Monday, April 29, 2013

FlatRock 101K

I'll start out with crediting a couple of the pictures here to Epic Ultras. The one above is swiped via Google, and the one below is of my friend Epic Steele, the RD of the first ultra I ran (FlatRock 50K) back in 2004.

Eric for years held the 50K and 25K at the hiking trailz along the Elk City Reservoir just west of Independence Kansas. Rather than working tirelessly trying to make the event bigger (more people) every year, he spent his effort in making it better. Attendance did grow though as more and more people found this trail to be a supreme challenge, and the aid and finish line support amazing. After a last minute sellout in 2012, the 2013 event (to be held on October) sold out in 11 days after registration opened. Along the way, Eric along with the help of his girlfriend Polly, created Epic Ultras, showing his talent and versatility in putting on a variety of races of different distances. In January of this year, Winter Rock, a 25K/12K held at Elk City was a low-keyed event and was well attended for a first year event. Then, the inaugural Prairie Spirit 100 Mile/50 Mile gave new definition to the word "Epic". My PS 100 race report is here.

While the wrath of a late winter was unleashed on us at Prairie Spirit, we had rain and mud to deal with here. But we as trail runners aren't worried about a little mud, are we? The 101K (62.8ish miles) had a 24 hour time limit, with cutoffs after each 25K. 4:30 for the 25K, 5:30 to run the second 25ish K, and then 6:30 for the next 25ish K and 7:30 for the last--basically an extra hour of time for each crossing.

This snaggle-toothed profile, scary as it looks, is actually deceiving. Yes, there are many steep climbs--but going out, they are not a major hinderance. There are few if any over 100 feet, but after 3-4 hours of running, the climbs start seeming longer and far more frequent. Add in an abundance of rocks--big rocks, small rocks, crooked rocks, tall rocks--rocks that like to shred your feet, rocks that try to crack your teeth.

And so at 6:00 am, after a very short briefing, we were off. It was still dark, and while a lot of runners had their headlamps, I had a small clip-on LED light on my water bottle, which worked just fine. No bulky headlamp for me to carry all day. Once daylight was upon us, I settled in and enjoyed the run. In the early miles, the rocks are relentless, but on fresh legs and feet, you zip right over the tops of them--it's no big deal, and a delight to run. I did take a little extra caution where the rocks looked slippery, because a fall here gets bloody.

This is one of the highlights of the trail--a beautiful vista of Elk City Reservoir. I always take a picture here. The weather forecast had called for clearing skies and highs around 70°. That never happened. It stayed cloudy all day, and actually rained lightly for a while. I really don't think it got above 50°, but that was perfect for the runners. The aid station workers were a bit cold though.

All those low points on the elevation profile were creek bottoms, or drainages into the lake. Today, they were vibrant steams, wondrous to listen to as you approached.

For the first 4 or 5 crossings, I managed to tiptoe across on rocks, keeping dryish feet. But after a couple of knee deep crossings with no leapfrog rocks in sight, I plowed on in.

FlatRock actually has some nice smooth runnable single track here and there. But in spots like this, you had better be on the lookout, because there are hidden rocks put there when the earth was formed specifically to trip trail runners.

Another dry-foot water crossing. This water looked clean enough to drink, but I didn't try it.

A lot of the trail runs between these limestone formations. You'll run at the base of them, then climb to the top for a few hundred feet, and then descend again. Up, down, up, down.

I rolled into the Oakridge Aid Station aka Dana's Place. This was at mile 10, and Melissa (in the orange) was there helping out. She had agreed the night before, at the pre-race dinner, to pace me the last 10 miles. I was surprised to see here here at first, but as I ran on, I figured it out. Trail runners cannot stand to NOT be at a trail race that is close. (She lives only 2 miles from the west end of this trail.) Ida done the same thing. Thanks to Dana for doing an ultra herself--staying awake for over 24 hours helping out here, and doing double-duty being my crew babe as I passed through here 4 times. She made a huge pot of potato soup, which was premium fuel during my 2nd two pass-throughs. It was especially cool that Jason Dinkel and his daughter also helped out here all day and night, as Dana was recovering from a surgery two weeks ago, and probably shouldn't have been out here for such a long event.

Continuing on west, I came to one of the toughest parts of the course. The western end is a trail on steroids. Lots of that up/down/up/down crap. Quite a bit of trail along a river bottom that was muddy beyond belief, and then a crawl through a hollowed out bluff area that erodes a little every year. I like this section, but it is a slow go. Beside this deep grotto, there was a nice cascading waterfall that pictures cannot do justice. This is the best of the 6-7 I took.

