Last year at the Inaugural FlatRock 101K, the mud and water turned an already challenging course into a muddy Slip n’ Slide of doom. The smells of mud and blood hung in the misty fog while sounds of falling bodies and runners shouting obscenities filled the air. This year, however, was much different. This year, after only a few scattered storms that barely knocked down the dust, the clouds fled and runners were treated to clear skies, gusty winds, and unseasonably warm temperatures. When you have done most of your training in sub-zero weather it was downright hot.
My lovely and talented girlfriend and running partner Candi and I were up well before the rooster, and managed to get on the road and make it to Elk City Lake at about 6am. We drove through a pretty nasty thundershower that treated us to a badass light show that rivaled those of the glory days of 70’s acid rock concerts. The lightning was intense and beautiful and ended up being somewhat of a storm before the calm – which was fine with me. We chatted with our friends, reorganized drop boxes for the 37th time, did all our other normal pre-race routines, and basically just paced nervously until Eric called us up to the starting line. Once the race was UNDERWAY, I realized I had somehow lost the visor I was wearing, and instead of just taking off, I TURNED AROUND went back to the van and looked around for it. Candi and Ron-Micah LaPoint waited on me and we started out handicapped by at least 2-3 minutes… and no, I didn’t even find the piece of shit. This seemed like an odd way to start a race, but hey, I have never been afraid to buck ‘the norm’ in an ultra!
The first 25.25 kilometers were pretty uneventful. Candi and I ran and chatted as we have many times before, not allowing the urge to ‘race’ split us up before it was really necessary. I had really hoped to stay with her for the first 50.5K when I figured she would be running much faster than I could keep up with. Candi is an extremely strong 2nd half runner and can get close to even splits even in very long runs. We made it out to Sean’s Sanctum aid station and I was feeling really good. The temperature was really starting to rise quickly, but this was expected, so I had made a concerted effort to stay ahead on hydration and nutrition from the very start and had taken in a ton of water and electrolyte in the first 15 miles. The first ¼ of a race is almost always the easiest for me, and today was no different.
The second 25k leg marked the beginning of transition from nice spring weather for a trail run to entering the portal to hell covered in gasoline. The temps jumped dramatically and the gnarly wind gusts were blowing up tons of dust, ash, pollen, and small mammals. Candi and I made it inbound to Dana’s Aid Station at about the 21 mile point and I was really starting to feel shitty. My legs felt like lead, I was hotter than a Colorado piss test, and I was seriously starting to think that running the 40 miler at Free State Ultra the previous weekend might have been a marginally terrible idea. My experience at FlatRock helped me at this point, because instead of feeling sorry for myself, whining, and acting like a giant pussy, I kept eating and drinking and reminding myself that I ALWAYS struggle at this point. I don’t know what it is, but EVERY SINGLE TIME I run on “the Rock” I struggle after leaving Dana’s inbound. I just kept telling myself I would feel better and kept putting left in front of right. Candi was still running strong and I didn’t want to sabotage her time, so I told her to go ahead and run her race, kick some ass, and that I would see her at the finish. We both put in our earbuds, and she was out of my line of sight within minutes. I cranked tunes and eventually passed the first place runner headed back for his second 50.5K – I think he was “only” about 8 miles or so ahead of me. A rough-looking, pale Ron-Micah LaPoint was second place and headed outbound and only wanted to know how far it was to the bench on the bluff. I lied, as trail runners do, and said, “Close. Around the next corner maybe?” He was nauseated… as were many at this point. It was past 1 pm and closing in on 85 degrees with ludicrously high humidity. I made it to the end of the 50.5K in about 7 hours and 30 minutes – pretty much right on target. ½ done.
