Free State 100km
23 April 2011
Clinton Lake SP
You have to understand the contradictions in me to get the gist of what I say. There is a very strong and deep love in me for running in the mountains, yet I live in Texas and I hate running in the heat. I don't care for boring courses that are flat with little variation in scenery and multiple loop routes give me the heebie-jeebies, but I am going blind, so a repeat loop is easier for my aging eyes to deal with. Much like one of those old parenting axioms about life that goes like this... 'Do as I say and not as I do'... and twist into 'What I say is not always what I do'. Thus I go to run a multi-loop course in Kansas.
Ben and Sophia have been running my Rocky Raccoon race for years, and they have been telling me to come run one of theirs as well, so I figure it is time. But I dont want to drive 800 miles for just any ol race... I want one that makes sense for my training. So, while setting up my own training plan for Hardrock, I roll it out and came up with Jemez 50mi and Bighorn 50mi, but also have room for something else too. I can't decide between R2R2R or Freestate, and like most ultra-runners, decide to do both. Freestate is more miles than I need at that time, but I figure it's ok because it's not as mountainous or as rugged as all the others... or so it seems.
I've run a few ultras in Kansas, so I've learned not to be surprised by the unexpected difficulties of running in a place that is supposed to be flat. Of course, I know better than to think that way. I've heard the entire course is single-track under the trees, alongside a lake, with potential for shoe sucking mud and slippery slopes, so I plan for a long tough day in rough weather. I suppose I even hope for and expect bad weather.... as a few of my buddies and I like to say... 'the worse the race - the better the story'.... and I like a good story.
I dropped off my wife, Joyce in Wichita for her nephew's wedding, and continue north to Lawrence on my own. I stop at the Econo Lodge where I reserved a room and I'm told that my reservation is for a smoking room with 2 beds & 4 people. No, not me, sorry... you made a mistake, here's my confirmation, I am sure. But we have no other rooms, so I leave without a room. I drive to Clinton Lake and check on camping, find the race start, but find nobody with the race, so I head back into town for packet pickup at Garry Gribbles Running Sports on Massachusetts Ave. It's easy to find and I check in with ease, and even bump into Sophia and have a short chat. I find a nice place for lunch around the corner and then get an unexpected call from Econo Lodge. We work out the problem and I have my single bed, non-smoking room back. So... I'm not camping after all. I drive back over and check in around 2pm. I had no idea I was so sleepy, but no sooner do I check in than I'm asleep on top of the covers. I wake around 9pm, hungry and too lazy to head out and find something to eat... so I simply called the pizza delivery that's listed on my hotel key card. It doesn't take long to destroy the small pepperoni pizza, shower, and go back to sleep. It should have all been so perfectly simply had I not woke up again at 2am for a bathroom break. Something as simply as sitting on a toilet in a dark room should be brainless... unless the door isn't closed all the way and you ram your forehead into the doorknob. Not only does my head hurt like hell, but that effectively kills my perfect sleep.
I try, but to no avail, so I get up and make better use of my time by packing my drop bags and arranging my gear for the race. Then, I pack all my things, load my truck, and drive to the race... earlier than I normally would. I roll in right in front of Sophia, so she gives me the 'rock-star' parking spot right next to the finish line tent and U-Haul truck. I'm already set, so I check to see if they need any last minute grunt help, but Ben has everything going already, so I sit back down and wait. I sure as hell won't be sleeping.
Must be 100 or more of us at the start, with half in the 40mi and half in the 100km. The 100km is subdivided into three 20mi loops, all on the north shore of Clinton Lake, with aid stations roughly 3 miles apart. I know that some of these are water only and unsupported, but more importantly, I can run very light, and only carry a single water bottle. My drop bags are just the opposite with a wealth of opportunities in clothes, food, and supplements, and located at opposite ends of the course for a look every ten miles.
Our herd charges down the road, from field to trees, and make a 90 degree right turn onto a narrow rolling single-track. Under a canopy of tall tress, the herd sorts itself out, dodging one another as well as a generous scattering of rocks. The early morning light casts odd shadows as it filters through the canopy. The energy of the herd is high, biting at the bit to go, and unleashed, surges faster than is reasonable early on. A wiser man, a person with some experience might know this and back off once this is realized and dial in an effort that lends to running 62 miles... but I left that guy at home this weekend. I hang with the young bucks and enjoy the camaraderie... if only for awhile.
Much of the course follows the contour of Clinton Lake, twisted up with the trees between the shoreline and the flat open meadows on top. Its not super hilly nor very flat either, but more of a meandering in all three dimensions. The rocks are not obsessive, but were you to not pay attention constantly, then you'd most likely hit the ground. Our congo line of runners stays pretty brisk and tight as we waltz around the perimeter of campground 3. After crossing a paved road, we climb a little up to Cactus Ridge. It takes awhile before I finally spot a few minuscule prickly pear cactus alongside the trail. The Cactus Ridge trail is more in the open but isn't out there for long before it turns back to cross the same paved road and then back to the same beach ramp where we started.
