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World’s Okayest Race Report

WinterRock 25K, Elk City Hiking Trail near Independence Kansas, January 7th, 2017

So there I was, no bullshit, powering over the jagged, rock infested single track of the WinterRock 25K course when I finally managed to pull within a few feet of a female runner I had been chasing for some time.  We were in the last 5 kilometers of the course, a section of trail notorious for its liberal slashing of skin, bruising of bodies, and cracking of bones of runners brave enough to challenge it.  Twelve miles into the race, I was feeling fast.  My breathing was rhythmic and easy while I maintained myself just barely below that “red line” effort that will eventually cause you to crash.  I had patiently been looking for a wider spot to pass on the left meanwhile keeping 6-10 foot distance between us.

Me Candi and Ryan after WinterRock 25K. We forgot to take a pic at the actual race, so we got one in the driveway when we got home.
Me Candi and Ryan after WinterRock 25K. We forgot to take a pic at the actual race, so we got one in the driveway when we got home.

She powered up a stack of rocks masquerading as trail and as I followed, I pushed off on my right foot to make the final step up to continue along the trail.  The force of lifting most of my body upward with a slight forward motion created enough force that, thanks to the slippery piling of leaves on the rocks, my foot slipped and shot out from under me.  Wielding dual handheld bottles for this exact reason, (they make excellent shock absorbers) I was ready to go down hard into the rocks.  My left hand was already pumping forward due to the motion of running and easily hit the ground first, beginning to take the impact of my fall.  My right arm was elbow back, hand and bottle by my waist as I was going down.  For some reason, rather than jab forward to catch myself, I came directly over the top like a closer delivering and 0-2 pitch with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th!  With every bit of speed I could muster, I rotated my shoulder around about 270 degrees – arm fully extended – managing to get my right hand in position to assist my left in catching my crashing body – thus saving my face and teeth from a very abrupt stop.  Unfortunately, while my hand made it around in time, the centrifugal force applied to my bottle caused it to slip off of my hand and take flight like a ballistic missile.  The unintentional missile strike made contact with its chosen target, scoring a powerful direct hit; the right hamstring of the female trail runner I had been looking to pass.  After catching myself, I looked up just in time to see her dip slightly and turn around with a look on her face that said, “What the hell was that?  I hope it wasn’t a fucking rattlesnake!” I shouted the first thing that came to my mind, “I’m sorry!  I didn’t mean to throw my water bottle at you!”  She looked at me like I was an alien speaking a strange intergalactic language, turned around, did a double take, and then asked, “You ok?” Climbing down the side of a steep hill trying to recover my missile – err, um – bottle.  I said again, “I’m fine, sorry about that.”  In all the races I have run, this is the first time I have heard of a runner hitting someone else with their water bottle, much less done it myself.  I eventually passed her and somehow managed to finish in front of her – hoping the entire time it wasn’t because of the water bottle incident.  At the finish line, I apologized again and she assured me it was no big deal but she would probably have a big bruise.

Trail Nerds – “Winter Wyco” Run Toto Run 50K Race Report

A good ultra allows you the opportunity to have fun.  A great ultra supplies a challenge that tests the limits of your abilities.  An outstanding ultra places you head to head against yourself, other PsychoWyco-2016-2064racers, the trail, the elements, and you physical and mental limits – while being supported by a hoard of experienced, enthusiastic volunteers and top-notch race director.  By this standard, the Run Toto Run aka “Winter Wyco” 50K was OUTSTANDING.

The course is by far one of the most demanding in the state of Kansas.  Nearly all single track, it is not the rolling wheat fields that come to mind when the word “Kansas” is uttered.  It is not a mountain course, but it does provide lots of small chunks of technical running, steep (but brief) climbs, sharp winding switchbacks, muddy bridle (horse) trails, and even a nice climb up the grassy Wyandotte County Lake dam.  Most of the course is very runnable and gives you the opportunity to put your speed to the test – if that is your wish.  My training leading up had focused on quality over quantity, speed over distance, and thriving over surviving.  I planned on putting myself to the test, setting a very lofty goal of 5:15 on a trail where my previous best 50K time was 6:45 (albeit very hungover on a 95 degree day).

