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The Stereotypical Ultrarunner

zachIn the five or so years I have been running ultras, I have seen quite a few changes.  The first, and most noticeable, is the massive increase in popularity.  In 2010, ultras (in the Midwest anyway) were somewhat few and far between.  A runner might have to travel 6 hours or more to find a race at all, and there were very few options through the course of the year, even ifyou were willing to travel.  In 2014, one must pick and choose based on courses, buckles, distances, course support, and a zillion other factors. It seems as though there are new races popping up all over the place every weekend!  The massive rise in popularity has increased both participation and public exposure – in both traditional media and social media.  Between my runner friends, runner pages, and groups, my Twitter and Facebook feeds read like an AD/HD version of about 12 issues worth of UltraRunning Magazine.

This increased exposure has increased to the point that now even ‘non-runners’ are at least cognizant with the concept of ultrarunning.  Guys like Dean Karnazes, Scott Jurek, Christopher McDougal, and others have made ultrarunning seem less of a fringe sport for total psychopathic sadomasochists and maybe even somewhat mainstream. Maybe…  Along with this newfound recognition, I have noticed a trend among non-runners beginning to group all ultrarunners into one homogenous group tagged “ultrarunner” – a new stereotype of sorts.  How awesome is that guys!?  We got our own stereotype!  By definition, a stereotype is an oversimplification of the group as a whole, and in a lot of cases, the shoe fits.  But there are a few traits that I feel like are commonly attributed to ALL ultrarunners that I really feel are more often mostly inaccurate.

1.)  All ultrarunners are a bunch of hippies who just bum around and only work the bare minimum to survive. FALSE!  There are a certain number of these ultrarunners living a lifestyle recently coined as “dirbag” who are out there truly living the ultra dream, but they are not the majority.  Nurses, cops, small business owners, stay at home moms, CEO’s, and teachers are professionals you will find at almost every ultra.  Most of the ultrarunners I know have full time jobs, families, and as many or more responsibilities as any non-runner.

2.)   All ultrarunners are health freaks who measure and count every free-range, organic thing they eat and drink. Most are vegans who hang out at whole food stores and plan their next barefoot run across America.  NOPE!  Most of us eat what we like, because we like it, and in whatever quantity we choose.  Fast food is NOT the devil and we don’t mind sucking down the occasional triple cheeseburger and washing it down with a giant butterscotch milkshake.  Yeah, there are a many health conscious ultrarunners out there because better nutrition does make better runners.  However, most of us will never step on a podium and are MORE THAN SATISFIED just to stumble across a finish line – just before cutoffs- to collect our buckle and vanity sticker.

3.)  All ultrarunners suck down tons of craft beers the night before and immediately after every ultra. NADA!  We will drink just about any kind of beer, wine, liquor and sometimes don’t even wait until we have finished the race.  And believe it or not, there are many ultrarunners who don’t drink at all, although I am personally not sure why.

4.)  All ultrarunners hate themselves and are just punishing themselves somehow. INCORRECT!  The pain of running ultras is a beautiful contrast to the Western hemisphere’s push toward achieving absolute comfort in all things.  Feeling the pain lets you know how great you have it in your everyday life.  It is not a punishment…it is a reward!  We aren’t doing it because we hate ourselves, we are doing it because we LOVE ourselves enough to get out of our comfort zones and live life – in spite of the pain.  To push past limits defined by others and sometimes even limits we place on ourselves.

5.)  All ultrarunners are obsessed with running and it is all they do. NOT TRUE.  Ultrarunners by nature have a very wide range of experiences.  Chances are that is what led them to the sport.  Driven by the desire to take on new and exciting challenges can lead to many different activities.  From my experience, ultrarunners excel in a wide variety of activities that take significant commitment – from writing, music, art, and theatre to auto body repair, hunting, gardening and motorcycle riding.  Not stunted by a fear of the unknown, ultrarunners are well prepared to tackle ANY challenge.  Hell I am in a group that meets bi-weekly to play old school, roll the 20 sided die roll playing game Dungeons and Dragons. (My character is a pretty badass level 2 Half-Elf Rogue).  But yeah, we do run a lot – it is pretty necessary when running distances over 26.2 miles.

