Writing a race report for a 100 miler is always hard for me. It is difficult NOT to go into a painfully detailed play-by-play account of the whats, whens, wheres and hows of the specifics of the race; fueling, hydration, pace, etc. Unfortunately that leads to a reading experience that has as much monotony, boredom, and suffering as an actual 100 mile race. With the primary goal of my race reports being to entertain an audience of those interested in ultrarunning, I will do my best not to drive you to a suicide attempt using your keyboard or smartphone. After all, I was the one who signed up to suffer – you just want to chuckle about it and assure yourself that you did the right thing by NOT signing up for this suckfest. Instead of boring details like, “then I swallowed another Enduroltye” or “my pace for the next 2 miles fell off by 14 seconds”, I am committed to attempting to convey the unpredictable and rapidly changing feelings and raw emotions that inevitably ebb and flow over the course of a nearly 30 hour race. Wish me luck.
After packing the van and trailer with the equivalent of two Walmart Supercenters and enough ice to build a replica of Superman’s “fortress of solitude”, Candi, Johnny and I finally arrived at Cheney State Park Friday afternoon ready to descend on the Epic Ultras pre-race meal like a swarm of locusts. These meals have morphed into an occasion that could be described as a, “family reunion where people genuinely like each other”. I hesitate to call it a family reunion since there was no keg and the cops only stopped by to say hi. Warren grilled us up some awesome chicken, burgers, and brats while Eric, Polly and the rest of the Epic Ultras Brigade were working hard to not only feed us, but get ready for the race in the morning. After eating more than our share, we milled around talking with our ultra-family. Our crew, that would come to be known as “The Van Clan” began to show up as we organized gear and went over plans for the morning. “Johnny and the Daves”, Mr. Webb, Mr. Meeth, and Mr. Box would be our crew, and their main goal was to keep us alive, moving, and relatively happy during the heat of the day. Shay, total badass and future female action movie star, would figure out a way to meet the crew some point in the evening – after of course- she ran a hot ass 50k at the Psummer Psycho Wyco in KC. Once all the work was done and we finally started to relax, I realized that the butterflies were having a metal concert in my guts, and from the feel of it, the show was rockin’ pretty damn hard. Candi mentioned having some nervous energy a couple times although she is about as stone-cold cool under pressure as anyone I have ever met in my life. A comfortably mild July evening lured us into our tent away from the mosquitoes, where we spent the next six hours or so not really sleeping.
After vehicle check, lots of nether region lube, and couple of hot breakfast burritos (Thanks Dave M!) we were off like a herd of turtles chasing an earthworm. Candi and I took advantage of the opportunity to run with other humans for the little out and back around the perimeter of the lake, knowing soon enough that it would be just her and I – just like most of our training runs. The nerves subsided and our bodies settled into that familiar rhythm of left, right, repeat that they are all too familiar with. We met back up with our crew as we passed near the starting line to head out for the big 93 mile loop and gave them the standing order to head out three miles in front of us until further notice. Our plan was not to run a 100 mile race, but more like 33 individual 5k’s. After all, running 100 miles on asphalt in the summer just sounds dumb! Running some 5K’s is psychologically much more manageable. Running a hundo is just like eating an elephant; you can’t swallow it whole, but you can eat it all eventually if you are patient and do it one bite at a time.
Feeling great, we chugged along the first stretch of the race, a 30 something mile straight shot littered with the occasional hill that enabled about three miles line of sight. It could get somewhat frustrating to see your crew setting up while you were still 25 minutes away! Candi and I chatted and ran in three mile chunks, taking our time and not rushing as we ate, drank, and doctored our bodies. While we wanted to turn in a respectable time, out primary mission was to NOT totally thrash our bodies doing so. This race in summer is no PR course, and since only 14 people started, we figured finishing put us in the top twenty. Good enough! Sticking to our plan, we fell into a comfortable rhythm and our rookie crew almost immediately started to mesh and gel into what would quickly come to resemble a highly tuned, well-organized, and perfectly efficient TEAM rivaling the best that NASCAR has to offer. The blazing July sun was hot and radiating off the blacktop but as we headed to the west we still had a pleasant cross breeze helping to keep us cool. We knew it would get rougher once we made the turn to the south near mile 40, but we may have underestimated JUST what it would be like to be running straight into the bowels of hell while Satan hit us with some supernatural hair dryer. Cue the suck.
