As states keep getting knocked off the list, Kaela and I are having to be strategic in travel plans to make our trips as purposeful as we can. I am getting to a point where driving to races is a longer adventure and with that we threw around the idea of trying to knock out multiple states in a single trip. Doing back to back marathons on Saturday and Sunday would be a lot of time on feet but would make the traveling longer distances worth it. My recap of the Prairie Spirit Trail 50km is the first leg of such a weekend. However, this was not the race that I had planned on completing for this adventure.
Early in 2018, I had registered for the Wicked Marathon (Wizard of Oz themed) in Kansas. About 2 months prior to the race, I received an email explaining that there was some road work taking place in the city holding the race that the race director had just been made aware was going to be taking place that would affect the course. His email explained that he was hoping to get more information and try to still put on the race, but more than likely it was going to result in provided a refund to those who registered. Of course after my mishaps with Mississippi Blues, I was not feeling very hopeful that this race would be happening and I was correct. A few weeks later we were informed that we would be receiving a 50% refund because cost already incurred or we could run a virtual race. I didn’t care about a t-shirt and medal for a race I didn’t actually complete so I opted for the refund.
Since this trip had already been planned out I needed to hope there was another race in Kansas that just happen to be the same day as the Wicked Marathon. After some quick searching on RunningInTheUSA.com, I found just a race that was only about 45 minutes south of our initial plan. There was just one catch, as I stated above the race was a 50km not a marathon. I know I had said it before my first ultra, “it’s just another 5 miles. How bad could it be?”, the answer to that is really bad (haha). But I was up to the challenge of not only doing back to back races but making the first just a little longer than planned. So with that I registered for the Prairie Spirit Trail 50km and expanded my training just a bit more.
Race: Prairie Spirit Trail 50km
Location: Ottawa, KS
Date: March 24, 2018
Finishing Time: 5:35:12
I wasn’t 100% on how to train for such a weekend, but being that it would be back to back events, I tried to keep my weekend mileage higher with back to back long runs. Because of a crazy winter, I know I did not put in proper mileage but between what I was able to get in, combined with strength lifting, my legs felt stronger than they ever had and ready for the test.
After working a half day on Thursday, Kaela and I made our way west on I-70. It is always an annoyingly boring drive to Indianapolis and even worse the stretch from Indy to St. Louis. We had not pre-booked a hotel and decided that we would just drive as far as we could before stopping for a nights sleep. This ended up being just on the other side of St Louis, in St Charles. After a decent night sleep, I woke up to get a quick shake out run around historic St. Charles. It looked like a fun area to spend the day but we had more traveling to go, so after a quick two miles and breakfast, we packed the car and were on our way further west. Back on I-70 we continued west to Kansas City. This portion of 70 was not as boring as first section as it wasn’t as flat and straight as the first, or maybe it was because it was just new terrain not yet visited. The plan was to get to Kansas City for lunch and a beer before heading down to Ottawa, where the race was. One funny thing on our drive was receiving a call from our hotel to make sure that we meant to book in Ottawa, KS, instead of Ottawa Canada. Apparently it has happened frequent enough that they now call to confirm, even though they called just a few hours before having to check in.
Of course heading into Kansas City I had to find some good BBQ even though it isn’t a part of my typical “pre-race” nutrition routine. In some searching on the Google, I came across a small brewery called Big Rip Brewing that was next to a highly rated bbq spot, Hawg Eye Que and Brew. Kaela and I shared a flight of some delicious beer and grabbed some take out of amazing bbq. We couldn’t decide on just one meat so we got their sampler that allowed us to try it all (highly recommend). We spent a little bit of time there talking about a little bit of everything and playing some Battleship (of course Kaela won!).
Wrapping up lunch we had a little less than an hour drive to Ottawa, KS (thanks to the 75mph speed limits). I don’t know what it is about ultra’s but they always seem to be in the most random of small towns and Ottawa was no exception. Our hotel was just off the interstate in a grouping of a few different hotels right next to the Walmart that I’m sure killed many small businesses within the town. We checked into the hotel (which was not as nice as the first) and got settled for the evening. There was a free pasta dinner with packet pickup and Kaela wasn’t feeling red sauce so was just going to stay back at the hotel when it was dinner time. I started to hook up the Roku for her (which I remembered this trip) and came to find out I never replaced the batteries in the remote, which means no connection. So after a quick trip to Walmart for sunscreen and batteries, Kaela was able to enjoy some Hulu while I made it out to the packet pickup.
