My First 100 Mile Finish – Part 1
If your dreams don’t scare you, dream bigger.
Since I finished my first Silver Rush 50 in Leadville, I knew that I wanted to complete a 100 mile race. My answer to the “why” question has changed since then. Ultimately it comes down to this … I want to do challenging things. I was to show others that you can do something you never thought possible. There are accomplishments that feel even greater the longer it takes to get there. As Miranda Lambert sings “it’s only worth, as much as the time put in.”
In my case of finishing a 100 mile race, about 5 years.
Last year when I embarked on my drive to Kansas, I had been running about 18 miles a week. Quick math, what I ran in 6 weeks was what I was going to attempt to do in one day. That math doesn’t add up much to anyone. I can give you a whole list of reasons why that was the case … family, 2 jobs, eating too many Girl Scout cookies. Yet, I still decided to make the drive to Kansas and start the race. Made it 61 miles before mentally giving in. Probably could have kept going, but being out there alone, exhausted, blistered feet, and cold pushed me to end early. 2 trips to McDonalds and an early drive back home with nothing much to show.
In the past, I have had mantras to keep me moving forward. These have included:
Left. Right. Repeat.
Relentless Forward Motion.
The only pace is forward.
This year my mind was in a different place. Which is a good thing. My theme and mantra for this adventure was simple and in priority order:
If there was something I could control, it was my sense of humor. I have always dealt with difficult situations through humor. In fact, I have to be fairly self-conscious that when someone delivers bad news, I have to make sure not to smile. I’m sure there’s some psychology dude that has a name for that. For me, it may be not knowing how to process the information. For this adventure, I would be the funniest person at the aid station and help others through my gift of humor.
This is a running race so it makes sense to run. Plus, if I run more, then I get done sooner. Man I love saying stupid stuff like that! (see #2) It is clear that there is nobody out there I am racing except for myself. Every single person on the course has a story, been through a journey, and the race is the celebration of all that. Except with this celebration, there is plenty more to learn on the fly.
As a result from all of my work travels, I had airline miles to cover the flight from Denver to Kansas City. I’ve done the 17 hour roundtrip drive, no need to do that again. My flight was supposed to be at 6am the day before the race, however the night before I received an alert that the flight had been cancelled. Mild panic, then remembered, solve one problem at a time. I got on the app and selected the next flight, which was at noon.
Hmmmm … maybe a good thing to not have to leave for the airport at 4am but rather sleep in and catch an afternoon flight. Excellent!
I checked my bag for the flight as didn’t want to have a debate with TSA on whether my Clif Organic Energy Food were liquid or not. Plus, I had time and didn’t have a very good boarding position on Southwest, so keep it simple and walk-on with just a backpack. I ended up in a middle seat and settled in to read a book for the entire flight.
After landing, getting bag, grabbing rental car, and making hour long drive to hotel, I was ready to toss together a couple drop bags. It’s a tricky thing when you do a race like this solo. You have to have some psychic ability. Take into account weather, pre-race condition, the terrain, and wild ass guess on how you’ll be feeling 16 hours into running.
I knew the morning had a chance for rain, so put some clothes into the mile 41/61 (Colony) and mile 51 (Iola) drop bag. Also in the Iola (turnaround) bag, put in all the gear needed to run through the night. That meant my The North Face jacket, adidas pants, beanie, gloves, and headlamp. No matter what, I needed to leave that aid station with those items or my race would be over again at mile 61. Each bag had some food and batteries, but this was essentially my crew on the adventure.
This race is really simple and low-key. For many, that’s not what they’re looking for. There are plenty of people that want crowds, flashy lights, and noise to motivate them for a race. In the world of ultras, that rarely exists. Now, there are a few that may have a starting line like that, but the other 99 miles you’re on your own.
Here, at packet pickup, there’s also a home cooked meal. This is something I wish more events did! Runners sitting around eating spaghetti with meat sauce, salad, and garlic bread. Wait, one more thing: cake! Little did I know, cake and cupcakes would be a large part of my nutrition over the weekend.