At the start/finish turnaround I was handled magnificently by some totally badass Epic Brigade Staff Memebrs, including Libby Eddings and Polly Choate, as well as my unofficial crew Reina Probert and Kodi Panzer. It was like a spa day… with extra suck. These ladies were bringing me food, drinks, ice, filling my pack, and probably would have massaged my legs had I asked. They are the pinnacle of course aid. Thanks ladies! I crammed as much real food and cold liquid into my stomach as it would hold and my awesome pacer Kodi and I set out for the 3rd and hottest 25k leg of the race. Ignoring the desert-hot wind gusts that were blowing street dust in our face, we set a course for awesome and trekked back to the trail. It took a while to get my ass moving, but eventually my legs began to feel more like an ultrarunner’s tools than frog legs roasted over an open fire. I bitched and moaned a little, but mostly ran and was totally entertained by the hilarity of Tank’s (the English translation for the German word “Panzer”) stories as well as her choice in trail music (played on speakerphone for the world to hear). While I wasn’t feeling like a million bucks, I was feeling at least worth about $12.78 and a warm Jolly Rancher – so I kept on. My time with Tank went pretty fast, and we were at Dana’s in no time. Ron-Micah was here and it was pretty obvious by the puke all over his shirt and the fact he was on his back in the shade that he wasn’t doing well. The race leader came back inbound at this point, as well, and they were talking about how hot and hard the day was. On the upside he was still ONLY 12ish miles ahead of me, so I didn’t have to totally abandon my hopes of winning the race… Bahaha!! Kodi and I heard that lots of runners were having dehydration and breathing issues and that quite a few had dropped, including my good friend Justin Chockley who had some sort of respiratory episode where he could barely breath AT ALL. We also found out that Candi had not been feeling great and was only about 10 minutes in front of us. She had started feeling sick to her stomach at about the 50K point, but being the barbarian warrior she is, she kept hammering out the miles. After some food and several cups of ginger ale over ice, we set back out. One of the fun things about trail running is the wildlife. In this race I got to chase a groundhog, pet a baby armadillo, kick a possum, and hurdle multiple copperhead snakes. I got pics of the armadillo to prove it, but the groundhog was too fast. And the copperheads, well, I didn’t really want to get close enough for pictures. Kodi and I strolled leisurely covered in dirt, salt, and sweat into Sean’s Sanctum for the second time capping off the 3rd 25.25K leg of the race. 75% done.
The sun was starting to get lower and it seemed as if I just might survive the heat of the day. So far, my iron-gut was holding out, and had only very briefly felt sick after cramming it full of food. Here I thanked Kodi for pacing and get ready to head out for the final leg and trip to the finish line. Daniel Droessler, a longtime co-worker and budding ultrarunner picked up pacing duties and would take me to Dana’s where another co-worker and ultrarunner Gene Dixon would pick me up and guide me through the dark to the finish. Neither had really done much trail running, especially not the technicality that FlatRock had to offer, but I knew they would be fine. They are both good dudes and are, most importantly, made up of the “right stuff” as Eric Steele calls it. I figured we would catch Candi in this section as she was still feeling VERY bad and moving much slower. We talked for a second when we crossed each other when she left Sean’s – she did not look the greatest, but I knew how tough she was so I wasn’t worried about her dropping. As a matter of fact, I told Dan that there was a better chance of us finding her unconscious on the trail than her quitting. Other than forgetting my water bottle at Sean’s Sanctum, the race was still going great. Sure, I was stiff, hot, and tired – but really I was in a great place mentally and I knew I would kick the shit out of my time of 21:44 last year. Dan was thoroughly enjoying the trail and joking and laughing the entire time. His great energy as a pacer, several nice runable sections, and the cooling temps made this section much more pleasant. We got to the waterfall (my 4th time) and I saw Candi and her pacer Crystal on the other side and I yelled as loud as I could, “THE F&%^*NG WATERFALL!!!!” Candi echoed my sentiment in an equally loud fashion. Dan and I caught up with them after successfully negotiating (and cooling off in) the waterfall and Candi still was feeling shitty. We all stayed together, made a lot of noise, dropped a bunch of F-Bombs, and got back to Dana’s with a good mix of powerhiking and jogging. I was HUNGRY at this point and ate a couple cups of her amazing potato soup, several sandwich quarters, chips, a cereal bar, and probably one of everything else that was there. Getting back to Dana’s before dark was one of my little goals for the day, and we did. It was still light out! There was still sunlight left, a few more minutes before we would be plunged into the colorless black of the seventh level of hell. The trail kicks your ass in the light, however, it flat out stomps your balls in the dark! Running is hard and not falling is even harder. Physically and mentally I was in a great place, I really felt like it was in the bag at this point. Every step closer was a step closer to the finish. Gene took over for Daniel and we left Dana’s for the final time. We jogged/hiked for the last remaining light but eventually got to the point where we had to turn the lights on. Candi was still feeling terrible and could barely take in any food or water and was still more concerned with slowing ME down than she was about her own race. I told her I didn’t care, and that it didn’t matter because I couldn’t catch Josh Watson (the runner that I knew was next in front of us) so there was no point in running off from her. I could have made a little better time, but at that point it was way more important to help her finish, and even better – to be able to ensure we would be crossing the finish line together! Now, I will admit, if another runner HAD been able to catch us, I probably would have ran off without a second thought to make sure that I didn’t get passed – Candi knows this and would expect no less out of me, or I from her. After all… it is a race!
