Tag Archives: dedication

The Race Across The Sky

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“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

2014 Honey Badger 100 Mile Ultra Road Race – ‘WE’ Found the ‘US’ in ‘TEAM’!

zachWriting a race report for a 100 miler is always hard for me.  It is difficult NOT to go into a painfully detailed play-by-play account of the whats, whens, wheres and hows of the specifics of the race; fueling, hydration, pace, etc.  Unfortunately that leads to a reading experience that has as much monotony, boredom, and suffering as an actual 100 mile race.  With the primary goal of my race reports being to entertain an audience of those interested in ultrarunning, I will do my best not to drive you to a suicide attempt using your keyboard or smartphone.   After all, I was the one who signed up to suffer – you just want to chuckle about it and assure yourself that you did the right thing by NOT signing up for this suckfest.  Instead of boring details like, “then I swallowed another Enduroltye” or “my pace for the next 2 miles fell off by 14 seconds”, I am committed to attempting to convey the unpredictable and rapidly changing feelings and raw emotions that inevitably ebb and flow over the course of a nearly 30 hour race.  Wish me luck.

After packing the van and trailer with the equivalent of two Walmart Supercenters and enough ice to build a replica of Superman’s “fortress of solitude”, Candi, Johnny and I finally arrived at Cheney State Park Friday afternoon ready to descend on the Epic Ultras pre-race meal like a swarm of locusts.  These meals have morphed into an occasion that could be described as a, “family reunion where people genuinely like each other”.  I hesitate to call it a family reunion since there was no keg and the cops only stopped by to say hi.  Warren grilled us up some awesome chicken, burgers, and brats while Eric, Polly and the rest of the Epic Ultras Brigade were working hard to not only feed us, but get ready for the race in the morning.  After eating more than our share, we milled around talking with our ultra-family.  Our crew, that would come to be known as “The Van Clan” began to show up as we organized gear and went over plans for the morning.  “Johnny and the Daves”, Mr. Webb, Mr. Meeth, and Mr. Box would be our crew, and their main goal was to keep us alive, moving, and relatively happy during the heat of the day.  Shay, total badass and future female action movie star, would figure out a way to meet the crew some point in the evening – after of course- she ran a hot ass 50k at the Psummer Psycho Wyco in KC.  Once all the work was done and we finally started to relax, I realized that the butterflies were having a metal concert in my guts, and from the feel of it, the show was rockin’ pretty damn hard.  Candi mentioned having some nervous energy a couple times although she is about as stone-cold cool under pressure as anyone I have ever met in my life.  A comfortably mild July evening lured us into our tent away from the mosquitoes, where we spent the next six hours or so not really sleeping.

After vehicle check, lots of nether region lube, and couple of hot breakfast burritos (Thanks Dave M!) we were off like a herd of turtles chasing an earthworm.  Candi and I took advantage of the opportunity to run with other humans for the little out and back around the perimeter of the lake, knowing soon enough that it would be just her and I – just like most of our training runs.  The nerves subsided and our bodies settled into that familiar rhythm of left, right, repeat that they are all too familiar with.  We met back up with our crew as we passed near the starting line to head out for the big 93 mile loop and gave them the standing order to head out three miles in front of us until further notice.  Our plan was not to run a 100 mile race, but more like 33 individual 5k’s.  After all, running 100 miles on asphalt in the summer just sounds dumb! Running some 5K’s is psychologically much more manageable.  Running a hundo is just like eating an elephant; you can’t swallow it whole, but you can eat it all eventually if you are patient and do it one bite at a time.