We are just 50 yards from the start aid station but we dont go up to it, instead crossing over and continuing in the same direction we were already going. The trail is relatively flat and straight now and again, but never for long, and suddenly changing direction, going up or dropping down, and then its into the rocks and flotsam right on the shoreline for awhile. A bit more care is taken to avoid twisting an ankle while we do some rock hopping. A short switchback marks the end of the shoreline trail, heading up to a staffed aid station. A few oranges and some banana fill my immediate needs, and then back into the trees.
Its all the same and its all different. I can't really tell where I am or where I'm going, but its all under the trees. I could be going any direction on the compus and I wouldn't be surprised. I can hear voices on the other trails, but have no reference of where they are in reference to me. We cross another road just as somebody else is running very quickly across the same road in the opposite direction. After a bit more meandering, we pop out onto a road, which this time, we climb up on its shoulder and continue to ascend while on a paved road. Once on top, we turn into a field and then wrap round to where we can see the 10 mile aid station managed by KUS. We skim by, back into the trees, for a 10 minute loop, and then back out to the same KUS aid station from the other side. This time, we can stop and I most certainly do.
I get my drop bag, while they fill my water bottle. I extract the avocado, and eat most of it in just 3 bites, then pack up and head back out, with a PB&J wedge in hand. 10 miles down with a whole hell of a lot more to go. My body is starting to adjust to the demands I am making, but not in a favorable way. A few aches, a few areas of tightness, and my psyche takes a hit, knowing that I feel like hauling ass the whole race, and realizing I dont have the bones to do it. I quit pushing so hard, telling myself its ok, lets relax and save some of that feeling for later.
Alone now, and a bit more conservative, I run a self-check and reflect on whats going on, feeling out the Achilles, IT band, heels, toes, and stomach. My stomach is fine, but my energy is low, and the Vasque Mindbender's just dont work all that well for my heels. My toes love them, and the rest of my foot is enjoying the comfort, but my heels say No! I'm gonna have to try some thicker inserts maybe. I cross back over the road where I saw the fast guy earlier when I can hear people all around me now. The marathon & half marathon guys are all around, passing me and also on the lower trail between me and the lake. It was so quiet just a moment ago. They all seem to be yelling at each other, or maybe its just very loud talking. They're coming through me in packs of twos and fours, most treating me as if I'm part of the terrain. It seems odd after running with the 100km and 40 mile runners. This group's primary goal seems to be just to get around me.
I stop at the aid station to get more orange and banana as a surge of runners roll in behind me. I wait for them to come and go before I mount up and start back out again. This section is just below the bluff, such that I can see the tops of campers and hear people up there every now and then. The weather has been fantastic, hanging in the mid 50s, with constant cloud cover, and just a pinch of rain. I've been going all day with a short sleeve shirt and very comfortable with it. I've been wearing some moeben sleeves, but the seems on one of them worn a blister in my underarm, so I roll them down and take them off. I think I like this section the best, but its hard to say exactly why. Maybe its a bit more rugged, a few more rocks, more twists and turns, or maybe its just me. I finish the 20 mile loop feeling a bit more used up than I need to be with 40 more miles to do. I walk up the slight uphill to cross the timing mat, with a time around 4 hours for loop one.
My truck sits right at the aid station, so I pop the tail gate and sit on it. I change shoes, going for the Montrail Hardrocks, while I eat more avocado, have some soup, while I consider a few more clothing changes. My stomach rumbles when I get up, so I wonder down the road to find a port-o-jon. This takes a lot longer than it should, but some things you just can't rush. When I leave, I feel as if I'm starting all over again, except... now I'm walking. I hook up immediately with two others who are also struggling to walk: blue-shirt and white-shirt. I am not a race walker, but it must look something like this, as we attempt to propel our bodies forward in a stiff legged upper body swing motion. Knowing how slow we are moving, each of us attempts to push ahead of the other and get some momentum going, but instead just leapfrog each other a few times before white-shirt works himself up to a run and leaves us behind. I had hoped it would be me, but it just isn't so. Blue-shirt and I manage a rolling walk/run and seem to be making good time but it's not pretty and its nowhere near what I'd call running. Blue-shirt pulls ahead at one point while I stop to suck down a gel and then I try like hell to hang on, while he tries like hell to push ahead. Its a silly game we play, but it's enough motivation for both of us to do more than back off and just walk. Funny thing is, after a few miles, we catch white-shirt and the three of us continue on as before, but a bit faster than the stiff logged stroll we were doing early in this loop.
