Friday, September 1, 2017

MR340: A Very Hard Thing

Thursday April 16th, 2015...the last time I published a race report. Almost 870 days ago. In that time I've done lots of races. Small races. Big races. Ultramarathons, triathlons, and some randos like a run/kayak biathlon in Arkansas. I even started writing race reports for Ironman Canada and the biathlon, as well as an attempted write up of the amazing experience of pacing Brandy Holey through her first 100 miler.

Needless to say, none of these reports were completed. I have always insisted that if I didn't have a compelling story to tell, I would not write. For all of my race reports, I tried as much as possible to include as much rich detail, personal reflection, and even sometimes an explanation of how an event had changed me. But what I found when I was attempting to write about some of these things was that I had more or less seen and done them already(well...I really should have finished the one about pacing was incredible).

For example: Ironman Canada could honestly be summed up like this: "I did an Ironman with bronchitis and it went about as poorly as you would expect. My brother did well though. And I almost saw a bear."

That's kinda it. There's a lot more detail to what happened that day, but it just didn't seem worth telling.

So, now that I've temporarily switched gears from running to ultra-distance kayaking, I feel somewhat confident that I might have a good story to tell, and I am now going to attempt to write it. If you are reading this, then I have succeeded. Yay me.


I suppose this story begins two summers ago. I saw a link to a story about a paddling race across the entire state of Missouri. It was called the MR340 and I immediately knew it was going on my bucket list. I had a running friend, Dee, who also kayaks. I asked her if she had heard of it, and it turns out she had done the race before and had been involved with it as a volunteer for many years. Seeing as how I was in the middle of training not training for the aforementioned Ironman due to illness, I knew it wasn't going to happen any time soon.

Fast forward to the following summer, at my brother's bachelor party at a small alpine lake near Tahoe. The lake house we rented had a handful of boats available for us to use. One afternoon, during a break from the drunken revelry, I decided to take their canoe out for a spin on the lake. It was peaceful and relaxing, and I decided that I absolutely had to own a kayak as soon as possible.

Within a week of returning home, I had purchased a Sun Dolphin Aruba, a 10 foot plastic recreational kayak, and taken it out for its maiden voyage at Shawnee Mission Park. This reinforced the knowledge that I loved being on the water. I brought my new acquisition to the Wednesday night Hump Day 5K paddling race, and then learned exactly what my boat could and couldn't do. It could turn on a dime. It could not move through the water at any significant speed, nor could it glide through the water. If I stopped paddling, the boat stopped almost immediately. I finished my first 5K in around 52 minutes. My next attempt I was able to get a sub-50 minute finish. I started to learn about a thing called "theoretic hull speed" which basically a function of a boat's length and width and describes how fast your boat can go before it starts to climb it's own bow wake and become less and less economical to go faster. To save you some math, I'll just say that my 10 foot boat's "theoretical hull speed" was not impressive.

A boat longer than my car.
Less than 2 months after buying my Sun Dolphin, I found myself driving to Denver to buy a used Wilderness Systems Tempest 170 that I had found on Craigslist for $600. I had begun researching boats almost immediately after getting the Sun Dolphin, with the MR340 being the primary focus. I hadn't even specifically decided I was doing it...but deep down, I knew I wanted a boat that was capable of completing it.

I immediately fell in love with my "new" 17 ft sea kayak and took every opportunity to get it out on the lake. Dee was kind enough to take me out on the Muddy Mo' for the first time for a 15 mile paddle from Parkville to Riverfront Park, KC. She taught me how to read the river, how to interpret channel markers, how to see and hear wing dikes, and about eddies, buoys, and boils(AKA "river farts").

Buffalo River Biathlon - Oct. 2016
As the temperature dropped, I put the kayak in the garage for the winter and began focusing my training on some upcoming ultras that I had high hopes for...a few 50Ks and a heap of mileage building towards 3 Days of Syllamo in March, a 3 day race that had been on my To-Do list for several years. Unfortunately, an insidious bit of scar tissue likely from an old injury slowly reared its head three weeks before Syllamo, and I was out of commission. No amount of ART, massage, or home rehab was able to get my ankle pain free, and now a 100 mile weekend on rugged Arkansas trails was completely out of the question. And as of my last run a month or so ago, my ankle still isn't right.
(Update: it's starting to feel better) (Update to the update: A lot better)

This would have normally resulted in unimaginable amounts of despair and frustration, save for the fact that early on the morning of January 1st, I had gone ahead and registered myself for the MR340. I was planning on focusing on running up until Syllamo and then switching gears to kayaking, so this is exactly what I did. I began putting in longer days in the boat, bought more gear, experimented with outfitting my boat, bought more gear, contemplated some shorter ultra-distance paddling races, and bought more gear. I signed up for a 50K paddle in May, which ended up being rescheduled to a weekend I couldn't participate(Gritty Fitty), a 71 mile race(South Dakota Kayak Challenge), and a 62 mile night race(Osage Howler). I continued attending the Hump Day 5Ks as I was able, and slowly shaved my PR down to 36 minutes flat.

And I bought more gear.

Both of my ultra distance events went very well, and by the time August rolled around, I more or less had my setup nailed down. Lights were tested. Nutrition was solid. Everything I needed(and nothing I didn't) was within reach, and hydration was readily accessible and hands-free. I had participated in endless discussions on the MR340 facebook group regarding all manner of topics and had even lusted after boats I will likely never be able to afford. But luckily I still liked my boat. I was ready.

The Plan

Over the months leading up to the race, I had done a lot of planning and guesswork regarding how my race might pan out. Based on a rough estimation of my abilities, I set out a loose goal of finishing in 70 hours. That would allow a lot of wiggle room for beating the 88 hour time limit, and in a 4 day race...a lot can go wrong, or simply not go as expected. Perhaps that is a laughable understatement.