Feeling great, we chugged along the first stretch of the race, a 30 something mile straight shot littered with the occasional hill that enabled about three miles line of sight.  It could get somewhat frustrating to see your crew setting up while you were still 25 minutes away!  Candi and I chatted and ran in three mile chunks, taking our time and not rushing as we ate, drank, and doctored our bodies.  While we wanted to turn in a respectable time, out primary mission was to NOT totally thrash our bodies doing so.  This race in summer is no PR course, and since only 14 people started, we figured finishing put us in the top twenty.  Good enough!  Sticking to our plan, we fell into a comfortable rhythm and our rookie crew almost immediately started to mesh and gel into what would quickly come to resemble a highly tuned, well-organized, and perfectly efficient TEAM rivaling the best that NASCAR has to offer.  The blazing July sun was hot and radiating off the blacktop but as we headed to the west we still had a pleasant cross breeze helping to keep us cool.  We knew it would get rougher once we made the turn to the south near mile 40, but we may have underestimated JUST what it would be like to be running straight into the bowels of hell while Satan hit us with some supernatural hair dryer.  Cue the suck.

The following 15 or so miles were not very much fun.  For starters, after making our turn, Johnny and the Daves were unable to park at the 3 mile mark due to no cross street, so Candi and I had to do a 4-4.5 mile stretch before getting back to them.  While this sounds like it should be no big deal, it really was.  Not only had we turned into the 20+ mph wind, but the day was getting over the 95 degree mark and we were only carrying a single handheld each.  The wind would dry you out within about a mile and while one bottle was just about the perfect amount for 3 miles, it was grossly inadequate for 4 or more.  So we suffered.  We took our time to cool off and recover once we finally reached them and then did 5ks until we got to Cunningham, a little town where we would cross under Hwy 54.  At this point we decided that 3 miles was just too far between cool offs and had the crew start stopping every 2 miles.  Despite costing us some race time, I feel like this was the single best decision we made through the entire course of the race.  Sacrificing some clock time to stay cooler longer became a strategy we deployed until the sun came down.  Each stop we would take off our hats and shirts and soak them in ice water before putting them back on.  At one point I said something about “investing some time in the afternoon heat that would earn us some dividends we could cash out once it cooled off.”  Thanks to the efforts of our fantastic crew and in spite of a daytime high of 98 degrees, we survived – mostly undamaged – and got to the checkpoint at 53 miles in St. Leo.  The massive, shady oak tree at St. Leo and the promise of no wind in our face was our prize and we absolutely reveled in it, sharing some laughs with Warren and some others while eating, drinking pickle juice shooters, and doctoring our increasingly tattered bodies.

From this point, we were allowed to take on pacers, and we had our own Johnny on the spot.  No, not a shitter (which would have been nice), but a shaggy headed young man about to be violently born into the world of ultrarunning.  Johnny is “the kid” on our crew, and hails from my hometown.  Twenty-three years old, he is a baby by ultrarunning standards.  His previous running experience consists of high school track ( I heard he once ate shit on a hurdle but still got up and ran his heart out instead of walking off), getting a hair up ass and running the Richmond Marathon without training  (in ~3:30:00), and through-hiking more than 700 miles of the Appalachian Trail.  And while Johnny has a fiery spirit that matches  his shaggy ginger head, he has zero experience past about the 30 mile a day mark.   So naturally, he wanted to go the distance – almost 50 miles.  Why not?  Now armed with a fresh set of legs and a new conversation partner, my love and I continued along the never-ending pavement of Kingman County, Kansas, determined to slay ourselves a Honey Badger.

We continued to do our thing – drink, eat, run, drink, rest, and repeat.  The sun lowered to the point that we finally felt relief from the day’s heat, and it was MARVELOUS – but somewhat deceiving.  The humidity was still high and it was still very warm, so we took great care and made a conscious effort to continue our intake of fluids – including a drink we named “Pink Shit”.  Pink Shit was a mix of different flavors of Dollar General Pedialyte and Gatorade knockoffs, and not too bad when served cold.  I continued to eat as I had all day, in large quantities, prompting Boxy to voice his opinion that eventually I would eat EVERYTHING and he would have to raid a cornfield.  Candi babied her stomach along trying desperately to avoid nausea issues that plagued her in her last few long ultras.  I can only imagine the torture of wanting nothing more than to puke for 40 miles.  Luckily I am armed with an iron set of guts coated with Teflon and wrapped in Kevlar – the longest period of barfy-pukey I ever endured was about 30 minutes in any race (and it was torturous).  Anyway, without getting any further bogged down in details, we made like Forrest Gump and “just. kept. running.”, eventually donning our headlamps and stumbling along under the blinking red lights of the wind farm and the super moon.

