Where do I begin in terms of trying to recap and capture the moments of this past weekend? It still seems surreal at this point and almost like… did I REALLY do that? Going in to last weekend I was worried, but didn’t want to show it. Due to the hectic schedules of everyday life my 50 mile long run leading up to PS100 had been almost a month out and I had only gotten one 50 miler in which left me a little nervous. But riding up to Ottawa with David…. I didn’t want to let on that I had any inkling of doubt or concern. I had learned the hard way with Rocky Raccoon last year that it could be a killer if there was doubt.
Friday evening after dinner David and I sat down and tried to map out a plan that was reasonable and was well thought out. In 2014 I had finished PS in 23:23:00 and that included several very long aid station stops. So for this year David and I talked and deciced.. lets get serious in the aid stations – get in, get what I need, and get out. I had seen Derek do this with laser like focus at Mark Twain 100. Additionally in 2014 my HR spiked later in the day when it got warm to well in to the upper zone 3s. So this year the plan was to start out under control and never let it get ahead of me. Keep the HR at or below 150 until at least mid-afternoon when it warmed up.
I didn’t sleep all that well Friday night, which is what I expected. So Saturday morning I was even more nervous but again… didn’t want to show it at breakfast with everyone around. Had I put in enough mileage and had I done enough in the past few weeks? Justin seemed to be at ease that morning and I sure wished I felt the same.
When Eric Steele counted us down and we kicked off at 6am, I stayed towards the back half of the pack going out. It was going to be a long day and no reason to worry about getting in front of everything right off the bat. As we headed out the 2 mile out and back on asphalt, we got a little rain …. great… this is going to change things if it does this all day. Luckily it stopped about 15 minutes in.
The plan was HR at 150 or less no matter what the pace felt like or was. So… I only focused on HR. By the time the sun was coming up the pack had spread out enough that I could only see a few folks within throwing distance and I assumed behind me was about the same. Your mind can play funny tricks on you at this point… making you wonder… am I really falling behind the pace and should I pick it up? Nope … HR 150 or less… gotta keep telling myself that.
Rolling into the first aid station at mile 9, I felt pretty good and my HR had maintained about 148 with a pace that had actually sped up as I ran. It is incredible to see all the IRC folks at the aid stations and David, Derek, Jeff, Chris, Lindy, Kerri, and Kathy were all right there as I came in and jumped in to see what I needed. David and Derek refilled my handheld while I checked in and very quickly grabbed a few bites in the tent. I was in and out in probably less that a minute and on to the next stretch. Gary had come in right in front of me and was looking good and Justin was a little further ahead of me going out of the first aid station.
Trying to eat, drink, and run is not easy and after I was about a quarter mile down the trail and had everything swallowed, I looked at my HR and it was up to 155. Crap! So I knew it would be key to get it under control quickly and one of the best ways I found was to close my eyes and concentrate on breathing. If this had been a true trail that had any technical section at all, or one that wasn’t so straight you could almost see from start to finish this would have been problem. Luckily – straight as an arrow and soft chat to run on let me almost doze off for a few minutes at a time and then open my eyes and verify that I was on path and… the HR was pretty solid between 147 and 150.
The next couple of aid stations went pretty much the same. The only noticeable change was as I was coming into the 25 mile aid station at Garnett, I was running along with my eyes closed focused on my breathing when I hear – “Are you OK?”. I open my eyes and don’t see anyone… finally I focus on a guy laying down on the trail taking pictures. “Yep … I’m OK… just doin a little sleep running” I say.
By mid-afternoon the temps had risen enough that it started to affect my HR. The solid 150 had turned to 155-157. As I came in to the 33 mile aid station I told David and Derek that it was creeping up and I was trying to keep it down as much as possible without falling off pace too much. I had slipped about 4 minutes behind based upon what I was holding earlier in the day – but nothing to get too excited about yet. The next two stretches are the WORST mentally for me. There are no stops with any food or people for over 9 miles and then the next one is a little over 10 miles. Those don’t sound like a lot but when you are 33 miles in and have been staring down a straight and narrow path with unchanging scenery for the most part … it seems like forever!
Coming into mile 42 aid station I again had fallen off pace by about another 4 minutes, but the HR was staying right in the 155-157 range so I felt like I just needed to hang on for a few more hours and it would start cooling down.
By the turn-around point, I was more than ready to have some company. Coming in to Iola and getting to the aid station I realized I was quite a bit ahead of last years time and was feeling considerably better than I remember feeling last year at this point. In line with the rest of the aid stations, David and Derek quickly got me what I needed and pushed me out the door to get back on track.
