Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Race Report: Heartland 50-Miler...50 Miles was just the Starting Point

Whew! What a weekend.

Last Tuesday, I finally decided to do the 50-mile Heartland "Spirit of the Prairie" run.
It was a last-minute decision. It was originally an idea that Raul Flores had put into my stupid head a week previously. I try to stay in (at least) 50-miler shape year-round, but I'm getting over a pretty severe injury from 7 weeks ago, so I wasn't sure how I'd do.

We headed down to Cassoday, Kansas on Friday at noon. It's about a 2-1/2 hour drive from Kansas City. We left in a convoy of two vehicles "loaded to the gills" with supplies...more on that later.

Raul and I got to race headquarters and registered for the race. We had the pleasure of meeting some new ultrarunners and running in to old buddies, as well. Fellow Trail Nerd Gabe Bevan was going to have this be his first 100-miler, and he looked ready for it. We hung around there and had the great pre-race supper fixin's hosted by the Kansas Ultrarunners' Society (KUS). We ate well, and then headed south 22 miles, to our motel stay.

We stopped at Walmart first, and picked up a couple of bags of Pepperidge Farms cookies. I had a keg of homebrewed India Pale Ale in the back of my vehicle, so I threw the tap on it, and Raul and I had a couple of pints of beer and a bag of cookies each to nibble on while we watched TV and got ready for an early sleep. Kyle Amos and his family showed up at the motel at about 7:30 p.m. Raul and I had "lights out" at 8:30, to try to sleep as much as we could before the 4 a.m. alarm setting.

We got up at 4, got ready, found a place with some coffee, and headed up the road eating bananas and cookies. We arrived back at the Cassoday starting line about 1/2 hour before the 6:00 a.m. start. It was about 39 or 40 degrees F. We would be running in dark conditions for at least an hour. The race started, and I quickly found my conservative first-half pace. I found several folks to talk to on the way out to the 50-mile turnaround. Many were doing the 100-miler, and they had a long way to go to their turnaround.

The course was on farm roads through tall grass prairie and ranch country in the middle of "Nowhere, Kansas." There were some hilly sections with long, 200-300 foot high hills, but everything was indeed "runnable." Talk about desolate! On the entire 50 mile course, I only saw 6 or 7 viable dwellings and one ghost town.

About 45-minutes or so from the half-way point, I saw Kyle Amos and (newby ultrarunner) Josh Pool in 4th & 5th place, running together back the other way. They looked strong and determined. (They would run the entire race together). I was surprised to see Raul at the last aid station before the turnaround. His sciatica was acting up, so he dropped at 25. (He had run a fast marathon the weekend before, though). I got to the mile 25 turnaround, and got back to the aid station to dig into my drop bag. I tried a new caffeine drink and took a PB & J quarter-sandwich with me. I had been eating Sharkies on the way out, and they had worked okay so far, so I would continue with this pattern. I kept my long-sleeve Golite top on, because the course had absolutely no shade, and I wanted to limit sun exposure. It was supposed to get up to 70F, but I wouldn't be too hot in that top, I thought.

On the way back, I put on my earbuds and cranked my IPod Shuffle. I concentrated on running all of the hills that I had walked previously on the way out. I was successful with this plan, for the most part. I didn't want to get passed, and wanted to take as many "roadkill" as possible on the way back. It started to get hot in some sections, but at the top of the hills you could feel a cooling breeze. I turned up my music louder. I passed 5 people in about 20 miles.

At about 5 miles from the finish, I noticed two side-by-side runners slowly gaining on me. They were 90 seconds behind me. I would get over a hill or around a corner (out of sight) and hit it hard. They must have been doing the same, because they didn't fade back. About 2 miles from the finish, they were less than 1 minute behind me. At this point, I could see the finish line off in the distance. I also saw a live rattlesnake in the middle of the road sunning itself. I about jumped out of my shorts! This was the turning point. I poured on the speed, and kept thinking, "turnover, turnover, turnover" to give my legs a boost. There was one last 3/4-mile straightaway before we turned onto the last 1/2 mile of the only pavement in the race. They were just 45 seconds behind!!! I pushed my pace up to my PPL, (pre-puke level), and held it there. I rounded the corner onto the pavement, and hit it hard. I was doing about a 7:30/minute mile pace, at that point. I turned around and looked, and they were just rounding the corner. I was a full 1/4-mile ahead. This meant that I had them by almost 2 minutes!

I ended up with a finish time of 9:48:16. I was satisfied with that time; it meant that I am finally back from injury and moving along well in my training. Fellow Trail Nerds Kyle and Josh did REALLY WELL in the 50-mile race. They had moved up in the race order and tied for 2nd place with a time of 7-hours, 42 minutes!!!