Approximately 10:30 pm and around 60 miles in, a new character joins our fearless expedition as we quest ever closer to the final showdown with the villainous and notoriously tough Honey Badger. Shaylene “Lara Croft” Caffey, who earlier in the day thrashed her 50k PR on a difficult Wyco course, traveled hours from Kansas City finally hitching a ride out and meeting up with the Daves.  This young lady is on record saying that she is planning on running the FlatRock 101K course in Vibram 5-fingers next spring.  Yeah, we ONLY accept level 99 badasses on our crew.  Shay is also planning on shooting down the Hawk 100 (her first) in September; I think she was maybe even subconsciously looking to get some more insights into the “late miles” of a hundie.  Candi and I planned on showing her precisely how to climb into her pain cave and then slam the door shut on her own personal hurt locker.  Shay, however, was determined to take crewing to the same level of her running and attempt to keep us from suffering at all.  It was a battle of wills that would play out all night and into the next morning. Once Shay joins the crew, it breathes some new life into all of us.  Dave and Dave had been crewing at a very high level non-stop since sunrise, Johnny was crewing and running in beast mode, and the beautifully hardcore Candi and I plodding along on the road with seemingly no end.  I don’t know where she mustered it from, but Shay’s rootin’, tootin’, hootin’, and a hollerin’ woke us all up.  Precisely when we all needed it.  Dave Meeth, or as I internally began to think of him – “The Professor” –  changed roles and pinned on a pacer’s bib, while  Dave Box shined in his role as Master Driver and Crew Chief.

Meeth is an engineer by trade and was the first person I recruited to join the crew.  I had met him at FlatRock, chatted with him online, and he even came out and brought me a beer at the 12 hour KUS race I ran last November.  He is also an ultrarunner having run a 50 miler to his credit – much faster my best time.  Additionally, I could really just see and feel his intelligence and compassion for others even beyond his passion, energy, and excitement for the sport of ultrarunning.  I knew he would make an excellent crew member.  For these reasons (and not just because he is the elder of the group) the nickname “professor” just kept popping in my head.  Regardless, I knew Candi and I would be in good hands with Dave for the next 35 or so miles.

Believe it or not, the later miles of a 100 kind of just gets boring.  I know?  Amazing revelation right?!  Not much else to note, unless you get excited about lubing up, pooping, and peeing on the side of the road; in which case you are probably looking for a different website with a .xxx at the end of it.  We ate, we ran, we lubed, and we drank.  Most often we kept a good attitude and still managed some good conversation and even some belly laughs.  Other times, it was deathly silent as we were all somewhat trapped in our own thoughts (or pain caves).  Onward.

Meanwhile, Boxy and Shay were playing a three mile game of leapfrog that consisted of driving out, looking for a place to park, setting up chairs,  and prepping an all-you-can eat buffet for the ever famished Fred Flintstone (me) and Shay rubbing Candi’s aching  -but still pretty- feet.  This is truly selfless work.  Up all day and night to help us out.  It really does amaze me that these guys would do this for us, almost perfect strangers before this race, for no other reason than helping us achieve our goals.  This brings me to Dave Box.  Boxy is a guy that came out of nowhere to run the FlatRock 101k as his first, YES FIRST, ultra.  But wait, there’s more… He had never run longer than 13 miles before that.  But wait, there’s more….  He gets 3rd overall!  Wow.  Two weeks later he rips off a most impressive finish at the Flint Hills 40 miler – despite blowing up and overheating in the final half marathon.  Boxy has raw talent, tons of heart, and an iron will.  He told me that his body was DONE after about half way of the FlatRock 101k, but he did what a good ultrarunner does – he ran the rest with his mind.  Box took this same drive, energy, and mental toughness and put it to use in his role as Crew Chief.  Need I say more? Not only did Dave expertly execute his crew duties, but he supplied half of the gear we used including a pop up tent, 7 gallon gatorade jug, and a propane grill and tank.  You got it.  Hot food on the road. BAM.  Box cooked us bacon at 3 in the morning.  Dave Box is a crewing GOD.  Not to mention he pulled his toy hauler, complete with generator and air conditioner, three hours to the lake – just because you never know what we might need.  Enough on Boxy, don’t need his ego getting as big as mine, that would be bad for everyone involved, but you get my point.  Back to the race.

