chatted and they were off. Seconds later, FW Tri Club members Mitchel and Jeff passed me and their words were the pick me up I needed. Jeff leaned across and yelled out the window: you look great man. keep it going. Mitchel yelled: you are looking strong. you got this. Sure enough my legs found themselves and I started running again.
In the other direction the lady passed and we exchanged words for the first time. I reached the last sign-in station and noticed she was 5 minutes ahead of me. At this point it was not a matter of catching her but more about finishing in under 5:11 which was my time at Cowtown. I was doing math at every mile and before I knew it I noticed a silhouette in front of me. I could not tell if they were running at me or away from me. Going around the bends in the road I could not tell and then all the sudden I realized it was the lady and I was within a minute of her. I had made up 4 minutes on her in less than 2 miles. As I got closer I realized we were within shouting distance of the aid station with the peanut butter cups and I made a decision I was not stopping. She stopped and I passed her with authority and I knew she would not catch me. I felt strong and knew I only had 4 miles to go.
The last 4 miles were nondescript except for putting one foot in front of the other and doing math. When I got near the lake, nearly falling in, I realized I could break 5 hours. How did this happen? The boost from Mitchel and Jeff had done the trick. When I crossed the finish line of the A-OK 50k Ultra Trail Run the clock showed 4:57:xx. I had broken 5 hours on a trail race one week after running 5:11 on the road.
A-OK Post Race Celebration
As I was walking toward the storage center where the other athletes were the RD was walking toward me and yelled: Are you the first 50k female finisher? After laughing and thinking I better go eat something we exchanged pleasantries and a hearty ‘old-friends’ laugh. This was the perfect ending to this race.
I walked into the shed and got my finishers wood plaque, a bottle of honey and vegetarian chili that Mary Ann had made. How cool is that? Eating around a wood burning stove with other frozen athletes telling war stories about the 50k race we just did. It was perfect and this is a must-do race from here on out.