After all the time and miles I have spent on the trails with ultrarunners, I would argue that the ONLY thing that we ALL truly have in common as the group labeled “Ultrarunners” is the desire to take on the physical challenge of running an ultra as a way to living a highly fulfilled life.  There are similarities among us but just like the case of the “perfect” running shoe, there truly is no one-size-fits-all personality of an ultrarunner.

Be Epic!

Zach Adams

“A Perfect Storm” 2013 FlatRock 50K

zachWhere 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!

Zach Adams

Mind Games

zachWhen you are in the total ass-kicking miles of an ultra, what mental tactics do you use to keep moving?  How do you will yourself through the dark times?  What keeps you from convincing yourself that it is not worth all the pain?  If physical training is the key to running a successful ultra, then mental toughness is the hand that guides the key into the lock and turns it.  If you lack the required strength of mind, there will eventually come a time when bodily endurance and your Greek god physique is not enough to allow you to escape the darkness and emerge into the light of the finish line – where you can bask in your glorious achievement.

What do you do to pass the hard miles?  Of course music or audio books are a popular alternative seen at basically every race 5K and up. Here are a few suggestions taken from my own personal arsenal – the key is finding what works for you.  As an ultrarunner, experienced or aspiring, you should have plenty of opportunities to put it to the test.

Repeat a mantra.  I have had times where I was repeating a chant such as, “Next step. Next Step…” for what seems like forever to keep myself moving.  Once, after almost barfing my guts up on an aid station worker, I gobbled a few Tums and kept telling myself, “I WILL feel better” until I actually did.  I believe this is basically hypnotizing yourself and moving your focus off the pain until the pain subsides – or you finish (which sometimes does come first).

Fantasize!  Use the power of your mind and take yourself somewhere else.  If the “now” freaking sucks, get the hell out!  Fantasize about something so interesting and engaging that it becomes more real than the giant blister on the ball of your foot that just ruptured.  Use your imagination and paint a mental picture of your perfect vacation, winning the lottery, or maybe being stranded in Antarctica.  Think about every detail and then details about details.  It doesn’t matter what you think about… just think about something.  This will pass the time, and once again divert your focus away from your current struggles.

Make a new friend.  Talk to the other runners.  Chances are that unless you are a world-class elite speedster, you will be moving at speeds that will easily allow you the ability to continue speaking.  Use this humanly ability to your advantage.  Ask other runners questions, tell stories, shoot the shit…  This might not work in some ultras (I have been solo for HOURS before), but if and when the opportunity is there – use it.  It is a great way to pass the time and get past a rough point in a race.  I have made some great friends in my time running ultras, and most of them I met WHILE on the trail.

Focus on smaller, more manageable distances.  When the thought of another 20 miles just seems too much, break your run into chunks.  Focus on running to the next aid station, mile section, or electric pole- hell, even just the next step.  These smaller incremental victories will add up and eventually you will be crossing the finish.

Finally, one thing I do when I really struggle is to completely disassociate my mind with my body.  Having a techie background, I think of it as putting my brain in “standby mode”.  I focus on thinking of nothing.  My complete attention goes to listening to my own breathing, my vision on a blurred fixed point about 4 meters in front of me, reducing my body to a biological machine processing oxygen and sending blood to where it is most needed.  There have been times when hours have passed and I realized I had literally thought of nothing.  On a technical course I may try to get myself so hyper focused on my next footfall that it becomes the only reality – figuring out where my next foot should land, noting else.

The key is never letting negative thoughts invade your mind.  If they do, a runner needs ways to immediately cast them out.  You can literally talk yourself into DNF’ing a race that your body was fully capable of completing.  Excuses at the time that seem perfectly reasonable will make you want to punch yourself in the face for quitting the following week.  Don’t let all the time you spend training your body go to waste because you haven’t conditioned your mind.

Until next time…

BE EPIC!

Zach

2013 FlatRock 101K Race Report – Part III – “Finish Line Utopia” or “Final Resting Place”

If you are reading this you either read my last two blogs (PART I and PART II)and just couldn’t get enough , or you a glutton for punishment and enjoy torturing yourself with my excessive and nonsensical ramblings.  Either way, what you are about to read is a short collection of my final thoughts on the entire experience.

“Your body will argue that there is no justifiable reason to continue.
Your only recourse is to call on your spirit, which fortunately functions
independently of logic.”

