Monday, June 2, 2014

Flint Hills 40

In keeping with a systematic comeback to ultra running, I entered the Flint Hills 40 miler and ran fairly well this past weekend all things considered. It was a bit warm and humid (but hey, it's almost summer.) I am a solid month back to full-on training, and my knee has been holding up nicely. The 3-Day 100K left me thin king I could do more--so why not 40 miles on a rails-to-trails course?

I met a couple of GOATz friends before the race. Di and I chatted for a while before the race. She takes a LOT of pictures during the--far more than I do, and I know that might be hard to believe.

Soon enough--and quite promptly at 6:00 am, we were sent off. The first couple of miles were actually on the Prairie Spirit trail as it heads northward through Ottowa. This was a 2 mile gradual downhill grade, and bodybuilder seemed like they were running more of a half marathon than a 40 miler. My thoughts--why not go out a bit fast. I was gonna slow down whether I ran 10 minute miles or 15 minute miles. So why not put time in the bank and beat some of the afternoon heat? This was a splendid idea for about three hours when heat-up began.

My buddy Justin was the course rabbit, and course marshal. I wish he was running. We would have ran some miles together.

My morning pic of the grain elevators was a dud, so I flipped the sunset pic taken from the other side then night before. Either way--at sunrise or sunset, it was a beautiful sight.

About 2.5 miles into the race, we ran up on a levee (which eerily reminded me of the Mississippi River levee from a few years back. Big foot eating gravel. But this only lasted a mile when we got onto the Flint Hills trail for good.

The trail was about 6-8' wide for most of the way, and was 75% shaded under a heavy green canopy of trees. Despite the warmer day, the shade made it bearable especially in the early going.

Any rails-to-trails course has awesome bridges. I knew it coming in. This one was cool, but the granddaddy bridge was coming up.

I was mid-pack, but my pace was slowing slightly. I knew that because I would occasionally get passed. No worries though. I had no idea what my actual pace was (and I really didn't care) because my fully charged Garmin was left on, and was nearly dead at the start of the race. Running without it was awesome. In a long race, my pace is a decaying number--a ugly sight. I have removed that nasty pace number from my main screen, leaving only the time of day and distance ran. But today, I only had a wrist watch that was 3-4 minutes slow (and too much of a pain to reset.)

This course could be a mobile clinic for photographers. It was easy to get a good picture--just point and shoot. The colors of the landscape did all the work for you. This was just before Rantoul (a town with the population of 19 or 20) where the 13.1 mile aid station was. This signaled the race as being a third-ish of the way through. I hit Rantoul in 2:39--things were going good. I visited the porta-john, and I left my speed sitting on the throne. I just had no get-up-and-go after that. Still moving well, but mostly shuffling.

Rick Mayo was on the course taking pictures--and he always does a FANTASTIC job. Thanks for not making me look fat.

The big bridge just before Rantoul (or just after on the return trip.)

No photo-shopping necessary. The blues, browns, and greens were vivid.

Just past Rantoul--where we had to go out 6.8 miles and then back--had far less shade. This beautiful field went on forever--more than a mile--but was a gradual downhill going out.

On my return trip, I passed Di on her way out. She was in last place, but well within the time limits--and at this time she was feeling great. I heard later that she was having major nausea issues (probably electrolytes problems) and had to drop. I was sad for her.

Here's my big field on the way back. Now a gradual uphill, and a slight tailwind that you could not feel at all. Zero shade. It felt like I was in a convection oven. Every now and then, I'd get passed. I had not peed even once since the race began, but was drinking a lot of water and taking a SaltStick every 45 minutes. I felt actually pretty good.

At Rantoul, Dana (my DW and crew babe) was waiting. I had a chocolate chip granola bar, a sandwich, Gatorade, 5 Hour Energy, pickle juice, and I am sure a bunch of other stuff. I left my glasses, pocketed some Shot Blocks, and headed out. 13.1 miles to go. Shuffle shuffle shuffle.

The trail-head heading back at Rantoul. The little white dot in the middle of the trail was the light through the tunnel of trees.
I wrote this in my mind as I ran, and recreated it on the way home on Notes on my iPhone.
Excerpts from mile 34-ish
Mile 34ish. It's hot but the trail is beautiful. My Garmin was dead at the start. My phone was dead due to taking a 30 minute video of the inside of my pocket. Don't know how far I have to go. Don't know how far to the next aid station, but I'm carrying two bottles so plenty of water. Very low on energy, but this is what I came for. Walking is probably a 20 m/m pace or slower. The zombie shuffle feels like a 15-16 m/m pace and it's easier. The only sound is from the wind on the trees which would feel good 50 feet lower, the shuffle through the gravel left right left right, and not deep not shallow breaths--breathe in for two steps breathe out for two. Onward. Right now, there's no place I'd rather be. 

I was confused as to how much further I had to go, and was surprised to see the last aid station 3.4 miles from the end when I thought there was another aid station that I had to come to. Great news though. The levee was not kind. There was no shade for the rest of the race. When I reached the Prairie Spirit Trail and headed south, I had a nice headwind. But the whole way form here was a gradual uphill. Not enough to make you walk, but too much to run. That's where the zombie shuffle works best.  17 city blocks. But these blocks were long. I bet those 17 blocks were well over 2.5 miles.

Thanks to the camera crew for taking 17 pictures of me. I really looked like I was more than ready to be done. Truth be known--I was.

My buddy Eric handed me my buckle and a 40 mile sticker. He's a great guy--puts on some great races. People just keep coming back for more. Thanks, my friend.

I feasted on watermelon and Gatorade, took a few silly pics with Di, who always takes legs pix after her races. It looks like we were in a sexy legs contest. I am proud to say I took second place.

A shower in the Celebration hall (I used all the hot water) and I was ready to head for home. Dana--saint that she is, drove most of the way while I tried to sleep, but gave up on the idea. Now, a couple of days later, I am still cussing going down stairs, but planning my next endeavor.


  1. Congratulations on a milestone race TZ!! You are the best race blogger ever.

  2. Nice job, TZ! Glad you're back! Hope to see you out on the trails soon.

  3. Thanks for this beautiful description. Any advice to a novice ultra runner and a first time FH40er as well?

  4. Mandy Hall and I are running this 40 miler on May 30! I am scared to death....but thrilled at the same time. Thanks for the pics and the blog!