Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Rock Creek Trail Races

With every job there are things you have to do and there are things you get to do. Directing the Rock Creek Trail Series falls into the category of things I get to do. The joy I have received from putting on these events at Lake Perry over the past three years rivals anything I have accomplished through my own running.

Although I am older, I didn't start running until I was in my thirties, so I am still able to recall the sense of accomplishment I felt after finishing my first 10K, just outside of Washington DC. I also remember the adrenaline rush and total exhaustion that accompanied my first trail race, The Afton Alps 50K, run on the bluffs of the Mississippi River just east of the Twin Cities. While running has certainly helped me battle a genetic weight issue and has given me a slew of health benefits, it is racing that has shaped my life more than anything else apart from my faith and my family. The confidence gained from running races, not to mention the insight it has given me into all aspects of my life has been profound. I am certain that if it were not for finishing the Leadville Trail 100 in 2005 , I would have never had the confidence in myself to open Great Plains Running Co in 2006. The archives of this blog are filled the many things I have learned about myself, my faith and the many roles I assume in a given week... husband, father, friend, encourager. This is why I love Rock Creek. I love the stories, the stories of people who are doing things they never thought possible. For some that might mean running their very first 5K or maybe their first trail run, for others (some of whom have never even ran a marathon) it could be the end of a long journey towards their first 50K. Getting to be there when they finish, and seeing that look on their face is worth any cost associated with putting on an event such as this. I would trade neither time or money for the privilege of being part of their accomplishment. It is pure joy and this past weekends final event did not disappoint.

After months of prep work and a week of grunt work complicated by cold, wet, windy weather, Saturday finally came, and with it sunny skies and warmer weather. While all three races head down the trail at the same time, the day really has three distinct "vibes". Almost before you know it, the 5Kers return, followed later in the morning by the Half Marathoners and eventually the 50Kers arrive one by one throughout the afternoon.

In past years I have completely missed the 5K due to setting up aid stations. This year however, MK Thompson assembled an awesome team of aid station volunteers that allowed me the opportunity to catch the final few runners and post race fun. Thanks to Ben Holmes and the KC Trail Nerds, Gary Henry and the Lawrence Trail Hawks, Greg and Zach Pruett as well as Ruth and Fred Fox for providing such experienced leadership at our aid stations and taking such good care of our runners. Races don't happen without people like this!

At our Rock Creek Podiatry night just three days before the race, Dr Chris Brodine encouraged Half Marathoner Corey Bandal to step down to the 5K to avoid complicating a foot that was already bothering him. Now as we all know, runners very seldom listen to doctors, especially when they tell us not to run, but Corey, in an unprecedented move for a trail runner, listened to Dr Chris and then went on to win the 5K just seconds ahead of Jim Beiter, proving to the Rock Creek world he is both wise and fast. In the women's race Kristi Mayo showed us all that Rick isn't the only speedster in the family, as she finished first amongst the ladies and fifth overall.

Speaking of Mayo, Kristi's hubby Rick "blistered the 14+ Mile Half Marathon course in a time of 1:43:43 (that's a 7:18 pace on rocky, rooted and leaf covered trails) That was just 3 minutes off his 13 Mile Half Marathon time last May, which by the way was leaf free. Coming in second, just 1:40, was hard charging Dave Wakefield in his final tune-up before next week's Ozark Trail 100. Best of Luck Dave, I look forward to seeing your new Belt Buckle. In the woman's race race, Mud Babe Shelley Flones cruised the course in a time of 2:25:08 comfortably winning her second Rock Creek race of the year! Second to the line in the woman's half was Dena Phillips, who along with husband Kyle (who ran the 50K) keeps getting faster and faster. At just past noon came my first "moment" of the day. Throughout this year I have watched Dianna Brodine fall in love with trail running. She set a goal last winter to run each of our races and finish up with our Half Marathon in October, she did exactly what she set out to do! At the 4:24 mark on the clock, Dianna came down the Skyline trail for the final time of 2009, when she reached it's end, she was a Half Marathoner. Congratulations Dianna for being courageous enough to set a big goal and tenacious enough to achieve it.

