Kansas Rails To Trails Race Report

AKA how to not finish a 100. Long story short, we DNF’d. Read below for more details of the race, our race and the gear used –

The Race review (nothing personal) – It’s a well run race, with sufficient manned and unmanned aid stations. The course is easily runnable by anyone, the surface is probably 98% packed gravel (almost old asphalt like in some sections) with some paved areas in the towns and where the path weaves under the highway from time to time. The trail won’t slow you down.

Check in, packet pickup was done smoothly and well, no major roadblocks there. The pasta dinner was plentiful although not gourmet but sitting and talking to other runners over some canned sauce is worth the price of admission and then some. There were a lot of ‘firsts’ there. One couple we talked to, the woman had to drop from the hundred due to being pregnant and her and her S.O. were just going to walk up out to the turn around for one of the short distances, have lunch in the town and then walk back. Bravo for her for making that choice and him for supporting it.

Drop bags made it without issue to the locations we had ours, no complaints. It’s possible to have a drop bag at every manned station which isn’t something we’ve personally seen before. We just had 2 bags, one for the 25/75 station and one at the turn around.

The scenery is… Kansas. After the first mile you’ve seen all the variety you’re going to see. There are sections where the trail bed drops off fairly sharply on one side or the other so some level of care should be taken to stay between the lines but the path is 6 to 8 feet wide for all of the route.

It’s important to note that the outbound 51 miles is where most of the 1100 vertical contained. You’re almost constantly going up hill even if it’s only slightly so the first half + of the race.

The aid stations were reasonably well stocked and included the typical options. The second aid station had figured out exactly the best way to offer raman. Cook the noodles and strain and portion them out into cups and keep the broth heating separately. When you take some, add some broth back to the noodles and they’re the perfect temperature and not so overcooked they’re like mush. I wish and hope that other RD’s will pass this on to all their AS’s and each other.

The volunteers were on par with any other ultra we’ve run although I’d like to call out the two volunteers at Richmond trail head who were there when I staggered in 2 minutes before the cut off. The only way they could have been more helpful was to craft a palanquin out of the picnic table I was flattened out on and carried me to the next aid station on their shoulders. I didn’t get a chance to catch their names but they were outstanding in their care, their courtesy and their “the next cutoff is going to be tight, you should probably be moving” encouragement after I’d been laying there all of 2 minutes. We love it when the volunteers are obviously either runners themselves or they’ve crewed runners before and are aware of the technical parts of ultra running, not just how to make you feel welcome and get you food and fluids.

There are bathrooms at the manned aid stations except perhaps the most critical one, the 51.2 mile turn around. There are no public bathrooms here and there were no porta-potties. While it’s quite possible there are ordinances preventing placing porta-potties in a park this lack was noticed. Especially for those who were replacing everything to deal with the upcoming drop in temps for the night.

There was sufficient water at the water stops. I do have a trivial to most, kind of a pain for me, complaint in that most if not all of the water jugs used for the unmanned water stops were filled from a garden hose. They all had that “it’s hot mowing out here, I’m just going to take a drink from the hose that’s been laying in the sun, oh my that’s nasty” taste. For whatever reason I really do not like the taste of hose water so this was an ongoing problem for me. It wasn’t super impactful just kept me going ‘yuck’ every time I drank it. After awhile I’d keep one bottle in reserve of good water obtained from the manned stops to reduce the amount of rubber water I was drinking.

So if you’re looking for a 100 mile course as a first time course or just a affirmation race after a DNF of a more technical one, the Kansas Rails to Trails / Prairie Spirit has no serious downside other than it’s not a ‘destination race’. You won’t be presented with some grand vistas or gorgeous waterfalls or painted rocks. But if you just want to endure a 100 mile race at an easier pace than is required for a lot of them or just want to PR that bitch of a distance then give it a shot.

Now let’s get personal –

3 days ago we DNF’d our first attempt at a 100 miles. This was at the Kansas Rails to Trails 100 Mile Race as it’s known in the fall. The same race occurs in the spring as Prairie Spirit 100 Mile Race. Different buckles, same everything else.

