Well. That’s done.
I just completed my first “longer than 32 mile run.” Just happened to be over the rockiest, rootiest, gnarliest trails I’ve ever had the “fun” of running on. Oh yeah — It also happens to be 101K (’cause everybody has 100K races, so they upped the ante, so to speak).
This is another of my “seemed like a good idea in front of the computer in the comfort of my home” ideas. So down the rabbit hole we go…
Last fall, I decided to register for the Flat Rock 101K trail run, which takes place near Independence, KS. It is only the second year of running this race. The Flat Rock is better known for its 25K/50K race in September.
I’m not sure what possessed me to sign up for a 101K trail run that gives you a whopping 24 hours to complete. Well, that’s not true. The reason I signed up is that if I ran the Winter Rock 25K in January 2014 (done), the Flat Rock 101K in April 2014 (now done) and the Flat Rock 50K in September, I get a cool goblet for completing the Hard Rock Triple Crown.
Yep. That’s right. A goblet. ’nuff said.
I figured I was coming off a fall where I had a couple of 50K races and a couple of marathons finished, so how much harder could it be to ramp it up to be able to finish a 100K? (famous last words). I figure anytime I say to myself “how much harder could it be to do (insert extremely difficult physical challenge here)”, that I am more than likely underestimating the time and effort involved.
I went online to look up training programs. *Note: training programs should only be sought “after” you have signed up and spent money for something for which you have no idea of what is involved.* At least, that seems to be how I do it. Yeah, not the best way to do it.
All of the training programs were less specific than I remembered from when I found my 50K program. Remember “just a long day in the woods.” Well, that is just fine for a 7-9 hour run, but one that has a time limit of 24 hours means that “someone” is gonna be running after dark. Which pretty much means….me.
The training programs talked about back-to-back long runs, with 20-25 (or more) on Saturday, followed by the same thing on Sunday. Some Saturdays longer, some Sundays, yada, yada. And then they would say that it’s more “mental” during the later stages.
So here’s my question…How do you ever really know whether you have the “mental” part of this worked out? Not to mention, how do you know “physically” if you can run that far. Bottom line…you don’t. Not until it comes down to it and you are at that point of the race where your body is rebelling and your mind is giving you all sorts of reasons why you have gone far enough.
Except that’s not why you came…
You came to finish.
So you move. Because that is all you can do — just keep moving…
The race started at 6:30 in the morning. Pre-race meeting at 5:30. This meant I had to leave home by 3:00 am, requiring me to get up at 2:00 am. Yeah, short night. Some people went up on Friday, had the pre-race meal and socialized. Part of me wanted to do this, but I thought that sleeping on the ground, even for a few hours, would leave me stiff as a board. Plus, after I finished, I would need to hot-foot it back to Tulsa to make the last soccer game of younger son’s tournament. I didn’t want to have to tear down a tent in the dark, etc. But I waffled on this all the way into Friday, finally” deciding to sleep at home.
Forecast for Saturday gave a chance of some rain later in the day. When I went to the car at 3:00 am, I saw a lot of lightning flashes off to the north. Lightning?! What the…
Oh well, maybe the lightning is between me and the race (hope springs eternal). So off I go. I drove through some rain, but nothing too heavy. I rolled into the race area a little early, parked and checked in. I then went back to the car because light rain had started to fall. Rain was one of my big worries, because I had heard the horror stories of last September’s 50K on this course, when it rained for close to 6 hours and the trails were a muddy mess. I was NOT looking forward to running for 20+ hours in the mud and rain. But, since there is nothing I can do about rain, I might as well see how it goes.
The rain stops before the race, so that worry was unwarranted (as are most worries). We had our pre-race meeting where we were told to follow the blue blazes/markers. No other color. Only blue. Some of the blue was reflective, since many of us would be finishing up in the dark. Okay. Blue. Got it.
The course is a 25K out, then back, then out, then back. At first, this might seem redundant, but, as I found out later, there is kind of a silver lining to this.
There are two manned aid stations, and two unmanned stations. The unmanned stations had water only, but the manned aid stations were fully geared up with hot & cold food, water, HEED, etc. These were well done and the second you hit one they were filling your bottles, getting whatever food you needed, asking how you are doing, etc. (Double thumbs up to all the aid station folks, especially Ken & Dana Childress from Tulsa). It was really nice rolling into their stop and seeing their friendly faces.