Synopsis: I did great! My hamstring and back didn't bug me at all. I ran a smart race. I went out conservatively to the mile 25 turnaround, then hit it harder coming back. I experimented with a new food and a new drink, and now have a couple more in my ultra-arsenal.

The rest of the story:
Directly after the 50-miler, I ate a little and took a sponge bath with baby wipes. Then Raul and I initiated the rest of our plan. We drove our vehicles out to the Mile 95.2 point on the 100-mile course and set up a "gypsy" aid station (where there wasn't one). We wanted to help the 100-milers finish their race and lend them some help at a critical point in the race.

We called it the "Mirage" aid station. Man, we had everything at our station. Music, ultrarunning videos, a generator, Christmas lights, pizza, tasty homebrew, hot Starbucks coffee, hot homemade chicken/ramen soup, water, Coke, Gel, S-Caps, Salty Snacks, Energy Bars, First Aid Kit, Toilet Paper, bananas, M & M’s, crackers, spare LED flashlights, spare batteries, and about 20 other things that I'm forgetting. We had forgotton some critical things, but with our slightly warped but inventive minds, we came up with some viable solutions that would've made MacGuiver proud.

The aid station was a hit, especially during the lightning and rainstorms that hit at about 2:00 a.m. and thereafter. I mean, it really got ugly for the runners. Fellow Trail Nerd Gabe Bevan came running through with his pacer (Rick Mayo), and was happy to be on a sub-24-hour first 100-miler. Sue Johnson came within 4 minutes of taking the overall 100-mile race, because Mark Henderson found our station to be so hospitable. He had taken a nap and hung around for almost 30 minutes!

At about 10 a.m. on Sunday morning, we started taking down the station and loading up. We got back to the finish area, hung around for a little bit, then headed up the road, back toward KC. We only had had a couple of 5-minute catnaps since 4 a.m. the previous day. I arrived at home okay, unloaded the homebrew and other "fridge items," and took a hot bath and then a 3 hour nap with my grandson. Then I was up until my normal 11:30 bedtime, to keep on my normal sleep schedule.

Next year, we'll do it again, but we'll have it down to a science. We've already made plans.

If you want to do a fairly fast, beautiful and fun ultrarun next year, set your sights on this one. It's a winner! The KUS folks know how to put on a quality event.

Photo Album

Race Web Site

Prairie Chicken Capital
What a claim to fame!

Salt stains on my shirt, after I finished the 50-miler.

I'm not putting those smelly shoes in my car! I think I'll let them "air-out" for a while.

Mirage Aid Station
Our "Mirage" aid station.

Raul in Aid Station
Raul Flores, waiting for some 100-mile customers.


olga said...

What a fun, FUN weekend! Congrats to your great time at 50, and to setting up Mirage! I would have stayed there too:)

robtherunner said...

Nice job on the 50 miler and holding those two runners off at the finish.

That looks like my kind of aid station as well.

Gregg Lynn said...

Ben, I just find it amazing the number of ultras you Nerds pull off over the course of the year.

"I try to stay in 50-miler shape year round,..."---

That blows my mind! I'm not sure I've gotten in shape to run my first 50---right now I can't imagine being in "50 miler shape".

I'm humbled and impressed! :)

Ben, aka BadBen said...

I will say this again and again: It's all in your head! To paraphrase Yogi Berra, "Running ultras is 90% mental -- the other half is physical."

shliknik said...

Funt times! When I read about your 'mirage tent', I imagined some kind of bazar where an ultra runner would find any kind of exotic food!

When I saw that pic of the runner coming up the flat, straight road, it frightened me - WAY too flat for me. I want mountains and trees.

Ben, aka BadBen said...

The course had its share of 200 - 300' hills. After all, it was in the Flint Hills. The course near my aid station was probably the only totally flat section, and it was a long & flat 6-mile section. You could see the finish line from 5 miles away!!! That long straightaway was one of the hardest course sections (mentally), that I've ever ran.

D said...

Congrats on completing this race and KUDOS for not letting those two beat you. That was fast mileage and you were on mile 50! Wow. You ultra runners are a little nutty - I mean that in a complimentary way. There is no way I could even run marathons within 1-2 months of eachother let alone an ultra. What cool guys you are for setting up that Mirage station!

Rae said...

Great job on the race!!! I can't believe you held that sort of pace at the end, awesome!!

I love your aid station, that's GREAT! I know the runners really appreciated the support, too.

Sarah Elaine said...

First time stopping by your blog...

A keg, cookies and coffee... Sounds like a good way to run to me!

Kim said...

Great 50 mile race!
And that was SO COOL of you to set up the gypsy aid station!!