Bunny and I have spent the last year training for this race. We did the miles, 1100ish this year , we worked out nutrition and hydration, gear selections. We put in the sprints, the hills, the tempo runs, the back to backs, the overnights, the long runs, the short runs. 2 days a week at the gym for strength training. We ran our first 50 mile race this year, our first 24 hour race, my first triple back to back to back race weekend. A lot of miles, gallons upon gallons of sweat, and a whole of time going over the same local running paths and trails.

And we went into this race feeling we were ready. My primary concern going into it was sticking with the pace plan to get us to the first of many cut offs at the turn around at mile 51.2. I created a pacing chart that I had every expectation would see us finishing with an easy pace but plenty of cushioning to not have to worry about cut offs. We have Snowdrop 55 coming up in 2 months and I didn’t want a lot of recovery time so we could use this more as a training run than a finishing run. I was honestly expecting to finish in around 27-28 hours and enjoying the experience as much one can enjoy this ridiculous sport we claim to enjoy.

And up till the turn around we did accomplish these goals without any issues. We ‘stuck the landing’ on the turn around precisely on point and still feeling pretty good about things with a projected finish time of 27 hours. I was dealing with some food issues, too many calories too early that were sitting in my stomach and refusing to either get digested or come back out.

I had a minor problem really from mile 30 onward I primarily subsisted on water, saltstick chews, hammer endurolyte extremes and candied ginger. At the AS’s I would add some calories, not a lot but enough to keep things in the processing pipeline while waiting for that lump of lead homemade goodness of pumpkin bread and cookies to get processed. I kept it to no more than half a baby potato dipped in salt or 4 chips or a half cup of the raman broth. There wasn’t really any time during this nutrition shortage that I felt short on nutrition, my fat burning was taking care of energy needs.

Even with that, we ran our 2nd fastest Marathon distance and our fastest 50 mile distance in the first half of this race. So that to me validates our training if nothing else. We’re getting better.

Around mile 60-65 things started to clear up digestion wise, the backlog of calories was moving through. But that’s when, figuratively thankfully, “shit happens”. At the 51 mile turn around I picked up poles to use. My thought was these would transfer a minor bit of effort from the legs to the upper torso during the walk segments. We’ve used them for ascents and descents before and the back 25 miles of the ROcky 50 without any problems.

I thought the poles were safe…

What I believe in hindsight that they did was also transfer a minor bit of stress to my lower back. By mile 65 my back was hurting. As both a tall and sideways big ass runner my whole life living in an average sized world I’ve had back problems. By mile 75 my lower back was excruciatingly painful. I couldn’t straighten up at this point without external assistance in the form of a wall or floor. I would take the occasional opportunity to lay flat on a bench when we passed one to give it small break but the relief this was getting me lasted for shorter and shorter time frames until eventually I’d literally just stumble/slam into the side of a bridge or one of the entry barriers and hang off it for a few moments trying to straighten and get even a second’s relief.

Without any risk of exaggeration this was some level 10 pain that I endured for several hours. But as long as we had a shot at making the cutoffs there wasn’t any chance I was going to stop, too much, too far to get to this point. That’s not to make me sound like a bad ass, I’m not, I can just tolerate pain when the potential reward is worth it, I take a couple of aspirin for a minor headache like everyone else. But I was literally throwing a pharmacy at this pain and it wasn’t touching it. A smorgasbord of over the counter, hard core prescription pain relief and muscle relaxers (all legally obtained and prescribed), didn’t even dent it.

And yes I know you shouldn’t do this, that you can dull pain to the point of real injury, even permanent injury, let’s all agree this is bad and not something anyone should ever do.

Bunny was having to act as a human bumper to keep me from going off the path. If you’ve never run this trail there are sections with a fairly sharp, fairly deep drop off on one side or the other at times and she’d get between me and the edge and bump or pull me back toward the center of the track. I was unable to move in a straight line, what would have happened if she hadn’t of been there… well it might have gotten ugly to say the least.

While that may not sound like much, I outweigh her by 80 lbs at least. And she was putting in every mile, every hour I was and carrying just as much gear. So keeping me from going off the rails wasn’t an insignificant task.