But I had a plan.

Day One starting at Kaw Point (mile 0) in Kansas City would see me stopping in Napoleon (mile 33) for a quick refuel and refill, skipping the first checkpoint in Lexington, stopping in Waverly(mile 75) for a refill, refuel, and stretch, pushing on to Miami(mile 106) for 30-60 minutes, then on to Glasgow(mile 142) for a 2-3 hour stop early in the morning on Day Two for some good food, a shower, and a power nap.

I would wake up feeling refreshed and recharged and would then push to Franklin Island(mile 172) for a solo stop to allow my amazing ground crew to grab some rest at a hotel in Columbia. I would then continue on to Cooper's Landing(mile 198) for some delicious Thai food at a restaurant by the boat ramp, and then a quick shuttle to the aforementioned hotel for a solid sleep through the afternoon heat. I would come back late that night to push off into the dark for Jeff City(mile 224) for about an hour's stay at the amazing Wilson Serenity Point early in the morning on Day Three. I would then push on to Chamois(mile 250) and meet up with a friend who lives there and had agreed to let me and my ground crew sleep and shower at her house.

That afternoon, I would leave for Hermann(mile 270) for some delicious bratwurst in the evening and then embark upon my longest single stretch of the race. 41 night miles from Hermann to Klondike(mile 311) the last stop before the finish. The final stretch would see one more sunrise on Day 4 and despite any fatigue or pain I was feeling, I would be fueled by the euphoria of my imminent finish, and the final 27 miles would breeze by as I cruised into St. Charles(mile 340) for my glorious 70 hour finish.

Now let us all take a moment of quiet contemplation to consider this impeccable and ironclad plan. And now let us all take several more moments to attempt to stifle snickers, giggles, snorts, and the curling up of the corners of our mouths before we break into outright uncontrollable laughter.

For this was The Plan.

Now I will tell you what actually happened.

The 2017 MR340 - August 8-11

Boat staged and ready to go
The night before, I brought my boat down to Kaw Point and staged it near the boat ramp. I then walked around and looked at all the other boats. Some shiny, fancy, and fast looking...others rugged, tough, and home-made. Some looked like they had no business in a 340 mile kayak race, but evidence after the fact shows that some of the people badasses in these boats finished before me. I then headed over to the hotel to check in for the race and meet up with Ron Ladzinksi, with whom I had arranged to purchase a single blade oar as my backup paddle in the event my shoulders decided to implode mid-race(a strong possibility) and to have an option to switch things up if when I began to fatigue. It was a Thetis paddle...hand-made, bamboo, lightweight, and simply beautiful.

Later that evening, my ground crew consisting of Janee and her boyfriend Brian met me at the hotel for the mandatory safety meeting. After the meeting, we went over The Plan one more time, they asked some last minute questions, and we all headed home to sleep. We planned to meet around 5:30 am to do final boat prep and launch around 6:30 for the 7 am solo racer start.

Kaw Point - Day One

Surprisingly enough, I slept decently that night, though a few nights earlier that week had been consumed with thrashing around in bed while my brain over-analyzed every possible worry and detail of taking on this challenge. Melatonin is not the hero Gotham deserves, but it is the one it needs.

I arrived a little late to Kaw Point, but still had plenty of time to go over the boat one more time to make sure I had everything I needed, say my goodbyes, carry the boat down to the ramp, and shove off to sit in the water for 20 minutes until the gun went off. During that time, I paddled over to where my friends Dee and Gina were floating and had a little nervous small talk. I tried not to think about the enormity of a challenge that lay ahead of me, and just tried to drink it all in. Several hundred boats of all solo paddlers all spread out along a 50 yard section of the Kansas River, just upstream of the confluence with the Missouri River. Some paddling back and forth to warm up, but most just idly paddling enough to stay in place against the relatively weak current of the Kaw.

Solo paddlers coming through Kansas City. Photo by Mike Perkins

Time ticked away until the announcer started counting down. 7:00 came with loud cheers from the crowd as the fast people started churning up the water paddling into the confluence of the Missouri River, and the rest of us just kinda floated that direction to avoid the expected washing machine cluster-cuss that often results in at least a few boats dumping their occupants. Luckily, I ran into no issues and I was soon into the faster current of the MO sorting out my nerves and trying to get into some sort of groove. This was hampered by the fact that I had downloaded the MR340 Pro Paddler race app but hadn't actually used it yet, so I spent a good 10-15 minutes at the start of the race fiddling with it and trying to figure out how to make it work right.

I spent the early miles paddling with Dee and Gina, but realizing they are simply faster than me I decided to let them pull away so I could move at my own easy pace. I had been told roughly half a billion times not to go out too hard or I would jeopardize my race, or at the very least, regret it heartily towards the end. As if I wouldn't otherwise be full of regret after 50 hours of paddling.
FYI: The guy in the 10 ft plastic boat beat me. Photo by Mike Perkins
The first stretch passed by rather uneventfully. My planned stop at Napoleon represented the halfway point between the start and my second stop in Waverly. And before I knew it, I was pulling into the boat ramp more or less on schedule to top off my water and briefly stretch the legs. Janee was there waiting for me and got me in and out quickly and efficiently. The initial shoulder soreness had come and gone as my body warmed up and I was cruising pretty well at this point. I had decided to skip the first official checkpoint in Lexington because it is known to be very crowded and being on the opposite side of the river from the channel(aka on the slow side of the river) it would be a time consuming stop. As I passed Lexington, I fiddled with the race app on my phone to make sure it was automatically texting race officials to check me in and out of the checkpoint. I had configured it to give audio alerts when sending these texts as well as hourly status texts to my ground crew and loved ones(girlfriend and mother) and was pleased to hear it say "Lexington In" followed shortly by "Lexington Out".

