Monday, May 5, 2014

Pacing Flatrock 101K

So, I have been relatively quiet for the last few months. There has been a lot going on. I have been in the process of selling my house and moving as well as a massive work implementation. So the time to write about my shenanigans has been few and far between. On top of that, after Cross Timbers I haven’t had any races. However, a couple months ago I was asked by one of my friends and training buddies if I would be interested in pacing him as he went for a finish at Flatrock 101k.
Finishers get a buckle, Pacers get a bib. 
At first I was rather leery, I had never paced, I wasn’t really training like I wanted to, I knew the course was tough but had never been there, I was pretty much unsure. A little sweet talking and I was in. I really wanted to get some course experience as I would be running the 50k in September. So this was as good a means as I could think of. On top of that, the buddy that I was pacing has been absolutely instrumental in my love and growth on the trails so I owed him big time. Now that I was in, it was time to get down to business of being ready. I couldn’t think of a better way than getting eyebrows deep in a massive work project as well as sell my house and move out at the exact same time. On top of that I had a nagging foot pain that kept me from running as much and as well as I wanted to. In the end I decided that I should do 16ish miles of pacing instead of 21ish to keep the threat of me doing more harm than good down. He continuously reminded me that by the time I picked him up he would be moving very slow with a lot of walking, but still, would had to be the drag instead of the boost.  So by the time race day rolled around I was undertrained and wee bit nervous about what all was going to happen.
Pre-race fireworks?
For as beautiful as the trail turned out to be (more on that later) the drive was the absolute opposite. A 2 lane highway through Kansas farmland can be very boring, especially when you are in great anticipation of getting where you are going. And I had a lot of anticipation. The weather-guessers had been predicting a chance for storms ranging from barely noticeable to fury of a thousand suns. It did storm in the area that morning as well, although, thankfully not on the course itself (on a sad note, there were storms that day and they were severe with loss of life). For us however, the day stayed basically dry. The real problem I would find out when I got there was the heat. No, for the record, 80s isn’t hot, not even remotely close by Kansas standards. However, having a cold, prolonged winter and have this be the first really warm day of the year made things a bit trickier on the runners. And this was the state of affairs I found myself in when I arrived on scene.
Some flat ground to run on
Surviving the drive of great boringness I closed in on the park and I could tell, even from a few miles out, this was going to be AWESOME. In Kansas when you come across noticeable hills, or landmarks of any variety it is exciting. This are of Kansas is a little more plush with this kinds of noticeable distractions compared to other areas. So as I drove in my excitement level went Defcon 2.   When I arrived I scouted the race home camp, hosted by the awesome folks at Epic Ultras. Then, I got to business, time to go potty from that drive. After that important part was taken care of, I got dressed up, glide’d up, Orange Mud HydraQuiver Double Barrel ready and packed up, then, shoes. This was a predicament to me. I had been training in my Skora Forms heavily to be moving away from any need for other shoes on the trail, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready to move totally away, but alas, there I was and I gave it a shot and I was not disappointed at all. Never doubt the Skoras. Even plopping the Newtons on afterwards to walk around in felt weird, but it was what I brought. Next time the cores come along as the cool down shoe. After I got my stuff ready I could see my ride coming and it was time to go, I wolfed down a sandwich and we were off to the turnaround point. I had questions along the way for my driver (my pacee’s wife) about how he was moving, feeling, weather, etc. By the time I got to the turn to wait, I had both a good idea and no clue what to expect, and it was fun.
Pace is for suckers. 
After a little while, along came my buddy with another runner into the aid station. This was rather exhilarating as they were the first people I saw come out into the aid station. I knew my buddy was in 3rd, but this looked like a 1st place outing right now.  He got food and drink and changed socks and stuff then we were off. Now it was time to see what was really going on. First of all, it was hot. As I said about this ‘warmer than it had been’ weather was taking its toll on most everyone. I say most because the person actually in first place was already nearly 10 miles ahead and almost done with the race!!!! As for us, we were sitting in 2nd place, which was good news, but nausea was weighing heavily on my buddy and it would prove to be a factor the rest of the evening. This meant that walking was the name of he game despite not having any serious muscle fatigue. For me this was actually tough, once I knew the place we were in I wanted to tear off and preserve that, but, I also had not been out here for the last 11 hours. However, onward we went, ever moving forward.
There is a hand hanging there that you slap as you finish...or else. 
We had another guy (The guy who rolled into the aid station with him) with us for probably a good 6 or 7 miles. He was laboring too, come to find out this was his first run ever over 13 miles…EVER!!! That’s some indomitable human spirit right there, or as he put it a lot of stupidity. He ended up taking off to try and run it out shortly after we had gotten passed after about 7ish miles never to be seen again, or, until after the finish. As the daylight was fading we got passed by the first place woman, 5th place is where we found ourselves and 5th place is where we stayed. The nausea lingered and reared its head on occasion, climbs were especially rough. But always moving forward we made progress. 5 hours later, down a dark road, head lamps on, we saw the end, heard the Epic Ruckus, and made our way to the line and finished 16:03:13. Even more epic, there his family waited and he was able to run across the finish line with his kids. It was AWESOME. And there, shortly after, he collapsed, happy and done. I was ready to turn around and go back, that was fun!
I think I felt better than he did at this point...

That is a brief account of 5 hours of solid walking. But I have left a lot of my personal observations to be expressed here, ‘cause while I was pacing and racing for him, I was also experiencing the course for me. Here is that part. From the outset you can tell this course is amazing. This is not normal Kansas trail. While we have our own bits of rocky, rooty, hilly joy, this is a different beast all together. It is a 16mil stretch of finding your footing while trying to take in the surroundings. The motto of the race(s) they have here is “If you look up you are going down”. This is a very valid warning, but truth be told it was hard as hell not to do.
As you start diving in to the trail from the back end, you carry along the Elk City river, and this is absolutely gorgeous. From that point things start getting rockier, and not the bad rockier, but literally, rock formations. That is the theme of the course, obviously named Flatrock, and it is truly a beauty to behold.  As you progress you run along the awesome rock walls and eventually up them to a higher vantage point over the river and lake. This may not be a Tahoe, Squamish, Grand Canyon level vista, but it is gorgeous in its own right. However this is not the only remarkable feature. Throughout the trail you also have many instances of running rock “canyons”. Places where it looks like rock has pulled away and allowed a trail to form between. It was a very different experience for most of us here in Kansas. It’s also badass at night with a headlamp on (unless you don’t like that kind of thing in which case it could be terrifying I suppose). There as a point with a sort of waterfall that we ran past, I was told that in the more rainy times it is awesome to run through. From there we kept on meandering through and going up. As it got darker there was less to see, kind of. While it was a bit more difficult to take in the scenery there was still plenty to look at. The moon on the lake was gorgeous. But what really stole the show was when we came to a clearing, turned our headlamps off, and looked up. It was unlike anything I had seen before being so farm from a major light source. You could see so much, feeling so very small out there in the woods.
Just right of center frame is a person...

Sorry, this was long. But it was a truly awesome experience and I do recommend it if anyone feels like traveling to the area. I was very happy to get out and help give, and also get an awesome experience. It was just what I needed too with as much as I have had going on. I needed a reminder that stress rolls right off like sweat when you find something to get your mind right and my mind needed righting. So. Thank you Flatrock. 
I'm terrible at trail pics.
I'm really terrible at trail pics.