Tag Archives: ultra

Gear Review: Orange Mud HydraQuiver 2

Gear is very important once you start regularly running and racing distances 20 miles or more.  Shorter runs you can get by with not much more than a water bottle and maybe a couple snacks in a pocket.  If you are training long miles self-supported and running ultras, chances are you will need something a bit more significant than a belt pouch to carry some essentials including food and water.

Candi and I had been gifted an Orange Mud HydraQuiver 2 from a

Wearing my Orange Mud
Mid Pack and Candi Crusher

friend who had been too large for this particular vest, but having great results with my old pack, the Orange Mud just stayed hanging

on the running rack in the laundry room.  Yesterday, on a planned 20 miler, I decided to give it a test run.  The plan is, if it passed, it would get the nod to start the game at White Rock Classic 50K next weekend.  (I will get back to whether the HydraQuiver 2 made the starting lineup or not in a few paragraphs, so read on.)  Following are my observations from my experience yesterday with the pack.

Fit / Wear

Fit is so important in hydration packs.  All the little pockets and gadgets are great, but if the damn thing does not fit right, it might as well go in the garbage.  The HydraQuiver 2 vest fit nicely with very easy adjustments.  The wearer can adjust from front center, back center, and under both arms.  Personally I don’t like shit sitting under my armpits, so I pull tight at the front and wide in the rear and cinch under the arms.  I also like it to ride higher on my shoulders – I was fairly quickly able to get the pack adjusted pre-run to a very comfy position (while wearing a long sleeve, fairly thick pullover).  So I definitely liked how easy it was to adjust for the first time.  No difficult buckles to fuck around with (and still not get right), just a simple one-way pull ratchet clip that stayed in place and didn’t get looser than a truck stop lot lizard while running.  While running, the fit held nicely and the pack stayed where I wanted it.  My only knock on the fit is that once it warmed up and I took my pullover off, I put the pack back on and it was too loose.  Since I had the front already cinched tight (per my preference) I had to either take it off to tighten the rear or have Candi pull the underarm straps.  No problem if you have a running buddy, but a big pain in the ass if you are solo.  Again, this is partly due to my personal preference in the front, but I would like to be able to reach the underarm straps from the front without removing.   But all-in-all a very comfortable fit and ride once adjusted and it did not give me any chaffing or hotspots.

Form / Function

I will start in the front and move to the back.  The front (chest) of this pack has a large oval pouch on both sides.  These damn things are good size, and are super stretchy with easy to use locking drawstrings at the opening.  In my left pouch I had my iPhone 6 PLUS

Orange Mud HydraQuiver 2
Orange Mud HydraQuiver 2

IN A CASE, a couple cereal bars and fruit strips.  There was still plenty of room, and it felt just fine.  In the other pouch I had a few more bites of food and it actually felt empty – tons of space for trash or little road finds to be tucked away as we ran along.  I shit you not, these little pouches were like Harry Potter “bags of holding”  I love having easy access to fuel, small gear items (like chap stick, wet wipes, body glide, etc.) without breaking my arms and cramping my shoulders grabbing from the back – or God forbid – stopping to take it off to get crap out of the back.  Beware however, one of the pouches has an access hole on the bottom corner, so don’t lose your keys!  I didn’t notice the bottom corner access hole until after I finished, but luckily didn’t lose anything.  Fortunately, inside each pouch is a small clip, great for securing keys, whistle, or single shot Derringer pistols.  Move up on the shoulder straps and each side has an additional pouch for small items like ibuprofen or S-caps or maybe a few bucks and an ID for you urban runners who have things like convenience stores on your routes.

In the back, there is not much storage (none actually) aside from the water bottle holsters.  You could possibly use the bungee adjustment cord between the holsters to strap down a jacket or something rolled up, but I am not sure that was the intended use.  As far as the bottle quivers, this is what makes this pack unique.  Most packs that use bottles as opposed to bladders (which I HATE) are on the front, all sloshing in your ears and banging into your face, while rubbing your chest raw with the weight.  Having to bottle holders on your back damn near perfectly distributes the weight and makes for no bounce.  I had one empty bottle and one that was full and could not tell any uneven weight distribution at all.  My concern starting was that I wouldn’t be able to reach them well or get them back in the quivers after taking a sip.  Turns out that by simply tugging down a bit on the front straps pulls the bottles up your shoulders and it is no harder to grab a bottle than it is to adjust an earbud.  I did struggle a little bit – at first – to get them back in, but by the end of a single run, the muscle memory was set, and it was just like slipping your trusty pistol back into its concealed carry holster.  Very handy.

The bottles on the back did not bounce and swishing sounds were minimal.  I used my trusty CamelBak insulated 21 oz bottles with the lock tips (best on the market) rather than stock and they fit just fine.  As a matter of fact, they are taller and skinnier than a lot of bottles and they fit just fine.  Actually they might have been easier to grab and stow due to their shape and size.  The point is that it will work fine with just about any bottle I have ever seen.

Conclusion

I really had a great experience with the Orange Mud HydraQuiver 2.  My only two criticisms are that it is somewhat challenging to adjust the fit while wearing, and if you are going really long in high heat, you are maxed out at 2 bottles – with no option for a bladder.  But, for me, in a 50 miler or less or any race where the aid stations, water refills are no more than 8-10 miles apart two bottles should be more than sufficient.  I loved the way it rode, fit, and most of all – just how easy it was to get to my food (I LOVE FOOD) while running with no reaching or stretching to get stuff out of the back.  When I hit the starting line next Saturday at the AURA White Rock Classic 50K, I will most definitely be wearing my Orange Mud HydraQuiver 2!  Check back to read the follow up on how it performs during an actual ultra!  Big thanks to Orange Mud for putting out a quality product!

