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The Race Across The Sky

PST100-2015-2657
“The Race Across the Sky.”  LT100.  Leadville.  Whatever you call it, it is now in the books for 2015.  Less than half of the nearly 650 brave runners from all over the world who started the race managed to power themselves across the finish under the 30 hour time limit.  I was the 281st finisher of the 2015 Leadville Trail 100, earning a finisher’s medal and shiny new buckle on my first attempt.  To be completely honest, I am still amazed by this fact.  There were several points during this race where I just didn’t think that I was a strong enough runner to move fast enough to stay ahead of the cutoffs.  While I never seriously contemplated quitting, I several times resigned myself to the fact that the next aid station would probably be my last before my time ran out.  But first, let’s rewind a few months and lay the groundwork and build the context of this ultra-adventure.

The Lottery

This was the first year that the race had moved to a lottery based entry.  It is not weighted, requires no qualifier, and is purely random – as far as I know.  It was pretty simple, once December rolled around, you would pay your $15.00 and cross your fingers.  In January I received a congratulations email that I had been selected and needed to confirm, which I immediately did.  I was totally geeked up and telling anyone who would listen that my flatlander ass had gained entry to one of the oldest and most well-known 100 mile mountain ultras in the country.  In about 8 months I would be climbing over the Rocky Mountains on foot, digging as deep as I could dig to find that “inexhaustible well of grit, guts, and determination” that founder Ken Chlouber so famously references each year at the pre-race meeting.  Eight months is a long time to focus, train, and plan toward a single goal.  This takes us to training.

Training

I was dedicated to working hard.  I was dedicated to the idea of doing everything in my power to give myself a chance at success.  Hard work was the core strategy of my training plan.  I decided on running faster, higher intensity miles but reducing the total number of miles in a traditional 100 miler plan.   My point was that I had a strong mileage base and knew I could power hike a good long time if need be.  What I needed was the power to be able to make the long, steep climbs Leadville is notorious for without eating up a massive amount of time.  Scattered throughout the months of January, I also ran several races that broke up the cycle, and each forcing me to take a step-back week after a hard effort.  I did 25k, (2) 50K, (2) 6hr timed, 50 mile, 60 mile track, 101K, and 30 miles of pacing on a road race.  Nearly all of these efforts ended up as new PRs for the course or distance.  Two highlights were an 8:40 50 mile finish at Prairie Spirit and a 10th overall sub 5 hour 50K at War Eagle in Arkansas.  One major observation throughout this process:  Staying focused on a single race for 8 months is very challenging.  Breaking the time into sections with step-stone goals (races) was definitely helpful.

Race Week

The last 10 days or before the race were brutal for me.  The steep drop-off of training miles and idle time resulted in me damn near driving myself nuts.  Over-thinking, over-analyzing, and just pure anxiety were the central theme of this time period.  I had trouble focusing on anything not related to the race and sleeping at night got really restless and somewhat frustrating – to be honest – it really sucked.  But, eventually the time passed, the race van was packed, and by 8:30am on Thursday, August 20th 2015 we were on the long desolate road across Western Kansas that would eventually take us to Leadville Colorado.

Road Trip

Candi had taken care of most of the packing and organizing of our gear and aid stuff that we would need for the race.  She did an excellent job at making sure we had everything we would need, without filling all of our bags and the van with a bunch of crap we wouldn’t use.  On top of being a master at logistics, my wife is a total badass who can go for days with almost no sleep and does not know the meaning of the word “quit”.  She can crew and pace with the very best of them – and I am DAMN GLAD she is heading up my Leadville crew. I would definitely need her if I stood a snowballs chance in hell to finish under 30 hours – plus she is really hot!

Ryan showed up well before the scheduled time, and only a few minutes behind “schedule” we hit the road.  Ryan Schwatken is a fairly new ultrarunner, but has already notched several 50K finishes, 101K at FlatRock, and a very gutsy 50 mile effort where he demonstrated a toughness and tenacity that I am not sure that I have seen matched.  Ryan made it to that finish despite nearly EVERYTHING going wrong for him and walking 20 miles on two of the largest blisters I have ever seen.  Ryan has also crewed for me before – taking on the horrendous driving responsibilities at Ozark Trail last fall.  He is a solid addition to any 100 mile pace/crew and a great friend.

After five stops in two hours to drain the excess hydration, our first real stop was Wichita to pick up one of the most undeniably entertaining and inspiring humans I have ever met, Mr. Epic Ultras himself – Eric Steele.  Eric has been running ultras himself for more than 20 years and now puts on the best ultras in the Midwest.  Eric also earned his own Leadville buckle some 15+ years ago.  A fountain of ultrarunning knowledge and motivation, Eric is more importantly my brother-from-another-mother.  We picked up Eric and met with another Wichita ultrarunner, and good friend, Dave Meeth for lunch – who provided us with a bunch of great energy and mojo, wishing us luck and sending us on our way.