Usually the weather plays a major factor in this race as it is held in the middle of February in Kansas City.  Those of you familiar with this region know it is usually -70, windy, and miserable  this time of the year.  Not this year!  Goosebumped and shivering, I started in my favorite pair of shorty shorts and short sleeve Nike Dry Fit shirt and my Orange Mud HydraQuiver 2.  While I was uncomfortable at first, I was banking on the 70 degree forecast as well as a bit of additional motivation to move my ass a bit faster to stay warm.  Mission accomplished.  In the first 2 miles of the conga line, I passed at least 60 people and managed to warm my fingers enough to restore blood flow.

Action Shot at the Triangle - Mile 90 Photography
Action Shot at the Triangle – Mile 90 Photography

I had a great first loop, enjoying the relatively mud-less trail and the mild temperatures.  I didn’t utilize the aid stations much since I was wearing a pack filled with my own pre-packed food and 2 bottles – but I did enjoy their encouragement as I passed thru.  The finish line was like a freaking party – with music and beers flowing enthusiastically before 10am. Out-freaking-standing! I had a lap time of about 1:36 – way ahead of my goal average of 1:45 over 3 laps to hit 5:15.

The second loop went great for the most part.  I knew that I had gone out really fast trying to get around the conga line, so I dialed it back and focused on eating and drinking for the push in the final loop and hitting much closer to my 1:45 per lap goal.  The traffic was much thinner this time around and it was comfortably warmer for this trip around the lake.  Pretty uneventful lap and I nailed my goal – hitting the aid station with a lap time of 1:46.  I now had 10 minutes “in the bank”, basically allowing me a full minute per mile slower than goal pace for the final lap and I would hit my target!  Who knows, the shit stayed out of the fan, I might even go 5:05 or better!

Coming out of the aid station and up the hill to the bridle trail, I could tell that the distance was starting to take its toll on me.  I almost ALWAYS hit a low spot about 20 miles into any race, and this was no different.  I battled to keep my pace on target, but my heartrate was telling the tale.  Early in the loop, I knew I couldn’t keep it up for the full 9 remaining miles, so I backed off a little,  scarfed down a few hundred calories and chugged some water.  It was starting to get warm (hot for February) and I suspected I had gotten behind on both food and water.  About the time I hit the big dam hill – mile 25 or so – I was feeling awesome again and put the hammer down.  I ran up the hill to the dam aid station, blew through, and blasted up both of the following hills on the lake road before turning back to the singletrack that winds around behind the dam.  This is where the proverbial “shit” happened.

Literally blasting down the technical singletrack switchbacks, I was fully focused on my footfalls and trying not to donate teeth and flesh to the Wyco Trail Gods.  Pantera had stormed my earbuds full blast and my heart was pumping massive volumes of oxygenated blood.  I was in the zone!  I was in the zone so freaking hard!  So hard I missed the sign. OHHHHHHHH FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUDGE! Only, PsychoWyco-2016-4494-XLjust like Ralphie, I didn’t say fudge.  I end up dead-ending at a paved road with no flags to be seen.  Overwhelmed by the adrenaline infused blood thudding my veins I had ended up off trail somehow.  I spent the next 10-15 minutes backtracking, taking more wrong turns, until finally finding the spot I had veered from the correct course.  I spent the next ten minutes or so totally pissed off at myself and pouting like a damn baby.  I was totally on target to nail 5:15 – maybe even better.  Just like the viral news video of the fire victim, my tune changed to “NOT TODAY!!!”.

Getting lost really got in my head and since my time goal was out the window, I adjusted it.  I just wasn’t going to get passed before the end.  I managed to easily stay ahead of anyone seeking to steal a position from me, and after a 2:15 loop, I got across the finish in about 5:35ish, 23rd place overall – still a great time and course PR for me.

Candi, Eric, Alicia and I all stuck around and enjoyed the finish line festivities while waiting to cheer Ryan into the finish.  Ryan finished the 50K with plenty of time to spare even though he felt as bad as he ever had during an ultra.  Candi fought some nausea and still posted a sub 5:45 while Eric completed his first ultra as a 50 year old – under 6:30 – with no hill training!  All in all it was a great day and an IMG_0900outstanding event put on by RD Bad Ben Holmes and the Trail Nerds.  A sweet zipper hoodie, finishers trucker hat, and vanity sticker for the car were all an added bonus to the sweet medal which actually features a spinning tornado!  And don’t forget the amazing photos provided for no additional fee to runners – taken by the best in the business – Mile 90 Photography.  If you have not experienced one of the best trails that Kansas has to offer, I suggest you get this one, or one of the other great Trail Nerds races on Wyandotte County Lake, on your schedule immediately.