PS – This review was not solicited by Orange Mud in any way.  It is strictly my opinion on it based off of my personal experience with the pack.  As always, there is no perfect one-size -fits-all in any aspect of ultrarunning.  It truly is a deeply personal experience that is different for every runner!

 

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…

Ultra-Community

I often find myself wondering why I continue running ultras.  Why would I willingly participate in an activity that beats my body to the point that walking to the bathroom becomes nearly impossible?  Why is it worth doing when it makes me shed toenails more often than a snake sheds it skin?  I have had blisters the size or dollar bills, gashed knees, and even temporarily lost feeling in the tips of my toes.  I have puked on the trail and crapped in places and wiped with available materials that would classify me as barbaric at best.  Staying awake for 48 or more hours at a time during an ultra (and dragging serious ass at work for days afterward) would most likely not be considered “a reward” by most people.  Ultras (and the required training) monopolize a ton of my time, costs me a small fortune in gear and race entries, take me away from my family on the weekends, and have put me outdoors in some seriously shitty weather for hours and hours at a time.  So…. Why?  Why do I continue to train and run ultras? For the fun?

It is not for the race photos, which I always manage to ruin.  It is not for the finger lickin’ aid station food.  It is not for sweet tech race shirt number 437.  It is not for the finisher’s medal.  It is not for the vanity car sticker that I don’t have any place for.  It is not even for the shiny belt buckle.  My introspections have led me to narrow down my list of why I continue to train and run ultras to two main reasons, one of which is the focus of this article.  The addictive quality in an ultra is the challenge.  In an ultra I can test myself in ways that I cannot in any other aspect of my life.  As life gets easier and more comfortable, physical challenge decreases.  We no longer have to run down antelope on foot, run for our lives from lions, chop down trees by hand, or carry buckets of water miles just to survive.  Ultras are never predictable and you are required to solve problems and adjust if you want to get yourself to the finish. I could go on and on… but I will save that for another article.  The challenge is what gets you hooked early on.  The next reason is what keeps you coming back.

The Community.  The ultrarunning community is like none I have ever been around.  The cross section of people you find at ultras is extremely diverse.  Women and men from all walks of life, race, nationality, religious background, and socioeconomic classes can be found at ultras.  The shared hardships become the common denominator that binds a very eclectic group.  Strong and lasting bonds (a marriage in my case) are created in even very short times of shared suffering.  This fact means that as you participate in ultras – as runner or volunteer – the more and stronger bonds you create!  Humans are social creatures and bonds with others is what enriches our lives more than any personal accomplishment ever could.  Around these bonds, a culture of community is formed.  Runners support each other; I have witnessed runners sacrificing their own races or their personal comfort to help someone in greater need – giving away valuable food, water, even their own gear!  I have seen volunteers go above and beyond every expectation while caring for those challenging themselves on the course.  From massaging nasty, blistered feet to lubing sweaty armpits, the commitment shown by aid workers is unbelievable! Watching the winner of the race stick around for many hours cheer in the final finisher is something I have never seen outside of an ultramarathon.  This is a strong community.  Once built, an ultrarunning community will begin to function as a family would – members relying and supporting each other, sharing triumph and sorrow, laughter and tears -a situation evolves where the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts.  Ultimately, the ultrarunning community becomes more about spending time with friends rather than just getting to a finish line.  Evenings before races spent nervously discussing strategy and nights telling stories of pain and fatigue after a long hard day on the trail with close friends is what makes all of the sacrifices worthwhile.  And beer.

The Race Across The Sky

PST100-2015-2657
“The Race Across the Sky.”  LT100.  Leadville.  Whatever you call it, it is now in the books for 2015.  Less than half of the nearly 650 brave runners from all over the world who started the race managed to power themselves across the finish under the 30 hour time limit.  I was the 281st finisher of the 2015 Leadville Trail 100, earning a finisher’s medal and shiny new buckle on my first attempt.  To be completely honest, I am still amazed by this fact.  There were several points during this race where I just didn’t think that I was a strong enough runner to move fast enough to stay ahead of the cutoffs.  While I never seriously contemplated quitting, I several times resigned myself to the fact that the next aid station would probably be my last before my time ran out.  But first, let’s rewind a few months and lay the groundwork and build the context of this ultra-adventure.

The Lottery

This was the first year that the race had moved to a lottery based entry.  It is not weighted, requires no qualifier, and is purely random – as far as I know.  It was pretty simple, once December rolled around, you would pay your $15.00 and cross your fingers.  In January I received a congratulations email that I had been selected and needed to confirm, which I immediately did.  I was totally geeked up and telling anyone who would listen that my flatlander ass had gained entry to one of the oldest and most well-known 100 mile mountain ultras in the country.  In about 8 months I would be climbing over the Rocky Mountains on foot, digging as deep as I could dig to find that “inexhaustible well of grit, guts, and determination” that founder Ken Chlouber so famously references each year at the pre-race meeting.  Eight months is a long time to focus, train, and plan toward a single goal.  This takes us to training.

Training

I was dedicated to working hard.  I was dedicated to the idea of doing everything in my power to give myself a chance at success.  Hard work was the core strategy of my training plan.  I decided on running faster, higher intensity miles but reducing the total number of miles in a traditional 100 miler plan.   My point was that I had a strong mileage base and knew I could power hike a good long time if need be.  What I needed was the power to be able to make the long, steep climbs Leadville is notorious for without eating up a massive amount of time.  Scattered throughout the months of January, I also ran several races that broke up the cycle, and each forcing me to take a step-back week after a hard effort.  I did 25k, (2) 50K, (2) 6hr timed, 50 mile, 60 mile track, 101K, and 30 miles of pacing on a road race.  Nearly all of these efforts ended up as new PRs for the course or distance.  Two highlights were an 8:40 50 mile finish at Prairie Spirit and a 10th overall sub 5 hour 50K at War Eagle in Arkansas.  One major observation throughout this process:  Staying focused on a single race for 8 months is very challenging.  Breaking the time into sections with step-stone goals (races) was definitely helpful.

