Kansas City, KS
On a briskly cool, yet not terribly uncomfortable February morning, about a hundred runners met up at the base of White Rock Mountain near the Turner Bend Store near Mulberry Arkansas to put their running (and mountain climbing) abilities to the test. This fatass style (yet extremely well supported) 50K race is a part of the AURA Ultra Trail Series. The Arkansas Ultra Runners Association (AURA) puts on the Arkansas Traveller 100, Ouachita 50 mile, and other great events in the state. They have been doing this since 1989 – and definitely know what the hell they are doing. As far as I could tell the only difference between this and a full-on “race” is no entry fee, official timing, shirt or medal. All of which I am more than happy to live without. It does have all the spirit and soul of a great, low-key ultra – which is definitely infinitely more important to me than the medal or shirt. So, yeah, I love it.
This is my second consecutive year running the White Rock Classic. Last year, coming off my best EVER winter training blocks, I knocked off my fastest 50K time – just under 5:30 – and it took literally everything I had. While the terrain on a forest road course suits a faster runner, the 5000 feet of steep mountain climbing, and fast descents definitely add the challenge to the course. Coming off a very solid 6 weeks of training, I was hoping to get close to last years time. I had been eating very clean, lost some weight, and added a lot of high intensity cardio and strength training in with my normal training plan. I felt like I had a good shot at having a solid day.
With a 9am start time we decided on just getting up early to drive in for the start. Despite starting 10 minutes behind our planned schedule, we picked up Ryan and Johnny on the way and made it easily with about 30 minutes to spare -plenty of time to get final race prep done. Lisa Gunnoe gave the pre-race instructions and a few resounding gong strikes signaled the start of the race. Yes, a guy called “Bear” rang an actual gong. The start of the race is basically 3 miles up the base of the mountain. Candi and I planned to stay together at least the first few to enjoy each others company and warm up nice and easily. I have a bad habit of taking out too fast and paying for it later. I kept telling myself that it would pay dividends later in the race and I could pass some fools who had taken off (like I usually do) as if they had been blasted out of a shotgun. We reached the top of that first big climb and Candi and I were separated as I blasted off down the hill. I felt warm and loose and let it rip. For the rest of the way up to the White Rock Mountain overlook area that served as the turnaround, I just kept a nice rhythmic pace climbing and blasted the downs – keeping my legs moving fast trying to avoid pounding my quads. A majority of the climbing is in the first half of the out-and-back and I didn’t want to burn all my downhill mojo in the first half. Ultimately, I passed several people on my way to the top of the mountain, never getting passed myself. I was just shy of my halfway goal of 2:30, signing in at 2:33.
Lo and behold, my gorgeous wife had been right behind me most of the way – keeping me in her sights almost the entire trip up the mountain. Turns out we pass face to face about 500 yards after the turn! She said she was feeling great and running great – and I remind her that she is first female and is to, under no circumstances, let ANY of the ladies pass her! The final push to the top of White Rock is super steep and in and out-and-back course, what goes up must come down. The threeish mile descent after turning around is steep and fast! Candi actually caught me by the bottom and was flat FLYING! My hips felt pretty trashed at this point (mile 18-19) so I took a few “vitamin I” and she pulled away. I wished her well, pretty sure I would NOT be seeing her again until the finish line.
As usually happens in ultras, I experienced several ups and downs. About mile 22 I was having a pretty solid “down” and was really getting my ass kicked by another steep descent. Regardless of the craptastic place I was in my life at this moment – I refused to walk and just let gravity hammer me to the bottom. I told myself I would eat a lot at the aid station at the bottom and drink some ginger ale. I did exactly that, and it soaked in like a potion of healing as I climbed my way out of the aid station. At this point the food, pop, ibuprofen all kicked in at the same time and I never slowed down again. I caught up with the 25 year old physical specimen Johnny at about mile 26 and finally my wife with about 3 miles to go the finish. We run together for half a mile or so, but I pull away on the last sets of hills – feeling like a beast unleashed and bearing down on its prey. I passed 4 people in the last 5 miles or so and was smelling the finish line. Doing math during a race is not my strong point, but I figured it might just be possible to sub-5 hour this race if I could really put the hammer down. I gave it absolutely EVERYTHING I HAD the last three miles running splits of 7:30, 6:53, and 7:01 – unfortunately it was just not quite enough. I finished in 5:01:41 in 7th place overall, less than 1 minute ahead of Candi who took the female win!
