Monthly Archives: April 2008

free state trail marathon race report

"In the first three miles, you’ll have a couple of chances to get your feet wet."

This is what race director Ben Holmes told the 50-odd runners who lined up for the 2008 Free State Trail Marathon in Lawrence Kansas.  He wasn’t kidding either.  Over the next four hours and twenty four minutes, I’d have a number of chances to get my feet wet.  Muddy too. 

Ben continued on : There were no mile markers on the course, and no one yelling out splits.  You just had to keep an eye out for the small yellow flags marking the course, and watch for the signs indicating a turn, or saying "WRONG WAY".  Simple! 

In fact, it was a lot simpler than trying to make sense of the online course map.  The signs and markers were all I’d have.  If they misled me, it might be weeks before someone found me. 

Not to worry though!  Race Director Ben Holmes and his army of able volunteers did a great job with the setup and support.  The hills, mud, and lack of chocolate mints on your pillow are a small price to pay for the privilege of grinding out 26.2 miles on the pretty trails of Clinton Lake State Park with the Kansas City Trail Nerds and their friends.

But let’s back up a couple of months first.  I’d been looking for a nice spring marathon to do.  My training had been spotty, owing to some nagging injuries, so I was most interested in running one for fun (rather than for a PR).  A search on turned up a small trail race just outside Lawrence Kansas that looked interesting.  I really like the vibe around small races, and love trail running too.  And I’ve never been to this part of the midwest, which was a bonus.

I arrived in the comfortable town of Lawrence two days before the marathon.  Walking around town was a great low-key way to relax before the run.  People are disarmingly friendly.  I especially enjoyed a visit to the well-stocked Sunflower Bicycle and Outdoor Shop, and getting a massage at the Southwind Health Collective.  The therapist even offered to loan my a memory foam mattress if the hotel bed was hard on my back!  That’s a level of friendliness you don’t experience in most places.

On race morning, I got to the start about fifteen minutes before the "gun".  In this case, the "gun"was really Ben giving the aforementioned spiel about the conditions and support on the trail, followed by a very quick "ready, set, GO!".  The sendoff was so quick in fact, that for a second or two, no one moved.

Slowly we all made our way along a 5k out and back that began with a traversal over an open field.  The grass was about to mid shin in spots, but the footing wasn’t bad.  A few minutes later, we descended into a nice single track trail, which included a couple of ankle-deep wades through a creek. 

By the time we passed back by the start, I’s fallen into a pace with about five locals.  We spent the better part of the first half together, including some hair-raising skids down muddy hills. 

By now, I realized that the muddy terrain would be a bigger challenge for me than the hills were.  The up and downs were pretty similar in difficulty to the Redmond Watershed, or the easy trails on Cougar Mountain.  But trying to run through the thick pasty mud was tiring!  After a while I more or less gave up on that, and just walked through the more slippery parts.  Another challenge was scrabbling across the rocks along the lakeshore.  Any time I’d try to pick up the pace a little, I’d nearly roll my ankles, or myself.  Rather than DNF due to injury, I dialed things back and just enjoyed the morning.

Reaching the halfway point, I stopped to mix another bottle of Cytomax, which meant losing my running partners.  I spent the next twelve miles by myself.  This solitude was both pleasant and disorienting.  I really enjoyed the beautiful trails, and varied terrain, and didn’t at all mind the quiet.  On the other hand, I also had no idea how far I’d gone.  Keeping me company along the way were a string of pithy statements that Ben had posted along the trail.  My favorite was "if you’re going to be stupid, you’d better be tough".  Yep!

All I heard until mile 25 was the sound of my own footsteps.  My legs were definitely tired from trying to remain upright through the mud, and across rocks and roots, but I felt strong enough to keep a fairly steady pace, occasionally walking up a short hill.