I’ll stop here to say that guys and gals, if you get lucky enough to find a ultra running partner who you can depend on through good and bad times, who is there every step of the way make sure you fully appreciate just how lucky you are. Finding someone to pace you that last 25 miles is hard enough, finding someone to run at your side for a 100 miles, to give you the freedom to push yourself to the point of destruction by taking on the burden of ‘keeping you between the lines’ is unbelievably rare.

At 26 hours, 46 minutes we were still 2 miles short of the last cut off. I’ve never run a 6 minute mile in life much less 2 of them back to back at miles 92-93. I knew we were done and with that realization I knew I could not go another step forward without going face down, my arms were toast from trying to support my torso for so long and my lower back and down into my glutes and hip stabilizers was a black hole going nova of pain (or for the nerds it felt like what I imagine is the end result of putting a bag of holding into a dimensional hole) so I went down intentionally to lay on my back on the trail to find some relief so we could finish that last 2 miles where the only thing waiting us was to get pulled for time. And the worst part? We were still on pace to finish the race in about 29:30, it’s just that last cut off killed any chances of getting to use the last 3 hours to finish.

A law enforcement vehicle had been running drag on us, stopping at each crossroads to pick up the water jugs at the unmanned stops as as everyone behind us had either dropped prior or been pulled at the last check point. He was kind enough to cut the misery short by a bit and took us into Princeton and checked us in then dropped us off at the start. Bunny arranged for that, it is just a haze of pain for me. If I’d of been clear minded my own stubborn pride to the point of stupidity would have stepped in and said, no I’m going to keep walking till they pull my stupid dying ass off the course but I wasn’t quite of sound mind at that point.

I can’t say I’m not disappointed in that my mistakes cost Bunny her first buckle and to a lesser extent me as well. I can say I put everything I had into that run and pushed through more than I thought I could, and I think highly of myself, so that’s something. At no point did the thought of dropping out or calling it quits enter my head and that’s something even more.

I can say we’ve already micro-analyzed the race, the obvious and non-obvious mistakes, the moving versus non-moving time, what we can do to fix those problems so that at the next race we reduce the wrong and increase the right.

Ultimately this failure is just the first. There may be more failures, RNGesus with the weather, terrain, mistakes will factor in that result ratio, but there will 100% be more attempts.

Technical stuff –

For this race I carried the following things, not everything was used. Each entry has a note of some kind indicating my thoughts on it’s usefulness or ability to do what I asked of it –

Clothing:

  • Altra Trail Shorts 2.0 – No longer made which is a damn shame. The best shorts I’ve found for me. When mine wear out it’s going to be a sorry ass day, literally. Wore these the entire run. No chafing.
  • REI Quarter Zip – No longer made (see above). Super soft hand, lightweight, wicking, drying. The perfect long sleeve shirt.
  • Under Armor Cold Gear Shirt – Perfect weight for the night time run, was able to get by with just this and a vest.
  • Brooks Thermal Cascadia Vest – Used this during the night when temps dropped into the low 40’s to high 30’s. Combined with the UA shirt was perfectly comfortable.
  • Injinji medium weight trail crew socks first layer, Balega no show medium weight outer layer – Went with two pair of socks for cushion value. They DID NOT prevent blistering on the outer sides of heels from all the walking we ended up doing. I do not normally get blisters except on stupid long runs when I end up doing a lot of walking and then it’s on the outside of my heels where there’s more rubbing due to heel striking.
  • Buff – Standard buff, used during the night worn on the neck.
  • Halo head wrap – Love these for their ability to keep sweat out of my eyes. That weird rubber band thing actually works as I have some old ones the rubber band has come off and I get sweat in my eyes if I wear those.

Shoes –

  • Altra Olympus 3.5 x 3 – I started in a size 13 which is my nominal size then switched to size 14’s at mile 25 and mile 50. The thought was to have as much cushion as possible for my feet and it worked out well for me.