Okay, back to the start (which was pretty much the only flat spot on this whole thing). Within the first mile, we were winding through mini-canyons and climbing rocks like a bunch of mountain goats. Not much running here, because the hills were too steep to run up. Also, you have to be really careful going down, because where some of the rocks are firmly in the ground, others will roll if you step on them. A lot of power hiking early on.
The terrain is absolutely gorgeous, with rocky bluffs overlooking the lake, pretty valleys, ups and downs (and all arounds). This is a seriously pretty trail.
I cruised through the first aid station, simply refilling my water bottles.
So here I am, jogging right along, WHAM! I tripped on what surely was a root the size of a large python. Jorge (from Waxahachie, TX) was running behind me and stopped to see what tripped me. He thought he figured out which very small root I tripped on. He wasn’t sure, because none of the roots looked very stressed (as in, none of them looked any worse for the experience). I scraped my forearm some, bled a little, but not too bad, all things considered.
I picked up more water at the unmanned station, which lasted me to Ken & Dana’s station. They had some pancakes and bacon, along with the more regular fare. It was delicious! Dana recommended I try not to fall anymore.
I left their aid station and wasn’t over probably 1/4 mile from them, WHAM! Tripped again. Pretty much the same M.O. as last time, except there was more mud on the trail here, so I just coated the bleeding scrape in layer of mud. Stopped the bleeding though.
Then onward and upward for the remaining 4-5 miles to the turnaround. There are a couple of miles here where you could actually get a little bit of running rhythm going. It felt really nice. The day was warming up nicely and there was a 20-25 mph wind through the trees that felt good.
I had run most of the first 15 miles with Jorge, but he needed to do some stuff at the turnaround aid station, so I went ahead and started back alone. Alone. That is how I spend most of my trail runs. But that’s okay. When I’m running by myself, I focus more on my form and pay more attention to where I’m placing my feet. Thus, when I don’t have to talk and run at the same time (think “chew gum and walk”) I do better at remaining vertical.
My split for the first 25K was 4 hrs. 10 min. This was maybe a little slower than I had hoped for (it usually is), but hey, I did stop for some pancakes and bacon at Ken & Dana’s, remember?
So, I filled my bottles (again) and started back — up and down and around some more. I made it back to Dana’s aid station. She commented that it looked like I had fallen down again. Dang it! I knew I should’ve washed the mud off in one of the creeks I crossed. Oh well. Such is life. Still, I was thinking if I could actually stay on my feet the remainder of the run, that I was going to be okay. Not that I had high hopes on this, since I had fallen twice in the first 11 miles. What was it going to be like when the legs really got tired?
I figure it goes something like this:
Brain: Legs, raise up and step over that rock.
Legs: On it. Leg raised.
Toes: Aieeeeeee! INCOMING!!!
Legs: Hmmm, guess we should’ve raised higher.
Brain: Certainly looked high enough from here.
Toes: Houston, we have a problem…
But, that could just be how my body handles it.
Up and down and around some more…
I was really trying to drink enough water. In the past, I have not done this because I don’t really like to stop often to rid my body of excess water. But after becoming dehydrated at the Lake McMurtry 50K a couple of weeks ago, I was determined NOT to get dehydrated today. If something was going to keep me from finishing this race, I had decided it wouldn’t be hydration. I was adding some honey (for carbs) and salt (for electrolytes) to my water. The honey is about a 6%-8% solution, which gives me adequate carbs for my style of running.
Coming through the last couple of miles (which used to be the first couple of miles), my pace slowed down because of all the rocks (again). But I got back to the start and checked in. You had to check in at each aid station, where they marked down that you arrived.
After checking in, I went to the car, which was just across the parking lot, and attempted to consume a smoothie I brought from home (and had kept in an ice chest). I also had a can of V-8 juice & a homemade trail bar (low carbs). I changed socks, and applied moleskin over a couple of blisters. I started to cut out the moleskin to go around the blister like you are supposed to, but I got frustrated and just stuck it over the whole thing like a big band-aid. I changed underwear and re-applied vaseline very liberally to certain body areas that have spoken to me before about my neglect in this area.
I got through with all that and started packing up my running pack with the stuff I would need for the 2nd half of my adventure.
New bottle of honey. Check.
Water bottles filled. Check.