The weather, course, and most of all people were totally awesome. This race brings out some serious speedsters and I was totally honored and surprised that I was able to take that much off of my previous time and get into the top ten of this group. I would encourage anyone who loves the outdoors to come run this race – it truly is a gem. Thanks to Lisa, PoDog, and the rest of the AURA members and leadership that put this together – it really is one of my favorite events of the year and on my “do every year” list. Hope to see you all next year!
This year’s event has rendered me nearly speechless. Please take note of two specific words in the sentence you just read, with the first being nearly. I am fairly certain that the only thing that would render me truly speechless would be a dismembered tongue or a traumatic brain injury. The second word of particular importance is event. I did not call the 20th annual FlatRock 50/25K’s a race. It’s not just a race. It is a full blown family trail running extravaganza for any and all who attend. The race may be the draw and one of the main events, but it is only one piece of an overall experience that truly is much greater than the sum of its parts. What makes this place so special? Everything! After 20 years everything surrounding the FlatRock event has become so intertwined that it has taken on a life of its own. FlatRock has its own culture, history, mythology, following, traditions, personality, and attitude that is usually only a found in a living and breathing organism! I love it. No, I love the SHIT out of it!
First, I want to start with a “first” for me at this race. This was the first ultra that a couple of my kids were able to come and be involved from start to finish. We all attended the pre-race festivities, camped out with friends, they sent me off with cheers at the start, and they were there when I crossed the finish line! Slapping the hand and crossing the finish line with my youngest son Mitch while my daughter Molly and Candi’s kids Ranie and Durbie were cheering us in was indescribable and unforgettable. Unfortunately, my oldest son Max was unable to attend due to his job and school responsibilities – but I imagine he will get more than his fill when he helps crew for Candi and me at the Ozark Trail 100 miler in November! We all hung out Saturday night to enjoy the traditional post-race bonfire, lots of food and beers, and to swap war stories from the trail. It was amazing.
As far as the race itself went, I had a stellar day. The temps were cool at the start and I was more than sufficiently trained and acclimated for the warmer afternoon temperatures thanks to lots of hot miles training for the Honey Badger 100 in July. My fueling and hydration plan was simple – a Hammer gel every 30 minutes on the dot and a supplemental at each aid station. For water, it was one handheld bottle filled at each aid station. My race plan was simple; run to the point of discomfort all the way to the finish. Not hard enough that I would most likely spectacularly crash and fail due to my efforts, but hard enough that it was still a real possibility. After all, if you don’t fail to hit your goals from time to time you aren’t setting your sights high enough. I ran with my beautiful girlfriend Candi Paulin and the bandana clad, tattooed Justin Chockley for about 8 miles before pulling away and running solo basically the entire rest of the race. I pushed hard and made it to the turnaround in about 2:40 passing enough people to go from approximately 20th place when we entered the trail to about 10th place leaving the turn around. The three falls I took outbound left me with a few scratches and a nice charlie-horse in my left quadricep, but no turned ankles or twisted knees – which is definitely worse, and always a concern when battling “The Rock”. I passed a few more runners and kept pushing just to the point that I felt like I probably wouldn’t be able to keep it up until the end. At Dana’s aid station inbound I came upon one Johnny Webb – who crewed and paced for me at Honey Badger. Remember his name folks, as he will be a guy taking home winners bling once he gains some experience and learns how to train – I am calling that right now. Johnny had gone out like a bolt of lightning challenging several seriously badass and MUCH MORE EXPERIENCED dudes– in his first official ultra – including eventual sub-5 hour winner Nathan Sicher. Adam Dearing, Aaron Norman, and Ron Micah LaPointe are a group of guys who have WON this race (or the 101K) before and I think 3 of 24 people who have EVER finished the 50k in fewer than 5 hours. My point is this; 2014 FlatRock was loaded with speedy guys ready to RACE, and Johnny decided to take them on. Unfortunately, after about 20 fast miles, he told me he had to throw in the towel due to some IT band issues. After a short, profanity laden pep talk, I convinced Johnny to finish even if he had to walk the remaining 9 miles. After he promised me that he wouldn’t quit I popped my gel and hit the trail. At this point I was getting run down by Jeanne Bennett of Tulsa. We battled all the way