This year’s event has rendered me nearly speechless. Please take note of two specific words in the sentence you just read, with the first being nearly. I am fairly certain that the only thing that would render me truly speechless would be a dismembered tongue or a traumatic brain injury. The second word of particular importance is event. I did not call the 20th annual FlatRock 50/25K’s a race. It’s not just a race. It is a full blown family trail running extravaganza for any and all who attend. The race may be the draw and one of the main events, but it is only one piece of an overall experience that truly is much greater than the sum of its parts. What makes this place so special? Everything! After 20 years everything surrounding the FlatRock event has become so intertwined that it has taken on a life of its own. FlatRock has its own culture, history, mythology, following, traditions, personality, and attitude that is usually only a found in a living and breathing organism! I love it. No, I love the SHIT out of it!
First, I want to start with a “first” for me at this race. This was the first ultra that a couple of my kids were able to come and be involved from start to finish. We all attended the pre-race festivities, camped out with friends, they sent me off with cheers at the start, and they were there when I crossed the finish line! Slapping the hand and crossing the finish line with my youngest son Mitch while my daughter Molly and Candi’s kids Ranie and Durbie were cheering us in was indescribable and unforgettable. Unfortunately, my oldest son Max was unable to attend due to his job and school responsibilities – but I imagine he will get more than his fill when he helps crew for Candi and me at the Ozark Trail 100 miler in November! We all hung out Saturday night to enjoy the traditional post-race bonfire, lots of food and beers, and to swap war stories from the trail. It was amazing.
As far as the race itself went, I had a stellar day. The temps were cool at the start and I was more than sufficiently trained and acclimated for the warmer afternoon temperatures thanks to lots of hot miles training for the Honey Badger 100 in July. My fueling and hydration plan was simple – a Hammer gel every 30 minutes on the dot and a supplemental at each aid station. For water, it was one handheld bottle filled at each aid station. My race plan was simple; run to the point of discomfort all the way to the finish. Not hard enough that I would most likely spectacularly crash and fail due to my efforts, but hard enough that it was still a real possibility. After all, if you don’t fail to hit your goals from time to time you aren’t setting your sights high enough. I ran with my beautiful girlfriend Candi Paulin and the bandana clad, tattooed Justin Chockley for about 8 miles before pulling away and running solo basically the entire rest of the race. I pushed hard and made it to the turnaround in about 2:40 passing enough people to go from approximately 20th place when we entered the trail to about 10th place leaving the turn around. The three falls I took outbound left me with a few scratches and a nice charlie-horse in my left quadricep, but no turned ankles or twisted knees – which is definitely worse, and always a concern when battling “The Rock”. I passed a few more runners and kept pushing just to the point that I felt like I probably wouldn’t be able to keep it up until the end. At Dana’s aid station inbound I came upon one Johnny Webb – who crewed and paced for me at Honey Badger. Remember his name folks, as he will be a guy taking home winners bling once he gains some experience and learns how to train – I am calling that right now. Johnny had gone out like a bolt of lightning challenging several seriously badass and MUCH MORE EXPERIENCED dudes– in his first official ultra – including eventual sub-5 hour winner Nathan Sicher. Adam Dearing, Aaron Norman, and Ron Micah LaPointe are a group of guys who have WON this race (or the 101K) before and I think 3 of 24 people who have EVER finished the 50k in fewer than 5 hours. My point is this; 2014 FlatRock was loaded with speedy guys ready to RACE, and Johnny decided to take them on. Unfortunately, after about 20 fast miles, he told me he had to throw in the towel due to some IT band issues. After a short, profanity laden pep talk, I convinced Johnny to finish even if he had to walk the remaining 9 miles. After he promised me that he wouldn’t quit I popped my gel and hit the trail. At this point I was getting run down by Jeanne Bennett of Tulsa. We battled all the way to aid station #2 where after a brief chat with Harrison Steele and his video camera, I got around her again. Another crash in the rocks had my adrenaline pumping and my heart jumping so I backed off and “let” (yeah right!) her pass. A couple short minutes later, she was out of sight! When I came pumping in to Max and David’s aid station they told me she was only 3 or 4 minutes ahead of me. I still felt good and decided to try and catch her rather than partake in my traditional shot of whisky with these two awesome knuckleheads. Blasting out of the final aid station, I fixed my eyes on the trail and told myself that it was faster to fall and get up than run slow and cautiously. I had already passed some guys that I know can run very strong ALL the way to the end and I did not want to get passed, even if I couldn’t catch Jeanne. Shortly before I came down off the final steep descent leading to the highway, I heard air horns and plenty of cheering – I decided that I had probably been “chicked” again this year by Jeanne Bennett just like I was last year by Mindy Coolman. Little did I know, that not only was I “chicked” again, but for the second year in a row, the female that passed me in the last quarter of the race set a new female course record! Make no mistake; the women that come out to FlatRock are just as badass as (if not more) than any of the guys! Congrats Jeanne Bennett on an awesome race and new CR! I figured I would try to add to the time I cut off battling the ladies champ by hauling my ass down the pavement to the finish line as fast as I could. I turned into the finish area and trucked down the gravel until Mitch jumped in with me and we crossed the finish together, cheesing for the camera the whole time! Officially, my time was 5:52:28 – roughly an 11 minute FlatRock PR over last year. As always Eric, Polly, Warren and the rest of the Epic Bridage pulled off a perfectly executed event. The food and fun were off the charts. Grooming on the trail was the best I have ever seen it – barely a single eye-poker to be seen. These folks can definitely deliver on Epic Ultras mission of “co-creating experiences of a lifetime”. This is not corporate bullshit, but a sincere desire to help make a memory that will last a lifetime – for everyone involved. No one does it better. Best race direction in the state of Kansas and very likely the entire Midwest! I can really look at this race and feel like I used all of my ultrarunning tools, experience, experience on this trail, and training as efficiently as I could have. No recollections of miles where I felt, looking back, that I should have done more. For that, I am really happy how my race on “The Rock” went on September 27th 2014. Of course, I feel like there are ALWAYS ways I can improve, but at this race, on this day, I did the best I could. That is a wonderful feeling.