Everything was set up at the Start/Finish at “Celebration Hall” located at the fairgrounds. I grabbed my participant bag and bib, loaded up a plate with some pasta and bread and found my way to the end of a row of tables to eat. I could tell that most of the people there knew each other from previous races in the area as there were many large groups sitting together. The race did consist of multiple distances with a 50k, 50 miler and a 100 miler, so there were people of all skill sets and background hanging out. I took a seat at the end to just people watch and be the shy kid in the lunch room. I was a few seats down from a couple where the husband started chatting with me. We talked about where I was from and the distance I was running. Then I learned that his wife was running her first 50k for that race and I told her some things that helped me in my first, mostly about nutrition. I wished her luck and told her that I would try to see her on the trail but I’m sure she would be way ahead of me.
Once I was back at the hotel I spent the evening prepping bag for the race and relaxing. I was also doing a little prep in my travel bag. On this trip we were spending the night at a new hotel each night so I had to make sure I had a good plan of reorganizing clothes in my bag so I didn’t have to unpack and repack everything each day. But on the more pressing matter, I made sure my “drop bag”, which Kaela would actually be carrying to each aid, was full packed with anything I needed and that my vest was ready to go for the start. As usual I spent a few moments stretching and trying to prep my body for a good night sleep. In this time I started to overthink everything with the weekend and thinking that maybe I bit off more than I can chew. Kaela kept giving me words of encouragement saying that I was ready for it and I was going to do great. A little bit of t.v. and we were calling it a night.
The start for the race was a little later than I normally have so I enjoyed the extra bit of sleep and maybe even snoozed the alarm just once. The hotel had set up a special early breakfast for the runners starting at 4am because the start was staggered based off the distance. 100 miler at 6am, 50 miler at 7am, and 50k at 8am. I used this earlier breakfast time to bring down my food and have warm bagels from a toaster (so glad not another microwaved bagel) in a comfortable seat without keeping Kaela awake in the room. The hotel staff was really interacting with the runners giving us all encouragement and it was fun to see people leaving in different ways as each race start approached. They even had some special items out for the runners like avocado and blueberries, trying to make sure they were as accommodating as possible.
Back in the room, I went through my normal prep before getting dressed. It was a tough thing to figure out exactly what I wanted to wear for the race. The temperatures were going to be in comfortable in mid to upper 50’s as a high but there was a strong wind that would be in our face on the way back from the mid way point. I ended up with just sticking with short sleeve shirt with shorts but wearing a thicker beanie and gloves at least at the start. We packed up the car as we would not be returning to the hotel and headed to the start.
There was a “mandatory” meeting 30 minutes prior to the start, that really was just saying have fun and make sure you turn around at the turn around. Meeting took all of 2 minutes, so I made one final trip to the restroom before Kaela and I sat in the car to stay out of the cold. She helped keep me focus and relaxed as I was already starting to get in my head about the distance and my training leading up to it. A few minutes before the start we took a “before” photo and I lined up in the corral.
They were very punctual in the start right at 8am, which was something I wasn’t used to with ultra’s. We made our way out of the fairgrounds area to the path that I would spending most of my day. We first headed north with the wind in our face for the first out back portion. I tried to keep my effort in check knowing that the wind was going to slow down my pace a great deal and not to look at my watch. I tried finding taller people to draft off of, but every time I got behind someone they must have thought I was trying to pass them so they slowed down and moved slightly to the right. We made our way almost 2 miles towards downtown Ottawa before hitting the turnaround and heading back towards the start. There were some people in their front yards along the road cheering us on as we went by. It was nice having a little bit of that small town support early on a Saturday morning.
Once we made the turn around, I instantly got warm. No longer having the cool wind hit me in the face I had to swap the beanie for my hat and ditch the gloves. I was having some trouble reaching in my back pocket to pull out my hat and ended up having to walk and take it off to get the hat out. It really frustrated me to already have some minor issues with my gear (since didn’t train as much as I should with it) this early in the race, but I just shook it off the best I could and got back in stride.
