Monday, April 26, 2010

Kansas Free State Trail Runs 100K

Saturday April 24, 2010. Lawrence, Kansas. This race was run on the north shore of Clinton Lake. It consisted of a marathon, a 40 mile race, and a 100K (62 mile) race. For the 100K, it was a ~20 mile loop run three times. (We may have run closer to 60 miles, not 62.) A marathon was also run, but they started one hour behind us.

I didn't do any specific training program for this. In March I had one weekend where I did a 25 mile run on Friday, 15 on Saturday, and 12 on Sunday. I did another 26 mile run in early April. I hit the trails when I could and I practiced running slowly, alternating jogging and walking. That's about it. Before the race itself I took off Tuesday through Friday, doing no leg work any of those days.

I drove down on Friday and stayed with my friend Merle and his wife Janette. On Saturday morning I got up about 4:15am and grabbed a bit of food and made it to the start to begin at 7:00am. The temperature was great, cool but not cold. And it was cloudy but not raining which was good, although it had rained overnight some and evidently had rained some days before the race.....definitely, most definitely.

We took off on the first loop of trails. The whole race was trails. No roads. This picture was taken at the start. Notice the clean legs. (I'm in front with the sleeveless shirt.)
Within about 300 yards we hit some mud. This went on pretty much for the whole 20 mile loop. Patches of mud, sometimes for a few feet, sometimes for what seemed to be 100 yards or more. Sometimes just a bit sloppy, sometimes deep thick wet peanut-butter shoe-sucking mud. Most hills were wet or muddy. On top of this were the endless rocks, from small inch-size rocks jutting out just to stub your toe, to boulders bigger than myself that we had to navigate across. Wet, muddy, slippery rocks. And roots, lots of roots. At one point we crossed a knee-deep creek which kind of felt nice and cool. Below are some examples of the mud and rocks.
A few miles in was the first little water stop, just a couple of containers. Around mile five was a section of about 1/2 mile consisting of the large wet jagged unsteady rocks to go over. Falling would mean going over a small cliff at times onto more rocks and major injury. The first aid station was about mile six. Six tough miles. At this point my pace was over 10 min/mile. And compared to what was to come, I was sprinting here.

It turns out that I cannot do technical trails. I've noticed this in many trail races. On the smoother parts I tend to catch up and pass folks. On treacherous terrain I walk while many others skip like mountain goats. On wet steep and/or rocky descents, I inch down sideways holding onto branches while others happily bound down past me. I don't get it. I think they are not normal. I'm the normal one.

The aid stations were well stocked with pb&j sandwiches (my favorite ultra food), chips, pretzels, oranges, bananas, potatoes, M&M's (another favorite), cookies, Succeed Ultra drink, Succeed salt tablets, energy gels, coke, etc. I basically just fill my gut with whatever feels right without thinking too hard about it. Seems to work. Here's an aid station.
The distance to the next aid station was only four miles (with another water station in between), but this four was about the muddiest on the course. I feel like I walked 3.5 miles of it. At one point the trail was washing away exposing a cliff with a ten foot drop. Here is a picture of that.
The trails were so wet that there were often rivulets of water running down them. There were numerous other small streams to cross periodically, again constantly requiring stepping over and around endless rocks and rocks and roots. A couple more pictures of all that:
The second aid station was right at ten miles. I'll mention here that all the aid station volunteers were great, encouraging and happy and helpful, telling me to sit while they got my drop bag and filling up my water bottle and so on. I headed back on the loop, past two more water-only stops, another creek crossing, and eventually led back to the first aid station after seven miles (17 total). This seven miles seemed to take SO long, being the longest distance between aid stations. More mud and rocks and roots, although maybe not quite as bad as in the first half, but still seemingly never ending. From this aid station it was just three miles to the start/finish, the end of the first 20 mile lap/loop. This part wasn't too bad, relatively speaking, some fairly dry trail but it was hillier. Overall this course wasn't very hilly but hills could feel so difficult because of the mud and wet rocks making for very difficult footing. Here I am at some points, all taken in the first lap:
I finished the first loop in about 4:15. I surely ran too fast. I remember this guy right behind me for most of the second half of that lap, and this made me overdo it (see, he's the guy in the red in the pictures above!). I don't know why I just didn't let him go by me. He was stronger. (On the other hand, in retrospect, unlike many races where I go out too fast, this maybe actually paid off because it meant less time in the darkness at the end.) Here I am finishing the first lap. I appear to be in a bit of pain already.
I refueled for about ten minutes at the start/finish and took off again. The second loop was obviously like the first, except that the mud was definitely worse, thanks to so many feet stirring up the mud. Suffice it to say that by the halfway point, at the second aid station of lap two, 30 miles in, my legs were toast, having worked so much extra to stay upright fighting mud, sliding sideways and backwards. This is just so much extra effort on all muscles from the toes to the shoulders. I don't know how to quantify it, but it seems nearly double the effort at times.

