Ozark 100

At 26.2 miles, marathons are renowned as grueling races in which runners are tested to their limits. But since 2009, a race has been run in south-central Missouri that makes a marathon look like a stroll in the park.

It’s called the Ozark Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run and is one of numerous “ultramarathons” staged each year around the nation. It takes place in November on the Ozark Trail through the Mark Twain National Forest, and competitors brave enough to attempt it must negotiate the trail during daylight and darkness – regardless of the weather.

Plato resident John Goble negotiates a downhill section of the course during the Ozark Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run on Nov. 5. 

This year’s version of the Ozark 100 took place on Nov. 5 and 6 with 70 runners in the field, including 57 men and 13 women ranging in age from the low 20s to mid-60s. Only 45 managed to finish. One of those was 45-year-old Plato resident John Goble, who placed 13th.

“I love to run,” Goble said. “I’m very passionate about it.”

The Ozark 100 actually covers 101 miles, beginning near Highway 72 in Reynolds County and ending at Bass River Resort near Steelville in Crawford County. The course begins with 3.5 miles of dirt road, and continues the rest of the way as a “single track” trail featuring close to 15,000 feet of elevation gain and several water crossings (some knee deep). The surface under runners’ feet is at times extremely rough, and it’s covered with leaves in many places.  

“It’s just wide enough for one person to run on it,” Goble said. “It’s rugged and there are a lot of rocks, tree roots – you name it. During the day I think I tripped and fell about three times, but I had a harder time at night and every time I thought I was getting to a good pace, I’d hit a rock. 

“Of course, most of the rock is underground, so when you hit one you’re going flying.”

The course features 12 aid stations set up about every 5 to 10 miles (mostly manned, but a few unmanned) that provide runners with water, sports drink and various foods. Night aid stations are stocked with hot items like coffee and soup.  

Some 125 volunteers help make the robust event possible.

“You couldn’t do it without the aid stations,” Goble said. “And the volunteers here are great; you come to a station and they’re like, ‘what can we get for you?’ I’ve been to races where I stopped and said I needed water and they’re like, ‘yeah, it’s over there.’ At this race, they really want to help you and get you back on your way.

“And that’s what it’s about – I try to stay at an aid station for no more than a minute and a half, because the clock’s ticking.”

Signs mark the Ozark Trail 100 MIle Endurance Run course, helping runners find their way along the leaf-covered path.

Being on the trail for so long requires being prepared. Runners are allowed to leave “drop bags” at aid stations containing supplies like extra socks or heavier clothing for night running. Goble runs wearing a vest with a water-holding bladder and pockets where he can carry spare batteries for his headlamp and other integral items. 

“You can’t just get out there and start running,” he said. 

Included in the volunteer roster are several ham radio operators, who keep track of where each runner is on the course and provide invaluable communication to race officials, as runners are not outfitted with GPS devices. Multiple ham enthusiasts from Texas County typically participate.

“What they do is just so important,” Goble said. “Sometimes runners get badly injured and sometimes they’ll even get lost. At night you might be half asleep and sort of delusional, and if you get off course and it’s cold, that’s not good.”

Ozark 100 runners must finish within 32 hours of the start at 6 a.m. Saturday. Goble finished at 7:42 a.m. Sunday, 25 hours and 42 minutes after the race began.

“It was okay,” he said. “But I did better in 2014.”

Runners actually pay a registration fee of $175 to endure the Ozark 100’s punishment. Plaques are awarded to the first female and male, overall and masters finishers, and belt buckles are presented to all sub-32 hour finishers.  “My son says I do this for a belt buckle,” Goble said. 

One of the field’s 13 female runners won this year’s Ozark 100: Oregon resident Ashley Nordell, who finished in 19 hours and 59 minutes.

Oregon resident Ashley Nordell runs along the leaf-cover course on her way to winning this year’s Ozark Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run. 

“In the shorter distances, the gap between the top men and top women is pretty big,” Goble said. “But with the ultras, it’s not so much about speed as endurance. Ashley averaged about a 12-minute mile, and you might think, ‘well I can do a 12-minute mile.’ But it’s such a long way, you have to pace yourself. You have to start out really slow because the race doesn’t really start until the sun goes down – at about 50 miles. That’s when people start getting tired and it starts to really hurt. 

