Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Mother Road 100

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to Run the second edition of the Mother Road 100 along historic Route 66 in Oklahoma. The Inaugural edition of this race was two years ago on the East side of OKC (that's the way they say Oklahoma City in these here parts) and supposedly they got a substantial number of request to do it again, so this year it was run on the west side of OKC (I just like saying that). After a quick five hour drive from Topeka, I checked in at the Comfort Inn, where I would also spend the night before the 6:30 AM bus ride to the start in Elk City, OK some hundred miles to the the west.
My first warning for what lie ahead was found in the race handbook under the heading of AID STATIONS ,where the Race Directors disassociated themselves from the volunteers who manned them, letting us know that they were not part of the race organization, therefore they (the RD's) take no responsibility for what the aid stations may or may not have in the way of nourishment... Que the Hitchcock music! After a good night sleep and a 90 minute bus trip to Elk City, warning number two was quickly revealed....two porta potties for two hundred runners? Now I must confess I'm not a big fan of Race Directors running in their own races. Some, like Stan and Chrissy Ferguson make it work by switching off each year. This way at least one of them is totally available to runners, volunteers, etc..But what generally scares me when Race Directors run is that I'm never sure who's experience they are more concerned with, theirs or the runners? In this case one of the RD's summed it up pretty well when two miles into the race I heard him say to another runner..."let's face it, this is a totally self absorbed sport and when you're running an ultra you're not thinking of anyone other then yourself" Comforting words coming from the Race Director.

Despite the concerns bubbling up inside me, my day got off to a pretty good start. I was moving along at 9:30/mile pace and feeling pretty good. Although I knew the race was run on road I was somewhat unprepared mentally for how much traffic we would encounter along Rt 66, especially early in the race. The other distraction, was the constant presence of Interstate 40, buzzing with traffic some 100 feet away. Sixteen miles into the race we reached the first "manned"" aid station and I quickly understood the disclaimer in the Race Handbook. It was also at this point I began to hear my body voice it's initial complaints about the firmer surface and its impact on my feet and my knees. Thirty-One miles in we reached the first "Major" aid station where we were allowed to send drop bags. At this point, 50 kilometers and five and a half hours into the race, I was ready for some food, not "drop bag" food but aid station food. Upon arriving at the Route 66 Museum, hosts to the 50K aid station, I was greeted by two very kind ladies who offered me my choice of Chips Ahoy or a few pretzels, period! Maybe the Race Directors could have been slappin' together a few PB J's rather than running! Although I was beginning to become a little undone mentally over this I pressed on eating anything and everything I placed in my drop bag. Although this provided brief relief, I was fading and fading fast from a lack of calories. It was only the kindness of other runners and their crews that helped me through this part of the race. Thanks to those crews that gave me Milky Ways and Turkey Sandwiches, which got me going again. About the time I had calmed down thinking the worst was behind me, it actually managed to get even weirder. Just after dark, closing in on the 50 mile aid station with nine hours behind me I found myself on I-40, yes we were running on the interstate...in the dark. Once that thrill ride ended and we exited quickly and carefully, we had the privilege of running through the busy town of Wethersford and the half way point of the race. In the pre-race instructions we were told that intersections would be marked with arrows on one side and MR100 logos on the other. That must have only applied to certain intersection as none of the thirty to forty intersections in Wethersford were marked. At one point I was so certain I had made a wrong turn, I turned around and started running back to where I had come from only to be assured by a on coming runner that we were still on course. We finally reached the Half Way point and as I changed into warm highly reflective clothing and grabbed some food and lighting I began to seriously contemplate dropping. I had had enough and didn't think I could handle much more. Arguing with myself I left the aid station and walked for a mile before convincing myself to keep going and not allow this race to end my year on a bitter note. I had run fifty miles in under ten hours and had a very good shot at running my first Sub 24 hour one hundred. If I quit, the race won, the only way to somewhat redeem it, was to beat it. With that behind me, I actually started to feel (and run) a little better. The change of shoes at fifty miles proved to be a good strategy. While the Guides (Saucony) were the right shoe to move quickly through the first half of the race, my feet had been aching over the past few miles and the move to the Hurricanes (also Saucony) gave me enough added forefoot cushioning to deal with the pain and start runnning with more confidence. Other then being under dressed and very cold everything was going pretty well. All I had to do is get to the seventy two mile aid station where I had a drop bag with my warm and wind proof Marmot Dry Climb Wind shirt and a stocking cap. The seventy two mile aid station was manned by the TATURS, Tulsa Area Trail Ultra Running Society (If that's not it I think it's pretty close) This was the first aid station that was what you would expect to find at a hundred mile race. Although it was outdoors and very cold, it was loaded with anything a runner would want to eat. I feasted! Life was good, my belly was full, the only thing missing was...you guessed it, my drop bag. Somehow my drop bag ended up somewhere else. Whatever the emotion is between tears and anger, that's where I was. The guy running the aid station sensed I was about to have an out of body experience and offered me the jacket off his back then found fresh batteries for my headlamp. For some strange reason the thought that kept bouncing through my head as I left the friendly confines of the TATUR Aid Station was of Vivian Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire uttering those famous words "I have always depended on the kindness of Strangers" We were now on a six mile section of dirt road, a surface I normally love to run on, but after seventy two miles of asphalt this seemed awkward and I felt clumsy. It was now just before first light, I had about twelve or thirteen miles to go and about three hours to get it done. It was about this time I remembered my brief career Bow Hunting and the harsh memory that the temperature always dropped right before the sun came up. Yep, it sure did, and although I was still in shorts, it was my hands that took it the hardest. Almost in tears at the eighty-nine mile aid station (again, totally and completely outside) once again another runner's crew came to my rescue with some of those little hand warmers. Hands now warm I began the final push for home. Every bone in my body hurt on impact and my feet felt like an odd combination of concrete and glass. My Quads were heavy and swollen and my hamstrings tight. The first light of the new day however brought with it incredible energy. Less then two hours and this trip through hell would be over. Finally at 8:39 AM I , my now size 12 feet and my size 11 1/2 Saucony Hurricanes reached the finish line of the Mother Road 100 to the sounds of the Rocky. I had my sub 24:00 finish, for whatever that's worth. Once finished, my thoughts turned back to food, based on the medical check I had lost thirteen pounds in one day. Upon asking where I could find the burgers I was directed downstairs. Yep, just moments after running a hundred miles you have to descend an old concrete stairway to find the food and claim your drop bags. I believe this falls under the heading of adding insult to injury. All I could do was laugh.