When I finally caught up to another runner, I had no idea how far from the finish I was.  The trees weren’t that dense, but it also wasn’t easy to see too far ahead on the trail.  And I’d spent so much time zoning out that I was surprised when he told me we had less than a mile to go.  Five more minutes and a couple of turns later, and I ran across the finish, pretty wiped out.  I finished in 4:23:59.  This was good for 16th of 75 finishers in the marathon.  I was the third male masters finisher, proof that anyone can place in their age group if they find a small enough race!

You can check out the results here and some pictures of the race here.  Also – check out some great pictures and words from the course from Gary Henry, Strawberry Hill Runner (Colleen), and Trail Zombie!

Reflecting on the trip as I fly towards home, I’m really happy I chose this event.  The easygoing charm, right down to the aid stations consisting of a water jug perched on a stump, and the friendliness of the Kansas City Trail Nerd community made it all worthwhile.

he needs his space

So sitting in front of me on this flight is Bill Russell, the all-time great center from the Boston Celtics heyday.  He’s very easily recognizable.

I’d been weighing whether or not to say something to him, although I didn’t have any brilliant ideas.  I also thought about whether or not to ask him for an autograph.

The women several rows up just helped to answer my question.  She came bouncing back with her husband’s hat in her hand, and politely asked Mr. Russell for his signature.  And he politely declined.

It must be a hassle getting interrupted all the time.  I watched people walk down the aisle, trying to make eye contact with him.  On the way to the rental car place, people all over would recognize him and shout out "Hey Bill!" … which would definitely get old.

in the bubble – redux

I’m writing this from my seat on Midwest Airlines flight 426 to Kansas City.  Big, roomy seats – even better on an exit row.  I wonder how long they’ll be in business.

All that’s left for the race on Saturday is a meal of plain pasta w/ olive oil, a couple of good nights’ sleep, and 26.2 miles of fun.

I’m trying not to put any pressure on myself for this event.  I haven’t trained for a PR, and don’t know whether the course will permit a fast run anyway.  There are only about 55 people registered for the marathon, with another 75 or so doing the 100 mile and 40 mile ultras.  I’m going to focus on enjoying a morning out in the woods.

I slept later than planned this morning – wanted to aim for about 5, but was up late last night.  It was a nice morning with the girls.  Both of them woke up on time, got ready easily, and were generally warm and sunny.  Kayla helped tie on a couple of friendship bracelets they made for me.  These help remind me of what’s important, whether running or not.  Both are very pretty too – they’re bound to elicit comments.

I did a short run from the school after dropping the girls off.  As is my tradition two days before a marathon, I did 20 minutes, mostly easy.  About halfway through I mixed in three minute-long accelerations.  Sometimes these are sort of like sprints, but today I settled for something like an 8k pace. 

I’ve had some nagging knee pain the past two or three days.  I had Dr. Scott work on it yesterday, but it’s still tight and tender.  It shouldn’t be a factor, but it might be a distraction. 

Kris drove me to the airport this morning, which was very nice.  We were an hour late taking off, which gave me a bit of time to eat, and browse the bookstores.  I’ll probably get to the hotel around 8 tonight, and hope to eat before then.

It’s all about staying relaxed now.  That means not freaking out about what I might have forgotten.  I should be able to make do, as I have my shoes, some comfortable running clothes, and my fuel (Accel gels and single serving packets of Cytomax).

In my mind, I’m thinking about the strong finishers in the women’s marathon trials last weekend, and playing Van Morrison’s "Into the Mystic".  Catchy and poetic.

bragging rights

Rachel and I had some errands to run this past Sunday morning, and we found ourselves browsing at REI.  They had the climbing rock open, and Rachel seemed interested, so I asked her whether she’d like to try (first no, then maybe).  We ascertained that she was tall enough (made it by this much), and signed up.

The only catch was that she wanted me to go first.  That would have defeated the purpose, because I could not help but make it seem scary (acrophobia!).  I tried to finesse things by suggesting that we usually let the youngest go first in all of the games we play, but she wasn’t buying it.  I told her I would (all the while holding my breath).

