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 racers, 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.
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, just 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 outstanding 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.