Headlamp for night running. Ruh roh…
Could not find it. While looking through every bag it should be in, and not finding it, I thought, “maybe this is a sign that I should stop here?” Because I can’t start the 2nd loop, I don’t have enough time. I know I packed it and made sure the battery was charged. Surely I picked up the bag with the headlamp in it up…surely. Only one place in the car I haven’t checked, my regular running bag. I just brought it in case I needed a different pair of shorts, or something like that. It was just thrown in as an afterthought, because I just always bring it when I run.
I’m already running through my speech to Eric Steele (RD) about how I forgot to bring my headlamp, and I understand that I can’t finish without one, yada, yada. Oh no, Eric, I couldn’t possibly borrow one from you, I mean, it just wouldn’t be fair to everyone else. Then, BAZINGA!! There it is, right on top of everything else in the bag it had no business being in…
Well, darn! I mean, great! (wink, wink)
Since fate has smiled its wicked smile on me, I suit up and head back out. Eric sees me leaving and shouts my name and gives me a big thumbs up. If only he knew how close I had been to quitting…
Up and down and around some more…
But something wasn’t right…my stomach was rolling around and letting me know it was not a very happy camper. I wondered what I had done wrong? Then it dawned on me. I had been running while consuming a 6%-8% carbohydrate solution, which had been working fine all day. But, at the halfway point I had downed a smoothie and V-8…I had just thrown my digestive system a “whole lotta carbs” to deal with, that it hadn’t had all day.
I don’t know if this is what was wrong with me, but I had no other rationale for what I was feeling. So I poured out my two bottles of honey water and refilled them with plain water. For the next 6-7 miles (all the way to Dana’s station), I drank just water to give my body a chance to deal with my carb party.
I rolled into Dana’s where she offered up some of her famous potato soup. I told her I wanted to try and go a few more miles before it got dark. Plus, my innards were just now starting to feel normal again. She kindly filled my water bottles and I was ready to go.
I asked Ken what kind of battery life his headlamp had. He has a Petzl NAO, just like mine, but I had never actually tested how long it would last. I kid you not, when this thing is on high you can easily be confused for Rah, the Sun God. This thing is BRIGHT!! The battery is a rechargable ni-cad, so I couldn’t just swap out some “AAs” if I had power issues. He said on high it should be good for about 5 hours. Well, now that wasn’t going to work at all. I figure I am going to have 8-10 hours of darkness. He said on the low setting that I might be OK. I figure, well, I have a small, emergency backup flashlight and my iPhone (if it comes to that).
So I headed out, with all new doomsday scenarios in my head to deal with. I catch up with a lady running with her son. We ran together most of the way to the turnaround. They turned their headlamps on and I try to stay right behind them so I can still see, without turning mine on. When I was calculating when I would need my light, I hadn’t taken into account the small canyons and valleys we run through. So my timing was off by 30-45 minutes. Hmmmm….
Finally, it was getting too dark, so I stopped and dug my headlamp out. I re-adjusted everything and I was off again.
On purpose, I wasn’t wearing my headphones today. I had been hearing rustling in the leaves all day, figuring they were mostly armadillos snuffling around. I even saw a very young one, only about 6-7 inches long. But the sound I heard now was something different. Looking toward the noise, I noticed a copperhead snake on the side of the path. It was probably the biggest one I have ever seen, 24″-30″ long. Fortunately, it was already off the path and was heading toward the base of a big rock wall.
I mentioned to the lady and her son, who were slightly behind me, to be careful since there was a large copperhead here. She kind of freaked out and said she wasn’t going to cross near it. Seems she is deathly afraid of snakes. I said, “Well, you have to come through here, it is the only trail.” She said she did not have to go near that snake, that she could just quit right now. I suppose she had a point. But I didn’t understand how waiting was going to solve anything. I kept my light on it as she and her son approached so she could keep an eye on it. Thankfully, it didn’t seem to want to have anything to do with us, so we were able to continue.
After about another mile or mile and a half, we reached the turnaround. I refilled water bottles and added in a little honey. I then headed back toward my last pass through Ken and Dana’s station – and some potato soup!
Wow. How the world changes when it is just you, in the woods, at night, with only your headlamp for illumination. No city lights making everything glow, no moon (at least not tonight). And back in the pack where I was, no other runner’s headlights even. We were spread out now.
