Saturday, April 4, 2014
Rockin’ K 50 Mile Ultra
50 Miles – Kanapolis State Park, KS

Kansas is NOT flat

After visiting the Rockin’ K 50 Miler last year, it was an easy sell to return this year. The Kansas Ultrarunners Society puts on races seldom seen in the state of Colorado. Old School ultra traditions are alive and well in Kansas and it’s easy to feel like part of the family from the moment you arrive. Last year, I was on a mission to lose 30 lbs and run my 5th Vermont 100, in 100-Mile PR time. This year, I’m just enjoying the journey, training for Redemption at the Big Horn 100 in June.

I’ve been running Ultras for 9 full years now and come July I’ll be starting season 10. That seems like a long time and even feels like it. There have been few times in the 9 years I’ve been running ultras that I’ve felt ready or even equipped to try and land amongst the top runners at a race. This year, going into Kansas, I was feeling great and knew that now was as good a time as any to give it hell and see if I could land in the Top 3.
I had a few thoughts on that in mind. 1.) I knew the two boys from Nebraska were registered so they’d likely finish 1.2. I knew Jeremy Ebel was coming from the Front Range.. he was in my carpool after all.. and if he had a great day, he could win or finish top 3 as well. I don’t mind losing to Ebel if it came down to it.. but at the end of the day, the race is till with myself. So.. I prepared and planned to go for it in Kansas and that’s exactly what I did.

In the moments prior to the race start, I was comfortably numb.. or better yet.. I was frozen. It was damn cold at the start of this years race with temps hovering around 30 degrees. What little breeze grazed the Kansas Prairie made it feel even colder. All of us runners huddled together to try and stay warm. A brief pre-race meeting instructed us on the color ribbons to follow. I then had to try and find an easy way to relay the color scheme to my running friends. “Checkers, Stripes, Checkers, Green, Stripes” was the easiest I could come up with and it seemed to work. In the tom foolery of the start, one of my carpool mates ripped my earbuds from my ear. I have been wearing those yurbuds for a bit now. They rock unless the rubber ear piece comes off.. which it did. So in the waning seconds before the race started, I found myself incredibly annoyed and scrambling to put the rubber ear thingy back on. Just as I got it on, I pressed play, ran to the start line and we were off.. in one swift motion.. phew.

So there I was… racing down the first hill, up the next and onto the single track trail.. with the leaders of the pack. It was so cold and I was running so fast (easily a 7 min mile or faster), that tears from the cold air were streaming down my face. As we got onto the single track, I was in third.. and starting to trail already. I was soon passed by a few runners and was sitting as the 6th or so runner in the pack of over 100. The bearded guy from Kansas was even running faster than me now… compared to his performance the years before, I had to ask if he was in the 50 or the marathon. He told me the 50.. and I started to wonder if I was blown up already or if this guy just ate his wheaties. I even got passed by a dude wearing all blue with the real signature of his outfit being a Captain America shirt. This guy took off after the front 3 and then 15 minutes later, I caught up to him as he walked.. then he passed me, then I him, then he I.. you get the idea.. until I just let him go.

So I settled in to 6th or 7th or 8th and decided to get comfortable. I sunk into the music and let the miles glide by. Being sure to let no one but myself to dictate my pace and my race. So with that, I ran alone for most of the race. Hardly a sight of anyone in front of me or behind for miles. I loved it. So easy was it to sink into a state of flow and just let it all flow by. The sun rise was incredible and for as much as we Coloradoans (and every else) craps on the drive through Kansas.. being out there is a much different experience. Watching the sun rise over America’s Grasslands, and then realizing how out in the middle of nowhere you are, and how vast an expanse it actually is.. is sobering. I feel privileged to know I’ve been able to experience that thought and feeling multiple times in my life.. even if in Kansas.

Upon reaching the first aid stop, my feet were still dry, my head was clear and I had no idea what time it was. I left my watch in the tent since the battery was dead. I left for the rock loop which consisted of the rugged terrain for the day. The sun was shining full on now and it was hard for me to see the white and red checkered ribbons. Thankfully, the photog was nearby and he told me where to go. I scurried up the steep hill, thanked him and pushed on. Not long after I caught Captain America, who was walking, and asking if the race got harder, “Mmmhmmm.” 🙂 And I even caught two marathon runners who I observed running with no bottles, not stopping at any aid stations, and now cramping in the calves. Silly runners…

About 4 miles out from the end of loop 1 (mile 22), Jeremy Ebel caught up to me. He remarked on how awesome I was doing and that I wasn’t easy to catch. Which was BS. Jeremy had gotten lost out there and managed to catch me at mile 22 which was really his mile 29.. then.. run in to the half way turn around with me. Once there, I stopped for a #2 bio-break, then grabbed my aid supplies. While grabbing my supplies, Jeremy took off down the road. In the few miles I shared with him, Jeremy challenged me more, to push the pace. “Let’s win this thing John..” I pushed with him and started to run his race.. and to be honest.. it gassed me a little bit. But I didm’t mind, the kid is one of my best friends. So I hung on and pushed.

