(Note: this race was held on 10/20. Apologies for the late report)
In the beautiful hills of Missouri, about halfway between St Louis and Kansas City, lies Osage County. There are no stoplights in the entire county, and the land is dotted with farms. Just off Highway HH, the hills rise to a peak at the home of race directors David and Victoria White.
This is where we started and ended our jaunt- three loops (and a short out and back) on a combination of paved and gravel roads. As they lived at the highest point, each loop was capped by a mile long climb that brought you into the waiting arms of the aid station. The temptation was to linger, but with the countryside beckoning, and knowing that a return trip would only take a few more hours, you left with that great feeling of one more lap in the books.
My strategy from the start was to stay at the back and stay disciplined. The only elevation profile I could find said that there was about 1200 feet of gain for the entire distance. That turned out to be per loop (note: always pay attention), so 3600 for the entire 31 mile distance!
Not game ending, but not exactly what I was prepared for. I took the camera out on the first loop to get some shots, knowing I could drop it for the next two (and knowing that my desire to take pictures is inversely related to the distance I’d already covered). I also was experimenting running in Luna (NFI) sandals and had “real shoes” ready at the end of loop aid station just in case. Loop 1 started well and I was able to chat with a few people and finally caught up with Chris Tallman about halfway through the loop. He had stopped to take a picture of a fairly uninterested bull and we decided to run the rest of the race together, swapping stories and enjoying the run. Loop 1, about 11 miles, we finished in just over 2 hours and with the next two loops being shorter, we thought around a 6 hour finish was doable. The Lunas were holding up well, so I dropped the camera and we started loop 2.
On loop 2 we started to catch and pass a few people. In a 3 loop race, in my opinion, the second loop is the hardest mentally. The early race euphoria has worn off, you’re seeing the same scenery for the second time (no matter how beautiful) and you know you are going to have to do it again when you’re done. Having someone to run with helps as the conversation usually makes the miles go by largely unnoticed. That was loop two and as we hit the bottom of the last hill, I had an unexpected visit from John Cash (working aid stations after completing the 20k) saying I had an urgent phone call. OK, so into his truck and back to the start line, I was on the phone for a good 40 minutes, but thankful that everything was resolved and was able to get back to the run. I caught a ride back to the bottom of the hill and started again. One note, I did wimp out and change into shoes while on the phone, so now I was ready to do the last lap plus a mile.
On my way up the hill, I ran into Justin Handy, a good friend and fellow SLUG. I had spoken to a few people during the race that had told me this was their first ultra and I told Justin how unusual I thought that was. He surprised me by telling me that this was his first as well (we had run a number of long training runs together, so I assumed he was a veteran)! Ok, that 40 minute call served two purposes and one was to put me right where I was so I could run with Justin. On the last loop we took turns motivating each other to run, run faster or walk faster. Made it up the last hill and into the finish! I was really glad I could be there for his first ultra and we devoured a few brats, some chili and a few beverages and enjoyed the great spread put on by Dave and Victoria. All in all, a great day, a big change from my race two weeks earlier, but once again, a chance to run and talk with some great people. The camaraderie is the biggest difference between these runs and the 10,000+ marathons, in my opinion, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. On to Nashville two weeks later for (what I assume) is going to be the flattest ultra I’ve ever run!