At this point, I had decided ahead of time that I would switch out my double blade paddle to my new single blade, mostly to give the ol' shoulders a rest for a bit, but also learn how to single blade in a kayak for the first time ever. What's that Golden Rule about trying or not trying new things during a race? Who can remember such nonsense? The first few miles involved a good amount of splashing water around, into my boat, and onto myself. I had received some very limited instruction from Ron about the recovery portion of the stroke, but other than that I was kinda figuring it out for myself. I basically paddling on one side until that side got tired, then I'd switch to the other side. It wasn't a very good strategy, and I never really got into a great rhythm, but it passed the miles and worked a different set of muscles. There was really nothing of interest in the 25 or so miles between Lexington and Waverly.

I pulled into Waverly around 7 pm, around an hour behind schedule, but nothing to worry about yet. I spent about 15-20 minutes there and shoved off towards Miami. This next stretch was one of my favorites of the entire race. The sun dipped low in the sky and resulted in a very spectacular sunset. As dusk grew to darkness, the mosquitos and other small insects started to come out. Luckily, I had invested in some mosquito netting for my face. I felt ridiculous wearing it until I overheard another paddler say how much he wished he had one. I brought my phone out and plugged it into a portable charger so I could keep the display on overnight and use its navigational feature which helps you stay in the channel. I couldn't do this during the day because it would overheat the phone and cause it to shut down. This feature proved to be a huge benefit as I would otherwise have been helpless to stay in the fast water in the near pitch black. Once the full moon came up, however, it got a lot easier to keep my bearings. And it was a welcome and beautiful distraction from the drudgery of endless paddling. My spirits were high, my energy was high, and I was moving really well. I was looking forward to a good stop in Miami and then pushing on through the night with a shower and a nap in the morning as my reward.

I pulled into Miami close to midnight and around 60-90 minutes behind schedule, but still not worried. I got some good food from the concessions tent and hit the bathroom. I was there for about an hour, but I was antsy to get back on the river. A lot of people were settling down to camp there for the night, but I was confident in my decision to push on to Glasgow through the night.

I was confident in that decision up until I pushed on to Glasgow. Within the first mile I realized a handful of things. There were VERY few other boats near me. It seemed REALLY dark. And I was suddenly SO tired. My thoughts were overtaken by the notion that I had just made a terrible mistake. I felt incredibly alone and borderline unsafe, but the darkness probably amplified that notion, because there was no real danger with such a calm river and great visibility. But my mind was suddenly in the gutter and the 35 mile stretch seemed daunting. I began to get bleary eyed and sleepy, and at one point I felt like nodding off until a massive Asian carp churned up the water by my boat creating a very loud and startling sound. I was wiiiiide awake after that, as I spent the next hour waiting for another monster fish to jump out of the water and knock me out of my boat.

This was the first of several moments in my race where I contemplated quitting. And it was still only Day One. How could I push through 3-4 days of this? I eventually ended up in a small group of paddlers, some I caught up to, some that caught up to me, and none seemed interested in leaving the group. The company provided a sense of security, just in case something were to happen, I was not alone. Despite the small comfort, I was still not in a very happy place mentally. The air cooled and as we approached dawn, I began to see patches of fog on the river. Visibility was still great, but I knew that if the fog grew thicker, I'd have to pull off the river. If I could just make it to Glasgow before that happened. The foggy patches grew larger and more frequent. I began scanning the banks for good spots to sleep if it came to that. Nothing looked very inviting. I'd be wrapping myself in an emergency blanket on wet grass, best case scenario, but more than likely wet stinky mud. I did not relish the idea, so I kept moving and my worries grew.

Around 4 am, still two hours from Glasgow, I saw some lights on the left side of the river. It looked like some boats had pulled off, and then I realized it was a boat ramp! I had completely forgotten about Dalton Bottoms, one of the public river access points between Miami and Glasgow. I paddled across and pulled up to the ramp. It was not a staffed ramp, but it did have primitive campsites and was ground crew accessible. I asked a guy who was standing at the ramp if he thought the fog was going to get thicker. He may have just been some random dude, but as far as I knew, he was an Expert Fog Predictor. He said it was pretty likely that the fog would get worse. That was all the convincing I needed. I got out of my boat and he helped me carry it up the ramp. I texted Janee that I was at Dalton Bottoms, sent her my location, and told her to come get me so I could sleep in the back of the car until morning. She replied that she would be there in an hour.

I found a spot on the wet grass of the campsite, laid down my seat pad and PFD for padding, wrapped my crappy emergency blanket around me, then kinda sorta fell asleep in the most uncomfortable position possible, and woke up 30 minutes later shivering. Luckily, somebody at a nearby campsite had built a fire, so I walked over to them and pitifully asked if I could stand near their fire. Not only did she welcome me into her circle of warmth, she gave me HER camp chair AND a blanket. Normally I might have hemmed and hawed, "Oh no, I couldn't possibly blah blah blah" but I was freezing and sleep deprived and immediately slumped into her chair and let this angel bundle up a smelly soggy stranger in her warm fuzzy blanket. Compared to sleeping on wet grass, it was heaven. Janee arrived about 10 minutes later and I climbed into the back of her SUV where she had an air mattress and a sleeping bag, and I zonked hard for the next 3-4 hours.

