Saturday, March 29, 2014
Prairie Chickin' at the Prairie Chicken
The Prairie Spirit Trail races are 50 and 100 miles, in their second year with race director Eric Steele, who started the event company Epic Ultras. For a race that's only in it's second year, they have their act together.
Aid stations are well-spaced and well-stocked, they had everything you could want, the basics of course, but it was all available and no hassle. In and out, no disorganization to slow you down. The volunteers had a system worked out at all of the aid stations that was efficient, and they were on top of it.
The weather was just about perfect, and there was a good breeze but not anything resembling wind, which is lucky for this time of year in this particular place. The weather gods were happy. Thanks Sasquatch, if that was your idea.
It was cold in the morning, so I started with my Pearl Izumi short sleeved jersey under the long sleeved one. I had shorts and gloves, and a headband over my ears. I had my PI H3s on, testing them at ever longer distances. And gaiters, as it was a gravel path most of the way.
The night before at the dinner I sat with Rachel and her husband Brent. They are from Iowa and it is Rachel's first 50 miler. I wanted to make sure I found her before the start.
So then, with a few minutes to spare before the start, I got rid of my phone and went over to the start with about 30 seconds to spare.
The first 2 miles were northbound first, an out and back into town, then we turned around and headed south until the turnaround at 27 miles and change. Some people tore out of there like it was a 10K. The first guy, who ended up winning, was out in front from the start, but then there were a ton of other people who followed him. I just hung back and tried to settle into a reasonable 10 minute pace.
Except for the asphalt crossings through towns, the entire path was a gravel railroad grade, very gentle slopes, barely noticeable except for the last 6 or so miles up to the turnaround. The H3s seemed to be working fine. I did get a lot of dirt in my shoes despite the
gaiters, probably something to do with the tongue, breathable upper and the way I tied the H3s. I didn't ever have to dump out my shoes though, and no blisters.
My plan was to stick to 10 minute miles all the way to the turnaround, then see what I had left. It was hard to run that pace, I think just because at 1000 feet it is so much easier to breathe. Still, I managed to stick to 9:40s or so, that seemed to be my comfortable pace.
I was running with a group of about 5 guys, leapfrogging on the way out. All five of them, who were from different places, were in their first 50 milers. They kept pushing the pace, though a few of them were smarter about it than others. I did end up passing all of them by about halfway. I was trying not to get caught up in their pace so I finally pulled out my iPod and put on some relaxing trance music and got in my own world.
One guy was a talker. He was young, and every time I would catch him or he caught me, he would start talking, telling me all his predictions for the race and his plan to run between 7 and 8 hours and so on. He knew everything, of course. Yeah, yeah. I wanted to say, " Just shut up and run, dude." I think duct tape is an item I need to add to my drop bag list. Just in case.
The scenery was farmland, pastures on both sides, and the course was lined with deciduous trees. There were no leaves out yet, but there was enough shade to keep it cold most of the morning. The scenery wasn't that interesting, but it was pretty. The course passed through a few tiny towns, crossed some railroad tracks, and you could see silos and water towers up ahead, it gave you an idea that there was something else out there besides just miles of fields and cow pastures.
It was cold, I kept my long sleeved shirt and gloves on all the way to the turnaround, and for an hour or so after that I was still cold. Then it eventually warmed up, to 61 degrees, but it never felt uncomfortably warm.
As I headed into Garnett, the turnaround, I was 22 minutes behind the first place woman and 16 minutes behind second place. They both looked comfortable, so I didn't think about it any more. I just went to the aid station, took 5 minutes to strip some clothes, eat some PBJs, mess with my drop bags, and grab a few gels and drinks for the road.
I turned the iPod on at that point to my racing tunes. Headed out of Garnett I cranked up the pace, down to between 8:30 to 9:30 per mile. I flew past a few of the men, and took advantage of the slight downhill grade, only stopping to pee a few times. I saw Rachel, who wasn't much more than a mile behind me at the turnaround. She looked good. I kept on moving, passing a few men.
Around 35 miles, suddenly I realized the second place woman was ahead of me, in striking distance. She was walking. When I caught her, she said she was having some foot pain and wasn't sure what was wrong. She kept trying to run, and when she did run, she was moving well.
At the 36 mile aid station I ate more PBJs and drank some, but getting out of there, I felt like I was starting to crash. I kept moving well, maybe 10:30 miles for a while, and threw a little walking in here and there. Going into the aid station I was in second place and then she caught me as I was walking out of the aid station, eating my PBJs.
She got a few minutes ahead of me, but it wasn't long before I passed her again. I asked her if she wanted to try running with me to distract her from her foot, but then she said she was trying not to puke. She seemed to be okay though. I decided to let them know at the next aid station that she might need some attention.
I never saw her again, until the finish, she managed to finish under 9 hours. No one passed me the whole way in, I only passed two people after 35 miles. I couldn't see anyone else ahead of me. I wondered where the first place woman was.
Around 44 miles I got my legs back, but 9:30 to 10 minute miles were about all I could do at that point, and it was a definite uphill the last mile or so. I pushed it in, and finished in 8:25:02, 2nd woman, 7th overall. The first place woman, as it turns out, was only 13 minutes ahead of me finishing, so I had gained on her too. It was her first 50 miler. Seemed like it was everyone's first 50 except me.
Eric, the race director, was there to greet us as we came through, and handed us belt buckles as we finished.
My drop bags were back at the finish line before I was. That's pretty amazing work, considering the last aid station was at 42 miles. They had hamburgers and hot dogs, potato salad, and cold drinks at the finish line. The results were posted to the website immediately, too.
The only thing I think they could improve on is having ice and cold drinks available for the runners at the aid stations in the afternoon if it's warm. The water was cold, but the coke and drinks they had out were getting almost hot inside those little tents. Other than that, I think they did an outstanding job. It was fun, fast, and well-done. Can't get much better than that. I highly recommend it, if you want a fast course that isn't on asphalt.
I hung out for a while, talked to some other runners, and ate a burger. Then I went back to room to shower and grab some more food, then I wanted to get back in case Rachel finished soon. Turned out I missed her crossing the line by just a few minutes, but I saw her in the building. She ran 9:53. That's a great first 50 mile run. She was already talking about doing another one. I told her husband, "There's no cure."
It feels good to run in the 8 hour range again. I haven't run this fast in about 10 years. I am still nearly an hour off my PR, but I still need to do more miles and speedwork. The year is young. I have 6 months to nationals, so I have lots of time to work on those things. In 5 weeks I run Cornbelt, and I just want to get more miles in that last time, run more of it than I have in the past, and chip away at my goals. It will be warm and humid, most likely, so I look forward to that challenge too.
It is fun to be getting more competitive again. It was so frustrating carrying around all that extra weight, it really kept me from running to my potential. I still have a lot of work to do but it's great to see results. And then there's always the fun of the age and gender pecking order...
A Prairie Chicking.