to aid station #2 where after a brief chat with Harrison Steele and his video camera, I got around her again. Another crash in the rocks had my adrenaline pumping and my heart jumping so I backed off and “let” (yeah right!) her pass. A couple short minutes later, she was out of sight! When I came pumping in to Max and David’s aid station they told me she was only 3 or 4 minutes ahead of me. I still felt good and decided to try and catch her rather than partake in my traditional shot of whisky with these two awesome knuckleheads. Blasting out of the final aid station, I fixed my eyes on the trail and told myself that it was faster to fall and get up than run slow and cautiously. I had already passed some guys that I know can run very strong ALL the way to the end and I did not want to get passed, even if I couldn’t catch Jeanne. Shortly before I came down off the final steep descent leading to the highway, I heard air horns and plenty of cheering – I decided that I had probably been “chicked” again this year by Jeanne Bennett just like I was last year by Mindy Coolman. Little did I know, that not only was I “chicked” again, but for the second year in a row, the female that passed me in the last quarter of the race set a new female course record! Make no mistake; the women that come out to FlatRock are just as badass as (if not more) than any of the guys! Congrats Jeanne Bennett on an awesome race and new CR! I figured I would try to add to the time I cut off battling the ladies champ by hauling my ass down the pavement to the finish line as fast as I could. I turned into the finish area and trucked down the gravel until Mitch jumped in with me and we crossed the finish together, cheesing for the camera the whole time! Officially, my time was 5:52:28 – roughly an 11 minute FlatRock PR over last year. As always Eric, Polly, Warren and the rest of the Epic Bridage pulled off a perfectly executed event. The food and fun were off the charts. Grooming on the trail was the best I have ever seen it – barely a single eye-poker to be seen. These folks can definitely deliver on Epic Ultras mission of “co-creating experiences of a lifetime”. This is not corporate bullshit, but a sincere desire to help make a memory that will last a lifetime – for everyone involved. No one does it better. Best race direction in the state of Kansas and very likely the entire Midwest! I can really look at this race and feel like I used all of my ultrarunning tools, experience, experience on this trail, and training as efficiently as I could have. No recollections of miles where I felt, looking back, that I should have done more. For that, I am really happy how my race on “The Rock” went on September 27th 2014. Of course, I feel like there are ALWAYS ways I can improve, but at this race, on this day, I did the best I could. That is a wonderful feeling.
There are so many inspiring stories out there that I wish I could tell them all. One that I NEED to share is my friend from Arkansas, Dave Renfro, who changed down to the 25k before race day– just to be SURE that chemotherapy wouldn’t cost him a finish due to not meeting cutoff times. He never once considered not finishing – just not finishing in time. Outstanding and inspiring! I also want to say great job to my co-workers who finished the 50k this year – Jerime Carpenter, Daniel Droessler, Gene Dixon, and former co-worker Ryan Schwatken. Great job guys! It was been really cool watching you guys get where you are. Jerime’s second FlatRock and a 1.5 hour PR, Gene’s first FlatRock finish, and Ryan with a nearly 2 hour PR – and especially Dan who JUST STARTED running in January of THIS year and had never run longer than 16 miles before last Saturday and finished sub-9! Gutsy my friend! Another quick but very important side story – this was a reunion of sorts for the “Van Clan” that you might have read about in my Honey Badger blog post. It was great watching Dave Meeth kick some serious ass, Johnny Webb suffer and persevere to the finish, while being taken care of once again by recent (first time) 3rd place Mark Twain 100 mile finisher and all around stud Dave Box. Don’t forget about the wonderful laughs and margaritas provided by our favorite hobbit Shay Caffey – who was only NOT racing because she just finished HER first 100 miler at Hawk a couple weeks ago. So many friends finished this race that I might as well just word it like this: Congrats to my friends <insert link to official race results here>! Congrats especially to my “Epic Family” Reina, Joell, Cory, Sean, and “Chocko” who turned the last half of the race into a pub crawl, hosing back 6 PBR “tall boys” and a shot or two of Crown Royal on the way to the finish. Chocko may or may not have drank enough the night before to intoxicate a couple of Irishmen. Chock definitely sets the bar high in a work hard / play hard life – that’s one reason why we are bros! At least Chocko wasn’t in the a quarter mile from the starting line in the shitter when the race started like my new badass bearded buddy Shawn Walters! Sorry if I left anybody out. I really think the world of you all.
