Tag Archives: hard

The Stereotypical Ultrarunner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Epic!

Zach Adams

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

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

1.       Select an Insanely Difficult Course

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

2.       Continue Your Usual Training

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

3.       Just “Wing it” On Race Day

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

4.       Race the First 50K

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

5.       Eat and Drink Only When You FEEL Like It

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

6.       Avoid Lube

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

7.       Go It Alone

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

8.       Find a Chair

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

9.       Stop if it Hurts

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

10.   Rationalize Failure

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

P.S.

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

Until next time, BE EPIC!

Zach

FlatRock 101K – Beastmode Required

zachFlatRock. This course has been deceiving trail runners for almost 20 years. After all, it’s KANSAS. KANSAS is flat. How bad can it be? Go ahead, underestimate this trail – then go home and cry yourself to sleep. Nineteen Septembers in a row, runners have come to the Elk River Hiking Trail to tackle the FlatRock 50K trail ultra. This is the oldest ultra in the state, and it is pretty easy to make the argument that it is the BEST. It is as brutal as it is beautiful, as rugged as it is relaxing, as treacherous as it is tantalizing. An incredible, highly technical trail full of short steep climbs, roots and rocks that seemingly TRY to trip you, and buzzards circling overhead – FlatRock is hard – and strangely addictive. The “Hall of Pain” consists of runners who have run it 10 or more times in a row. So, what would make more sense than running this 50K? Why not running it TWICE? Thus, the FlatRock 101K was born.

Last April, after weeks of rain, about 40 brave souls set out to crack the rock. One hundred and one kilometers in 24 hours should be a walk in the park (or hike in the woods) in Kansas right? The addition of sticky, ankle deep mud, water crossings and incessant rain turned the course into Satan’s Slip n’ Slide. Trail conditions were more horrendous than normal. The runners simultaneously loved and loathed it. The final finisher came across minutes before the cutoff tired, covered in mud, but not broken. The raucous Epic Ultras finish line brought a welcomed end to runner’s suffering and, as always, made each feel like a champion. If you want to read all about my experience at the FlatRock 101K last year, check out the blog archived at http://epicultras.com/fr101kreport/. Also, there is a sweet video of FlatRock at http://flatrock101.com/.

If you are one of the lucky ones who managed to get into the FlatRock 50K before it sold out, and you showed up and braved the weather for WinterRock, you are only 101 kilometers worth of steps away from earning the FlatRock Triple Crown Award. This prestigious Golden Goblet is only given to those brave (or crazy) enough to sign up and finish the WinterRock 25 or 12K in January, the FlatRock 101K in April, and the FlatRock 50K in September.

If you think you are some kind of trail ultrarunner badass, you need to bring all you got to the 2nd annual FlatRock 101K on April 26th 2014 and put your theory to the test. If you want to see what you are really made of and push yourself to your absolute physical ultrarunning limits, you need to be there. If you are ready to become a true Midwest trail ultarunner, get registered now. FlatRock might just chew you up, spit you out, step on your face, and THEN send you home crying to your mama. IF you are too scared, that is understandable. I heard there are a few good half marathons that day…maybe you should check into those.

This course is amazing.  If you have not been on the Elk River Hiking Trail near Independence you have missed a very beautiful slice of life.  I shit you not, this place is actually, beyond amazing.  Please, look at my favorite set of pictures taken on the trail.   This gallery was the catalyst that rescued me from road runner monotony.    Here are the pics from this year’s 50K event.  Amazing.  This trail is gorgeous.  I have run the 50K twice and had the pleasure of leaving plenty of DNA on the jagged, unforgiving rocks.  In fact, in a few more years I plan on being knighted into the Flatrock Hall of Pain.  If you don’t know about the Hall of Pain GO HERE NOW.  

I recently had the pleasure of spending some time (about 15 hours) doing some trail maintenance and helping mark the trail with some high reflective tape blazes for the upcoming 101K event.  About 3 of these hours were after it got dark.  BEFORE you take your epic-ass out to try and “crack the rock,” or as I now think of it, “The Widowmaker,” I IMPLORE you to read and heed the following advice.

1.  LIGHT IT UP!  Take a bright headlamp, a handheld light, a backup hand held light, and spare batteries.  If you have no light you are DONE.  Seriously.  Bring light.  Good, bright, reliable, long lasting lights – and bring a spare.

2.  24 hours sounds like a long cutoff for a 101K.  Don’t underestimate the toll this course will take on your body (look at the course profile) or how much slower you will move at night.  It literally becomes a game of find the next blue blaze and try not to fall.  Averaging 2-3 miles an hour in the dark will be tough (for most people) regardless how your legs feel.  That said, it could easily take every bit of 12-14 hours to do that last 50K depending on where you are when it gets dark.  Depth, distance, and speed perception is an entirely different animal out there after the sun goes down.

3.  BRING A PACER – I would highly suggest you find someone to pace you the last 25K if not the entire second 50K, if for no other reason than to you keep on the trail.  If you have ever run a highly technical trail you know the mental toll that it takes on you to outlay that much concentration for that long.   After 30-50 punishing miles, you will need a battle buddy to keep your mind right, keep you upright, and keep you pointed in the right direction.  It really becomes a slow game of “Where is the next blue blaze?”.  Call in all your favors, buy them their favorite beers, or blackmail them – but get somebody out there.  You will probably regret it if you don’t.

