“When you’re lost in the wild and you’re scared as a child and Death looks you bang in the eye.”
-Some Canadian Guy
As you‘ve probably realized by now, we here at TOTs like our beer. On occasion, our weekly imbibement ritual is interrupted when we are asked to exercise not only our legs, but also our intricate knowledge of the trails, to search for a lost soul.
On November 14th, 2019, after nearly a year of community input and interstate collaboration, Tulsa's River Park's Authority revealed their Master Plan for the rehabilitation and expansion of our home base. Faced with the impossibly conflicted, and yet popular, demands of, "Keep Turkey Wild" and "Increase accessibility for everyone", the River Park's Authority, in conjunction with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates tackled a nearly impossible mission...and came back with a nearly impossible answer.
Building the Plan
The Turkey Mountain Master Plan has been a massive undertaking, spanning over most of 2019 and stemming from several town-hall style meetings, as well as the more modern approach of online surveys. "The plan was created with input from the community," Ryan Howell, River Parks Authority employee and manager of the Turkey Mountain social media. "Two meetings attended by 350 members of the public, plus over 4000 online surveys, were the inspiration behind all of this." Howell went on to stress that this plan is long term, and that the plan is intended to be visionary. Finally, Howell introduced a major roadblock to making the plan a reality; "None of this is currently funded."
Key Concept: Land Acquisition
The key to understanding the propose plan is to familiarize yourself with the land that must be acquired to make the plan feasible. The proposed land additions are...
1) The land and trails around the water tower, currently cut off from the Turkey Mountain Core by Elwood and 61st street. Integrating this land would require a removal of large sections of Elwood and 61st, or rerouting the two streets around the acreage.
2) The land south of 1-44 and west of HWY 75, all the way to S. 30th W Ave and including Bales Park. This proposed section would be known as the "Hinterlands" and "Bales"
3) A small section of land along the Arkansas, across 1-44 from the Stink Plant.
4) Johnson Park, a small sports park on the east side of Riverside and 61st.
The Necessity of Conservation
Matt Hill, a representative for Michael van Valkenburgh Associates, elaborated on the necessity and value of open space parks in the function of growing urban spaces. "This is the time for big ideas in lang protection," he emphasized. Turkey Mountain, specifically, provides a unique opportunity that cannot be reclaimed once lost. As an integral environmental point, where the Midwest prairie system meets the Ozark forest, Turkey represents a diminishing landscape in the ecosystem of the nation.
Turkey Mountain is also a rare gem in terms of city planning. Those familiar with the park know that a spectacular view of downtown is boasted at the turnaround point of Yellow Trail on the back of Powerline; the presence of an open space park, so close to the bustling downtown scene, is unusual and worth protecting.
Finally, Turkey Mountain marks a unique social system as well. With close access to downtown, many lower-income neighborhoods, and a major shopping district, Turkey is (relatively) easy to get to, regardless of one's transportation limitations. Additionally, with it being a free public park, it is a true socioeconomic equalizer.
Finally, Hill touched on the challenge of the two main goals of the Turkey Mountain Master Plan: "Keep Turkey Wild" and "Provide something for everyone". These two contradicting aims were both met by keeping the current, "Core" Turkey rugged, while adding new land to the park to expand in accessible and inclusive ways. These two goals were broken into four focuses: 1) Restore Nature, 2) New Access, 3) Sustainable Trails, and 4) Programs.
Focus: Restore Nature
The current practices and lack of stewardship at Turkey Mountain has led to an unbalanced biodiversity. Any mountain biker, trail runner, or hiker who has witnessed the dense, unchallenged undergrowth and encountered trees felled by choking can attest to this. A major, and relatively immediate, proposal to counter this is prescribed burns at the current park. John Weir, a prescribed fire professor at OSU, spoke about the positive effects a burn plan would bring to the Mountain, and listed promoted grassland, plant and animal diversity, wildfire control, and improve water quality and quantity.
The Year 1 burn would involve 120 small sections, due to the density of the underbrush, as well as the relative inexperience of the burn crew with the terrain, Smaller burn sections would allow a greater control, while also allowing for more dense and effect burns. By Year 5, the sections would be larger, amounting to 90 sections, due to the lower density of underbrush and increased confidence of the burn crew. By Year 10, only sixty sections would be necessary.
National company Inter-Fluve was brought in to advise on increasing the water-based elements of Turkey Mountain, and focused their sights on Mooser Creek. Located at the north base of the park, and running behind the Pepsi Plant, Mooser Creek is currently a, frankly, sad excuse for a body of water. With its ecosystem also choked by underbrush, and the quality of water damaged by urbanization and lack of human concern, Mooser Creek is not currently an asset to the park. Inter-Fluve intends to change that, by creating a wider meander, eliminating undergrowth to allow for proper ecosystems, and re-introducing native and necessary plant and creature life to improve the health of the creek.
Focus: New Access
Currently, Turkey Mountain has only two points of access: both the "Lower/Paved Lot" and the "Upper/Gravel Lot" must be accessed at the point where Elwood turns into 61st, meaning there are truly only two entrance/exit options for those reaching Turkey Mountain by car. These two roads do not have designated bike lanes, but can be access via the River Trail System by crossing the 71st street bridge. There is no public transport option for Turkey Mountain.