Next order of business: Awards. This was the second year for the Triple Crown, and this year, and I earned mine. A golden chalice that represents the successful efforts of finishing all three annual events held on FlatRock. The Crown was not in the cards for me last year as I was unable to attend WinterRock – so technically I was only 12K away. This was not the case in 2014 when myself, Candi Paulin, Josh Watson, Carson Galloway, Joseph Galloway, Robert McPherson, Marcus Needham and Mike Rives all took on WinterRock, FlatRock 101k, and FlatRock 50K. If you think this is an easy task, well, I challenge you to try it yourself next year. And by the way, Candi – who just so happens to be the love of my life – is the ONLY person who earned the FlatRock Triple Crown for the 2nd year in a row. Yeah, she is a total rock star!
FlatRock 20 was special in another way, as there was a knighting ceremony rewarding a runner who had amassed 10 CONSECUTIVE 50K finishes on FlatRock. Prior to this race only nine people had been knighted into the FlatRock “Hall of Pain” earning a retired bib number, cloth bib, and free lifetime entry into the race. This year marked Scott Hill’s 10th trip across the rock and he was knighted for his efforts – complete with paper crown, an EPIC oath, and a broadsword christening his shoulders. It was a totally unique and amazing sight to behold. Congrats Scott!
Last, but CERTAINLY NOT least, Mr. FlatRock himself – Dennis Haig- was awarded a wonderful plaque for completing his 20th FlatRock 50k race. That’s correct! Dennis has run the 50K at FlatRock EVERY SINGLE YEAR IT HAS EXISTED. Simply amazing, Dennis is a true representation of the rugged toughness and tenacity that characterizes FlatRock.
And finally, I want to thank everyone who stuck around to the very end and helped me ice the cake with by descending to one knee and asking Candi to be my bride. It was one of the most exciting things I have ever been involved in at an ultra, and I am pretty sure by her expression and the unintelligible garbled response that the answer was yes! To understand the full emotion of the moment, go to www.epicultraphotos.com and check Mile 90’s beautiful pictures of the special moment we shared with our trail running extended family. I feel pretty fortunate that Epic Ultras covered the cost of professional engagement photos – thanks for the added bonus Eric! You ALWAYS get your money’s worth and more at FlatRock.
Every year after FlatRock I find myself asking the question, “What could possibly happen next year to make this any MORE EPIC?” Of course I now fully believe that no matter what it is, SOMETHING will make FlatRock an even crazier and more epic event next year. A finish line wedding perhaps?
Where should I even start!? I absolutely love this race. Stumbling across the original FlatRock 50k website in 2009 is what made me decide to run ultras. Shit, it is why I decided to train for a marathon! I mean, who in the hell would go and try and run 31 miles on this trail if they hadn’t even run a marathon? A few minutes of looking at trail pictures, reading runner comments, reading race reports, and learning about the knighting ceremony immediately hooked me – whether I consciously knew it then or not. After finishing my first FlatRock in 2011, I vowed to myself I would one day be knighted into the hall of pain, and earn myself a custom cloth bib, epic surname and lifetime entry into FlatRock.
Fast forward to 2013; I have now run close to 20 ultras including a couple hundred mile attempts, 100k, and a difficult finish in the FlatRock 101K in April 2013. 2013 has been a good running year for me – lots of training miles, lots of great ultras, and lots of solid finishing times. I felt like it was time to try and make my mark on “The Rock”. My goal had been to run a sub 6 hour finish, but my running had been going so great that I decided to set out to break the course record – for the women – and try and break 5:45. A side note – I never even entertained the idea of a post-race sex change so that I could officially be the women’s course record holder… I knew RD Eric Steele would NEVER go for that shit and didn’t even ask. But long story short, I planned on really RACING this race and had discussed it extensively with Justin Chockley (who affectionately warned me that if I passed him, he was taking me out with a tire iron) and Candi Paulin who was also planning on chasing the women’s course record. Leading up the the event, there was a lot of buzz about just how Epic that this year’s FlatRock 50K was going to be. I mean, how could it compare to the BLIZZARD at the Prairie Spirit 50/100 or the MONSOON at the FlatRock 101K in April? The weather is always great for FlatRock in September!
My previous years at the FlatRock 50K, I always showed up the morning of (I only live about 70 miles away) and left directly after finishing. This year I showed up the night before and stuck around until after the FlatRock Triple Crown awards were given out. It was an amazing couple days filled with a mega dose of excitement and energy, great friends, excellent food, some hardcore badass trail racing, an EPIC finish line, and some perfect (and I mean you-couldn’t-make-this-shit-up perfect) weather.
