Friday, November 2, 2018

Kansas Rails to Trees... I Mean Trails

Before 100 Miles
I almost didn't get registered for a 100 mile race this year. Busy lives and high registration fees meant I may just not be able to make it work. 100 mile ultras are a lot of training commitment as well as require help from my crew and taking a Sunday off of work. Though I'd done a 100 miler each of the last two years, maybe I wouldn't get to this year. After my annual Booneville Backroads Ultra in May - which was crazy hot and took forever to finish 100k - I wasn't thinking I had trained enough through the summer to be ready for 100 miles anyway. Then on my birthday, I decided to go for 38 miles on my 38th and figured a hundred could still be in reach.

The Kansas Rails to Trails Extravaganza is a fall race with distances of half marathon, marathon, 50k, 50 mile, 100k, and 100 miles. It takes place on the Prairie Spirit Trail, which I'm told is a former rail line that has been filled in and turned into crushed limestone trails for walking, running, and biking. It's a beautiful trail, with most of it surrounding by why my family calls tree tunnels. It's also a flat trail with very little elevation change.

I had lofty goals for this race. Unlike the Heartland 100 and Booneville Backroads 100, this isn't a course of rolling hills and constantly changing elevation; so I figured I could shave quite a bit of time off my PR. My "A goal" for this race was an under 20 hour finish. My "B goal" was to keep my finish under 22 hours if I didn't have as good of a day.

And as usual... I went out too fast.

When I started, I knew that I needed to keep my overall pace just under 12:00 min./miles in order to stay under 20 hours, and I had this great idea. Instead of being slow and steady, I would push the pace at the beginning because there wouldn't be hills to brutalize my legs late in the race. This was a bad idea. For the first 35 miles I averaged a 9:30 min./mile pace, and that is with aid station stops included. For the first 35 miles, I didn't stop once to walk, and though my awesome crewman, Matt, was there at every aid station, I didn't stop long. Now to be clear, I realize this was a bad strategy, but I had thought it out a bit. My experience in these ultras has been that I go through rough periods from about 40-75 miles. It's there that my legs feel the worst and miles feel the slowest. But I always get a second wind at the end of the race. So I thought that if I could make up time at the beginning, I'd get tired late, but find my second wind to finish strong. That was the plan.

35 Miles In

When I hit 35 miles, I decided I had permission to start walking occasionally and slowing my pace a bit. I still hadn't start feeling it in my legs too much, but I knew it would eventually catch up with me. At the Colony aid station - 41.25 miles - I was beginning to notice the difficulty. And worst of all, it was 10 miles to the turn around, and that sounded like a long 10 miles. It was. And I was worried that I wouldn't have a pacer to start at the turnaround in Iola because my wife and son - Katie and Carson - were coming after my boys' flag football games and were cutting it close on being there in time. The idea of leaving Iola without a pacer was not going over very well in my head. In most races, I find other runners I can run with and chat with as much as possible. This race, I found myself in 2nd place early and was by myself ALL DAY. I was out of podcasts and sick of being alone.

The best moment of the day came as I came upon the Iola station as our friend Jolie was pulling up with Katie and Carson jumping out and running over. They were there just in time!

The second half of this race was rough. My "go out fast" strategy was not going to do me any favors as we started the long road back to Ottawa. My 12 year old son Carson was going to be my first pacer and I was ready for his company. Carson had run the KC half marathon with me the week before in 1:55:37 and I knew he could keep me going. We talked about his flag football game that morning, how my day was going, and everything else. He a jabberer, so he talked and talked and I got to just push through. It was a good 10 miles.

Back at Colony it was time for Matt to go with me and during that next 8 mile stretch, things started to get really tough. I was having to walk more, chafing was getting worse, and the pace continued to slow. It was during this stretch that the first person passed me. I was down to 3rd place.

At Welda - mile 69 - Katie and I took off and I continued to struggle through the miles slowly. I kept waiting for my body to kick back in and so far it just wasn't happening. Matt jumped back in at Garnett - mile 77.5 - and conversation helped get us through the dark slowly. On this trail every mile seemed like forever. The same trees and the same trail prove to be a pretty difficult mental combination for an easier physical challenge. At the Richmond station - 86.5 - Katie went out with me one more time as our pace continued to slow. Finally, I picked up Carson at Princeton at 93 miles to head to the end. We were slow and for the first time, I got no 2nd wind. My legs had nothing left so we ran as much as possible but struggled to keep going fast enough to keep my spot. A group of two runners caught us and passed us in this leg and I knew I'd lost my top 3 place. And I knew I'd lost my 20 hour goal. But in the last mile Carson and I turned and saw in the distance behind us a light. So off we went running as hard I could for the last .75 of a mile to the finish at 21:46:02; at least making my "B goal" for the race.
After 100 Miles

This was a well-organized race and a fun day. I'm so grateful to Matt, who was up and ready to crew for me by himself while my family was busy. And having Carson there to experience his first 100 mile ultra in person was awesome. I can't wait to include my other two boys in these in the future.


  • Vibram FiveFingers V-Alpha shoes - they were amazing!
  • Garmin Fenix 5X watch
  • Aftershockz Trekz Air headphones
  • Injinji compression socks
  • Goodr sunglasses
  • Booneville Backroads Ultra buff
  • Ultimate Direction AK2.0 vest
  • Tailwind Nutrition
  • Flipbelt
  • Road ID bracelet

Thanks to the awesome photos by Mile 90 Photography.

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