Once the Half Marathon awards are over and the first few 50Kers are in, the day begins to take on a different tone, as one by one 50Kers arrive back, tired and perhaps a bit bruised, but full of emotion over what they just accomplished. Christopher Farney lead the way, running the second fastest time ever on this course, winning in a time of 4:34:37, an impressive 8:52 pace under any conditions. Sixteen minutes back was Kyle Amos, who by the way, was just two weeks removed from a "smokin'" finish at the Heartland 100. The women were lead by Kim Deckert, who completed her sweep of the four "long"events that make up our series competition. Kim's exceptionally strong second lap helped bring her home in a time of 6:21:01. Kim's consistently strong performance throughout the year also earned her the top spot for the 2009 Rock Creek Trail Series, Series Championship, awarded each year to the man and woman who perform the best over the course of our four "long" events.

As the day wore on, we came to my favorite part of the entire year. The time of the day when the 50Kers who were fighting their way through their first 50K, return triumphantly to the finish area, where I get to welcome them home and place their finishers medal around their neck. While the afternoon was filled with plenty of inspirational stories, there were four special moments that will stick with me.

Although this was certainly not his first 50K finish, it was the end of a long year for Greg Burger, a year where Greg rediscovered his speed, running well in a number of races including his first finish at Leadville. Greg has been a big supporter of this series and has always done well here, but in 2009 Greg finished in the top four of each of our four races and claimed the series championship. It was well earned, and a pleasure for me to give such a great guy (and strong supporter of our series) this award. Next came Becky Collins. Becky had volunteered for a couple of our events last year and decided this trail running thing looks like fun. I remember getting an email from Becky last winter saying she was thinking of running the 50K and was working through the amount of training involved. Throughout this past year no one trained harder than Becky, she ran all of the Rock Creek events as well as a number of other local trail events. All this on top of a heavy training load. Becky was right behind Kim Deckert for the series championship heading into our night run in July, unfortunately nutritional issues forced Becky from the race and contention for the series championship. Not to be detoured, Becky kept her eye on her original goal of running a 50K in October and went back to work. At the 6:45:35 mark, Becky rounded the last corner with tears in her eyes as she came across the finish line. When I asked her if she was OK, her reply was "I'm fine, I'm just so happy" I'm sure as she was surrounded by family and friends, she was relieved it was over and proud of what she had done. I am confident here will be more to the story as her accomplishment will no doubt inspire others to dream big. Almost an hour after Becky had finished, a large crowd, inspirational signs in hand, gathered near the finish line awaiting the arrival of good friend Bret Deardorff. After running the Half Marathon at last year's finale Bret laid down the goal of running the 50K this year. While Bret was an experienced cyclist, he was newer to running and fully aware of the enormity of his goal, and went to work immediately. It has inspired me to watch Bret chase after this throughout the year. He has run in each of our events and made steady improvement all year. Bret showed he had the toughness needed to run a 50K when at our night run he resisted the urge to drop at the 20K mark and battled the last 10K to finish just after midnight. Bret was also one of two guys who fought the cut offs with me all day at Western States only to pick up my pieces after a disappointing DNF with just 15 miles to go. So when Bret crossed the finish line I could not have been happier for someone. While he didn't look so good at the half way point, he now looked great, fully aware of what he had just accomplished. Way to go Bret! At the 9:18 mark Tom Detore crossed the finish line leaving just one runner on the course, GPRC's own, Tina Askins. A former bodybuilder, Tina had started running last year and was attempting to finish er first 50K (as a matter of fact, it would be her first finish of anything longer than a half marathon) Working with Tina has given me the opportunity to understand first hand both her struggles and successes with her training. So while coming into Saturday's race Tina had some long runs under her belt, I knew it would take a "Herculean" effort on her part to finish in under the allotted ten hours. Thanks to great volunteers (all of whom were doing everything they could to help Tina around the course) we knew she was around three to four miles out. We also knew she was running with MK Thompson, who was pacing her in for the final five miles. Minutes later a phone call from Gary Henry confirmed she had left the final aid station and was on her way. At the 9:50 mark a phone call from MK alerted us to the fact that they were about a half mile away, one more rocky climb and then flat, smooth trail the rest of the way. Knowing Tina was in earshot, the 15 of us still there started cheering and ringing the cowbell trying to usher Tina home before the clock ran out. With just over three minutes left on the clock Tina came into sight and seconds later was across the finish line. We all took turns giving her a hug and congratulating her on what she has just done, there was not a dry eye in the place. Fifteen of us had the privilege of seeing Tina finish and being part of her moment in the sun, but perhaps even more-so, we had a glimpse of what makes this sport so special. It was the punctuation point at the end of a day filled with moments like this.