The drive out to Colorado was mostly uneventful and consisted of food and pit stops.  You see, I was given the following advice:  “The best way to avoid altitude sickness is to be massively hydrated.”  I followed that advice before a training trip to the mountains in July and it worked perfectly.  The downside is having to stop every 50 miles in order to keep your bladder from bursting.

After a long drive beginning in Southeastern Kansas and finishing up in the haze obscured mountains (courtesy of the California wildfires) of the high country of Colorado, we arrived at The New Summit Inn in Frisco.  We got checked in and relaxed in our room.  Ryan and Eric went on a beer run and watched some local teenager wiggle on the ground outside of the hotel.  This is its own story, but basically they supposed he had too much of the newly legalized recreational “Colorado herbage”.  I slept decently, knowing I still had one more day before the race started and that basically everything I could do was already done.

Pre-Race

Friday would be the first time we drove into Leadville as a team.  We arrived at the packet pickup on Harrison Street and I got my swag bag complete with my #5 bib.  I was also given a wristband with name, d.o.b, and relative medical info.  This band signifies your entry into the race, if you quit or miss a cutoff, they cut it off.  If the band is cut, your race is over.  After getting checked in, we had a couple hours before the pre-race meeting, so of course, we ate.  After breakfast we walked around checking out the town.  Leadville has a really touristy yet throwback kind of feel to it, and the streets were filled up with runners, their crews, and family members.  I remember feeling a really cool vibe as though we were all on the verge of something pretty important.  At Lake County High School gym, completely surrounded by a massive herd of runners and crew, the pre-race briefing had the hairs on my neck standing on end.  The speakers featured Dr. John, the funny medical director, who was giving out great last minute advice in a very funny and most entertaining way, followed by race founder Ken Chlouber who has the ability to motivate a large crowd with just a few words.  According to this old cowboy (and 10+ time Leadville 100 finisher), “You are better than you think you are and can do more than you think you can do.”  At the end of the meeting, I fully believed him.  I took his oath and repeated out loud, “I commit to NOT QUIT.”  After the meeting was over, we drove out to the village of Twin Lakes where I would have aid available at mile 40 and 60.  It is also the final aid station before the round trip over Hope Pass.  After a while driving in the mountains, we ended up back in Frisco eating one of my favorite pre-race meals; KFC.  Finger. Lickin’. Good.  After a short trip to the store to get ice and water and we ended up back at our lodge and began to get my gear ready for the early (more like middle of the night) wake-up call needed to get us to the 4am start line on time.  I had a couple pre-celebratory beers with Eric and Ryan, and Candi helped me get my race clothes ready and my race vest loaded for action – ensuring I didn’t end up at the start line with two left socks, no underwear, and missing a glove.  Did I mention how great she was?

TIME TO RACE!Starting Line

Start to May Queen

The start of the race was pretty chilly (35-40 degrees), but Ryan let me wear his hoodie for the 20 minutes or so we waited around the start line.  At exactly 4:00am, Ken blasted his shotgun signaling the start of the race.  More than 600 unacquainted best friends all sharing a single goal, we effortlessly rolled downhill and out of town eventually getting to Turquoise Lake where the trail became single track.  We were in an extremely long conga-line but somehow I never felt like I was being either pushed or held up.  It was quiet and dark, not much chatter.  The first 2 hours and 22 minutes went by in a flash, and before you know it I had made half a loop around the lake and was at the May Queen aid station 13.5 miles into the race.  I was quickly in and out of May Queen, filling my bottles and grabbing a bit of food.  We had decided in advance that the crew would skip this stop because 1.) I really wouldn’t need anything.  2.) Driving out to this aid station is a pain in the ass on a single road with 600 other crews.  It was the least I could do for my crew considering what they were doing for me.  It was a good decision as I didn’t even stay at the aid station for a full minute.  My plan was well established from the start – I figured I could maintain the required pace, but would not have much extra time to screw around at aid stops – I kept telling myself to plan ahead, get what you need, and move your ass on down the trail.

May Queen to Outward Bound

The first good climb is in this section on a bit of gnarly single track that takes you up to some dirt roads to get to the top of Sugarloaf.  I mixed in some good powerhiking here at the steeper spots and ran what I could without sending my heart into an explosive range.  Got rained on a bit as a little thunder shower rolled through.  It was mostly overcast and but the sprinkle did seem to knock out the smoky haze somewhat.  Eventually I crested the top of Sugarloaf Mountain and got to bomb down the section known as Powerline.  Powerline is exactly what it sounds like, a trail/jeep/maintenance access road that runs under the power lines.  No switchbacks, it can be very, very steep at times.  I was trying to hold myself back so I didn’t trash my quads, but found it very difficult to run slow.  It was a lot of fun blasting down the side of the mountain!  At the base was a couple miles of road that led past the Fish Hatchery (previous site of this aid station) to the Outward Bound aid station.  This was basically set up off the road in a pasture.  Candi, Eric and Ryan were here standing by the timing chute ready to crew me for the first time of the day.  They took my trash, filled my bottles, and restocked my vest.  This was roughly 24 miles into the race, and I still was not in need of much, so I was in and out of OB very quickly and headed on toward Halfpipe.  Knowing the first 40 miles of the race are the “easiest”, I wanted to make the most of them, without pushing too hard.  That is a difficult balance to find, but I was for the most part sticking with my plan.