Race Week

The last 10 days or before the race were brutal for me.  The steep drop-off of training miles and idle time resulted in me damn near driving myself nuts.  Over-thinking, over-analyzing, and just pure anxiety were the central theme of this time period.  I had trouble focusing on anything not related to the race and sleeping at night got really restless and somewhat frustrating – to be honest – it really sucked.  But, eventually the time passed, the race van was packed, and by 8:30am on Thursday, August 20th 2015 we were on the long desolate road across Western Kansas that would eventually take us to Leadville Colorado.

Road Trip

Candi had taken care of most of the packing and organizing of our gear and aid stuff that we would need for the race.  She did an excellent job at making sure we had everything we would need, without filling all of our bags and the van with a bunch of crap we wouldn’t use.  On top of being a master at logistics, my wife is a total badass who can go for days with almost no sleep and does not know the meaning of the word “quit”.  She can crew and pace with the very best of them – and I am DAMN GLAD she is heading up my Leadville crew. I would definitely need her if I stood a snowballs chance in hell to finish under 30 hours – plus she is really hot!

Ryan showed up well before the scheduled time, and only a few minutes behind “schedule” we hit the road.  Ryan Schwatken is a fairly new ultrarunner, but has already notched several 50K finishes, 101K at FlatRock, and a very gutsy 50 mile effort where he demonstrated a toughness and tenacity that I am not sure that I have seen matched.  Ryan made it to that finish despite nearly EVERYTHING going wrong for him and walking 20 miles on two of the largest blisters I have ever seen.  Ryan has also crewed for me before – taking on the horrendous driving responsibilities at Ozark Trail last fall.  He is a solid addition to any 100 mile pace/crew and a great friend.

After five stops in two hours to drain the excess hydration, our first real stop was Wichita to pick up one of the most undeniably entertaining and inspiring humans I have ever met, Mr. Epic Ultras himself – Eric Steele.  Eric has been running ultras himself for more than 20 years and now puts on the best ultras in the Midwest.  Eric also earned his own Leadville buckle some 15+ years ago.  A fountain of ultrarunning knowledge and motivation, Eric is more importantly my brother-from-another-mother.  We picked up Eric and met with another Wichita ultrarunner, and good friend, Dave Meeth for lunch – who provided us with a bunch of great energy and mojo, wishing us luck and sending us on our way.

The drive out to Colorado was mostly uneventful and consisted of food and pit stops.  You see, I was given the following advice:  “The best way to avoid altitude sickness is to be massively hydrated.”  I followed that advice before a training trip to the mountains in July and it worked perfectly.  The downside is having to stop every 50 miles in order to keep your bladder from bursting.

After a long drive beginning in Southeastern Kansas and finishing up in the haze obscured mountains (courtesy of the California wildfires) of the high country of Colorado, we arrived at The New Summit Inn in Frisco.  We got checked in and relaxed in our room.  Ryan and Eric went on a beer run and watched some local teenager wiggle on the ground outside of the hotel.  This is its own story, but basically they supposed he had too much of the newly legalized recreational “Colorado herbage”.  I slept decently, knowing I still had one more day before the race started and that basically everything I could do was already done.

Pre-Race

Friday would be the first time we drove into Leadville as a team.  We arrived at the packet pickup on Harrison Street and I got my swag bag complete with my #5 bib.  I was also given a wristband with name, d.o.b, and relative medical info.  This band signifies your entry into the race, if you quit or miss a cutoff, they cut it off.  If the band is cut, your race is over.  After getting checked in, we had a couple hours before the pre-race meeting, so of course, we ate.  After breakfast we walked around checking out the town.  Leadville has a really touristy yet throwback kind of feel to it, and the streets were filled up with runners, their crews, and family members.  I remember feeling a really cool vibe as though we were all on the verge of something pretty important.  At Lake County High School gym, completely surrounded by a massive herd of runners and crew, the pre-race briefing had the hairs on my neck standing on end.  The speakers featured Dr. John, the funny medical director, who was giving out great last minute advice in a very funny and most entertaining way, followed by race founder Ken Chlouber who has the ability to motivate a large crowd with just a few words.  According to this old cowboy (and 10+ time Leadville 100 finisher), “You are better than you think you are and can do more than you think you can do.”  At the end of the meeting, I fully believed him.  I took his oath and repeated out loud, “I commit to NOT QUIT.”  After the meeting was over, we drove out to the village of Twin Lakes where I would have aid available at mile 40 and 60.  It is also the final aid station before the round trip over Hope Pass.  After a while driving in the mountains, we ended up back in Frisco eating one of my favorite pre-race meals; KFC.  Finger. Lickin’. Good.  After a short trip to the store to get ice and water and we ended up back at our lodge and began to get my gear ready for the early (more like middle of the night) wake-up call needed to get us to the 4am start line on time.  I had a couple pre-celebratory beers with Eric and Ryan, and Candi helped me get my race clothes ready and my race vest loaded for action – ensuring I didn’t end up at the start line with two left socks, no underwear, and missing a glove.  Did I mention how great she was?