The following are proposed access points and bridges, connecting more points of interest and more major roads to Turkey Mountain:
1) A new bike/pedestrian connector under the railroads at Mooser Creek, near the Stink Plant. This will connect to an additional land acquisition and a parking lot near the 1-44 on ramp.
2) Johnson Bridge, a pedestrian/bike bridge spanning the Arkansas, connecting upper or lower yellow with Johnson Park on the east side of Riverside Drive at 61st.
3) Bales Bridge, which would span HWY 75 to connect the "Turkey Mountain Core" just south of the YMCA to the proposed "Hinterland and Bales Park".
4) Hinterlands Bridge, which would connect Bales park across S. Union Ave to the westernmost portion of the proposed expansion.
Additionally, the "Upper/Gravel" parking lot would be removed. Additional parking lots are proposed at the following sites:
1) Off 71st st, where the unofficial dump site currently is.
2/3) Two parking lots around the water tower (one on the south side, the other just northwest of the tower).
4) One large lot about a quarter of a mile east of 75 on current 61st St.
5) One massive lot expanding on the current lot at Bales Park.
6/7) Two small lots at the Hinterlands- one at the current Lubell Park, the other off of S Union Ave.
8/9) Two small lots around 1-44 on/off ramps at Elwood: one on the south side, in the currently unused easement of the on/off ramps, and another on the north side.
10) A 400-space lot at Johnson Sports Park.
These parking lot additions will bring 2,010 parking spaces, compared to the current 300 spaces available in the "Upper/Gravel" and "Lower/Paved" lots.
Focus: Sustainable Trails
While part of Turkey Mountain's charm is the effort and hours of experience required to efficiently navigate the terrain, let's get real: most people run the risk of getting lost out there. Additionally, with the serious erosion and constantly altering terrain due to rain, use and decay, most (sane) people won't utilize large segments of the current trail system. Even worse, users will create new trails as a way of getting around unsafe sections of official trails.
Bentonville-based company Progressive Trail Design's Jason Stouder explained the creative concepts behind rebuilding and expanding Turkey's trail system. It is worth noting that Progressive Trail Design's focus seems to be mountain bike trails. While the proposed trail system would technically increase Turkey's trail mileage, many of those additions would be bike-specific, meaning the possibility of decrease miles for trail runners and hikers.
The proposed plan tackles these challenges, first, with a sad reality: not all of our beloved trails are salvageable (I'm looking at you, Lower Yellow and Lower Blue). Due to their origins as organic and entirely unplanned routes, many of the current trails follow "fall lines", and are set up for automatic erosion and drainage issues.
A major, multi-use trail system (orange in the map above) is proposed to increase ease of navigation, while the network of salvageable "secondary" trails will remain intact to preserve Turkey's "wild" aesthetic. Additional trail systems, such as plank-style ADA accessible paths, will increase accessibility to those with limited mobility.
There was a definitive stress on staying away from paved trails; instead, decomposed granite, cupping, and rock armoring were suggested as ways to control erosion and accessibility, without the need for turning Turkey into another branch of the smooth River Trail system.
A program for all sections, both current and proposed, of Turkey Mountain would be a biodiversity promotion program. Closely tied in with the Prescribed Burn Plan, this would focus on increasing the biodiversity of the park to include oak forest, woodlands, savanna, prairie, and the creek-level lowlands. Restored trails and less foot traffic off the designated paths would also support this endeavor.
The North Family Park
A family-focused park north of 1-44, and connected under the railway along Mooser Creek, would include picnicking locations.
Johnson Park (across the Arkansas)
The proposal to revitalize Johnson Park (which is currently little more than a dirt lot with some fencing for a sports park) includes soccer and baseball fields, large playgrounds, and a connecting bridge across the river.
Water Tank Trails
The area around the Water Tanks would be bike-focused, with one-way trails through the center, and a multi-use trail along the perimeter.
Bike Park along 71st Bridge
The section of mostly-unused space south of the "Lower/Paved Lot" but north of 71st would be turned into a large bike-specific section, to include a contour flow, ladder trails, skills park, and jumps park. An additional outdoor veledrome for road bikes was also suggested on the south side of 71st street. A large viewing pavilion would stand where the pink trail currently is.
The current baseball fields would be replaced by a large viewing lawn, with proposed group picnicking sites and a large pavilion for parties and events. A treehouse village and archery range would make it an appealing palce for families with older children as well.
Hinterlands would be the most activity-focused section, with sites for group camping, an aerial zipline (of course, this requires employees to run it safely), an agility course, and the very fantastical idea of a youth equestrian co-op. Hinterlands also borders an old, vacant school, which could potentially be revamped as a maker space/community trade space. The Lubell bike course currently on the grounds would remain intact as a beginner bike course for children and new riders.
Finally, the most important fact shared at the unveiling of the Turkey Mountain Master Plan...
...the Washing Machine is staying.
We asked our members what their dream aid station looks like. From the existential to the practical, here are the answers!
"Talking Heads or Fleetwood Mac, beer, peanut butter cookies and disco lights."
