It's a seven hour drive, and we rolled into Omaha just before 6:00 pm, picked up our packets, and met some of our Kansas friends for a bite to eat. A HUGE storm invaded Omaha just as we were checking into our motel, and we waited it out while our car was rocked by the wind. Omaha had been rained on all week, and flood warnings were in place. Friends on Facebook wished us "happy swimming". But I knew that the race course at Schramm State Park (20 miles SW of Omaha) was actually on the side of a hill with only the start/finish on flood prone ground. Turns out, the heavy rain was not enough to cause any standing water at Schramm.
The race course was a figure "8" loop of 3.25 miles, and each lap was ran in the opposite direction. My race started at 7:00 am, the 6 hour (which Dana was doing this year) started at 1:00, and the three hour started at 4:00 pm. This allowed all races to end at the same time. While a few 12 hour runners called it a day after a few laps, this infused a new wave of runners in two different waves during the day.
RD Scott Giddings is a man of many talents. He always seemed to have a smile and a few words for all of his friends, and I think he considers everyone a friend. I know how busy he must have been, but he made time to visit with most everybody. Myself--I'm usually a gripy RD on race day.
We checked in before the race, and were given a pink bracelet, which signified whether we were on an odd or even loop. After each loop, everyone got a different colored bracelet that told course marshals which way they should be running. This worked flawlessly--I never heard of anyone going the wrong way.
I wandered around before the race chatting with friends old and new (most were new friends.) It was super humid, and the forecast had mentioned a good round of storms, so I was considering not even bringing my phone or camera. I decided on bringing my iPhone in a baggie.
The start/finish aid station was stocked to the max. I surveyed the offerings and saw that they had everything I would ever need--and more. The usual fare, with added bonuses of watermelon and pickles. My favorite aid station concoction lately is an Oreo cookie with a pickle slice. Rocket fuel!!
But wait!! There was more!! Another table had dozens of cupcakes (which were Delicious) and later had several pies, amazing "death by chocolate" cookies, and believe it or not--baklava!!! I made an amazing discovery that two of these cookies propelled me exactly 3.25 miles which was perfect because that landed me right back in front of this table!!
We started right on time at 7:00 am. I was in the middle of the pack, but adjusted my position to near the back. I wanted to just run how I felt. and right now I was just trying to find a pace that felt good--and hopefully that would have a bit of forward progress. It worked out and the 12 hours of shuffling had began.
The GOATz (Greater Omaha Area Trailrunnerz) run at Schramm Park a lot, and they have cleanup days and do trail work on a regular basis. They had spent a day a few weeks back putting down chat on the trail to help with erosion. This chat kept 99% of the route from being a muddy mess. Despite the barrage of rainfall, almost all of the way could be run with clean shoes--not that that matter much to a trail runner! (Notice I said 99%, and almost all of the way--more on that later.)
Some people might ask is it gets boring running the same loop over and over again. To me--no. I run without music, and usually run alone and I never get bored. Running each loop in opposite directions means you see your friends and competitors all day long. I uttered "good job, good work, way to go, looking good, woo hoo, nice pace" hundreds of times. As I got tired, it turned into more of a jumbled slur "way to job, looking swerk, nice good." But I fed off of these hundreds of words of encouragement. I made myself TRY to look good when a possible "looking good" was coming.
The course had several landmarks. The turn into the woods, the top of the first climb, the aid station, the archery range, the three bridges, the stairway, and "What the Hill?" (More on that later.) It was just a short segment after another. All day long. Call me a simpleton but it never got old.
The Motivation Station was at the intersection of the figure 8. We hit it at 1 mile, and again about a mile or so later. That put us about a mile and a half from the start/finish. I never drained a water bottle even though the temps got up to 92°.
Just before hitting Motivation Station the second time we came to a little jeep road that connected us back into the figure 8. This little used path did not get the benefits of a gravel coating, and being a but troughed out, it was a mud slalom. Nice clay based slick shoe sucking slip sliding slush mud. Any momentum you had stopped here. Some runners took it upon themselves to make their own trial through the weeds and trees. There was nothing in the rules that prohibited this, and since I am no fan of mud, I finally after 4 laps, did this.
Scratching my way around the corner, was Motivation Station. Workers there offered encouragement, water, laughs, photo opportunities, and Di and I had a sexy leg rematch. Her words--"Legs (Ken) and I have a rematch. He tried to have a leg up on his competition. Troy didn't even bother to give an effort. I'll call this a tie between Ken and I based upon his creativity." There you have it--I tied in a sexy leg contest!!
Leaving the mud slalom meant 5 pounds of contact cement of your soles which gathered gravel with every step. The roots and trees for the following 11/4 mile were coated with scraped off mud.
All day lap after lap, it was encouragement and high fives from friends. It was hard to tell who was ahead or behind you, other than the super speedy dudes and chicks. The awesome thing about trail runners is that even the leaders and elites have an encouraging word. Near the end of the loop was a super steep descent that was an ascent every other loop.( More on that later.)
Once off the steep descent we ran by some old fish hatchery ponds. Strangely enough, I briefly got off course here twice--not that is was not marked adequately. I was just putting my head down and shuffling and made a wrong turn. Cost me about 50 yards of extra mileage. BONUS! :-) The sun came out around 11:00 and the heat began to rise. This section was all in the sun, as well as a 1/4 mile of pavement to the finish line.
Blame it on fatigue, the heat, or the mystique, but this hill is a beast.
Halfway up, there is a tree growing out of the road. More than once, I grabbed this tree, held on, and gasped for air.
My buddy Jason told me after my 9th lap that I had to get in 12 laps in order to get a medal. YIKES. That was theoretically possible, but I had no cushion and needed to pick up the pace to insure I reached cutoff. The direction of loop 10 meant going UP "What the Hill?" WOW. I was baked by the time I reached the top, but I made myself settle right into a jog. I ran that loop in 58 minutes, and needed some help cooling down. Thank you, Larry. I hoped I had bought enough minutes that I could make it. The next loop, including my cool-down time, was 1:04. The rules allowed you to go out on one more loop if you finished by 6:30 pm, which I did with 6 minutes to spare. RD Scott Giddings told me I'd need to finish that last loop by 7:30 though, and I knew I had my work cut out.
I had to climb the awful hill, but I made myself run the last little bit of it. My legs were wobbly, but I made them jog. Surprisingly, there were still a lot of runners on the course doing just what I was doing--trying to tack on some more miles. The shadows were getting longer and it seemed to cool down ever so slightly in the dense woods.
I even felt a breeze fading it's way through the trees. Someone I found some run that I did not know I had. Running the course in this direction seems to have more gradual downhill, and I focused on stretching my stride out about half a foot-length, I thought about speeding up my leg turnover and might have actually done so.
Blazing speed?? Well, it seemed fast to me at the time.
I took a few pictures early on, but most of these are borrowed from the GOATZ page on Facebook. Colleen Duda (left) and Di Liska (right) took a bunch of them. They are fun volunteers and were at Motivation Station for much of the day. Deb Bahr and Brenda Orr also took a few of the ones above--I'm just not sure which ones. Thanks for sharing.
Jason Dinkel provided this course elevation profile. It resembles a crosscut saw blade, or a row of shark teeth. My legs ache just looking at it.