TIME TO RACE!Starting Line

Start to May Queen

The start of the race was pretty chilly (35-40 degrees), but Ryan let me wear his hoodie for the 20 minutes or so we waited around the start line.  At exactly 4:00am, Ken blasted his shotgun signaling the start of the race.  More than 600 unacquainted best friends all sharing a single goal, we effortlessly rolled downhill and out of town eventually getting to Turquoise Lake where the trail became single track.  We were in an extremely long conga-line but somehow I never felt like I was being either pushed or held up.  It was quiet and dark, not much chatter.  The first 2 hours and 22 minutes went by in a flash, and before you know it I had made half a loop around the lake and was at the May Queen aid station 13.5 miles into the race.  I was quickly in and out of May Queen, filling my bottles and grabbing a bit of food.  We had decided in advance that the crew would skip this stop because 1.) I really wouldn’t need anything.  2.) Driving out to this aid station is a pain in the ass on a single road with 600 other crews.  It was the least I could do for my crew considering what they were doing for me.  It was a good decision as I didn’t even stay at the aid station for a full minute.  My plan was well established from the start – I figured I could maintain the required pace, but would not have much extra time to screw around at aid stops – I kept telling myself to plan ahead, get what you need, and move your ass on down the trail.

May Queen to Outward Bound

The first good climb is in this section on a bit of gnarly single track that takes you up to some dirt roads to get to the top of Sugarloaf.  I mixed in some good powerhiking here at the steeper spots and ran what I could without sending my heart into an explosive range.  Got rained on a bit as a little thunder shower rolled through.  It was mostly overcast and but the sprinkle did seem to knock out the smoky haze somewhat.  Eventually I crested the top of Sugarloaf Mountain and got to bomb down the section known as Powerline.  Powerline is exactly what it sounds like, a trail/jeep/maintenance access road that runs under the power lines.  No switchbacks, it can be very, very steep at times.  I was trying to hold myself back so I didn’t trash my quads, but found it very difficult to run slow.  It was a lot of fun blasting down the side of the mountain!  At the base was a couple miles of road that led past the Fish Hatchery (previous site of this aid station) to the Outward Bound aid station.  This was basically set up off the road in a pasture.  Candi, Eric and Ryan were here standing by the timing chute ready to crew me for the first time of the day.  They took my trash, filled my bottles, and restocked my vest.  This was roughly 24 miles into the race, and I still was not in need of much, so I was in and out of OB very quickly and headed on toward Halfpipe.  Knowing the first 40 miles of the race are the “easiest”, I wanted to make the most of them, without pushing too hard.  That is a difficult balance to find, but I was for the most part sticking with my plan.

OB to Half Pipe

This section kind of sucked.  Leaving OB was a section of mowed grass leading across the pasture, followed by a section of pavement, finally followed by a forest road before getting to Half Pipe.  It was pretty hot and dusty and I was firmly in my first rough patch, but managed to eat and drink my way through it.  Along this section there was an alternate crew access point and I got to see my people for a couple minutes, which I did not expect.  They filled me up, but more importantly they perked me up, which I was definitely needing at that point. Arriving in Half Pipe at the 50K mark in just a couple minutes under 6 hours, I was still right at my goal time.  I am not really sure what the hell Half Pipe is, but it was a pretty cool aid station, just not crew accessible – so needless to say, I didn’t lounge around here very long.  I grabbed a handful of GU’s, my primary fuel source, and hit the dusty trail.

Half Pipe to Twin Lakes

Once you leave Half Pipe it is a pretty steady climb for about 5 miles.  Nothing real steep, just kind of always going up, and it is mostly not-really-that-technical single track.  I got into a pretty good groove here, but was a little slower than I felt, I am guessing it was due to the steady uphill.  It is 8.5 miles to TL but seems like at least 15.  There was a small outpost on Mt. Elbert sponsored by CamelBak where they had fluids, but otherwise there is not much to break up this chunk.  I was ok mentally but was a bit sleepy and kind of slow, which led to me getting to Twin Lakes at noon, about 20 minutes behind my goal time, but well within the cutoff.  This aid station was freaking huge!  I am telling you it was like a circus of people and shelters about a half mile long.  The aid station was in an old fire station, or at least the bays where you park firetrucks.  I found my crew, and they took expert care of me, getting some different foods in me.  I think I managed to eat a banana and some mixed fruit along with some watermelon and sandwich quarters.  It definitely felt like lunchtime, and I hit the aid table like an all you can eat buffet.

Twin Lakes to Winfield

Twin Lakes is the last stop before going up and over Hope Pass.  In a span of about 5 miles, runners ascend from 9200’ to 12,600’ above sea level on rocky, single track trails.  To make it even more fun, leading up to the climb, adventurous runners get to wade through knee deep water for about ½ of a mile after leaving the aid station to get to the base of the mountain.  Once you get just above the tree line is the Hopeless aid station.  This crazy group of volunteers pack all supplies up on llamas.  Yes, llamas.  They are an awesome bunch and made the best potato soup on the course.  I fought like hell to get up the mountain – getting passed by a lot of folks who were either a.) Much better climbers than me. b.) Much better at high altitude than me. 3.) BOTH.  Whatever the case, I just kept hammering away at the mountain, hiking 50-100 yards and leaning on a tree or sitting on a rock for 6 deep breaths.  I was really struggling to keep my heartrate below about 5900 bpm.  Eventually I made it to the Hopeless aid station, albeit much slower than I would have liked.  I ate some soup and sandwiches, filled my bottles and sat for 3 minutes (I timed it).  One would assume that since you made it to the aid station, it would be time to head on down the back side…. Nope…  There are probably another 500 or so feet to climb before reaching the summit on some very steep switchbacks.  Once cresting Hope Pass, I got to stare in awe for miles in both directions before beginning the steep ascent that would take me to Winfield and the half way point of this very tough race.  The back side of Hope Pass is super steep, and I fell on my ass more than once. It was steep enough that I was not doing too much running, feeling like I would end up rolling off the side of the mountain and die should I catch my toe.  At the base of the back side, the course turns and heads to the aid station that marks the turn around, and I thought it was much closer than it actually was.  This section of the race was easily the most painful, depressing, and not very much fun part of the entire adventure.  I came hauling my out-of-water-not-eating-anything-ass into Winfield at just before 4:45pm.  The cutoff here was “gone by 6 pm”, and to be honest, I did not know if I would be ready to leave in time.  I had planned on being here by 3:45 but took an ass-whoopin’ climbing up and down Hope.  Ken Chlouber had quoted Mike Tyson at the pre-race meeting, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”  That had proved so true, and my jaw hurt like hell from the uppercut that the mountain gave me.  Coming up the road I was greeting by my wonderful wife who had had been pacing nervously, waiting for me to arrive.  I handed her my bottles and said, “Fix me.”  She asked what was wrong, but honestly I was pretty loopy and said I wasn’t sure.  Our plan had been made in advance, that WHEN I began to struggle, they were to force-feed me, take no excuses and kick my ass down the trail.  Ryan and Candi were giving me food to eat (not options) while Eric was getting ready to pace.  I asked for my knee braces because it hurt to run down – not a good sign when you are HALF way through a 100 mile mountain race.  I also took an Aleve and drained a bottle of Sustained Energy (THANK YOU HAMMER NUTRITION).  After 15 minutes and what felt like an eternity, they helped me get up of the ground and start walking me out of the aid station.  This is where I could say that my crew saved my race, but it would actually be more accurate to say that this is where they STARTED saving my race – details to follow.

