I just want to give a short disclaimer before I post this one. This is long, just like the race. As much as I like to try and entertain readers, I also like to document my own thoughts and feelings. Personally I think it is entertaining, but it is long. So if you are all out of Adderal and want the short version, here it is:
tl;dr version – The Flatrock 101K was really, really, really fun. It was muddy and wet. Aid stations were outstanding and the event was flawlessly executed by Eric and the Epic Ultras Brigade. I met many great people and had lots of fun. It hurt too. It hurt A LOT at times. It was hard. I finished it. Finishing it was very satisfying. I got a cool buckle.
Now, if that just wasn’t enough for you, and you want the full rundown, here it goes….
There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity… No it’s not the Twilight Zone, it is RACE DAY! It is time to put up or shut up. It is time to put all your cards on the table. It is time to leave it all on the field. It is time to give it all you got. It is time to… time to find some new clichés. If you missed my part I describing the lead up to the race, check it out here.
I showed up to the start feeling kind of rushed even though I slept in a soft bed less than 3 miles from the starting line. It may or may not have had something to do with the fact that I was an hour away from stepping foot on a journey that would take me across 62+ miles of very difficult rocky (and now extremely wet and muddy) trails. Regardless, I got checked in – found a hot cup of coffee – and was more or less ready to go. It was still dark of course so runners had the privilege of running the most technical 3 miles of the race in the dark to get started. I carried a handheld light but had my Black Diamond Icon in my pack in case it wasn’t bright enough. I was not running this trail without a backup light, as well as a backup –backup light.
Eric walked us out by the shelter house and simply counted down and sent us on our way with a “GO!” I fell in with Adam and we took off. Up the road and on the way to the trail it was misty/rainy and would be until about noon. Everyone knew that the trail was going be wet, and guess what? It was! Early on in the race most of the trails were flowing quite nicely like little rivers, and there was way more mud than I expected. Having mostly run this course when it is dry, I never would have guessed there was that much dirt between the rocks that had been morphed into muck soup. I actually was attempting to avoid getting my feet wet and muddy, a useless waste of energy that I would later laugh about, while watching my pacer as she tried to do the same. Adam pointed out that it wasn’t going to get any better and that we might as well embrace it. That made sense, so I just started running as if it wasn’t there. “Resistance is futile.” We splashed on. Mud sucks, embrace the suck.
The first few miles are really rocky and technical and it was really fun the first time out. People were talking and laughing as they splashed along, exchanging names and stories. Runners were taking advantage of the easy, early miles by getting to know each other and catch up with old friends. Aid station 1, staffed by Max and his crew were raring to go even at such an early hour. They had full service and everything a runner could want at 7 am. I grabbed some random solid food items off the table thanked them and passed through quickly. I don’t like to linger at aid stations, especially early on. Max’s Place, Aid One is ALWAYS quality and totally full of energy, and for me, its main job is giving me that final push on the way in. I would need these guys to give me a kick in my slow ass later on.
Running with Adam, about six miles in and we passed a walking Justin Chockley, who had been battling an injured knee, but decided to take a shot at “the rock” anyway. Justin and I had been getting to know each other online in the weeks leading up to the race and he had introduced me to his lovely wife Joell and his beautiful daughters the right before at the dinner. The look in Justin’s eyes when I asked him how the knee was holding up told me the whole story. Later when I found out that he had dropped early, I knew how tough it had to be for him to make the smart decision. Live to fight another day.
Adam and I were following a group of four runners for a while and we all caught up at just before Oak Ridge aid station. My plan was to eat real food at every aid station to supplement the gels, and Dana at the Oak Ridge station made this easy! She had some amazing potato soup, which I am fairly sure I ate all 4 times I came thru. Part 2 of my plan was to reapply foot goo at Oak Ridge, Tony’s Hacienda, and start/finish line due to the wet conditions. Changing shoes and socks was pointless in my opinion, but taking care of the skin was critical. I also joked with Jason Dinkel a bit before thanking them and heading out.
The next stretch is about 5 miles or so to get to the turnaround known as “Tony’s Hacienda” manned by the Badwater Marine himself, Tony Clark. Adam and I were just out of Oak Ridge when I hear Adam scream like a kindergarten girl and almost jump off the trail! There was a dead armadillo on the edge of the trail, and Adam didn’t see it until he was right on it. I chuckled and heckled him a little bit, fairly sure that I am way too manly too scream had I been leading at the time. This stretch was one of my favorite sections of the race as I got to know Michelle, Tammy, and Bryan from Oklahoma. We crossed the waterfall in a single file line and were fortunate to be photographed by Dave Renfro from Arkansas, who had been following us for a while at a short distance. This is my single favorite “race photo” from any event I have ever run in! Thanks again Dave! There was ice cold, perfectly clear water rushing over the rocks and it really made for a beautiful sight. After remaking a few scenes from “The Goonies” we came to a rocky formation and with a dark, muddy puddle right across the path. As the group leader stepped in, it turned out to be about knee deep! This reminded me of the leeches scene in “Stand By Me”. This day was turning out to be a mashup of all of my favorite childhood adventure movies – and I was loving every second of it. Concluding this leg of the races was about 3 miles of shoe –stealing mud that was completely unavoidable. It was sticky, mucky, slippery and just an overall pain in the ass. A short section of maintenance road right before turning toward the final aid station was like tar mixed with superglue. I just imagined how brutal that was going to be after 75k.