At the turn around, we asked where we were in the pack. I knew there had to be 2 ahead of us, and it was confirmed. I looked over at the rock hut and saw the beard as he called out, “I quit!” I chuckled.. I figured as much knowing how hard he ran that first lap. Chuckling was over for a bit though, because as I gave chase to Jeremy down the road as we left for loop 2, I knew he was now in 3rd and I in 4th. It was exciting to think I had been in 3rd for awhile, and I was even more excited for Jeremy and pleased with where I was. I tried to catch him on the road, but couldn’t.. the kid had gas.. literally.

Not long down on the trail section, it got hot. Real hot. Temps were now near 65 and that Kansas sun is STRONG with no shade in sight. Swamp ass was in full effect. It was at that moment that I realized I had forgotten to put the body glide on this morning and after the recent bio break.. I did some damage. The chaff monster was here and it burned!! I walked some and thought about it. “Maybe I’ll catch up to Jeremy and ask him if he has some glide in his pack.” Good thought except.. he was long gone now.. So.. I looked around and saw NO ONE. I had to dry my crack out.. so I did what anyone else would do. I dropped the backside of my shorts and ran bare ass naked for the next 2 miles to air my crotch out. And ya know something?? It worked!

After I cleared things up, I hiked my shorts up and got to work. My legs were gassed now despite my mind being in great shape. I was now just working through fatigue and wondering how long I could hold on. I knew others would catch me, but my goal was to not let anyone pass. On the way to the first manned aid stop, I looked back at one point to finally see a few runners gaining on me. I worked my way to the rock loop as quick as I could, grabbed what I needed at the aid station and walked out.

I was spent.. no doubt about it. Hey.. I went for it. Top 3. I wanted to see where I could land if I pushed and I did that. Now.. I’m hanging on. Not long into the rock loop, you cross a road with a port potty on it. I wanted to take a sit, so I stopped. As I went to put my bottles down, I looked back and saw a runner. Crap! I picked my bottles back up and started running hard again. I scurried around those steep ups and downs trying to keep him at bay. If I couldn’t have 3rd I wanted to keep 4th. It was no use. An older runner from the front range filed in behind me and I let him go. I tagged along behind him for awhile marveling at how steady he was running, how smooth, how deliberate and gentle..

That’s when it hit me. I was so balls to the walls all race long that now I was playing that game where.. when I could run, I ran hard until I couldn’t.. then I’d be reduced to a walk. This is called the yo-yo show.. where you run like a damn yo-yo. I stopped to walk for a bit to reset my mind. I’m in 5th now and if I wanted to keep that I need to worry about just being steady. So.. I eased off the throttle and just focused on my feet. Running when I could and not going hard. Walking if I had to. I never saw another runner behind me for the rest of the race, but still tried to slowly chase down the guy who just passed me.

At the last manned aid stop, I went into my drop bag and took out my 5 hour energy. I chugged it, ate a hunk of banana, and 2 seconds later, I hurled everywhere. Out came the banana, all of the 5 hour, and the orange I ate at the half way point. Huh.. no wonder my stomach felt like it had an orange in it.. it had an orange in it. I felt better now for some reason, and it was enough of a boost to keep me going.

During the final miles of the run, you run across these beach sand sections. That sand sucked what little life was left in me, out of me as I staggered through the Kansas beach. Yeah.. I had to go to Kansas to enjoy a run on the beach. It was hard. Demoralizing and great training. I hung on tight. 2 miles out, I took the headphones off and enjoyed the quiet serenity of the grasslands. I listened as the wind crashed the tall stalks of gras together.. go beautiful. What a great day.

I ran up that final hill and finish in 10:16. Eighteen minutes slower than last year and finish in 5th place (6th last year). I’ll take it. I gave it all I had an pushed to see what I could do. You never know unless you try. I’m happy that after laying it all out there, giving it hell, falling apart, 2 miles naked, a scorching sun, and beach sand.. I was still able to finish top 5 and only 18 minutes slower than last year. I’ll take that as a victory, and welcome the beginning of a new season of Ultra.

5th Place our of 20 Finishers.
I love the Ultrasignup rankings. I’m the guy with a 66% ranking nestled in between the guys in the upper 70’s and 80s, (#Sandbagger) which once again proves that the rankings aren’t worth a hill of beans.