I had my sights set on this race since I jumped into the Kansas Fall Ultra Extravaganza last year 3 weeks after Arkansas Traveler and PR’d. Prairie Spirit and KFUE are on the same course with the same layout. It’s flat and mostly dirt and packed gravel. It’s an out and back course from Ottawa to Iola, Kansas. In the Fall Extravaganza I placed second by 5 minutes. I had closed what was a 35 minute gap in the last 10 miles to 5 minutes. I didn’t even realize I was that close at the end because I didn’t see the leader and his pacer’s headlamps ahead. But they saw me coming! I was hoping to use what I learned in the fall and beat my time on this one.
I was off of work on Friday for Spring break so I made my final preparations. I would be doing this race without crew or pacers so I had to map out how many drop bags I would need, what I would need in them, and which aid stations I would need them. I double checked my bags and began the 3.5 hour drive at around noon. This race adventure started on the way there. I was talking to my mom on the phone and ended up speeding through one of those goofy spots where it rapidly goes from 65 to 45. Yeah, I got a ticket. Great. Strike 1. I hoped that this was not an indication as to how the rest of this week would go.
I got to the Econo lodge at about 3:30 planning to check in and maybe take a nap. Check-in was supposed to be available at 2:00. Packet pickup started around 5 so I had some time. My room was not ready and wouldn't be until right before packet pickup. No nap for me. Strike 2. I decided to go and pick up a few things I needed from a local grocery store. Then, I was able to check in and go to packet pickup.
After dropping off my drop bags and visiting with a bunch of our Tulsa people at packet pickup, I left to go have dinner with a few out of town friends at Applebee’s. We ended up sitting at a table next to fellow Altra Red Team member, Kristina, who was running her first 100 miler and was there with her husband and crew. We all had a great time visiting. We were both going to be running in the Altra Torins. I felt like they would be the perfect combination of cushion and thickness for the packed gravel and dirt we’d be running on. I was right! They were perfect!
After dinner, I headed back to the hotel to try and get some rest. I Facetimed with my Jen, rechecked my gear, set the alarm for 3:30AM, and got to bed. Notice I didn’t say “sleep”. I laid down at about 10pm, but didn’t sleep well at all. Finally, just before the alarm went off, I just got up and started getting ready. Start time for the 100 miler was 6am. I like to get up with enough time eat, drink some coffee, and let nature call. Also, I like to take a shower before I get dressed. I figure since I’ll be grimey for the next 18-24 hours, it’ll feel good to start off clean. All that done, I left for the 5 minute drive to Celebration Hall in Ottawa. The weather was in the 50s, but very windy. I went back and forth on whether or not to wear long sleeves. I ended up starting in short sleeves, but was glad I had stashed a long sleeve shirt in my first drop bag because the temperature dropped a little and the wind kept blowing hard.
Mile 90 photography was taking pictures for this race (they do amazing work!). They did pre-race(pre-torture) portraits of each runner. During the race, they were out on the course taking pictures. Then, they would get a picture of you as soon as possible after you finished. As Rick said, “Showing the story of the race in pictures.” I like it. I got my pre-race portrait taken and just did a mental checklist. My original plan was to start out a little slower than I did in the fall version of this race and hope to maybe only slow down a little and keep a solid pace during the second half. I’m competitive when I run, but mostly with myself. However, if I see an opportunity during a race to push and advance my position, then I’ll use it as motivation and go. When I looked at the list of entrants on Ultrasignup, There were some really solid runners I knew I would need to look out for on this race. The plan was to just run my race and see what I could do.
We lined up at the start and exchanged some mindless chatter. The countdown came and we were off! Immediately the #1 ranked guy on the Ultrasignup list took off ahead of everyone. I followed. My goal was to just keep him in my sites….within striking distance. It was still dark and would be for about the next hour and 15 minutes. I opted to just use a cheap handheld LED light for this short time. The trail was easy to follow and there was enough moonlight to run without a light. Which is what I did so #1 wouldn’t know how close I was. We ran through the first 2 aid stations. I wore my Ultimate Direction FKT pack with a 70oz bladder. My electrolyte mix was 3 scoops of Tailwind and a scoop of salt sherpa. In past races I would only use 2 scoops, but I would have to fight to get calories and boost my electrolytes. Three worked really well. The lead guy had a 16 oz water bottle in hand and a belt that held another bottle and a big zip pouch for other supplies. I figured my stops might take a little longer to refill my hydration bladder, but he would have to refill more often. As we cruised on, his lead increased. We were running sub 8 minute miles. I was okay with it because we had a strong tailwind. I knew I needed to get the time I could on the way out because I’d be fighting the wind on the way back.
My hydration plan for this course was to empty and fill my hydration bladder every 16 miles. I would drink more if I needed at the aid stations in between and adjust as temperatures rose. It worked pretty good and I only had to adjust a few times. As with all ultras, there are highs and lows. I hit a low between miles 25 - 35. I was still running well, but I was just feeling it and my mood was funky. By mile 35, I was feeling good again, physically but I had lost site of the guy in first place. Oh well, I’m running my race and I’ll see what happens. There are still a lot of miles to go. At about mile 40, I saw someone walking on the trail about ¾ of a mile ahead. It’s an open trail with people walking, riding bikes, and running various sections, so this wasn’t unusual. As I got closer, I realized that it was the 1st place runner. He was just walking along the trail. When I got next to him, I asked him if everything was okay. He said, “My quads are cramping!” I told him that I hoped it eased up for him. I was super pumped to be in first place, but I sincerely hoped that he would be able to finish the race. I’ve had to DNF before and it stinks. I don’t wish that for anyone.
