“You’re going to Kansas to run an ultra? But you live in Colorado? Why would you do that?”
Mostly because I wanted to stack the odds in my favor. And lose 6 pounds in one day. Seriously, someone should write a diet book about that.
I guess it would be … run/hike for 15 hours. Then eat good. End of book.
Yes, on a Friday morning I drove myself to Ottawa, Kansas to run the Prairie Spirit Trail 100. On an average of 18 miles/week of training. Yup, 18 miles each week. In like 5 mile chunks at a time. Suck on that.
After a super windy, 8.5 hour drive, I headed to the hotel to check-in and pack a drop-bag for 50 mile aid station.
The packet pickup was the same location as the start/finish. Ultras are efficient which I like. I walked in and there were maybe 30 people in the room. Headed over to the table, told them my name, and was handed a bag. Packet pickup done.
After that, I had pre-purchased a pre-race meal. With not much time to research Ottawa, Kansas, I thought it might be easier to know where dinner would be. One less thing to think of.
Dinner was pretty damn awesome. Chicken, sticky rice, vegetables, and mac n’ cheese … all homemade. Oh yeah, and cake! After spending the day driving, this was nice.
I chatted with a few people and heard some great stories. One thing I was assured of, I would not be able to get lost on this course. It was well marked and, well, straight. Just like you would think of Kansas. My only real concern was the wind, but sounded like most of the course would be covered with trees.
Yeah, that was kind of true.
After about 45 minutes of this, I wasn’t feeling too social. So I had another piece of cake and headed back to the hotel. Really I just wanted to lay down and stretch out. Being in the same position in the car for over 8 hours wasn’t all that great.
After some text messages back home, I fell asleep about 8:30p. Start time was 6a, so I was up about 4:30a to shower, dress, and head over to the pre-race briefing.
Nothing too unusual. Don’t litter or you’ll be disqualified (damn right), each aid station has a special food item like black bean soup or soft tacos, course is straight and easy to follow, don’t be a jerk to volunteers, and say hi to other runners.
All I heard was soft tacos.
We headed over to the start line for the big kick off of 100 miles. As with most ultras, except for Leadville, it wasn’t that exciting of a start. More like a “hey everyone 30 seconds to go. Now 10 seconds. Go!” Could use a little more excitement, pep talk, or a “hey you’re about to run 100 miles and it will suck many times but this is fun!”
I didn’t start out with a headlamp, but didn’t really need one. The path had lamps and there were about 70 of us out for a 6a run. Run. Yeah, that’s what I shouldn’t have been doing. Running. I was around 6 mph which was not sustainable, but feeling good so go when one can.
For the first 9 miles, I chugged along chatting with some people. Including a 15 year old that didn’t seem to be having any issue with the race. His younger brother was running the 50 mile race that starts 2 hours later. That’s a hell of a family!
Coming into the first aid station, Richmond, I was pretty happy with the spread. Nutella wraps, chips, and more!
Volunteer: You guys are making good time!
Me: It’s not intentional!
I was in the aid station for maybe 60 seconds and still around 11 minute/mile pace. No time wasted … excellent!
Up ahead the trail had some incline. Not like mountains back home hills, but enough to not be flat and have you notice. Still windy and cool enough to keep moving at a good pace.
Through another hill and into a new Kansas town comes Princeton. More great volunteers with excellent food!
After that, entering the town of Gartner was nice. It reminded me of the small town I grew up in with lots of little character (old stuff) mixed with a little pond. There were train tracks and the train depot was the location of the aid station. I walked in and was pleased for there to be a bench right in front of the food table. I refilled my water bottle with Tailwind powder and nice volunteer filled out the bottle with water. In the meantime, I ate some potatoes with salt, grabbed chips, and took a pickle to go.
As I walked outside, I took a bite of the pickle. Sorry. Spicy pickle. Wow! That’ll wake your senses with that surprise!