 Day Two

Debbie, me, Janee, and Jim
I woke up feeling surprisingly refreshed and though I was still pretty cold, I felt good enough to get back in the boat and paddle the 13 miles to Glasgow. I had planned to nap and shower there anyway, it just seems I needed the nap a little earlier than I planned. Pushing off from Dalton Bottoms I was chilly, sore, and stiff, but a couple hours down the river and I finally reached Glasgow around 10:45 on Day Two. I got some good food in my belly and was pleasantly surprised to see Jim and Debbie Megerson at this stop! They were there to cheer for a different paddler and just happened to notice my boat sitting at the ramp. Debbie came and gave me one of her signature hugs. Seriously, they're amazing. They warm the body and soul and soothe the nerves. The first time I received one was at mile 97 of the Ozark Trail 100 ultramarathon. (I didn't even know her then, but she was working the aid station and had promised a friend that she would take care of me. It was amazing.) I got my shower and felt human again for the first time in about 20 hours.

Post-shower Jesus pose

Pushing off from Glasgow
I was feeling good as I left Glasgow shortly before noon. I was more than 5 hours behind schedule as far as The Plan dictated, but I had more or less lost interest in adhering to it. I had already gone to the deep dark place where paddlers quit and had made it out intact. I just wanted to finish. If that meant going slow, sleeping more, and taking all 88 hours, so be it. Not too long into the 30 mile stretch to Franklin Island, it started heating up. And I took stock of myself. I was exhausted, mentally and physically. This leg was one of the toughest of my entire race. I couldn't maintain any sort of rhythm and I felt constantly out of breath and was likely low on sodium. The funny thing about being low on sodium is that you aren't always able to think as logically as you would normally. So while the intelligent astute Danny would have quickly pegged the problem, slammed a few S-caps and tore into my salty snacks, the fatigued and hyponatremic Danny just kinda slogged onward wondering what was wrong. At one point the 12 person dragon boat which had passed me on Day One and camped with me at Dalton Bottoms passed me again. We exchanged pleasantries as they powered past me. I decided at that moment that I wasn't too proud to draft, so I pulled directly onto their stern and hung on for the next few miles while I chatted with their rudder man. Eventually I was too gassed to even stay in their slipstream and I wished them well as they pulled away. It was a nice break to the grind and lifted my spirits ever so slightly.

I arrived at Franklin Island exhausted and starving. I planned to eat fast and use the bathroom so I could get moving again. I was happy to see Dee there, and I initially thought maybe I wasn't doing so bad if I had caught up to her, but then she told me she had dropped. She had a recent death in the family and told me that she simply didn't have the emotional reserves to finish the race. I'm not sure I would have understood that before doing this race, but only a day and a half in, it made perfect sense. This race was hard enough when you didn't have something weighing you down, I couldn't imagine spending 6+ hours at a time alone in a boat with something so heartbreaking constantly on my mind. She was instead going to spend the rest of the week helping out other paddlers.

I stiffly wandered over to the food tent and got a ham sandwich and some chips and...some...other stuff. Again, some strangers offered me their camp chair so I could sit and relax while I ate. I chatted with them about...stuff? I know for sure at one point we were lightheartedly ribbing each other about KU vs MU loyalties, after which one lady jokingly demanded her chair back. I finished my food and went to use the bathroom before getting back on the water. After doing my business, I left the portajohn and overheard a fellow paddler tell his friend, "I fell asleep in my boat once. I woke up in the water. It was one of the scariest moments of my life." I immediately realized how badly I needed a nap. I walked back over to the group that had let me use their chair. I asked if I could borrow their blanket to take a nap. Again, without hesitation they gladly offered it. I spread it out on the ground, set an alarm for 30 minutes and immediately fell asleep curled up on my side.

I woke up feeling way more refreshed than a 30 minute nap should possibly allow. It was around 6 pm and in the past 38 or so hours, I had slept MAYBE 4 hours. But that nap did the trick. Dee helped me carry my boat back down the ramp and pushed me off for the next 26 mile stretch to Cooper's Landing, just outside of Columbia, MO. I once again decided to switch to my single blade paddle, except this time I opted for a more balanced approach of switching sides every 20 strokes. This strategy, as it turns out, was absolute gold. I immediately settled into possibly the best rhythm of my entire race thus far. Counting in my head gave me something mindless to focus on(that makes sense...right?) and switching BEFORE the muscles on one side became fatigued helped me keep the cadence high and strokes powerful. I was motoring! This leg absolutely flew by and before I knew it, I spotted the riverside bluffs which let me know I was approaching Columbia! Here the river turned south and crossed under the I-70 bridge. Before I passed the bridge, I noticed that there was some sort of park and pavilion at the top of the bluffs. There was a group of people a few hundred feet above the river who were cheering for paddlers...or possibly heckling us. One person yelled, "WAY TO GO LEWIS AND CLARK!" to which I replied "LEWIS AND CLARK WERE GOING THE OTHER WAY!". I seemed clever at the time. Shortly after crossing under I-70, I glanced behind me to see an absolutely jaw-dropping sunset. I was reluctant to disturb my groove, but this was worth turning my boat around to get a good picture.

There is apparently a Facebook group called "Look At The Front Of My Kayak"

Stopping to take in the sunset allowed a tandem kayak I had passed earlier to catch back up to me. I paddled with them for a few miles, chatting about the race, and a bit about life in general. They were two guys who had bought their boat with the express purpose of doing this race once, selling it, and never kayaking ever again. I mentioned I might be interested in buying their boat after they were done, though had I been at all in touch with Real Life at that moment, I would have realized I didn't have any money for such a thing.

I paddled on into the night and as dusk faded, the bats came out. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them. All skimming the surface of the water in a barely visible frenzy as they devoured the same mosquitoes that had tormented us the prior night. I still put on my netting, but I could tell their presence was diminished. I have always considered myself an appreciator of bats, but this night especially so.