"Tortillas and Fireball. That's all you need to get through. Carry your own water."
Peter ver Brugge
"Lazy Boy, beer, massage therapist, PB&J, M&Ms, feelings of self-loathing, and an existential crisis."
"Watermelon, bananas, oranges, almonds, walnuts, Chris Schnelle's chili, 2 water coolers, a comfortable chair, a cold stream to soak my feet, motivating music, TOTs friends, and Meego."
"A lunatic with an unwound clothes hanger and a hatred for runners, a water balloon station with fruit sections and a bartender."
"Friendly volunteers, massage, ibuprofen, blister bandaids, and a nice Scotch"
Kelly Griffith Corado
"Pickle juice, fireball, birthday cake"
"Boiled potatoes, salt, Coke, beer, bacon, moonshine, Christmas lights, music, ginger ale, pretzels, and ham pickle tortilla rollups" (Sorry, Laurie, I couldn't find any clipart for that last one!)
Inspired by all the other tables, into a combo table of epicness!
We chatted with race director Ken TZ Childress to learn more about the upcoming Oklahoma ultramarathon, Pumpkin Holler Hunnerd. The race is now in it's 9th year; in 2011, it was created as the fourth race to complete the Quad State Slam (along with the Arkansas Traveler, Ozark 100 and Heartland 100).
In picking out the course, TZ explored a few options before deciding on the route in Talequah. "Originally, I looked at the Ouachitas, but thought a 100 miler there would be so tough, it would never catch on...In my map pondering, I saw the roads along the Illinois River and drove down to check it out. It was love at first sight." TZ notes that the initial observations of the course were deceiving in one way; "Driving the course, I noticed a few hills, but basically perceived it to be RELATIVELY FLAT. It IS when you drive it! I have gleefully suffered much criticism for that course description since."
Pumpkin Holler Hunnerd is an attractive race for any level of racer, with distances from 10 miles all the way up to 100 miles. "We wanted to have a distance for everyone," TZ explained. Additionally, the race is financially supported by the increase in attendance. "Thea dded distances brought in more revenue, and having enough in the bank to cover all the costs is a huge plus." This year's race included 10 miles, 25k, 50k, 100k and 100 miles.
Pumpkin Holler Hunnerd has a reputation in the ultra community for two things: the misleading "relatively flat" course description, and the incredible aid stations and volunteer support. "We have had race directors come to the race to see what is that makes the aid stations what they are." TZ notes that all aid stations are run by experienced ultra runners; "They absolutely want every runner to finish their goal, but they also know what a runner needs top snap out of a funk." The race boasts a spread of aid station food that rivals that of a well stocked buffet. "You'll find bacon, waffles, pancakes, burritos, beans and cornbread, fine cuisines, soup, barbecue...and I'm sure something new will crop up this year."
There are two other features that make Pumpkin Holler Hunnerd stand out from other ultra races. First is The Great Gourd Challenge. "It's an optional one mile out and back that climbs 350 feet of a nasty hill. At the top, our own Susan Westmorrland awaits to outfit you with a custom made Great Gourd neck gaitor/buff thingy....it's well worth the bragging rights." The second is an unintentional traditional that seemed to create itself. "Every year or two, a dog follows runners around the course and loses its way to get back home." TZ adds that the runners always try to reunite the dogs with their original owners, but a few times, that hasn't been achievable. "Our runners have adopted them. " One year, a dog ran 3 loops of the course and then fell asleep in a lawn chair. "Kevin Lemaster and his family fell in love with this ultra dog." After locating and contacting the original owners of the dog, the family ultimately ended up adopting the newly-christened Pumpkin. "They bring him every year to their post at Mad Dog Aid Station."
Finally, TZ gave his advice on running Pumpkin Holler Hunnerd as a first-time ultra. "It's a harder course than Rail to Trails," he admits, due to the hills. However, he notes, "I think a mix of hills and flats is actually easier," because it leads muscle fatigue to be spread over different muscle systems, rather than "beating the same muscles for 28 hours". Additionally, a generous 30 hour cutoff has an optional 2 hour early start, allowing sufficient time for runners who have put in the training.
Pumpkin Holler Hunnerd takes place at the JT Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve in Talequah, Oklahoma on Saturday, October 19th, 2019. More information and registration can be found here.
As we runners are well aware, we are not the only trail users out there. Much like vehicles must "share the road" with cyclists, we occupy the same space as horseback riders, mountain bikers, hikers, and even (as we discovered last Tuesday) mushroom hunters.
With common roots in the trail, we always have a way to bond with those who choose a different recreation on Turkey. However, there are additional sports that are not as common in Tulsa, but have very similar origins and methods to trail running.
"Trail Runners Are Lazy Parasites," Marc Peruzzi of Outside wrote in May of 2019, and the trail running community lost their goddamn minds.
"...Peruzzi's article? Well, it's going in a six-inch hole, where it belongs," Stephanie Case, author of UltraRunnerGirl.com, fired back. "There was a new subscription renewal letter here on my table," Max King tweeted, "but now it's in the trash." Billy Yang added, "Way to alienate a chunk of your readers..."