Misc Gear –

  • Squirrels Nut Butter – Liberally applied at race start at every possible chafing location. No chafing as a result. Previous winner was Trail Toes but I’ve found SNB to be better for me personally although it doesn’t do well in the cold as it gets rock hard in the jar so carry it in a small zip lock on your person if you need to apply during a race so it stays warm.
  • Salomon 2019 12L vest – First time wearing this for an ultra race. In my opinion of the vests I’ve used it has the best and most efficient layout of storage spaces. If you can’t get everything you need in this thing then you’re running for days, not hours. Almost everything is very well thought out for my needs. My biggest gripe is the strap system to fasten it on but then I have this same complaint about most vests. Only the Nathan’s get it right and have clasps that are as easy to use when you start as when you’re staggering after 25 hours of running.
  • Paria Outdoor Products – collapsible carbon poles. I’ve put a fair number of miles on these poles and while I directly attribute them as the cause of my DNF for this particular race it is NOT for any fault of the poles, just my lack of training with them over long flat distances.
  • Trekz Titanium Headphones – Carried but never used. When I wanted music I just played it on the speaker of my phone for both Bunny and I to share. Still enjoy them.
  • Pixel 2XL – Carried to enable live track so friends and family could keep track of us. Found out the hard way that live track only lasts for 24 hours. So much for that. Also used for music which sounds good enough for phone.
  • Zebra headlight – H600FW to be exact. This light lasted the first hour+ of the race and then about 8 hours of the night on the same battery on medium. It puts out a metric crapton wave of floody light in front of you at this light setting and weighs virtually nothing and comes with a very comfortable head strap. It’s not a ‘runners’ light, it’s more of a hunting / tactical quality light which is why I think it works so well. It’ll go a couple or three hours on high and you’ll light up the immediate area like a car would. Highly recommended. If you want a long throw then get a different model though, i prefer to see everything in a hemisphere around me for 50 yards than a narrow beam for 150 yards.
  • Goodr BFG Sunglasses – Very overpriced for the quality but they get the job done and if you drop them on a rocky section and scratch the crap out of them you’re only mildly annoyed rather than going “!(@&)&!%##!! that’s $150 down the toilet!!!!111!” that you might do for any of the higher end sun glasses. I consider them disposable and if I get a year+ out of them before they get scratched up then they served their purpose.
  • Stryd Foot Pod – No better device for accuracy for distance and speed. Downside is the battery only lasts about 14-15 hours so you will have to recharge or use an alternate method.
  • Garmin Fenix 6X – No better watch ecosystem for me and the way I run and train. The current iteration, the 6 series will give you second by second GPS for up to 60+ hours. (note live track burns into this by a fair bit). If you need more than 60 hours of continuous GPS tracking without having any downtime to throw the watch on a charger then you’re beast mode and probably don’t need GPS.

Nutrition –

Note not all of this was used this race but it has been used at some points and tested well with us –

  • NB&J sandwiches – specifically Cashew butter + high end jam + banana + honey + maple syrup + salt on potato bread. These turned out to be the best options of the various PB&J’s we tested.
  • Candied / Crystalized Ginger – Eat a piece with every fueling to enjoy less stomach distress and get some spicy tasty calories.
  • EFS Fuel – A high potency drink mix of all the electrolytes, BCAA’s and other things you’re burning through. Best flavor is the fruit punch in our opinion.
  • PediaLyte – Doesn’t have everything you need but sometimes you just want to hydrate and this does the trick and with a flavor profile tailored to appeal to people who aren’t currently feeling their very best.
  • Strawberry Newtons – Good but not sure I’d take them again, they ended up tasting too sweet oddly enough during the run.
  • Peanut Butter M&M’s – Usually highly tasty but like the newtons they ended too sweet, won’t take again.
  • Stinger Waffles / Stroupwaffles (generic) – Were eaten during the run, not critical but does provide variety.
  • Cliff Nut Filled bars – Only had 1 out of 4 and only half of that one. Decided they’re good for a short run but too heavy for a long run. Won’t bother with them again.
  • Ensure Enliven – Used these 3 times for a heavy hit of calories and electrolytes and fluid replacement. Not great warm. I’ve used these twice now on runs of 80+ miles and for me they seem to work well. Bunny doesn’t get along with them as much, too many calories in one sitting.
  • And lastly at the Aid Stations I primarily had small amounts of boiled potatoes liberally smushed into salt, ramen broth (fluids, salt and warmth), potato chips (no more than 4) and never all of that at the same time.