The last few miles into Cooper's Landing, the visibility got crappy as the sun was down, the moon hadn't risen yet, and the trees cast shadows over a good portion of the river. I once again powered up the navigational display on the race app to stay in the friendly waters and avoid wing dikes. I was very much looking forward to my first full night's sleep at a hotel in Columbia, which Janee had decided to book, and I was happy to finally spot the blue light marking Cooper's Landing. I had been warned that the approach to this boat ramp was tricky and that I should swing way wide to avoid hitting a wing dike. Well, I swung wide...too wide...and very nearly couldn't make it back to the ramp fighting against the current. I finally crossed the fast water, but ended up getting my boat stuck on some rocks that were just past the ramp. After a few panicked moments, I was able to scoot my boat off of the rocks and paddle up to the ramp.

My arrival shortly after 10 pm was originally when I planned to be leaving this checkpoint, putting me a good 7 hours behind The Plan..which I again didn't give a shit about. We carried the boat up the ramp, stowed it for the night, and bought some delicious Thai food from a food truck that lived at the ramp, and I bought a local beer from the general store. It was a satisfying end to Day Two as Janee drove me to the hotel in Columbia for some good sleep. Her boyfriend Brian had come to join the ground crew and had brought his son along as well. We arrived, I showered, and I passed out almost instantaneously when my head hit the pillow.

Day Three

Brian gives me a hearty farewell from Cooper's Landing

After a full night's sleep, we arrived back at Cooper's Landing and I geared up to get on the water again. I departed around 8:30 am with Jefferson City my next stop, a mere 26 miles away. This stretch was mostly uneventful, but I did get to see a bald eagle fly low across the water right in front of my boat and swoop up to land on a tree branch. I even got some crappy pictures of it!

The least crappy photo of the bald eagle. 

I was looking forward to Wilson Serenity Point very much, so obviously this leg felt like it took an eternity. Nonetheless, I finally rounded the bend and had Jefferson City and the capitol building in my sights! I pulled up to the river access around 12:30, got food, used the facilities, and took in the sights of this beautiful park. I was back on the water at 1:30, heading another 26 miles downriver to Chamois.

Signing the stump at Wilson Serenity Point

Onward to Chamois!

A few miles after leaving Jefferson City, I began to hear the rumblings and grumblings of an approaching thunderstorm. I wasn't sure where it was coming from or if it was headed towards me, but I kept a wary eye on the sky. I soon realized it was going to pass directly over me as the skies began to darken behind me and the thunder followed the lightning closer and closer. I scanned the side of the river for a suitable place to become Not The Tallest Thing in my vicinity and was pleased to see a nice sheltered section on river right with some tall trees to boot. I pulled out of the current, wedged my boat in between a few rocks, and pulled out my trusty $1 Royals rain poncho. It actually worked perfectly as a make-do spray skirt, keeping the water mostly off of me and mostly out of my boat. There were a few hiccups, as the wind picked up and kept blowing the hood off of my head, forcing me to eventually turn my boat around so it was hitting from behind me. I initially felt silly for pulling off, until I saw the whitecaps on the river that were churned up by the wind and the Too Close For Comfort lightning strikes. Then I was confident in my decision to play it safe.
Makeshift shelter from the storm.
The storm passed in about 10 minutes and I was back on my way to Chamois. The next highlight of this leg was passing the confluence of the Osage and Missouri River. Not only did it provide a noticeable bump in speed, it also was pretty neat to paddle along the threshold where the relatively clear waters of the Osage mixed and mingled with the nasty, brown, soupy Missouri water.

Shortly after 6:00, I arrived in Chamois with my faithful ground crew greeting me and feeding me as per usual. The original plan had me sleeping and showering here, but since I wasn't even remotely tired, I passed on the opportunity with the goal of pushing through the night and hopefully finishing in the early afternoon the following day. I stayed in Chamois about an hour before embarking on the next short leg of 20 miles to Hermann. 

The next leg of my journey was completely serene. I once again was treated to a wonderful sunset and some amazing pitch black sky occasionally lit by far away lightning and some magnificent meteors streaking across the sky. I had been warned that the bridge in Hermann would relentlessly tease me, and those warnings were accurate. The last 5 miles of river leading into Hermann were a straight shot, and over the course of an hour, I slowly watched the lights of the bridge grow from a tiny dot of light into a recognizable shape. At least the navigation was simple...point front of boat towards light...paddle. The other aspect of this leg was the absolute unnerving solitude. I did not encounter a SINGLE other boat between Chamois and Hermann. No other paddlers. No safety boats. Just me and the river. And while I objectively knew there was no real danger, my imagination was once again MORE than happy to envision a number of terrible and unfortunate outcomes for the hero of our story. When I finally pulled into Hermann at around 10:00, I was both relieved to be off of the water, but full of dread regarding the next leg...41 miles straight through the dark and lonely night to Klondike, the final checkpoint of the race.

In Hermann, I was delighted and surprised to discover that my wonderful girlfriend Danielle had made it out this way to join my ground crew for the remainder of the race! She originally had only planned to see me at the finish, but decided to come out the night before instead! I once again got some food in my belly, the highlight of which was one of Hermann's highly-recommended bratwurst and some other snacks. As I sat and ate, my apprehension for the upcoming leg continued to grow. I tossed out the idea of possibly stopping for a nap 30 miles downriver in Washington if I needed it, but the idea of pushing out again into the dark and lonely night was simply terrifying. Then I received a text from race officials announcing that large and strong thunderstorms were expected around 1-2 am. So not only was I contemplating paddling all night, but I'd also have to find shelter in the dark from a thunderstorm that could last hours. With this new bit of information, I was not at all reluctant to call it off for the night. I had booked a hotel in St. Charles for Thursday and Friday night to cover my bases in case I finished super early or super late...or at the very least to give my ground crew a place to rest and sleep while I paddled from Hermann to Klondike. Instead, my ground crew drove me to St. Charles late Thursday night and 4 of us shared a king size bed for about 4 hours of sleep before driving me back to Hermann to continue my journey.

