Friday, October 14, 2016

Running with Cows

The Heartland 100 Spirit of the Prairie Ultra Marathon. My first 100 mile race.

Whose stupid idea was this?

It's 6am, dark, and 43 degrees outside and I'm starting off for the longest day of my life. Though it's a pretty chilly morning, this is going to be the perfect day for running. Finally, I get an ultra marathon race with good weather. My goal for the race is to finish under 24 hours and it starts out looking pretty good.

The Flint Hills of Kansas are a beautiful place to run. As the sun rose slowly over the horizon, you could see for miles over the gravel roads and prairie grassland. Though a different world than the traditional mountains of West coast ultras, it was amazing to run through the rolling hills of Kansas. And I was running great. To begin the race, I stayed towards the front of the group, maintaining a pace in the front 10 runners. After a few miles, I connected with a couple guys who had similar goals and a matched pace, so that is where the day really began.

Larry, Sam, and I found quickly that running together, chatting, and solving the world's problems were a great way to pass the hours. For the next 40 or so miles, we ran together. Though we came from very different lives, it was a blast having some good people to run with.

Things were going so great for me. My legs were feeling good, my feet were holding out great in my VFF's even on the Flint rock roads, and my nutrition was perfect. Tailwind was my basis, but for the first time ever in a race, I was actually hungry and supplementing with food from aid stations. We were on pace for under 20 hours to finish, so I was sure we'd break 24 easily.

Until mile 40. While running along, my quad began to hurt. I've never had this kind of cramping or pain, so I wasn't sure what was going on, but I was nervous. Little by little over the next few miles I felt the quad getting worse. Thankfully there was a 43 mile aid station coming with my crew of Matt, Jolie, and Katie there to meet me. At the aid station, I took extra salt, tried to massage the quad, and stretched trying to work out the cramp. Volunteers offered advice and I decided to take off again with Larry to push through and continue. It didn't take long to realize I had a problem. The leg wasn't getting better, it was getting worse.

After sending Larry off to continue his run, I walked. Maybe if I could walk a bit, it would stretch and work out the cramp so I could keep going. Ultra wisdom is that time and miles will heal most problems; just keep going. It wasn't working. I limped for 7 miles to the 50 mile aid station and turnaround, feeling like quitting may be my only option. The EMT agreed that this wasn't cramping. I either pulled or tore my quad and it was swollen and painful. What do I do? I can't imagine finishing this race in the pain that I'm in. But if this is just a pulled muscle, I will feel like a quitter. So after sitting for a few minutes at the aid station, I took an IT Band strap and strapped it around my quad as tight as I could and took off. I tried to run a little and couldn't so I walked for a few minutes, then tried to run again. Finally, I decided I was going to push no matter what. My new mantra became "Run slow, walk the hills, get there". And that is what I did. I ran slowly, feeling my quad with every step, but little by little it became bearable. We were back on!!

At the 57 aid station, it was time for some pacing, as it got darker and cooler. Katie saddled up for the next 17 miles of running into the night. After 17 miles with me, Katie stopped to rest a bit while Jolie took the next 9 mile stretch with me.

At this point I'm experiencing my biggest concern with a 100 mile race. Sleepiness. I just want to go to sleep. My body is tired, but not unbelievably so. But I'm dying to sleep. And then there is the even worse part. Chafing. I'd been using some anti-chafing lotion that I found and it DID NOT WORK! I was hurting in the "undercarriage" so badly that it affected every step. By now, this was hurting more than my quad did. I'd settled into the pain of my leg and was doing okay now.

After a slow trudge to the aid station, it was time for the home stretch. It was the last crewed station with 17 miles left to the finish. Katie never planned to pace me for nearly this far, but I was in need of company so she took off with me for the final miles.

It was tough. We're tired, my feet now hurt from all the gravel, I'm chafing, my quad is jacked up, and I'm ready to just climb into the back of my car and curl up to sleep forever. But finally, after the second sunrise of the race, Katie and I coasted to the finish line.

My goals were toast. I finished in 26:40:33 and was 24th overall out of 48 finishers. I wanted to be top 10 and under 24 hours, and was frustrated that I didn't get to meet my goal. But I'm happy that I stuck it out through the injury and finished. My buddies met our goals and finished in the top 10; congrats to Larry and Sam.

I learned a lot in this race. First and foremost, get the right kind of anti-chafing treatment. That was a big mistake. Also, my new Vibram FiveFingers Trek Ascents were great. I wore one pair for the whole 100 miles and I had one blister total by the end. I will admit that the bottoms of my feet were about over it by 80 miles in.

It was a great race! I love that I got my first 100 miler in the books. But I feel like I have a little to prove after missing out on my goals. I'm looking at you, Booneville Backroads Ultra 100 miler!

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