Then, I got to crawl right through it, and did a butt slide down a mossy rock face and back up the other side.

I was so proud of myself after that, I took a self portrait. Handsome devil, eh?

From there, it was a short distance to the turnaround--not that I got there all that quick. I made the cut-off by around 15 minutes. Tony Clark manned this stop, and I was so intent on getting in and out, I forgot to take a pic. Sorry Tony--you know I love you.

On the return trip, I had hoped the trails might have dried, or at least drained off somewhat--but no such luck. If anything, the water was running off the inclines and pooling in the trailz. Plus, the continuous tromping of trail runners kept whipping up the mud. Conditions got worse and worse as the day and night progressed.

It is no exaggeration that there were miles of this. While I am in theory against running off the edge of the trailz, as it makes a nice narrow single track into more of a road, I did get up in the grass through a lot of this. But again, this is where you would kick a rock and bite the ground. I took three falls in the race--actually a fall or two under my average.

The conditions difinitely added to my time. I seriously think I could have finished 2 hours faster, and not been threatened by the cutoffs if the trailz were drier, but I am not gonna whine. The conditions slowed everyone's times.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a goofy stride. Besides over-pronating, I drag my feet and flair them out like a duck. You NEVER see a duck run in the mud, and I do well to make any kind of pace in muddy conditions. When I push off, my foot slides sideways, and a lot of my momentum is lost. Anyone wee all these sideways slides on the trailz?? Those were mine.

But after each muddy section, I ran my shoes through the wash. The cold water felt SO GOOD. SOme people think running with wet feet means blisters bigtime, but after my run of nearly 24 hours with wet feet, I had ZERO blisters!!

The last aid station on the way back. This is at mile 4 on the course, so I hit it again at mile 27, and at 35 and 58. I enjoyed a beer and a slightly stiffer drink on my return trips. Good fuel.

I made the cut-off at the start/finish by only 10 minutes. Still, this was under 10 hours, and I had 6:30 to do the next leg. No worries. Polly manned the aid stop,at least while I was there, and was awesome. I ate a small plate of spaghetti and meat sauce, and a roll, and headed out for another 50K. I wanted to get as many miles as I could before dark--not that I don't like night running, but I thought my daylight pace would be a little faster than my pace after dark.

No sign of sunny skies even late in the day. It actually rained just a little somewhere between 5:00 and 6:00.

And if anything, the mud was worse. From mile 5 on to the turnaround, most was walked. I ran where I could, but if it was a steep up or down, or muddy, I walked as quick as I could. At Oak Ridge, Melissa told me she was gonna do the ENTIRE last leg with me--15.5 miles. I was glad to hear that. I had been listening to my iPod, and that was helping, but some human conversation would be a real treat.

You see weird things during the night. I did a double take when I saw this image in the woods. I crept closer--thinking it must be simply a fungus on a tree. It sure looked like a devil or an angel or something. I was actually a bit spooked.

At the turnaround, I rolled in there with about 10 minutes to spare. Consistent. Consistently slower. Tony had a juicy hamburger on the grille waiting for me, I could have ate two--or three of them. Melissa was ready to roll, and a guy named Luke was running sweep. So a party of three headed out into the night, with 7:30 to go 15.5 miles.

More weird stuff--not far from the tree ghost.

We walked through all the harder sections on the west end, and in fact ran very little on the last leg. I ran a little here and there, but even the zombie shuffle was disappointingly slow. Even so, I was enjoying myself, knowing I was gonna finish. The conversation was good, and Melissa kept us laughing. We told stories of the strangest things seen on a run, pooping/peeing in the woods, running with serial killers, mean dogs, crazy barefoot runners (Luke runs barefoot), and I don't remember what all else. I told stories of my ghost girl at Rouge/Orleans, seeing spider eyes, and tall tales of gnarly blisters.

This bench is about 2 miles out. We had 50 minutes to get there, so we had Luke take our picture. I was going for the LED light shooting upward giving us a zombie-ish look, but the flash form my iPhone kind of negated the effect.