That said, I am super excited for this race.  The high degree of badassery that it will take to finish this course TRULY qualifies a finisher to earn the title of EPIC ULTRARUNNER!  I have NO DOUBT that RD, Eric Steele, will once again come through with an outstanding event that we will be talking about for the rest of our lives.  Like he says, we co-create these events together.  I definitely plan on co-creating the shit out of this one!  Although I do hope the weather doesn’t try and one-up the Inaugural Prairie Spirit…

Assuming you have the required brass balls or titanium ovaries there is still time and space to register .  IF you are a seriously demented ”MANIAC” and need to get that double up in truly EPIC fashion, you could run the Flatrock 101K on Saturday then drive down to the  OKC Marathon on Sunday.

 

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 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 – “Go Time!” or “Wanna be Friends?”

DSC_9349_s_jpgSo the Inaugural Flatrock 101K Trail Race is this Saturday. Registration is closed and there are 39 total badasses ready to go all in.  We are prepared to step up to the line, stare directly into the eyes of a nearly invincible force, and charge fearlessly into battle. Will everyone finish? Probably not. Will it hurt? Absolutely.  Everyone that even attempts to slay this dragon is a badass. So long as they give it everything they have, they have already won. Overcoming the fear of failure and pain and just TRYING something that you know might be outside your physical limits is a victory, and is what separates true EPIC ultrarunners.  This is a field of amazing people that I am super proud to be a part of – regardless of individual outcomes.  The tenacity and spirit of these people who are determined to live and experience life in a way that most people wouldn’t even dream of  truly inspires and impresses me beyond words.  And if you didn’t sign up because you were too scared to try, I say, “Bahahahahaaa!!!!!  Suck it up WUSS.”

buckle
…SOON…

That said, I want to get to know you all.  I want to hear your stories.  I want you to talk while we are running in a group.  I want you to come find me and talk to me.  Ask me about the blog… ask me anything you like.  I love making new friends and want to get to know anyone and everyone who has a passion for ultrarunning.   One of the best parts of these ultrarunning experiences is the interaction with like-minded people who can truly understand why you do what you do!  Don’t pass on the opportunity!  Come to the pre-race pasta feed and lets make it the social event of the year.

Once I cross the finish (assuming I am not dead or DFL), I will be sitting at the finish line with a cooler of cold beer and everyone is welcome to join me cheering on every last finisher in this unadulterated show of supreme badassery.  Join me.  Oh…and good luck to all of you 39 psycho bastards about to do a double-battle with “The Rock!”

Be EPIC!  — Zach

Zach Adams

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

DSC_9349_s_jpgPrairie Spirit 100 Part I

Prairie Spirit 100 Part II 

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy Fun Memories Photography

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

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

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

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

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

Be Epic!

Zach Adams

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Gut Check

DSC_9349_s_jpgGut check.  These are the two simple words I sometimes repeat over and over to myself when I am struggling during a run.  When I am tired, sore,  miserable, and would rather quit than continue,  I set my eyes to the next landmark…hill, pole, post, bridge, mile marker, or whatever else I can see (or hallucinate  and I tell myself that’s all I need to worry about.  Gut check.  Gut Check.  GUT CHECK!  GUT CHECK!! If I take a walk break and start to think that I can’t run anymore, I internally hiss the words.  Gut check.  Then I take a few faster steps and start to jog again.  It is my own special way to kick my ass back into gear or just keep on chugging.

Call it whatever you want.  Call it perseverance, persistence, mental toughness, intestinal fortitude, inner badassery, epicness, or just plain stubbornness.  The will to keep going when most people would just lay down and die.  Ultrarunners have a higher level of this attribute than most normal people, whether it is a natural personality trait or an acquired skill.  This state of mind does ebb and flow however; sometimes an ultrarunner will need to employ some techniques to help them remember their inner tough girl or guy.  Here are a few techniques I have used to help get me across the finish.

1.  Recite Your Mantra – The recitation of a mantra can really help get you though some tough times.  Like I said, I like to repeat, “Gut Check” over and over – sometimes out loud – when I am struggling.  I have also been known to repeat “The only distance that matters is the distance I cover in the next step.”  My military memories usually bring out,  “Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right, KILL”.  A mantra gives you a cadence and can almost put you in a trance, taking you away from the immediate pain and discomfort.  Before you know it, the food or gel has kicked in and you start feeling better.

2. Always Talk to Strangers – Yes, I know your mama told you not to.  I am telling you to throw that shit out the window.  For me one of the best ways to pass time on a long ultra is to take the time to talk to other ultrarunners.  Most do so more than willingly – even if they may be too shy to initiate the conversation.  We all know how shy ultrarunners can be…yes that’s sarcasm.  The truth is, most of them are just WAITING to tell you about other runs they have done, PRs, or their entire life story.  If someone does not feel like talking, chances are they will either tell you, not respond, or speed away.  I have made some awesome friendships that started just by chatting on the trail.  Miles will melt behind you.

3.  Visualize – If there is no one around to talk to, your mantra has gone stale, you can’t stand to listen to one more Pantera jam, and you are struggling with some pain I have the answer.  I know this sounds weird, but it works for me more often than not.  I visualize my body as some sort of biological factory and dispatch commandos, medics, and engineers to take care of the pain and repair the injury that which is inflicting it.  Yes this is pretend…it is a scenario in my imagination.  I once ‘saw’ the pain as black ooze dripping off the tattered machinery which was working my knee joint as it was being dismantled by slug-looking creatures.  The elite commandos I deployed killed the baddies while the engineers cleaned and repaired the machines.  By the time I thought the scenario through in my mind, my knee felt better.  Don’t call me nuts until you try it.  What else do you have to do during your umpteenth consecutive hour of running?

All ultras require some serious gut-checking.  Looking at the weather forecast for Praire Spirit 100  it is clear that this “beginner level” trail may require even a little more perseverance than you had in mind.  Gut check time.

What techniques do you do to occupy your mind and keep your body moving during an ultra?  I would love to hear them.

See you all at Prairie Spirit!  As always, BE EPIC.

Zach