Things unfinished…My Why

Monday, October 21, 2019 9:09 PM

With less than 5 days left before I toe the line of our first 100 mile race, I find myself grappling with the same struggle I faced immediately after the 24-hour race at Lhotse.  (A struggle I wrote about, but never published much like my race report…hmm)  That place of struggle to know if I can finish this race or not. I am in that time of reflection and period of self-doubt where I wonder if I trained hard enough, if I have what it takes to overcome the pain, if my Why is big enough?  

Earlier today while discussing my thoughts with my running partner, I heard myself say, “I don’t know if my Why is big enough to get me through this race.” Those words have echoed in my head all day.

So tonight I read an inspirational article about a runner who finished the Tahoe 100 that Trex sent me, and I made myself watch Billy Yang’s film, ‘The Why’, to try and pull myself out of my funk and once again find that place of determination and inspiration that will help me push through, and to remind myself of my Why.

To be honest it has felt forced and cliché, but I knew there would be nuggets of wisdom in that article, and in that short film that I could use like life lines to help me pull out of my darker depths. I mean if I feel this way now how the hell am I going to feel at mile 82? (assuming I make it that far)

So did it help? Yes. Am I happy-go-lucky? No.  But it’s a start. I know in my head, that overcoming pain, both mental and physical, will be the hardest part of this, and I needed to hear this process described by other runners who have faced this and won their battles. It helps to hear or read it put concisely.

It helped to hear that last inspiring message that it is okay to use my body in this way, to overcome my mind and to look for the other side of the pain that will come.  It helped to be reminded that it is part of the story I will tell for years and years.

So now I am forcing myself to sit down and write these thoughts down, to remind myself of my Why and to create something that I can revisit and maybe other’s will too, whenever I am facing similar doubts.

I wish at this moment I wasn’t struggling with these feelings. I wish more than anything that I was confident and excited about this race. I wish that I had inspiring things to write about. I wish that I was going into this week with a hopeful heart instead of a since of worry and dread, but I am not, at least not at present while I write this. I am worried. I am anxious. I am afraid, and more than anything I want it all to just be over so I can put it behind me better or worse. But mostly I am sad and angry that right now I am feeling so negatively towards something I have been working hard for all summer. I gave up Saturday and Sunday mornings sleeping in and watching cartoons with my kids to run. I ran after work, exhausted, in the triple digit heat. I ran during the miserable sticky nights around the same paths I have pounded around for years now. And I ran through the pain of watching my dearest aunt die of brain tumors. It was a long hot painful summer and I deserve to see my work come to the bloody damn end.

So it is with heaviness in my heart and mind that I jot down my thoughts tonight in hopes of capturing the ebb and flow of emotions that this journey will bring, and it is just this very journey, the one of the highs and lows, that reminds me I have work to do in myself, that is my Why.

Countdown Clocks

Snowdrop 55 Hour Endurance


Prairie Grudge Match

Snowdrop 2019

So we signed up for Snowdrop 2019. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a 55 hour endurance race done on a 0.69xxx mile track. It’s about 2’3’rds gravel and 1/3rd asphalt. That will actually tie into my endurance plan of 2/3rds running, 1/3rd walking rather well because I don’t care to run 55 hours on concrete.

The Goal

In years prior the race apparently filled up in minutes but today it was only 94% full almost 2 hours after opening. Interestingly it started at 40%+ full before registration opened, I assume to spots reserved for veterans of the race, elites and etc.

The breakdown on buckles is every 50 miles starting with 100 miles. The buckles are some of the most glittery and shiny I’ve seen to date.

One of the reasons it’s so popular I believe is that you can take up to 55 hours as a 100 mile cut off. That’s 25 hours more than most 100’s. My own goal would be of course to do 100 miles but it’s really the 150 mile buckle that I would go into the race with thoughts of getting. 200 miles is way beyond my skill set now and likely skill set in 8 months. Even 150 may be beyond me.

It’s all unknown territory at the moment with only a single 24 hour race on the books and single 50 mile.