I remember when I left the aid station that I figured my Garmin should read 49.8 miles (give or take) when I arrived at Dana’s station. My actual mileage will be 51 at that point, but due to the infamous Garmin rounding, I’m a little shy of that. Anyhow, somehow, in my mind I flipped the numbers around and thought it should read 48.9 miles. Now, I haven’t eaten much of anything all day, and that potato soup is starting to sound really, really tasty. I push through mile 47, then 48, but still no aid station lights visible in the distance. Dang it, I’m really, really, really getting hungry now! My mouth is actually watering and my stomach growling, thinking of that soup. I even started running to shorten the time. 48.9, 49.1.
Wait…what is that? A chinese lantern? And there’s another! Suweet!! I am close now because I remember seeing some of these near Dana’s aid station last time I passed through. And there, up ahead are all the lights Ken strung around. I can’t remember when I’ve been happier to see a bunch of lights in the woods. Talk about lifting your spirits…
I had two cups of potato soup and three cups of soda. While I was eating my soup, Scott from Missouri came running into the station. Literally running. I realize I’m at a run, but after 18 hours, there honestly isn’t much running being done by anyone left on the course. Anyway, he looked like he was feeling okay, but he was ready for some soup too (aahhh, now I know why he was running). His math was probably just better than mine was. We visited briefly, then I went ahead and started the last leg home.
Only 10 more miles…up and down and around (again)…
I was walking/shuffling down the path and thought the trail turned to the right. I went in between a couple of rock formations. I noticed an orange ribbon tied to a tree as I went by it. Hmmm…orange…they said follow blue…probably just an old ribbon from another race…I emerged from the rocks and noticed I was near a water crossing. But nothing about the water crossing looked familiar. And I didn’t see any blue ribbons or tape. Look left…look right. Move 40 or 50 feet, still no blue. Dang! Must’ve been that orange flag. So back to the orange flag, up through the rocks. Look around…blue flags and tape are EVERYWHERE! No idea how I could have even considered leaving the trail. Well, actually I do have one idea. Has to do with spending 18+ hours (currently) on my feet hiking/jogging/walking in the woods. Oh well, the main thing is — I was back on the trail.
As I was making my way back to the orange ribbon, I noticed another headlamp in the woods. Scott had caught up with me. He was ready to walk some, so we spent most of the remainder of the race walking and talking. We made it to the first aid station (that was now the last) and had some kind of soup. Not sure exactly, maybe ham something. If it was supposed to be broth only, I’m glad it was dark and no, I don’t want to know what was in it. It was warm and salty. So it was delicious.
At this point, we have 3.78 miles to the finish (according to race literature). I just figured if I went 4 miles and didn’t see the finish, that I would start worrying about it then. This last few miles, I think, are the gnarliest on the course. But since we were walking/hiking, it wasn’t as bad as if we would have had time pressure to finish. We knew we had plenty of time and all either of us wanted to do was cross the line.
At about 1.5 miles to go, Scott needed to make a stop in the woods, so I went ahead (gotta give a brother some privacy, ya know). I walked about half of the distance to the finish, and actually ran part of it. Ran a little in the woods, but the last 1/2 mile or so to the finish is on pavement. I looked at my Garmin and thought that if I ran, I might beat 22 hours.
Seriously. I’ve been moving for the better part of a day, and now I’m actually running faster than I have all day so I can beat 22 hours. But distances are deceptive in the dark, so I’m running (feels like an all out sprint, but I know better), looking at my Garmin every few seconds, trying to do the mental math to see if I’m going to make it.
Why is beating 22 hours so important all of a sudden? No clue.
It works its way into my brain that I’m not going to make it. I’m not going to make it in under 22 and I’m going to pass out as I cross the line. Hmmm…think I’ll walk a little. So I start walking 10 steps, running 20, walk 10, run 20. Than all of a sudden, Eric fires off a dang air horn. And they start ringing the cow bells. Crap, now they all know I’m coming and I have (want) to finish strong (hate to look too bad, anyway). So the shuffle/jog o’ death starts again. I round the corner to the park area, no more than 100 yards now…
I cross the finish line in the middle of a laser light show, slap the hand that’s hanging there, shake Eric’s hand, get my buckle…aahhh…the buckle. My bling.
But I finished…I conquered that inner voice that had been telling me I couldn’t/shouldn’t/wouldn’t…finish. And for a while you’re pretty sure that there just isn’t anything you can’t do. Kind of like being your own superman.
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