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Prairie Spirit Trail 100 Preview: A Noob’s Guide to the PST 100

Prologue

I know this course and this race pretty freakin’ well. I have run the 100 mile twice (one with a blizzard DNF at mile 77 the second with a sub-24 hour finish) and the 50 mile once (under 8:45).  So yeah, I am pretty much an expert – or at the very least –  I have more than a few pointers for this race that I think at least somewhat useful.  For this preview, I will be focusing on the 100 miler.

Course

For those who don’t know, this course is Rails to Trails.  This means two things are certain: The course is 1.) FLAT and 2.)SMOOTH.  Great race for those not totally confident in their ability to climb mountains (or anthills) and those who have trouble getting to the refrigerator without tripping and falling.  The most technical part of the ‘trail’ is the road crossing.  I shit you not.  This race is a shufflers dream come true.  It is out and back, so once you hit the turn, there is nowhere to go but home – it’s just really far away.  Although it is a rail trail, there are some differing views as you cover the 50 miles of the course – forests, fields, trestle bridges, towns, lakes, water towers, and of course a Kansas fixture – grain elevators.  It is actually really pretty – no mountain, but pretty in it’s own right.  So that’s the course.  Moving on.

Tip 1:  Run this 100 in quadrants.  They say the best way to eat an elephant is in small bites.  One bite at a time and you will eventually get it done.   Elephant meat might still taste like shit and make you want to puke or give up sometimes, but you will finish eventually.  I feel like the best way to approach this race is in 25(ish) mile chunks.

Chunk 1:  Start(Ottawa) to Garnett
Chunk 2: Garnett to Iola
Chunk 3: Iola to Garnett
Chunk 4: Garnett to Finish Line(Ottawa)

Of course, when shit goes south, fall back on the old, “run aid station to aid station” mantra.  All else fails, just go into survival mode and keep moving and don’t dick around at the aid stations.

Chunk 1:  Start(Ottawa) to Garnett

Start SLOW!!! This course is hella easy, especially at first.  You will want to blaze out of the start and try and keep people from passing you.  DON’T.  If your goal is to simply finish the your overall average pace needs to be 18 minutes per mile – so running 8s at the beginning is just dumb to do because “you’re feeling amazing!”  No shit, it’s the first part of a 100, you are supposed to be feeling good.  Fight the urge to sprint, be disciplined, it will pay massive dividends later.  For those of you looking to sub 24, I would suggest aiming for right at 5:20-5:30 goal for the first 25 miles.  That puts you right around a 13 min/mi pace.  Other tips for this first section – make sure and eat and drink at Princeton and Richmond.  I know you don’t feel like you need it, but if you don’t it will catch up to you later when it warms up.  Next – do not screw around at the train station in Garnett – yeah its cool, but you are racing, not sightseeing.  Do you business and get your ass back on the trail.  Finally, the gravel and dust can be hell on your feet, so consider dumping rocks out of your shoes and even changing socks and shoes as needed.

Chunk 2: Garnett to Iola

This is probably where you may start feeling the miles add up.  Honestly, it is one of my least favorite chunks of the race.  From Garnett to Welda is roughly 8.5 miles.  I always, and I mean ALWAYS, hit a low spot somewhere between 20 and 30 miles, so it is usually in this stretch.  There are more open spaces where the wind can suck, or the sun can fry you – so try and stay cool, hydrated, and don’t forget the sunblock.  Pace-wise, try and maintain roughly the same pace as you did the first 25 mile chunk – and maybe just a tad faster if you are feeling good.  The stretch to get to Colony is another 7.5 miles or so and a lot more of the same.  By this time the relative beauty of the trail will wear off and it will just get boring.  I would suggest running with someone of similar pace (but do NOT press or slow way down just to stay with someone).  Again – if you are gunning for a sub24 – if you can get to the turn at Iola from Garnett in that 5:20-5:30 range it puts you around 10:40 or 11 cumulatively.  This means after a quick stop to gear up for the second half, you have 13 hours for the return trip.  Assuming you have not murdered yourself to get to the turnaround, you will have a good shot at your 24, you will just need to manage a 16ish pace for the 48 miles back to the finish line.  Remember – this course is front loaded with a couple in-town miles (or at least was the first 3 years), so this mileage is ballpark.

