This is the front that moved in on the race just as it started, and instead of it moving through in a west-to-east pattern, it drifted northeast, and stayed right on top of us for about 5 hours. I thought a brief shower would make the jagged rocks slick, and not much more, but 5+ hours of light but steady ran brought mudpits identical to those from last April.
Eric, wearing signature Sir Cargo shorts, gives out pre-race instructions. Basically, if you remember BLUE, you're good. It'd be tough to get lost at FlatRock. If you stray on one of the very few spur trailz, they are rarely traveled and fizzle out within 20-30 yards. The main trail, while rugged, it easily recognizable, well traveled, and well marked in BLUE blazes.
After a 1/4 mile of pavement, we were on the trail and climbing the longest ascent of the day. The above pic is one from three years ago, when I was having camera problems. I edited the pic to make it more to my liking, and recycle it almost every year.
Part of my strategy this year, since I was questioning my ability to finish in the time limit--was to leave my camera. I probably burn a good 30 minutes each year taking pictures. So, the majority of the pictures here are borrowed from the FlatRock Collection. A link to this compilation is at the bottom of this post.
I was in last place to start--my usual placement. After the first aid station, I was feeling good, and slipped into a slightly quicker pace. I caught up with a few people, and eventually Melissa Bruce. She has an awesome blog, and I can't wait to read her report. We ran together for a few miles, and caught up with some people. My competitive juices started flowing, and just before reaching thew second aid station, I picked upo the pace and started passing runners.
The mud was bad on the way out, but I tried to run through it and ignore it. I would look for foot placement on top of any rocks I could find, and just to the side of the trail. Keeping a steady pace was my goal, and it worked well for 10 miles.
Usually people cuss the rocks, but on a muddy day, MORE rocks would be a good thing. I hit Dana's Aid Station (formerly Oak Ridge Aid Station, but the good King renamed it this year) and was on a high. Making the time cutoff at the turnaround was a sure thing, and I was even thinking about a PR for the course--foolish thoughts I know as it would have been necessary to run a negative split. I caught up with Paul Rejda and Tammy Winn, and ran with them to the turnaround. I knew I was way out of my league by catching them.
I got in and out of there quick, and headed back for home. I'm not gonna say the wheels fell off, but I did slow down considerably. The first 3 miles on the way back are tough. The mud seemed like it had been whipped up into a froth, and was slick and nasty.
Since I basically run like a duck, each step slides sideways as much as I move forward.
I was passed by a few people, but tried to shuffle. Jason Dinkel and Adam Monaghan passed me, and I filed in behind them until the last aid station. There, I got my usual beer, and drank about half of it on the go. The last four miles are TOUGH. They seem so easy on the way out when you have fresh legs, but the rocks are jagged, there are several ups and downs only to go back up, and back down--then up again. What you can jump over earlier in the day isd a hands and knees scramble. The Devil's Butt Crack is a definite milestone. It's tough to get through after 29 miles, but once there, you are so close to home. I had mentioned to Jason that I thought we could make the original 10 hour cutoff. (Eric had given an extra hour to the time limit due to the adverse trail conditions.) I made a break for it, and ran/shuffled as quick as I could. I should have eaten a few calories at the last aid stop and felt like I was running on fumes. I caught up with another group, and walked along behind them for about a mile until we got off of the trail and onto the road. I should have politely asked to pass--but didn't. Once on the road, I ran but finished just barely over the 10 hour mark.
An exuberant crowd was at the finish line to greet the weary ultra finishers. They even showed their enthusiasm by doing the "wave".
I thought it'd be sexy to take of my shirt and do a victory lap, but after crossing the finish line,. I decided the lap was more than I wanted to do.
Feet and legs like this were the norm. It took me 15 minutes with a water hose to cut through the mud to even find my shoes. I threw my socks away, and by the water hose, there were several pair of discarded sicks. Epic mud.
Dana and I waited around for the last finishers. It was very near the end of the 11 hours, and still no Melissa. In the last 2 minutes of the race, 5 runners made it in under the wire. Melissa had met up with a three other runners, and kept pace with them (actually, they probably kept pace with her.) She knows the trailz better than probably anyone, since she , until just recently, lived in Elk City very near the west trail head. and ran here every week.
I was so proud of here. I had no doubt she'd finish, and I bet she knew she had it even though she was so close to the cutoff.
Melissa is in there somewhere being congratulated. If you look closely, you can see my pink flip flops. I forgot my bag of clean clothes, dry socks, and MY flips.
I looked at the results from last year with the trailz in dry conditions, and compared them to this year. I took 12 random runners who ran the 50K both years. A couple (like Candi and Zach) ran faster times in this years mud. Freaks. But averaging out the times of all 12 runners, the average finishing time was over 20% slower, and that was sue entirely to the wet and muddy conditions of the trailz. I am somehow pleased that I was 15% slower. I had to dig deep to find some sort of stat to hang my hat on.
Eric and Epic Ultras are famous for great aid stations and awesome volunteers. I'm proud to say that my wife Dana is one of the best. She has worked aid stations here almost ever since I have been running this race. She has learned a lot about crewing and aid stations here, and she has taught them a little too.
Tony Clark runs the turnaround aid station, and helps out in so many ways with this race, I'll be joining him in two weeks at the Heartland 100 where Dana and I will be working an aid station for 30 hours.
Warren Bushey is Eric's right hand man, and cooks all the pre-race grub (which I missed this year.) There are several other awesome peeps who work so hard to put this race on, and I should remember names better.
Hundreds more spectacular photos can be found here.