By SnowDrop though we should have one 100 mile / 30 hour cut off race after doing the Kansas Rails to Trails in October.

The only way to grow and evolve is redefine your limits. I just regret I waited so long in life to find this area of my life to evolve into.

Rails To Trails 100 2019

We’ve mostly settled on the Kansas Rails To Trails 100 Mile race for our first 100 mile attempt this year. This is October and I’ve mapped out our training plan which starts up in May. We’ll obviously run between now and then but the actual plan starts then.

This is about as first timer friendly as 100 miles can get. The route is flat, it’s mostly a straight out and back, it’s in cool but not freezing temperatures and it averages 8′ wide so there’s plenty of space to run side by side for 2 or 3 people. The surface is non-technical being mostly crushed gravel. So if we DNF it won’t be due to the innate difficulty of the race course but the sheer difficulty of running 100 miles at one time.

There’s also the problem of gear selection and choices. It’s hard to determine the best gear for a 100 miles without actually running a 100 miles so there’s a lot of unknowns there. For example my Altra Paradigm 4.0’s are good shoes up to 30 miles. After that they don’t work so well. This is something I had to find out the hard way. Gear for 100 miles is only going to be harder to figure out.

In 2020 we’ll be going after more challenging races with some vertical and better terrain/scenery. The next logical step forward in building skill sets and pushing limits.


Is there a hundred out there?

Ever since I met Rabbit and learned of her accomplishments… well she made me question just how far I should go on this crazy journey I’m on.

Hand to heart when I started I had no intentions of doing any races. None, zero, zip.   That was two years and 3 months ago (June 2016).

“You could do that.  You can’t do that.  You can do that.  You can’t do that.  You won’t know unless you try.”

18 months I had no intention of ever doing more than maybe a half marathon.  I even designed and 3D printed a PR display that only went up to half marathon.

And then I met Rabbit who, as I’ve mentioned before, the first question she asked after we met for the first time in person was did I run or something like after she saw me wearing a pair of Altra Lone Peak 2.5’s as my daily shoes.

Since then we’ve shared stories of runs, opinions of running, gear and training.  In spite of our 1500 miles of distance apart we’ve even run together albeit in a virtual race.

Somewhere in there after I made her acquaintance, I find myself signed up, cash paid and travel plans made for not only a 50K in 10 weeks (OMG) but a 50Mile in 5 months (OMFG).

For those of you for whom these are mere training run distances now, do think back and remember a time when you weren’t quite as awesome as you are now and what you went through to get to where you are now.

And now I’m reading race reports of 100 mile races.  I’m skimming and moving on from the race reports by runners who talk about their PR’s and 8 minute paces for 100 miles and their place on the podium.

I’m not ‘casting shade’ on these runners, their abilities are awesome, no doubt about it.  But there’s absolutely nothing relatable to their reports for me.   I can barely hold a sub 9 minute pace for a 5K and it had better be cold and non-hilly that day.

No the race reports that resonate with me are the ones by the folks who worry about making the cut offs.  The ones who push through enormous, soul shattering amounts of pain both mentally and physically to cross that finish line before the last seconds tick off.   I read how they trip and fall, wrenching body and mind, their battles with darkness, hallucinations, nutrition, hydration and boredom.  Their tales of everything that goes wrong, travel plans, forgetting to pick up their head lamps, trying new foods and really regretting it, but most of all the walls they have to break through to keep putting one foot in front of another make me try to figure out how, when, if this might be me one day.

And my association with Rabbit and her endeavors in this ridiculous sport we participate in and there’s an ear worm in my head that plays over and over, “You could do that.  You can’t do that.  You can do that.  You can’t do that.  You won’t know unless you try.” make me believe it might be possible one day.

Note I have my own walls to worry about in this regard, age, weight, training time and let’s face it sheer physical resources.  But you know what?  I’m pretty sure that if such a time comes that I let this flight of fancy take root and become a reality some day that Bunny and Rabbit will be encouraging me the whole way and I’m pretty sure one or both of them will be there force feeding me liquids and calories, making sure I don’t leave an aid station without everything I need to keep pushing forward.