April 29, 2017 — Cassoday, KS
Place: x / 17
Well, this one was… Interesting. I’ll get it out there from the get-go, in case you missed the title or stats from above — I did not finish this race. Spoiler alert: There will be no tale of triumph here.
But with it being my third crack at the Heartland 50 and fifth time on the course on the flint hills outside of Cassoday, KS, it wound up being an experience worth a write-up anyway.
Unlike in 2016, when it rained all day/night before the race, the weather was actually fairly calm this year (lol) — until race day. The rains came in around 4 a.m. and didn’t stop until, well… I’m not sure if it’s stopped yet, to be quite honest. I knew going in it would be a challenge, to say the least.
In a word: Layers.
I love this event. The course is challenging and often a struggle, but I always see a few people I know or am at least familiar with. The same was true this year. A handful of people I’d met previously or seen at other races gathered in the building before heading to the start line.
But as always, my favorite person remained the one next to me…
I was more bundled up than usual due to the conditions. I had on a dri-fit short sleeve shirt with a long sleeve cotton shirt over it. And on top of that, a thin, hooded Under Armor shirt/jacket thing. That hood saved my world for the short time I lasted out there.
I also wore compression sleeves — mostly for warmth — and a newly-purchased pair of gaiters to keep rocks out of my shoes. In hindsight, I would’ve preferred rocks in my shoes. Those things chaffed badly. They probably won’t get worn again.
To call the conditions brutal would probably be a vast understatement. With “real feel” temps at 34 degrees, nonstop heavy rains only getting worse throughout the day and winds between 20-30 MPH and gusts of 40+, I was freezing cold and soaking wet — not a great combination.
After 1 hour — 5.61 miles
I was moving along well. Faster than my last race, which was in much better conditions and on a smoother course. Chatted a bit for a couple miles with another guy who lives in Topeka. His name was Jay and he was running the 50K.
I ran more steadily than planned, but at a comfortable pace while we talked through the rain and wind until I finally let him go as I took a walk break around mile 5.
I reached the Battle Creek aid station 8.45 miles into the race in 1 hour, 34 minutes. There, I saw my friends Elden Galano and Melissa Bruce.
Melissa, being the just-the-right-amount-of-bossy friend she is, demanded I eat something. Pretty sure I gave her a “Yeah, yeah, I know” as I grabbed a baggie of Cocoa Puffs and continued on my merry way.
I mentioned to Melissa that I was already considering dropping to the 50K — partially due to the super dumb conditions, but also because Kami had not been feeling well pre-race. You see, we are expecting our first child (Cue: “Aww…”) and she’s been feeling it lately.
Luckily, it turns out she was feeling better than she had been before the race. But the conditions were only getting worse.
After 2 hours — 10.2 miles
I’m not sure I was even to mile 10 when I decided I’d had enough. I was going to get to her at the aid station at mile 16 and call it a day. Though my pace slowed, I was still moving steadily through the crapfest of a storm.
After 3 hours — 14.7 miles
I had occasional moments of insanity where I considered continuing. But as someone who never gets cold, I was frozen. I was soaking wet. My clothes were heavy from the rain and everything was getting worse.
Sure, I could change clothes, dry off and continue, I thought. But then what? I’m soaked and still freezing half a mile later. Like I said, it was only getting worse.
I just wasn’t having fun. So I called it a day. I had a difficult time justifying another 10 hours in the mess that I’d already spent three and a half hours in. Not worth it for me.
While I have zero regrets, I hate quitting. But I was not alone. From the Lapland aid station at mile 16, we gave a ride to Krystle Dalke and Bob Woods, who had also opted to drop. We later heard word that a couple others had dropped at 16 as well.
If I hadn’t just run a 50-mile PR two weeks prior, I may have felt the need to try to prove my toughness and continue. But, I opted to save myself for another day, go home to a hot shower and a big burrito.
While 38 started the 50-mile race, just 17 finished. That’s less than half, folks. Power to those 17. They are more badass than I am — or at least more so than I was on this day. And I’m okay with that. Great job, folks — Adele Jordan, Will Sprouse, etc. Lots of really tough runners out there who battled the elements for a lot longer than I did.
Funny thing: While one of the things I struggle with most during an ultra is the ability to actually eat anything, it was here — at the aid station where I’d decided to drop from the race — when I ate the most at once that I’ve ever eaten during a race.
Well, I only ate one thing (cookies), but a lot of them. By my count, I scarfed down four Oreos and seven — yeah, seven — gingersnap cookies. Those were amazing. Thanks, Sherri Rider!
And of course, thanks to my friends Jason Dinkel and Barry Smith for putting on this event. I know it’s not easy — especially when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate. You guys are appreciated.
That damned Heartland course has gotten the best of me multiple times.
Despite two 50-mile finishes, I’ve now got a Heartland 100 DNF and a Heartland 50 DNF to my resume there. Taking into account my time as a pacer in a previous year’s 100, I have now put in 198.89 miles on that course.
I expect someday, there will be more. It won’t be this fall, as I do not plan to attempt a fall 100 with Baby Mead being due October 30.
But someday — I’ll be back. Until then, Heartland…