As I Race Director myself I do not make these comments lightly. If the events I experienced had simply been the result of unforeseen events or of crazy accidents that inevitably happen I would not even bring them up. However what I saw was IN MY OPINION such a blatant lack of accountability and planning not to mention concern for the runners, I feel it would be irresponsible of me not to share my experience. That said, several runners seemed to enjoy their day and I am sure will be back in two years for the Mother Road Part Three. As for me it is the voice of my Mom I hear reverberating in my head as I hear her warning me not to play in the road.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Gettin' my kicks on Route 66

In some ways this Saturday's Mother Road 100 along Route 66 on the west side of Oklahoma City is the end of my year. It will be my fourth 100 (Vermont, Leadville and Arkansas being the other three) and hopefully my third finish. 2008 certainly did not go the way I had hoped. Fires cancelled Western States and after 85 miles, rain, hail, snow and cold eventually ended my day at Leadville. So although my hopes of completing the Grand Slam ended in August, a successful Mother Road will be moral victory and a nice finish to the year.

However in another way this race really marks the beginning of my quest for the 2009 Grand Slam. Finishing three and three quarter 100's will give me great confidence heading into next year.
  • I have a much better understanding of how my body reacts to this sort of stress physically, mentally and emotionally and know that if I stay healthy and keep a positive attitude I can do it.
  • The muscle memory from the four races this year should provide a big advantage next year, especially late in the races.
  • I have now seen the entire length of the Western States Trail as well as the Vermont 100 course, both of which were mysteries to me heading into this year.
  • With friend Dave Wakefield pacing me at Leadville next year I am confident I will break my three year dry spell there.
  • Although each year my body grows older, experience hopefully makes me a little wiser. 2008 taught me a lot about myself and provided me with rich experiences to draw from in the future when the road gets tough.

So although 100 miles of flat Oklahoma asphalt is not as exciting a proposition as some of these other races, for me it represents a turning point. A chance perhaps to put 2008 in the rear view mirror and to look forward to what lies ahead in 2009.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Thanks to the Runners.

Yesterday's Road to OZ marked the end of another year of races produced by Great Plains Running Company. This was the second year for Karen and I as RD's and for GPRC's seven events. Road to OZ capped off a year that saw over 1,000 participants cross our finish lines, a 55% increase over our inaugural season in '07. Although a ton of work, 2008 was a blessing to us both, as time and time again we were inspired and amazed by the accomplishments of local runners and the generosity of our volunteers. We have been truly humbled by the enthusiastic response we have received from all those involved, and I can honestly say it is an honor for us to be part of these events and to have the opportunity to meet so many great people. We look forward to even greater things in 2009. Here is a quick recap of the past year.