Winfield to Twin Lakes

I have now passed half way, and seen the entire Leadville Trail 100 course.  I have Eric Steele pacing me for at least the next 10.5 miles back to Twin Lakes, with only 2 things standing in our way.  The first is a big-ass mountain and the second is a 9:45pm cutoff.  We left Winfield at exactly 5:01pm and the way I was feeling I might not make it back up Hope Pass before 9:45pm!  As I had experienced in other ultras, I began to feel much better very quickly after taking in food and fluids.  A combination of having someone like Eric to leech energy off of and the food I had ingested breathed new life back into me.  After a while we passed people still headed to the turn and it hit me that they would not be making the return trip.  They would be timed out at Winfield and their LT100 dreams would be over for the day.  While I felt bad for them, it also lit a fire under me that I still had a chance and that I needed to push hard if I really wanted that belt buckle.  Digging deep is a central theme of Leadville, and that is exactly what I did.  I dug as deep as I ever had and propelled myself back up the steep side of Hope Pass.  The front is steep, but the back side is a fucking wall.  With the help of Eric’s expert singing and hilarious dirty limericks echoing on the mountain, we made it back to the top of Hope Pass, passing several runners on the climb.  At this point I was feeling GREAT, literally and figuratively on top of the world!  We stopped for a bite at Hopeless before jetting on down the mountain.  Everything was going perfectly, and I was making good time as the sun went down.  Once getting back under the tree line, it started getting dark very quickly.  Eric and I bantering back and forth, tired legs, and dim trails led to a couple of falls fairly close to the bottom.  Both times I rolled my left ankle just a bit, but both times it burned for a minute but was OK.  We crossed the meadow and eventually made it back to the water crossing which at mile 60 felt pretty damn good to me.  Upon arrival back at the Twin Lakes aid station the crew was excited and glad to see me feeling so much better.  I was in at about 9:00pm, 45 minutes ahead of the cutoff.  I thanked Ryan and Candi for saving me at Winfield and started eating.  And eating.  I also lubed up my feet and put on fresh socks and shoes.  Amazingly, a fresh pair of socks and shoes can really give you a nice boost.  Ryan was all set to pace, and after maybe 8 minutes I was headed toward Half Pipe and the 69 mile point – by way of a long climb up Mt. Elbert.

Twin Lakes to Half Pipe

There is not too much to say about this section aside from the fact that right after round tripping Hope Pass, you have about a 3 mile section of single track that gains about 1400 feet.  To put this in perspective, that is only about 100 feet less than the Powerline climb at mile 80.  Not sure why this section does not get more attention, but it is pretty rough.  I had been warned by a number of people to be ready for it, and I was.  The plan was to hike it as hard as we could and the try and make up some time on the 5.5 mile descent into Half Pipe.  We stuck with the plan, and Ryan pushed me whenever he could, and always kept me eating on schedule, the method Eric had started on his section.  This worked great, and my energy never lagged too much.  We leapfrogged the same 12-20 people for the entire section into Half Pipe, and saw one guy puke at least 10 times.  I just kept thinking, “I am tired, but I freaking glad I am not THAT GUY.”  I was really slowing down at this point, but we still managed to gain back a few minutes and got farther ahead of the 1:15am cutoff.  We got to Half Pipe and almost exactly midnight and I sat for a minute while Ryan got me broth and filled my bottles.  I knew it was another 6.5 miles to get back to Outward Bound, which means it was almost time to climb the dreaded Powerline.  It also meant that Candi would be pacing me soon, which is always a huge boost for me.

Half Pipe to Outward Boundbazu-6817858

This section was weird.  The road was smooth, dusty and gray.  I felt like we were running on the moon, although my legs did not agree that it was moon gravity.  Ryan eventually pulled out a handheld flashlight and it was super bright and helped a great deal to give depth to the world.  I was in a hazy , dreamlike state and just kept shuffling along at this point – eating when Ryan said eat, shuffling when he said run.  It seemed like no time before we covered 3 miles and returned to the alternate crew access point, which was good, because I was getting very sick of GU gels and was having a bit of trouble swallowing them.  Candi and Eric mixed me up a bottle of Sustained Energy, and it was a great boost.  We got in and out and made good time toward the OB aid station.  A couple miles before the aid station we got to the open area out of the wooded mountain and it got cold.  To me it felt as it the temperature had dropped 25 degrees.  I was shivering and only had a light jacket on, and zipping it up only helped a little.  Thankfully, Ryan had his rain jacket stowed on his pack and let me wear it.  Chances are that I would have been battling hypothermia had he not had it.  So once again, the crew just kept on saving my race.  We got to OB a full hour before the cut-off at almost exactly 2am.  Candi was on deck and ready to run!  I sat and gathered myself for a minute and they briefed me on time, cutoff, and what I would need to do to get my buckle.  It seemed impossible that I could go another 20 miles as tired as I was feeling, but I had long ago decided that it didn’t matter what the “outlook” was- I was just going to keep going until I either crossed the finish line or they told me I missed the cutoff and I was pulled.