By the end of loop two, at forty miles, I was looking for an excuse to quit. I had smacked my head hard on a tree. No, not a branch, on the tree itself that was just growing a bit crooked. I had grabbed a branch once to keep from falling but it was thorny and caused bloody fingers, and I had tripped and fallen once. From my knees down I was black with mud. I couldn't tell where my shoes and socks met, they were so muddy. Here I am after two laps. I'm pretty wobbly!
Loop two had taken about 5:10, for a total of about 9:40 so far for 40 miles. (Compare this to the fact I had run 50 miles in 9:28 the year before. That's how difficult this course was.) I could smell burgers and brats and just wanted to lie down and eat and relax. But I kind of knew that wasn't going to happen. I had grabbed my headlamp at the 30-mile aid station. I didn't let myself sit or even stand around much knowing that would doom me. As I did at the end of the first loop, I texted Deb and Merle to tell them I was still moving. I commented that I wanted to stop, hoping folks would encourage me to do so, but of course people just egged me on. The race director Sophia then coerced me, telling me about a five year old boy, Braden, who is dying from cancer, and that he was told many of us were running for him. Well, what could I do. I headed back out. It was just about at ten hours at this point. 5pm. And rain was now falling.

On the first two loops, it seemed that maybe 20% of the course was relatively dry and not horribly rocky or rooty. But the rain made sure that on the final loop the whole course would be wet, the slop even sloppier, the rocks even more slippery. It was hard to tell how much it was raining since we were in the trees most of the time. I don't think there was ever a downpour though. I really wanted to get by those big jagged rocks and that nearly-washed out trail while it was light out. I ground out six miles to the aid station at mile 46. There was a guy on the other side of this aid station, meaning he had just three miles left to my 14. I decided that I didn't like him at all. Speaking of other runners, I often saw others, but in a way not that many compared to how many ran. Some runners I seemed to see fairly often, passing them and then getting passed by them. However at this aid station, I had a feeling that maybe there was almost no one behind me. Turns out I was pretty close to being right.

I fought through those four muddy muddy miles to the 50 mile aid station. That was fairly miserable. Ha ha. It was mentally a bit nice though at this point, in that I just had to go back to the finish. Just ten more miles. Darkness was setting in though and I had already been using my light for a few miles. In a few more miles I'd be in absolute darkness. These seven miles, to the next aid station, were ridiculously difficult. I fell again. I smacked my head on the SAME TREE again! I tried to run in the dark, and my light was good, but still I could only see a few feet ahead of me so I had to take small light steps which meant moving slowly, and if trail appeared at all bumpy or overly muddy, I had no choice but to walk. With about five miles to go, I got passed by a guy who told me he was doing nothing but walking. He was a powerful walker. But this made me realize that I was being silly trying to run, risking breaking an ankle or wrist or my skull and barely gaining any time. So I decided to just walk it in. Finally I hit that last aid station at mile 57, which was nearly out of food. They said that there was only one person behind me. I just kept walking and it took me 70 minutes to do the final three miles, about 23 min/mile! Even walking was difficult due to the pain in my legs and body, and the rocky wet course.

At the finish, the finishing chute was gone. No runners there. No party. No burgers or brats cooking. Someone started yelling at me to follow the light - a light was shining towards me. So there I am, being drawn into the light. Maybe this is the end... No, no, not the end. I crawled up to where the light was, a flashlight, and a live human was there. It was Sophia, one of the race directors. The other race director Ben handed me the 100K finisher belt buckle. Sophia gave me a hug which was very sweet considering how stinky I was, and she gave me a medal with Braden's picture on it. Another gal (Mel) took my picture on her phone and sent it to me by email (below). NOT pretty! I got a cold bratwurst too. :-D
These three were the only ones there, but they were much appreciated! They thought that there was one guy left behind me, but I never saw him. My third lap took about 6:15. Total time 16:09:32 (11:09pm). The time limit for the race was 17 hours so I did beat that. Officially my three lap times were: 4:15, 5:23, and 6:32. I placed 27th of 30 100K finishers, which isn't so impressive. However my vanity forces me to mention that 56 signed up to do the 100K. That means that 26 runners either dropped out after two laps or decided to do the marathon or not to run at all. Furthermore, of the 40 runners who did the 40 mile race, I was ahead of about 15 of them after two laps. On the other hand, the winner of the 100K did it in 9:43:40, which is RIDICULOUS. I cannot even fathom that.

A few more photos. My legs at the finish.
Whew, all done.
No freakin' WAY did this guy run in these!!!
The burgers I never even saw, but they sure smelled good.
I never noticed this sky so dark.
Braden helped me in the last lap.
Race director Sophia in her cowboy hat with a 40 mile finisher.
Race director Ben with Mel, who was there at the end to take my picture.
After the race I made it back to Merle and Janette's at about 1:00am and destroyed their shower, took two Tylenol PM and fell in bed at 2am. In the morning I had a great brunch with them and their fun daughter Jessica. Thanks for the hospitality!