So about 30 miles in and climbing more hills. I noticed large birds flying up above. Not sure if they are vultures, but they could most likely pick me up once I collapse. That memory aside, it was fun to watch them swoop up and down while using the wind to glide in place.
Music … I started listening to my playlist just to mix it up a little. Yes, that was me in the middle of Kansas running down a crushed gravel path singing Taylor Swift. You’re welcome Taylor Swift.
Uphill into the mile 40 aid station, I knew I should spend a little longer at this aid station doing a full check. Would be better to do that at 50 miles, but things can go south fast if not caught with enough time. There was already someone sitting in a chair with their race done for the day. That was enough to motivate me to keep going.
Volunteer: You want a soft taco?
Me: Hell yes.
The guy in the lead just came into the aid station.
Me: I thought they said this course was flat. It feels like it has been a steady incline so far.
Volunteer: Nah, maybe a couple feet. (laughs)
Race Leader: I know exactly what you are referring to. Everything seemed to be a slight up.
Me: Thank you! This guy gets it.
Race Leader: How are you feeling?
Me: Feels like I’m getting a big hot spot on my foot.
Volunteer: You’ll want to take care of that sooner than later.
After eating the soft taco, I slide my shoe back on and went out to the buffet table. Oreos, chips, and a couple electrolyte pills later, I hit the bathroom and was on my way.
With no water.
Holy. Crap. I was about a mile out from the aid station I had just left when I realized this. Not good.
When something like this happens, you seem to become hyperaware of every dry breath you take.
Are those the same vultures again? Do they know something? Uh oh.
Fortunately, this event is awesome. At the minimum, water every 5 miles. Now I just needed to get through another 4 miles of hot, exposed, sun-bearing down heat. I had slowed to a 14 minute/mile. Do I run and get there fast so I’m not out here for as long or go it slow and conserve?
Maybe I just run faster and be done sooner. Ha ha ha. Idiot.
About this time, I hooked up with a guy named Greg. He was out there running by himself as well. His strategy was run 5 minutes, walk a minute. He asked if I wanted to run with him.
Unfortunately, my right foot had become almost impossible to even put pressure on. Ball of foot was becoming one giant blister, at least 2 toes had blisters, and arch of foot was pretty tender. I would not be able to keep up with his strategy.
People that I had run with earlier in the race had started making their way back after the turnaround. Was nice to see some friendly faces and get encouragement.
Mile 50 – The Turnaround … but not really a “turnaround” for me
To get to the aid station, I had to hit a button and wait for traffic to stop. Even when the traffic stop, it didn’t seem like all cars were going to stop. Then, those that did, got to witness me do my best Hunchback of Notre Dame impression as I hobbled across the 4 lanes. They probably didn’t know they would be getting a show like that at 6p on Saturday.
The great thing about this race is that most of the volunteers are runners. For giving of their time, they get a comp entry into a future race. Not a bad deal!
I awkwardly walked into the aid station at the sound of a loud cow bell being waved around. It was probably loud because I had been mostly dealing with the voices in my head for the past hour.
Volunteer: What can I get you?
Me: A new foot.
I landed on the seat of a picnic table underneath the protection from the sun. On the way to my seat I grabbed my one drop bag of the day. Popped off my shoes and socks to witness the damage.
Me: Wow. Will this is a new one.
The ball of my foot was a soapy cloudy white and 3 toes had blisters on the bottom of them.
Volunteer: Oooh those are good ones. That one right there looks like it has a bit of blood in it.
Me: Oh well. Time to pop some blisters! Do you have anything for that?
Volunteer: Not really but we have some bandaids and duct tape.
Me: Cool. Safety pin from my bib should work.
At this point I had been updating my wife via text message on my downward spiral. Her responses have all been the right ones:
• One step at a time
• Eat some food and see how you feel
• Get to the next aid station and go from there
• Stretch if needed
• You’re an idiot
Okay, she didn’t text that last one, but it’s just assumed.
After grabbing a couple more bites of potato egg scramble, I took a pin off my shorts, wiped the pointed end, and proceeded to go all ER on my toes.