So miles 70-100 were more of the same.  We didn’t feel much better, but we didn’t feel much worse.  We just kept ticking off the miles three at a time.  About 5 miles from the finish we run up on Boxy sitting cross legged on the trailer cooking up some more hot bacon for us.  Shay is still hollering for us and cheering us in EVERY single time we get to the van.  Johnny and Dave were rock solid pacers who never complained about their own aches and pains although they had been out there for 12 hours or more.  We did this until our final stop about a mile and a half  from the finish line (we wanted to finish strong). Here, we sat in our chairs and shared a beer to celebrate our victory in private.  It was amazing.

For the final time in the race, we got up, shook off the instant soreness and began hammering out the last bit to the finish.  Candi and I crossed the finish together in 27:16:39 well below the realistic 28 hour goal we set for ourselves.  More importantly we were not in that bad of shape considering the brutal heat and wind of the day.  Candi had a single tiny blister and I had three and a gray toenail.  No major aches and pains at all.  Just tired bodies carrying around huge smiles.  We relaxed around the finish talking to our pals.  A HUGE thanks to Epic Ultras for putting on a top notch event with the level of challenge we were looking for.  Eric Steele, Warren Bushey, Polly Choate, Frank Arellano, David Bushey, Justin Saylor and all of the Epic Ultras Brigade make these events live up to the considerable hype that they generate.  Also a huge thank you to the awesome support we got on the course from the roving aid teams – Justin and Joell Chockley, Mark Berry, Daron and Zander Pratt.  Also special thanks to Joell Chockley for doing such a wonderful job capturing the day in pictures.  All of your efforts are VERY much appreciated!

All of the 100’s that I have run are special to me for different reasons.  Pumpkin Holler was redemption and I ran fast.  Prairie Spirit I came back from the brink of failure.  Honey Badger will always be special to me because I crossed the finish of a VERY difficult ultra with the woman I love, and WE were able to do so because of the perfect execution of a well organized plan by an ULTRA TEAM whose skill, motivation, tenacity, and chemistry will never be surpassed.

Until Next Time…. BE EPIC!

Zach Adams

PS – Send me a friend request on Facebook.  I love keeping track of the training, races, and other adventures that my ULTRA-FRIENDS (both current and future) share!

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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2013 Prairie Spirit 100: It Was Indeed EPIC – Part II – “A Tale of Two Races” or “I Heard it Might Snow”

In case you missed part one of my Prairie Spirit 100 adventure, I suggest you go back and read it.  If you are really that lazy or computer illiterate, I’ll make it easy.  Click here for Prairie Spirit Part I.  That brings us up to the morning of the race.

As usually is the case I did not sleep worth a shit.  Almost unequivocally, I do not sleep well in a hotel.  Add this to the fact that I am facing a 100(+) mile race in the morning and the result is a tossing, turning, miserable attempt at sleep.  All the while my scumbag brain repeatedly bombarding itself with a torrent of random thoughts ranging from drop bag contents to the why there was only one female Smurf.  Despite this, I felt pretty damn good once my alarm granted me the mercy of a wake-up call.

Everyone was hanging out inside the building at the start milling around and chatting.  The energy was palpable in the room even though the tone was subdued and pretty quiet.  One of the main things I love about ultramarathon culture is the people, so I had set a goal for myself that every time I was with the group of runners I would try to meet at least one new person and find out a little bit about them.  I was doing very well executing my strategy– with one flaw – I am terrible at remembering names.  So, if I talked to you friend me on Facebook and we can connect.  As expected, everyone that I talked to was freaking awesome.

