Tag Archives: Epic Ultra Bloggers

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

Crewing Basics – Not All Fun and Games!

zachIf you are not a runner yourself but have ever crewed for a runner you probably have no trouble remembering your first time.  It is pretty unforgettable.  You probably felt like a fish out of water.  At the very least, you probably wish you had been told that “cheering someone to the finish and re-filling a water bottle” would likely turn into “rubbing a sore buttcheek, stuffing nasty-ass, bloody socks into your pocket, and cleaning up what looks the remnants of a grizzly bear attack every few hours” – all while potentially being treated “gruffly”.  You probably wish you had a manual.  I gotcha’ back, Jack!

Here are my 5 tips to crewing for an ultra 50 miles or longer.  Enjoy!

  1. Make a plan. Have yourself a little “parlay” with your runner and find out what they want, like, and need.  From food to gear choices, know in advance how they race.  Ask about weaknesses and strengths and help them maximize and mitigate both accordingly.  Don’t go in blind and try to figure it out as you go!  You could end up being more of a hindrance than a helper.
  2. Have as much fun before the race with your runner as possible. When it comes time to get ready to run, shit gets real.  Most ultrarunners I know take it fairly seriously and are pretty intense – as early as the night before.  Ask what you can do to help, but for the most part, allow them to do their own thing.  Make yourself available to help out with whatever asked – but let them run the show.
  3. Move fast, think fast, act Do not make your runner wait on YOU.  Know exactly where their gear is, where their favorite drinks are, and what food choices are readily available at a seconds notice.  Anticipate what they might need and get it ready even if they may not end up needing it.  Make suggestions until something sounds good.  You might have tons of potentially helpful stuff available that your runner more than likely has forgotten about.  Remind her.  Always grab more than you need.  Ask them on the way out what they might need NEXT time.
  4. Be positive! Your runner has likely has been waiting a while to see you and needs a good pick me up.  Yell!  Scream!  Holler!  Smile!  Hug! Be obnoxiously loud to the point that other crews are annoyed by you.  I am speaking from experience when I tell you, this boost is better than any can of Red Bull when you are at a low point.  You can rest later… bust your ass to show your runner how excited and proud you are of them.
  5. Have an ace-in-the hole. Call a loved one at the lowest point.  Break out a surprise gift.  Get homemade cards from the family saying “Stay Strong Daddy!”  Have something ready for that spot where continuing is almost  Piss them off.  Tell them they have worked too hard to quit.  Be creative – what your “ace” is will vary dependant on the runner, but find something!

I am not going to include this as a tip – but I think it is important to mention – cut your runner some slack!  Don’t get all butt-hurt if they snap at you.  Don’t quit on them or stop being positive and supportive because they cussed about the water being too hot or the soup too cold.  They are doing something VERY DIFFICULT and don’t mean to take it out on you.  Be there as a punching bag or a shoulder to cry on if that is what they need.   Ultimately the BEST way to learn how to be a good crewmember  is to get FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE – so get out there and help someone earn that finish!

Until Next Time…. BE EPIC!

Zach Adams

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!

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

“A Perfect Storm” 2013 FlatRock 50K

zachWhere should I even start!?  I absolutely love this race.  Stumbling across the original FlatRock 50k website in 2009 is what made me decide to run ultras.  Shit, it is why I decided to train for a marathon!  I mean, who in the hell would go and try and run 31 miles on this trail if they hadn’t even run a marathon?  A few minutes of looking at trail pictures, reading runner comments, reading race reports, and learning about the knighting ceremony immediately hooked me – whether I consciously knew it then or not.  After finishing my first FlatRock in 2011, I vowed to myself I would one day be knighted into the hall of pain, and earn myself a custom cloth bib, epic surname and lifetime entry into FlatRock.

Fast forward to 2013; I have now run close to 20 ultras including a couple hundred mile attempts, 100k, and a difficult finish in the FlatRock 101K in April 2013.  2013 has been a good running year for me – lots of training miles, lots of great ultras, and lots of solid finishing times.  I felt like it was time to try and make my mark on “The Rock”.   My goal had been to run a sub 6 hour finish, but my running had been going so great that I decided to set out to break the course record – for the women – and try and break 5:45.  A side note – I never even entertained the idea of a post-race sex change so that I could officially be the women’s course record holder… I knew RD  Eric Steele would NEVER go for that shit and didn’t even ask.  But long story short, I planned on really RACING this race and had discussed it extensively with Justin Chockley (who affectionately warned me that if I passed him, he was taking me out with a tire iron) and Candi Paulin who was also planning on chasing the women’s course record.  Leading up the the event, there was a lot of buzz about just how Epic that this year’s FlatRock 50K was going to be.  I mean, how could it compare to the BLIZZARD at the Prairie Spirit 50/100 or the MONSOON at the FlatRock 101K in April?  The weather is always great for FlatRock in September!