Certainly, Peruzzi's article is full of emotionally inciting language, with name calling such as, "deadbeats" and low blows along the lines of, "They might not want to get their arms all swole doing manual labor." Peruzzi's writing style is inflammatory, certainly, and it makes sense that trail runners are insulted and defensive in the face of this piece of writing. But that is simply Peruzzi's writing style; a quick review of his other Outside contributions hihglights articles like "Fuck the Gear Police", where he gripes about other people griping about athletic fashion. Petty, name calling, aggressive stances with a few facts thrown in is Peruzzi's formula, and it must be working, because here we are, reading another response to his article.
However, some of his data, while potentially misused, is sound. There are an estimated 9 million plus trail runners; while the solo impact of one running group in a town may be low, 9 million of us adds up on our impact to the trails, land, and community. Nancy Hobbs, founder of the American Trail Running Association, notes that, "Trail runners often think we have little or no impact, but as our sport gets bigger, we do need to give back." Clare Gallagher, a prominent environmentalist and trail runner, muses over this population versus presence issue: "Trail runners have a disconnect from their favorite activity. Why aren't we doing more?...Where's the action?"
Peruzzi wasn't able to provide number to back up his claim that "trail runners are the least likely to volunteer to build and maintain trails", but Stephanie Chase, who responded with her own article, "Response form a Proud 'Lazy Parasite' Trail Runner", admits that she couldn't come up with numbers to dispute his claims, either. She believes this is due to a lack of formal, national organizations for trail runners; "...the trail running community does not systematically organize and mobilize resources and methodically tall the result of our collective action." She adds that trail running is not about the numbers, and certainly isn't about "advertising these good deeds", musing that perhaps this modesty is making us appear less involved than we truly are. Stephanie points out a few organizations that are trying to bride the gap between trail runners and trail stewards, but two of the three she cites are in Canada. She also remarks on the trail ultras that require volunteer work for entry, including Western States, Vermont 100, Angeles Crest, and Wasatch Front 100. Other livid comments online protest that trail runners are some of the most eco-conscious athletes, thanks to our literal connection to the earth; many running groups and races donate money to conservation groups; and race volunteers and directors are mindful to cleaning up aid stations and race routes after an event.
However, the question remains: is that enough? Are four or five major races contributing enough to offset the massive amount of foot traffic trail runners contribute to public trails? Are the maybe ten running clubs that require trail volunteer hours for membership enough to offset the hundreds that don't? More specifically for our communities, are local trail running groups doing enough in their local community to not only negate their impact, but also be an asset to the wider network?
Bob Ducette, a Tulsan heavily involved in his local urban wilderness spaces, also wrote a response to Peruzzi's article on the website "Proactive Outside". Ducette focused on local public trails, such as Turkey Mountain and Chandler Wilds. While Ducette argued that, "It's not fair to lay all the blame on runners for trail damage and erosion. We're all part of it", he goes on to point out that trail runners represent the lowest numbers of volunteers on local trail work days. In his experience, cyclists are the ones who pull more than their share of the weight, and he attributes this to the large-scale, widespread emphasis placed on environmental stewardship on a national scale. However, Ducette points out a very valuable insight into trail runners doing local trail maintenance; he acknowledges that giving to charitable groups, being eco-friendly, and paying taxes to support public land is a step in the right direction, "but it doesn't mean anything to the trails you use unless you go out and put your ideals into action on the trails you use."
TOTs is lucky enough to meet at Turkey Mountain once a week, every Tuesday. We often split off into several teams based on pace, and in this way, we hit an exponential number of trails within our hour gatherings. Additionally, most of us log miles on Turkey Mountain, Chandler Wilds, and even the paved Riverside Trails, every other day of the week. The recent historic flooding brought a new awareness of how fortunate we are to have access to these locations; for many of us, the rains and flooding made our favorite dirt trails dangerous or even impossible to utilize. And now, to restore our stomping grounds to their proper state, we need to put our hands where our feet normally are.
The Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition is hosting a Trail Work Day at Turkey Mountain on Saturday, Sept 28th, 2019 at 8-12PM. We've dedicated thousands of hours to running and learning these trail; now, it's time to commit a little sweat equity to them as well.
On January 15th, 2018, Justin Turnbow decided he was going to run Leadville 2019.
"There's only one problem," his supportive and sunny wife, Andrea, pointed out. "You don't run."
A Loss Leading to Leadville
Fourteen days earlier, Justin had participated in the annual Polar Plunge at Lifetime Fitness. "I hadn't realized there was a run attached to it," he admitted later. He ended up running one mile, and walking the remaining one and a half miles, before taking the plunge into the pool.
Two days later, Justin and his family received devastating news. Justin's son, Keaton, had been battling a brain tumor for fifteen months, and had endured three surgeries in the course of his treatment. After each surgery, Keaton bravely re-learned how to use the right side of his body. "He was always positive about it, and never gave up," Justin recalled.
But on January 3rd, 2018, Keaton's fight came to an end. Keaton's family was able to take time to say goodbye and to spend time with him, but the loss understandably devastated his father and upended the world of Keaton's entire family.