Eric gave us last minute instructions and sent us on our way.   When he yelled, “GO!” I really could feel my heart beating in my chest.  A twinge of nervousness was definitely there and I could feel the adrenaline pumping.  Consciously, I knew this was the start of a possibly 30 hour journey that would be consist of good times, bad times, pain, suffering, and despair.  Still, this was not enough to kill the euphoric feeling generated by my  love of this sport.  Luckily I had ‘ice-cold’ Adam Monaghan to set our pace and I didn’t race off like I was in a 5K.  We run pretty close to the same pace, use the same general walk run strategy, fuel plan, and had planned to try and make it to Iola turnaround together between 4:30 and 5pm.  At this point I would meet my pacer Lisa and see what happened.

The weather was really good for running offering no real risk of overheating, yet making it easy enough to stay warm.  Getting through Ottawa took a while and everyone was pretty bunched together but started to thin out once we got out of town and on the true Prairie Spirit trail.  The trail itself was fine gravel and very smooth with almost nothing in the way of hills.  Sufficient tree cover lined both sides of the trail in most spots which provided pretty good protection from the wind, that was mostly out of the east.  Honestly, other than chatting with Adam and few other runners here and there, the trip out to the first aid station at Princeton was mostly uneventful.  The Princeton aid station crew was excellent.  Every single person there offered me specific items to eat or drink, asked me what I needed, and told me what they had, or told me I was looking great.  I was curious if they would tell me that in 24 hours or so.  Although Eric said it was not the Epic Brigade’s job to massage my feet, I have a feeling that they would have, had I asked.  Here I also saw my friend from Talequah OK, Travis Owens.  I met Travis at Midnight Madness 50 miler back in 2010, and later he also set me up with my pacer Lisa.  Travis was crewing for someone else, but he also made it clear that if I needed anything, he had me covered.  I love ultrarunners.

The next stop on the way to Iola was Richmond.  Again, the run between Princeton and Richmond was mostly uneventful.  Adam and I were comfortably sharing pace and conversation.  We were also yo-yo running with a guy and gal who were running during our walk breaks.  It became a game that we seemed to play with several people on the way to the turnaround.  The catchphrase became, “Tag you’re it.”  and “Hello again!”.  At Richmond a very nice woman had a huge pot of ramen soup cooking and eagerly obliged me with two steaming cups.  I popped a Hammer Gel that tasted like a cinnamon apple pie from McDonalds and washed it down with ramen juice.   Yeah, I know its gross, but I have an iron stomach and just think of it as fuel during a race.  Offhandedly, I made the comment that the gel was cold, difficult to squeeze out, and was hard to swallow – only to look up and see her (the aid station worker) warming some gels up over the burner!  Talk about service!!!  Another amazing aid station filled with Epic attitudes, which I tried to reward with my gratitude.  Sixteen miles down and we were off to Garnett.

It seemed that every aid station was marked with a grain elevator, so you could always tell when you were getting close.  Pavement greeted you at the north end of Garnett and another mile or so got you to the aid station.  Adam and I were still pacing each other and he was looking forward to seeing his lovely wife (and crew chief) Sarah and his baby daughter.  I was looking forward to grabbing some sandwiches and reapplying some Vasoline, A&D Ointment, and Desitin mix to protect my feet and a couple other “sensitive skin” areas.  I learned this mix from the legendary badass Ken Childress and I also now swear by it.  I have no clue how Ken came up with this, but that shit works wonders for blisters and chafing.  The parents of RD Eric’s girlfriend Polly had been assigned the Garnett aid station which was in an old train depot building.  They were awesome!  They had everything in there that a good aid station could possibly ask for including running water, flushing toilets, and HEAT.  The warmth inside the building almost matched the warmth of their greetings.  I knew this was going to be both a blessing and a curse on the way back – in the dark and almost certainly snowy night it would seem like an oasis.  Hopefully, it wouldn’t be like the call of the Sirens, luring you in and never allowing you to leave.  As we checked out and got back on the course, we were offered many cheers and much luck.  It was now 11:30 a.m. with about 25 miles done.