 

2014 Prairie Spirit 100 Race Report – “The Walking Dead” or “A Tale of Two Fifties”

zachSo this weekend marked the 2nd Annual Praire Spirit Trail 50 and 100 Mile Ultra Races in Ottawa Kansas.  It marked my 4th time toeing the line at a 100 mile footrace.  My record stood as 1 total rookie failure, 1 cut short by a freak blizzard, and an 1 insanely perfect race resulting in a first finish PR breaking the 22 hour mark.  As a 1 for 3 100 mile racer, I was hoping to even my record at 50% -while secretly harboring ambitions to break the 21, and even 20 hour mark.  After all, this was an “easy” hundred course, right?  We all know that a 100 mile race starts months before the actual start of the race, so that’s where I’ll start.

I finished the Pumpkin Holler 100 in late October 2013, getting that first buckle “under my belt” (pun intended) and amazed myself finishing more than 2 hours faster than my low-end goal of 24 hours.  You can read all about it here.  About a month after Pumpkin Holler, I ran the 12 hour KUS race in Wichita, logging 53ish miles and learned I wasn’t completely recovered. I took basically the month of December to rest and recover, planning on hitting it hard once January hit.  I ran and worked out some, but not like I had been through the summer and fall.  I ran WinterRock 25K – and had a blast as expected – but rolled my ankle pretty good in the process.  That is always a possibility on that trail, but it is a little scary when you have a 100 mile race on your calendar no more than 3 months away.  I ran a LOT in January and Febuary, totally more than 450 miles.   Most of these were good quality, high effort runs and not just long slow grinders.  I was feeling really solid other than the occasional twinge in my “WinterRock ankle”.  My beautiful, wonderfully talented runner girlfriend Candi Paulin and I have a tendency to name our injuries on the races where we acquired them.  She had been working through her FlatRock and Heartland knees while I whined about my Pumpkin Holler hip and WinterRock ankle.  You get the idea…  Aside from a few nagging aches and pains, things were going well.   Rolling into what was going to be my peak mileage week I got a NASTY chest cold and was basically done training until the race.  This turned my planned 2 and a half week taper into nearly 4 mileage free weeks.  I will say, I noticed how worn out I was from training only once I slowed down and took some time off.  My body was actually really ready for, and needing,  a break.

I got to Ottawa early enough to get to help with early packet pickup.  I love getting a chance to meet and talk to runners before the event actually starts.  I really think runners miss out when they skip pre-race activities and just show up at the starting line.  Lots of my now close friends became so as a direct result of hanging out before and after actual races themselves.  I love it.  To steal words from a buddy Mark Berry, “Pre-race dinner feels more like a family reunion” – and I might add – one filled with a family that is not as totally dysfunctional as most are.  The dinner that Warren cooked up was way better than the caterer Epic Ultras had gotten the previous year, and it was awesome getting to catch up with my ultrarunning buddies.  Next up was keynote speaker David Horton, old-shool ultrarunner and one of the founding fathers of ultrarunning.  Not only did I get to watch his totally badass and inspiring presentation, I had the opportunity to talk to him quite a bit on the side.  I was very impressed with his willingness to share his stories with me and how he sincerely wanted to hear MY story.  He was a very inspiring guy who has done some CRAZY ASS SHIT including winning Hardrock a couple times and finishing the Barkley Marathons 100.  Oh yeah, and he ran across the USA, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail.  Total ultrarunning rockstar.    I am thrilled I got the opportunity to meet David.  He gave a few pieces of wisdom in his presentation that will become a theme later in this blog.  1 – This too shall pass.  2- It never always gets worse. 3 – Walk with a purpose.  All three of these nuggets of wisdom played an important role in my race.

