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.