Santa Barbara, California — November 7th, 2017 – The Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) stretches 165 miles through northwest Arkansas, taking in some of the most beautiful terrain that the Razorback State has to offer. The Ozark Highlands Trail Association, which maintains the trail, notes on their website that the “trail varies from constructed trail to GPS bushwhack route” and that a complete thru-hike, while difficult, “may take 10 to 14 days for 165 miles.”
When rabbitPRO Ashley Nordell set out to run the entirety of the trail last month, she had a slightly different pace in mind. Aiming to establish a new Fastest Known Time (FKT) for the OHT, Nordell had to best the mark of 62 hours, 25 minutes that was set by Jenny Foster in 2009. When the previous co-holder of the record, Steve Kirk, called in late August to offer his assistance for an OHT FKT attempt, Nordell knew that the opportunity was too good to pass up. “That was what I needed to get the final stoke,” she recalls. Despite the fact that she was recovering from an injury at the time, her attention quickly turned to run logistics and before long she found herself booking a ticket to Arkansas.
Because of the injury, however, Nordell’s training going into the attempt was less than she would have liked and her confidence was far from high. “I didn’t even really tell many people about what I was going to do because I was somewhat embarrassed by what I felt was poor preparation.” As ever, though, Nordell’s positive attitude and appreciation of nature proved to be a force more powerful than doubt or injury. “Even though I was going for the FKT on this trail, that wasn’t my only purpose in running it. I truly wanted to see the trail and also get to experience it with some close friends that were going to crew and pace me.”
The early going was easy. “At one point I was by myself for an 18 mile section and I just couldn’t stop smiling. The sun was out, the trail was beautiful, and all I had to do was run.” Eventually, though, the challenges of the trail did catch up with her. At first it was fatigue that troubled Nordell, forcing her to stop for a couple quick naps in the middle of the trail. “When the sun came up I woke up and felt better. But then, after about 105 miles, my quads started becoming increasingly painful. The trail is so technical, and lots of sections haven’t had any recent trail work on them, so it’s hard to run on tired, shot legs. I would say most of the final 60 miles was hiking, which discouraged me a bit.” Additional challenges included bitterly cold overnight temperatures, the mental fogginess that is inevitable after so many hours on foot and those bushwhacking sections the website mentions. “There were several sections where it took two of us to find the trail.”
Nonetheless, with the support of her crew, Nordell persisted through the night and the record is now hers. When all was said and done, she covered the 165 mile trail in 58 hours, 46 minutes, besting the previous mark by almost 4 hours. She shares credit for the accomplishment with her crew, who proved crucial for many reasons. “The people that helped me were a main reason I even ran the trail. Part of the entire experience was getting to do it with their help… I truly had the best crew and they are 100% the reason I finished.” In addition to Steve Kirk, her crew included Greg Eason (another former co-FKT holder), Christoph Block and pacers Rachel Furman and Faye McConnell.
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