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.