Warning: in addition to a regular race recap, this post also doubles as a (very long) trip recap. If you’re looking for information about the Post Oak Lodge Challenge 25K, please skip to the “The Race” section.
Why did I fly halfway across the country to run a trail race? Well, some of you might remember Team Crazy Cat Ladies from the Oakland Marathon Relay last year. Sadly, half of Team CCL moved away in 2015 – Kate to SoCal and Jess to Oklahoma. By fall, we decided that a CCL reunion was in order! I forgot how we decided on this trip, but a little internet research turned up an interesting trail race in Tulsa, the Post Oak Challenge, only an hour from where Jess lives. We got excited about the race and the CCL reunion, so after deliberating over which distance we’d sign up for, we all registered for the 25K and bought plane tickets.
Against my best judgement, I ordered the fish & chips and a beer, things I would never eat the day before a race. But I was on vacation, and I had a screaming headache, so I thought this would make me feel better. After lunch, we went to check out Tulsa Runner, a locally-owned running store and major sponsor of the Postoak Challenge, before heading to bib pickup at the Postoak Lodge. (Note: I’ve come across 2 different spellings on various websites: “Post Oak” and “Postoak”, so they may be used interchangeably in this post.) Bib pickup was quick and easy. Tulsa Runner had set up a small, but well-stocked retail area selling everything from gels to clothing to gloves to Hokas. We also checked out the “Hill from Hell”, a well-advertised, hilly section of the course. We only went about 1/3 of the way up, but it didn’t seem too bad to me.
A little more about the Postoak Challenge: there were 6 events over the course of the weekend — 10K/25K/50K on Saturday and quarter/half/full marathons on Sunday. If you ran both days, you qualified as a “Doubler” — it didn’t matter which two events you ran. We decided to only run the 25K on Saturday, as we wouldn’t have enough time to do everything we wanted to do, run on Sunday, AND make it to the airport for our flights Sunday afternoon. As it turns out, 25K was plenty for me. I was impressed by how many people were doing the 50K/marathon double; there were a lot of Marathon Maniacs out there!
After bib pickup, we checked into our hotel, the Downtown Tulsa Holiday Inn. Unfortunately, our stay coincided with an Iron Maiden concert. Checking in at 6pm, we shared the elevator with several already, um, affected Iron Maiden fans. We prayed that our neighbors would not be in that rowdy bunch, as we had to wake up at 6:15 a.m. (or 4:15 Pacific Time!). We grabbed a late dinner at Dilly Diner, which we enjoyed except for the slow and erratic service. I was smarter about dinner than I was about lunch, limiting myself to a grilled chicken sandwich with peanut slaw and water. However, the (roasted) crispy beets may have been a mistake (so. much. fiber). Full and tired from a long day, we headed back to the hotel, prepared our gear for the next morning, and had the lights out by 10:00 p.m.
I don’t sleep well in new places, and Friday night was no exception. This was my third early wake-up call in a row, so by Saturday morning, I was running on less-than-optimal levels of sleep. I also awoke realizing that I had made zero plans or goals for the race. Even when I don’t have a time goal, I usually try to have some kind of race plan, e.g., run an even pace, keep up a positive attitude, and/or try not to let anyone pass in the 2nd half of the race. In retrospect, this race was not even on my radar, training-wise. I mean, I’ve been doing long runs, but focusing more on the Oakland Half Marathon instead of Postoak. Also, I’ve done zero trail running in ~2 months. Not just zero trail running, but almost zero climbing.
I also confess that I totally underestimated this course. In my mind, hills and Oklahoma don’t necessarily go hand in hand, and the elevation profile wasn’t that scary after I looked more closely at the scale. The steepest grade was something around 6-7% (or so it seemed – we all know that elevation profiles can be deceptive). Anyway, 6-7% is less than half as steep of some of the worst grades on Bay Area trails, and these ascents were only about a kilometer in length. I told myself that I didn’t care how I did; my priority for this trip was to have fun with the Crazy Cat Ladies and enjoy exploring some new trails.
We woke up bright and early and got ready for the race. To our dismay, there were no coffee shops in Downtown Tulsa that were open before 7:30 a.m. Luckily, I had bought a Clif Bar at Tulsa Runner the day before and helped myself to some (very bad) hotel room coffee, so at least I wasn’t running on empty. There was a $12 full breakfast buffet at the hotel (with no cheaper continental options), and similarly, they offered a $12 breakfast at Postoak Lodge.