When we hit the last 1/2 mile, we had some wonderful asphalt to run on to the finish. It was still dark, but the moon was trying peek out. A thick fog bank drifted in obscuring the finish line, but we knew we were close. I told Melissa and Luke to turn our light out and try to sneak up on the finish. We would appear out of nowhere right as we neared the line. That almost worked out, but someone shined their LED up the road when we were about 100 yards out, and it picked up something reflective on our clothes. Eric and company was there whooping and hollering, and he has a laser light show shooting up at the finish arch. Very cool!!
I hugged Eric, kissed Dana, and embraced my belt buckle. I finished 13 minutes under the cutoff--which proved the cutoffs were very generous and very fair. I have a better race in me, but I am very happy with my performance here.

Warren Bushey, chef extraordinaire, served up a breakfast that put Denny's to shame. I scarfed up biscuits and gravy, sausage, and hash browns. Yum.

Dana took me back to our camping trailer, where I took a shower while she drove Melissa back out to her car. I drifted off to sleep happy, as the sun came up.

Read Melissa's report on her super well written and fun blog.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

My FlatRock 100K report from 2007

Inaugural FlatRock 100K Trail Run
Saturday/Sunday April 28th & 29th, 2007
by Ken Childress 

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 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. 
Paul Schoenlaub--16:18
Dennis Haig--17:43
Ken Childress--22:46 

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.

Signs and mile markers for Warrior Princess Trail Run

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A couple of my running buddies

Q&A with Spring 2013 Trophy Series Leaders - Page 3

Cameron (right) with older brother Brandon. Photo courtesy of Plate family
You're 11 years old! It's pretty amazing that you're running long distances on trails at your age. Do either of your parents trail run?
Yeah my dad does, and my brother does too. But my dad can't keep up with my brother and me. I like running in the woods better than the road or the track.
You ran two races in the same weekend at the Post Oak Lodge Challenge, is that right? Was your body tired on the second day?
Yes, both this year and last year, I ran both the 25K and the half marathon. It was hard because it was hilly, and hot the second day, and I also fell into a mud puddle. But I wasn't really that tired the second day.
What are your running goals?
Join my brother as a Marathon Maniac on April 20 at the Free State Trail Marathon in Kansas. I want to break the record for most trail marathons and ultras ever run, and also make the Olympics and run the Boston Marathon when I turn 18.

TZ's note: Since this interview, Cameron HAS attained Marathon Maniac status, and Brandon added another star to his status for running SIX marathons (and half of them were 50Ks) in 4 months!! These guys will be winning ultras routinely in a few years.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A great literary work

I have my name bronzed in Epic Literature thanks to the Epic Ultra Poetess herself! Grab a glass a wine, or a cold beverage of your choice and enjoy the crafting of rhyme--particularly the 10th stanza.

Bring A Light!

Better bring a good light
For this Epic Ultras event
You know you’ll need it
... While in the dark, feeling spent

This is no walk
In the park like some
This is a hardcore ultra
Guaranteed…you’ll have “fun”

In looking over the entrants
To see who we know
There are lots of you on there
And some new to our “show”

Michele McGrew from Oklahoma
She’s praying for no snow
For she was bombarded with it
At Prairie Spirit a few weeks ago

Dave Renfro from Arkansas
Can he pull this off?
He’s new to “The Rock”
Did he read the description and scoff?

Sean Randle from Alaska
And Jimmy Brown to boot
Do they know what they’re in for
Or did they think this sounded “cute?”

We’re not trying to scare you
With tales from FlatRock
But just remember this
We’ll be watching the clock

The first half will seem “easy”
As you will have sunlight
But the second half is sure to
Cause you a little fright

We definitely have some veterans
You might want to get to know
For they know this trail
Like the back of their toe

Ken Childress aka “Sir Cargo”
Is down for this show
I think he could shuffle this course
With no light aglow

We’ve also got running legend
“Sir Slam” Paul Schoenlaub
He’s a real speedster
And will finish without a scab

Grace Lin from New Jersey
I’m sure she’ll get a laugh
At our southern accents
Until the last half

When she’s cussing Kansas
And this Epic Ultras race
For she thought it would be a flat course
Well…that’s just not the case

This course is not flat
The rumors of Kansas are false
Hope you’re in for some climbing
On lots of flat rocks!

And if you get lost
Just watch for Coleen
For her hair will be brighter
Than any light you’ve ever seen

We’ve got a few from Nebraska
That will be on the scene
I sure hope they’re ready
For a course that’s obscene!

So the countdown has begun
To this Inaugural race
We’re super excited to see you
And the look on your face

As you cross the finish line
101K behind you now
And we hand you your buckle
As all you can say is “WOW!”

April 22, 2013