Race Preview: Ozark Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run
Location: Steelville, Missouri
Cutoff: 32 hours
So you are out in the woods, and it is dark and spooky. Pinpoint green lights shine up from around your feet, which upon closer inspection turn out to be the eyes of tiny black spiders. The trail is obscured by millions of fallen leaves that hide the many rocks, ruts and roots that you are tripping over. Occasionally you pop out of the forest and shine your light up and down an empty road, just emphasizing how very far out in the middle of nowhere you are.
Welcome to the Ozark Trail 100 in the Mark Twain National Forest of the Ozarks of south central Missouri. You thought Halloween was over but the long, dark night that stretches from six in the evening until almost seven the next morning has brought back the goblins. You wade through a cold river that soaks you up to your waist and then you are back in the endless forest. The leaves hide the trail but you’ve learned to pick out the openings in the forest where the trees are less thick and feel your way to the next course marking. Just make sure to put something down on the trail pointed in the right direction if you go off into the woods or the Mark Twain just might become your permanent home.
Yes, this race is a challenge but it is not to be missed. The point-to-point trip along the Ozark Trail is a unique ultrarunning adventure, especially the long Blair Witch Project night. The trail snakes through mountains, hills, knobs, and valleys filled with crystal-clear streams, rivers, and waterfalls. The course is well marked, especially in the tricky river bottoms where the trail zigs and zags getting to the crossings.
The aid stations are a blessing. I’ll never forget reaching Berryman Campground at mile 81 and finding a chair pulled up to a table where the stuff from my drop bag had been all laid out for me. A down blanket appeared over my shoulders and a cup of soup materialized in my hand like magic. I watched someone expertly tend to my friend’s blisters, and then thoroughly recovered, we hiked out with sandwiches in hand. I had been toying with the idea of dropping there.
Beware the stretch of the race from about 40 miles to 80 when you are struggling through the night and the gaps between aid stations are 8.7, 7.2, 8.1, 9.6 and 7.5 miles. Anything over five miles feels like forever at that point in the race. I refer to this part of the course as “murderers’ row.” It requires patience and determination.
But the night also holds a lot of charm. The moonlight reflecting off the water in the rivers, the stars you see through the trees, and the peacefulness of the vast quiet forest are all magical.
Travel: The nearest major airports are in Kansas City and St. Louis. St. Louis is by far the closer of the two, only about an hour and a half from Steelville and the Bass River Resort. From the airport in Kansas City, you’re looking at about a four hour drive. Either way, your final few miles from the town of Cuba on Route 44 to Steelville will acquaint you with a very rural part of Missouri.
Where to Stay: There are cut rate motels scattered around in small towns nearby, but you really should rent a Cozy Cabin at the Bass River Resort, which doubles as headquarters and finish line for the race. The prerace dinner and orientation are right there in the dining hall. The buses to the start line up at your door step, and you cannot beat the luxury of walking a few steps from the finish to your cabin and falling down on your bed. Just be sure to bring plenty of bedding. When they say the guests provide their own linens, they mean it.
Area Attractions: Steelville fashions itself the “Floating Capital of Missouri” because of the three nearby rivers, the Meremac, the Huzzah, and the Courtois (pronounced “coat-away” by the locals). During the summer, rented canoes and boats fill the rivers, but you’ll be there during the off season when all the canoes are stacked in rows next to the resorts. If you have some spare time, hit the antique malls around Cuba, try a country diner, or just park in Steelville and walk around. If you’re staying at the Bass River Resort, get some coffee, sit on the porch and relax.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Frost could have been writing these lines about the Ozark 100. A good ultra takes you on a journey within yourself, into your own deep and dark places. For about half the field each year, those places prove to be too dark and deep. The finishers, on the other hand, drop off of the last big ridge, come down to the Bass River Resort on the Courtois River, and emerge into the light of a new and special day.