As you can see from the title above I had another awesome ultra-running experience this weekend at the Rock Creek Trail Series 50K near Topeka, Kansas. I left St. Louis around 1:00 pm Friday and headed over to Columbia to meet up with my good friend Deanna Stoppler and then we continued on to Lake Perry for a fun-filled night of camping before the race. Deanna's friend, Jeff Wells, had headed over a little earlier to get a camping space as he would be joining in the festivities too. Deanna and I arrived around 6:30 pm, found Jeff and our camping spot and hurried to get our tents up before it was dark. Once we were situated Jeff got the fire started and we made dinner; Deanna and I had some pasta with chicken while Jeff mowed down on a big, juicy steak. We then sat around the campfire swapping adventure stories and cooking up SMORE's. I hadn't made SMORE's in over 15 years and Deanna had never had them so we were in for quite a treat (she's Canadian, eh; do they even have marshmallows up there?). They were just as awesome as I remembered although Deanna had some trouble when her stick broke off inside the marshmallows; she had to perform a bit of surgery using Jeff's Leatherman. After a few laughs we all retired around 10:30 pm to get some rest before the race; Deanna came back from the bathroom and said there were a lot of barking spiders around. Still not sure what she meant; is that some sort of species I haven't heard of? Anyway...
We woke up the next morning around 5:45 am, ate breakfast, broke down our camp site and headed off to the race; the morning air was cool and crisp as the temperature hovered around 40 degrees. Perfect running weather! We arrived at the race and immediately I saw my good friend Dave Wakefield and talked with him a bit before checking in. He had made a running skirt out of his shorts; he's quite an interesting dude (in a good way :-) Deanna and I headed back to the car to begin getting ready and saw a TON of our friends; Rick Mayo, John King, "Bad Ben" Holmes, Stuart Johnson, Pat Perry and Paul Schoenlaub were running in the race and I was stoked to see them. We all chatted before heading over for the pre-race spiel and at 8:06 am we were off.
Before the race I was a bit worried as I had a weird pain in my right knee that started flaring up on Wednesday; I had done some research online and still suspect I may have a torn meniscus. I began running with Deanna and could feel the slight, sharp pain with each step; I told her that it was definitely real and I was worried. I figured that if it started bothering me too badly I'd just drop at the turn but hoped it wouldn't come to that. Deanna and I continued running together in silence for the first 6 miles before coming up on fellow SLUG's Stuart Johnson and Paul Schoenlaub. We politely passed them and in return were called "Young Punks" by Stuart; them sound like fighting words to me! That would be the last I saw of the two of them during the race but not the last I heard out of them; Paul's voice carries for miles! As we entered the 8.5 mile aid station I decided to let Deanna go; she was really book'in and I was still a bit worn from the AT 100. I continued on by myself hitting the turn in 2 hours, 30 minutes and feeling good. I talked a bit with Rick and John as I filled my water bottles and gulped down the Hammer Gel that Jessica Wakefield handed me. They had both signed up for the 25K race since they each have a busy racing schedule coming up and had just run at Arkansas Traveller a few weeks ago (Rick ran the entire race and John paced Gabe for the last 52 miles). Perhaps they had the right idea but I was having so much fun I figured I'd head back out for a 2nd loop :-)
Once back on the trail I was greeted with views of Lake Perry; the constant lapping of the waves against the shore served to relax my mind. As I ran along the bluff the cool wind swept across the lake sending a much welcomed chill throughout my body reminding me how lucky I was to be out enjoying the beauty and serenity of the trail. Then I heard it, this moment of peace and tranquility was interrupted by the voice of Paul Schoenlaub carrying through the forest! Stuart and Paul were closing in and I pushed on as there was no way I'd give Stuart the satisfaction of passing this "Young Punk." I found out later that they were gunning for me the entire second loop but I always knew exactly where they were; it was impossible for Paul to keep quiet long enough for them to sneak up on me (I'm just kidding with you Paul; OK, not really). As I entered the 28.2 mile Aid Station I was encouraged by the young volunteers to pick it up as there was a gentleman just up ahead walking, "He's only 2 minutes out just around the corner, he's yours!", they said. I humored them and accepted their challenge as I filled my water bottles and grabbed a Jolly Rancher. About a mile down the trail I spotted him; he politely moved aside and exclaimed in a thick British accent "I'm beat and tired as Hell, plum out of gas!" "I hear what you're saying, Brother," I replied as I passed him and continued running up the hill; there would be no more walking for me this close to the end. I spotted the blue Trail Head signs and knew the finish was near; minutes later I was greeted by the familiar hum of the generator as I rounded the corner for one last sprint finishing in 5:16:07 and placing 7th overall. Dave Wakefield took 1st place overall with a strong 4:41:50 finish and Deanna was a ROCK STAR taking 1st place female with a 4:56:57 finish placing 3rd overall; CONGRATS to both of you! I think "Bad Ben" sums up the race perfectly in saying:
"This race was a wonderful first-year production by Willie Lambert, the race director. And what a course...probably the most perfect 50K course that I've ever run on. Singletrack in the woods, with occasional views of beautiful Lake Perry. Just enough technically-rocky sections, broken-up by faster sections. There was good aid station placement and great volunteers."
I couldn't agree with him more! The post-race festivities were AWESOME with a live band, chocolate milk from a local dairy, baked potatoes, chili, soup and some great giveaways from the sponsors and Great Plains Running Company. Deanna cleaned up taking home a beautiful 1st place trophy, a pair of Montrail shoes, a Suunto T3 Watch, a Montrail Beanie and a Nathan Waistpack; must be nice to be a winner! We hung out for a few hours chatting with all of our friends before heading back to Colulmbia.
We got back to Columbia around 9:00 pm, picked up my car from Deanna's work and discovered about a mile down the road that I had a flat tire. I hadn't changed a tire in about 15 years (that's what AAA's for, right?) so Deanna took the lead. Although we were both tired, hungry and dirty she exclaimed "You may think I'm a bit crazy but this is great. The weather's perfect and it's a real team building experience!" She's right, I do think she is crazy but you got to love her attitude! Deanna and her boyfriend Dave were kind enough to invite me to stay the night at their place and I took them up on the offer. They live on a farm about 15 miles south of Columbia and it is absolutely beautiful. I awoke this morning to the smell of freshly brewed coffee and homemade pecan pancakes with real maple syrup; YUM!!! With a full belly I headed back to St. Louis around 10:00 am energized from another amazing adventure! To check out all of the pictures from the weekend click HERE and for the full Rock Creek Trail Race Series 25K and 50K results click HERE.
I'm often asked why I run ultra's and my response is first and foremost that I love the people. The ultra-community is one big family and we are excited to share our lives and experiences with each other. Today my closest friends are ultra-runners and although I've only known them for a short while it feels like we go back a lifetime. They are some of the kindest, warmest and friendliest people I've ever known and I'm thankful each and every day for this sport and the joy it has brought into my life.
Hope all of you are doing well and Happy Running,