Outward Bound to May Queen

Leaving OB at 2am means I would have 4 hours and 30 minutes to get up and over Powerline and back to May Queen, a section about 11 miles long.  Aside from tEPIC Finishhe steep-as-shit climb up Powerline (with 80 mountain miles on your body), there is also a section of really technical single track just waiting to twist your ankles and pop your knees for you.  Also, if you get to May Queen at the 6:30am cutoff, that only leaves you 3:30 to cover the last half marathon which is either single track or going uphill at a fairly steep slope.  3:30 sounds like a lot to do a half marathon, but trust me, at the end of a Leadville, it sounds like a sprint.  Candi prodded me out of the aid station and it was up the road until we got back to the Powerline trail.  I took the advice of a few Leadville veterans and just kept grinding.  Don’t look up to the top – just focus on the next 50 feet – then do it again.  Candi did a mixture of cheering me on and challenging me to push harder.  She is as good a pacer as she is wife, and I am sure glad she is mine.  We grinded away at the climb and I rested when my heartrate got too high.  Eventually, after the 200 or so false summits, we made it!  At the top was an oasis we were not expecting – a party on the mountain masquerading as an aid station.  While I am pretty sure this is not an officially sanctioned stop, I was glad it was there.  Folks were partying their asses off and I only wish I felt good enough to sample the libations.  We burned down the back side of Sugarloaf at a nice interval shuffle and eventually got back to the single track.  It was slow going, but eventually we made it back to the road into May Queen shortly before 6am.

May Queen to Finish

Coming into MQ, the crew was there to meet us and take care of us as they had done all day and night.  Eric and Ryan filled my bottles while I used the porta-John.  I felt like time was running out and was somewhat in panic mode, even though I had 4 hours to cover the last 13.5 miles.  I knew I had slowed down a lot and desperately did not want to be coming up 6th street as time expired.  Candi gave me a Red Bull and told me when it was gone, we were running until we got back off the road and onto the trail.  As we took off, a guy said, “Great job, but you need to RUN some around the lake, you need the time!”  It was strange how hearing it from someone else can light a fire, and it did.  We took off and actually knocked down a 12 minute mile in the first time since very early in the race.  Candi told me to just take what the trail gives, and that is exactly what we did.  We were able to run most of the way back around Turquoise Lake at about 15 minute mile pace, pretty good for 90 some miles into a race, over rolling single track.  We got a surprise from Eric and Ryan at Tabor boat ramp, they had stopped just to cheer us on and ask if we needed anything, but we just took a hug and rolled on.  After we finally came up off the trail and onto the road,Buckle it feels like you should be done… but you are NOT.  I was also warned about this, and just kept telling myself that we are close, but not there yet.  Time wise we were in pretty good shape and I realized in my mind I could walk the entire rest of the race and get the finish, but still had this strange feeling that something bad could still happen.  We jogged/walked intervals off and on and I marveled at how damn steep these hills were while getting ever closer to town.  We finally came off the last long dirt road hill and got back onto the pavement that would become 6th street and lead us to the finish line.  In the last mile, Eric and Ryan joined Candi and I as we marched proudly toward the red carpet and ultimately the finish line.   As we looked up the hill and saw runners and their families crossing the finish, it hit me for the first time that I was actually going to do this.  With the help of my wife and best friends, we were going to make my Leadville dream a reality.  We joined hands in unity, raised them in the air, and crossed the finish line together with about 30 minutes to spare.  After a round of hugs for my team, Marilee hung the medal around my neck and Ken gave me a big sweaty hug.  Needless to say it was a long, difficult adventure and that moment crossing the finish line is most definitely one that I will never forget.

 

Until next time… BE EPIC!

Zach

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

2014 FlatRock 101K Race Report – Heat Wave

zachLast year at the Inaugural FlatRock 101K, the mud and water turned an already challenging course into a muddy Slip n’ Slide of doom. The smells of mud and blood hung in the misty fog while sounds of falling bodies and runners shouting obscenities filled the air. This year, however, was much different. This year, after only a few scattered storms that barely knocked down the dust, the clouds fled and runners were treated to clear skies, gusty winds, and unseasonably warm temperatures. When you have done most of your training in sub-zero weather it was downright hot.

My lovely and talented girlfriend and running partner Candi and I were up well before the rooster, and managed to get on the road and make it to Elk City Lake at about 6am. We drove through a pretty nasty thundershower that treated us to a badass light show that rivaled those of the glory days of 70’s acid rock concerts. The lightning was intense and beautiful and ended up being somewhat of a storm before the calm – which was fine with me. We chatted with our friends, reorganized drop boxes for the 37th time, did all our other normal pre-race routines, and basically just paced nervously until Eric called us up to the starting line. Once the race was UNDERWAY, I realized I had somehow lost the visor I was wearing, and instead of just taking off, I TURNED AROUND went back to the van and looked around for it. Candi and Ron-Micah LaPoint waited on me and we started out handicapped by at least 2-3 minutes… and no, I didn’t even find the piece of shit. This seemed like an odd way to start a race, but hey, I have never been afraid to buck ‘the norm’ in an ultra!