My previous years at the FlatRock 50K, I always showed up the morning of (I only live about 70 miles away) and left directly after finishing.  This year I showed up the night before and stuck around until after the FlatRock Triple Crown awards were given out.  It was an amazing couple days filled with a mega dose of excitement and energy, great friends, excellent food, some hardcore badass trail racing, an EPIC finish line, and some perfect (and I mean you-couldn’t-make-this-shit-up perfect) weather.

I arrived Friday evening just as the sun was beginning to set and immediately started seeing friendly faces all through the crowd.  The energy in the air was literally something you could grab a handful of and shove in your pocket, truly palpable.  People were milling around talking and eating – generally smiling from ear to ear.  One big conversation topic was the weather, as there was now about a 130% chance of some serious shit rolling in overnight or in the morning.  Those of us that ran the FlatRock 101K in April knew INTIMATELY what that meant and just smiled while our guts twisted in knots and we internally cringed to ourselves.  The Elk River Hiking Trail is never easy on dry days, and in the mud it is just plain HARD.  I found Eric and thanked him for his hard work and congratulated him on pulling together another amazing event and spent the next few hours offering up my own services in any way I could.  I talked with my badass ultrarunning friends that I don’t get to see near enough.  Melissa, Candi, Justin, Joell, Jason, Tony, Ron, Warren, Eric….. this list goes on and on.  Met several new people and even noted a few people who weren’t there that I KNEW I would see in the morning.   As all great things do, the evening came to an end it was time to get rested and ready to run.

If you want to skip my personal “race report” then jump to the next bold and colorized sentence.  If you are interested, the next few paragraphs are my personal race experience.

The night passed and it brought a pretty stout, steady breeze but not a single rain drop.  FlatRock’s Majestic King, Epic Ultras founder, and long time (since it’s inception) FlatRock Race Director, Eric Steele called the runners in around the shelter house to begin the pre-race meeting just in time for the clouds to tear open and begin dumping buckets of rain on our heads.  The winds were gusty and it appeared we would, in fact, get the thundershowers that the weatherman predicted – which Eric claimed to have invoked with a “Ouija Board and some Voodoo Chicken Bones”.  I LOVED it.  I love running in the rain, and I was ready to freaking ROCK “THE ROCK”.  It MAY or MAY NOT have had something to do with the 22 oz. Red Bull I had for breakfast. (A new pre-race ritual I WILL be repeating after the kind of race I ran that day).  Finally, we started a soggy walk up the road where the race actually starts.

Going into this race, I knew I was running for a PR and would not use the rain or trail conditions as an excuse.  It was time to trust my training and go run these rocks and mud with an almost reckless disregard of my own physical well being.  Candi, Justin and I walked together out the the starting line and were at the very front of the pack with the people I knew would be the overall top finishers.  Of course I am not in the same league as these guys but I knew for sure I didn’t want to be in the middle or back of a pack of over 100 50K participants headed in a death march up the first hill and onto the very technical first miles of the trail.  I figured we would work our positions out as we made it down the road and if anyone faster wanted around me – well, that was their problem.  As the gun went off, I shot out in front of everyone, threw my arms in the air, and yelled, “I am winning FlatRock!”, most assuredly amusing all the runners in earshot.  Candi, Justin, and I stayed together until we hit the first hill and climbed to the top of the ridge with me leading.  I had 4 or 5 guys in front of me and that was it.   Some kind of nuclear reaction went off inside me and I just took off, leaving Justin and Candi and chasing down the front-runners.

Nearly every 50k I have ever run I felt like I started too conservatively… NOT TODAY.  My new motto for the day was “Best or Bust”.  I decided I would keep up this ridiculously fast and unsustainable pace until I blew up, then I would dig deep and see what happened – or maybe just lay on the side of the trail and weep like a little bitch.  Something amazing happened; I never blew up.  Sure, I fell – multiple times – but I just kept getting up… and getting faster.  I blew through aid stations only pausing long enough to refill my handheld with Heed and grab a couple more Hammer Gels to replenish the stock in my left pocket.  I was eating one gel every 20 minutes and drinking to my thirst.  Feeling like I was burning rocket fuel, I just kept going hard.  I knew I was really flying when Aaron, Don, and Ron (the leaders) didn’t pass me on their inbound leg until I was only a mile or two from the turn around.  I got to the turn around in about 2:35 and there were a couple guys there – so again, I refilled and rushed out.  I leapfrogged Travis McWhorter a couple times until I fell and he went on ahead not to be seen again.  He didn’t take off until AFTER asking if I was alright.  Even as he was trying to chase down 3rd place, he stopped and asked if I was good before screeching his tires and racing off down the trail.  I love trail runners.

