I decided to run the Heartland 50-miler this year as part of my training for the upcoming 100s I have on my plate. It's a race across the Kansas prairie, more specifically in the Flint Hills. My long-time friend Chrissy Whitten, by my request, is my running coach, and pacer for my goal race--the Tunnel Hill 100. Chrissy is a great motivator,, and has the gift of gab which for me is a requirement for good pacing. She has transformed herself into a running machine in the past few years and is faster than me in most if not all aspects of ultra running. Still, she is one who dedicates herself to encouraging when she is in that mode. Her help today was invaluable.
With a 6:00 am start, it was dark for the pre-race briefing, but was not so bad that we needed headlamps for the first few miles of the race--but a few runners still brought them. Chrissy is all about selfies and lots of pictures. I take quite a few pictures during a race as well, but I was able to tone my photo-op-stops down and focus more on keeping my feet moving. Most of the pictures in this post are hers.
This is about 2.5 miles into the run. Mike Rives ran with us for about 6 miles or so, and then shifted into another gear and pulled ahead. Chrissy and I were running well. We did not have a mile over 13 minutes until mile-9.
The sun was up. Not a cloud in the sky and the temperatures were heading into the 80s.
The prairie is big. It seems to go on forever. So big is the land and so far the horizon, that the sun has to expand itself to illuminate everything. Seriously, this is not a photo-shopped picture. (Would I do something like that???)
Every year that I have run Heartland 100 or 50, I have taken a picture here. Kansas is flat, but it has hills that lead to the sun.
Mike Rives and I chugged along toward the horizon, and never get there. This is one of the things that has messed with me mentally. Because at times you can see clearly for 8-10 miles with nothing but prairie, it seems like you are running but getting nowhere. In the Heartland 100, miles 28 through 43 finds you in a place with such wide open space that it seems like you never move. In this section, there are no fences along the roads, to trees, no telephone poles--only a cattle guard every 2-3 miles. It's even worse at night.
We hit the Battle Creek aid station and I grabbed a PBJ, some Pringles, and a couple of pickles. I had a lot of snacks in my pack--so much that the pack seemed lumpy and heavy. Later, I discovered that either I had spilled some water while filling my pack or had sweated enough to get five Whole Foods chocolate chip cookies wet. They were liquidfied mush, and quickly became field mouse food.
One can have a feeling of movement by counting the hills you top. But just over the summit is another hill, then another then another. Having company is such a plus.
The wind was at our back--a northwesterly breeze. I turned around and let the wind cool my sweaty body down. The wind always blows here. Two years ago, it was sustained 40+ mph, and running into the wind was like climbing a steep incline, even when you were actually going downhill. A few people returning from the 50K turnaround commented that the wind was brutal, but I have seen worse. If it kept us even slightly cooled when it got into the 80s. It did actually reach 87 on our return trip.
Chrissy, the quintessential selfie taker, took several with me lagging behind. I was on my game here and sprinted to be close enough so as to not appear to be dragging arse.
This is cattle country, but there are also horses. Mustangs maybe?
Tiffany Fiedler and Matthew Stroupe catch and pass us. This was Tiffany' first 50 miler, and she did awesome.
My favorite pic of the day!!! Chrissy took several of her waiting. I think that may be a hint of some kind? Now to be fair, I was hydrated well. And every now and then, I need to...well...you know. So at least SOME of these hurry-up picks are from my 60-second pee stops.
Cows. They eyeballed us like we were weird. The thing is, the only people they ever see is farmers driving by, and maybe their rancher person who brings them a huge round bale of hay. Ok, and these cows were probably not even old enough to have seen a runner before.
I didn't get a picture the Lapland aid station on the way out but did get pictures of the signs they had. This one was my fave.
I don't see how anyone could get lost on this course. There were signs at every intersection, and flour arrows in the roads. But, if someone did blow by a turn, they could go on and on and on for miles and miles.
And you thought there was no water on the prairie. Wrong. It seems to me that I got down into the water at one of the ridges on the way back the last time I ran 50 miles here.
A good place to twist an ankle. I have yet to do that, but these cattle guards definitely slow me down.
Every year, I expect to see Uncle Wayne's Sushi Bar open for business. It has yet to happen. This concrete building that has one end of if torn off looks so out of place. It looks like an old tire shop. A landmark or an eyesore?