– Tim Noakes

I used every last drop of my spirit, as well as plenty of Michelle and Joell’s.  But now I was there and I was glad I was done.  Justin Chockley was there at the finish and he had a bottle of whisky at the ready.  We had decided earlier in the week to have a victory shot and he came through as promised.  Although he didn’t get to finish the race as a competitor, he finished as a crewman and I am very grateful to him for the victory jigger and his crewing efforts.  He and Joell are now my great friends –  one of the many benefits of ultrarunning.  As we talked about the race, Epic Ultras logistics mastermind Warren Bushey cooked me a made to order breakfast of sausage, eggs, biscuits and gravy.  It was out of this world!  Hot off the stove-top at nearly 3am.  After no real meal for 24 hours, I was like, “FEED ME SEYMOUR!!!”  This was unreal… usually when you are slow like me, the food is cold, nasty, and picked over at the finish – if there is any.  THANK YOU Warren and Epic Ultras!

After the meal, the desire to sleep hit me – HARD. I managed to stay upright until Adam Monaghan and his pacer Zach Bailor came in, and Adam was hilariously exhausted… I’m not sure what in the hell he was talking about!   I wanted to watch my new friend Dave Renfro cross the finish as well as Sir Cargo himself Ken Childress, but I couldn’t fight the urge to  sleep.  Struggling mightily, I bared my muddy white ass to the darkness while changing clothes, warmed up the car, cocooned up in the front seat, and passed the hell out.  Shitty, restless near-sleep followed for the next few hours- until I decided I was rested enough to make the hour-long drive home.  I waved and yelled goodbye to Eric and his crew who were finally breaking things down nearly 26 hours after the start of the race.  I got home, showered, and wallowed in the misery of my destroyed body the rest of the day.  I absently wondered how I was going to pace the Colorado Marathon next weekend when I could barely walk to the bathroom…

So here is a summary:

  • This course is as beautiful as it is difficult.  That is why Justin and I always refer the the Elk City Hiking trail as a her.  She is a total bitch, but one hell of a lover!

  • Epic Ultras puts on the best organized, staffed, freaking-A awesome events on the planet.  Finish line, starting line, communications, EVERYTHING.  The BEST.  Bar None.  I have a $100 dollar bill to anyone who can show me any company that does it better.

  • Ultrarunners is the coolest, most badass, fun, and amazingly crazy bastards in the world.  I love hanging out with them.  A truly supportive community… not some dysfunctional family.

  • With every challenge I take on I find out a little more exactly who I am and how much I am capable of. Completing The FlatRock 101k is my proudest ultrarunning accomplishment.

finish line

 

 I just want to say thanks again to everyone involved.  This truly was an experience of a lifetime.

And…. don’t forget… BE EPIC!!!

Zach

Zach Adams

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2013 FlatRock 101K – Part I- “FlatRock²” or “The Sun’ll Come Out Tomorrow ♪♫♪♫”

Pre-Race

DSC_9349_s_jpgI think my system has finally managed to digest (or at least excrete) the overdose of Epicness that I consumed on April 27th and 28th at the inaugural Flatrock 101K. Thirty-seven ultrarunner BADASSES representing NINE STATES – including ALASKA-  showed up for what would undoubtedly be one of the hardest 100K trail run in the Midwest, and maybe the entire country – given muddy and wet trail conditions.  Everyone has already heard about the drizzly rain, steep climbs, jagged rocks, soul-sucking mud, and beautiful scenery.  You all know how challenging this course was after dark (at least for all of us mere mortals who aren’t as fast as winner Brian Ortell from Iowa or female co-champs Candi Paulin and Grace Lin).  All of these things I will remember without a doubt…   BUT…  As the destroyed leg muscles rebuild themselves and the pain fades, the memory of the overall experience is permanently imprinted in my heart and mind.  The difference is Epic Ultra’s goal of co-creating the experience of a lifetime for ALL ultrarunners participating in their events.  This isn’t some shitty hyped up sales pitch to grab a bunch of wannabes’ money in exchange for a Facebook photo shoot.  These so-called ‘Tough’ Mudder, Warrior Dash, or some other bullshit money grab Cornstalk and Confetti Glitter Glider Mile are in the business of making money NOT making epic ultrarunners… whatever.  Don’t even get me started on that shit.  Epic Ultras’ primary goal is to inspire you to, “Co-create the experience of a lifetime.”  Boy did we.  In the simplest terms, the Inaugural Flatrock 101K was an event put on by ultrarunners for ultrarunners in a way that gave every single competitor the opportunity to Be Epic, which is Epic Ultras primary mission…and GUESS WHAT??  You bet your sweet ass that they totally nailed it.. again!  Beginning with the information packet and and concluding with Warren’s cooked-to-order hot breakfast at 2:50 a.m., this was the most well executed event I have ever participated in.  From the minute I got to the pre-race dinner, I felt like I was being treated as if I was picked to win the race – and I felt like I did win the race when the air horn blasted, the cowbells rang, and I crossed the finish line in the middle of the damn night.  That’s a badass feeling for a middle-to-the-back of the pack guy like me.