Sixteen Weeks of Firsts
Twelve days later, Justin set his mind to run Leadville, both as a coping mechanism and to honor the fighting spirit of his son. "I chose a race that was so much bigger than me, that was practically guaranteed to fail. I needed a race that required something beyond me to finish it." Justin was so single-minded in his goal, he didn't incorporate any other races into his original training schedule. He simply downloaded a "8 Weeks to a Marathon" training app, and got to work.
Justin joined Lifetime Fitness's running crew, and met a new host of coaches, trainers and fellow runners through the program. He noted that he was worried about slowing the other runners down, but found that the more he engaged with the runners, the more they became interested and immersed in his goals.
He was gently pushed to incorporate other races into his training schedule, and eight weeks into his journey, found himself toeing the start line of the Oklahoma City Marathon. "I bought the VIP package," he admitted, "thinking that it would cut down on confusion. They would just put me into a corral, and I could get advice from the other VIP runners!" When asked why he chose a marathon as his first race, Justin responded, "People told me that you have to at least run 23 miles, because that's when the magic kicks in." It seemed that this experience was not universal, because at Mile 24, Justin, "had a full blown argument with myself. I wanted to give up, and I said, 'Why don't I? Keaton did!' Then I immediately began yelling at myself, saying, 'How dare you! Keaton never gave up!' All of this was out loud. I was so grateful no one else was around to hear it."
Justin survived his first marathon experience, and immediately pushed forward to a second race: The Midnight Madness 50 Miler. "It was hell on Earth," Justin summarizes. He notes that his pacers were paramount to his finishing the race: "My pacers were these amazing ultrarunners and IronMan finishers who had run so much farther than 50 miles. I did't want to quit in front of them." Justin finished Midnight Madness 2018 with 15 minutes to spare before the cutoff.
The Worst 5k Ever
March 30th marked Keaton's birthday, and to celebrate his son's life, Justin planned to run his first 100 miles event. TATUR Racing helped secure the park permits, and Justin ran 100 miles in alternating 5k/10k loops through a local park, over the course of 33 hours.
Justin expected around a dozen people to show up in support throughout the event, and was shocked at over 150 people participated in pacing, volunteering, and cheering on the memorial run. The event also was inadvertently happening on International Walking Day, and received local media attention from news outlets.
When asked about his most challenging training moment, Justin cites Castle Rock 50k, which marked his very first DNF. It's worth noting that Justin's record on this race is technically listed as a 25k finisher; however, he considers it a DNF because "I didn't meet the goal I set out with." He also adds, laughing, that the course description of "rolling hills" is an absolute lie, just in case anyone else is registering for the race.
Over 590 days and three thousand training miles later, somehow avoiding injury for over a year and a half of intensive physical challenges...Justin found himself at the crest of Leadville 2019.
All Aboard the Struggle Bus to Leadville
Justin describes the ten hour drive to Colorado as "surreal" paired with "a wall of doubt." "I kept running through this laundry list of things i had to do, and the weight of my reality grew heavier the closer we got." His wife, Andrea, wisely chose to sleep most of the way in preparation for supporting her husband in the days and trials to come.
When asked about the feeling around Leadville the night before the race, Justin's face splits into an almost-disbelieving smile. "It was electric," he finally manages to say. "There are ultra-gods like Anton (Krupricka) just hanging out, like casually, with the rest of us! With me!" He recalls that the elites were very humble and mellow, sheepishly owning up "feeling very star-struck around camp".
In terms of the surroundings and the feel of Leadville, Colorado itself, Justin uses one word: "home". He had participated and completed the Leadville Camp, Marathon, and 50 Mile races , and had formed solid and significant relationships with Leadville founders and organizers, Ken Chlouber and Merilee Maupin. Justin and Merilee had bonded over their mutual losses; Merilee had tragically lost her daughter around the same time as Keaton's passing. Justin refers to her affectionately as, "Mom". "Overall," he summarizes, "that last night in camp felt like coming back home to family."
Before the race even started, Justin knew his biggest obstacle was the cut-offs. "The Leadville cutoffs are very tight up front, and for good reason. The race could drag out forever," if cutoffs weren't aggressive from the start. Justin repeatedly stresses that this is his opinion, and others may disagree with it; he claims that, "a 9-10 minute marathon pace is necessary to meet the cutoffs."
From the Leadville start line to the first aid station, the May Queen, is 12.6 miles. Coming into May Queen, Justin had a decent lead on the first cut-off, with 32 minutes to spare. In order to cover the 10.9 miles to the second aid station, Outward Bound, Justin pushed himself well past his usual pace. With a brutal uphill section that flattens many runner's progress, known as the Sugar Loaf Pass, this path often require trek poles to ascend. At the summit, the route follows a rapid descent known as Powerline. "I had to sprint down Powerline, sometimes reaching a 6:15 pace." As a result, Justin battled a rebelling stomach and trashed quads as he "struggle bussed" his way into Outward Bound.
At Outward Bound, Justin was greeted by Ken and Merilee, and was encouraged to "Get going" by the group. Justin was ahead of the cutoffs by 28 minutes, but at this point, his legs were suffering.
The next stop, and cutoff point, would be Half Pipe about 5.8 miles away. However, that 5-odd miles was laced with additional rocky ascents, particularly one nasty stretch known as "Pipeline". 3.5 miles into the trek, Justin came across the Lifetime Tent and thought he had made it into the stop, just below the cutoffs. Unfortunately, he had a few more miles to go, and the clock wasn't slowing for anyone.