So, there….I was in first place! Exciting and it changes things! Over the past few miles I had noticed someone gaining on me from behind. When I was filling my hydration at one of the unmanned aid stations, he was close enough that I lingered to run with him for a bit. We chit chatted and I found out that he was one of the other runners from Ultrasignup that I was really solid. He was running strong but I still felt really good. So I slowly pulled away. By the time we hit the turn around to head <50 miles back to the finish, he was a few minutes behind me. Now, running into the wind, I just needed to push and keep moving. My pace had slowed, but I still felt strong. I felt the beginning of a cramp in my left calf at one point, but doubled down on electrolytes for a bit and it eased up. As the time went on, I would look back and although the distance increased, I could still see him back there. I needed to be smart the rest of this race. Should I just run hard for a bit and lose him? Should I save something for a possible kick toward the end? I wonder what this guy’s got left in the tank?
I just kept plugging away. At the 61 mile aid station, some of my friends from Tulsa helped fill my hydration bladder while I drank some potato soup. I’ve run 100 milers before without music or headphones, but I decided to listen to an audio book. A few years ago, I read Finding Ultra, by Rich Roll and decided listen to it this time. So, for the rest of the race, I listened to Rich Roll read his book. It gave me something to keep my mind occupied. I would still be aware of what was going on in my body and my nutrition and hydration, but I could just drift off in my head while running. As he told his story, I was reminded of how much we are capable of. He quoted David Coggins a few times which is always motivational. Anyway, the sun went down and I was still plugging away. I had been running alone so much in this race and the book was company.
At the aid stations, I’d ask for broth or soup. The aid stations were awesome and always delivered! When the sun and temperature go down, chicken broth and potato soup are AMAZING pick-me-ups! The warmth, salt, and calories go down so good. Love it! I still felt good and was trying to run with as few walk breaks as possible. I’d walk for about 20 yards while I drank or ate something, but then I’d think of the guy behind me and take off again. When it got real dark, I put on my headlamp and chased the illuminated circle on the ground. As the miles wore on, I was beginning to think I might actually win this race, but I’d make myself quit entertaining the thought. I was doing well and was on track for a big PR, but there were still miles to cover. I’d put my hand over the light and look back many times to see if I could see a headlamp behind me, but there was nothing. “Great!........Unless he’s running with his headlamp off! UGH!”
I distinctly remember reaching mile 90 and thinking, “Only 10 miles to go! It would really stink for someone to take it from me now!” I picked up the pace. At the 93 mile aid station in Princeton, I stayed just long enough to fill my bladder ½ way, drink some soup, have a short chat with the great folks there and get out! I shouted back to a family friend, Lynna, who was helping after her 50K, to text my wife that I was close and still in the lead. I was ready to be done! I mostly ran the rest of the way. Still looking back. Still feeling chased.
I remember the feeling when I started to see the lights from the city of Ottawa. I was so close. I looked back. No one behind me. I could see the bridge we’d have to cross under as we got into town. I looked back. Still no one. I got on the paved section and went under the highway and turned left on the trail to get on the last straight away. I looked behind me. Still no one. I just kept running. Then, I could see the inflatable arch with the words “Start/Finish” on them. Just a little more and I could turn left off of the trail and cross under it and I’d be done! I ran, turned left, I heard them call my name as the “First 100 mile finisher and new Kansas state record holder”, and ran through that finish line! I was finished! I HAD WON! I felt like I was smiling so big! Race pictures look like some sort of contorted, confused grin, but believe me, I was happy! Finishing time: 16:25:31 A big PR.
I got my buckle and award and took my post race portrait and sat there for a little while and tried to eat some of the great breakfast that was waiting for us. Then, the shakes and shivers started. If you’ve run a hundred miles, you know what I mean. The body settles down and you shiver, sometimes violently for a bit. I headed back to the hotel for a long hot shower. I laid down for a few hours, but was pretty sore and had jerky muscles in my legs. I couldn’t really sleep and was hungry so I packed up my stuff, headed back to the race to get my drop bags, eat more breakfast, and visit with others who were finishing. After a good time talking about the race with other finishers, I headed home to be with my family and get a nice nap in my own bed.
This was a very well organized race. Super aid stations. Great fellow runners. This is a great ultra for first timers. It’s flat and fast and crews have easy access at all manned aid stations. Also, as you can see, the pictures from Mile 90 are awesome! Thanks to everyone! On to the next adventure!
Gear used for this race:
Shoes: Altra Torin 3.0
Pack: Ultimate Direction FKT with 70oz bladder
Nutrition & Hydration: Tailwind, Cliff Shock Blocks, Cliff bars, and aid station grub.
Shirt and hat were from Feed Your Crazy (feedyourcrazy.com)