I probably spent about half an hour eating and chatting with Lisa, another fellow Coloradoan who has plenty of 100 mile belt buckles to her name. She told me that after all these years that I was due to have my first 100 mile buckle by the end of the weekend. That made me smile. Like I mentioned, I was in a different place mentally this year. My body was healthy, I had nowhere else to be until my flight Monday morning, and I wasn’t worried about anything. Well, I was worried about one thing … chaffing. Except even that was preventable.
All that was left now was to rest. I exchanged some text messages with my wife and listened to a couple voicemails wishing me good luck. I hadn’t really told a ton of people that I was doing this. Part of that was not wanting to add pressure to myself and that I wanted to start out on my own. That’s probably a deeper conversation for later.
Pre-Race Briefing – 5:30am
I believe all I remember was “if there’s a tornado or lightning, get in a ditch and wait it out.” Huh, that’s interesting advice. This was the mandatory pre-race briefing to tell us how to follow the only trail in Kansas that goes in a straight line 25 miles one way, turnaround, and come back. Still, good to know that nobody would be really out there looking for us unless many hours went by. Basically, don’t be stupid and stay on the trail so you could be found should you be stupid.
Starting Line – 6am in Ottawa, Kansas
Light drizzle of rain and some wind. Nothing too crazy and hope was that would be all the moisture we’d get for the day. Lisa and I planned on running some miles together at the start of the race and then I expected her to get tired of my slowass pace so she could get a sub-24 hour finish.
Like I said before, no big flashy or loud start. Merely a get ready and go announcement! We went under the red arch out to the sidewalk, and took a left onto the sidewalk for a mile out-and-back. At this stage of the run, people are still chatty. The lady running next to me was from Fort Collins, Colorado. Who knew! Come to find out, there were about a dozen of us Coloradoans out here in Kansas going for a weekend run.
Mile 9 Aid Station – Princeton
Fortunately, nothing too exciting along this leg. Stopped into the tent and topped off my water bottle then back out on the trail. Didn’t even grab snacks or anything as just wanted to keep moving.
Around mile 12 I decided to stop for a pit stop and let Lisa head along at her pace. I stopped at the end of a small bridge to drain the bladder. Having history of bad nutrition, dehydration, and rhabdomyolysis, I pay close attention to the color of my pee. Just something you get used to talking about. On this first pit stop of a 100 mile race, I noticed the color was getting darker.
Me: Oops. That’s not right. Time to solve another problem.
No, there was nobody around me. I was talking outoud to myself
My plan to fix this was to go straight water in the bottle and eat whatever I could at aid stations plus the Clif Organic Energy Food pouches. Let’s see how this rolls.
Oh yeah, it’s raining again.
Mile 16 Aid Station – Richmond
Had some people pass me on this section. I was starting to slow down for no real reason except lack of energy. This was expected, so no reason to worry about it. Way ahead of schedule and still moving.
Funny thing about the rain … it was more like a mister. I didn’t feel like the wind was super cold, but it was enough to start feeling a little chill.
As I was approaching the next aid station, I could hear the lady ahead of me talking. She was running alone. For some motivation, she had called her family to help distract her from pain she was having. It made me wonder if I was feeling pain. Why yes I was. My right foot was starting to feel tender. Been here before.
Mile 25 – Garnett Aid Station
Trains are cool. Rumor is that at some point during the day, a train passes by this aid station. Maybe it impacts the 50 mile runners who depart an hour after us. At least there’s a train parked outside the aid station for us to see!
Inside the train depot to top off my bottle with just water, eat some Pringles, a pickle, Nutella wraps, and other stuff I don’t remember. I decided to stay away from the M&Ms and not sure why. Maybe too much work to crunch through the outer shell.
V: If you get back here by 3am then I will have a cupcake waiting for you.
