Inaugural FlatRock 100K Trail Run
Saturday/Sunday April 28th & 29th, 2007
by Ken TZ Childress (later in 2012 knighted Sir Cargo)
Last weekend I ran in the inaugural Flat Rock 100K in Independence, Kansas. To toot my own horn, I finished 3rd. To put that in perspective, there were just seven starters, and only three finishers. Is it no wonder that 33% on the finishers were named Ken Childress? But enough silliness. I'll tell you about the grueling race.
The Flat Rock 50K was my 1st ultra attempt, back in 2003. At that time, I had ran a 20K, a 1/2 marathon, a 25K trail run (McMurtry) and the OKC Marathon. So in September 2003, I toed the line at my 1st 50K. I had heard tales of how hard this race was, and that it was called "the Bloody Trail" and the slogan was "If you're looking up, you're going down." After breaking 4 hours in my first marathon, I was confident of finishing under 5 hours in this 50K....after all, it was only another 5 miles, right? As I remember, I hit the 1/2 way point of the race in just under three hours, and was a little disappointed in that. I then popped 2 Advils, and immediately got sick. I ended up walking quite a bit, and finished the 50K in 7:53. I had a lot of runners pass me in the last few miles, and I vowed to go back the next year to improve on my time. I have been back to Flat Rock every September since then, and every year I have finished slower. It is a very rocky course, and yes, some of those rocks are flat. Many more are not. For a short legged dude like me, a 50K means about 66,000 steps.Of those 66,000 steps, around 50,000 steps are on rocks....harder than asphalt, harder than concrete, very lumpy, and about 1/2 of the rocks are loose. Little eyeball sized rocks will roll and skid under your feet. Other fist to skull sized rocks will roll under your feet. Tombstone sized rocks will roll and pivot under your feet. This makes it impossible to get into a rhythm. You have to look at where every foot will fall, and failing to do this will most likely lead to a fall, and a fall here most likely will be on ROCKS! Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Every year in September I swear, after finishing the race, I will NEVER do another. But Crafty Eric Steele, the Flat Rock RD and marketing guru made a proposition that anyone who finished 10 consecutive Flat Rock 50Ks, will receive a membership into the Flat Rock Hall of Pain which provides a lifetime bib and entry to as many Flat Rocks as he/she wants to run. Hmmm....50 to 70 dollars a year for 10 years to run on rocks gets me a lifetime ticket to run more miles on rocks. What logic! Only a fool would fall for that. I have ran 4, and number 5 is next September.
The past couple of years, some of the die-hard Flat Rock ultra-idiots started talking about running a 100K, finishing the horrendously hard 50K, and then turning around and doing it all again. I thought that was the most insane thing I ever had heard, and vowed to NEVER run such a masochistic race. I told Dana and my ultra-friends to slap me, lock me up, or break my legs, if I ever even entertained the idea of trying such an impossible race. But Mr. Steele mailed out a flier to all eligible runners promising a 1/2 price 50K entry fee, a membership to his "Friend's of Flat Rock" society, and entrance to the 100K. I'm a sucker for a bargain. So, for 35 dollars, I got entry to 2 races. Look at the money I saved!!
My lackadaisical/idiotic training and racing schedule had me running a 50K 2 weeks before this race, and another 50K the week before. I did rebound from both of these races fairly quick, but I probably was not at 100% last weekend and obviously I was not running 62 miles for a PR anyway. Johnny Speed stayed home in the closet, and the Zombie was running this day. Now of the 6 other runners, one was Paul Schoenlaub, who won the 50K in Arkansas that I had ran the previous week. He has ran the Grand Slam, and is gunning for the Rocky Mountain Slam this year. Another runner was Dennis Haig, who has 11 consecutive Flat Rock 50Ks to his credit, and runs quite a bit quicker than I. Another runner was Teresa Wheeler, a tall lean woman who looks like a track star. She won the Flat Rock 50K last year. Jim Perry, from Enid Oklahoma was there. I have ran a lot of races with him, and he is always a few minutes ahead of me. Chad Flint, a guy about my age or maybe a little older, was a familiar face, but I did not remember if he was in my league or not. The 7th runner was none other than Mr. Eric Steele himself. He never runs the 50K because his race directing duties keep him stretched pretty tight, but since this race was real low keyed, he was giving it a go. I do know he is a talented runner, and I imagined he would finish a strong 2nd to Paul. I was sure of all the runners, I would finish last. I had no problem with that. I just wanted to finish under 24 hours, which was the time limit.
The race start was very informal....no Star Spangled Banner, no prayer, no starting pistol, just a go. We ran out on paved roads for a mile, and then back to the trails. The road section was to make the race the correct 62 miles. I started out at a fairly brisk pace, and actually led the race for about a hundred yards!! After 2 miles, I was right in the middle of the pack....3 runners ahead, 3 runners behind. On the trails, I focused on running very light and easy. I wanted every footfall to be soft. I looked out for sharp pointy-side-up rocks, and made sure I didn't step on them. One by one, the 3 runners behind caught up and passed, and I was all alone, but moving along at a steady trot. There were no aid stations between the ends of the 15 mile trail. There was only one place in the 15 mile stretch for crew members to meet their runners at the 9 mile point. So, I had stops at 11, 17, 23, 32, 41, 47, 53, and then at the finish. The 9 mile stretches with no aid were almost too far. The 2nd time I traversed the 9 miles, I ran with my camelback and a water bottle. I drained the water bottle, and almost all of the camelback. The temps hovered in the low 80s in the afternoon, and I stopped at several streams and wet my face, hair, arms, and hat in the clear cold water. That kept me from melting down. I find it amazing that the hills were way steeper on the way back. I had always thought that was merely fatigue, but on the 3rd leg the hills seemed easier again. Truly, I believe the hills are much easier going out than coming back.