I hit my “tough spot” right after Dana’s aid station (as I ALWAYS do) and slowed down a bit.  I backed off the gels for a bit thinking maybe I got my gut a little too full and drank some clear water.  Being somewhat of a veteran on ultra distances now, I knew that if I just kept going as best I could, it would pass.  It did pass, but not before I got “chicked”.  Being “chicked” means getting smoked by a faster female runner.  I definitely got chicked.  Just as I was in the midst of my rough patch, Mindy Coolman came out of the woods like a ninja and blasted past me.  I don’t think Mindy was in my field of vision 20 seconds before disappearing back into the timber and eventually cruising in nearly 7 minutes faster than the previous women’s course record – which has held since Y2K.  I felt better after a few minutes and decided to try and catch Mindy, but little did I know she also got around Travis and would eventually get about 20 minutes ahead of me.  Congrats on an amazing race and a new women’s course record Mindy!

The rest of the race consisted of a cycle of running, falling, cursing, and getting up.  Too bad I didn’t have an “F-Bomb” counter… but I am sure it was high triple digits.  I hit the final aid station and knew it was unlikely that I was going to make it under six hours, but I also knew I was in 6th place overall and I wanted it to stay that way so I kicked on.  I ran those last 4 miles across the rocks dangerously.  I don’t know how else to put it.  It was under 38 minutes and I figured I would finish as fast as I could, or die trying.  I was flying all over the trail, arms and legs flailing wildly – slipping and sliding (and falling) in the mud.  When I came off the trail and hit the road my stopwatch said 5:57 something and I knew it was close to .7 miles.  I quickly did the math in my head and figured a 4:30 minute mile pace should get me in just under my goal; but alas, I can’t run a 5 minute mile when I am fresh – much less after 31 miles on FlatRock.  Regardless, I ran as hard and fast as I could run and crossed the line in just over 6:03, finishing the 2013 FlatRock 50K 6th overall and 5th out of the men. I heard the yells, airhorn, and cowbells cheering me in.  I slapped the SHIT out of that severed arm.  I screamed obscenities.  It was awesome.  No.  IT WAS EPIC!!!

Event Blog Post Continues Here.  If you did read my account of my race, thanks for taking the time.  If not, well, your loss.

After I finished and caught my breath, I took off my muddy shoes and grabbed a couple cowbells and parked my tired ass on a picnic table at the finish.  Like a storybook ending, the clouds parted, the rain stopped and the sun came out.  The temperature was perfect.  Just like I said, the weather, right down to its timing, was perfect!  You can’t make this shit up. And I’m seriously starting to think that Eric really is some type of modern day alchemist.

This is when the real fun began.  For the next 5 hours I was fortunate enough to witness every possible human emotion as 91 more 50K runners (and several 25K finishers) came across the finish line.  From anguish to euphoria, I saw it all, and it was wonderful!  Once Candi (severely nauseated nearly the entire race but still the second overall female finisher) finished, we grabbed some chairs and moved directly behind the finish line so we could cheer on the runners as they came down the road.  Micheal Mora joined us after his finish and we shared some stories and laughs over a couple beers.  Next thing you know, more and more finishers and spectators were gathering at the finish line!  It was totally badass.  Louder and louder the spectacle became, until the final 5 runners came down the road with less than 2 minutes before final cutoff.  It sounded more like a rock concert than an ultramarathon finish line!  People were screaming at the top of their lungs, running out on the road to yell at them to hurry, and the cowbells and airhorns were going CRAZY.  My friend and former co-worker Ryan, in his first 50K attempt, crossed the inflatable Epic Ultras finish line arch with a whole lot of his family there cheering him on – and a mere NINETEEN SECONDS to spare.  The place erupted!  IT WAS EPIC!!!

Shortly after, Eric held an awards ceremony honoring the overall winner and male champion, Aaron Norman and female champion (and new female course record holder) Mindy Coolman, along with giving honorable mention to the 25K winners and youngest female to ever finish the 25K course Carina Jaso, who’s just 15.  King Eric then honored and awarded (with beautiful gold goblets) the 8 brave souls who finished the 2013 FlatRock Triple Crown by completing all three FlatRock events; WinterRock, FlatRock 101K, and the FlatRock 50K.  Congrats to the FlatRock Triple Crown recipients: Adam Monaghan, Candi Paulin, Ron LaPoint, Dennis Haig, Michael Mora, Kimberly Spielman, Scott Hill, and Paul Rejda.

I would apologize for this post being so long, but I am not sorry.  This race, this EVENT,  deserves every word written about it. Outstanding job to Eric and the “Epic Ultras Brigade” for pulling off a truly phenomenal event.  Check out the AMAZING Photography which Epic Ultras provides to runners at no charge!  Great job Greg Highberger and Mile 90 Photography.

I don’t know what’s in store for Prairie Spirit Fall Classic 50K 50Mile at the end of October, but I cant wait to find out.  After the last three Epic Ultras events how could you NOT sign up??  Register today on UltraSignup.com.

I look forward to seeing you all again real soon.  Feel free to comment and tell me what you think, and until next time… BE EPIC!

Zach Adams

Mind Games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time…

BE EPIC!

Zach

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

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

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

– Tim Noakes

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

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

So here is a summary:

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

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

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

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

finish line

 

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

And…. don’t forget… BE EPIC!!!

Zach

Zach Adams

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2013 FlatRock 101K 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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