I am less than 5 years into my ultrarunning career and I have rarely (if ever) seen a “pre-race dinner”.  My guess is that it is a giant pain in the ass for race directors, especially considering it takes place as they are trying to put out all the last minute fires… you know, like barbed wire being stretched across the trail.  I loved it.  In a race with 37 runners I think there were at least 40 people (not including the Epic Brigade) eating from a mountain of spaghetti and damn good meatballs. Keep in mind, this was a night when the weather was mostly cold and rainy.   This should happen at every event, as it gives runners a chance to get to know each other and talk.  For me, a big reason I do what I do is the people I meet along the way.   I took advantage and talked with all the runners I already knew, and introduced myself to a few more.  Nervous chatter and ultra energy buzzed tangibly in the air.  It was awesome.  Eric gave a nice welcome, pre-race briefing and introduced and recognized several folks who greatly deserved it.  After most runners finished eating and headed off to rest, I hung around and watched the EU Brigade in action. Eric, Polly, Warren and Harrison and crew were buzzing around getting shit done despite me hanging around distracting them.  Talk about a well oiled machine!  The Epic Ultra Brigade deployed a mixed strategy of work and play and I was sincerely impressed at how efficiently they were getting shit done.  Eric was leading by example and would not hesitate to jump in the “heavy lifting” involved in getting things ready for the runners.  I was glad I got to see some of the behind the scenes stuff as it really gave me an even greater appreciation for the event.  The Epic “Brigade” is a fitting name, as they did have this thing down to a near military precision – while still having enough time to converse and drink a couple beers with me.

Anecdotal evidence concludes that the average internet reader has the attention span of a flea, so I will cut it off here for now.  There is just too much to say in one post, and I don’t want to leave any of it out.  Next post will go into excruciating detail of how many ounces of water I took in, my fuel plan, detailed pace strategies, and tons more fun stuff.  Nah, just kidding, its more about me hanging out with my new friends and just surviving to finish this awesome race.

Tune in next week for,  “Seen My Rubber Boots?” or “Move Over Yeti, This is Sasquatch Territory”…

Be Epic!

Zach

Zach Adams

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2013 Prairie Spirit 100: It Was Indeed EPIC – Part III – “Yetis in the Mist” or “Hand me my Lightsaber…”

DSC_9349_s_jpgPrairie Spirit 100 Part I

Prairie Spirit 100 Part II 

Previously, on “Prairie Spirit 100″…  Our unlikely hero has arrived in Ottawa in an effort to reach his goal of completing a 100 mile trail run.  A fun filled evening of dinner and camaraderie with other ultrarunners is ended with a restless night of sleep.  The morning greets our hero with overcast skies, cold temps, and the possibility of catastrophic weather conditions later in the day.  Undeterred, our hero gears up and sets out.  Having reached the Iola turnaround with his fearless companion Adam in less than 11 hours,  Zach connects with pacer Lisa and dives headlong into a burgeoning blizzard – determined not to let his solid 50+ mile effort be in vain.  Will the weather stop our determined friend and his companions?  Will they finish the race in spite of the screaming winds and the falling snow?  Will they be buried under ice waiting centuries to be thawed and reanimated?  Stay tuned to “Prairie Spirit 100, Part III – Yetis in the Mist” to find out!! 