After dinner I went back to Celebration Hall and hung out and helped for the duration of late packet pickup.  I had worked out a deal with Eric that if I helped with packet pickup and helped film David’s presentation, I could sleep inside of Celebration Hall instead of pitching a tent outside.  I don’t really like camping in the cold that much, so this seemed like a great deal to me, since I was planning on getting there early Friday anyway.  About 10:00 pm I decided it was time to get ready for bed and decided to set up my tent (yes inside) and get to bed.  Got a bunch of teasing and shit talking from a few buddies who belong to the Epic Bridage that were still working to get ready for the race.  They found it quite comical that I would be setting up a tent inside – including the rain cover.  I saw it was like this;  it would knock down some of the noise and light and maybe help me sleep – and maybe even give me a little protection from Micah LaPoint who was promising to climb into my sleeping bag to cuddle once I feel asleep.  Yeah… I love these crazy assholes.  Anyway, I got to go to bed on my air mattress in my inside tent (box fan and all) about midnight with George Myers guarding my door from his sleeping bag right outside my door where he was camped out.  Turns out I am pretty wimpy compared to these dudes who sleep on the concrete with nothing but a blanket like the damn terminator.  I slept like I usually do the night before a race… not much.  Four in the morning arrived and I was relieved to finally get up and get going.   The Epic boys were already hard at work.  My tent was torn down and stowed away within minutes and before you can say “GO!” I had a hot shower and coffee in hand as other runners started showing up.

Just before 6 am we got our final pep-talk and a simple “Go!” from Mr. Epic himself, Race Director – and my brother from another mother – Eric Steele.  I took off at a nice easy pace that was probably too fast for a 100 miler.  I figured a fast mile or two wouldn’t hurt me and would likely burn off the remaining nervous energy.  I started our running with my friend Farhad Zarif, a great runner from the Kansas City area with an infectious spirit and a quest for to earn his first 100 mile buckle.  As we headed north to complete the short out and back, I fell in with Steve Baker.  Steve is a pretty experienced ultrarunning, and has done several 100’s in his time.  He is also one of the happiest and friendliest guys I have ever run with.  We chatted for a while and eventually got out of town and were truly on the Prairie Spirit Trail.  Steve and I fell in with Earl Blewett – a long time veteran ultrarunner.  He was telling us of times long ago where ultras were few and far between and a guy had to travel hundreds of miles to find out that he was running with the same 50 lunatics he had at every race that year.  He was also one of a handful of runners who had run the INAUGURAL FlatRock 50k – the oldest trail ultra in the state of Kansas.  It was interesting and enjoyable.  I ran with several other folks in route to Garnett and saw David Horton on the trail as well.  I ran with a guy who played division 1 football at Tulsa (Chris I think) who had decided to run a marathon pretty much as soon as his playing days were over.  He was a big guy and had shed a LOT of weight to get to the point of running 100 miles.  His buddies were treating the job of crewing as a 30 hour tailgate.  I chatted with another younger dude for a while who had decided to find a job and move out to Colorado – from Indiana I think – so he could pursue his dream of training and finishing the HardRock 100.  I love ultrarunners.  They are seriously badass… and not just because they can run for a long time.   About this time we got to the first aid station at Princeton.  I grabbed a Nutella burrito and rolled out.  I was carrying Hammer Gels and Protein bars.  I would fuel mostly from these since the real food on the course was 7-10 miles apart.  I felt like I had been doing well trying to take in at least 250-300 calories per hour.  

Eventually myself and the other runners got spread out so I put some music in my ears.  I focused simply on eating, drinking, and running.  Every so often I would lean against something and shake the tiny rocks out of my shoes.  I was really running at a quicker pace than I had planned, but I felt good, so I kept it up.  I got to Garnett  and was in and out.  My Garmin died right at 28 miles at just a hair under 5 hours.  So yeah, I was going to fast for a 100 miler.  I intentionally slowed my pace realizing that it was probably unsustainable to run at this speed.  It had also warmed up quite a bit and I could tell I had gotten behind on water.  The next section was about 9 miles to get to Welda.  About 2 miles before getting to the aid station I got really thirsty but had already finished my bottle – which I had drained and filled at the unmanned water stop.  I stripped a shirt and tied my jacket around my waist.  The sun was surprisingly intense and I was wilting pretty good, but still moving well.  Just before Welda, my right knee was getting a really sharp pain and my quads and calves both started cramping.  I was slightly worried, but not terribly, since I was rolling into the Trail Nerds oasis.  I filled and emptied my bottle here and picked up about 6 e-tabs.  I had been using Fizz tabs for electrolytes but decided to ramp it up.  I ate some real food and popped 2 S-Caps and took off.  I wasn’t stopped long at all, but upon beginning to walk, my knee pain was even sharper.  I was concerned that it was hurting so early on, but I also know how aches and pains come and go.  I made like a choo choo and chugged off down the tracks.