Arriving at Half Pipe Aid Station, Justin recalls seeing, "the cut-off woman, with arms outstretched, letting me know that this is where my journey would come to an end." Ken and Merilee were there again to support Justin. Ken reminded Justin of his fortitude, saying, "You didn't quit. You just ran out of time." Someone told Justin that they were sorry to see him cut, but Justin responded, "Why are you sorry? I had a great day. I got to run with amazing people. I got the chance to do something most people will never do."
The Final Cutoff
Justin caught a ride back to the festivities and to his crew, and spent the rest of the day absorbing his experiences and talking with crew members and other "sidelined" racers. The next morning, Justin and Andrea went to witness the firing of the shotgun at the race finish line, signalling the final 30-hour cutoff for the entire 100 miles. Justin spoke of looking down the home stretch towards the finish line, and thinking about "dreams that were so close to being a reality...just not this time."
Five minutes after the shotgun blast, a runner crossed the line. After 100 miles and 30 hours, 5 minutes of effort, doubts, pain and self-motivation...she had earned herself a DNF. Justin says her face will always stay with him; "She never quit. She was out there for 30 hours, and she knew she may not do it. But she never quit."
I have been following Justin's posts and journey ever since joining the ROTC Facebook group, where Justin posts most of his training updates and mental reflections from the miles. After following his story and efforts for over a year, I reached out a few weeks before Leadville, hoping to convince him to interview after the race.
"Sure", Justin replied to my Facebook message. "Just humbled that anyone would want to know about it, personally." We kept in touch off and on as the race approached, and I had my phone on ring during the day of the race, avidly following the Leadville updates online. When Justin posted that he had DNF'd, my heart sank. All of that training, brutal honesty, and pain felt like it had gone nowhere.
And then, I was proven wrong. Justin boldly posted a summary of his Leadville experience just a few days after returning home to Tulsa, With his usual style of genuine honesty, "ramblings", and self-depreciating statements, Justin shared the story of his race on Facebook. I quickly realized that this DNF was going to be even more interesting, insightful and heartfelt than most Leadville finishes.
That's how I found myself sitting across from Justin at a Starbucks in South Tulsa, a print off of his Facebook post in my hand and a litany of questions to ask him. While he certainly isn't a 262 lb couch potato anymore, Justin is still quite intimidating. Broad across the shoulders and now in superb shape, he also towers well above most people in terms of stature. He has a rough face that's certainly seen too much grief, but bright and intrigued eyes and a soft-spoken voice.
Justin kept reiterating his shock and disbelief that anyone would want to know anything about his race, let alone interview him. He admitted he rarely went to Starbucks and ordered an iced tea. As we chatted about organ donor practices and races we had in common, I realized that this monster of a dude, who had tackled a monster of a race...was really just another person, another broken soul looking for answers and redemption by tackling the impossible in trail form. That was why Justin's story was so intriguing, and why his posts about training have such an avid following. Justin doesn't pretend to be a super human; he's a human, trying to do super-human things. In order to bridge that gap, Justin relies on his running community, the support of his family, and his faith in God. "I picked Leadville because I wanted something that would take all of me to do...I got more...It took a man from reeling from the loss of his only son, to being surrounded by the greatest people this planet has to offer."
Coming Up Next...
I very well couldn't end the interview with Justin as an inspired mess with tears in my eyes, so in attempt to end on a more concrete note, I asked him what was next for him.
"Leadville 2021," he answers, without skipping a beat. He laughs, and demonstrates that he has grown to love racing and using races as training tools. "Also, Rocky Raccoon, hopefully with a sub-24 finish. I want to get a sub-4 hour marathon and get that 9-10 minute pace I need." Justin will also be participating in the Tulsa Urban Adventure 100 miler, as a runner for Ainsley's Angels. He also mentions Moab, and the upcoming Hennepin. "Literally, so many races," he says in summary.
And as for runners who will be joining him at Leadville 2021, he has a few words of advice:
1) Be able to hold a 9-10 minute pace for a marathon distance.
2) Climb every day. At the very least, be able to tackle all of the hills at Turkey without walking.
3) Prepare for everything to go wrong.
4) Have fun.
Sometimes, life calls you away from TOTS. For no good reason, you decide to leave the loping, sandy trails of Turkey Mountain and the band of thieves you've come to call your trail running crew, and pack your bags for a new adventure.
Damian Young and Clint Green are two TOTS members who recently relocated to the Phoenix, Arizona area in search of novel trails and new faces. Damian moved about three months ago, while Clint moved in May of 2018. They've faced all of the challenges of moving across county, from interviewing for new jobs to tackling housing, site unseen. Additionally, as TOTS members, they had the bonus test of finding a new trail running crew and home trail after having TOTS in their former lives.
When asked why they would ever leave TOTS for boring ol' Arizona, Damian and Clint cite the natural beauty and abundance of trails. Damian notes that there are, "seven plus national parks within a day's drive" and a "picturesque landscape". Clint specifies, "Most people just think of desert when they think of Arizona, but did you know the largest alpine forest is (here)?...There is so much beauty in this state, I'll never be able to see it all...but I'll try."