One thing that was really nice about the race was being able to hang out in the Postoak Lodge before and after the race – not to mention access to the indoor bathrooms instead of having to use porta potties. It was quite luxurious! Also, it was very cold in the morning. When we left our hotel, it was around 40 degrees, but the forecast called for sunny and warm temps (in the 70’s) by 10am! I decided to wear short sleeves and shorts, along with gloves, arm warmers, and a buff that I could easily take off once I got warmed up. It ended up being a good call, though I would recommend wearing compression socks just to keep the grasses and weeds from cutting your leg (they’re not joking around when they say single track!).
We met a few of Jess’s OK running friends, who were all super friendly, and watched the 50K race start at 8:00 a.m. Thirty minutes later, it was our turn. There was a countdown and a shotgun, then we were off!
As I mentioned above, I had no illusions of “racing” this – I simply wanted to go out and enjoy the day. I purposely started in the middle back of the pack and checked in regularly on my effort level. The 25K runners had to complete 2 loops. Not knowing how tough the course would be, I randomly decided that 3 hours for the whole race would be a good goal, so I hoped to finish the first loop at 1 hour 30 minutes.
After a short section of paved road, we merged into a single track trail in the woods. Because the Postoak Lodge is private property, these trails are not normally used, and therefore, not your typical, well-worn trails. In some places, it seems like they just went through with a weed wacker to cut down the grass and make an impromptu path.
Kate sped off, as she intended on actually racing, while Jess, Cat, and I took a more conservative approach. Despite our easy pace, I was already feeling tired after 2-3 miles, and we hadn’t even gotten to any of the big climbs yet. The tough part wasn’t that there was a lot of elevation changes, but that the trails were rather technical — there were often big rocks jutting out of the ground, daring you to trip over them. I almost tripped about 3-4 times, and Kate said that she kept rolling her ankle. Anyway, after 3 miles, my legs – and especially my calves – were whining about their lack of exposure to trails as of late. And my mind, which hadn’t been very committed to this whole experience in the first place, reevaluated the situation and became even less motivated to finish with any particular time goal in mind.
Jess, Cathryn, and I were the first 3 runners in a single file line for the first 3-4 miles. We kept offering to let runners behind us pass, and they usually politely refused. Despite this, I found the situation to be really stressful, especially with the constant dodging of giant rocks on the trail. The course was a seemingly endless array of small loops on the Postoak Lodge Property.
The first 3 aid stations were spaced very close together, maybe only a mile or so apart. Coming up to the third aid station, we heard a live German polka band. The whole aid station was an Oktoberfest theme, with many of the volunteers in lederhosen. There was even a man yelling at you to eat the donuts in a heavy accent. (We think he was going for German, but he sounded vaguely Japanese to us.) It was hilarious. I have to say that all of the volunteers were really wonderful and friendly.
Powered by donuts, we continued the race, eventually coming up on the first big climb of the day – Holmes Peak. The very top part was steep, but it was generally alright, especially since we were rewarded with beautiful 360-degree views.
I stopped to take a few photos before plunging down the awesome descent. Meanwhile, Cat was singing the theme song from Oklahoma! (Fun fact: Cat, bt, and I had all been in productions of Oklahoma! in our youth. No wonder we’re friends.) If you’ve never run down a hill with a British woman enthusiastically yipping-eye-ee-yay-ing like a true American cowgirl, then you haven’t lived. I would’ve joined in, except I didn’t want to scare the poor woman ahead of me. This was probably the highlight of the race for me.
The next section was made up of seemingly endless loops around what appeared to be a former fort or structure (or pile of rocks). We kept hearing sounds coming from the next aid station, but had no idea how far away it was. The 4th aid station was about 3-4 miles from the 3rd, so this section seemed really long. On the plus side, it was pretty runnable and not that rocky.
Eventually, we arrived at the 4th aid station, where Jess and I stopped for a bathroom break, while Cat decided to forge ahead. I refilled my water bottle and we tackled the Hill from Hell. According to Strava, the Hill from Hell was a ~200′ climb over 0.6 miles. The most hellish portion is the last 0.2 miles, which ranges between 10-20% grade. Luckily, it’s very short. Following the Hill from Hell was the appropriately named “Heaven’s Gate”.
After clearing Heaven’s Gate, there’s a sweet downhill all the way to the finish. Or for us, the end of the first lap. Total time: ~1:45, well off my 1:30 goal. Oh well.
Jess had gotten a small lead on me, but ran back so we could do the second lap together. Without a giant conga line, this lap felt significantly less stressful. The Oktoberfest aid station didn’t have donuts this time, but they did offer us some delicious, right out of the oven tater tots, which we gobbled up happily. As we descended from Holmes Peak, I tried my best to sing “Oh what a beautiful morning!” from Oklahoma!, but quickly realized that I only knew about 10% of the words. Jess and I broke into “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story instead.
Somewhere during the second lap, we made a conscious decision to stop at the 4th aid station, which had a full bar. They had set up a bunch of different shooters, but the only ones I recognized were the margaritas. So, we downed one pretty sizable “shot” each. Then, Jess remembered that she doesn’t like tequila. D’OH!
