Two weeks ago (Nov. 7-8), the inaugural Ozark Trail 100 was run over 100 miles of the trail’s 350 miles that wind through the Missouri Ozarks. We weren’t there, but we got in touch with a few folks who were and we’ll share their experiences. First, we provide a race overview by Travis Liles, who publishes the video-centric ultra website Run the Ultras. He can attest to the course’s difficulty as he dropped at mile 68. Next up, we’re fortunate to share some thoughts from the men’s winner and Team Patagonia member, Jeff Browning. Last, but not least, co-RD Paul Schoenlaub was kind enough to answer a few questions about his race for us. Oh, and we’re psyched to bring you Paul’s full Ozark Trail 100 race report at the end of this post! Jump down and read Travis, Jeff’s, or Paul’s thoughts on the OT100 or Paul’s full report.
Travis’s Ozark Trail 100 Race Report
The inaugural Ozark Trail 100 mile endurance run is in the books. This point-to-point event took place on the Ozark Trail located in the Mark Twain National Forest of central Missouri. Race day brought unseasonably high temperatures that knocked on the door of a record high for the November day and peaked near the 80’s. The downed trees along with technical rocky footing covered in thick fall leaves led to lots of bumps, bruises, cuts, stubbed toes, overheating and a fair amount of DNF’s. Of the 126 starters only 56 finished making for a 44% finisher’s rate.
Jeff Browning (38) of Bend, Oregon took the lead early and held on to the overall win for males coming in at 18:38:59. Rachel Furman (26) of Peoria, Illinois clocked in at 25:28:21 to take the overall female prize in her first ever 100 miler!
(Photo: Shannon Drohan)
The great work by Co-RD’s Paul Schoenlaub and Stuart Johnson along with help of the St. Louis Ultrarunner Group (SLUGS) made this first time event go off without a hitch. Official results can be found here.
Jeff Browning’s Ozark Trail 100 Thoughts
Paul and Stuart have put together a beautiful and tough course in the Ozarks of Missouri. The course is 101.5 miles, point-to-point, running south to north on the Ozark Trail. On paper, this course looks really fast. My Suunto T6 clocked 10,906′ of ascent and 11,572′ of descent—so, pretty low elevation gain by trail 100-mile standards. It’s all at low elevation, rolling, no major climbs, and 98% singletrack. It traverses many cool little valleys and lots of creek crossings. I didn’t have a lot of high expectations for my performance.
The plan was just to run hard, enjoy myself, and visit with family (I grew up in Missouri). I wasn’t sure what to expect from my body later in the race—especially coming off a fast Iroquois Trail 100 (now Virgil Crest 100) just 7 weeks prior. Having only run two 100s in a single season one other time (2007 Hardrock and Arkansas Traveler), I was hoping my body would respond once the miles piled on.
Course difficulty? This was the most dangerous course I’ve ever been on at night. With over 80 miles under 4+ inches of fallen oak leaves, the footing was quite challenging in the day and the night. With that much leaf coverage, you can’t see the obstacles under the fallen leaves—trail by braille. Tricky, especially when trying to run downhill fast.
Even with all the challenging footing, it still was a great course with awesome volunteers. I didn’t fill one bottle, as the aid stations consist primarily of members of St. Louis Ultrarunning Group (SLUGs) and I found the stations to be well-stocked, well-manned, and wholly prepared. I was impressed. It was a great excuse for me to come back to visit my family and run in the beautiful Ozarks. Giddyup!
[Trail Goat Note: Go to Jeff Browning’s blog to read his full Ozark Trail 100 race report.]
Paul Schoenlaub (Paul): Logistically, I think the race went without a hitch, given the fact it was the first year of a logistically difficult point-to-point race. Many people had suggested to me, both before and after the race, that I should make this race an out-and-back to make the logistics easier. Note that none of the runners made this suggestion. My response to this has been, and still is, that I wanted this to be a point-to-point race and accept the logistical challenges of such an event. I seriously doubt that any of the runners would have wanted to have seen, or stumbled across, any of those hidden rocks TWICE! :-)
iRF: Were you surprised by the dropout rate?
Paul: I had estimated a finish rate of 50 to 65% for this race. I was a little surprised at the finishers rate of only 44%, but I think the unseasonable heat for an early November day explains the lower finishers rate.
iRF: What makes the Ozark Trail 100 Mile unique?
- It’s the only 100 mile race in Missouri.
