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'


Anonymous said...

Thank you for all of your hard work to put together the awesome Rock Creek series.
Deb J.

Dianna said...

Willie, I didn't have enough energy left to cry after the heavy half, but this post made me cry! I can't even begin to tell you how much you, Karen, Jen, Tina, and everyone at GPRC have encouraged and supported me this year. Without you guys, I wouldn't have done any of this. Next up? Working on my times... surely I can get a little faster before next year, right? But first I need to come in and buy some new shoes! :)

Mark Berry said...

Willie, although I lost my trail virginity at the Psycho Psummer this year, I fell in love with trail running at Rock Creek's Night Race and renewed my vows at the Rock Creek Heavy Half.

You and your team put on a great race. The venue is exceptional, the organization & execution flawless, and the course support as good as they could be, making for an exceptional experience for the runner. Your passion for the sport and encouragement of others is apparent in everything you and your team do to make event an "event".

I especially appreciate the George Sheehan quote. As you, I came to running as a means to get away from drugs and get time away with God. Getting off of the roads and onto the trail makes the "little voice" (or voices, depending on the event) so much easier to hear.

Willie, thanks for a great series and - more significantly - thanks for sharing your journey. My only regret is that I only found out about the series AFTER the first two races.

Mark Berry
Omaha, NE