What I really like about this race season is that I finally have a few races that I have done in the past. Last year was my first year running ultras so everything was brand new. This year I finally have something to gauge my efforts against. The Free State race is run by Bad Ben and the Kansas Trail Nerds group and it happens to be one of the races I did last year. I was again running the trail marathon distance.
In 2012 I had a pretty rough time with this race. I fell well over 20 times on the rocky and rooted route around Clinton Lake by Lawrence, Kansas. Falling that many times I ended up hurting my right knee. I thought about pulling out but I did manage to finish in 5:27:31. I was really happy I stuck it out and I was able to put a mark on the wall to beat this year.
Just like last year the family and I drove down on Friday to pick up my race packet and get settled in enough time for a nice pre-race dinner.
After parking and gearing up we made our way to the starting area. Ben and the grew were in the midst of getting things setup and everyone was hanging out ready to get things started. Terra snapped a photo of me in front of the port-a-potties and shortly after we all lined up for the start. With a bang we were off. The 8:00 group had about 5 miles out and back before we dropped into the forest trails. The 5 mile loop was a blast! It was different that the previous year and it had us running through a lightly wooded area that really did not have much or a path at all. We just followed the pink flags as we ducked under limbs, avoided ankle breaking holes, and dropped down and back up of semi-dry steam beds. We had about 4 water crossings but nothing that required me to get my feet wet. I have to say I was having a blast. With all the twists and turns my splits were 9:17, 9:18, 10:29, 9:31 and 10:00. Around the 5th mile we looped back to the starting line and the first aid station. By now all the runners were spread out so there was no trail congestion at all. I saw Terra and the kids, dropped my gloves and hat, and put on my skull bandana that Terra made for me. I did not need to stop at the aid station since the kids handed me a new water bottle. I was off again dropping down into the main single track trail system ready to bust out the next 20 miles or so.
“Now the real work begins!”, I told myself. To me running around Clinton Lake is like a punch to the face. But it is even worst than that since you know you are going to get punched in the face. This trail is my nemesis. In 2012 I fell over 20 time. I have size 14 feet and I am a foot dragger when my legs get tired. The trails at Clinton Lake are rooted, rocky, and in some parts goes up and down so quick and I just can’t run it with my big feet very well. My toes seem to catch rocks and roots as soon as I reach for a Gu or my water bottle. I know it was only a matter of time before I take a punch to the face. My only hope was not taking too many. Despite knowing I was going to fall at some point, this trail is a big challenge for m big feet and I love it.
Things progressed well and I saw the family at a few stages along the trail. Each time they all had out their iPhones taking photos as I passed. Each time I saw them it was a big energy burst. I stumbled a few times over the first 10 miles with only 4 falls. None of them were too bad. I have learned the hard way that if you are going to go down it is best to just let it happen. There is no sense in acting act like a cat tying to get out of a bath tube full of water. You just fall while trying not to hit your head on a tree or a rock. Last year when I fell 20+ times I fought it each time. That was how I ended up hurting my knee. This year the few times I did go down I simply fell and got back up making sure I had my Garmin and it was still running. I just accepted it as part of the festivities.
Around mile 10 I realized that I have not runanything longer than 10 miles since Sept. 2012. Anyone with common sense would have pulled out of the race. But I don’t have a lot of sense and I was approched this as a training run. That seems to work well inside my head as I continued to check off the miles.
I saw the family again around mile 14 at a road crossing. I knew I was making decent time compared to last year. In 2012 I had to walk into the 17th mile aid station and started contemplated giving up due to my banged up knee. Before I knew it I was getting close to the 17 mile aid station. I ran into the next aid station and greeted my waiting family. I was tired but everything was going well. My daughter even ran with me for about 100 yards into the aid station. The family had gels and water ready for me. I only swallowed a few cups of Heed and was on my way. My daughter again run with me a few 100 feet before we all parted ways again.
The family jumped in the van and planned to meet me at the finish line. Around mile 19I rounded the corner and the family popped out of the trees snapping photos again. I was hurting pretty bad at this point. My legs were dead and my back was starting to hurt but with the family surprising me I felt like a movie star walking the red carpet. It lifted my spirits and as I passed I yelled to them to take photos of the guy behind me.
The next 4 miles I tagged along with a couple of other runners. I just watched the feet in front of me and kept moving. I zoned out for a while and if the guy in front of me ran off a cliff I think I would have just followed right behind him. I started looking at my Garmin off and on over the next four miles, all the while wondering if I could make my under 5 hour goal. We finally came into the last aid station and I knew we had about 3 miles left. I looked at my Garmin and I felt I had a shot so I only stopped at the aid station for maybe 15 seconds. I remember grabbing an orange slice, a cup of coke, and had the excellent aid volenteers fill my water bottle. I was then off on my way walking while the other stopped at the aid station.
After a minute walking to consume some fuel I was back to running. I caught up to another running and followed him for about half a mile. I then passed him and really focused running any time the trail gave me a open stretch. Any up hill, rocky, and rooter parts I walked over. This strategy was working well as I start to catch other runners and passed them. I only fell another two times the last few miles. My knee was a little banged up and had a small cut but nothing like last year. I also noticed that I was burping a lot and felt a little sick to my stomache. This was the fist time in a race that I felt like this. I thought that I did not want to stop and puke and lose any time. If anything came up I told myself I would just keep running and try not to trip or fall. I started to see signs planted along the trail that counted down the remaining distance.
Before I knew it I could hear the sounds of the finish line. Suddenly I was sprinting out of the forest and up the last incline to the clapping and cheering of the spectators. My family was there waiting as I crossed the finish line with a few minutes to spare in 4:56:05. Gender place was 28th out of 74.
After getting my medal and a few photos I immediate took a knee. I was sure the Gu was going to start flowing out of me but it didn’t. Withing a couple of minutes I was up and walking around getting a hot dog and a beer for my efforts.
I followed the same fueling plan that I adopted last year. 1 Gu ever 2 miles and wash it down with water. I never got low on water the entire race. The aid station volenteers were awesome. I did not spend much time at the aid stations so they were a blur this year. I think I only grabbed a cup of coke, a few pretels, an orange slice, and 2 cups of Heed the entire race from different aid stations. Everything else was Gu that I carried with me and my family refilled when I saw them.
Gear this year were my trusty Altra Zero Drop Lone Peaks on my feet with Smart Wool socks. I did have a brand new Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest on. I will have a upcoming reveiw of the AK vest but I will say right now it is the best running vest I have ever worn. More on this soon.
If you ever have the chance to run one of Bad Ben’s and the Run Nerd’s event in the Midwest it is a must do. We drive 4+ hour down to these events from Iowa and it is well worth it. I will also be doing the Rock on Lake Perry 50k in 3 week again by Lawrence, KS. I am looking forward to getting another 50k under my belt before the big 50 mile in Colorado in June.