OB to Half Pipe

This section kind of sucked.  Leaving OB was a section of mowed grass leading across the pasture, followed by a section of pavement, finally followed by a forest road before getting to Half Pipe.  It was pretty hot and dusty and I was firmly in my first rough patch, but managed to eat and drink my way through it.  Along this section there was an alternate crew access point and I got to see my people for a couple minutes, which I did not expect.  They filled me up, but more importantly they perked me up, which I was definitely needing at that point. Arriving in Half Pipe at the 50K mark in just a couple minutes under 6 hours, I was still right at my goal time.  I am not really sure what the hell Half Pipe is, but it was a pretty cool aid station, just not crew accessible – so needless to say, I didn’t lounge around here very long.  I grabbed a handful of GU’s, my primary fuel source, and hit the dusty trail.

Half Pipe to Twin Lakes

Once you leave Half Pipe it is a pretty steady climb for about 5 miles.  Nothing real steep, just kind of always going up, and it is mostly not-really-that-technical single track.  I got into a pretty good groove here, but was a little slower than I felt, I am guessing it was due to the steady uphill.  It is 8.5 miles to TL but seems like at least 15.  There was a small outpost on Mt. Elbert sponsored by CamelBak where they had fluids, but otherwise there is not much to break up this chunk.  I was ok mentally but was a bit sleepy and kind of slow, which led to me getting to Twin Lakes at noon, about 20 minutes behind my goal time, but well within the cutoff.  This aid station was freaking huge!  I am telling you it was like a circus of people and shelters about a half mile long.  The aid station was in an old fire station, or at least the bays where you park firetrucks.  I found my crew, and they took expert care of me, getting some different foods in me.  I think I managed to eat a banana and some mixed fruit along with some watermelon and sandwich quarters.  It definitely felt like lunchtime, and I hit the aid table like an all you can eat buffet.

Twin Lakes to Winfield

Twin Lakes is the last stop before going up and over Hope Pass.  In a span of about 5 miles, runners ascend from 9200’ to 12,600’ above sea level on rocky, single track trails.  To make it even more fun, leading up to the climb, adventurous runners get to wade through knee deep water for about ½ of a mile after leaving the aid station to get to the base of the mountain.  Once you get just above the tree line is the Hopeless aid station.  This crazy group of volunteers pack all supplies up on llamas.  Yes, llamas.  They are an awesome bunch and made the best potato soup on the course.  I fought like hell to get up the mountain – getting passed by a lot of folks who were either a.) Much better climbers than me. b.) Much better at high altitude than me. 3.) BOTH.  Whatever the case, I just kept hammering away at the mountain, hiking 50-100 yards and leaning on a tree or sitting on a rock for 6 deep breaths.  I was really struggling to keep my heartrate below about 5900 bpm.  Eventually I made it to the Hopeless aid station, albeit much slower than I would have liked.  I ate some soup and sandwiches, filled my bottles and sat for 3 minutes (I timed it).  One would assume that since you made it to the aid station, it would be time to head on down the back side…. Nope…  There are probably another 500 or so feet to climb before reaching the summit on some very steep switchbacks.  Once cresting Hope Pass, I got to stare in awe for miles in both directions before beginning the steep ascent that would take me to Winfield and the half way point of this very tough race.  The back side of Hope Pass is super steep, and I fell on my ass more than once. It was steep enough that I was not doing too much running, feeling like I would end up rolling off the side of the mountain and die should I catch my toe.  At the base of the back side, the course turns and heads to the aid station that marks the turn around, and I thought it was much closer than it actually was.  This section of the race was easily the most painful, depressing, and not very much fun part of the entire adventure.  I came hauling my out-of-water-not-eating-anything-ass into Winfield at just before 4:45pm.  The cutoff here was “gone by 6 pm”, and to be honest, I did not know if I would be ready to leave in time.  I had planned on being here by 3:45 but took an ass-whoopin’ climbing up and down Hope.  Ken Chlouber had quoted Mike Tyson at the pre-race meeting, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”  That had proved so true, and my jaw hurt like hell from the uppercut that the mountain gave me.  Coming up the road I was greeting by my wonderful wife who had had been pacing nervously, waiting for me to arrive.  I handed her my bottles and said, “Fix me.”  She asked what was wrong, but honestly I was pretty loopy and said I wasn’t sure.  Our plan had been made in advance, that WHEN I began to struggle, they were to force-feed me, take no excuses and kick my ass down the trail.  Ryan and Candi were giving me food to eat (not options) while Eric was getting ready to pace.  I asked for my knee braces because it hurt to run down – not a good sign when you are HALF way through a 100 mile mountain race.  I also took an Aleve and drained a bottle of Sustained Energy (THANK YOU HAMMER NUTRITION).  After 15 minutes and what felt like an eternity, they helped me get up of the ground and start walking me out of the aid station.  This is where I could say that my crew saved my race, but it would actually be more accurate to say that this is where they STARTED saving my race – details to follow.