- It’s one of relatively few point-to-point trail 100’s in the US.
- It is deceptively difficult, primarily due to much of this technical trail being covered in fresh leaf fall.
- It’s run entirely through a national forest, but runners are exposed to sunlight almost the entire time they are in the forest during the daytime hours (due to the fact the leaves are under their feet instead of in the trees).
- It is run entirely on what I consider to be one of the most beautiful undiscovered trails in the United States.
iRF: Thanks, Paul!
Full Ozark Trail 100 Race Report by Co-RD Paul Schoenlaub
Three years ago, on Thanksgiving weekend, I set out to explore a few miles of the Ozark Trail in the Mark Twain National Forest in south-central Missouri. I ran about 12 miles of the trail on Friday and another 42 miles of the trail on Saturday. That weekend I fell in love with the Ozark Trail and decided a race should be run on this rugged trail to showcase the beautiful forest to ultra runners across the country. One and one-half years later, Stuart Johnson came on board to work with me to organize the first 100 mile ultra marathon in Missouri, resulting in the birth of the Ozark Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run. My dream was for a point-to-point race on this single track trail in November, when the views through the predominately Oak forest reveal the stark contrasts of the ruggedness of the terrain and the structure of the majestic trees is simply striking.
Fast forward a little over a year. The US Forest service issued a permit for the race and we began accepting entries in March 2009. I was shocked at the support we received initially from ultra runners across the Midwest. Soon after entries began coming in, it was clear we had interest from across the nation and beyond. Then, in May, a tremendous storm called a derecho struck south-central Missouri, devastating a portion of the Mark Twain National Forest. Literally thousands of trees were downed by the storm. The southern 50 miles of the planned course for the Ozark Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run were impassable. With the trail closed, the future of this inaugural event was in question. Immediately, the Ozark Trail Association began assessing the damage to the trail and organizing work parties. The United States Forest Service contracted with professional crews to begin clearing the trail within weeks. Before Labor Day, the trail was re-opened and the entire original route we had planned was again available for the race.
It seemed everything was falling in place nicely for a clear trail on November 7. Then came the floods in the weeks before the race. Relentless rainy days in the weeks leading up to the race left the creeks and rivers swollen with floodwaters just two weeks before the race. The weekend before the race, we found many of the water crossings were again impassable due to additional heavy rains late that week. Then, just one week before race day, the skies cleared, allowing the creeks and rivers to drop back into their banks by the Thursday before the race. Once again, the race appeared to be well on its way to a successful introduction.
The race had an entry limit of 150 and, within a week of race day, we had 144 runners signed up from 28 states, Canada, and Singapore. The race had been well received. Now, if we could just pull this off, we would have something worth talking about. Thanks to the United States Forest Service for issuing the permit; the Ozark Trail Association for building and maintaining miles of trail; several amateur radio clubs, spearheaded by the Current River Amateur Radio Club, who provided emergency communications for the race; our sponsors: the St. Louis Ultrarunners Group for providing many eager volunteers to help with the race, Hammer Nutrition and Salomon, for providing products and other support for this event; and volunteers from across Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas, who helped with so many different jobs to support the runners throughout the race . . . we were able to provide a great race that flowed very smoothly on race day.
I had planned for cool weather for months leading up to the race, knowing well that we could have a warm autumn day with the unpredictable weather of Missouri. So, for the inaugural running of the Ozark Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run, we had . . . HEAT! Yes, we had an unseasonably warm day with temperatures reaching into the upper 70’s. With the leaves down off the trees and full sun, participants were left with some very warm conditions with which to contend.
At 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning, 126 runners showed up at the southern end of the Karkaghne section of the Ozark Trail and took off under the starlit early morning sky, heading for the finish line at the Bass River Resort, 101.5 miles away. Not long after the race began, the participants realized what we had attempted to convey in our pre-race information about this trail: there are plenty of technical sections on this trail covered with leaves from the predominately Oak Forest the runners would be traversing for the next 18 to 32 hours.
The day began to heat up early and, by the time the runners made it to Sutton Bluff aid station at mile 17.6, it had warmed into the 70’s. At the 8 mile aid station, runners hardly needed to even top off their water bottles, but most were filling completely empty bottles at Sutton Bluff. Later in the day, the early November heat would begin to take its toll on the field.
