Race Report: 2012 Lake Perry Rocks! 50K
With the kids on fall break, and my birthday coming up, it was time to get out of Dodge. Well, we got in the Dodge and drove past Dodge.
In the weeks leading up to my birthday weekend I kept trying to come up with something fun for us to do. I didn’t have a lot of time to spare, so I focused on something in the 2-3 day range. Naturally, I wanted running to be a part of it as well, so I checked several race calendars to see what was going on in the vicinity. Answer – not much. I did spot one of Bad Ben’s Trail Nerd races out in Kansas and filed that away in the back of my head as a remote possibility.
With my training firmly in the ‘mediocre’ range, mostly due to some really aggravated calves left over from last month’s Denver half-marathon/marathon stunt, I was hesitant to pull the trigger on any race registrations. Finally, I pinged Malcolm to see if he’d be up for taking a crack at his first ultra. A positive response sealed the deal, we were heading to Kansas.
I have good batch of memories from my two previous trips to run a 50K in KS, and this weekend only added to the pile. It’s a bit of a haul to get there, but the running is great. I enjoy the quick up/down nature of the trails and like running through the dense woods, plus the organization of Bed Ben and the Trail Nerds is always top-notch. If you are ever looking for a fun ultra on a challenging course, accurate distances, great markings, great aid, great volunteers, nice shirts and other schwag – consider Kansas!
We spent a long day Thursday driving up into the mountains to pick up Malcolm, and then shooting back across the plains. Reaching Burlington, CO for our first stop of the night. Best Western there is very nice, btw.
Friday was spent doing another 6 hours to Topeka, then swimming, eating dinner, and prepping for the race in the morning. I slept great after getting very little the night before. It felt awesome to sleep so deeply the night before a race.
My wife drove Malcolm and I out to the start in the dark, and we were able to hang out comfortably in the indoor registration area after being dropped off. Before long the sun came up and signaled the time to get moving.
I talked strategy with Malcolm and wished him luck. After running every step with him through two previous 25K races (one, two) and a trail marathon, I was cutting the cord this time. He would be on his own, and I felt confident he could get it done. His training had been light, with a long run of 13 miles the previous weekend. He’s very strong and capable of going for a long time, though. I knew this race would force him to dig down a bit, and hoped that it would be a good experience.
My goals were pretty simple. Sub-5 hours and top ten. I didn’t feel like my training justified trying anything too crazy, and just hoped to keep things steady and drama-free. Ha ha.
After a short stretch of dirt road, we hit the singletrack and settled in for the long haul. Since the half marathon and 50K started together, I didn’t have any idea what position I was in. I wanted to stay comfortable, but without being lazy. Settling in behind 3 young guys that were running in a pack, I passed the first few miles in fine form.
Eventually, I had to back off the throttle and let the guys go. I wasn’t dying by any means, but could tell the pace was a little hotter than I should be running. So far, the trail was a lot of fun. Lots of variety, cool forest, very nice.
Soon we began to encounter the major theme for the day. Fallen leaves on the trail. Big leaves. Deep leaves. Leaves covering nasty rocks and roots. You get the idea. Truthfully, the leaf sections probably accounted for less than half of the overall distance, but they sure left an impression on this runner. The trail would have been plenty challenging with only the rocks to deal with (Lake Perry Rocks! – get it? There aren’t any bands playing at this race…), but the oceans of deep leaves covering them up made for some interesting conditions to try and run through.
I stumbled and flailed around a few times, but had settled into a nice cruising pace and was starting to reel in some of the half marathon runners that had passed me earlier. Then around mile 9, after surviving a particularly nasty stretch of leaf-covered rocks, I came to a spot where a large tree had fallen across the trail and blocked passage. There was pink flagging to direct runners up the hillside around the obstacle and then back down. Like an idiot I tried to keep my run going through this section instead of doing the smart thing and using it as a chance to take a quick breather and hike until getting back on-trail. There hadn’t been many runners go through when I got there and the route wasn’t very defined (compared to the second lap), it was mostly leaves, tall grasses, and various other underbrush. After running the steep-ish 20 or so yards to the top of the detour, I was heading back down when my feet got tangled in the mess underfoot and both of them came to an immediate halt while the rest of me kept going. I landed hard on a solid 8-10 inch log that was laying across the path and was suspended off the ground. I flopped onto it at a 45 degree angle and caught it full-force in the upper left chest. The biggest damage seems to be at a point exactly between my sternum and shoulder.
That stunned me. Literally. It happened so fast and I hit so hard, it took me a few seconds to realize where I was. I immediately peeled myself off the log and was prepared to see blood shooting from my chest, thinking that there was a good chance I hit a broken-off stub of a branch that can be common with deadfall. Thankfully, the log was smooth.
Now what? I was so mad at myself I just popped back up and started running before anyone could catch up and see me. I figured I would worry about the damage later, and tried to put my throbbing chest out of my mind the best I could.