Day Four

This was to save time...not because I'm pathetic. Really.

We arrived back in Hermann and Janee hand-fed me pancakes while I prepped myself and my boat for the final day of paddling. I was still not loving the idea of a 41 mile single push, but I knew once that was over, the final leg from Klondike to the finish would be cake. More on that later.

I hit the water around 6:45 am and the air still had a decent chill. Everything felt wet and miserable, but I got moving. I was on the lookout for Berger Bend, which had been described as a tricky section coming out of Hermann. I navigated it without difficulty and at some point shortly after, I passed another paddler. He hollered a greeting to me and identified himself as Dan, a fellow Hump Day 5K attendee. I remembered chatting with him briefly on Day One when he had told me he was hurting bad because he had pulled a muscle in his side. Here he was on Day Four, still gutting it out, but I could tell he was not in good shape. He had chosen to race this year in a faster, yet slightly less stable boat, and with a poorly functioning set of core muscles, it was all he could do to keep his boat upright and moving forward. 

We chatted for a few miles and as I began to pull ahead of him, he mentioned that he'd like to stick with me for awhile. On one hand, he was moving slower than me, but on the other hand, I hadn't fully recovered from the apprehension of this long stretch of kayaking, so I decided that it would benefit us both greatly to stick it out together for awhile. And I'm sure glad I did! The miles began to tick off as we chatted about life, love, and our favorite Youtube videos. We had gotten a text from race officials warning of a barge coming upriver and he was able to spot it well before I would have. I appreciated having a race veteran for this. Up to this point in my Missouri River paddling experience, I had yet to negotiate a barge wake, and he recommended we quickly find a good spot to pull off and wait for it to pass. I found a perfect spot on river left that was sheltered enough that the wake was completely dissipated before it got to us.

While waiting for the barge to pass, I watched in amazement as Josh Sexton(another HD5K racer) fearlessly charged headlong into the fierce barge wake. Well...after the fact, it didn't look terribly bad and now after having seen one, I am confident I could have stayed on the river and been fine. Dan would not have fared so well in his current condition, so I didn't mind waiting this one out. 

After the wake subsided, we got back on the river and soon passed New Haven, where Dan signaled to his ground crew that he was going to push on to Washington, at which point we agreed to part ways since I would be going all the way to Klondike. Before he stopped, however, he gave me a bit of soul-crushing bad news...the 11 miles I thought I had left to go before hitting Klondike was actually 13 miles. Apparently I had screwed up my race planning math, and even though it was only a measly few miles extra, mentally it may as well have been another 100. I felt sorry for him as he pulled away to negotiate the incredibly tricky approach to the Washington boat ramp which is completely unsheltered from the strong current. If you miss the ramp, you immediately get slammed into a wing dike. He made a good approach but came in really really fast and his ground crew barely caught him and kept him upright(I later found out he did end up finishing!)

Once I saw that he was safely on the ramp, I set my sights to Klondike. I had once again planned to switch over to my single blade paddle to give the shoulders a rest, and hopefully establish a really good groove like I had coming into Cooper's Landing. It didn't really happen, unfortunately. Even with the single blade, I struggled greatly in the final stretch from Washington to Klondike. The day was starting to heat up and I was starting to hit the wall again. 

I finally pulled into Klondike around 1:30 pm, after almost 7 straight hours of paddling, and my girlfriend informed me after the fact that I was NOT in a particularly good mood when I came off the water. Some food and good cheer from my ground crew and other good-natured folk in Klondike went a long way in lifting my spirits before embarking on the final 29 miles to the finish in St. Charles. 

Miraculously, my ground crew was able to do all of this within the space of half an hour and they had me whipped into shape and back on the water at 2 pm. At this point, lacking the "euphoria of my imminent finish" that was originally to fuel me as outlined in The Plan, I decided upon a different tactic to get me through these final miles. I cued up the upbeat Spotify playlist which I had synced to my phone. The same playlist which had carried me through difficult stretches of my 100 miler, as well as the 2nd half of a hard 100K in Texas, and numerous long grind-it-out training runs in my ultramarathon career. The tunes came on and my spirits lifted. I was almost done. I bopped my head and sang loudly. And that's when the neverending headwind began. 

It seemed odd, but I can not remember a single moment in the race when I had a tailwind or a crosswind. For some reason, the wind always seemed to be blowing upriver. And on this final stretch it was unrelenting. The final 29 miles of this race seemed to have cruelty after cruelty piled on, almost as if the race was giving me one last kick in the teeth before it would let me claim victory.

The winds were insane, and only got worse the closer I got to St. Charles. I had been warned by several people about the so-called "Bridge of False Hope", but I counted at least 3 false hope-y bridges, all teasing that I might be almost done, but none actually granting that status. And then there were the local yokels. In their damned fishing boat. They went buzzing by, creating a wake just big enough that I steered my boat into them to be safe. They buzzed upriver...looked at some spot on the side of the river, and then buzzed back. The same boat did this 3 or 4 times between Klondike and St. Charles, and I cursed the sky each and every time. Were they a built in feature of the race...did they do this to every paddler?

And then that fun moment when The Reaper passed me. The Reaper is basically the course sweep which you have to stay in front of...if it beats you to a checkpoint, you are cut from the race. The Damned Reaper sneaks up on me while I'm jamming out to my tunes and just motors on by when I've got 10 miles left. After quite nearly shitting myself, I cut off my tunes to yell out to them, asking if I had somehow lost track of the 5 hours of buffer I thought I had, and if I was about to DNF. They assured me they were not currently in Reaping mode and that I was doing just fine. 