Another creek so inviting that I wish I had stopped to soak my feet.
Even then, we were well within a 12-hour finish until mile 17 when things started slowing down a little. What causes a pace to decline? Well for me, socializing at aid stations (I tried to get in and out quickly), taking pictures (I kept that to a minimum), equipment malfunctions (more on that later), blisters or chafing (I never have issues with these by using the magic concoctions my DW makes), hills, and fatigue. It's fair to say that fatigue may have begun to be a factor here due in part to the hills. Every now and then someone would catch up and pass us. Joe Galloway caught us just before we reached the turnaround at Teeterville Road. We visited with Joe for a while, and Chrissy ran ahead to the aid station where her drop bag was to change shoes.
The Lawrence Trail Hawks ran this aid station, and it was awesome. They were so helpful--filled my hydration pack, gave me ice, watermelon, and BACON!!
Chrissy had a plan on the way back. Intervals. We would run from telephone pole to telephone pole, or to the next corner, fence post, road kill, muddy spot in the road. And by run, she meant more than the zombie shuffle. Shuffling was ok, but it had to be faster. Up until mile 26, we had been mostly in a 17-18 m/m funk. After mile 26, we reeled off 8 miles in the 14-16 minute range. She is a motivator, to say the least.
A road kill pic. This is the remains of good size snake. I am thinking it might have been a venomous one since the head was a bit wider. Or maybe it was just smashed out wider.
The good pace thing came to a halt around mile-35. We had a one-mile downhill that we ran with a decent effort, but we descended into a creek bottom where it was actually wooded, but the breeze was gone. After that, we had a half-mile uphill grind right out in the sun with no wind. Then a one-mile gradual downhill again with no wind. I was overheating badly. I was out of water, and when I reached the aid station, I needed to sit down in the shade and regroup. Lynna had driven back out following her 50K to get her drop bag, and I was so tempted to quit. AT the aid station, I sat down under the tent and drank some ginger ale and a whole bottle of water over ice. They filled my pack and stuffed it with ice. Chrissy was ready to go, sensing the time was ticking away.
I was slow to get moving and stopped to take a picture of the aid station since I had missed earlier. Trying to cross the road and get my pack on, I must have seemed to be in a stupor. I just could not get the thing on and the straps hooked. Something was wrong. Finally, I got the straps snapped, but it felt bunched up, and I could not get any water to flow through the tube.
So, I stopped again, took the bladder out, and it seemed like they had taken it out of the pack and put it in backward--an honest mistake. I got it back in, snapped the straps, and it stll would not let the water flow. Tried to rearrange things and it still would not work. Finally, after the 5th time messing with it, it worked. So, my time at the aid station and the time messing with my pack--I burned 30 minutes +/-. Not a complaint to anyone but myself. I can do better.
Picture was taken after what was my 4th or 5th time to take thigs off and then on.
At Battle Creek, Eldon gave me a couple of popsicles which really hit the spot. I asked for a glass of ice and ginger ale and took time to drink it. Then one of the aid station workers said I needed to get moving and used the C-word. (CutOff) That rattled me out of my chair, and Chrissy spotted a couple of guys in the race, not more than 200 yards ahead. We reeled them in and went by. One of them was having something going on where he had to stop and stretch every so often. I found out later that the other guy had thrown u a couple of times.
Chrissy didn't like the way these cows were looking at her.
Things that go bad are followed by things going well. I began to find that running faster was easy. Miles 46 and 47 were in the 13-14 m/m range, and then I decided to powerwalk the rest if the way in. Had I knew that keeping that 13-14 m/m pace would have put us within striking distance of two other runners, I might have been able to eek out another bit if speed.
Tiffany and Matthew waited around to see us finish, which I appreciated.
I like this run, but I do not have to do it again. I said that very thing two years ago, and I was back this year. Maybe I'll do the 50K and see if I could PR in that distance.
Here's the flat elevation profile. It looks pretty obnoxious, doesn't it? It's not all that bad going out, but it's a doozy coming back.
The real ultra was the 30-hour drive home. Chrissy drove straight through. I stopped and took a2 hour nap, and made a couple of other stps to slap my face around a bit and drink coffee. I made it home around 4:00 am.