Next up: the Hill from Hell, part II. Jess decided that she was going to run hard to the finish, so I told her I’d see her later. Soon, the climb was over, I crested the hill, ran through Heaven’s Gate, and was a short downhill away from finishing, in 3:36:19.
Kate and Cat did awesome, both finishing 3rd in their age groups, but got bumped up to 2nd after the overall winners were removed from the rankings.
After the race, we got cleaned up and changed, then helped ourselves to the post-race meal, which included chili, brats, and chips. Drink-wise, they only had beer and water. I had been looking forward to having a Coke, so I was pretty disappointed. I thought the food was pretty good though, and hit the spot.
We sat for a while by the finish area, cheering on 50K runners and enjoying the wonderful weather. It had been a fun morning, but I was glad I was done.
Race reflections: as I said, this was not a goal race for me. I hadn’t trained for it at all. Despite that, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed about my performance. I mean, I finished slower at Postoak than I did at Skirt n Dirt 25K, and that course had more than twice the elevation! I also realized that it’s hard for me to run a race and *not* do my best – whether that means gunning for a PR or pushing even when I’m tired. And I didn’t do myself any favors by eating poorly the day before, and not getting enough sleep for 3 nights before. But I had to remind myself that my goal was to spend time with friends and explore new trails, and that was definitely accomplished. Plus, according to my Garmin time, my moving time was 3:26, meaning I spent 10 minutes at aid stations, taking pictures from the top of Holmes Peak, etc. It took me a few days to get over feeling bad about the race, but I’m fine with it now. My real racing goal for the past couple of months has been to show up to the Oakland 5K + Half healthy and fit for road racing, so I’m glad I didn’t push myself too hard at Postoak, or worse – injure myself.
We drove to Stillwater, where Jess lives with her husband and 2 cats. After a very chill afternoon, we headed out to Main Street for a pre-dinner drink Finnegan’s Pub and then dinner at Tokyo Pot, a hip little shabu shabu (Japanese hot pot) place. We may or may not have cooked our fish thoroughly enough, because the next day, Kate and Cat with both very ill. Despite not feeling well, we met up with Jess’s friend Tessa at Lake McMurtry to do a very easy, 3-mile hike on the Red Trail.
Then we headed to brunch at Granny’s, where we stuffed our faces (well, all except for Cat, who was still feeling ill and couldn’t even stomach any toast, poor girl). Eventually, Jess got hit with some sort of illness too, but still managed to take us to the airport like the superstar that she is. I thought I had managed to escape without any ill effects, but I woke up on Monday morning with a bad sore throat. Despite the very sad Sunday/Monday of people feeling poorly, it was a great weekend! Thanks to Jess for being a fantastic hostess and the fine people of OK for the friendly hospitality!
time: 3:36:19 (13:56/mile)
10/16 AG, 22/49 F, 69/110 overall
About the race:
- Organizers: Tulsa Running Club
- Location: Postoak Lodge, Tulsa, OK
- Cost: $65 for 25K early bird registration (all prices for events listed here)
- Course: A lot of single track with large rocks. A few short sections of fire road or grassy fields. A few small creek crossings. My Garmin listed ~1400′ elevation gain, whereas Strava says it was closer to 1300′. It was more difficult than I imagined it would be. Instead of long, extended climbs that we have in California, it was a lot of short up and downs. That, and the large rocks jutting out of the dirt, really wore me down.
- Parking: Free parking within a 3-minute walk of the Lodge.
- Aid stations: 4 aid stations. All were stocked with food except for #2, which only had water and sports drink. The first 3 are very closely bunched together, with a big gap between #3 and #4. I brought a 12 oz. handheld, which I refilled twice and felt was sufficient. I also brought my own Gu, as we were told they wouldn’t have any on the course. The 3rd aid station was Oktoberfest themed, and the 4th had alcoholic shots you could partake in, just before the Hill from Hell.
- Bathrooms: Flush toilets at the Lodge. Two porta potties at every aid station.
- Swag: Technical, unisex long-sleeve tee, which was roomy even for an XS. It’s very light and comfy. All finishers received a medal, and age group winners received a handcarved wood medal display.
- Post-race food and drinks: Chili (beef and veggie by request), brats, chips, and beer. No soda, which was disappointing. There was also coffee and it was good!
- Course marking: Fantastic! There seemed to be a ribbon every 20 feet and big signs at every turn.
- Advice for anyone considering this race: Super well-organized. All of the volunteers, fellow runners, and spectators were very friendly. I highly recommend this race! One thing I would also recommend is wearing compression socks to keep the weeds and grass from cutting up your leg.