Winfield to Twin Lakes

I have now passed half way, and seen the entire Leadville Trail 100 course.  I have Eric Steele pacing me for at least the next 10.5 miles back to Twin Lakes, with only 2 things standing in our way.  The first is a big-ass mountain and the second is a 9:45pm cutoff.  We left Winfield at exactly 5:01pm and the way I was feeling I might not make it back up Hope Pass before 9:45pm!  As I had experienced in other ultras, I began to feel much better very quickly after taking in food and fluids.  A combination of having someone like Eric to leech energy off of and the food I had ingested breathed new life back into me.  After a while we passed people still headed to the turn and it hit me that they would not be making the return trip.  They would be timed out at Winfield and their LT100 dreams would be over for the day.  While I felt bad for them, it also lit a fire under me that I still had a chance and that I needed to push hard if I really wanted that belt buckle.  Digging deep is a central theme of Leadville, and that is exactly what I did.  I dug as deep as I ever had and propelled myself back up the steep side of Hope Pass.  The front is steep, but the back side is a fucking wall.  With the help of Eric’s expert singing and hilarious dirty limericks echoing on the mountain, we made it back to the top of Hope Pass, passing several runners on the climb.  At this point I was feeling GREAT, literally and figuratively on top of the world!  We stopped for a bite at Hopeless before jetting on down the mountain.  Everything was going perfectly, and I was making good time as the sun went down.  Once getting back under the tree line, it started getting dark very quickly.  Eric and I bantering back and forth, tired legs, and dim trails led to a couple of falls fairly close to the bottom.  Both times I rolled my left ankle just a bit, but both times it burned for a minute but was OK.  We crossed the meadow and eventually made it back to the water crossing which at mile 60 felt pretty damn good to me.  Upon arrival back at the Twin Lakes aid station the crew was excited and glad to see me feeling so much better.  I was in at about 9:00pm, 45 minutes ahead of the cutoff.  I thanked Ryan and Candi for saving me at Winfield and started eating.  And eating.  I also lubed up my feet and put on fresh socks and shoes.  Amazingly, a fresh pair of socks and shoes can really give you a nice boost.  Ryan was all set to pace, and after maybe 8 minutes I was headed toward Half Pipe and the 69 mile point – by way of a long climb up Mt. Elbert.

Twin Lakes to Half Pipe

There is not too much to say about this section aside from the fact that right after round tripping Hope Pass, you have about a 3 mile section of single track that gains about 1400 feet.  To put this in perspective, that is only about 100 feet less than the Powerline climb at mile 80.  Not sure why this section does not get more attention, but it is pretty rough.  I had been warned by a number of people to be ready for it, and I was.  The plan was to hike it as hard as we could and the try and make up some time on the 5.5 mile descent into Half Pipe.  We stuck with the plan, and Ryan pushed me whenever he could, and always kept me eating on schedule, the method Eric had started on his section.  This worked great, and my energy never lagged too much.  We leapfrogged the same 12-20 people for the entire section into Half Pipe, and saw one guy puke at least 10 times.  I just kept thinking, “I am tired, but I freaking glad I am not THAT GUY.”  I was really slowing down at this point, but we still managed to gain back a few minutes and got farther ahead of the 1:15am cutoff.  We got to Half Pipe and almost exactly midnight and I sat for a minute while Ryan got me broth and filled my bottles.  I knew it was another 6.5 miles to get back to Outward Bound, which means it was almost time to climb the dreaded Powerline.  It also meant that Candi would be pacing me soon, which is always a huge boost for me.

Half Pipe to Outward Boundbazu-6817858

This section was weird.  The road was smooth, dusty and gray.  I felt like we were running on the moon, although my legs did not agree that it was moon gravity.  Ryan eventually pulled out a handheld flashlight and it was super bright and helped a great deal to give depth to the world.  I was in a hazy , dreamlike state and just kept shuffling along at this point – eating when Ryan said eat, shuffling when he said run.  It seemed like no time before we covered 3 miles and returned to the alternate crew access point, which was good, because I was getting very sick of GU gels and was having a bit of trouble swallowing them.  Candi and Eric mixed me up a bottle of Sustained Energy, and it was a great boost.  We got in and out and made good time toward the OB aid station.  A couple miles before the aid station we got to the open area out of the wooded mountain and it got cold.  To me it felt as it the temperature had dropped 25 degrees.  I was shivering and only had a light jacket on, and zipping it up only helped a little.  Thankfully, Ryan had his rain jacket stowed on his pack and let me wear it.  Chances are that I would have been battling hypothermia had he not had it.  So once again, the crew just kept on saving my race.  We got to OB a full hour before the cut-off at almost exactly 2am.  Candi was on deck and ready to run!  I sat and gathered myself for a minute and they briefed me on time, cutoff, and what I would need to do to get my buckle.  It seemed impossible that I could go another 20 miles as tired as I was feeling, but I had long ago decided that it didn’t matter what the “outlook” was- I was just going to keep going until I either crossed the finish line or they told me I missed the cutoff and I was pulled.