Finishing the first ¼ of the race, we got into Tony’s Hacienda in about 4 hours which was in line with my goal. I was shooting for about 8 hours for the first 50k, leaving me 16 hours just to survive the second 50k. Tony’s Hacienda was a kick-ass aid station where they were serving burgers to hungry runners as they prepared for the return trip. Thanks to Tony and Steve Baker for running an out-freaking-standing aid station! Also here was my injured pal Justin Chockley, who offered me his wife for the night. Not what you are thinking… Trail runners are close, but not THAT close. Joell wanted to get in on some muddy trail fun and had been planning on pacing for Justin on the last 25k of the race. Since his race was done, he most graciously offered her pacing services to me. I was stoked, as I much prefer to run with a partner to both keep me moving as fast as I can, as well as passing the time while make a new friend.
The rain had mostly stopped, but it was still cool and overcast as we set back out for the next section of the race. I had broken this race up in my mind into 4 – 25k “legs”, as it was a double out and back course. Michelle, Tammy, Bryan and I all left Tony’s at the same time and were running, talking and joking the entire time. Tammy was a total hoot and just loved the scenery – pointing out the beauty of all the flora and fauna along the way. Still fairly early in the race, everyone was really feeling good and despite being wet and muddy, having an overall great time. We had gotten ahead of Adam before Tony’s Hacienda, and I wouldn’t see him again until he and his speedy pacer Zach Bailor passed me early in the third leg. Heading up the rocks just before we got to the waterfall for the second time, I landed a foot strangely and rolled my ankle – and took my first real fall of the day. NOOOOO!!! I still have WAY too far to go! I immediately tried to put the idea of dropping due to injury out of my mind and just limped along hoping the searing burn in my ankle would just go away. I had failed in both of my last 2 ultras to make it to the finish… that was NOT an option today. I gimped along and the pain turned to numbness, which I decided I could deal with. Just. Keep. Moving.
The pain subsided eventually and I felt like there was no real damage, but it did slow me down some. Before getting back to Oak Ridge again, I had fallen back from the little group of Okies I had been with and started leapfrogging with Dave, who due to his bib number, we were calling #1. We chatted a little bit, and it helped take my mind off of the pain some. At Oak Ridge, another cup or two of Dana’s potato soup worked like magic to revive me, and I ended up catching back up to Bryan, Tammy and Michelle. We all made it back to Aid One and got resupplied with what we needed before taking on the “Devils Ass Crack”, and reaching the halfway point of the FlatRock 101K. If that needs further explanation, then you need to go experience at least the first few miles of the Elk City hiking trail for yourself.
At the start/finish I saw Eric, Polly, and Warren who welcomed me and got me everything I needed to get ready to repeat what I had just done. This is a tough 50k with good weather. A few times the thought passed in my mind, that now I have to do it AGAIN. I forced myself to stay focused on the task at hand; getting ready for the third leg. My strategy for the next 25k was to power-hike all hills and treacherous terrain and run the smoother, safer sections. I didn’t want to tweak that ankle again if I could avoid it, and was well within time cutoffs at this point. As I finished lubing up again, I thanked everyone at the start/finish and was wished well out of the gate. I can’t repeat enough how amazing the aid stations were, both in the quality and quantity supplies and the enthusiasm and energy of the people working there. Coincidentally, Michelle and I ended up coming back up the road and heading out again at the exact same time, and fell in to run together as we had the better part of the last 25 miles or so.
The third leg was mostly uneventful. The trails were a little dryer, and water crossings had subsided since the first pass, but it was still muddy and very wet. Water and mud were basically forgotten as they were as ever-present as rocks and trees. Michelle and I chatted the whole way, talking about anything and everything. My right knee was really starting to throb and ache but nothing that was going to stop me. Once we got to Oak Ridge, I was told that Jason was supposed to let Justin know about what time I was going to be back at Tony’s Hacienda so Joell could jump into her role as pacer. I grabbed a soft knee brace and slid it on while greasing my feet. More awesome potato soup from Dana and we were on our way.
After leaving Oak Ridge, we once again ran by Andy the Armadillo (still dead) and the fearless Michelle didn’t even flinch – but I had an idea. I stood Andy up on a rock in the center of the trail hoping to maybe get a scare out of ‘someone” on the return trip. We laughed about this for a while and honestly I forgot about out it – for a while. We trekked onward through the mud and muck.
