Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Becoming a Booneville Bada$$

Before the race.
Never underestimate Iowa. That's definitely one of the most important things I learned at the Booneville Backroads Ultra 100k on May 28th southwest of Des Moines. The funny thing is, I trained on hills, both at Geode State Park on the 7 miles of trails and on the backroads of Henry County, expecting them to be similar. They were not. The low rolling hills of southeast Iowa are nowhere near the same as what the Booneville course threw at us. No, it isn't the mountains of Colorado, but the hills were high and constant. And the mud made it worse.

The mud! I was kind of looking forward to the "B" roads that we would encounter on the Booneville course, especially because I was attempting to finish my first 100k in my Vibram FiveFingers shoes that have very little cushion for the long miles. Most of the course is gravel and I knew that would be tough on my feet, so I thought that the mud roads would be a nice soft break from gravel. I was too right. Due to rain the night before, and some rain during the race, the B roads were not just soft but way too soft. With nowhere to find solid ground, you were forced to trudge through the mud with the added weight of muddy shoes and going up hills for a few miles. It was there that the demons first showed their faces. 

About a week before the Booneville Ultra, I finally decided that I felt prepared for my first 100k. Thanks to my unofficial coach's training plans and advice, I had done a lot of solid work to get ready for this event. I'd run tons of hills, put in back to backs, and ran the Hawkeye 50k the month before as a training race. But going from a 50k or back to back runs to a full 100k still seemed ominous. But I'd told way too many people about this to DNF so I better be ready to run all day. 

Before the race began, Steve Cannon, the race director gave a speech to prepare us for what was coming. The significant part went something like this... "Today, you're going to meet some demons out there. When you do, shake their hand, tell them to have a nice day, and keep going." It was a great reminder of the lows that most all runners experience over the course of a long run.

The race started out great. It was partly cloudy and calling for some storms, but at 6am it was beautiful. It wasn't overly hot and the gravel roads were just wet enough to be a bit soft to run on. Thankfully, they hadn't been overly grated so they weren't just covered in rocks so you could find a good path to run that had enough traction and enough give to be comfortable. Our course was not marked because we had to earn our #boonevillebadass status, so we had to use cue cards to follow directions in order to stay on course. I started off easy, running about a 10 min/mile pace, hoping to keep it easy while not going out too slowly. After a few miles I found myself running next to someone who matched my pace and seemed like a good person to chat with for awhile. The most difficult part of this is making first contact. Brittany - who became my running partner for most of the day - was running my pace, but I wasn't exactly sure how best to start a conversation. How do you make that first contact to see if she's interested in chatting without seeming like I'm hitting on her? The truth is, I'm obviously happily married and not running an ultramarathon to pick up girls, but I felt like a guy at a bar trying to figure out a pickup line. (Katie would later call Brittany my race girlfriend, though I literally couldn't have picked her out of a lineup for most of the race. When running beside someone, you don't spend your time studying their features. I seriously didn't even know what she looked like until about mile 25 when we found the mud.) Somehow my new running friend and I started talking and found that our goals for the race were the same. I wanted to finish in under 12 hours and she wanted the same because a finish a little under 12 hours would be a women's course record. So off we went.

The run was going great. We were running at about a 10:15 min/mile pace and feeling great. We knew there were people ahead of us, but few passed us from behind and we'd left those that were close in the dust. We got through the first aid station at 10 miles and then the long run to the second at 23 miles. The next 7 miles should be easy to get to the next station. Boy were we wrong. Between 23 and 30 miles the demons came out to play as we angrily trudged through the mud. Our great pace started dwindling quickly and by the end of those mud miles, we'd dropped to an 11:30 pace and were pissed. Neither of us expected this and we recognized our goals slipping away and noticing that are legs were wiped from getting through the unstable ground. 

We rolled into the mile 30 aid station pretty frustrated with the recent events. I planned to change my shoes. I was wearing my Vibram FiveFinger Trek Ascent shoes, which are great on trails and I'd worn for the Hawkeye 50k the month before. They have no real cushion to speak of, but great soles with lots of traction. Coming out of the mud, Katie and my crew (Matt and Jolie) told me my shoes looked the best of any they'd seen coming out of the mud. I'm sure that's true. I planned at this point to change my shoes because of how muddy they'd been, but the crew told me there was more mud ahead so I decided to save my shoe-change till after. But my feet felt great. I couldn't feel any blisters or hotspots, and was excited at how well my Vibrams were doing. I really didn't know if I could go 63 miles on such small amount of cushion, so I was just hopeful to continue feeling good.