I continued passing Bridges of False Hope and the river pointed me north into another brutal headwind. Gritting my teeth, I fought the tempest to cross over to river left and the shelter of the trees lining that side. Then I made the final right turn into the home straightaway, and saw like 3 more Bridges of False Hope off in the distance. I knew I only had a few miles left, but what I thought I knew about the course conflicted with what I saw, and from where I sat, it looked like much farther. It turns out I didn't have to go all the way past the farthest bridge in the distance, and I might have completely missed the finish line on river left if I hadn't seen the boat in front of me cross over to get there.

FINALLY! I saw the finish line!

I crossed under the Bridge of Actual, For-Real, No Bullshit Hope and began crossing over towards the finish line, of course battling the absolute worst headwind anybody has ever faced...ever. I saw my ground crew...actually, I heard my ground crew before I could make out any faces...and I saw their pom poms(courtesy of Janee). I exulted not so much in my glorious finish, but in the simple fact that I would very shortly stop paddling, get out of my boat, and not get back in again for a long time.

I fought the headwind and current that tried to push me downriver past the boat ramp and into oblivion. And I finally came close enough that my momentum carried me to the volunteers waiting to catch my boat and help me out of the water. 

Then...83 hours and 15 minutes after the starting gun at Kaw Point...I stopped paddling. And it was exactly as amazing as I imagined it would be. 

On stiff legs, I staggered up onto dry land for the last time. I gave smelly hugs to my girlfriend, ground crew, and a few other paddling friends who cheered me in to the finish. I took shit-eating-grin finish line photos. I ate some mexican food and drank a beer. I vowed to never ever do this again...a vow which lasted roughly 12 hours before I started contemplating how I would make next year's race better and faster. New strategy? New boat? More training? Who knows!?!?

Best. Damn. Ground. Crew. 

I attended the post-race awards ceremony during which I received my finisher medal and cheered for others who had done much MUCH better than me. After saying my goodbyes and thank yous, showering and changing, we loaded my boat back onto my car and Danielle drove us home.

Happy Danny with his new hardware

The hardware


In the days following, many of my friends who are familiar with my more insane athletic exploits were keen to know how this challenge ranked in difficulty. This race definitely lands squarely in the Top Five hardest things I've ever done. Not for severity of pain, or physical difficulty, but simply for the sheer mental fortitude required to push through 4 days of nonstop paddling, physical and emotional exhaustion, isolation, paranoid fear, and countless other "little" things which all add up to profound extended misery. The fact that I already wanted to quit less than 24 hours in speaks volumes. I have never *wanted* to quit a race before in my life. I've had races that went poorly, and I've had races where I wished they would be over sooner, but never once did I consider simply giving up. 

This race tested me in ways I had not been tested through thousands of miles of running, 4 full Ironmans, and countless ultramarathons up to 100 miles. As many have said, this race is all about guts, grit, and stubborn persistence. This race is also about finding ways to manage the inevitable discomfort and misery, and my race preparations, boat setup, and even a last minute Golden Rule breaking purchase certainly helped me to that end. Additionally, one thing I absolutely love about this race is that literally anybody, with any boat, can finish this race. Out of shape paddlers in crappy boats finished ahead of me. Well-trained and fit paddlers in really expensive boats finished behind me. As it turns out, the river doesn't care how long you trained or how much you spent on your rig. Your heart and determination are all that really matter. 

In summary, it was an absolutely incredible experience. I am about 99% certain that I'm not smart enough to learn my lesson, and shortly after midnight on January 1st 2018, I will be registering for this madness once again.

Thanks for reading!

See you on the river,
Danny Loental

My Missouri River skid mark

The Journey: Definitely something wrong with the race app in the middle there.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Rockin' K Marathon - AKA "Training? What training?"

HARK! A race report!

I haven't had the inspiration to write in awhile. I'm not sure I necessarily have the inspiration to write now either, but something needs to change. Maybe a little bit of word-smithing will help.

First, though...a reader's digest summary of a bunch of races I might have written reports for but, due to the aforementioned lack of mojo, didn't.

North Face 50K: 5:53:25...stole the head-to-head
50K LWR from Chris! Hilly and hard.

Bandera 100K: 16:33:57. Freezing rain, mud, ankle problems, asshole cacti.
First loop sucked, second loop improved, but still limped into finish.
Qualified for Western States lottery. Yay.

WyCo "Ice" 5k: Brought Farley, both shoes came untied, stuff hurt.

Pi Day Half: trail half PR, felt great.
Celebrated by getting sick and then not training ever again.
So what's going on now?

I didn't quite realize it until this weekend, but I'm out of shape and in a rut. My training so far this year has been pretty hit and miss. I could list several contributing factors as to why this is the case, but they're simply excuses, and excuses don't help me break 12 hours in Ironman Canada. I'm simply not making the effort. I'm not being consistent.

It is April, and I'm basically in the same shape I was in January.

And I just got absolutely humiliated at the hands of my new favorite race...the Rockin' K trail marathon.
Subtle course marking
The plan for this year was pretty typical. Begin building my cycling and swimming base in January, add in running speedwork in February, start to build mileage through March, PR attempt at Rock the Parkway, progress from there. I even added in some strength training for good measure.

At some point the train derailed completely. I signed up for a highly recommended race that was to take place a week before Rock the Parkway, so that PR attempt was off the table. I instead signed up for the Pi Day River Rotation trail half. I set a new trail half PR at 1:41, which might actually be my 2nd or 3rd fastest half marathon ever(including paved). Speedwork was going really well until St. Patrick's Day, on which I allowed myself to miss the Runner's Edge speed session to spend in green drunken revelry. The next week I was sick. The week after that involved an unexpected but necessary day trip to Omaha. Suddenly three weeks had passed and I'm not sure if I ran more than a couple times in that period. 

Oh I had a solid half marathon, but that's about the extent of my training for Rockin' K. I showed up with not much in the way of expectations and no knowledge of this race except for the fact that lots of people I know really really like it. 