There was a 10 hour time limit to finish the 1st half of the race which I thought would be no problem, but normally in the September 50K each half is 15.5 miles but because of the 2 mile road section tacked on to the 1st of the race, the actual distance was 17 miles. I was running about 13 minute miles and that extra 1.5 miles made the difference in my not making the cut-off. But that's my bad! I had brought Alex Eaton on the trip to pace me for the 2nd half of the race, and I knew he was going to be so disappointed not getting to run. When I realized that I was near missing the cut-off, I pushed as hard as I could, but the last 3 miles of the course are just too rugged to run continuously and I watched my watch as my time expired. However, when I came in, 20 minutes past the cut-off, Eric told me I could go back out if I wanted. I was glad that he allowed me to continue, but if he had told me NO, I would have hung my head, but would have been relieved that I could stop torturing my feet. I was pooped, even though I had taken it easy. But with a pass continue, providing I could make the 47 mile cutoff, I felt revved to run. I ate a bite or two, drank an ensure, grabbed my light, and Alex and I set out. Alex decided the best way to pace me was for him to run ahead, find the trail by looking for the blue blazes, and all I had to do was follow him. It was a system that worked, and he helped me run faster than I normally would. When I walked, he had me walk at a brisk pace. My power walking was almost as fast as my slow running. Also, walking uses different muscles in the legs than running, and as a result, I was conserving what energy reserves I had. We began the second half of the race with a little bit of time to make up, and surprisingly, we did the 3rd leg of the race slightly faster that I did the 2nd leg. We just barely made the 47 mile cut-off time, and had 7 1/2 hours to do the last 15 miles. that meant that barring an injury, we could walk it in. We did a fair share of walking, but ran every chance we had. My rules, if there are big jagged rocks, we walked. Hills, we walked. Every thing else, we would shuffle/run. With the 24 hour cut-off in mind, I monitored our pace and we chiseled out a nice time cushion.
Along the way, we saw some creepy things. Just before dark, a brown squirrel fell out of a tree right beside me, right behind Alex, and took off running like a bat out of hell. I was telling Alex how freaky that was, and 15 seconds later, a gray squirrel fell out of a tree just ahead of Alex. What are the odds?? I explained to Alex that they were probably talking to each other and decided to scare the sh!t out of a couple of crazy trail runners. We saw a couple of armadillos. They make a lot of racket in the woods, even more so at night. While splashing water on my face, I looked up to see a small copperhead sunning on a rock 2 feet from my head. At night, we saw some eyes that appeared to be about 8 feet above the ground. I am sure they were elk, and maybe they were standing tall up on a rock or something. About 50 vultures circled us during the late afternoon hours. I am sure they were waiting for one of us to drop. At night, they all roosted in trees overlooking the lake. We heard them rustling and sometimes flopping around. They are a clumsy bird, and it sounded like they were beating themselves up trying to gain flight out of the trees. There were quite a few back packers and campers on the trail. I startled a lizard in the late afternoon just as I met 4 hikers. This lizard took off and ran several yards into the brush....on his hind legs! The hikers saw it too. This creature looked like those mini-dinosaurs that were in the 1st Jurassic Park movie. Speaking of back packers, Alex and I were unknowingly 20 yards from a camp after dark just as I was talking about my morning poop experience. I was complaining about my meager pansy turds, and then we were face to face with 4 campers!! Alex and I laughed about that for a mile or so!!
I never really had a bad spell in the race. I kept saying "the trail has been very good to me". I only fell once, and it was hardly a fall at all. No blood, no mud. I never had nausea problems like I have had in the past. I drank plenty, and doubled up on electrolytes during the day. I ate a little at the aid stops, and when I saw Dana. I drank a couple of Mt Dews. Dana brought me an ice cream Snickers at mile 47, which was heaven. I was sure we would finish in right at 23 hours. But to my surprise, we crossed the finish line at 22:46. Everyone was asleep, but Paul Schoenlaub unzipped his tent and stuck his head out to congratulate me. Eric stirred from his slumber and woke up to record my time. Paul got up and added some kudos as well. They are a couple of class guys.
As I said, there were 3 finishers.
I caught Jim Perry at about mile 30, but would not have had he not had bad cramps probably from an electrolyte imbalance. Teresa Wheeler twisted a knee. Eric had ran a 50 miler 2 weeks earlier and was still hurting from that. Chad Flint had bowel issues, and quit while the quitting was good. he did come out to the turn-around and waited with Dana until I came through which I appreciated.
I could have not finished this race at all without my pacer Mr. Alex Eaton. He got me to the finish line with time to spare. I would have drowned in my own pity party in the wee hours of the morning without him. Also, I am in awe of the best crew babe on Earth. Dana has the mobile aid station thing down to a science. I think Paul had some crew help. I don't know how Dennis Haig went the distance without some crew help.
I am glad I did this race. I needed a 100K on my list of races done. But will I ever do this race again? Oh heck. I'm a TATUR. Maybe. But if I ever seriously start talking about doing it, slap me, lock me up, or break my legs.
[Comments today: I have squawked for 5 years for the powers that be (the esteemed King Eric "Epic" Steele) to roll out another 100K. He even had an online poll, and had an OVERWHELMING wave of support to have another 100K event. (Of course he claims that 85 of the 119 yes votes were from me.) But with the creation ofEpic Ultras, the 100K was a natural fit. And why not make it a little better than the old run-of-the-mill 100K, and make it a 101K?? I am stoked to do this race. Got my name on the list, and if anything, will approach the starting line with Über-confidence. This course has beat on me, but never beat me up. I know every loose rock, every hill, and all two of the short flat non-technical stretches on the course. Bring it!! And I would love to see 100 people running it with me.