When I got to Colony I was still cramping, but maybe not as bad.  The 7.75 miles to get there took me a long time.  The warm temps and cramps had really slowed me down, to the point that I had to stop and stretch every few minutes just to loosen them up enough to keep a slow and steady shuffle.  Although I had taken in as much water as my belly would hold and multiple E-Tabs, I just couldn’t kick the cramps in my legs.  I was greeted by Kodi Panzer who cheered me up with her great laugh and a couple jokes about only working the aid station so she could find a boyfriend.  She is a riot.  It was a good pick-me-up at a low point for me.  Only 41 miles into the race and I was struggling pretty hardcore.  But I did what hundred mile runners do; buried my doubts, got up, and ran.

Ten miles.  I have run this distance so many times I can no longer count.  I have run it in heat, in cold, in ice, in snow, in wind.  I have never run in such misery as I did during this race.  The cramps worsened and I continued to overheat.  I got into a bad spot mentally and daydreamed of getting to Iola ONLY so I could quit and be done.  It was not fun.  It was not Epic.  It was torture.  I felt sick, tired, lonely, bored, pissed off… you name it.  I was in as low of a spot mentally as I have ever been in a race.  At one point I saw Eric driving by on the highway – he is easy to spot with the Badwater sticker and “Be Epic” plates – and almost called him to turn around and pick me up.  I didn’t, mostly because I figured he would tell me to suck it up and quit acting like a little bitch.  I imagined how I would tell Daniel and Candi at Iola that I was finished, it wasn’t my day, and every other excuse I could think of for quitting.  I daydreamed of going back to Topeka with Candi and sitting in the hot tub with a beer at the hotel and going to the state wrestling tournament instead of running all night.  You get the picture.  Bad times.  FINALLY I came limp-shuffling into Iola.  My co-worker and crew chief Daniel Droessler was standing near the aid station with a camera.  He slowly lowered it and I could tell by the look on his face that he KNEW I was done.  He just started running himself a couple months ago and was planning on pacing me a section.  It was obvious to him that he was now off the hook.  Something about this look kept me from telling anyone I was done.  Maybe there was a little spark of life left…

I immediately went to see Warren at the aid station table and he asked me how he could fix me.  I asked for food and he gave me some bbq pulled pork.  Then I asked if maybe they had any pickle juice.  I had decided that since it was only 4:50pm – almost 11 hours since the start of the race – I had plenty of time to get “fixed”.  I took Jurek’s advice and took stock.  I was hungry and behind on calories.  I was cramping and dehydrated.  I had a shit attitude and was pissed off that the last 15 miles sucked so bad.  I was in bad shape, but it was all fixable – so I got to work.  Unfortunately they didn’t have pickle juice, but they had plenty of water and e-tabs.  I had run a short time with Brian Smith, a runner from near my hometown, and after he went ahead of me and gotten to Iola he had given his crew instructions to help me out if they could.  Nathan Sicher, a blazin’ fast runner who also lives close to me gave me a Gatorade.  To my amazement , Justin, one of the Epic Brigade shows up with a jar of pickles and says, “Will this work?”   HELL YES.  I drank 2 foam cups of pickle juice and chased it with Gatorade.  Thanks guys.  About this time, Candi shows up well ahead of schedule AND has a hot, salty order of Culver’s french fries!!  I wasn’t planning on seeing her until Welda or Garnett inbound.  What a sight for sore eyes!  It raised my mental state back to where it needed to be if I had any chance of finishing this thing.  Once she got there, I knew there would be no quitting, at least not here, not now.   Another runner had heard me asking about pickle juice and brought me a “Pickle Shot”.  I finished eating, drinking, and doctoring my feet (no blisters so far) and stood up to see how I was feeling.  Amazingly, the cramps were gone.   My legs felt new life.  Someone suggested a change of shoes and I agreed.  Dan asked if I wanted him to pace me the 10 miles back to Colony, I said, “Hell yeah!”, and I strapped my Hokas on.  After spending half an hour recovering at Iola, I decided that I didn’t need to worry about making it to the finish, I just needed to focusing on how to make it to Colony.  Off we went.