As I drove home that evening, thinking about all I had witnessed throughout the day, about Dianna and Becky, Bret and Tina, as well as a hundred and one other stories, I was reminded of one of my favorite running quotes...

"It's very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside your head that wants you to quit".

-George Sheehan

Thank You from both Karen and I to all the runners and volunteers who made Rock Creek such a success in 2009. It has been a year full of memories that we will not soon forget. We look forward with anticipation to what special moments 2010 will bring. Have a great winter. Hope to see you all at Psycho Wyco in February, then back out at Perry next March.

For more great photos from Rock Creek please visit Dick Ross'

Monday, October 19, 2009

Heartland 100/50

Ultra Marathons are often held in dramatic locations such as The Rocky Mountains, The Sierra Nevada, Death Valley (in July) and the Ididirod Trail (in February) In contrast there is a race held in Kansas that is unlike any other, as it is run entirely across historic tall grass prairie in a county where cattle outnumber people 40-1. The Heartland 100, held each October through the Flint Hills of Eastern Kansas, is what I once imagined all of Kansas would be like when I first moved here from Washington DC 15 years ago. The desolate nature of this land is hauntingly beautiful and it's weather... harsh.

For runners, EXPOSURE is the key word at Heartland, as there is no place to hide from the elements. Another key word here is SOLITUDE. Although you can see for miles in every direction, there is very little to look at other than the ever present tallgrass prairie, which is inevitably blowing in the wind.

Heartland is special to me. I ran my first 50 here in 2002 and my first 100 here in 2004, and although I have been at Heartland for each of the past seven years, four times running, and for the past three years, manning the Battle Creek Aid Station, this year would be different, as this year I was planning on doing both. My plan was to run the 50 Mile and then join Karen and the rest of the team at the Battle Creek A.S. and support the hundred milers on their way to Cassidy throughout Saturday night and Sunday morning. My hope was to gain the perspective of both runner and volunteer in the same race, in the same year.

Our weekend started Friday afternoon as Karen, the girls and I, along with good friends Bret and Theresa Deardorff, and their daughter Hannah, headed to Cassidy to grab "a meal like no other", at the pre race dinner, before heading out to Battle Creek to set up the aid station. The challenge with Battle Creek is that it is both the first and the last aid station runners encounter in both races. That means servicing runners from 7:00 AM on Saturday until 9:30 AM on Sunday. Once we had things ready to go for Saturday morning and spent some time star gazing, it was time for some sleep.

After a VERY COLD night in the back of the van, it was up at 4:00 for the 6:00 start. Bret was kind enough to shuttle me to the start before heading back to get the aid station ready for visitors. It was great to see so many good friends at the start, but especially exciting to see three friends from Topeka who were each about to start their first 50 miler. Then, right at six, with headlamps lighting the way, we were off.

From the very start I felt good. After all the the steep climbs and vertical descents of Superior, it felt good to run. My goal was to hit the turnaround somewhere near the 5 hour mark and then decide (based on how I was feeling) what to do on the way back. Fueled with little more than VESPA and PERPETUEM I hit the turnaround in about 4:45, and much to my surprise, felt pretty good... so, I decided to push it a little on the way back. With the unexpected, but much appreciated help from Dena Phillips and Christy Knowles, I was able to get through the first two aid stations quickly on my way back. Then shortly after my antique I pod (which had been serenading me with a little early 80's "new wave") went dead in the middle of an extended dance mix of DEVO's "Whip It", and just as I was getting tired, I arrived at Battle Creek to the cheers of family and friends. This was a huge emotional boost when I really needed it. Karen got me what I needed (800 mg of Ibuprofen) and back on my way, confident I had a legitimate shot at finishing in under 10 hours, something I had only done once before (at the 2004 Ice Age Trail 50 Mile). After power hiking up the last big climb, I knew it would be flat the final 6 miles into the finish, so I went into a run 8:00, walk 2:00 cadence. This worked well and actually helped me to pass the one runner I could see in front of me. At the 9:45 mark, as I neared the final turn about a quarter mile from the finish, I knew I was going to finish in under 10 hours, but now I realized I might actually get in under 9:50 (my previously fastest 50 miler). As I ran the final quarter mile and neared the finish I could see the clock and quickly realized I was going to make it in under 9:50. As I crossed the finish line to the most awesome sound in Ultra Running, Jim Davis' cowbell, I was taken aback, as a PR was not what I was expecting just four weeks after Superior. Unexpected, but fitting in a way that it was here, at Heartland, a race that has provide me with more than it's share of special moments had once again lifted my spirits at a time when I so badly needed it. Perhaps that's what they mean when they refer to this race as the