Having the wind at my back it felt a lot easier with each step. I caught up with two guys that were relatively local and just used them to try and keep a constant pace, not to push too hard. Coming back through the start, Kaela was there taking some pictures and cheering me past the fairgrounds into the start of the major out and back for the course. I was hoping as I approached that area that there would be a porta-john as I must had drank a little too much fluid in the morning, but there was none to be found. A little ways up the trail I spotted a few trees that blocked view from the road and was able to relief the “pressure”. I caught back up with the guys but they were doing an interval timed run, where they would run for so long and then walk and repeat; I was not down for that kind of day, so I took off on my own hoping to catch up to another group to help pass the time. There were less than 100 people doing the 50k so I knew it was going to be a light race and that I would probably be spending some time alone later in the race, so I wanted to have some company in the beginning.
The trail wrapped around towards the main road and had to play some frogger with traffic for the on ramp and exit ramps of I-35, before back to the straight as an arrow trail at the 5 mile mark. As I turned back on the trail, I caught up to a gentlemen named Doug. I was going a little faster than he was but as we did the friendly exchange when you come up on someone, he picked up his pace to match mine as we chatted. We went through the typical where are you from, married, kids, etc. Then we talked about his running and I found out that it was his first ultra marathon. He had done a 10 miler a few months prior and then a 20 miler a month prior and thought the next step was a 50k (hard to argue with that logic). His real passion fitness wise was rowing, specifically in a crazy event called MR 340. This is a 340 mile boating event on the Missouri River. Yes, you didn’t read that wrong 340 MILES! I spent a good amount of time trying to understand that process and why anyone would do something like that and then I realized I sounded like everyone that says the same thing about my running, “I don’t even like driving that far”.
I spent the next hour or so just listening to his stories on the water and his transition into running. I gave some helpful tips when he asked about it but it was nice to just listen to someone else’s accomplishments and dreams to give me motivation to keep pushing. There was a “water stop” with handful of water coolers along the trail where Doug filled up a bottle but knowing we were just 45 minutes or so from the first full aid station I held off. We were clicking off a pretty consistent pace in the mid 10’s. I started to feel like maybe I was pushing the pace a little bit with the wind at our backs as our conversation started to turn to more of me talking with parts short instances of that trail silence, when no one wants to waste energy by talking.
Before we knew it, we had arrived at the first aid at mile 11 in Princeton, KS. Each major aid station on the course was set up in each of the towns that we crossed through. Kaela was on the side, Bella in tow, taking pictures as we came up. Kaela grabbed my bottle to get me a refill on water while I went inside food tent to get a bite to eat. Grabbing my typical PB&J and pretzels, I gave Kaela and kiss and started walking back on the trail to allow Doug some time to get what he needed and catch back up. We were together for about another mile before I realized that we were now in the mid 11’s with pace. I tried to pick up pace and see if he would match but he started to lose ground. I apologized to him for pushing pace but was going to take off ahead. With the wind at our backs for this first half I wanted to utilize it to make up time I know I would lose on the way back. So I picked up the pace and really never looked back.
When I started to push, I just wanted to get back to the mid 10’s but my legs felt amazing with each stride (and the wind at my back). I decided not to focus to much on the pace but go by how my body was feeling. All of a sudden I noticed I was passing people, and not just one or two, but passing a few handfuls. Throwing down mid to low 9 min/mile paces, I felt completely in the zone. I kept focus ahead of me, keeping my stride in check and using the wind as a benefit. The trail surprisingly had some sights to see on each side. Cutting between farms and country houses, there was something so tranquil about running in the middle of nowhere with seemingly no one around.
I noticed ahead on the trail the clearing that would indicate I was coming up on the next town, Richmond, and the next aid station which happened to also be my turnaround point. Kaela was sitting in the car staying out of the wind and taking pictures down the trail. She asked me what I needed, the only thing being body glide as the wind was drying out any sweat I had on my legs. I came in much quicker than had anticipated and wanted to make this a quick stop to get back out. A wonderful volunteer grabbed my water bottle to fill up and provided me with some chicken broth to warm up my body. I was hoping for some warm food like grilled cheese but can’t really be picky especially with great volunteers on the course.