Having Derek made all the difference in the world. It was probably the first time I had spoken more than a couple of words at a time all day outside the aid stations. The thing about picking up your pacer is that even though you come in to the aid station tired and dragging, once you get back out with your pacer you feel a new sense of energy and your pacer pushes you to get the pace back up. It is still warm enough that my HR creeps up so we end up having to slow down a bit and walk during a few stretches to get it back under control.
About four miles out from the next aid station we see a camper go by on the highway honking and I realize it is my wife Sharena, her friend Jennifer, and the kids, so it helps to convince me to pick up the pace a bit to get to the next aid station. As we roll in I see them on the horizon and it is incredible to get in to the aid station and get a hug from them. David said we were actually ahead of schedule at this point and I was about 45 minutes ahead of last year. I still feel OK at this point so after a few minutes talking to the family Derek and I are back out for the next 9 mile stretch.
The next stretch Derek and I chat quite a bit and enjoy the daylight that we were losing at this point. The temps had cooled down enough that at the last aid station I had changed into a long sleeve shirt and with the winds gusting it could be a little cool.
When we hit the aid station at mile 70, the family was there again and I remember the potato and ham soup – it was fantastic. I had been using Tailwind pretty much all day up to the turn-around point and had switched to ice water at the turn-around. The ice was such a relief even though it was getting pretty cool out – I am an ice chewer so having plenty of ice along the way served as a comfort item as well as hydration but it did get quite a few strange looks when Derek asked the aid station volunteers for ice when they were all in coats at this point.
We got in and out of this aid station pretty quickly and grabbed the headlamps as we were heading out. The sky was incredibly clear and no lights to pollute the view for miles. It was so clear that we ran for much of the next few stretches just by the moonlight. During this stretch we started passing folks a little more frequently and the pace felt a little quicker.
This is the point in the race where my head got a little fuzzy. For whatever reason I thought the next aid station was only 6 miles when in reality it was about 8.5 miles. So by the time we hit 6 miles I was anxious for more food and a break. But… mile 6 came… then mile 7 … then I start trying to do the math in my head. Derek tells me no that is another mile or two and I argue… it cant be… the next stop is the 25 mile turn-around for the 50 milers so it has to be off somewhere. Derek reminded me… there was a 2 mile out and back that we did to begin with that would make the next stop 23 miles to finish. Dangit!!!!
When we get in to the Garnett aid station, I am grouchy that it took so long … but we caught David by surprise because we were early coming in. Thats a good feeling. David tells me that we are way ahead of last year and kicking butt. I grab a bunch of food here. Oreos, pretzels, a no bake cookie, a ham sandwich, vanilla wafers and peanuts – it was all SO good. Chris, Derek, and Lindy all work to get me a dry shirt, swap headlamps and more ice. This is the aid station I have been looking forward to all day – less than 25 to finish so at this point… even it I completely fall apart, I know I will finish if I have to walk the last 23 miles.
When we roll into the next aid station again earlier than expected. Its a little after midnight at this point but Sharena and the kids are there and I quickly give them a kiss and grab a few things at the aid station and notice that David is not around. But I don’t want to take any more time than necessary so Derek and I start heading out. I asked Derek if everything is OK with David since we didn’t see him before we headed out and he says yeah… he’s all good. Within a few seconds I hear someone sprinting up behind us and it is David. I figure he is catching up to send us off with a push. Instead, Derek slaps my on the shoulder and says – Ok dude… I am handing you off…. It took me a second to figure out what was going on. David tells me that Derek felt like I needed a fresh face to push me a bit. So … David is pacing now?… Yep.. cool… whoa… wait a minute… this is gonna hurt!
David is great … wants to keep the conversation going and is joking and keeping me distracted. We go a couple of miles and I say I need a break for a minute to catch my breath. But he says no more than 2 minutes and we are back at it. The pace has picked up from when Derek was with me… but I expected that. We continue to steadily pass folks. Each time.. both Derek and David have this killer instinct that when they see the glow of a headlamp in front… the pace automatically ticks up a bit until we get even with them and after a few friendly conversations… we are off in front.