I arrived Friday evening just as the sun was beginning to set and immediately started seeing friendly faces all through the crowd. The energy in the air was literally something you could grab a handful of and shove in your pocket, truly palpable. People were milling around talking and eating – generally smiling from ear to ear. One big conversation topic was the weather, as there was now about a 130% chance of some serious shit rolling in overnight or in the morning. Those of us that ran the FlatRock 101K in April knew INTIMATELY what that meant and just smiled while our guts twisted in knots and we internally cringed to ourselves. The Elk River Hiking Trail is never easy on dry days, and in the mud it is just plain HARD. I found Eric and thanked him for his hard work and congratulated him on pulling together another amazing event and spent the next few hours offering up my own services in any way I could. I talked with my badass ultrarunning friends that I don’t get to see near enough. Melissa, Candi, Justin, Joell, Jason, Tony, Ron, Warren, Eric….. this list goes on and on. Met several new people and even noted a few people who weren’t there that I KNEW I would see in the morning. As all great things do, the evening came to an end it was time to get rested and ready to run.
If you want to skip my personal “race report” then jump to the next bold and colorized sentence. If you are interested, the next few paragraphs are my personal race experience.
The night passed and it brought a pretty stout, steady breeze but not a single rain drop. FlatRock’s Majestic King, Epic Ultras founder, and long time (since it’s inception) FlatRock Race Director, Eric Steele called the runners in around the shelter house to begin the pre-race meeting just in time for the clouds to tear open and begin dumping buckets of rain on our heads. The winds were gusty and it appeared we would, in fact, get the thundershowers that the weatherman predicted – which Eric claimed to have invoked with a “Ouija Board and some Voodoo Chicken Bones”. I LOVED it. I love running in the rain, and I was ready to freaking ROCK “THE ROCK”. It MAY or MAY NOT have had something to do with the 22 oz. Red Bull I had for breakfast. (A new pre-race ritual I WILL be repeating after the kind of race I ran that day). Finally, we started a soggy walk up the road where the race actually starts.
Going into this race, I knew I was running for a PR and would not use the rain or trail conditions as an excuse. It was time to trust my training and go run these rocks and mud with an almost reckless disregard of my own physical well being. Candi, Justin and I walked together out the the starting line and were at the very front of the pack with the people I knew would be the overall top finishers. Of course I am not in the same league as these guys but I knew for sure I didn’t want to be in the middle or back of a pack of over 100 50K participants headed in a death march up the first hill and onto the very technical first miles of the trail. I figured we would work our positions out as we made it down the road and if anyone faster wanted around me – well, that was their problem. As the gun went off, I shot out in front of everyone, threw my arms in the air, and yelled, “I am winning FlatRock!”, most assuredly amusing all the runners in earshot. Candi, Justin, and I stayed together until we hit the first hill and climbed to the top of the ridge with me leading. I had 4 or 5 guys in front of me and that was it. Some kind of nuclear reaction went off inside me and I just took off, leaving Justin and Candi and chasing down the front-runners.
Nearly every 50k I have ever run I felt like I started too conservatively… NOT TODAY. My new motto for the day was “Best or Bust”. I decided I would keep up this ridiculously fast and unsustainable pace until I blew up, then I would dig deep and see what happened – or maybe just lay on the side of the trail and weep like a little bitch. Something amazing happened; I never blew up. Sure, I fell – multiple times – but I just kept getting up… and getting faster. I blew through aid stations only pausing long enough to refill my handheld with Heed and grab a couple more Hammer Gels to replenish the stock in my left pocket. I was eating one gel every 20 minutes and drinking to my thirst. Feeling like I was burning rocket fuel, I just kept going hard. I knew I was really flying when Aaron, Don, and Ron (the leaders) didn’t pass me on their inbound leg until I was only a mile or two from the turn around. I got to the turn around in about 2:35 and there were a couple guys there – so again, I refilled and rushed out. I leapfrogged Travis McWhorter a couple times until I fell and he went on ahead not to be seen again. He didn’t take off until AFTER asking if I was alright. Even as he was trying to chase down 3rd place, he stopped and asked if I was good before screeching his tires and racing off down the trail. I love trail runners.
