This weekend I had the pleasure of running at the Free State Ultras. The event is part of the Run Nerds races down in Kansas. There was 100k, 40 mile, marathon, and half-marathon. I planned to run my first trail marathon. I took off Friday and Monday for the event. We recently bought a new tent so we planned to make the 4 hour drive from West Des Moines to Lawrence, KS and make it a camping weekend.
My wife drove down early Friday morning to see her family and take care of a few things non-race related. By 5:00 PM or so we were all together with the tent setup, my race swag picked up, and relaxing at our camping stop in Clinton Lake State Park.
It turned out that my son picked the stop and it was less than 30 yards from the race trail. We found this out by accident while looking for some fire wood. Here are a few photos of the trail that was next to our camping spot and the swag from the race packet pickup.
The temps ended up getting down into the 30’s and we all pretty much froze for the night. I think we all were awake more than we slept. I was not the best quality pre-race sleep. Non the less 6:30 AM came and I woke and started race prep. The 100k and 40 mile races were heading out at 7:00 AM. The low life marathoner and half-marathoners were schedule for an 8:00 AM start. I had Terra and the kids drop me off at the start area about 7:30. The start/finish area was less than a quarter-mile from our camp stop. We couldn’t have a better camp setup.
After some awkward pacing the gun went off at 8:00 AM and we were off. The Parks Dept. did not mow what they were suppose to so we ended up doing 5 miles on a mix of road, fire trail, and single track before heading into the wood and 21 more miles on single track. Despite the lack of sleep I really felt good during the first 5 miles. At 5 miles the marathoners and half-marathoners were spread out according to pace and one by one we dropped into the single track.
I recently discovered that if I religiously take a gel pack every 2 miles it really keeps my energy up. I planned to follow this routine for the first time in a race. I was carrying a single Nathan QuickDraw bottle. Between the QuickDraw and the zippered pocket in my shorts I had 13 GU gels with me. I could run the entire race unsupported except for the water refills at the aid stations.
I have heard about the Clinton Lake trails from a few mountain biker so I knew what I was getting into. Rocky and rooted with little elevation gain. “Everything is runnable” is what the race director said. As far as elevation goes the “everything runnable” was accurate. Now let’s talk about the rocky and rooted part.
Where do I start? I was keeping a decent pace. I passed a few people and was passed by a few. I took my first trip within the first 2 miles of single track. The Lord did not bless me with size 14 feet to be a trail runner. At first it was a few trips here and there on rocks and tree roots.
Soon after the almost-trips I took my first fall. It was the kind of fall that you catch yourself with your hands and pop back up. Soon after that I took my first fall that was a full chest plant then roll over on your back then up looking around to make sure no one saw me. It progressed from there. By mile 10 I had tripped well over 20 miles and stopped counting my full-fledged falls at 8 falls. On my 8th face plant I was so frustrated that I almost threw my water bottle against a tree. I was getting mad. Really mad. I have never had this problem before so I have no clue what was going on.
By mile 12 I started to feel pain in my right knee. Both of my knees had a little blood on them but nothing major. I don’t think it was the falls that cause my knee to start hurting but the almost-falls. The kind where I catch myself but it made my legs jet out to the left or right in an effort to stop the face plant. I am pretty sure that is where I over stressed my right knee. I have never had knee issue but a body can only take so much.
By mile 14 the knee was hurting significantly more. If I planted or lifted my leg the wrong way the pain shot through my body. I took a minute to text Terra say I was hurting and might have to quit. I crossed a level about that time and I looked for someone to tell that I had to quit. I got really emotional at one point from the thought of quitting. I drove 4 hours to be here and paid the entry fee. I couldn’t just quick and leave broken with my tail between my legs. I had to just keep going.
I left the levee area by taking a left and tried to grind into the wood knowing the farther the got in there was less chance of me being able to thrown up the white flag. The farther I went the more I had to walk/run from the pain. The knee was killing me at this point. Other than the knee, physically I felt great. I was sticking to my one gel every two miles and it was working. But the knee was turning out to be my nemesis.
At one point I was crossing a road and saw the race director checking the unmanned water stations. I asked if he had an ace bandage for my knee. I sat down on his pickup tailgate and he started to hook me up. Clearly I was not explaining myself right because he had an ankle brace. Five minutes into it we figured out I needed a knee brace and he had an ankle brace. This was about mile 14 and there was a big aid station at mile 17. I needed to make it there if I wanted to get any help. I set off back into the wood again.
Terra called me and asked if I had made it to the 17 mile aid station yet. I told her how bad the knee was feeling and I was about 3 miles away. She said that the kids and her would wait for me there. Terra said she had ibuprofen so I continued on hoping to make it there and then maybe quit.