Me: I bet you say that to all the runners.
V: Well I do, but I mean it!
Me: It works!
I exited the aid station, checked out with the volunteer that had the spreadsheet, and back onto the trail to trot on.
Mile 32 – Welda
Down a gravel driveway into a rest area to see some happy volunteers.
The rain was starting to pick up more as I left the aid station. Glad I still had my jacket from the start of the run even though it was a little wet. Whatever layers I could put on would be better than none.
Large dogs. I heard them barking before seeing them. When I saw them, I was not happy that they were as big as they sounded. Their heads came up above my waste and were the size of a small pony. They tried to keep up with me on the other side of the trees of the trail and then found a way onto the trail. I’ve done enough training runs with dogs coming at me to have a routine: just keep running.
One of them decided to follow me for a bit and I may have yelled back something like “go dig up a bone” that caused the dog to give me the head-tilt look. Now the runner about 100 yards behind me had a little more direct encounter.
I was wet and cold. I felt the shivers coming on which means next stop hyperthermiaville. I have been to that place in Leadville after running in 6 hours of rain and hail. It ended with being thrown on the back of a Search and Rescue ATV.
I made my way over to the picnic table under the awning and plopped myself down. Alright, let’s take inventory of what I need to do here … change clothes and examine feet. Don’t worry about the clock, solve one problem at a time.
Took a bite of Ramen, off came my shoes, eat some more Ramen. Feet kind of look Ramen.
The ball of my right foot was becoming a blister just like last year. Consistent, right? I also had a large blister on top of my toe. Alright, let’s solve this.
Now if you are in any sort of medical profession, you may want to look away.
I popped off one of the safety pins from my bib and proceeded to lance blisters and drain them. Almost immediate relief and knew that it would feel even better once walking on it. Amazing course photographer brought me bandaids to wrap the toe in. Then he stood there and started snapping photos. That’s art.
Looking at the ball of my right foot, it was evident that I would be needing to do something about it. I poked some holes in it with the safety pin to allow for it to drain as I rain.
After letting my feet air dry for a bit while shoving in every food I had when I was a 12 year old boy, I put on fresh socks, then sneakers, and off I went.
As for the past 30 miles or so, I was running by myself. Around this time last year, the lead runners were coming back. I had not seen anyone coming back from the turnaround yet. Around mile 45, I was starting to wonder if I was going in the right direction. Then around mile 47, the lead runner, a woman from Colorado, was on her way back. She was moving really good and went right on past into the mist of the rain.
There is only one major road crossing to the point you have to wait for stoplight to cross and it’s right before the aid station where you turn around. Fortunately, a volunteer was positioned on the other side of the road and when she saw me coming, pushed the crosswalk button. Now, that volunteer may have thought nothing of that act nobody asked them to do, but to a runner that had been going for almost 12 hours, it makes a huge difference. You talk about helping a person in a way that costs zero money and almost no effort, but yet helps someone who is trying to just take another step, and well, there’s a life lesson.
While there are times I question it, my kids listen to me. I’ll be in the car with them dancing and singing Taylor Swift at the top of my lungs and they laugh. Then they say “dance like nobody’s watching because they’re all looking at their phones.” Yeah, I said that to them. We also play a game when driving around to count how many people are looking at their phone. It’s really a sad game, but the goal is to make them aware of others not being aware and the unsafe situation on that creates.
Take a moment to intentionally look around you. I’m not saying just look up from your phone, I’m saying look up, identify someone, and notice a detail about them. Take it another step further and compliment their shoes, hair, or hat. I have watched a person’s entire demeanor change from this 5 second interaction. If I can run for more than a day, you can take 5 seconds and notice someone.
But I digress … humor me as I’ve been running for almost 12 hours and am halfway through the adventure.
Across the road and into a picnic area under an awning with 3 walls, but filled with excited volunteers and crews. By the way, it’s still raining.
Mile 51 Aid Station – Iola …