I hit my “tough spot” right after Dana’s aid station (as I ALWAYS do) and slowed down a bit. I backed off the gels for a bit thinking maybe I got my gut a little too full and drank some clear water. Being somewhat of a veteran on ultra distances now, I knew that if I just kept going as best I could, it would pass. It did pass, but not before I got “chicked”. Being “chicked” means getting smoked by a faster female runner. I definitely got chicked. Just as I was in the midst of my rough patch, Mindy Coolman came out of the woods like a ninja and blasted past me. I don’t think Mindy was in my field of vision 20 seconds before disappearing back into the timber and eventually cruising in nearly 7 minutes faster than the previous women’s course record – which has held since Y2K. I felt better after a few minutes and decided to try and catch Mindy, but little did I know she also got around Travis and would eventually get about 20 minutes ahead of me. Congrats on an amazing race and a new women’s course record Mindy!
The rest of the race consisted of a cycle of running, falling, cursing, and getting up. Too bad I didn’t have an “F-Bomb” counter… but I am sure it was high triple digits. I hit the final aid station and knew it was unlikely that I was going to make it under six hours, but I also knew I was in 6th place overall and I wanted it to stay that way so I kicked on. I ran those last 4 miles across the rocks dangerously. I don’t know how else to put it. It was under 38 minutes and I figured I would finish as fast as I could, or die trying. I was flying all over the trail, arms and legs flailing wildly – slipping and sliding (and falling) in the mud. When I came off the trail and hit the road my stopwatch said 5:57 something and I knew it was close to .7 miles. I quickly did the math in my head and figured a 4:30 minute mile pace should get me in just under my goal; but alas, I can’t run a 5 minute mile when I am fresh – much less after 31 miles on FlatRock. Regardless, I ran as hard and fast as I could run and crossed the line in just over 6:03, finishing the 2013 FlatRock 50K 6th overall and 5th out of the men. I heard the yells, airhorn, and cowbells cheering me in. I slapped the SHIT out of that severed arm. I screamed obscenities. It was awesome. No. IT WAS EPIC!!!
Event Blog Post Continues Here. If you did read my account of my race, thanks for taking the time. If not, well, your loss.
After I finished and caught my breath, I took off my muddy shoes and grabbed a couple cowbells and parked my tired ass on a picnic table at the finish. Like a storybook ending, the clouds parted, the rain stopped and the sun came out. The temperature was perfect. Just like I said, the weather, right down to its timing, was perfect! You can’t make this shit up. And I’m seriously starting to think that Eric really is some type of modern day alchemist.
This is when the real fun began. For the next 5 hours I was fortunate enough to witness every possible human emotion as 91 more 50K runners (and several 25K finishers) came across the finish line. From anguish to euphoria, I saw it all, and it was wonderful! Once Candi (severely nauseated nearly the entire race but still the second overall female finisher) finished, we grabbed some chairs and moved directly behind the finish line so we could cheer on the runners as they came down the road. Micheal Mora joined us after his finish and we shared some stories and laughs over a couple beers. Next thing you know, more and more finishers and spectators were gathering at the finish line! It was totally badass. Louder and louder the spectacle became, until the final 5 runners came down the road with less than 2 minutes before final cutoff. It sounded more like a rock concert than an ultramarathon finish line! People were screaming at the top of their lungs, running out on the road to yell at them to hurry, and the cowbells and airhorns were going CRAZY. My friend and former co-worker Ryan, in his first 50K attempt, crossed the inflatable Epic Ultras finish line arch with a whole lot of his family there cheering him on – and a mere NINETEEN SECONDS to spare. The place erupted! IT WAS EPIC!!!
Shortly after, Eric held an awards ceremony honoring the overall winner and male champion, Aaron Norman and female champion (and new female course record holder) Mindy Coolman, along with giving honorable mention to the 25K winners and youngest female to ever finish the 25K course Carina Jaso, who’s just 15. King Eric then honored and awarded (with beautiful gold goblets) the 8 brave souls who finished the 2013 FlatRock Triple Crown by completing all three FlatRock events; WinterRock, FlatRock 101K, and the FlatRock 50K. Congrats to the FlatRock Triple Crown recipients: Adam Monaghan, Candi Paulin, Ron LaPoint, Dennis Haig, Michael Mora, Kimberly Spielman, Scott Hill, and Paul Rejda.