Chunk 3: Iola to Garnett

First and most important tip here is get your ass out of the aid station and back on the trail!  Don’t think about how far you have gone and that you now have to do it again.  Don’t think about how much it is going to hurt.  Do what you need to do and move your ass on back to Ottawa.  A checklist of ‘to do’s’ is wise here- don’t want to go without a pre-planned change of shoes or your headlamp if you are going to need it.  When you take care of the necessities, get back on the trail and finish the job.  I always tell myself after turning around that now every step is one step closer the the finish line.   Now you know the course, so it is just a matter of pace management and continuing to fuel the machine.  Eating and drinking becomes critical at this point – even though you might be sick of eating and drinking – force it on yourself so you don’t blow up in the home stretch.  You now have 6 hours to get back to Garnett and leave 7 for the final chunk (which is actually less than 23 miles).  Just keep moving, and since you have been conservative through the first half, you will likely see it start to pay off and get there even ahead of schedule.  Make sure and eat and drink at Colony and Welda, utilize your crew if you have one, and lean on your pacers as needed.  It’s about to get tough – so you have to as well.

Chunk 4: Garnett to Finish Line(Ottawa)

Here is where they separate the 100k’ers from the 100 milers.  Mile 75(ish) to 100 is the hardest part of this (and I think all) 100 milers.  You have come so far, but still have so far to go.  At this point you will need to think aid station to aid station.  It is 9 long ass miles from Garnett to Richmond, so I would mentally run this section in 2 parts.  Have your pacer help you break it up and put a planned 3-5 minute rest about 5 miles in.  It will give you something to shoot for before getting to Richmond.  This section is the hardest for many people.  It is long and dark as hell.  You really start to feel like you will never get to that damn town.  After that, I felt like I started to smell the finish line, and the 6.5 miles to Princeton didn’t seem nearly as bad.  You will probably be walking off and on quite a bit now, but try to keep both your walking and running pace up.  You have plenty of time – 7 hours for 23 miles works out to about 18:15 miles, so just keep moving, alternating walking and shuffling.  Don’t stop unless you have to – and then, do it for only very, very short periods.  Once you get through Princeton, you might find some new life knowing that you only have 7 miles to go – or you might not!  I know at this point was so done, and “I just want to be done.”  My pacer heard that at least 100 times.  I finally got some new life when we got into the edge of town, and we cranked out the last couple miles getting to the finish.  For this last section I say this:  Relentless Forward Progress is the key.  Just keep moving.  You WILL get there if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Lean on your pacer.  Let them be the brains of the operation – and dammit, do what the hell they say!  If you have managed your race well, you should have been able to hold the 16-17 min/mile pace needed to get your “100 in a day”.  If your goal was to just get that under 30 buckle, these same tips apply, just with a slower pace. You can walk, shuffle, jog this course in under 30 hours if you JUST KEEP PRESSING FORWARD.

Epilogue

Nothing about a 100 mile race is short – including a race preview blog.  This was not comprehensive or precise to the minute or half mile, but it does have some great info that you can take and build your own plan.  Good luck – and I hope to see you out there!