The following 15 or so miles were not very much fun. For starters, after making our turn, Johnny and the Daves were unable to park at the 3 mile mark due to no cross street, so Candi and I had to do a 4-4.5 mile stretch before getting back to them. While this sounds like it should be no big deal, it really was. Not only had we turned into the 20+ mph wind, but the day was getting over the 95 degree mark and we were only carrying a single handheld each. The wind would dry you out within about a mile and while one bottle was just about the perfect amount for 3 miles, it was grossly inadequate for 4 or more. So we suffered. We took our time to cool off and recover once we finally reached them and then did 5ks until we got to Cunningham, a little town where we would cross under Hwy 54. At this point we decided that 3 miles was just too far between cool offs and had the crew start stopping every 2 miles. Despite costing us some race time, I feel like this was the single best decision we made through the entire course of the race. Sacrificing some clock time to stay cooler longer became a strategy we deployed until the sun came down. Each stop we would take off our hats and shirts and soak them in ice water before putting them back on. At one point I said something about “investing some time in the afternoon heat that would earn us some dividends we could cash out once it cooled off.” Thanks to the efforts of our fantastic crew and in spite of a daytime high of 98 degrees, we survived – mostly undamaged – and got to the checkpoint at 53 miles in St. Leo. The massive, shady oak tree at St. Leo and the promise of no wind in our face was our prize and we absolutely reveled in it, sharing some laughs with Warren and some others while eating, drinking pickle juice shooters, and doctoring our increasingly tattered bodies.
From this point, we were allowed to take on pacers, and we had our own Johnny on the spot. No, not a shitter (which would have been nice), but a shaggy headed young man about to be violently born into the world of ultrarunning. Johnny is “the kid” on our crew, and hails from my hometown. Twenty-three years old, he is a baby by ultrarunning standards. His previous running experience consists of high school track ( I heard he once ate shit on a hurdle but still got up and ran his heart out instead of walking off), getting a hair up ass and running the Richmond Marathon without training (in ~3:30:00), and through-hiking more than 700 miles of the Appalachian Trail. And while Johnny has a fiery spirit that matches his shaggy ginger head, he has zero experience past about the 30 mile a day mark. So naturally, he wanted to go the distance – almost 50 miles. Why not? Now armed with a fresh set of legs and a new conversation partner, my love and I continued along the never-ending pavement of Kingman County, Kansas, determined to slay ourselves a Honey Badger.
We continued to do our thing – drink, eat, run, drink, rest, and repeat. The sun lowered to the point that we finally felt relief from the day’s heat, and it was MARVELOUS – but somewhat deceiving. The humidity was still high and it was still very warm, so we took great care and made a conscious effort to continue our intake of fluids – including a drink we named “Pink Shit”. Pink Shit was a mix of different flavors of Dollar General Pedialyte and Gatorade knockoffs, and not too bad when served cold. I continued to eat as I had all day, in large quantities, prompting Boxy to voice his opinion that eventually I would eat EVERYTHING and he would have to raid a cornfield. Candi babied her stomach along trying desperately to avoid nausea issues that plagued her in her last few long ultras. I can only imagine the torture of wanting nothing more than to puke for 40 miles. Luckily I am armed with an iron set of guts coated with Teflon and wrapped in Kevlar – the longest period of barfy-pukey I ever endured was about 30 minutes in any race (and it was torturous). Anyway, without getting any further bogged down in details, we made like Forrest Gump and “just. kept. running.”, eventually donning our headlamps and stumbling along under the blinking red lights of the wind farm and the super moon.
Approximately 10:30 pm and around 60 miles in, a new character joins our fearless expedition as we quest ever closer to the final showdown with the villainous and notoriously tough Honey Badger. Shaylene “Lara Croft” Caffey, who earlier in the day thrashed her 50k PR on a difficult Wyco course, traveled hours from Kansas City finally hitching a ride out and meeting up with the Daves. This young lady is on record saying that she is planning on running the FlatRock 101K course in Vibram 5-fingers next spring. Yeah, we ONLY accept level 99 badasses on our crew. Shay is also planning on shooting down the Hawk 100 (her first) in September; I think she was maybe even subconsciously looking to get some more insights into the “late miles” of a hundie. Candi and I planned on showing her precisely how to climb into her pain cave and then slam the door shut on her own personal hurt locker. Shay, however, was determined to take crewing to the same level of her running and attempt to keep us from suffering at all. It was a battle of wills that would play out all night and into the next morning. Once Shay joins the crew, it breathes some new life into all of us. Dave and Dave had been crewing at a very high level non-stop since sunrise, Johnny was crewing and running in beast mode, and the beautifully hardcore Candi and I plodding along on the road with seemingly no end. I don’t know where she mustered it from, but Shay’s rootin’, tootin’, hootin’, and a hollerin’ woke us all up. Precisely when we all needed it. Dave Meeth, or as I internally began to think of him – “The Professor” – changed roles and pinned on a pacer’s bib, while Dave Box shined in his role as Master Driver and Crew Chief.