Running in a new location can be a fun addition to a race for the weekend, but adjusting to an entirely new topography and regional culture for everyday running is a different story. Clint also notes that, "The main difference, other than the terrain, is the heat in Phoenix." He does note that the heat index in Tulsa feels worse because it is "like you're breathing through a wet rag.", but also comments that the dry heat in his new home is dangerous because you don't even notice becoming dehydrated. "It's a learning process". Damian focuses on the variety of trails: "Now, I run more than just Turkey Mountain and Chandy Land."
In terms of finding a new running family to replace the jovial faces of TOTS, Damian reflects that it takes time; "I haven't settled in on a group yet...I've only been here two and a half months, so we'll see where the chips may fall in terms of finding a regular run group." Damian and Clint share a history of discovering running families together; Damian remembers, "Clint is who introduced me to TOTS and originally took me into the running community in Tulsa, three years and a thousand miles ago. So him ushering me into Phoenix area running is as natural as peanut butter and jelly." Clint also relied on a friend to point him towards a worthwhile group. "My buddy Pete (Chavez) is pretty involved in the trail community here so I met people really fast. Pete introduced me to a group...called San Tan Trail Tunners. I've run with a few groups and...I've put on a couple of group runs myself." Damian does confidently add, "TOTS will always be my group."
Clint has a lot of insight into the organization style of Phoenix runners. "...There are several trail running groups across the valley. They all come together in one big group with Aravaipa Running. They're a local race company who also puts on group runs.
Both Clint and Damian remark that dogs are not as prevelant of a trail running feature in Phoenix, when compared to Tulsa. Clint says, "No dogs much because it's so hot." Damian answers in a meme form:
In terms of the other trail running staple, the hallowed post-run beer, Damian reports that it's treated similarly in Tulsa and Phoenix: "Only if you're running. Anything else is uncivilized." Clint adds on, "When we're done with our run, we go have a breakfast burrito and a beer."
The other core of TOTS is the mothership, AKA our beloved and messy Turkey Mountain. Damian explains that he hasn't quite found a home base in Phoenix, and is "still trekking through the Valley of the Sun, my friend." The regions he explores has "the same camaraderie but different terrain" when compared to Turkey, but he does note that Maricopa County just won an award for trail maintenance.
The trails in Arizona are shared by multiple interest groups. Damian says, "All the local non-profits and just great people share the interest of all the trails here." Clint adds, "A lot more climbing here...mountain biking is huge here and you really have to be on the lookout for them."
When asked what they would advise runners who are relocating to a new region, Clint and Damian have very different answers. Damian argues for Phoenix alone, insisting, " Jim Walmsley and the Cococino Cowboys are 2 hours away and Jamil Coury is 30 minutes...why would you not wanna live here?" Clint has more general words of wisdom: " Just get out there. One thing I've learned from all my travels is trail runner are the same everywhere...cool, chill people that love nature, running and beer. Find a local group and go to their group run; you'll learn the trails quicker that way and have instant friends."
Finally, Clint and Damian had some ideas on how TOTS can welcome the new members that will eventually fill the void they've left in our hearts. Damian encourages supporting the genuine connections of the group, asserting, "the stuff happening up there on that there mountain is special." Clint suggests, "Just be open to newbies and know that they are probably nervous about fitting in." He closes with his personal origin story in TOTS: "I remember how nervous I was when I first showed up for a TOTS run. I didn't know anybody. I was slow. I brought my ice chest filled with beer. After the run, I went over to the group, sat my little red ice chest down, grabbed a beer for myself and said, 'Help yourself, everybody. I'm not gonna drink it all'. Lil' Red has been coming to Turkey Tuesday ever since. Now you know the real backstory to Lil Red- my ice chest was my icebreaker!"
As with all epic footraces, Beer and Back Again's origins lie in a weird place- a sand volleyball court, inside a brewery, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
As with all fantastic journeys, it started with a single sentence: "Wouldn't it be cool to do a relay race between some of the breweries down here?"
And as with all incredible occasions, it developed over a half-joking, half-serious Facebook messages between friends: "Wouldn't it be cool if we did a closed loop?" "IF we were planning it, I'd definitely want to see team bibs..." "LOL but really, do you think the breweries would go for it? I'm just going to ask them, just out of curiosity."
The next thing you know, the meetings at breweries are with their event coordinators. The musings turn from, 'Wouldn't it be cool?" to "Where's the aid station going to be?" The Facebook messages become, "What do you think of this race logo? Will it work for the registration page?"
In a way, we created a race by accident. The questions got less hypothetical, the dreaming got more concrete, and suddenly, we had "Beer and Back Again 2019". What never changed was the life force behind it.
Beer and Back Again has a simple premise: a team of adults run in a circle to local breweries and consume a pint at each location. For the first race, our participating breweries including Cabin Boys, Nothing's Left Brewing Company, Dead Armadillo Brewing and Heirloom Rustic Ales. Shockingly, all of the breweries were very on board with opening early to have sweaty, over-eager racers crowd their bartenders on a Saturday morning. Responses from the breweries' coordinators included, "This all sounds awesome," "This is perfect", and "I love it when it's wild in the tap room!"