 

 

First YouTube Video! White Rock Classic 50K Race Preview

What up all you crazy ultrarunners?  If you are reading this, you are either lost on the internet or interested in the White Rock Classic 50K at White Rock Mountain near Ft. Smith Arkansas.  This is the first of hopefully many videos that I plan on making to share my information, experiences, and perspective from the middle of the pack on some of the many great ultras I participate in.  Eric Strand, to preemptively answer your question, there are no llamas at White Rock (at least that I saw).  Hope you enjoy…

2014 Prairie Spirit 100 Preview

zachWhile idly tapping my toes, chewing my nails, and plucking overly-long stray eyebrows (my go-to nervous habits) I decided to write a race preview for the pending Prairie Spirit 50/100.  For me, as with most ultrarunners I know, training is easier than tapering – particularly the final 10 days or so.  I have an annoying tendency to hyper-focus and obsess over the tiniest of details from weather forecasts to Tums vs. Rolaids in my drop boxes.  Being one of only a few ultrarunners – especially 100 milers – from the area of Southeast Kansas I live, I don’t have too many people to lament with over the challenge and rewards of running this distance.  I am sure my coworkers’ biggest wish is that I would just shut the hell up.  If it wasn’t for interacting with other whackos using social media, I would probably implode and get some black market Xanax just to shut my brain off.  But I digress.  I figured writing a race preview blog would help curb (or maybe fuel) my race countdown obsession at the same time possibly helping or even being useful to those that didn’t have the pleasure of running in last years’ blizzard.  My 2013 Race Report

The Event
Epic Ultras puts on the best events in the Midwest and very possibly the entire nation.  A motivational presentation from one of the FOUNDING FATHERS of modern ultra-distance running, Dr. David Horton! ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?  From the Official Runners Information Packet (study it, the answers to your questions are there) to outstanding pre and post race grub – and everything in-between.  I challenge you to debate otherwise.  Great events put on by ultrarunners for ultrarunners.  A high quality event will draw high quality participants.  Take the time to chat with other runners and forge relationships that will last as long as your memory of crossing under the Epic Ultras arch and earning your buckle.

The Course
Yes it is that flat.  There are a couple minuscule rolling hills, but nothing that you will really have to huff and puff to get up.  The steepest is probably the couple of spots where you dip UNDER a major highway.  But mostly, it is as flat as a runway model without implants.  I would suggest doing a little stretching at the hips, waist, and knees early and often, nothing steep enough to do it for you.  Another thing that stands out in my head is how the fine, gravelly surface, while great for late mile shuffling, gets down in your shoes.  Stopping when I am really moving good to extract a bunch of baby boulders from of my shoes pisses me off to no end.   Gaiters might be a good idea – especially if you are not the kind that changes shoes a bunch.

Aid
The manned aid stations run from 6.5 to 10 miles apart, and while they will have just about everything you might need and more (this is an EPIC ULTRAS event after all), but make sure you carry enough nutrition to get your weary, tired, hungry ass to the next aid station.  Remember; Ten miles at 15 minutes per mile pace is two and a half hours.  You will probably want to eat more than every two hours… you know, assuming you want a buckle.  Unmanned water stations are strategically placed close enough that it should make carrying a single bottle plenty for most people – given a NORMAL March day.

Weather
Expect the unexpected.  For those of you travelling to Ottawa Kansas from parts unknown, be aware that our weather is somewhat volatile.  Maybe schizophrenic is a better characterization…    Plan for just about everything from ice to heat – and pack accordingly.  They say in Kansas; if you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes – it will change.  It is true, our local weather forecasters are little more than glorified Magic 8-balls.

I am not going to breakdown any possible winners, course records being broken, or % of finishers likely to find success like a lot of race previews do.  I am going to say that for every single finisher, this race will be a life-changing experience.  From that perspective, everyone will be getting something far more valuable than any first place plaque or mention as course record holder.  Or maybe I am just making that shit up; since my ass will NEVER hold a course record… so take it for what it’s worth!

Joking aside, I sincerely look forward to seeing all my ultrarunning pals (current and future), and to make sure I don’t scare anyone’s children at the pre-race dinner, I’ll try not to pull out all my damn eyebrows while waiting for race day.  Good luck to all runners!  May whatever higher or inner power you draw strength from pile it on in massive quantities!

 Be Epic!

Zach Adams