Outward Bound to May Queen

Leaving OB at 2am means I would have 4 hours and 30 minutes to get up and over Powerline and back to May Queen, a section about 11 miles long.  Aside from tEPIC Finishhe steep-as-shit climb up Powerline (with 80 mountain miles on your body), there is also a section of really technical single track just waiting to twist your ankles and pop your knees for you.  Also, if you get to May Queen at the 6:30am cutoff, that only leaves you 3:30 to cover the last half marathon which is either single track or going uphill at a fairly steep slope.  3:30 sounds like a lot to do a half marathon, but trust me, at the end of a Leadville, it sounds like a sprint.  Candi prodded me out of the aid station and it was up the road until we got back to the Powerline trail.  I took the advice of a few Leadville veterans and just kept grinding.  Don’t look up to the top – just focus on the next 50 feet – then do it again.  Candi did a mixture of cheering me on and challenging me to push harder.  She is as good a pacer as she is wife, and I am sure glad she is mine.  We grinded away at the climb and I rested when my heartrate got too high.  Eventually, after the 200 or so false summits, we made it!  At the top was an oasis we were not expecting – a party on the mountain masquerading as an aid station.  While I am pretty sure this is not an officially sanctioned stop, I was glad it was there.  Folks were partying their asses off and I only wish I felt good enough to sample the libations.  We burned down the back side of Sugarloaf at a nice interval shuffle and eventually got back to the single track.  It was slow going, but eventually we made it back to the road into May Queen shortly before 6am.

May Queen to Finish

Coming into MQ, the crew was there to meet us and take care of us as they had done all day and night.  Eric and Ryan filled my bottles while I used the porta-John.  I felt like time was running out and was somewhat in panic mode, even though I had 4 hours to cover the last 13.5 miles.  I knew I had slowed down a lot and desperately did not want to be coming up 6th street as time expired.  Candi gave me a Red Bull and told me when it was gone, we were running until we got back off the road and onto the trail.  As we took off, a guy said, “Great job, but you need to RUN some around the lake, you need the time!”  It was strange how hearing it from someone else can light a fire, and it did.  We took off and actually knocked down a 12 minute mile in the first time since very early in the race.  Candi told me to just take what the trail gives, and that is exactly what we did.  We were able to run most of the way back around Turquoise Lake at about 15 minute mile pace, pretty good for 90 some miles into a race, over rolling single track.  We got a surprise from Eric and Ryan at Tabor boat ramp, they had stopped just to cheer us on and ask if we needed anything, but we just took a hug and rolled on.  After we finally came up off the trail and onto the road,Buckle it feels like you should be done… but you are NOT.  I was also warned about this, and just kept telling myself that we are close, but not there yet.  Time wise we were in pretty good shape and I realized in my mind I could walk the entire rest of the race and get the finish, but still had this strange feeling that something bad could still happen.  We jogged/walked intervals off and on and I marveled at how damn steep these hills were while getting ever closer to town.  We finally came off the last long dirt road hill and got back onto the pavement that would become 6th street and lead us to the finish line.  In the last mile, Eric and Ryan joined Candi and I as we marched proudly toward the red carpet and ultimately the finish line.   As we looked up the hill and saw runners and their families crossing the finish, it hit me for the first time that I was actually going to do this.  With the help of my wife and best friends, we were going to make my Leadville dream a reality.  We joined hands in unity, raised them in the air, and crossed the finish line together with about 30 minutes to spare.  After a round of hugs for my team, Marilee hung the medal around my neck and Ken gave me a big sweaty hug.  Needless to say it was a long, difficult adventure and that moment crossing the finish line is most definitely one that I will never forget.

 

Until next time… BE EPIC!

Zach

Nobody’s Perfect

PST100-2015-2657The many crazy, wonderful people that I have met while running or volunteering at ultras have overwhelmingly been of extremely high character and integrity.  They have also shown a willingness to share and sacrifice in ways that may actually make things harder on themselves in order to help someone else reach their goals.  Ultrarunners are tough, hardcore, and sensitive all at the same time.  Even amateur ultrarunners can be meticulous planners and organizers and execute a game plan like a professional athlete.  Ultrarunners can train relentlessly and grind thru the tough times in tough conditions and get the job done.  They are fun as hell and can joke and tell stories with the absolute best of them.  And beer… don’t even get me started on the variety and quantity they can consume.  They are a truly unique breed.  The bottom line is that ultrarunners are freakin’ awesome!

BUT – nobody is perfect – and chances are that if you start to think too highly of yourself and your abilities – you will be a total dick sometimes.  So, read closely, and don’t “be that guy”.

Here are the 5 Ways that Ultrarunners SUCK.