The next challenge was how to keep the runners safe while also requiring them to drink five pints in five kilometers. Teams seemed like the easiest solution, but a relay-style setup was quickly discarded. It would just be more fun to have your teammates cheering you on as you down a pint, plus there was the added bonus of having your mostly-sober teammates to keep your tipsy butt out of the roadways.
Finally, the last hurdle was keeping the race simple and easy to pull off. No timers and no chips, it was decided. Bibs would be decorated a la craft table before start time, so the teams could have a unifying feature. T-shirts would feature the map of the race, and the volunteers would be allowed to drink at their stations.
This race started out casually, between friends, over beer, and now is a casual race between friends about beer.
Registration for Beer and Back Again 2019 is now open! The entry price includes a $7 beer for the race (plus tip for the brave bartenders!) and a t-shirt. Volunteers get a beer and are stationed in the AC at one of the breweries, and we are still looking for volunteers!
Everyone's description of Turkey Mountain reflects heavily on their personal experiences with it.
I was recently at the Tess Run race at 8 AM on Turkey Mountain. The temperature was 90 degrees, the humidity was sitting at 89%, and it had been raining for the last two days. Naturally, the race course started at the bottom of the hill, and ended with a slippery, mud-laden race back down the rocks. Tim W. sums it up nicely on his one-star Facebook review of the place: "Just rocks, roots and ruts."
"Guess who will NEVER do another trail run!! That was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. It was rocky, muddy, slick and those hills...MY GOD," Brie Wright, a local runner, posted about her Turkey Mountain race experience. And many hikers, runners, and bikers would agree with Brie's assessment of Turkey Mountain. River Parks Authority has made it their mission this year to identify major issues at the wilderness park, and to work with the community to develop a Turkey Mountain Master Plan. Some of the major issues identified in these town-hall style meetings were accessibility, parking, and security...but by far, the number one issue was "unmarked trails", "confusing trails systems", and "no markers". As a one-star review on Facebook puts it; "Five marked trails and about 2000 unmarked ones." (Thanks, Nausleus G.)
It was actually this network of unidentified paths and trails that led me to TOTS almost two years ago. In July of 2017, I set off to explore Turkey Mountain for the first time...on my own...with no map...and no water...at noon. Classic. Obviously, I got hopelessly lost, and after five discombobulated miles in the sweltering heat, began to panic. Eventually, I made my way to Powerline and followed its linear beacons back to my oven of a car, swearing that I was never coming back to this stupid, stupid place.
Two days later, I mentioned my hapless adventure to two strangers at a dog park. They cheerfully told me that they were members of a trail running group that ran at Turkey Mountain every Tuesday night. Perhaps I was interested in learning the trails under the guidance of the group?
Encouraged by the idea that I might learn to navigate the trails, I showed up. Two years later, here we are. Admittedly, I do still occasionally choose the wrong turn to get to where I want to go, but now, I usually know where I am and where I am going.
But what is it about Turkey Mountain that keeps calling the TOTs crew back, week after week, year after year? Sure, as long-distance TOTs member Clint Green put it, "It's a place to go get away from the city hustle." What is so special about the place that we will put in over 100 hours of trail time before we even really know where we are going? Why do we choose to run along its dark, uneven paths in January when there's a lit, paved trail not half a mile away?
It turns out, all of those things that other people hate about Turkey Mountain... it's twisty, rocky, sandy paths; it's unmarked spiderweb of bewildering trails; its constantly changing topography due to weather; the strange trail markers only known to locals; its lack of predictability...those are all the things we love about it.
While other folks see a confusing maze of dusty single-track, TOTs member Carrie Rives believes "the size and number of trails means I can mix and match and do something different every time." Some citizens may feel the lack of foot traffic to be concerning, but TOTs's David Cullison enjoys "feeling more secluded than you really are." And many people may call attempts to run and bike at Turkey "insane", but Melinda Woods of TOTs sees it as "the closest thing Tulsa has to a mountain, that's been made into a hiking, running and biking-friendly place."
In general, trail runners aren't the group to seek out "normal" or "easy"; Tulsa's trail runners are no exception. We see the steep, sharp "Lipbuster" hill and think, "Hey, let's make a race out of just that hill." We plan a summer half marathon and go, "Let's start the race at midnight." We look at the windy, complex trails of Turkey Mountain and find a 50k race within those routes.
Turkey Mountain is dirty, rough around the edges, and a bit unrefined. It requires you to be flexible, light on your feet, and prepared for additional mileage, weather, and a lack of resources. It's not very popular with most folks, but if you spend some time digging, you'll find hidden gems in the unexplored back corners. In these ways, Turkey Mountain embodies trail running itself.
So go ahead, Daniel R, and complaint that there's "No horse rentals and no bear sightings. Don't recommend."! Let Anne M. note that, "You can't see anything because of the trees." While most people see Turkey Mountain for what it lacks, we see it for what it is- our home base.
And to Jack R, who believes our beloved Turkey Mountain is, "An absolute cluster...You'd have to be crazy to run this."...thank you. We are.