Gordon Collins keep running along the shore of Lost Lake at about mile 16 of the Outlaw 100 race at Robbers Cave State Park near Wilburton, Okla. Mile 90 Photography

Distance runner Gordon Collins compressed a 40-hour work week into a two-day finish of a 135-mile race in a bitter, winter freeze in Oklahoma.

The 42-year-old Poland resident recently won the grueling event in 40 hours, 15 minutes — and he didn’t start running in general until he was 35. The Outlaw 100 Oklahoma race took place at Robbers Cave State Park near Wilburton, Okla., during a monstrous winter storm that wreaked havoc in the Southwest.

“The most amazing thing is how I stayed on my feet for 40 hours and not stop moving,” he said. “As one of my co-workers said, ‘That’s a work week! You completed a work week in one weekend in these conditions.’ I don’t have an answer to that. I am impressed and mystified all at the same time.’”

Casey Barnett, who does speed training with Collins and is a member of the Greater Poland Running Group, said Collins’ success in mind-boggling.

“I think it is absolutely insane that most people could not conquer such an accomplishment — and I take my hat off to him,” she said. “I call him my local celebrity.”

She described Collins as a super guy and helpful, and said his enthusiasm for running is infectious.

“He is out to really to inspire and motivate others,” she added.

Gordon Collins approaches one of two manned aid stations along the course named “Shorty’s Brothel” at about mile 47 in the Outlaw 100 at Robbers Cave State Park near Wilburton, Okla. Mile 90 Photography

A TALE OF ENDURANCE

According to the race’s website, the park consists of 8,246 acres of scenic views with bluffs overlooking three large lakes, rock formations… as runners navigate the mainly single track, forested, technical terrain with an abundance of rocks and roots.

“The terrain is very, very aggressive,” Collins said. “It is a very difficult race in general, but it is the second year they have run this 135-miler. The previous record was 41 hours, 45 minutes. Ordinary in Oklahoma this time of year, there are 50-degree days and maybe dip down into the high 20s at night, and weeks leading up to the race, we just watched the weather.”

And the weather changed for the worst, but Collins wasn’t about to bow out. After all, he was born in Shapleigh, Maine and is no stranger to snow and cold temperatures.

“They got that lethal cold snap,” he said. “I had all this stuff lined up and I worried they were going to cancel it. The race director said, ‘This is an ultra race. This is what we do. We are going to be safe. We are going to do the best we can, but if the cold bothers you or the trail bothers you, maybe this isn’t the type of race you want to be part of.  I respect that whole heartedly.

“We went from 50-degree weather when we went to sign up to, I think, the warmest it ever got the entire weekend was 22 degrees. It dipped down to the single digits with wind chills down to the negatives for a good part of this run.”

In the end, Collins was not sure why his endurance held up in a two-day race in freezing temperatures.

“I asked myself repeatedly,” he explained. “To be honest with you, I’ve run enough long distance now where the mileage wasn’t bothersome to me. The question was how do you keep going? I think my goal was 35 hours in good weather. So to come in at 40 in bad weather was OK for me.

“There were two times in this race where I felt really low. One time I perked myself back with an energy drink, which I never drink. The second time I texted my girlfriend (and team captain April Huddy) saying, ‘I am not OK.’”

“The problem is it was so cold our bottles were freezing up on the trail,” he added. “Between aid stations, I was trying to drink a slushy. That makes it difficult because you have to unscrew your bottle. You are dumping slushy stuff into your body, which isn’t helping.”

He said he was probably hypothermic. He decided to go back to camp to eat warm food, drink coffee, change his clothes and return to the race feeling much better.

Collins turned to fit tablets, also know as hydration tablets, and coconut water, which is filled with electrolytes. But eating food on the run is just as imperative to crossing the finish line.

“A lot of people eat a lot of sugar and stuff to keep moving because it is quick carbs,” he said. “My crew and I were smart enough to think that we needed more fatty stuff, more complex things — mashed potatoes with bacon and extra butter in it. Easy to chew; easy to digest.”

Making a pit stop to pass water is necessary, but the food runners eat are burned away because of the arduous race. He said if you stop urinating, it is sign of dehydration.

“You are a calorie machine, right?” he said. “So it is a balance between don’t eat too much, but eat enough so your body has energy it needs, and make sure what you are eating can be consumed into energy.” 

Gordon Collins keep running along the shore of Lost Lake at about mile 16 of the Outlaw 100 race at Robbers Cave State Park near Wilburton, Okla. Mile 90 Photography

LIFE ON THE RUN

Collins decided to give the race a try after speaking with Ohioan Jason Koomen, who suggested competing in the Oklahoma competition. Collins said these marathon races are all about camaraderie and the like-minded people who enjoy the challenges of running long distances.

“He is really an inspiration to me,” Collins said. “I reached out to him and said, ‘I need to do something. I am going crazy. This (coronavirus) lockdown is killing me. He said, ‘I’ve got a good race idea’ and he pointed me in that direction. I signed up for the longest distance possible and that’s what got me out there.”

“I ran my first in 2019,” he said. “I ran it mainly to prove something to myself and for a fundraiser for SafeVoices in memory of my friend, Kelly Gorham, whose life was taken years before in a domestic violence situation. That spurred me to do it.

“I’d like to think I’ve got a couple (or races) per year in the tank. I don’t know if they are all going to be competitive. I’d like to think I could do a couple a year.”

The wiry runner feels that the state is blessed with running and hiking trails galore.

“We have some amazing run groups,” the trail runner said. “We have a huge opportunity to get outside, kind of take control of our own health in that way. Get out and become more in tune with nature.”

Collins is already mulling over his next race after he set the bar in the Outlaw 100.

“I feel better at 42 years old than I have ever felt in my life,” he said. “I came in fresher at 135 miles than I did in my last two 100-mile races, in terms of just like how I felt, how I looked and how quickly I recovered … I don’t know what the limit is now.”


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