Like I mentioned, Dan had only been running about 6 weeks, with his longest ever being 6 miles.  I warned him that if he couldn’t keep up, I would run off and leave him.  He was excited as this was going to be his distance PR and his first participation in an organized running event.  I was excited because the sun was going down, it was cooling off, and I was feeling SO much better.  We spent most of the miles doing 4/2 intervals.  Four minutes jogging, 2 minutes powerwalking “with a purpose” just like Horton had prescribed.  Most of the rest of the time I spent talking to him about running really long distance and giving him tips of the trade.   Time passed quickly and I continued to feel great.  Daniel did awesome, and we got into Colony in 1:54 minutes.  The same stretch outbound had taken me nearly 3:15.  Candi was there grinning ear to ear, happy that I was still feeling good and ready to pace me in the last 39 miles.  I ate a good portion of solid food here, not wanting to repeat my earlier mistakes of rushing through the aid stations without getting enough food in me.  I thanked Daniel for pacing me and crewing for us.  We set out toward Welda.  61 miles down.

This stretch was pretty solid running with walk breaks here and there when needed.  We didn’t really watch the clock much – just enjoyed each others company and talked.  We have run a lot of our winter long training runs together and she is the perfect running partner for me.  She makes it seem effortless, ignores any griping, and gives me a little push JUST when I need it.  We got to Welda and we were both feeling awesome.  Daniel had brought his kids out and they were looking around with huge eyes like they thought the whole thing was pretty awesome.  To be honest Dan was pretty jacked himself and would have probably paced me if I needed him to!  Right as we pulled into Welda, a woman grabbed me yelling, “Zach!!  You look awesome!”  I replied with something like, “Thanks, you should have seen me earlier… I’m back from the dead!”  It was Reina Probert.  Reina is another ultrarunning friend of Candi and I who was pacing the final 32 miles for a complete stranger – in the middle of the night.  Yeah… ultrarunners ARE that awesome.  I ate, Candi ate, we said bye to our friends and off we went.  69 miles down.

The next stretch takes you back into the old train depot at Garnett where Polly and Lauren Choate – Epic aid station veterans – were running the show.  I think Candi and I got here about 11:15pm.  Getting to Garnett was a long almost 9 mile mile stretch.  I did some stretching along the way and was still running quite a bit, feeling mostly really good.  My legs were tired, but never to the point where I was feeling exhausted or out of gas.  When we got to Garnett, we found Daniel and Polly both excited to see us.  Dan took off pretty quickly and was headed to get the kids to bed – his night was done.  I could tell he had enjoyed every minute of it, and thanked him one final time.  Polly was making tacos and another gentleman was making MAPLE BACON.  OMFG…  It smelled like greasy heaven.  He was just pulling off strips so I sat on the bench and started eating sandwiches.  Someone brought me over some bacon and I took it to poundtown.  It was hit the spot and was as much mental fuel as it was physical.  The reality suddenly hit me  that although I had roughly 77.5 miles done, I still had almost 23 miles to go.  Candi gave a the look that said let’s go, so we went.

This is where it started to get a little gnarly for me.  Once we got out of Garnett and back on the dark trail, I got sleepy.  Not your garden variety “yawn a few times” sleepy…  I got to the point where I was barely doing more than shuffling with my eyes closed.  I actually almost wandered off the trail a couple times, until Candi had me hold her hand when I would rest my eyes.  As the miles dragged on, so did my eyelids.  I was feeling ok, I just couldn’t fight the urge to sleep.  Toiling along just at the edge of consciousness, I look up and see a wonderful sight.  A big concrete… thing.  Maybe it was a storm drain cover, maybe it was…. I don’t know what the hell it was – but to me it was a bed.    I told Candi without even thinking, “Wake me up in 3 minutes.  I’m taking a nap.”  While she gave me a strange look, she didn’t argue.  Candi is as sweet as they come, but she is just as tough.  I knew 3 minutes was all I would get, and it was all I got.  A simple, “Let’s go.” is all I got.  As we got up to a run again, I noticed something.  It helped.  It REALLY helped!  I was soon wide awake and running better than I had for a while.  My amazing pacer was glad as she wasn’t sure what she could do to keep me from passing out.  A few more times the rest of race I would find a bench or just a clear spot on the gravel and lay down, but the rule was always ONLY 3 minutes.  Once we figured out this method to keep me awake, Candi kept pressing me on to run as much as I could.  I was pretty happy when we rolled into Richmond.  86.5 miles down, roughly a half marathon to go.