1.  They smell awful.  When you are constantly training and drenched in your own salty sweat and other bodily secretions, you get pretty immune to it.  Your favorite running gear only gets washed up a couple times a week (or month) and is usually just hung up to air dry. After all, you will be running again tomorrow.  And the shoes…  You run a few hundred miles and a pair of shoes, and they reek.  End of story.  Then the funk gets transferred to the car.  It does not come out.  And no guys, spraying some Axe Body Spray is not helping.  Do us all a favor, throw those shorts away and invest in a car with leather seats.

2.  Their relationship with food will drive you insane. They will eat it. All.  Assuming of course it is on the newest diet they are on.  All fat, no fat, no animal, no sugar, no carb, high carb, all plant, organic, grain fed, free range, all powder, all fast food, keto, paleo, Karno…. and so on and so forth.  Don’t spend too much on that initial “new diet” shopping trip because your ultrarunner spouse will likely be on a new one  in a month or so – a diet that suits training for that flat course WAY better.  And if they are like me personally, it’s not the composition of the food, but the vast quantity.  My brain knows I don’t need 5000 calories after a 4 mile run, but it does not seem to care.

3.  They are know-it-alls. Sorry people, but it’s true.  Basically every single one of my articles is telling you something I think you don’t already know.  The ultra-community has a propensity to think that because something works well for us that it is universal law.  They also realize that it is absolute fact that because, “this one time a gel gave me the runs” that it is poison.  Not quite.  Keep experimenting folks, maybe you will find something that you can push on other runners as the best (or worst) ever.  Or better yet, you could keep it secret to maybe gain a little edge.

4.  They will One-Up you on everything. If someone is telling you about this really steep hill they climb on long training runs, it is not totally required that you tell them about the place that is twice as steep and uphill both ways.  We get it… You work hard!  Great job.  It is the same with races.  If someone just got done telling you about how hot and humid your last 50K was, telling them that it was way hotter than that in your last 50 miler kind of makes you look like an ass.  Swapping stories can be a lot of fun, but please don’t do it to try and diminish the accomplishments of others or try and make yourself look like some sort of immortal douche.

5.  They take way too many selfies. Ultrarunners and selfie pics on the trail go hand in hand like tortillas and Nutella.  Me on a mountain, me in the desert, me at the finish line, me on the largest damn crater on the Moon!  Hell yeah you look good, and that is a kick-ass race – but please stick to posting the excruciating detail of your daily workout and leave the photography to the pros!  And no, thirty-two hashtags don’t make it better.  #wealreadyknewyouwereawesome  Ultrarunners and social media could be a whole other article.

Please keep in mind that I am including myself in all of the above listed items.  Hell, I should have started each list item with “we” or “I” rather than “they” or “their”.  Before you send out a lynch mob of ultrarunners with torches and pitchforks (how scary would that be?) just keep in mind that I found it very hard to come up with this list.  My running friends are basically the best overall group of people that I have ever been around.  But like I said earlier, taking yourself too seriously and treating others poorly is really the only thing that will truly make you suck.

Until next time… Be Epic!

Zach Adams

Setting the Pace

PST100-2015-2657I was recently asked, “Zach – your crewing article was great, but I am not really wanting to sit on my butt for hours just to pop blisters, make sandwiches and fill water bottles…  what about pacing?”   Well, “fictitious friend”, that is a great question!  However, for the purposes of disclosure, let me start with a disclaimer.  I have never actually paced another runner during an event.  This being said – I have utilized pacers in a wide variety of race distances and terrains during ultras.  I have also not utilized pacers – so I feel confident I can speak with authority on the subject matter.

First and foremost – and I cannot stress this enough – make sure that you are FAST ENOUGH to keep up with your pacer.  I personally have had to leave a pacer behind that could not keep up with me and ended up leaving said pacer alone in the dark in the middle of the night.  While I felt bad for her, I was feeling amazing, and was going to take advantage of that.  Another friend’s pacer decided to quit during his “shift” and did not run again for a year.  To avoid this situation, don’t agree to pace someone that you are likely unable to match speeds (and preferably push).  Also, be careful to assume that just because it’s the late miles of a 100 you will be able to keep up with a normally much faster runner – I have seen some ultrarunners run faster the last 10 than the first 10.

Secondly, don’t whine and complain about how bad YOU feel.  Chances are you have been out there much less time than your runner has, and the goal is to help THEM.  Your pissing and moaning might make them run faster to get away from you, but most likely they will just get very annoyed and take it out on the crew at the next aid station.  Best case scenario, your runner might just put in her earbuds and crank the Metallica – take the hint.

#Zandi - Shay featuring Johnny and the Daves
2014 Honey Badger “Van Clan”

Next order of business; be prepared.  I am talking “Eagle Scout” prepared!  Learn and study the course! Know the distance between aid stations.  Just like Dad driving to the family vacation destination, you can expect to hear “Are we there yet?”  Know your runners goals and push hard to exceed them!  Find out what you can do to help your runner and the crew when you roll into the next aid station.  Don’t forget to remind them to eat and drink, then take a mental note of when and how much.  It is important you do not let them get behind; else you are making things harder on the both of you.