There are so many inspiring stories out there that I wish I could tell them all. One that I NEED to share is my friend from Arkansas, Dave Renfro, who changed down to the 25k before race day– just to be SURE that chemotherapy wouldn’t cost him a finish due to not meeting cutoff times. He never once considered not finishing – just not finishing in time. Outstanding and inspiring! I also want to say great job to my co-workers who finished the 50k this year – Jerime Carpenter, Daniel Droessler, Gene Dixon, and former co-worker Ryan Schwatken. Great job guys! It was been really cool watching you guys get where you are. Jerime’s second FlatRock and a 1.5 hour PR, Gene’s first FlatRock finish, and Ryan with a nearly 2 hour PR – and especially Dan who JUST STARTED running in January of THIS year and had never run longer than 16 miles before last Saturday and finished sub-9! Gutsy my friend! Another quick but very important side story – this was a reunion of sorts for the “Van Clan” that you might have read about in my Honey Badger blog post. It was great watching Dave Meeth kick some serious ass, Johnny Webb suffer and persevere to the finish, while being taken care of once again by recent (first time) 3rd place Mark Twain 100 mile finisher and all around stud Dave Box. Don’t forget about the wonderful laughs and margaritas provided by our favorite hobbit Shay Caffey – who was only NOT racing because she just finished HER first 100 miler at Hawk a couple weeks ago. So many friends finished this race that I might as well just word it like this: Congrats to my friends <insert link to official race results here>! Congrats especially to my “Epic Family” Reina, Joell, Cory, Sean, and “Chocko” who turned the last half of the race into a pub crawl, hosing back 6 PBR “tall boys” and a shot or two of Crown Royal on the way to the finish. Chocko may or may not have drank enough the night before to intoxicate a couple of Irishmen. Chock definitely sets the bar high in a work hard / play hard life – that’s one reason why we are bros! At least Chocko wasn’t in the a quarter mile from the starting line in the shitter when the race started like my new badass bearded buddy Shawn Walters! Sorry if I left anybody out. I really think the world of you all.
Next order of business: Awards. This was the second year for the Triple Crown, and this year, and I earned mine. A golden chalice that represents the successful efforts of finishing all three annual events held on FlatRock. The Crown was not in the cards for me last year as I was unable to attend WinterRock – so technically I was only 12K away. This was not the case in 2014 when myself, Candi Paulin, Josh Watson, Carson Galloway, Joseph Galloway, Robert McPherson, Marcus Needham and Mike Rives all took on WinterRock, FlatRock 101k, and FlatRock 50K. If you think this is an easy task, well, I challenge you to try it yourself next year. And by the way, Candi – who just so happens to be the love of my life – is the ONLY person who earned the FlatRock Triple Crown for the 2nd year in a row. Yeah, she is a total rock star!
FlatRock 20 was special in another way, as there was a knighting ceremony rewarding a runner who had amassed 10 CONSECUTIVE 50K finishes on FlatRock. Prior to this race only nine people had been knighted into the FlatRock “Hall of Pain” earning a retired bib number, cloth bib, and free lifetime entry into the race. This year marked Scott Hill’s 10th trip across the rock and he was knighted for his efforts – complete with paper crown, an EPIC oath, and a broadsword christening his shoulders. It was a totally unique and amazing sight to behold. Congrats Scott!
Last, but CERTAINLY NOT least, Mr. FlatRock himself – Dennis Haig- was awarded a wonderful plaque for completing his 20th FlatRock 50k race. That’s correct! Dennis has run the 50K at FlatRock EVERY SINGLE YEAR IT HAS EXISTED. Simply amazing, Dennis is a true representation of the rugged toughness and tenacity that characterizes FlatRock.
And finally, I want to thank everyone who stuck around to the very end and helped me ice the cake with by descending to one knee and asking Candi to be my bride. It was one of the most exciting things I have ever been involved in at an ultra, and I am pretty sure by her expression and the unintelligible garbled response that the answer was yes! To understand the full emotion of the moment, go to www.epicultraphotos.com and check Mile 90’s beautiful pictures of the special moment we shared with our trail running extended family. I feel pretty fortunate that Epic Ultras covered the cost of professional engagement photos – thanks for the added bonus Eric! You ALWAYS get your money’s worth and more at FlatRock.
Every year after FlatRock I find myself asking the question, “What could possibly happen next year to make this any MORE EPIC?” Of course I now fully believe that no matter what it is, SOMETHING will make FlatRock an even crazier and more epic event next year. A finish line wedding perhaps?