I am pretty sure I talked to my buddy Sean Hamlin at this stop and he had a really warm tent – that as much as I wanted to curl up in the corner and sleep, I tried to avoid lingering.  I think Paul Rejda was also here, although I am not exactly sure.    Honestly the specific details at this point are pretty fuzzy. We cruised out of Richmond after only a couple minutes and realized we had about 4 hours to get in under 24 hours.  That gave us 2 hours to get to Princeton and 2 hours to get to the finish – stretches of 6.5 and 7 miles.  Aside from a very fast stop in Princeton to eat, refill, and say hi to George Myers, it was a seemingly never-ending cycle of shuffle, run, walk, eat, drink, and repeat.  Candi kept me talking and moving, ensuring me that, “We are almost there!” the entire time.  She was wonderful.  I leapfrogged with Elden Galano and others.  It was surprising how a pretty good size group of us was still close at this point.  The only other noteworthy story at this point in the race was the horses fitted with headlights.  After one of my short naps, I noticed headlights that seemed to be getting closer.  Immediately, I asked Candi if we were going the wrong way!  When they got closer, I asked Candi why there were horses with headlights on the trail…  She laughed at me and said it was runners – probably 50 milers according to their larger bib numbers.  I thought, there is no way any of the 50 milers that haven’t made it TO GARNETT in 20 hours!!! WTF!   Anyway, we scratched our heads and ran on.

The last 3 miles was hard.  I was tired, sore, and bored.  I wanted to be done.  Candi probably heard me say that at least 1000 times.   I just want to be finished.  I was in need of a short nap and found a wooden bridge to lay down on.  As I did a big German Shepherd walks out of the woods, smelling of skunk, and starts licking my face.  I passingly wondered if I was hallucinating about a foul smelling police dog licking my eyeball – I really didn’t care.  That question was answered when he proceeded to tag along with us to the finish line, even helping himself to some snacks from the table.  A couple miles out Candi called our friend Justin Chockley, who had been working for Eric all weekend as a gopher, to tell him we were getting close.  He told us it was a mile from the finish once we hit the highway.  At one point, with the visible highway in the distance, we caught up to a runner and his pacer who cordially let us know that it was a bunch of “goddamn bullshit”  that the finish better damn well be close, cause his Garmin already reads 99.3 miles.  He wanted to know, “How the hell do you measure an out-and-back course wrong?”  We eventually got back into town, and unless I broke something or just passed out, it was looking like Candi was going to get me in under 24 hours.  Repeatedly, when she was telling me to pick it up, I told her I didn’t care about sub-24.  It didn’t matter.  Knowing me too well, she just kept assuring me that I would.  We saw Dennis Haig standing and cheering at the final turn.  He pointed us left and we trotted to the finish line holding hands.  This finish, while almost 2 hours slower than my last, was harder and even more meaningful.  I had bounced back from almost quitting at the halfway point and still managed to finish under 24 hours.  I gave Eric a hug at the finish and took my buckle.  I hugged Candi and thanked her for getting me to the finish, and for being so wonderful while doing it.   My official time was 23:39:12.  

I hung around all morning, dozing, eating, resting, eating, and cheering runners in.  Candi rested and snuggled with me for about 30 minutes before heading BACK to Topeka to watch her son’s first wrestling match. Yes, I told you, she is a total badass.  I got to see so many happy people cross that finish line and earn a buckle.  The final finishers crossed the line with about 30 minutes to spare and were ecstatic to finish.  The energy at a 100 mile finish line is only equaled by the exhaustion.  Thanks to everyone who made my 100 mile dreams come true for a second time.  It truly is a group effort, and you will never find a better group than you will around an event like this.

Until next time…

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