Jeff Browning had begun to pull a lead by Sutton Bluff. He was followed 8 minutes later by Ben Creehan, David Wakefield, and Ryne Melcher. Gregg Buehler and Michael Adams were just 5 minutes back and the men’s race was beginning to take shape. Theresa Wheeler led the women into Sutton Bluff, with Rachel Furman just 5 minutes back. Ellen Erhardt, Jen Foster, and Jennifer Aradi were another 5, 6, and 7 minutes, respectively, behind Rachel.
As the sun continued to rise through the clear autumn sky, most discovered how hot this November afternoon could be in central Missouri with the leaves off the trees, allowing full contact between the suns warm rays and the skin of the runners hour after hour. Through the next few aid stations, in the heat of the day, Stuart Johnson and I were visiting aid stations restocking them with additional water and ice to quench the runners’ need for these necessary elements. By the Brooks Creek aid station at mile 43.5, Jeff Browning had continued to expand his lead on the men’s field and was now on pace for a 17 hour finish. David Wakefield and Ryne Melcher had moved into second and third place 54 minutes back. Michael Adams had moved up to fourth place, another 12 minutes back, with Ben Creehan just 3 minutes behind Michael. Kyle Gibbs had moved into sixth place just a minute behind Ben. As these men moved through the aid station, it became apparent that the difficulty of the trail was taking its toll on the lead runners as Michael Adams flew through the aid station with what was presumed to be a broken finger. He appeared to shrug it off though as he flew through the race with the ailing finger taped to the finger next to it, proving that you can finish an ultra with a broken bone, so long as it’s not a running part.
The women’s race had taken a dramatic turn by Brooks Creek as leader Theresa Wheeler had dropped to fourth place due to a knee injury, which resulted in the demise of her race. Rachel Furman had moved into first place and was pulling away from the field with a 30 minute lead over second woman, Ellen Erhardt. Jennifer Aradi was in third, 8 minutes behind Ellen and the top 5 were rounded out by Theresa Wheeler and Susan Donnelly, another 27 and 28 minutes back, respectively. Lucia Alzaga had moved into sixth place another 23 minutes back.
Many of the runners began to recover from the days’ heat as the sun set on them coming into Brooks Creek. Being the first year for this race, I had made a decision to eliminate the first cutoff for the race this year at the 28 mile aid station, which most runners hit in the heat of the day. The second cutoff was at Brooks Creek. I had hopes that many runners who were dragging themselves through heat would recover in the evening hours and begin moving better. With this in mind, the cutoff at Brooks Creek was extended by 30 minutes, allowing only 2 additional runners to leave that aid station, neither of which would finish the race.
Back to the front of the pack. At Hazel Creek aid station, mile 68.5, Jeff Browning had pulled a commanding 2 ½ hour lead and it looked like nobody was going to be able to touch him now. As the day cooled, he had appeared to pick up his pace and was moving forward with impressive determination. Michael Adams had moved up through the pack and was now in second place with his taped fingers, followed closely by Kyle Gibbs four minutes back, who had also danced through the rocks to move well up in the field. David Wakefield and Ryne Melcher were now 23 minutes behind Kyle, but appeared to still be joined at the hip. The big question of this race was whether or not these two of the men’s leaders would stay together through the entire race. Ben Creehan had dropped back 28 miles from David and Ryne as the heat of the day had appeared to take its toll on him.
Arriving at Hazel Creek, the women’s race had not appeared to change at all as far as the placement of the ladies leaving Brooks Creek. In the spirit of Jeff Browning’s example in the men’s field, Rachel Furman had built a commanding 1 hour 50 minute lead on the women’s field. Ellen Erhardt was holding on to second place, with Jennifer Aradi hanging tight just 9 minutes back. Susan Donnelly had dropped an hour back from Jennifer, with Lucia Alzaga yet another 43 minutes back. Beth Simpson-Hall had now moved into sixth place just 10 minutes behind Lucia.
The night running had brought with it a new discovery for most runners. The rocks that were so difficult to avoid as they hid under the blanket of leaves on the trail during the day seemed even more difficult to see at night. This trail has a mysterious majesty at night though, as the trail corridor opens before you, which makes the might running a captivating experience.