As I caught my breath, I was greeted by John Knowles (a good customer, and local trail runner) who was running his first 50 Miler. I knew John had had a good race as I saw him running strong near the turnaround and received updates from his wife at the aid stations. He certainly did have a good day, and finished in ninth place for his 50 Mile debut in a time of 9:31:15. Congratulations John!

Oh, but the fun was just beginning!

I returned to the aid station with Bret a little before 5:00 PM, just as one of the last 50 Milers was coming through. He grabbed a Coors Light from his drop bag, drank it down, and was off (you gotta love ultra runners). On our way back we had the opportunity to run across Kyle Phillips, another friend from Topeka, who like John was running his first 50 Miler. When asked about the race on Thursday, Kyle had told me his plan was 6:00 to 6:00, but when we passed him about a half mile from the finish, although he was obviously in a lot of pain, it was only 4:15 PM. After a quick high five, Kyle pressed on and crossed the finish line in 10:23:10. A remarkable effort from a genuinely likable guy and strong runner. Way to go Kyle! As we continued down the road back to the aid station we came across Jenn Franklin, one of our GPRC team members. Like Kyle, Jenn was also talking about a 12 hour finish, but here she was, still going strong 48.5 miles into her first 50. Jenn would be the fifth woman across the finish line in a time of 10:42:51. A little further down the road we came across Ruth Fox from Manhattan, who volunteers and runs a number of our races and who went on to finish in a time of 12:08:36.

Of course their were many others, each with their own story, each pushing forward. In all, 43 of the 44 starters made it back to Cassidy, but none faster than 52 year old Phil Sheridan who finished in a time of 7:33:45, before, like me, heading off to an aid station to spend the night "working".

As always, the night provided it's share of excitement, as weary and very cold 100 milers came through our aid station situated just 9 miles from the finish. While it is always fun to see good friends such as Kyle Amos, Darin Schneidewind, Paul Schoenlaub, Gary Henry and Adam Monaghan roll through, two stories from this years Heartland 100 stand out.

Just after 11:00, Amy Palmiero-Winters of Hicksville, NY came through our aid station. Amy was the first woman through and was moving well. Little did we know that as she came through, she was on her way to a historic finish. You see, Amy had one of her legs amputated earlier in life and was about to become the first female amputee to run 100 miles. Her positive attitude and tenacious efficiency were sobering, her accomplishment, inspiring. Amy finished in a time of 18:54, eighth overall, she was the top women in the field.

Almost eleven hours later, Kevin Fredrickson of Lawrence, KS came visited our temporary home. I didn't realize until later the enormous mental challenge Kevin had to overcome and manage these past twenty seven hours. Anyone who has ever run an Ultra Marathon knows that a huge part of the game is mental, so you can imagine when you have car trouble and arrive an hour after everyone else has left, the mental aspect becomes even more complicated. Kevin, who was running his first 100 Miler, had to overcome several emotions including frustration I'm sure, not to mention holding back the temptation to go out too hard in an effort to "catch up". Somehow Kevin held it all together under circumstances that would have unraveled the best efforts of other runners, including myself. Kevin went on to finish his first hundred in a time of 28:52.

It is stories such as these that are the reward for volunteering at events such as this. While running an ultra can certainly bring personal satisfaction and perhaps other deeper self discoveries, volunteering at an ultra delivers a totally different experience, as you begin to experience the event through the eyes of others and are drawn into their struggles as well as their triumphs. I can't help but believe that at some level this makes us more sensitive, more compassionate and more aware of those around us. If we all lived out our lives and treated others with the same servant mentality "ultra" volunteers have treated us in the past, how much better of a world could this be? I would challenge anyone who has never had the opportunity to do so, make a point to volunteer at an Ultra in 2010. I promise you, you will never view an aid station the same way again.

Congratulations to Jim Davis and Randy Albrecht for another perfectly executed event under some trying circumstances. I believe I heard this was the coldest Heartland ever! Thanks also to Gary Henry and others for some great photos. See more at