By the time, we reach the aid station, we are running half decent again... not great, but better than it had been. By now, I've realized both the other guys are in the 40 mile and only going to the end of this loop, while I have another 20 miles beyond them. For some odd reason this seems to give me more power, so I pick it up a bit more and push ahead. White-shirt comes with me. and together we push the pace clean up to the KUS turnaround station. I eat a fair bit of food and load a few gels for the return trip, and then follow the white-shirt out of the station.
I'd like to think my pace is faster and stronger than anything I've done so far today, but reality is that in reference to what I had been doing, it just appears to be that way. Anyway, I'l really flying now, trying like hell to just hang on to white-shirt as we run everything including the uphills. This goes on for a few miles before I have an instant where I catch my breath and explain to him that I'm getting off the bus. Its too fast for too long and I still have a very long way to go... so I stop to eat a gel and also to separate myself from this way-too-fast pace. I start again, only a bit slower, dialing in a comfortable speed that feels good, and simply keep it rolling for a few miles until I catch white-shirt again... walking! As I pull up, he explains that he's hit bottom again. I knew that I couldn't sustain that pace for much longer, and I suspected that he couldn't either, but I also knew enough to keep that to myself. I went by him and kept on going and feeling pretty good about my wisdom in this case... especially after all the other poor decisions. Maybe this old dog can learn after all these years. I think I'm just trying to fool myself now. I suppose thats true in many cases, all in the effort to do whatever it takes to get me there as quickly as possible.
I finish loop two in five hours, which seems pretty good considering how slowly I turned the first part of that loop. Again, I walk up the hill, cross the mat, and sit down to eat. I had brought a lot of cold weather clothing, expecting a storm, rain, or some sort of mess to get me soaking cold and wet, but it has been a beautiful day so far. A constant mid-50 degree day, with no rain, a bit of cold breeze, and under cloud cover, allowing the sun to peek through only on a few rare occasions. Coming from Texas... this has been wonderfully prefect. No mud on my shoes, no gloves, hat, or anything else that required extra gear or weight. There is no reason to change anything except for my soaking wet shirt and bandana. The entire run has been with a single water bottle, topped off at regular interval aid stations.
I begin the final loop much the same as the last one, finding it very difficult to get going again. I cross paths with another guy who is also starting his third loop. I power-walk for a bit but cant seem to get my running legs. For the entire five mile loop out to Cactus Ridge and back, nothing changes, except for the overall dull throb of pain that seems to be everywhere at once. I sit down for a short break just below the main aid station to eat another gel and to take three tylenol caps. I'm hoping that the pain relievers will take the edge off so that I can get back to running again. My walking friend catches me while I sit, but I move past him again soon after.
At first, there is no change, but shortly, I seem to get my running legs back under me again. Only a little at first, but slowly they come around. I had started this loop with a headlamp wrapped around my wrist, not being all that sure that I could get to my drop bag before I lost the sunlight. And the way it started, I had even more doubts... but now I know for certain that I'm going to get to my bag well before time. Not that it matters anymore, as I have the light and I'm covered whatever happens now. I pass the midway aid station just fine and seem to pick up speed on my way to the final KUS turnaround. When I roll in, a guy asks me if I'd like a turkey burger and I respond with a smile. He runs back to the station with my order while I make the ten-minute loop out and back around to the station. They have my sandwich when I arrive and also an ice cold Freestate beer. Oh what a glorious meal it is! My walking friend comes in and grabs his burger as he heads back out, so I finish off mine and rush after him. He's a bit disappointed when I tell him about the beer, but one thing is certain, we're both heading home now, with about 9 miles left to go.
I know that I'm going to lose the light before I get back, and I know that I can go faster in the light, so this is when I really like to push it a bit, using the fading light as a motivator. And maybe it's the turkey burger and beer, but I really get it going again... running most of it, but walking the stiffer climbs, so as to not crash before I make it back home.
This is the time I enjoy the most, late in the run, the light going down, all alone, heading home, feeling all the pains and joys of this run... this day, and knowing it's all going to be over soon. Sure, it will be good to be done, but it will also be sad. This is what I came up here to do... run, play, enjoy, watch, see, visit, bond, hurt, smile, and live. Everything has it's cost and I don't mind paying for what this cost. The miles and hours of slinging my body down a trail certainly has it's cost, and I knew what it would cost before I started, at least to some degree. And I knew also what I'd find... more of my self. It is so much easier to see within after some degree of deprivation, some degree of exhaustion & pain. It's all good. I got what I came for, and it was not the buckle. The buckle is very nice, but I came for a feeling that I can only find out there.
I finish well, although my time may not reflect it. Ben and Sophia hand me my buckle and a hug. They are both genuine and wonderful people, good in so many ways. They took care of me and everyone else who was here. They put on a well thought out and professional race, loaded with their own special manner of care and understanding. Their volunteers reflect the same manner as they do, doing their best to care for each of us, and staying til the last runner is done. I would not change a thing, but from what I understand, the weather will do that for them.