I left Garnett a little bit before Adam but jogged slowly at first and he caught me within a mile or so.   From Garnett, the tree cover lining the trail really thinned and we started getting a lot more wind, still primarily out of the east.  I don’t think there was a grain elevator in Welda, but there was a blue tarp-tent and an enclosed trailer staffed by the KC Trail Nerds offering aid to weary runners.  I chatted with fearless Trail Nerd leader Ben Holmes and received aid in the form of some excellent homemade soup, which they gladly poured into my Ultimate Direction water bottle.  Side note – this bottle is perfect for soup, as it has a rubber spout with an X cut into it like a baby bottle nipple.  Or at least it was, until I lost it in the blizzard later that night.  Adam stayed in the car with Sarah for a bit as I went back out, thirty-four miles now done.

This is about the time the sleet started.  Rainy, sleety, icy crap was being spit at me from above.  It did eventually start to soak in and I knew this was going to be a long night.  As of now, I was feeling amazing – not feeling much different after 35 miles than 10 miles.  Cruise control was engaged and all I needed to do was keep putting gas in the tank and try not to blow a tire.  Adam caught me before we got to Colony and again we got aid from the most finely staffed aid stations I have ever had the privilege to utilize.  This was a quick stop, as we were still on pace to make it to the turnaround at Iola between 4 and 5pm.  At this point the wind was blowing like hell and the ice was coming down pretty damn hard.  It was a windy and cold stretch south out of Colony and I knew this was going to SUCK on the way back.  The wind was blowing hard and we were getting decently wet but I didn’t really feel cold yet.  Really I was feeling great about the way things were going and basically trying really hard not to think about what “might” happen with the weather and how it would affect the return trip.  Adam pulled ahead before getting to Iola as I felt the uncontrollable urge to investigate a nice sheltered spot off the trail under a large cedar tree.  I was sick of carrying that spare sock I need to get rid of it.  A short time after I got back on the trail, the snow began to fall.  HUGE snowflakes, nearly the size of pancakes, were coming down in the most beautiful snow showers I have ever seen.  It was amazing!  It was also beginning to accumulate.  Quickly.  Unencumbered by the extra sock, I caught Adam in Iola.  At 4:44pm I check in by my bib number and had 51 miles done.

Warren took spectacular care of me, getting me geared up for the long, cold trip home.  Travis was also here, offering me anything I might need, as he had at every single aid station along the way.  My body and mind were both really feeling good at this point.  I honestly did not feel like I had done been running for the lats 10 hours and 44 minutes.  They had a nice fire going next to the shelter house and the smell alone got me ready rock.  I ate, reapplied my skin goo, found my pacer Lisa, and I was ready to roll!

Since this really was a tale of two races, I think I will stop there.  Nowhere to go but home at this point.

If you want to hear about the return trip, please comment.  Also any questions you might have I would be more than happy to answer.

Stay tuned for Part III – “Yetis in the Mist”  or “Hand me my lightsaber, I saw a Tauntaun”

Until Next Time….  Be EPIC!!!

Zach

Zach Adams

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2013 Prairie Spirit 100: It Was Indeed EPIC – Part 1 – “Pre-Race Jitters” or “What in the Hell Was I Thinking?”

DSC_9349_s_jpgPrior to Prairie Spirit 100, the longest race I have completed was a 100K put on by the KC Trail Nerds.  In October, I tried 100 miles but was unsuccessful in my first attempt.  For me, 100 miles is still my number one running goal.  The DNF in October really left a cat shit taste in my mouth and has provided EXCELLENT training fuel and motivation.  My training was very tenacious and consistent all winter long, racking up several 80-100 mile weeks that included several back to back 25-35 mile training runs.  All were solo miles almost exclusively outside in the elements and on minimal fuel.  The only exception was  a single mind-numbing  25 miles on the dreadmill, which I look at as more mentally challenging than any run outside.  Having no nagging aches and pains and a great tapering rest period, I felt like I had done what I needed to get my mind and body ready for my first 100 mile finish.  Plus the official “EPIC ULTRAS Prairie Spirit 100 Mile Inaugural Belt Buckle” is FREAKIN’ RAD!  I want this thing sooooo bad I can all but taste it.