The first 25.25 kilometers were pretty uneventful. Candi and I ran and chatted as we have many times before, not allowing the urge to ‘race’ split us up before it was really necessary. I had really hoped to stay with her for the first 50.5K when I figured she would be running much faster than I could keep up with. Candi is an extremely strong 2nd half runner and can get close to even splits even in very long runs. We made it out to Sean’s Sanctum aid station and I was feeling really good. The temperature was really starting to rise quickly, but this was expected, so I had made a concerted effort to stay ahead on hydration and nutrition from the very start and had taken in a ton of water and electrolyte in the first 15 miles. The first ¼ of a race is almost always the easiest for me, and today was no different.

The second 25k leg marked the beginning of transition from nice spring weather for a trail run to entering the portal to hell covered in gasoline. The temps jumped dramatically and the gnarly wind gusts were blowing up tons of dust, ash, pollen, and small mammals. Candi and I made it inbound to Dana’s Aid Station at about the 21 mile point and I was really starting to feel shitty. My legs felt like lead, I was hotter than a Colorado piss test, and I was seriously starting to think that running the 40 miler at Free State Ultra the previous weekend might have been a marginally terrible idea. My experience at FlatRock helped me at this point, because instead of feeling sorry for myself, whining, and acting like a giant pussy, I kept eating and drinking and reminding myself that I ALWAYS struggle at this point. I don’t know what it is, but EVERY SINGLE TIME I run on “the Rock” I struggle after leaving Dana’s inbound. I just kept telling myself I would feel better and kept putting left in front of right. Candi was still running strong and I didn’t want to sabotage her time, so I told her to go ahead and run her race, kick some ass, and that I would see her at the finish. We both put in our earbuds, and she was out of my line of sight within minutes. I cranked tunes and eventually passed the first place runner headed back for his second 50.5K – I think he was “only” about 8 miles or so ahead of me. A rough-looking, pale Ron-Micah LaPoint was second place and headed outbound and only wanted to know how far it was to the bench on the bluff. I lied, as trail runners do, and said, “Close. Around the next corner maybe?” He was nauseated… as were many at this point. It was past 1 pm and closing in on 85 degrees with ludicrously high humidity. I made it to the end of the 50.5K in about 7 hours and 30 minutes – pretty much right on target. ½ done.

At the start/finish turnaround I was handled magnificently by some totally badass Epic Brigade Staff Memebrs, including Libby Eddings and Polly Choate, as well as my unofficial crew Reina Probert and Kodi Panzer. It was like a spa day… with extra suck. These ladies were bringing me food, drinks, ice, filling my pack, and probably would have massaged my legs had I asked. They are the pinnacle of course aid. Thanks ladies! I crammed as much real food and cold liquid into my stomach as it would hold and my awesome pacer Kodi and I set out for the 3rd and hottest 25k leg of the race. Ignoring the desert-hot wind gusts that were blowing street dust in our face, we set a course for awesome and trekked back to the trail. It took a while to get my ass moving, but eventually my legs began to feel more like an ultrarunner’s tools than frog legs roasted over an open fire. I bitched and moaned a little, but mostly ran and was totally entertained by the hilarity of Tank’s (the English translation for the German word “Panzer”) stories as well as her choice in trail music (played on speakerphone for the world to hear). While I wasn’t feeling like a million bucks, I was feeling at least worth about $12.78 and a warm Jolly Rancher – so I kept on. My time with Tank went pretty fast, and we were at Dana’s in no time. Ron-Micah was here and it was pretty obvious by the puke all over his shirt and the fact he was on his back in the shade that he wasn’t doing well. The race leader came back inbound at this point, as well, and they were talking about how hot and hard the day was. On the upside he was still ONLY 12ish miles ahead of me, so I didn’t have to totally abandon my hopes of winning the race… Bahaha!! Kodi and I heard that lots of runners were having dehydration and breathing issues and that quite a few had dropped, including my good friend Justin Chockley who had some sort of respiratory episode where he could barely breath AT ALL. We also found out that Candi had not been feeling great and was only about 10 minutes in front of us. She had started feeling sick to her stomach at about the 50K point, but being the barbarian warrior she is, she kept hammering out the miles.armadillo After some food and several cups of ginger ale over ice, we set back out. One of the fun things about trail running is the wildlife. In this race I got to chase a groundhog, pet a baby armadillo, kick a possum, and hurdle multiple copperhead snakes. I got pics of the armadillo to prove it, but the groundhog was too fast. And the copperheads, well, I didn’t really want to get close enough for pictures. Kodi and I strolled leisurely covered in dirt, salt, and sweat into Sean’s Sanctum for the second time capping off the 3rd 25.25K leg of the race. 75% done.