About 5 minutes later, still spinning a bit from the earlier incident, I took a really bad stumble. The kind that bends you over, face hovering over the dirt, running faster with each step trying to get your lower body back underneath yourself. I looked up as I was accelerating and can still remember seeing with exquisite detail the bark of a tree trunk as my face was closing in rapidly for impact. Somehow I summoned my inner Bruce Lee and used outstretched hands to guide the tree past my face as I whistled past.
That encounter shook me up even worse than the fall. It was a very close one.
This was my birthday for crying out loud! Not my end-up-in-a-hospital-breathing-through-a-tube day.
Looking back, I can see how these two incidents rattled me enough to keep me off balance for the duration. Despite that I doggedly stuck to my pace and goals. Yeah, I’m dumb.
Things were going well enough as I entered a small loop that would culminate in the end of the first lap. This 1.5-2 mile section was a good place to open things up. No more leaves, and only a few rocky sections to deal with. As I was starting to push harder and making an attempt to build some momentum, I hit the deck hard again. This time it was a rock poking up out of the trail in a shadowed area. Ooof. That didn’t feel good. Total pancake action.
Now I was good and pissed. Hurting and a little disoriented I forged ahead. Soon closing out the lap in 2:20 and completely missing/forgetting about reloading gels from my drop bag as I saw one of the younger guys I was with earlier getting ready to leave the aid station. I was still in it!?!
Back on familiar ground, the next few miles went relatively well for me. I hadn’t seen anybody in the 50k for a while, and now the switch flipped back into ‘race’ mode. The younger guy looked fit, and I knew he must be having some issues to be stuck back with an old fat guy like me. We went back and forth a few times until he finally said, “I’m just going to hang back here for a while” after I moved ahead again. I was impressed with the fight he had in him, I could tell that he was hurting, especially on the climbs, but he stuck to me like glue and we caught and passed 3 more runners together. Even though we didn’t share many words, it was great to have some company and get a push like that.
Eventually my partner on the trail eased up and I was back to flying solo, and that is how things would stay for the remainder of the race. Just me locked up in my crazy head stumbling through the woods. I realized that I was actually stumbling less when I was running faster, so tried to keep the ball rolling with a lot of positive thoughts. Stay light. Stay loose. Float! I took a time check at mile 20 and my 5 hour goal was still too close to allow any easing up.
I was on the ground again.
This one was ugly. I slid for a few feet and my shirt was a mess of dirt and leaves. The tops of my thighs were all scraped and bloody. And whatever spirit I had left was crushed. For a second I lay still, blinking at the sideways view of the world from trail level, before popping up and brushing myself off. I was borderline having a mental breakdown now. Holy crap how can this keep happening??? I told myself to be smart and walk for 30 seconds. Use the time to take a gel, drink some water, and rally a bit. As I walked down the trail with my head tipped back drinking from the bottle, I stumbled again! Barely caught myself from ending up on the ground this time. It was all I could do to keep from hurling that bottle straight into the trees and looking for a way to hitch a ride back to the finish line. This trail was straight-up kicking my ass!
I started running again. Ticked. No more positive thoughts, the things going through my head aren’t fit to print. I still had the worst section of the course to go, but I kept the throttle open as far as I could. Hyper-focused on the trail ahead, refusing to break stride or concentration I made my way through it and stayed upright. The thought of my family waiting at the finish was a huge lifeline for my flagging will to hang on to.
I finally reached the last aid station and threw it into high gear. Being careful not to screw it up, I gave everything my legs had in them over the final miles. It felt fantastic to finish strong. Running up the last hill, seeing my wife and girls cheering me on was the best birthday present ever. Having them there really meant a lot to me, and I was very happy to have stuck it out and finished on a high note.
Finished in 4:47. 6th overall, 1st old guy. Happy birthday to me.
I was able to get cleaned up and head back out to watch for Malcolm’s finish. We were a little worried about him biting off more than he could chew, but it turns out his chewing was just fine. I was zoomed way in taking a picture of a guy when I saw Malcolm pop in and out of the frame. Good timing! I knew he was just starting the final small loop and would be done in around 30 minutes.
Soon enough he burst out of the forest and started grinding up the last hill to the finish. That was awesome. So happy for him and proud of him, and jealous! Here he is finishing his first ultra at 18, I was 37 when I finished my first one! He has a long future of running ahead if he chooses. See his report here.
We loaded up and hit the road for a very long drive home, enjoying one of the most incredible sunsets I have seen.
As for the damage, I came through okay except for a broken/cracked/bruised/or whatever rib. Hurts like a son of a gun now. I haven’t been able to run for the past 10 days (and could easily see that stretching out to another 10 or more), and am still scratching my head at how I was able to finish the race. Must have been some combination of the acute trauma, shock, and adrenaline?
I was too lazy to go to the real doctor, so I drew my own X-ray. Everything Dr. Google said amounted to buck up and stop acting like a little baby.
Whatever it was that kept me going, I’m really glad to have gotten that finish.