MY PRECIOUS

Prepping for the logistics of the race for me was pretty easy.  I had booked a cheap room at the Days Inn Ottawa from hotels.com.  A few weeks earlier, I invited my friend Lisa Pivec, who paced for me in my first 100 try, to come back and help me cross the finish in Ottawa.  More on Lisa later… she is AWESOME.  As far as drop bags go, I made one for all 6 aid stations and they basically consisted of some fuel and every piece of winter running gear I own; this is important, as I don’t think I would have made it as far as I did had I not done this.  Again, I will provide more on this later.

I rolled into town about 4 pm, checked into my room, carried up my bag, and headed to packet pickup.   It was only a few minutes from the hotel, and I found it easily – gotta love smartphone navigation apps!  It was indoors with plenty of room.  The areas to drop off drop bags were well marked and easy to find.   Everything at packet pickup went like clockwork and was handled efficiently and effectively.   I got my bag from the very sweet and charming Polly Choate and proceeded talk to several other runners and their friends, family, and crewmembers.  I also briefly got to talk with a very rapidly moving Eric Steele, race director, who was in full on RD mode.  To be honest, Eric looked busier than a one-legged kickboxer in a battle royal.  Eric was very busy doing all the things that race directors of 100 mile races do – but he still took the time to greet many of the runners, introduce himself, welcome them, and wish them luck.  There was a great buzz of excitement in the air, as well as some pretty serious nervous energy about what the weather was going to do.  Snow… blah… blah… wind, blah… blah… sleet… blizzard…   Whatever.  We are ultrarunners!  We don’t care about the weather.  Right?

This time spent hanging out getting to know people is one of my favorite things about ultra events.  The people make an ultra amazing.  Ultramarathons take a bunch of folks, who to most of society seem borderline insane, and put them in pursuit of a common goal.  They all know what it will take to push further than most people feel is possible, they understand each other’s desire to cross the finish, and they can relate to one another.  In many cases people who were previously strangers can immediately bond – and in some situations will forge lifelong friendships.  Very cool .

From packet pickup I drove to the location of the pre-race meal and briefing.  The food was pretty damn good and I got to talk to some of the people I have met over that last 3 years at various ultras.  Race Director Eric Steele gave us a rundown of the event and went over most of the information in the race info document.  This thing was great!  It was loaded with gobs of information covering all aspects of the race.  In fact, I don’t think I had a single question that wasn’t answered in the race brochure (including the one I asked out loud during the meeting…oops).  Great work to the Epic Ultras staff for putting this thing together – I wish more race directors would follow their lead.  I am sure they will use this experience to do an even better job at the inaugural Flatrock 101K (which I will also be running – JOIN ME).  That makes me cringe a little inside just thinking about it.  Can’t wait.

Polly kickin ass and takin names

It was nice to catch up with friends -old and new.  We talked about other events that we had recently run, races we were running in the near future, strategies for the race, and, of course, the weather.    Again, the air just had this electric vibe to it.  It was a mixing of feelings of anxiety, excitement, fear, courage, defiance, determination, and anticipation – all thick enough in the air to almost form a tangible cloud.  I think I had butterflies the whole time.  The packet pickup and meal just served to build even more tension that would not be released until 6 a.m. the following morning.  As the crowd started to disperse, I decided to make a quick stop at Wal-Mart to pick up some hand warmers based off of a recommendation from another runner at the dinner.  This turned out to be a GREAT idea.  My final stop was my deluxe master suite at Days Inn, to try and get a good night’s sleep.

So concludes part 1.  Stay tuned for part 2:  “A Tale of Two Races” or “I Heard it Might Snow”

Comments?  I would love to hear them.  And Oh… remember… BE EPIC!

Zach