Meeth is an engineer by trade and was the first person I recruited to join the crew. I had met him at FlatRock, chatted with him online, and he even came out and brought me a beer at the 12 hour KUS race I ran last November. He is also an ultrarunner having run a 50 miler to his credit – much faster my best time. Additionally, I could really just see and feel his intelligence and compassion for others even beyond his passion, energy, and excitement for the sport of ultrarunning. I knew he would make an excellent crew member. For these reasons (and not just because he is the elder of the group) the nickname “professor” just kept popping in my head. Regardless, I knew Candi and I would be in good hands with Dave for the next 35 or so miles.
Believe it or not, the later miles of a 100 kind of just gets boring. I know? Amazing revelation right?! Not much else to note, unless you get excited about lubing up, pooping, and peeing on the side of the road; in which case you are probably looking for a different website with a .xxx at the end of it. We ate, we ran, we lubed, and we drank. Most often we kept a good attitude and still managed some good conversation and even some belly laughs. Other times, it was deathly silent as we were all somewhat trapped in our own thoughts (or pain caves). Onward.
Meanwhile, Boxy and Shay were playing a three mile game of leapfrog that consisted of driving out, looking for a place to park, setting up chairs, and prepping an all-you-can eat buffet for the ever famished Fred Flintstone (me) and Shay rubbing Candi’s aching -but still pretty- feet. This is truly selfless work. Up all day and night to help us out. It really does amaze me that these guys would do this for us, almost perfect strangers before this race, for no other reason than helping us achieve our goals. This brings me to Dave Box. Boxy is a guy that came out of nowhere to run the FlatRock 101k as his first, YES FIRST, ultra. But wait, there’s more… He had never run longer than 13 miles before that. But wait, there’s more…. He gets 3rd overall! Wow. Two weeks later he rips off a most impressive finish at the Flint Hills 40 miler – despite blowing up and overheating in the final half marathon. Boxy has raw talent, tons of heart, and an iron will. He told me that his body was DONE after about half way of the FlatRock 101k, but he did what a good ultrarunner does – he ran the rest with his mind. Box took this same drive, energy, and mental toughness and put it to use in his role as Crew Chief. Need I say more? Not only did Dave expertly execute his crew duties, but he supplied half of the gear we used including a pop up tent, 7 gallon gatorade jug, and a propane grill and tank. You got it. Hot food on the road. BAM. Box cooked us bacon at 3 in the morning. Dave Box is a crewing GOD. Not to mention he pulled his toy hauler, complete with generator and air conditioner, three hours to the lake – just because you never know what we might need. Enough on Boxy, don’t need his ego getting as big as mine, that would be bad for everyone involved, but you get my point. Back to the race.
So miles 70-100 were more of the same. We didn’t feel much better, but we didn’t feel much worse. We just kept ticking off the miles three at a time. About 5 miles from the finish we run up on Boxy sitting cross legged on the trailer cooking up some more hot bacon for us. Shay is still hollering for us and cheering us in EVERY single time we get to the van. Johnny and Dave were rock solid pacers who never complained about their own aches and pains although they had been out there for 12 hours or more. We did this until our final stop about a mile and a half from the finish line (we wanted to finish strong). Here, we sat in our chairs and shared a beer to celebrate our victory in private. It was amazing.
For the final time in the race, we got up, shook off the instant soreness and began hammering out the last bit to the finish. Candi and I crossed the finish together in 27:16:39 well below the realistic 28 hour goal we set for ourselves. More importantly we were not in that bad of shape considering the brutal heat and wind of the day. Candi had a single tiny blister and I had three and a gray toenail. No major aches and pains at all. Just tired bodies carrying around huge smiles. We relaxed around the finish talking to our pals. A HUGE thanks to Epic Ultras for putting on a top notch event with the level of challenge we were looking for. Eric Steele, Warren Bushey, Polly Choate, Frank Arellano, David Bushey, Justin Saylor and all of the Epic Ultras Brigade make these events live up to the considerable hype that they generate. Also a huge thank you to the awesome support we got on the course from the roving aid teams – Justin and Joell Chockley, Mark Berry, Daron and Zander Pratt. Also special thanks to Joell Chockley for doing such a wonderful job capturing the day in pictures. All of your efforts are VERY much appreciated!
All of the 100’s that I have run are special to me for different reasons. Pumpkin Holler was redemption and I ran fast. Prairie Spirit I came back from the brink of failure. Honey Badger will always be special to me because I crossed the finish of a VERY difficult ultra with the woman I love, and WE were able to do so because of the perfect execution of a well organized plan by an ULTRA TEAM whose skill, motivation, tenacity, and chemistry will never be surpassed.
Until Next Time…. BE EPIC!
PS – Send me a friend request on Facebook. I love keeping track of the training, races, and other adventures that my ULTRA-FRIENDS (both current and future) share!