The sun was starting to get lower and it seemed as if I just might survive the heat of the day. So far, my iron-gut was holding out, and had only very briefly felt sick after cramming it full of food. Here I thanked Kodi for pacing and get ready to head out for the final leg and trip to the finish line. Daniel Droessler, a longtime co-worker and budding ultrarunner picked up pacing duties and would take me to Dana’s where another co-worker and ultrarunner Gene Dixon would pick me up and guide me through the dark to the finish. Neither had really done much trail running, especially not the technicality that FlatRock had to offer, but I knew they would be fine. They are both good dudes and are, most importantly, made up of the “right stuff” as Eric Steele calls it. I figured we would catch Candi in this section as she was still feeling VERY bad and moving much slower. We talked for a second when we crossed each other when she left Sean’s – she did not look the greatest, but I knew how tough she was so I wasn’t worried about her dropping. As a matter of fact, I told Dan that there was a better chance of us finding her unconscious on the trail than her quitting. Other than forgetting my water bottle at Sean’s Sanctum, the race was still going great. Sure, I was stiff, hot, and tired – but really I was in a great place mentally and I knew I would kick the shit out of my time of 21:44 last year. Dan was thoroughly enjoying the trail and joking and laughing the entire time. His great energy as a pacer, several nice runable sections, and the cooling temps made this section much more pleasant. We got to the waterfall (my 4th time) and I saw Candi and her pacer Crystal on the other side and I yelled as loud as I could, “THE F&%^*NG WATERFALL!!!!” Candi echoed my sentiment in an equally loud fashion. Dan and I caught up with them after successfully negotiating (and cooling off in) the waterfall and Candi still was feeling shitty. We all stayed together, made a lot of noise, dropped a bunch of F-Bombs, and got back to Dana’s with a good mix of powerhiking and jogging. I was HUNGRY at this point and ate a couple cups of her amazing potato soup, several sandwich quarters, chips, a cereal bar, and probably one of everything else that was there. Getting back to Dana’s before dark was one of my little goals for the day, and we did. It was still light out! There was still sunlight left, a few more minutes before we would be plunged into the colorless black of the seventh level of hell. The trail kicks your ass in the light, however, it flat out stomps your balls in the dark! Running is hard and not falling is even harder. Physically and mentally I was in a great place, I really felt like it was in the bag at this point. waterfallEvery step closer was a step closer to the finish. Gene took over for Daniel and we left Dana’s for the final time. We jogged/hiked for the last remaining light but eventually got to the point where we had to turn the lights on. Candi was still feeling terrible and could barely take in any food or water and was still more concerned with slowing ME down than she was about her own race. I told her I didn’t care, and that it didn’t matter because I couldn’t catch Josh Watson (the runner that I knew was next in front of us) so there was no point in running off from her. I could have made a little better time, but at that point it was way more important to help her finish, and even better – to be able to ensure we would be crossing the finish line together! Now, I will admit, if another runner HAD been able to catch us, I probably would have ran off without a second thought to make sure that I didn’t get passed – Candi knows this and would expect no less out of me, or I from her. After all… it is a race!

Gene was loving the trail and checking it out with his headlamp every chance he could, keeping an eye out for copperheads, as they came out in force once the sun went down. We talked and hiked and sometimes stopped for a few seconds to let Candi and Crystal catch up. Gene is a very calm intelligent type of guy so we had some good conversations which really passed the time. We got back to Max and David’s (joint) aid station, where again, I was starving! They had some EPIC smoked ham stew and pulled pork that was absolutely delicious. Then, they offered whiskey, as they are known to do – according to them I was the first to accept. Twice. Gene also took a pull or two and the girls ate and drank what they could – avoiding the whiskey like the plague. Michael Mora, one of last year’s 101K finishers was here helping out after dropping due to some severe blister issues. He seemed like he was having MUCH more fun “working” than running! Honestly, I was pretty jealous. We set out to put the last 4 miles of the 2nd annual FlatRock 101K in the books. It was a steady hike with a few jogging breaks mixed in, and ultimately, our relentless forward progress was eventually rewarded by a steep descent off the side of the ridge. We hit the flat road and coasted toward the finish line. Gene and Crystal ran us up to the finish line before pulling off to the side, having completed their tasks. Candi and I slapped the now legendary “FlatRock Hand” together as we crossed the finish line, relieved to be done. A final expletive laden exclamation of thanks passed Candi’s mouth as we finished the most brutal trail ultra in the midwest (hands down), truly not a race for the faint of heart. 17:16:44 and 6th and 7th place was our official finish. She was the second female and I was the 5th male finisher. Three and a half hours faster for me than last year… I’ll take it!finishline

This race is EPIC by any and every stretch of the imagination in any dimension of space or time. This race IS certainly the “top dog” in Kansas AND the entire midwest, relative to trail running badassery and should definitely be added to all trail ultrarunners bucket list if they think they have what it takes to conquer “The Rock”! The course is radically different than pretty much anything ever imaginable in Kansas, and it is downright just a VERY HARD trail race! The individuals who take on this race are straight-up badasses, who certainly take it way beyond a rating of TEN and actually crank it up to ELEVEN…and then some. The race director, Eric Steele, and his primary assistant, Warren Bushey  have an incredible passion for ultrarunning and ultrarunners that is unparalleled compared to any I have ever been around and the entire Epic Ultras Brigade Staff is equally phenomenal in their caring and support of EVERY single runner. Food, course support, bling, shirts, and other logistics are executed with an exquisite precision that I have only witnessed at Epic Ultras Events. Take all these ingredients, mash them together, and you have a powder keg of volcanic proportions that has consistently erupted EPICNESS of truly legendary proportions. A middle-of-the-night finish line with staff and FINISHERS ringing cowbells, blasting airhorns, yelling shouts of support, a GIGANTIC BLACK ARCH, and a laser light show is the icing on the cake. If you have not experienced the feeling of crossing the wonderfully EPIC finish at the Epic Ultras FlatRock101K, you truly are missing out. Thanks to everyone, top to bottom, who had any part of putting this outstanding race together. It is a memory that will never diminish in my mind.3amigos

Until Next Time!  BE EPIC!

Zach Adams

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

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.”

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…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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Live Ferociously

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On the Boston Marathon bombing…

Ironically, while I was out doing what I love, helping prepare the Elk River Trail for the FlatRock 101K, a group of runners in Boston was cowardly attacked – while doing what they loved.  I offer my most sincere condolences to all of those impacted by this violence.  My heart mourns everyone’s losses while my spirit rages and demands justice.  While I greatly sympathize with how these people were so unfairly cheated of life, I can only hope what everyone will remember the most is how they LIVED.  These people were living their lives to the fullest up the the very last second.  Let this loss be a reminder to everyone that the last words you spoke to a loved one may be the last.  Whether it is finishing a 100 mile trail run or mending a broken relationship with a family member, follow their example and get out there and LIVE.  “Live ferociously!”  Run down YOUR dreams.  I promise you this will honor those killed and wounded at Boston more than changing your profile picture, sharing someone’s status, or wearing a black shoelace.   Words can’t begin to fully convey what I am feeling.

Zach Adams

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