Finally, and this is sometimes overlooked, HAVE FUN!  One of the best things you can do is help your runner keep their mind OFF the pain, the race, and the other hardships.  Crack jokes, sing songs, tell stories.  ENGAGE your runner to help pass the long arduous hours and distract them from the task at hand for a bit.  Some of my best pacer experiences were not because my pacer kept pushing Heed and Hammer Gels, but telling dirty jokes and sharing (and sometimes OVERSHARING) personal stories.  It really makes the low times much more bearable.

I could give you a thousand more tips on how to be an effective pacer, but if you follow the four simple rules above, you will be successful.  If you are interested in being a pacer but have not been asked, PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE!  Post availability on forums or Facebook pages!  It is a great way to see part of a course or race without ponying up the entry fee!  You may also make some great friends.  Last summer, I assembled a team of 4 complete strangers who spent more than 27 hours in the scorching Kansas heat for a guy and his gal that they barely knew – and now they are now my lifelong friends!

Until Next Time…. #BeEpic!

Zach Adams

Honey Badger Race Preview 2014

zachAt some miserably low and painful point of almost every longer ultra – especially a 100 miler – I find myself severely questioning my life choices.  Specifically, the choice to subject myself to the grueling punishment required to run long distances, in less than favorable weather, and on difficult terrain – for a belt buckle that I will never actually wear.  For the first time in my ultrarunning “career”, I am internally examining my strange compulsion before the race has beaten me to a pulp.  Way before.  Like 6 weeks before.  The Honey Badger 100 will begin at 6am on July 12th2014, and I will be at the starting line.

For those of you who don’t know, Honey Badger is not a trail run.  This race will take place on paved county roads west of Wichita Kansas near Cheney Reservoir and cover a good chunk of Kingman County.  The last 5 years on this weekend in July have seen daytime high temps in this area of 103, 92, 101, 98, and 101.  Of course it will be hot in Kansas in July, but it will also be windy.  As a matter of fact, one of the largest wind farms in the state is in the process of being built very near the race venue.  A wind farm converts wind energy into electricity using turbines – this seems to me like a good indication of how windy it will be.  Likely 25-30 mph sustained winds with gusts strong enough to blow over a baby elephant.  Also, it is not quite as flat as you would expect.  According to Map My Run, there will be enough elevation change to make things interesting.   The point of this course preview; it’s gonna suck.  Hard.

So by now you are probably asking yourself, “So why in seven bloody hells are you running this?”  Well, because it IS hard.  Duh.  If it was easy, everyone would do it.  Well, that and because Honey Badgers are pretty freaking badass and I want a buckle with one on it.  Also, there’s a little race called The Badwater Ultramarathon – maybe you have heard of it?  “The World’s Hardest Footrace”, it spans 135 miles across Death Valley from the Badwater Basin to Mt. Whitney’s Portal – in July.  Yes, I know the course has changed… don’t miss my point.  My point is that after reading what Marshall Ulrich, Dean Karnazes, Scott Jurek, and RD Eric Steele have written about their experiences at Badwater, I want to do it someday.  Additionally, it is hard as hell to get into, and costs a shitload of money, so you better make sure you got a big dose of “what it takes” before you head to Death Valley.  This brings me to Honey Badger.  It occurred to me sometime last summer that before I travel all the way to California to go swim in some bad water, I will schedule a death match with a Honey Badger in my own back yard!

I have been training pretty well in 2014 and have raced in the Winter Rock 25K, Prairie Spirit 100 Mile, Free State 40 Mile, FlatRock 101K, and 3Daysto100K (just the 50K).  My mileage base is solid, now I just need to get acclimated to the heat which has been difficult since we have had a very mild spring so far. I will also have the advantage of having a super badass crew lined up – and my ultra sweet badass running girlfriend Candi who will also be racing.  We plan on crossing the finish line together just like we did at FlatRock 101k.  Since historically I throw all my super detailed plans out the window I am keeping this one simple.  The plan is to run until the sun gets high and temps get around 90, then hunker down and survive until the sun goes down.  Hopefully our hydration and fueling will be going well and we can tick off some serious mileage before the sun comes up.  That’s it. Oh, and finish under the 36 hour time limit.

So there is still time… if you think you have what it takes, hell, why not sign up???  If you are even ENTERTAINING the idea of Badwater in the future, it seems like a no-brainer.  If that’s not enough, keep in mind it is an Epic Ultras event – So you KNOW it will inevitably BE EPIC!

Zach Adams

10 Keys To Insure A DNF In Your 1st 100 Mile Race

zach10 Keys to Insure a DNF in your 1st 100 Mile Attempt

1.       Select an Insanely Difficult Course

If you are going to run a freaking 100 mile race, why the hell would you run some wimpy flat course with no technical terrain or high altitudes?  What kind of wimpy hundred mile racer needs decent weather and tons of course support?  Don’t be a pussy just because you have never run 100 miles before!  Go big or go home!  I mean, you CRUSHED that last 50K you did… right?