So there I was, no bullshit… (every great story should begin with those words) getting ready to  leave the Iola aid station restocked and ready to rock.  Feeling good.  Joking, laughing, taking some pictures, and just having an overall great time.  I knew the weather was going downhill and that I had 51 or so miles to go, but I still had not for a single second entertained the idea that I might not be able to finish.  At almost exactly 5:00 p.m. I stepped out from behind the Iola shelter and started a jog directly into the whipping north wind.  I turned to Lisa and said, “HOLY F*&^#^g SHIT… IT’S GONNA BE A LONG NIGHT!”  Having that wind at your back was one thing; looking forward to it blasting you in the damn face for the next 16 or more hours is something totally different.  But we did what we do… we set our jaws and starting putting our left foot in front of our right foot.ps100lisa

I don’t know that many ways to keep describing the blowing wind and snow.  I was cold, wet, windy and snowy.  There were some places along the trail that offered some decent protection from the wind, and that became the goal.  Instead of running to the next aid station, we decided we would run to the next wind break.  Lisa talked to me while I just kept concentrating on keeping the fuel schedule right and kept moving as quickly as I could.  A few hours passed and we made it to Colony in pretty decent time, probably between 3-4 hours before the cutoff.  I was starting to get chilled from the wind and moisture but not bad as long as I was moving pretty good.  Coming into Colony, my goal was to get in and out ASAP so I didn’t get cold.  Adam had gotten out ahead of me and was already at Colony when I got there, heading to sit in the car with his wife and warm up some.  He hadn’t packed nearly as many drop bags as I had or as much cold weather gear either.  At Colony I busted open 4-5 hand warmers and shoved them in the fronts and backs of my gloves and in my balaclava on my face. I also grabbed another pair of bigger glove shells to wear and a big fleece hood with a drawstring around the face.  It was dark by now and I had a light clipped to my hat with the hood over the top, drawstring cinched tight.  I must have looked like Kenny from Southpark with a beam of light shooting from my head.  It was quite comical I am sure.  Lisa and I left Colony before Adam and wouldn’t see him again.  61 miles done.  Next stop Welda.

Not much to say about the trip from Colony to Welda – except that about a mile out of Colony I lost my water bottle from its waist holster.  Now I am taking Hammer Gels and Endurolytes every 30 minutes for the next 2-3 hours without water.  If you don’t already know this – be aware- cold gels are hard as hell to swallow with water.  Shit.  Now I am starting to feel like I am royally screwed.  I begin to get colder in my core, despite the fact that my hands and feet are still fairly comfortable.  Lisa reassures me that we will find a new bottle at Welda, which reminds me that Travis will be there and I convince myself somebody will hook me up.  We make it to Welda and Ben and the Trail Nerds contingent once again hook me up with that awesome broth.  I end up just grabbing a half full Sam’s Club water bottle off the table that they said had been there for a while, filled it up and headed out.  I did not want to linger, I could feel the cold really starting to set in.  I grabbed some food, ate a gel, put on another layer of jackets (I think) and we took off again.  Almost conciously feeling my body temperature dropping, I said, “C’mon, we gotta go.”  to Lisa.  So, after a less than 5 minute stop, we went.  Sixty-nine miles down.  Garnett, here we come.

The next couple miles were very hard for me.  I was starting to shake really badly right out of the aid station and had to start fighting the urge to go back and call it a day.  The weather was getting worse by the second.  Stronger winds, colder temps, heavier snow, and less tree cover all combined with my dropping core temperature were giving me serious doubts.  These doubts served to anger me, and I just kept telling myself, “Move and get warm or stop and freeze.”  Over and over I kept telling myself this.  Eventually I did get a bit warmer and maybe 6 miles from Garnett, I was moving pretty good again.  It was so hard to even see the trail at this point, much less find footprints to follow. Judging speed and distance was downright impossible.  The snow was getting deeper and was starting to take its toll on my feet.  Every step was just getting tougher and shuffling wasn’t much of an option with how much deeper it got.  Once again I slowed to the point that I quickly started to get really cold. The best I could manage was a swift walk.  This was not enough to keep my temperature up, and unfortunately, about an hour away from Garnett I was shivering uncontrollably.  My thoughts started to get cloudy and I was getting disoriented. Once I thought I had gotten turned around because Lisa got a bit ahead of me and I contemplated turning around.  Then I realized the footsteps I were going to follow were mine.  Honestly, it was getting pretty scary.  Getting close to Garnett, I could see the glow of a town in the distance and this gave me some renewed hope.  The Garnett train station was warm.   All I had to do was put on some warm, dry clothes, warm up for a while, and then I could go on.  At this moment, I realized I wasn’t shivering anymore and that my lips felt “asleep”  – like your foot when you sit cross-legged too long.  Yeah, this is not good.  Exclusively walking at this point, it took about 30 more minutes to get to the train station.  We got there really close to 12:30 am.  77.5 miles done.  Less than a marathon to go.