My knee was really hurting a couple miles before the Hacienda and I had my first real low point of the race. Michelle and I kept talking while internally I kept telling myself that I would feel better. I may or may not have whined extensively about it to Michelle, who told me I should take some ibuprofen. I have always belonged to the school of thought that fixing a few aches and pains wasn’t worth shutting down my internal organs, so I declined. From what I have read, taking ibuprofen when exercising isn’t a great idea. I managed to keep on moving and focused on the mental bonus of turning around, which helped get me through the 2 mile mud bog and into Tony’s Hacienda for the final time. We had managed to hold our pace and got there around 8:30pm., well before the 10:30pm cutoff. Justin and Joell were there and she was ready to go, and helped me get ready as well. It was just starting to get dark, so I grabbed my headlamp and got ready to sprint to the finish. Tony asked me how I was feeling and I remember telling him something like, “Pretty shitty actually. My knee is killing me.” He told me I should take some ibuprofen, so I did – which might have offended Michelle a little. But hey, he did finish Badwater 135, and I was feeling pretty desperate. We took out walking and I was pretty stiff after sitting down for a couple minutes. With 75K done, now every step was a step closer to the finish line, and a sweet finisher’s buckle.
Like I mentioned already, my fresh legged and clean pacer Joell Chockley was attempting to dodge mud and puddles as Michelle and I (covered in mud) snickered behind her. It didn’t take her long, the first knee deep water crossing I believe, to just start barging headlong into the muddy quagmire of a trail. The good news is that, despite the darkness, the trail was easy to find. Just follow the mudslide! About 10 minutes out of Tony’s Hacienda, something MAGICAL happened. The pills kicked in and I felt about 100% better. My knee stopped hurting almost completely and we were even mixing in some good longer jogs into the power hiking. I took advantage of this as best I could and we started making a really good pace despite the darkness. My light was great, and never even flickered when I nearly tore the top of my scalp off with a low hanging branch and sent it flying into ankle deep mud. Getting close to Oak Ridge for the final time, I remembered our friend Andy the Armadillo, but not before a shrill scream from Joell, who was leading the pack! It was hilarious, even after 15 hours of slogging thru the mud. We got into Oak Ridge and told the tale of Joell’s armadillo attack, which her husband Justin thought was pretty damn funny.
From Oak Ridge to Max’s Place seemed like a million miles in the dark, but I am at least glad I was able to keep on moving fast enough to stay plenty warm. Somewhere before the final aid station, we caught up with Adam and his pacer and we all ran together for a while. Adam mentioned his hip hurting him and they were struggling some to keep the pace, and told us to go on ahead. I don’t think Adam liked feeling pressured to lead the group especially when he was hurting pretty bad. I didn’t feel too bad given the distance covered and the condition of the trail, but coming into Max’s Place my right hip was really starting to hurt. The night before I had promised Max I was going to do a shot of his fine bottle of whiskey when I came through the final time. Max remembered and poured me a shot into a Styrofoam cup. I can’t say it was the best I ever had, but it did burn the Hammer gel taste out of my mouth for a few minutes! No time to linger now… less than 5 miles to the finish line! Should be easy right?
These last 5 miles were among the most painful I have ever run. The steep up and downs and rock climbing was killing my hip. It got to the point I was planting my left leg and pulling my right leg up with my hands. I thought maybe I had torn something it burned so bad. It made these miles slow. I knew I had enough time to finish, I just wasn’t sure if I had the pain tolerance. My goal at this point became just not stopping. After climbing up the “devil’s asscrack” the final time, I did have to stop for a minute. But I timed it… ONE MINUTE. I told Michelle and Joell to go on and not let me slow them down, an offer which they continually refused. Michelle looked like she could have kept going another 100K. I have never in my life run with someone as cheerful and positive as Michelle. Never once did she say she was tired, hurting, or feeling bad. I totally want to be like her when I grow up. When we made the final descent off of “the rock”, I felt like the trail had almost beaten me. This trail, which I love to run on so much, had just about done me in. But now we were on the barely visible road to the big black inflatable Epic Ultra finish line where we would be greeted with cowbells, airhorns, a laser light show, and grins and congratulations from the best finish line crew in the world. I whooped and yelled a few times to signal our arrival and was answered with a round of cheers. We kicked it up as best we could coming in down gravel road and the final few yards. Considering we had run almost all of the last 55 miles together, Michelle and I grabbed hands and simultaneously high-fived FlatRock Freddy’s dismembered arm hanging from the Epic Arc De Triomphe. We had done it. Over 20 hours on one of the toughest trails in Kansas. I was now an Inaugural FlatRock 101K official finisher and race director Eric Steele handed me the buckle to prove it.
Stay tuned for a couple post-race thoughts, and a description of how good a made-to-order breakfast can be at 3:00am when you HAVEN’T been drinking all night.