“If you think you’re going to slow, you’re probably still going too fast.”

Goble is retired from the Army after a 22-year career in heavy equipment maintenance. He spent his final seven years of service at Fort Leonard Wood, and now lives in northwest Texas County with his wife, Karen (a middle school English teacher at Dixon). The couple has three children and one grandchild.

During his high school years in New Jersey, Goble ran cross country and track. He got away from running for many years, but picked it up again big-time in 2008. Since then he has competed twice in the Ozark 100 (also running it in 2014), and has run a total of six “100 milers” (including events in North Dakota, Arkansas and Wisconsin), as well as seven 50-mile races. 

Goble even ran in the 2010 Boston Marathon after qualifying by his performance in the 2009 St. Louis Marathon – his first-ever marathon. He said his preparation for the Ozark 100 included a 10-week period when he would run about 14 miles Monday through Thursday and runs of 28 to 35 miles on Fridays and 21 miles on Saturday.

“For me the key is those back-to-back long runs,” Goble said. “You run that far on Friday, and come Saturday your legs are tired. When you get back out there, that really builds up your endurance. I think that prepares you for the later stages of the race.” 

Goble said he runs so much on Texas County backroads near his home that local residents now recognize him. He said his wife has mixed feelings about his passion for running and basically having to share her husband with it.

“She thinks I’m a whack job,” Goble said. “She says it’s my mistress. But really, she and my whole family are very, very supportive and very understanding.” 

Goble’s 14-year-old son has worked at aid stations during endurance races, and has expressed interest in running in them. Despite having many lengthy races in his resume, Goble is still somewhat in awe of the daunting task a 100-miler presents.

“Even though I’ve done it a few times now, it still makes me think, ‘wow, 100 miles,”” he said. “It’s kind of overwhelming. But I love that challenge of seeing how hard I can push myself and how far I can go. The satisfaction I feel when I get done is hard to explain.”

Plato resident John Goble runs in the 2010 Boston Marathon.

In addition to endurance, running an ultramarathon (defined as any race longer than the 26.2-mile marathon distance) takes mind control.

“You have to play games,” Goble said. “If you think after two miles, ‘man, I’ve got almost 100 miles to go,’ you’re done. I try to break it up into pieces; sometimes I’ll focus on getting to the next aid station, but sometimes it might be getting to the next hill or just putting the left foot in front of the right.”

Goble is also surprised by his own ability to run so far.

“Every time you go out and do it, your body gets more used to it,” he said. “It was so hard the first time I did a 30-mile training run, now 30 miles is just time. That’s all it is.

“The body is amazing; as long as you’re willing to put in the time, this is something that can be done.”

Obviously, “ultras” are not for everyone, and even a seasoned participant will admit that running for hour upon hour on a rugged wilderness trail is difficult.

“As the miles pile up, it can really get to you,” Goble said. “Your quads hurt, your calves hurt and even my upper body can hurt from catching myself falling so many times.”

The number of people who compete in ultramarathons amounts to a small, tightly knit community, and many of the same faces are in the fields of races around the U.S.

“Everybody is there to have a good time and help each other out,” Goble said.

Difficulty, physical discomfort and other negative factors notwithstanding, Goble figures he hasn’t had enough of being a part of that community and has plans to compete in four 100-milers in 2017, including the Ozark Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run.

“In 2014 when I finished, I was so cold and in such bad condition I swore I would never do this again,” Goble said. “I told the race director the other day that I’m not doing this again.

“But I’ll be back.”

The Ozark Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run course.

 

Ultramarathon runner John Goble describes the origin of endurance runs:

“The first 100-miler in the country was called the Western States Endurance run out in California. Back in the 1950s, a bunch of cowboys got together and wanted to prove they could still cover 100 miles in a day on horseback, and they started the Western States Trail Ride.

“In 1974, there was a guy who had done it a couple of times and his horse came up lame. A couple of his buddies conned him into doing it on foot. He toed the line with the horses that day and finished in just under 24 hours. He actually finished in front of some of the horses – it was crazy.

“The next year another guy did it, then it went to four, then 16, and then the next thing you know there were no more horses and it had become a foot race.”

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