I dredged on for another 3 miles or so as people passed me. Like wounded animal I let them pass and it pissed me off. I could do nothing about it and I was frustrated beyond belief. About three-quarters of a mile before the 17 mile aid station the route had us breaking out of the wood and on to the biggest incline of the race. It was a paved road that seems to go straight up. A quarter of the way up the hill I had to walk. The pain was just too much. I cringed and welled up in frustration. Runners leaving the aid station gave me words of inspiration to keep moving. I looked everyone of them in the face as they passed. Their comments helped a little as I cringed in pain.
I came into the aid station only to have to make another loop back into the wood before I could stop. I saw teh family playing frisbee in the field and I welled up again for some reason. Terra and the kids saw me limping in and
yelled to keep me going. I ducked into the wood and did my loop on the single track. Coming out of the wood the family was there ready to run with me to the aid station. I was in pain but it is always great to have the kids running with me. I reached the aid station and the awesome volunteers asked me what I needed and refilled my bottle. I immediately asked for an ace bandage to wrap my knee. I knew that the only hope I had was to get some kind of support on my knee. The aid station had full medical gear and they gave me a wrap. I wrapped the knee as best I could. I took 3 gel Advil that Terra gave me. I drank as much as I could, devoured orange slices, sucked in pretzel, and took an S-cap (salt pills). I was there maybe 10 minutes I think. The family planned to meet me at the finish and I was off. Back down the big hill I had walked up to get to the aid station.
As I tried my best to run I had to stop about 100 yards from leaving the aid station. I wrapped my knee too tight. I stopped to unwrap it and the wrap got all tangled up. The family stopped on the road and watch me from the vehicle 75 yards away as I wrapped the knee again. I was finally off but frustrated again.
The Ace bandage was not helping much. Going downhill on the road hurt bad. Again people passed me as my knee caused me to cringe from the pain. I reached the bottom of the hill and made my way into the wood. Terra and the kids were long gone and I stopped shortly into the woods. I was ready to quit again. But again I knew the farther I made it into the woods the less likely I was to pull the plug. I wanted the finisher medal at this point more than anything. I had about 9 miles to go. The battle was now me against my knee.
The next four miles I watched as people passed me. I tried to stay positive. Keep driving on is all I could do. About mile 20 something happened and I was able to develop a regular routine. The pain was at a minimum and no sharp pain spikes paid me a visit. Run the flats and take my time over the rooted and rocky parts was my plan. If I fell again I wouldn’t be able to catch myself with the knee hurting like it was. At this point I felt the knee was going to hold as long as I did not fall again.
By the time I reached the aid station at mile 23 I was in full run mode. Once again the aid workers did their magic by refilling my bottle for me. The knee was feeling better but I think the adrenaline had something to do with it. I had taken off my shirt at this point since it was getting hot. I texted Terra that I was feeling better and only 3 miles left. I grabbed as many orange slice as I could at the aid station, thanked the aid station workers as they filled my water bottle and set out on the last 3 miles of my first trail marathon.
Three miles was all that stood between me and a finisher medal.
As I set off into the woods again I started to feel euphoric. I was running pretty much the entire time. I actually started to see other people. I started to catch them! One by one I was asking to get around other running that were walking. I kept up the best pace I could. Slowly but surely I locked more than more runners into my sight. Then I started to pass them. I saw runners that were leaving the mile 17 aid station as I was coming into the aid station. They hand to have 30 minutes on me back then. Now I was passing them. Things continued in this almost dream like feeling for the final 3 miles. I think I passed 10 people the final 3 miles. Hours before they passed me as I stepped aside like a wounded animal on the trail. Now it was their turn to move aside. I gave them words of encouragement but it felt great to pass every single one of them. I had tons of energy at this point. The gels were doing their job.
Before I knew it I was rounding the final turn and sprinted to the finish line. It was an all out sprint fast enough that my wife couldn’t even get her iPhone ready to shoot any video. I ended up coming in at 5:27:31. I was hoping for 5 hours or less but with the knee issues I couldn’t be happier. I lost a lot of time because of the knee in this race so don’t have any glue what I could have done if I did not fall 100 times. Overall I was 59th out of 114 males. I almost seriously quit twice but I managed to pull it together and finish.
Compared to my first 50k a few weeks ago this race was shorter in distance but harder physically on me. It sucked that I fell so many times and that it caused the knee problem. On the bright side my gel routine worked perfectly and I felt nothing like I did after the 50k a few weeks ago. I was never thirsty or felt over hydrated. I can now, for the first time, see myself doing a 50 mile ultra based on my energy level that the gels allow me to maintain throughout the race.
I learned a lot about myself and my determination to finish under pain in this race. That will come in handy at some point in my ultras. We will have to see how the knee heals over the next two weeks. I am suppose to run my next 50k the May 12th weekend. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.