Well – they got us set up with harnesses, and told us to pick out shoes.  And the most wonderful thing happened – they didn’t have my size!  So – Rachel agreed to climb first, while we looked around for my size (which they didn’t have).

And it was great!  She got up about 15 feet, climbing like a little bug.  She’s definitely athletic enough, and she managed to focus on the wall rather than how high she was going.  The guy on the belay rope gave her tips on where to look for handholds.  The odd thing was that he’d use jargon ("traverse to your left" … etc), but somehow she understood.  A natural!


Kris and Kayla came by shortly afterwards.  Kayla and I watched the two brave ones go up.  Naturally Kris made it all the way to the top, and Rachel had another really good climb.  The best part was seeing how proud Rachel was of herself!

All of these pictures were from the camera on my cell phone … didn’t plan on needing anything better.

boy in the bubble

I’m five days from running the Free State Trail Marathon.  It’s virtually impossible to get any faster or stronger at this point.  On the other hand, it’s pretty easy to mess things up.

Ten days from running Top of Utah a couple of years ago, I face-planted while doing a run from work, and tweaked my left foot.  It hurt so much at the time, I worried whether I’d be able to run at all.  Fortunately for me, my "turf toe" healed enough to allow it.

More recently, my friend Cathy was doing one of her last long runs before doing the Prague Marathon (next month) when a biker hit her while going about 15-20 mph.  She’s okay, but pretty banged up.  Presuming she’s on the starting line, she will not run the race she’d planned to.  And it’s not her fault at all.

So at this point, I’d really just like to curl up and go to sleep for the next five days.  I’d be just as happy to wake up dressed and ready to go on Saturday morning.  Actually, it’d be event better to wake up 18 miles into the race when the real fun begins!

Also – last long run on Saturday was interesting.  I did 11 miles at tempo at the Redmond Watershed.   Cold, rain, hail, snow.  Potentially 40 degrees cooler than it’ll be at the marathon.

Now about that Women’s Olympic Marathon Trial yesterday … don’t we all wish we could muster a finish like Deena Kastor?  Amazing!  She picked up 15-20 seconds on her previous mile splits to make up a 2 minute deficit over 6 miles!  This is pretty much what she did in the heat (and hills) in Athens four years ago too.

cougar mountain miles

Cougar Mountain is about twenty minutes from here.  It’s a park with many miles of nice well-marked trails, and is perfect for distance training.  Although the climbs tend to be more gentle than many other mountain trail systems, miles there are still longer than they are in other places.

Yesterday Cougar Mountain illustrated this point to me again.

I’d done a loooong run last weekend, and have entered my taper for the Free State Trail Marathon.  I’d gotten in a couple of speed workouts this week, so simply wanted to go out and get some time on my legs.  I’d planned to run between 10 and 15 miles, not fast, but with some challenging climbing.

Well- from the outset, I was dragging.  I’d charted a course of about 11 miles, that took me clockwise around the park, starting at the Sky Country trailhead.  The eastern portion of the run is pretty easy, with the bigger climbs coming later (De Leo Wall and Cave Hole trails).  But I was struggling on the easy stuff, going up Coyote Creek (for example).  And it was warm too!

I pressed on, and toughed out ten and a half hard miles, and did lots of walking on the hills.

It wasn’t until later that I found out that the temperature was pushing eighty.  That’s a thirty degree swing in a week.  Also – some quick addition while writing in my training log reminded me that Sunday-Saturday included about 54 miles of running (30-35 is my average).  That explains the fatigue.

I’ll need to back off a bit for the next two weeks to recover for the marathon.  I don’t want to feel this lousy running the trails in Kansas.  I don’t really have a time goal, but definitely won’t enjoy running as tired as I was yesterday.


See- now when I embedded the route inside of my previous post, I could see the map, and the overlaid route hosted in an iframe when I stuck it into LiveWriter.  For some reason, spaces doesn’t seem to like it (probably due to the iframe).  Definitely disappointing …