I would apologize for this post being so long, but I am not sorry. This race, this EVENT, deserves every word written about it. Outstanding job to Eric and the “Epic Ultras Brigade” for pulling off a truly phenomenal event. Check out the AMAZING Photography which Epic Ultras provides to runners at no charge! Great job Greg Highberger and Mile 90 Photography.
I don’t know what’s in store for Prairie Spirit Fall Classic 50K 50Mile at the end of October, but I cant wait to find out. After the last three Epic Ultras events how could you NOT sign up?? Register today on UltraSignup.com.
I look forward to seeing you all again real soon. Feel free to comment and tell me what you think, and until next time… BE EPIC!
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.
I am totally stoked and completely thankful to have such a great opportunity to share my experiences and thoughts on ultrarunning with other individuals who are also slightly insane, irritatingly persistent, and somewhat sadomasochistic. Major thanks to Epic Ultras founder, Eric Steele, for not only this opportunity, but for inspiring and motivating me to be the most ass-kicking epic athlete I can be.
Just in case you are reading this blog because you misspelled “Epicurus” or “epidural” in your Google search bar and have NO background in running, an ultramarathon or “ultra” is any event where you cover a distance of more than a 26.2 mile marathon on foot, under your own power – no roller skates or pogo sticks allowed. Lots of times an ultra will take you up and down trails, through the dirt, bogging through mud, climbing rocks, tripping over roots, and even pounding some pavement. Blisters and blood are common, as it is a pretty tough thing for most humans to cover this kind of distance. You already know this, of course, that’s why you are here on EpicUltras.com.
One truth that I have learned is that almost ANYONE can run an ultra. Completing an ultra starts with the decision to complete an ultra. In less than two years, I went from running a 5k to finishing a 50 mile road race that started at midnight, in Oklahoma, in July. It was not because I am some kind of gnarly physical specimen of nutrition and athleticism. It is not because I have been running all my life. It is because I decided to. I decided that I wanted more of that elusive feeling of accomplishment that I got after crossing the finish the first time…I was like a crackhead trying to recapture the feeling of his first high. What I found out was that each time I added distance or difficulty it was amplifying that feeling of accomplishment, and, for me, this explains the addictive nature of ultrarunning. According to Wikipedia only about 70,000 people per year out of the nearly 7 billion people that make up the entire world’s population participate in ultras. I am more runner than math whiz, but if my calculations are correct that is 0.001%. Even if you toss out all the babies and those physically incapable of running (not literally of course), that is a pretty elite group. We are the .001%, and you can be too!
Do not let the fear of failure keep you from taking the next step. If you can run a 5K, you can run a 50K. It just takes the right level of desire, commitment, and crazy. It is in you…trust me. You wouldn’t be on EpicUltras.com if it wasn’t.
So if you are already a runner who has completed distances of full or even half marathon distance and want to become an ultrarunner here are the three steps you need to take.
1. Find an ultra that interests you. If you like hills, pick one with hills. If you like mud, pick a muddy one. The point is that there are all kinds of ultras available for all kinds of runners. Epic Ultras puts on events that reinforce and reward everything that it means to be an ultrarunner. In fact the Prairie Spirit 50 would be a perfect first 50 miler for a motivated individual ready to take the next step and plunge into a whirling sea of personal awesomeness.
2. Sign up. You will be more motivated. For me it’s like “putting my money where my mouth is.” Especially if you are broke as shit like me, then this capital outlay is a good motivator.
3. Train appropriately. There are no shortage of free plans and resources you can find online. Figure out what works for you through a series of trial and error, practice, blood, sweat and tears. Ask questions from those with experience. Make like Forrest and start running.
The hard part is now done. If you do these three things I have just discussed, race day will be a reaping of the rewards for your sacrifice and effort. But first, now that you have metaphorically grabbed your manhood (or womanhood) and registered for your first ultra – it is time to get ready. I will warn all of you burgeoning runners who make the leap to ultrarunning; get used to being called a lunatic. In my next post I am going to throw down some of my personal experience and sage advice about what you can do as a mere mortal to get your ass to the starting line, locked and loaded, and ready to propel yourself across the finish line into personal glory.
Until next time…Be Epic!
If you think I am totally full of bullshit, please let me know! Most importantly though, I would love to hear your own stories of badassery, along with any creative questions or constructive comments you may have. However, please remember that any whining, insults, rude remarks etc., will not be posted/responded to, as this has “no place” in Epic Ultra culture!