Gene was loving the trail and checking it out with his headlamp every chance he could, keeping an eye out for copperheads, as they came out in force once the sun went down. We talked and hiked and sometimes stopped for a few seconds to let Candi and Crystal catch up. Gene is a very calm intelligent type of guy so we had some good conversations which really passed the time. We got back to Max and David’s (joint) aid station, where again, I was starving! They had some EPIC smoked ham stew and pulled pork that was absolutely delicious. Then, they offered whiskey, as they are known to do – according to them I was the first to accept. Twice. Gene also took a pull or two and the girls ate and drank what they could – avoiding the whiskey like the plague. Michael Mora, one of last year’s 101K finishers was here helping out after dropping due to some severe blister issues. He seemed like he was having MUCH more fun “working” than running! Honestly, I was pretty jealous. We set out to put the last 4 miles of the 2nd annual FlatRock 101K in the books. It was a steady hike with a few jogging breaks mixed in, and ultimately, our relentless forward progress was eventually rewarded by a steep descent off the side of the ridge. We hit the flat road and coasted toward the finish line. Gene and Crystal ran us up to the finish line before pulling off to the side, having completed their tasks. Candi and I slapped the now legendary “FlatRock Hand” together as we crossed the finish line, relieved to be done. A final expletive laden exclamation of thanks passed Candi’s mouth as we finished the most brutal trail ultra in the midwest (hands down), truly not a race for the faint of heart. 17:16:44 and 6th and 7th place was our official finish. She was the second female and I was the 5th male finisher. Three and a half hours faster for me than last year… I’ll take it!
This race is EPIC by any and every stretch of the imagination in any dimension of space or time. This race IS certainly the “top dog” in Kansas AND the entire midwest, relative to trail running badassery and should definitely be added to all trail ultrarunners bucket list if they think they have what it takes to conquer “The Rock”! The course is radically different than pretty much anything ever imaginable in Kansas, and it is downright just a VERY HARD trail race! The individuals who take on this race are straight-up badasses, who certainly take it way beyond a rating of TEN and actually crank it up to ELEVEN…and then some. The race director, Eric Steele, and his primary assistant, Warren Bushey have an incredible passion for ultrarunning and ultrarunners that is unparalleled compared to any I have ever been around and the entire Epic Ultras Brigade Staff is equally phenomenal in their caring and support of EVERY single runner. Food, course support, bling, shirts, and other logistics are executed with an exquisite precision that I have only witnessed at Epic Ultras Events. Take all these ingredients, mash them together, and you have a powder keg of volcanic proportions that has consistently erupted EPICNESS of truly legendary proportions. A middle-of-the-night finish line with staff and FINISHERS ringing cowbells, blasting airhorns, yelling shouts of support, a GIGANTIC BLACK ARCH, and a laser light show is the icing on the cake. If you have not experienced the feeling of crossing the wonderfully EPIC finish at the Epic Ultras FlatRock101K, you truly are missing out. Thanks to everyone, top to bottom, who had any part of putting this outstanding race together. It is a memory that will never diminish in my mind.
Until Next Time! BE EPIC!