The next stretch I was expecting to be the hardest one. We had a 12 mile run before the next aid station and at mile 42 we would get to have a pacer. Not only that, but as we took off from the 30 mile station, it started to rain, and then rain harder. I even stopped at one point to put on the new Patagonia Houdini jacket I'd bought the night before at REI. It was great as it kept the rain off without heating me up. I honestly don't remember a lot about this stretch. It rained and I ran. Brittany had gotten out in front of me and I was running alone and remembering how much I hate rain. Eventually it slowed down and I caught back up with Brittany to continue our run to the next station.

Throughout all of this, I was feeling pretty good. My legs were feeling tired but not overwhelmingly so. I'd been drinking my Tailwind consistently with my two bottles full on my Ultimate Direction vest. I knew I needed to be supplementing that with some food at aid stations but wasn't feeling like eating much. My stomach wasn't awful but I was definitely not totally comfortable. Full disclosure: running with a girl was a bit of a problem. I apologize for the TMI but I suffer from what my son calls "the running toots" and running with a girl made that difficult. I didn't want to be the guy ripping them the whole day next to someone. So my stomach was a bit off for most of the day. But otherwise, I was doing well.

Mile 42 came and after I did finally change shoes to my VFF KMD Evo's, Matt and I took off for an 11 mile stretch to the final aid station. (My feet still felt great in my Trek Ascents, but they were wet from rain and a bit stretched out from all the mud so I decided to get fresh shoes on.) The hills continued and my fatigue grew. I'm pretty sure there were moments where I was weaving around while running or walking hills. But we kept going and Matt was a great encourager as we made our way forward. We even passed a few people in this stretch.

Finally, we made it to mile 53 and the final aid station where Katie would pace me into the finish.I was getting frustrated because the race info stated that the first porta-potty wouldn't be till mile 50 and I had been in need of one all day. There were some gas stations along the way but I didn't want to stop. But as my watch clicked off mile 50, there was no bathroom to be seen, and I was angrily moving toward the aid station praying for one. As we came in to 53, I asked for a restroom and was told it was about a hundred yards past the station to the porta-potty. Phew.

Katie and I took off. And then, we stopped to walk. The hills just kept coming. Each time I would pick a site to try to run to so that we would keep going as long as we could until walking the worst part of the hills. It was on this stretch that the demons really showed up. I was tired, and hot, and ready to be done. I was so tired of going up a hill only to get to the top and see that there was more. I was ready to finish this thing. Katie tried to encourage me and keep me going but I was over it. Until... with about 4 miles left I felt like I could start pushing again. After walking the hills and complaining about it, I was ready to go. So we started running. We ran downhills and we ran uphills. We just kept going. Finally, I realized that I could hear Katie breathing and noted that I better check on her. She was fine but running hard as we were going at about a 9:40 min/mile pace up and down hills for the last few miles. Finally, we saw the turn and came in hot to the finish line.

I finished in 7th place with a time of 12:17:57. The RD was there at the finish to shake my hand and congratulate me on the finish, and to give me my Booneville glass. What a feeling to be done!

Though I'd hoped to break 12 hours and finish in the top 5, I was happy with my effort. The Booneville Backroads Ultra turned out to be a much harder course than I'd imagined, but was a great experience. (Brittany came in about 8 minutes after me and though she didn't break the course record, she won the women's division!)

As I plan for my first 100 miler this fall, in the back of my mind is my one leftover desire about the Booneville Backroads Ultra. I want that buckle. So I'll see you next year for the 100 miler at Booneville.


  • Ultimate Direction hydration vest
  • Tailwind bottles and liquid nutrition
  • Vibram FiveFingers Trek Ascent and KMD Evo shoes
  • Injinji Compression Socks
  • Reebok dri-fit shirt and UnderArmour running shorts
  • KC Royals mesh fitted hat
  • Plantronics Backbeat Fit headphones (I didn't use them)
  • Epson Runsense SF-810 watch (super accurate all day & battery last all day too)
  • Flipbelt
  • Patagonia Houdini jacket

1 comment:

  1. Great Article Regan! And Congratulations on 7th Place! That is Bada$$!