Kaela met me with my body glide at the food tent and asked me how I was feeling. I told her how I just took off and it felt great. I told her that I was changing my time goals for this last portion of the race. The guy tracking bibs overheard me and made a comment about how it was good to reevaluate goals at this point, thinking that I meant I was going to slow down. I responded, “oh no, I’m going faster!” He shot back with a “way to go!” With just a 3 minute stop, I left the turnaround at mile 17.5 right at the 3 hour mark. This allowed me to keep in mind to have the new goal of sub 6 hour 50k. However, the way back was going to be a different story with the wind directly in my face, or at least I thought.
I took off in the strong wind working to get back to the trail. The trail wasn’t completely tree covered, but there was enough on each side of the trail that would help break some of the head wind. Once I was back on the trail my pace seemed to keep back where it was with a 8:49 split for mile 19. The pace felt comfortable and stuck with mid to low 9’s until I arrived back to the Princeton aid station.
9:15 | 9:30 | 9:20 | 9:31
This however didn’t last. As I came into the Princeton aid station, my stomach was in completely knots. Luckily there was a restroom that I was able to use to relieve some of the pain. Kaela was surprised how fast I made it in and grabbed my bottle for a refill while I went into the food tent to see what sounded good, which was nothing. I grabbed another cup of chicken broth and a pickle but nothing else of real substance which would come back to haunt me. I met back with Kaela to get my bottle. I told her that my stomach wasn’t feeling great but was on pace to crush my goal with a sub 5:30. I had 90 minutes to get through 7 miles. She reminded me that I had another race the next day but I didn’t really care. I took off down the trail walking getting down my broth then slowly taking off.
Knowing that I had a good amount of time and with my legs being tired, I backed off to mid 10’s pace. This however only lasted until I hit the marathon point of the race. My stomach just felt empty and I had no real energy. I took down another gel but realized that it was a little too late as I was so far behind on my calories. With running much faster than I had trained, I should have been taking in more calories than normal, however I failed to see that until it was too late. I walked most of mile 27, and picked it backed up to a slow jog for mile 28. I could hear the interstate ahead of me but it seemed to never show up. The trail crossed quite a few back roads that went off the county road and there was one guy waiting for his wife that I saw over those last few miles. He cheered me on each time as I’m sure he could see I was hurting. I had passed his wife at the aid station in Princeton and she slowly gained back on me and passed me. I kept her in eye site hoping to be able to catch and pass her before the end.
Around the 29.5 mile marker I could see the interstate and the turn that would wrap me under it. Once we left the trail the wind seemed to kick in even stronger. This time playing frogger was a lot slower, once because of more traffic but really it was because my legs didn’t want to work any more. Finally wrapped around to the final stretch of the trail heading to the finish. The wind grew stronger with no trees around to break it up. I tried telling myself to run the final mile but my body did not want to. I started to get down on myself knowing that I could have been in a better position had I paid more attention to my intake. This didn’t last long as I could hear Kaela off in the distance cheering me in. Seeing her on the side and hearing her voice gave me the little push I needed to at least get my legs to turn over to what some could call a run. Making one final turn left, I pushed my way through the finish.
I crossed the finish, was awarded my finishers buckle and just took a seat right on the grass. I was absolutely beat. I smashed my goal for the day and also my PR for 50k distance. I gave Kaela and Bella a kiss before stumbling my way towards the shelter to get out of the cool wind. As I was approaching it, I noticed the lady I met at the pasta dinner coming in strong. I cheered her through the finish before heading inside. They had a delicious breakfast buffet setup for the runners which was very much welcomed. From eggs, bacon, beer pancakes and more, it was exactly the kind of calories my body was wanting. After getting some food down, I made my way to the rest room to clean up and change before stretching a little bit and getting in the car. As I brought up in the beginning this was just the start of a running weekend.
Overall, this race ended up being much more than I expected. I originally was only just taking it to be a way to cross off Kansas off the list as I thought would just be a boring out and back race along a straight trail. I couldn’t have been more wrong about that assessment. From the people I met along the trail, the volunteers at the aid stations and the views and sights of farms on each side of the trail, it was enjoyable. Add to that the fact that my body pushed through some pain and ran a 30min PR for 50k and almost an hour faster than my original goal, I was ecstatic! But this was just the first half of the weekend, so I will continue on my next post on my 5.5 hour drive down to Oklahoma.