2.       Continue Your Usual Training

It got you from the couch to 5K didn’t it?  It even helped you slide in before cutoff on that trail 50k.  One hundred miles in 30 hours – that’s only 3.33 miles per hour!  That is a slow walk.  There is no reason to destroy your joints with a bunch of back to back runs of 20 and even 30 mile runs.  Besides, who has the TIME to do that?

3.       Just “Wing it” On Race Day

This isn’t rocket science folks!  Here is all there is to it:  1. Show up.  2. Go to starting line. 3. Left foot forward, right foot forward, now repeat.   It’s that simple.  All these runners obsessing over distance between aid stations, what to put in drop boxes, cutoff times, weather, what to wear…. Blah blah blah.  The shit seriously makes me sick.  It’s never-ending.

4.       Race the First 50K

All this ultra-conservative talk about pacing in a 100 doesn’t make any sense.  Go out and run that 50K like you know that you can, and then slow down.  After all, you are experienced and know what pace you are comfortable to finish a 50k, why would you slow down before you need to?

5.       Eat and Drink Only When You FEEL Like It

Only eat and drink when you are hungry and thirsty.  Don’t cram food down your throat if your gut is upset.  All that will do is make you puke, and when you puke you are DONE.  Everyone knows this.  If you aren’t hungry – don’t eat.  If you aren’t thirsty –don’t drink.  This isn’t a shitty Weight Watchers meeting or your company fat-boy weight loss competition… why the hell would you count calories?  Besides, you have plenty of extra to burn, I mean c’mon we have all seen these fatties who run 100’s.

6.       Avoid Lube

Lube?  Seriously?  Are you a car? No. So why would you lube yourself?  Quit thinking you are some kind of machine that needs to stay fine tuned and well oiled.  What an ego you have!  All it is going to do is make you all greasy, smelly, and uncomfortable.  It will settle in your expensive running gear to grab all the dirt and road dust.    When you get that stuff on your fingers, it is nearly impossible to get off.  No one wants you grabbing stuff off the aid station tables with gross fingers.  NASTY!  Save the lube bottle for the bedroom fun you will be having with your significant other the night after!

7.       Go It Alone

You already have very few friends outside the community of ultrarunning weirdoes you know.  Do you really want ruin the few remaining friendships you have by asking your high school BFF to chase you around the countryside just to wait a few hours to do it again – just to fill your water bottles and pop your blisters?  I think not.  What about asking an ultrarunner who is injured or tapering?   Don’t think so… you already have to spend enough time with these psychos at prerace and at every aid satiation.  Take my advice; Go it alone.

8.       Find a Chair

25-30 hours is a long ass time.  Find a chair, take a load off and sit down for a while.  Hell, lay down for a while if you want.  Find a nice warm fire and get comfy.  A stop of 1 or 2 hours isn’t going to do anything but help.  I mean, it’s not like you are going to win. And you DO HAVE 30 hours.  Why not take a nap here or there.

9.       Stop if it Hurts

You have trained like you always have trained.  Surely that poke in your knee, burning toe, or swollen knee is a sign of serious injury!  Don’t risk missing next month’s Color Dash Diva Plunge because you are too hard headed to stop when you are in pain!  Do the right thing and listen to the pain and that little voice telling you that you need to stop.  Keep in mind your feet know best.

10.   Rationalize Failure

It’s ok to quit.  It is fine not to finish.  It’s not THAT BIG of a deal.  It IS just a hobby after all, you would have been running anyway.  Only a tiny fraction of the world’s population even ATTEMPTS to run 100 miles.  Quit acting like this is some kind of soul searching, healing, and transformational experience.  It’s just a race – not worth pain and suffering.

P.S.

If for some reason you did NOT read the title – this is the shit to do if you want a DNF.  If you want a finisher’s buckle – DO THE OPPOSITE.

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 Race Report – Part II – “The Goonies! or “Move over Yeti, This is Sasquatch Territory”

DSC_9349_s_jpgI 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.Goonies

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.

FR101K (242)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.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?

 

FR101K (356)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.FR101K (361)

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.

Be Epic!

Zach Adams

 

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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Live Ferociously

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On the Boston Marathon bombing…

Ironically, while I was out doing what I love, helping prepare the Elk River Trail for the FlatRock 101K, a group of runners in Boston was cowardly attacked – while doing what they loved.  I offer my most sincere condolences to all of those impacted by this violence.  My heart mourns everyone’s losses while my spirit rages and demands justice.  While I greatly sympathize with how these people were so unfairly cheated of life, I can only hope what everyone will remember the most is how they LIVED.  These people were living their lives to the fullest up the the very last second.  Let this loss be a reminder to everyone that the last words you spoke to a loved one may be the last.  Whether it is finishing a 100 mile trail run or mending a broken relationship with a family member, follow their example and get out there and LIVE.  “Live ferociously!”  Run down YOUR dreams.  I promise you this will honor those killed and wounded at Boston more than changing your profile picture, sharing someone’s status, or wearing a black shoelace.   Words can’t begin to fully convey what I am feeling.

Zach Adams

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