One of the greatest parts of running trail ultras is the tremendous opportunity to push yourself on a wide range of terrain, in diverse locations, and ultimately discover your limits.
Sometimes the hardest part is accepting that your limit on a given day isn’t the finish line.
The FlatRock 101K is a double out-and-back on the Elk River Hiking Trail in Independence, Kansas. It’s the site of the FlatRock 50K – Kansas’ oldest ultra (year 20 is coming in September) – and it’s one gnarly trail with endless rocks, numerous steep climbs, and few opportunities to settle into any sort of running rhythm.
It’s tough running any day, but the conditions on race day added to the difficulty.
On the hottest day of the year where temperatures soared to around 90 degrees and the humidity pushed 65 percent, my race was ravaged by calf cramps, lack of energy, and ultimately overheating.
I had a great first 15.6 miles, running most of the way with Sherrie Klover and Larry Long and the full distance with Stu Johnson. We hit the turnaround in a little over 3:15, and I was feeling good. A strong wind blowing off of the lake kept us cool during the early hours, and it helped mask the effects of the humidity for a while.
I felt the humidity’s wrath shortly after departing the aid station for the return trip. Within a mile of returning to the trail my calves began trying to cramp. I took a hiking break and resigned myself to the fact that this day just became a whole lot longer. I hydrated well early and took salt on the hour, every hour, but something about my levels was wrong and it caught up to me much earlier than I’d hoped it would.
The remainder of the return trip was a mixture of running the minimal flats and downhills while hiking every hill to fend off cramps. My energy levels were dropping quickly, and by the time I reached the road leading back to the start/finish to conclude my first out-and-back I knew I’d be forced to hike the second half of the race as the temperature continued to rise.
Alex was waiting for me at the aid station, ready to tend to my food and fluid needs before hopping in to pace. I told her to be prepared for a nine- to 10-hour death march on the second half of the race, and she was prepared to do whatever necessary.
Unfortunately, my legs and body didn’t have the same amount of gusto.
We had 3.8 miles to reach the first aid station, and by the time we got there I’d grown light-headed and was overheating. I grabbed a seat on a cooler and downed a few cups of ginger ale while Alex put ice on my neck and rubbed cubes on my wrists and knees to help cool my body down.
It took about 15 minutes, but my body calmed down and we returned to the trail to hike the next six miles to the 41-mile aid station. I knew I had a decision to make during that stretch. It quickly became apparent that my energy reserves were sapped, and my brain was drifting to the point that I didn’t feel comfortable that I could navigate the more treacherous parts of the course safely after dark.
What happened in Whistler last September – the cramps, light-headedness, dizziness, and eventual trip to the ER – weighed heavily on my mind. I wasn’t at that point physically, but my body was telling me it wasn’t my day. I decided to listen this time.
It turned out I wasn’t the only one who had a tough day. Of the 48 or 49 runners registered, 27 started and only 22 finished. Of that, only 12 finished in less than 20 hours, including a trio of my Kansas City running pals – Adam Dearing won in 12:44:22; Stu had a smashing race and took second in 15:10:26, and Sherrie was the women’s champ and fourth overall in 15:36:14.
I’m not signed up for any other races at the moment, although I’m sure that will change soon. Up next is pacing for Alex at the TARC 100 in Massachusetts in June, so between now and then I’ll let my cranky right ankle rest and scope out future races.
Another area of focus will be trying to figure out my running nutrition; specifically, why cramping continues to be such a problem for me regardless of how much or how little fluid, salt, food, etc. I ingest. Something’s not right, and Alex is going to try to help me figure it out beginning with sweat rate testing and some additional running nutrition homework. That may be the big running goal for the summer so that the next time I toe the starting line my day will end at the finish line.