A very typical view of the trail. Pretty, no?
I decided to enter the race, as I do almost all races, at the last possible minute. I always want to see how I'm feeling, what the weather will be, are there other things that sound more fun to do on any given weekend... In short, I don't like to commit to anything like a marathon or an ultra way out in the future. For most people, having a race for which to train creates a goal. For me, that creates pressure. And I run to avoid or ease pressure, not to increase it in my life.
A couple of things worried me about the race, put on by the really talented people at Epic Ultras. One was that the course is the flattest course possible in the world. I had run 17 miles on it in the summer, and had developed odd soreness from repeatedly landing in exactly the same spot for 17 miles. Without turns, rocks, roots, down and up hills, the repetitive pounding in the same spots can add up to some pain. Second, it is odd to admit, but the word 'ultra' is a bit intimidating. I never look past any distance (ok, well maybe 5K or 10K - just kidding), because to do so is a quick way to get into trouble in a hurry. I regularly run in the teens and twenties. But that extra 10K tacked on at the end of a marathon distance seemed oddly daunting.
When it came down to the actual run, I had some pleasant and unpleasant experiences. I took off at a pace that I would now deem way too slow. I was following advice from a friend who regularly does ultras who suggested starting out at a relaxed pace and conserving energy for later. That advice, which might not have been bad for ultras taking place on courses with varied terrain, was deadly for this race. In hindsight, I should have just gone out and run at a pace that would have saved 1-2 minutes/mile for the first 17 miles, and then simply hung on for the rest of the run.
Muscle and mental fatigue really were not the issues. The pounding was the issue. Around mile 20, I began to have some structural (read tendon) twinges that put me on notice that my fun run was morphing into a challenge. Luckily I had, for some weird reason, thrown an ace bandage in my drop bag at the 17 mi aid station. Even more luckily, for some reason, I had grabbed it as I left the aid station. So, when a tendon started complaining at 20 miles, I simply wrapped it tightly and ran on, with the problem mainly solved. I grabbed the second bandage at the 23 mile aid station. I'm glad I did, because I had some more misfires higher up on the same leg. So, again, I wrapped it even tighter and ran on. The repetitive use issues diminished, but didn't go away. The final 10K or so, was actually pretty painful. But I was able to tell myself to ignore it, and think about how many endorphin were being released. I do that sometimes on long runs.
I finished relatively strong - not really tired, yet structurally suspect. In hindsight, I could've saved time by running much faster at the inception (savings would've been 17-34 min), spending a couple of minutes less at the aid stations (that added 10min total), and not stopping to pick up a beautiful ornamental box turtle and move him/her off the trail and into a more turtle-friendly looking area (3min). In the future, all except saving the turtle, are things I would choose to change.
A moment with RD Eric Steele immediately after finishing in Ottowa, KS.
Epic Ultras did a great job. Their people, as I wrote earlier, were friendly and helpful, and showed an obvious passion for the sport. There were plenty of pre-race, post-race, and aid station food options - even for vegans. I would strongly recommend Epic if you are looking to do a well-run ultra in this region.
Most of the race was run the way I like it, alone. On a couple of occasions, I did have the chance to run with another runner. I will confess to forgetting how nice it is to meet people who share an addiction to running. I ran for a few miles (miles 19-23) with a guy who turned out to be a vegan. His wife, who also runs, but is sensible enough not to do ultras, is also a vegan. After the race, we sat and chatted over some wonderful-tasting veggie burgers. I realize that this is not hugely interesting news to most people reading this. But for me, so much of my running life - what I would probably describe as the part of my life I most value - is done alone. It was good to be reminded that even solo experiences can be shared and celebrated.
Now, a couple of day later, I'm pretty fully recovered. The pain issues went away as soon as I stopped running. Other than a little lactic acid residue in the quads yesterday, I'm ready to go. Discretion being the wiser choice, I am going to hold off on putting in any real mileage until later in the week. Can't wait...
Final thoughts: Prairie Spirit 50. Tough? Oddly, yes. Beautiful? Absolutely. Worth the pain? Always.