We roll into the last aid station. I grab a quick bite and pretty much dart out of the tent almost missing my family … but I give them a quick kiss and we are down the trail for the last stretch. During the last stretch we had picked up the pace by almost a minute per mile. We start out and before we get a quarter of a mile David tells me that I am kicking butt, I should finish with at least a 2 hour PR, and that a time around 21:12 is going to be incredible!….. But……. a finish of 20:59 would be even better. I try to do the math in my head… there is no way… that would be picking up the pace by… well I can’t make the numbers work in my head. David looks over at me, smiles and says… so it’s up to you… you are at an incredible spot… you have an incredible opportunity to make it even better… but you are gonna have to push straight through these last 7 nonstop and at a faster pace.
It’s at this point in a hundred miler where you want desperately for your mind to figure things out but in reality… nothing makes sense or works logically. All I know to do is trust David that he knows what he is talking about.
I look down a few minutes later and we have cut another minute off our pace and I feel like my lungs are going to flop out of my mouth. But my HR tells me I am going to be OK. It still doesn’t get above 152. A mile ticks off, and I think to myself I am not going to be able to hold this pace! Another mile and by this point I am starting to think about the pace and with only 5 miles left, David is right … we could break 21 hours.
At this point in the race I am running the fastest I have run all day. My legs feel like lead, and my lungs are on fire but I am gonna keep it up until I can’t go any further. I almost dread seeing the glow of a headlamp in front of us. David at one point says… uh oh… do you see that… I immediately say – nope… I don’t see nothin. No good… we are picking it up again. Another runner and we are off in front again.
We finally get to where I can see the lights of Ottawa again and I35 that we run under to get back to the finish. From I35 there is just about a mile left but… it is all asphalt. If you want to loathe asphalt and become a trail runner for life… run on the trail all day then spend the last mile on asphalt. It becomes the devil lapping at your feet. With less that 3/4 of a mile left, I see a runner with a dim headlamp. I am hoping that David isn’t paying attention. Distract him… ask him how much further. David does say that he thinks his calculation may be off just a bit but quickly sees the runner ahead. Dangit!!! He chuckles and says “Lets go!”.
The last half mile really seemed like it would never end! Both because I feel like I have nothing left but more importantly with the distance being off somewhat from what we had calculated I knew we were going to be close. I did not want to have wasted that effort for the last 2 1/2 hours only to miss getting under 21 hours by minutes. So the last stretch is faster than I feel like I can go. Finally we turn the corner to get back to the finish and I see the clock… 20 hours 58 minutes. David and I make it under the banner a few seconds later and all I wanted to do is be off my legs and just lay down on the ground.
A few minutes later I am up hugging the family getting pictures and heading inside the building for some warmth. Now it is getting cold. There is an awesome photographer that has a station set up inside for pictures and after we get that taken Derek comes up and whispers to me – Great job man!!! And… did you realize… you finished in 7th place? What?!?!?! That can not be… I mean yeah… I made up some time today over last year and we picked up the pace over the last 13 miles… but I am a middle of the pack guy…. I don’t finish in a single digit place… something has to be wrong! I go check and there it is… my name in black in white.. 7th place!!
Belief is not something you can learn, it is something you have to experience to fully accept. Leading up to Prairie Spirit, I was worried that I might fail, I might let folks down, and I might not even finish again. Had I put in the time, the miles, and were they REAL miles to count towards this again? Belief is also something you can’t have taken away after you experience either. Now I may never again have the type of day I had at Prairie Spirit this year… but one thing is for sure … I will never lose the belief that it is possible!
To Justin and Gary – It was an awesome journey and I am proud to have been on it with you guys and to see you holding that buckle at the end! I can’t wait to see you at the next one where ever that might be!
To Sharena and the kids – THANK YOU for putting up with the crazy training, the early mornings and late nights on the treadmill, the tired and grouchy times afterwards and before. You guys mean everything to me and I appreciate your support more than you will ever imagine. And to Jennifer and Emily – thanks for chauffeuring my family half way across the plains in the Winnebago and for standing out in the cold to cheer me on through all hours of the night.
Thanks to Kerri for some really incredible photos of day as well(which is where 2 of the photos in this post came from)… appreciate you helping document things so that we can go back and remember the day!
To David, and Derek – you guys are one of a kind! You gave up a weekend that took you away from family, ballgames, kids, and your normal life commitments to help me achieve something that I wanted, and more than that – you helped give me the belief that I needed. For that I am extremely grateful!! To Jeff, Chris, Lindy, Kathy, and Kerri – you guys made this an experience that I will never forget and are truly some of the most awesome people I have met! The IRC is incredible – I can guarantee you there is not another running club that has the support and amazing people that we do in this club.