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 –
- 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.
- 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.
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.