Things really got going in May with our first two events of the year. It was obvious with our first event of the Rock Creek Trail Series that it was going to be a busy year at Lake Perry with many new faces turning out for the 5K/10K. We had five married couples and four father and son combos. Many of these folks had never run on trails before and were instantly hooked. Some loved it so much they went right on by the final turn and just kept on running. When all was said and done however, experience reigned supreme as 54 year old Dan Kuhlman edged out 53 year old Keith Dowell by a second to win the 10K. We also had a number of runners who had never even run a Marathon before, go ahead and sign up for October's 50K. You gotta love it!

One week later it was time for Springburn and the Saucony/Red Robin Kid's Run.
After a very slow start to registration, things exploded and Springburn turn turned out to be our biggest event of the year with nearly 160 running the 12K/5K and over 250 kids showing up on Friday night, whew! While both races saw a number of talented runners, perhaps the biggest news of all was 14 year old Jacob Morgan (now a Washburn Rural Freshman) winning the tough 5K in 18:46. Once again Springburn proved that if you give people a challenge that will stretch them and then make it fun, runners will show up. It is the same reason 360 or so runners showed up in mid January on a 8 degree morning to run the Topeka to Auburn half Marathon and that is why I believe Springburn has been so well received. It's tough, but "doable" (if that's a word). Once again Red Robin was a great host and Saucony a great sponsor, and the addition of Topeka Young Life as beneficiary brought in a number of new runners. In recognition of the construction taking place on the old Menninger property, we will make every effort to maintain a healthy relationship with St Francis and hope to avoid any re-routing in 2009. We also look forward to partner with the YMCA's Strong Kids program to make our kid's runs better then ever, while raising support for the Y's program that tackles Childhood obesity.

Muddy weekends in June and September greeted the next two events in the Rock Creek Trail Series. June is time for Ticks and September brings out the Spiders, what fun we have. Next year the third event will be moved to a little later in the day as we introduce Rock Creek Trail Midnight Madness with tentative distances of 5, 10 and 20 miles.

Mid September is time for those final long runs in preparation for fall marathons and such. In an effort to support runners in that process and to say "thanks" for another year of business GPRC presented the second annual FREE for All, and it really is...FREE! We shuttled a full bus of runners out to Dover then looked for the most difficult way for them to get back and set up a few (6) water stops along the way. Once they returned to the store either by foot or by big green van, Quiznos catered a feast for the tired bunch that were ready for anything October Races might throw their way.

October 25th marked the series finale for Rock Creek with a 5K, Half Marathon and a 5oK. After a LOT of rain early in the week we were finally able to get our leaf blowers out there to get the 18 miles of trail ready for the three distances. Kudos to Lyle Reidy and the Folks at the Kansas Trails Council for building a Trail system that handles water as good as any I've seen. By race day the trails were just about perfect and the weather was beautiful. In total, just shy of 150 runners showed up on Saturday. The 5K was full of several new faces and a slew of younger runners. Maybe that's where all the Monster went? The Half Marathon and 50K were both awesome. Both races had elite runners set new course records and several seasoned runners jostling for position and PR's up front. Trail Nerd Caleb Chatfield set a new course record of 4:14:45 in the 50K and local news anchor and Nerdo Mud Babe Sophia Spencer won the women's race. But the other thing both races had were all the cool, personal stories of runners succeeding at something they had worked towards all year. Something they could never have imagined doing a year ago. Something very few others will ever understand. To see people like Greg and Rachele Pruett, Roy Wohl, Christa Murphy, GPRC's own, Jenn McAnarney and countless others finish their first 50K is a great feeling and makes all the hard work worth while.

Last but not least is Road to OZ. A race that I still think has the most potential of them all, but admittedly may scare some people away. Our goal is simple,embrace the Wizard of OZ as part of our heritage (hey, you gotta work with what you got). So we invite runners to dress like Dorothy (or any other OZ character) run through the Kansas countryside and if you're fast enough you just might win a piece of the yellow brick road. After the adults are done, the kids get to run in the Munchkin run. What could be better. Well this year we had a lot more runners and few more Dorothys along with some Flying Monkey's, Scarecrows, Lions, Tin Men and witches, both Good and Wicked. We also had some really fast runners who led the way. Todd Allen broke his own course record in a time of 24:13 and Tristan Collins became the "Fastest Dorothy" in a time of 25:22. All in all this was a fun way to end the year and next year when we push this race back a week so high school cross country runners can participate I think this race will get even bigger, and certainly crazier.

Now all that's left is to wash the water coolers and re stock the first aid kits and we'll be done with 2008 and although it's been a long year and I'm thankful for the break, I'll admit however I spent much of my morning making notes on how to improve what we offer runners in 2009.

I am thankful for this opportunity to give back to the sport I love, and to support those who are dedicated to it. I have learned a great deal this year about myself as well as others, and thank those who have shared their journey with me throughout this past year. I look forward to all that God has in store for 2009, but for now I am happy for a few more Saturday mornings at home and more time with our kids, the unsung heroes of the GPRC races.