Many runners arrived at the Berryman aid station, mile 81.5, under cover of darkness, but just under half the field came into this aid station near sunrise or later. The cutoff for the Hazel Creek aid station had been extended by 45 minutes and, in like manner, so too was the cutoff at the Berryman aid station. Extending the Hazel Creek cutoff had allowed another 11 runners to continue their quest for the Ozark Trail 100 belt buckle, 7 of which made it to the finish line under the 32 hour cutoff. Extending the Berryman cutoff also allowed 11 runners to continue the race that otherwise would have been pulled. Amazingly, 10 of these 11 runners made it to the finish line under the 32 hour cutoff. The only one who did not make it to the finish line of these 11 was Lucia Alzaga, who ended up having to drop due to an injury after an amazing race at her first attempt at a 100 mile race.
Oh, yea: back to the leaders at Berryman. By 8:33 in the evening, Jeff Browning had increased his lead to well over 3 hours. He certainly was untouchable. Michael Adams was solidly in second place, with the twins, David Wakefield and Ryne Melcher, 30 minutes behind Michael. Ben Creehan had seemed to begin to pull out of his mid-race funk and was in fifth place, just 9 minutes back, and apparently closing on the dynamic duo. Kyle Gibbs had dropped to a distant sixth place at an additional 50 minutes back.
The women’s race was not changing much, with the exception of Lucia Alzaga dropping back in the pack with her unfortunate injury. Rachel Furman continued to expand her lead by what was now almost 2 ½ hours. Ellen Erhardt and Jennifer Aradi came into Berryman at the same time, while Susan Donnelly was solidly in fourth place. Beth Simpson-Hall had closed to within 42 minutes of Susan as she moved into fifth place. As Lucia dropped back, she came in another 36 minutes back with Jen Foster.
The final 20 miles of the race had some great runable trail, as well as more of the leaf covered rocks that had been the theme for the day. The final few miles of trail that had been scheduled for completion prior to the race were not quite finished due to weather during some of the scheduled trail building weekends earlier this year, resulting in the last 2 ½ miles of the race finishing on a gravel road. I think most runners welcomed this unanticipated road section in what had been planned as a 100% trail race. Rest assured, the final section of trail should be completed some time next spring.
Jeff Browning came across the finish line in 18:38:59, setting the course record for the Ozark Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run and pulling an impressive 4 hour and 20 minute lead over the next closest competitor. Shortly after Jeff crossed the finish line, he commented that he was on pace for a 17 hour finish, but as night fell, he found the rocks, as difficult to see as they were under the leaves during the day, became virtually invisible under the leaves at night, thus slowing his pace considerably. Still, he had quite an impressive race for this inaugural event.
Rachel Furman had an impressive first hundred, finishing first and setting the women’s record at 25:28:21, all while maintaining over a 2 hour lead over the nearest competitor. This was good enough for seventh place overall.
Ben Creehan had moved up through the men’s field to finish in second place, while PoDog Vogler finished tenth overall to capture the men’s masters’ title.
David Wakefield and Ryne Melcher rounded out the top 5 men finishing together, as they had started the race. Kyle Gibbs hung on to finish solidly in sixth place.
Ellen Erhardt pulled a 20 minute lead over Jennifer Aradi to finish second in the women’s race, while Susan Donnelly was able to hold on to a 12 minute lead over Beth Simpson-Hall to take the women’s masters honors. Susan and Beth rounded out the top 5 in the women’s race as well, with Lynn Saari moving into sixth place by the end of the race.
Interestingly, the second place men’s masters runner was Dale Humphrey, a 50 year old and the second place women’s masters runner was Beth Simpson-Hall, a 51 year old. Way to go for a couple of runners with a combined age of over 100 years between the two of them.
I was impressed with the performance of all the participants in this race and very pleased with the many positive comments they have made about the race. Even among those who were unable to finish the race, many have already told me they plan to return to run the race again.
It is very noteworthy that 11 of the first 20 finishers completed their first 100 mile race on the Ozark Trail. I find that impressive and, although I would not suggest that this is a great first time 100 mile race, it is certainly achievable as these impressive athletes have proven. Once again, among the first time 100 mile finishers was the women’s champion, Rachel Furman.
There were many other impressive performances and valiant efforts by some who were unable to finish. I admire the toughness of all those who toed the line for this event and am impressed with what each and every one of them was able to accomplish. Though the finishers rate was a low 44%, I am impressed that there was little difference between the finishers rate of veterans at the 100 mile distance and first timers.
Thanks again to all the participants, volunteers, sponsors, the Ozark Trail Association, and the National Forest Service for their parts in helping to make this race a reality and achieving my primary goal of showcasing Missouri’s Ozark Trail in the Mark Twain National Forest to the ultrarunning community.