Yup, there was some blood in one. Victory!
Volunteer: I knew it!
Ah no big deal. Wrapped it with a bandaid, slid on new pair of socks, popped shoes back on. Packed some additional Tailwind mix into pockets, had a couple Starbursts, and stood up.
Me: Woah. That hurts like hell!
Remember that blister with blood in it? Well that blood comes from somewhere. A blister deep enough that it was like someone jabbed my pinky toe neighbor with a knife. I couldn’t put any weight on it, letalone run, and barely walk.
Me: Oh boy.
Volunteer: Makes sense it hurts. You want some Ibuprofen.
Yeah, these were runners!
Me: Nah let me think about this.
Brain was a bit fuzzy and all systems weren’t quite firing quickly.
Wife: Do they have a first aid kit?
Me: You mean besides bandaids and duct tape?
Wife: What are you thinking?
Me: That this is stupid.
Wife: Do what makes sense for you.
Sock back off and cloudy thoughts later, I asked if there was gauze.
Volunteer: Sure! You want me to wrap your toe and duct tape it?
Me: Now we’re talking.
My foot kept shaking as I was trying to hold it on my knee so the toe could be wrapped.
Me: Sorry my foot keeps shaking.
Volunteer: Well, you have run 50 miles and pounded them for over 12 hours.
With my toe taped better than your local Urgent Care, I slide sock and shoe back on, stood up, and didn’t feel a thing.
Me: Wow! You just allowed me to keep going!
Volunteer: That makes it worth it! So you’re nice and all, but time to get going.
Me: Flattery doesn’t work with me.
I put my vest back on and headed out of the aid station back to the road crossing. This time, I ran across the road and up the hill to the trail. Game was back on!
For 3 miles.
I looked over to the farmland on my left and saw smoke rising in the distance. Got it. Farmers burning up their land in the spring to prepare the fields for planting.
As it went full darkness, my movement slowed to about 20 minute pace. I was staggering and felt like I was falling asleep. Every noise was sending my loopy mind into overactive imagination mode. Then I opened my eyes face-to-face with a tree.
How the hell did that happen?
Up ahead I recognized the farm that was near the mile 40, now mile 61, aid station. I stumbled into the aid station and sat down.
Me: I’m done. Falling asleep, hips locked up, and bottom of foot a big blister.
Volunteer: Well let’s give you some time to eat and rest a bit, then we’ll see.
Seriously, these people get it.
After wrapping myself in a space blanket, eating some hot ramen, snacking on chips, I was still doing the head bob. You know, that state where you’re trying your hardest to stay awake but head keeps dropping and falling asleep.
I was done. Text messages sent. 61 miles and I’m done. The smoke from the fires in my chest and barely able to walk. If I had a pacer or crew there, I probably would have continued on. At the slowness I was moving and loopy state, heading out through the dark fields of Kansas wasn’t sounding too smart.
Damn. Growing up sucks.
As I had no crew or anyone with me, all I could do was wait for someone to drive me to the starting line where my car was. That took almost 2 hours. I’m pretty sure I feel asleep a few times because the time went by pretty fast. Volunteers kept checking on me to make sure I was conscious and responding. That’s nice.
Once back to the start, it was around 1am. I headed to the 24 hour McDonalds in Ottawa, Kansas and waited along with a half dozen other cars in the drive-thru. I just needed to catchup on about 8,000 calories. Grabbed my Big Mac (first time over a decade), large fries, and a Coke, then drove the 1 mile to my hotel.
I might have eaten the Big Mac while in the shower. I don’t really remember the order of those 2 events.
Slept for 5 hours, packed, and drove 8.5 hours back to Colorado.
What did I learn?
– Apparently you can go 61 miles on 18 miles/week of training.
– An event put on by runners is the only way to go.
– I don’t need to listen to music.
– Cross-training can make up for some miles in training.
– Kansas farmers burn their fields in the springtime.
It was great to be running again and reminded of how awesome this community really is!