Churning Out New Tricks in the Muddy Madness at Freestate
Miramoto Musashi a 16TH century strategist on combat, tactics and philosophy wrote in his Book of the Five Rings that. "It is harmful to do the same thing several times in the course of combat. You can do the same thing twice but never three times."
In the past six weeks leading up to Freestate. Things hadn't really been going my way in regards to training and running. Six weeks ago at 3 Days of Syllamo I was forced to accept a less than stellar performance. Due to some lingering symptoms of a nasty stomach virus I came down with just a week before the race.
From there things just started to go downhill. About a week after 3 Days. I joined the ranks of the walking wounded. Developing a stress fracture of the Cuboid bone in my right foot. The pain wasn't so bad that I had to completely stop running. It was painful enough though that I had to throw in the towell on a couple of my long runs around the 20 mile mark.
Fast forward to yesterday. After six weeks of what I would consider less than ideal training under my belt. I toed the line armed with the knowledge that. I was not the strongest runner there by a long shot. To make the task of defending my title from last year more daunting. My good friend Mike Adams was signed up for the race. Mike won the race here the first two years and is the current course record holder.
Standing on the starting line. I had the feeling that with the kind of condition I was in. At the end of the day I would be handing Mike back his crown at the very best. The only concern I had for the day was if I was going to have enough to at the very least salvage a spot on the podium? Race director Bad Ben Holmes gave the countdown to the gun and we were off.
My plan was simple. There were five things I had to remember if I was somehow going to make this a race.
1. Don't give my competition the race they expected from me.
2. Resist the urge to sprint off the front.
3. Tuck in behind Mike for as long as I could.
4. Purposely hold back through the muddy sections.
5. At the first sign of weakness take over and go for broke.
Everything was going as planned. By my not going out hard from the gun. Mike was left along with the other usual suspects, scratching theirs heads. Which in return caused the pace to be pedestrian. 8:30 - 9:00 minute miles were all we were churning out in the mud. That was fine with me. At this rate when it would be time to make my move I would have a lot left in my tank. Mike and I came into the aide station at 10 miles neck and neck with a couple of other runners in tow and we left out the same way. That would all soon change though as my pre race plan was about to shot full of holes.
Things were still going great for the next couple of miles. I was starting to feel like this was the easiest first half of race I'd ever run. Just as I started to think that, it happened. Mike toed a rock hidden in the mud and went flailing down the trail out of control. Luckily he pulled it out and managed to stay on his feet. Unfortunately for me though, it left me in the position I wasn't quite ready to be in just yet.
So there I was with around 28 miles to go from the finish. Being forced to make a decision. Not fully convinced that Mike was out of it. I decided to hang back for a little bit longer. I decided that this would be a good time to get the electrolytes back in me. I kept checking over my shoulder periodically to see where Mike was at and if he was coming back. Each time I looked over my shoulder though. He kept falling a little further behind until I didn't see him anymore. Once I stopped seeing him I chose to go for it. If it was a bluff from him. It was one hell of a damn bluff and I was about to call him on it.
Coming back through the start/finish area. I got what I needed from my wife Jessica and I was out of there. Back down the access road to the trailhead I saw Mike coming off the trail. I probably had around two minutes on him at this point. He was still hanging in there and I once again decided to hold back a bit. To see if he was going to get it together and catch back up. I dialed it back on a couple more of the steep muddy hills. If Mike was going to catch back up. Then I figured I could just let him take the lead again and I could hang and wait before I put in the move.
The last time I saw Mike was on a short loop around in the trail. Where the trail going out almost overlaps the trail coming back in. We both hit the spot where the trail overlaps right at the same time. That was all the confirmation I needed. I figured it took me about five minutes to run that little section. So that's what I figured I had on him at that point. I thought well, that's as good as it's going to get. So I put my head down and just started running. I wasn't worrying about where Mike was anymore and was completely focused on what I needed to keep doing to get to the finish line strong.
I had a quick stop and go at the Lands End aide station. Topping off the bottle with Heed and grabbing a handful of M&M's. I was doing real good at the aide stations. Not spending more than a minute at any one of them. Out of Lands End I kept telling myself to keep moving forward. This next section was where the real mud began and I was either going to keep it together through here or lose my mind in the mud and sabotage all the hard work I had done up to that point.
Halfway through the toughest part I slipped and slid my way up the hill to the KUS (Kansas Ultrarunners Society's) aide station. Again Jessica met me there with what I needed and I was out. She asked If I needed anything and I just said get back to the finish I would be there in a little while.
Heading back West now towards the finish. I started to get excited about the prospect of actually maybe pulling this thing off. With every step closer I got. The harder and harder it was to keep from thinking about it. I finally stopped thinking about it when around 10km to go. My left calf started to give little hints here and there that it may seize up at anytime. Keeping my pace wasn't as easy as it was a mile or two before and I actually felt like I was starting to work a bit. So I walked the very next hill I came to and took that break to pop a couple of extra S-Caps and chug down some more Heed. Then I started off at a slow pace again.
The twinges in my left calf subsided but only just in time for me to make my one and only mental mistake of the day. With five miles to go slidding down a muddy slope. I caught a root with my left foot and went airborne. The only place for me to go was in the brush. I probably flew about 8 -10 feet through the air then landed smack flat on my stomach. I layed there stunned for a second or two. Then I made a quick injury check. I realized everything was O.K. and got up and started running again. Man the adrenaline was flowing now. Once I started running again I noticed that I was running the fastest I'd run the entire race. Averaging sub 8 minute miles for the last five in the mud.
Coming into the last aide station with around three miles to go. I could smell the barn. Grab and Go and out. A mile to go now and I could feel the energy from the finish. I took one last look over my shoulder to see if Mike or anyone caught back up to me. Nope. Coast was clear. With a half mile to go still down in the woods I could hear the finish line. All I could do now was think about how I was going to cross the line.
Coming across the line. All I could think of was to point to the Salomon Logo on my chest. The way a professional cyclist would after he steals a race or a stage victory he wasn't supposed to win. I slowed down to a stop after crossing the line and hunched over at the waist. Bad Ben put the gold around my neck for the second year in a row and congratulated me. He told me that was one of the smartest races that he had ever seen me run. Saying he noticed a change in my attitude from this year compared to last year. I agreed.
He was right too. There has been a change in my attitude over the past year. A change that can only be attributed to the feeling I get from being sponsored by the good folks at Salomon. It's a good feeling. Being able to toe the line these days. Knowing I have the full confidence and support from the greatest bunch of trail gurus in the buisness. Everytime I throw on that jersey and lace up my Speedcrosses. I feel a sense of pride that says. This is what I stand for. This, is who I am. It felt really good to be able to give back and represent the folks at Salomon. Who have giving me so much already with a victory.
Before I finish. I want to thank everyone involved with the Freestate Ultras for putting on one of the best organized ultras in the Midwest. It's a top notch event year after year and it just keeps getting better. I also want to thank my wife Jessica for putting up with me over the last six weeks. It wasn't easy to say the least. Thank you for being my crew captain. Love you.
"A competitor will find a way to win. Competitors take bad breaks and use them to drive themselves just that much harder. Quitters take bad breaks and use them as reasons to give up. It's all a matter of pride."