Courtesy Fun Memories Photography

The cutoff for Garnett was now 4 a.m. so I feel like I have plenty of time to eat and get warm before going back.  I sit down and grab some ham sandwiches and start eating.  I really had a hunger for real food.  While I was eating, something strange happened.  As I warmed up I began to violently shiver.  I mean VIOLENTLY.  It was like the warmer I got, the colder I felt.  This was the beginning of the end for me.  People were dropping like flies at Garnett.  It is getting worse and worse by the second.  Then, without warning, the power goes out.  Of course there is no problem with light, as all the runners have headlamps, but it is dark.  The ranger in charge of the trail shows up and offers to get a radiant propane heater.  I overhear talk that roads are being closed and people are getting stuck.  Power is out all over town.  I see RD Eric Steele talking to him and although I didn’t hear the words, I feel like they are discussing when to pull the plug.  After an hour I am colder than when we were outside, and upon trying to stand up to go to the bathroom, I realize my legs are locked up.  After shuffling to the bathroom I go outside and the snow is blowing from EVERYWHERE.  I think to myself, “Well.  I’m done.”

That was it.  I told Lisa I was done, and she almost looked relieved that she didn’t have to go back out.  She called her sister who would come from Ottawa to get us…. assuming she could.  We eventually made it back to the hotel and I think I found a bed somewhere around 4:30 a.m.  I was upset but would find out that even if I had gone on after Garnett that the race was officially stopped around 5 a.m., and that I would have likely pulled at Richmond.  Adam gave it up a mile out of Welda, calling his wife and declaring that enough was enough.  All said and done, there were 5 official finishers in the 100 mile race.  FIVE.  Congrats to those five insane bastards.  I know there are others who would have finished had the race not been stopped, so cheers to them as well!

The logistical concerns of 100 & 50 mile races with nearly 150 combined participants are immense under even the greatest of weather conditions.  Race Director, Eric Steele, was facing weather conditions which could only be described as horrendous.  As a race director he was forced to walk the edge of a razor and ultimately make the decision at which point it was no longer safe enough to let his 100 mile runners continue.  Caught in the middle of an all out shootout between loved ones SCREAMING to shut it down and ultrarunners hell bent on finishing AT ALL COSTS, Eric ultimately had to make the decision.  As a hardcore ultarunner himself, he knows what it means to give it everything you have to achieve your goals, and well understood the heartbreak it would cause to stop a runner that physically could continue.  I did not envy his situation in the slightest.  Ultimately, it came down to a question of  life and death, so when the Park Rangers informed him Sunday morning, shortly after 5 am, that they could no longer access the trail, he knew it was done and had to pull the plug per his agreement with them.  If a rescue was needed and could not be made, a runner could die.   I appreciate that Eric kept the 100 mile race going as long as was possible given the circumstances, and I truly feel that if there was any possibly way to even somewhat safely let the runners keep going he would have.  I applaud his efforts and those of his Epic Ultra Brigade.  And if you are one of those who was screaming at him, smacking his car windows, or possibly threatening him over it – for EITHER stopping or not stopping the race – then I say, why don’t you pull your head out of your ass, quit acting like a thumbdick, and shit and fall back into it…just my two cents.

What an adventure!   It was only in the following few days that I was really able to pull the entire event into perspective.  Amazing is the only way to describe it.  Everyone involved contributed so much to make this event what it was… Epic.  That is the only word I have to describe this race.  EPIC!

Final thought.  I would have finished this race.  I know under any other weather, that this is true.  You can guarantee that I will be back for redemption.  Until then, I will content myself with a ‘little’ 100K down at the Flatrock 101K next weekend.  Join me, who knows, maybe it will be even more EPIC!!!  If you have any thoughts, questions, or comments I would love to hear them.

Be Epic!

Zach Adams

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