Weather was expected to be approximately perfect...and it was. Early lows in the 30's and getting no warmer than 70 degrees. Maybe some stiff wind in the afternoon, but I'd totally be done by then. Totally. Right? RIGHT?

I based my expectations loosely off of the men's course record, which was around 3:30. To me, a 4:30 to 5:00 finish seemed reasonable.

6 hours and 10 minutes later, when I limped across the finish line, it seemed somewhat less reasonable than I had originally postulated.

So what happened? I'll tell you.

"You can train stupid or you can race stupid...but you can't do both." 

Well, I knew that. But having no plan, questionable expectations, and really nothing to lose...that can cause some interesting things to happen. Sometimes really good, sometimes really bad...but always interesting.

I started off faster than I would have if I actually intended to race intelligently. But I was feeling pretty good, so I went with it. I was probably in the top 5-10 runners doing the marathon for quite awhile. I yo-yo'd a few times with a small group that included the eventual female marathon winner(who ended up finishing with the time I thought I would have). It was a gorgeous morning on fantastic trails surrounded by hauntingly beautiful terrain. I immediately knew why everybody loved this race. One second you're running across barren prairie, the next you've dropped down into a lush creek bed, surrounded by cool rock formations, then you're mobbing up an enormous hill that is borderline hands-and-knees-scrambling steep. And the views made it hard to keep your eyes on the trail.

Flying high in the early miles of Rockin' K!

<Author takes a several week break from writing to get his ass back to training>

Sweet! I caught the bug again! Had a pretty rough speed workout the Tuesday after this race, then a pretty successful Rock the Parkway, casual style in 1:52. Started hitting the pool and riding the trainer again! I'm back to tracking my calories and I'm starting to slowly shed my 5-10 extra pounds.

So...where was I? Oh yeah...smack in the middle of a race report. 

I was running really well for how little I had trained. As I said before, I was keeping up with some pretty fast folks and feeling pretty good! The course was breathtaking, in both the figurative and literal sense. The female winner slowly dropped me, but I was holding my own against the other members of my original group. Occasional backward glances showed I was in no danger of being passed any time soon.

I hit the staffed aid station at roughly the halfway point and in just over 2 hours. I got a refill and some snacks and then headed out for what they described as the most challenging, but most beautiful portion of the course...a 5 mile loop which would lead me right back to the same aid station, and then a mostly flat(psshhh) and fast(PSSSHHHHH) final 8 miles to the finish.

Mobbing up a huge hill!

Another obligatory aerial shot.
They weren't kidding...the terrain got harder and the views were amazing. I was starting to drop my pace a bit, but it was to be expected since the hills were so big and steep. Two guys who I had dropped earlier caught and passed me. Another dude I had never seen before passed me. For a mile or so, I was hot on his heels, but he eventually began to pull away. After a road crossing, there was a long stretch along a fence line on uneven grassy prairie. Another gal caught me and passed me, as I realized my legs, and particularly my ankle, were starting to complain quite a bit. The unevenness of the running surface was causing me issues with stability and my ankle was beginning to fade.

The girl caught up to the guy ahead of me and on a small hill they both stopped for a photo op. I suppose they knew each other? As I caught up to them, I realized that neither of them had a camera. What they DID each have were looks of worry and concern on their faces. The girl said, "I haven't seen a trail marker for quite a while."


The guy scouted up ahead and I began to backtrack. Nothing. As I saw other runners who had followed us down the path to oblivion, I waved at them to turn around. Nothing takes the wind out of your sails quite like uncertainty. I slogged back across the prairie and eventually saw where the trail markers indicated a turn right after the road crossing. I was back on course, but I had seriously lost whatever head of steam I had left. I really began to take stock of myself and how badly everything hurt. I began walking stretches that were unnecessary to walk. My ankle was causing alterations in my running form because it couldn't handle the punishment from the uneven ground.

After a water crossing and looping around a small hill, the trail went by a natural beaver-built dam. It was so cool to look at and was surrounded by chewed off tree stumps. I remarked to the guy behind me how cool it was. As the trail turned, I saw the water crossing we had just done straight ahead, and Eric V. coming straight towards me. Something about that Out loud, I cursed that I had taken us in a circle somehow. We backtracked briefly and then I realized that while I was marveling at the beaver dam, I failed to notice that the trail markers took us ACROSS the damn thing.

Dam. Damn.

Oh well...a short time after that, Eric V did catch up to me. I was really well into a full-blown race meltdown, but having a familiar face to run with helped a bit. I led him and the 3rd guy astray one final time, missing the course markers and wandering off in the wrong direction. I really shouldn't lead, I guess. We corrected our my mistake and after getting back on course, he dropped me pretty quickly. I hobble-ran the rest of the way to the aid station where Terri and JaneĆ© were hanging out giving love and water refills. They filled my pack and fetched my drop bag while I sat down. I announced that I was in no rush whatsoever and intended to take my time and eat(I was starving at that point). I ate my PBJ and a Honey Stinger waffle as well as some other munchies. My legs were toast, ankles shot, and I had added over a mile of bonus mileage to my race, with roughly 8 left to go.

The terrain would "supposedly" get easier from here on out, but in my condition, I mostly knew it would not. More and more people began to pass me, including several first-time 50 milers like Ann and Sharah. They looked like they were crushing...almost as if they had put thought into their race plan and were executing it intelligently.

The remainder of my race consisted mostly of pathetic hobbling, with sporadic stretches of pathetic unsteady "running" that wasn't actually any faster than hobbling. More people passed me, including Viking Warrior Princess Sophia. I was about 10 minutes too slow for Rick Mayo to snap photos of me doing one of the waist deep water crossings, but he caught me as he was hiking up the trail.

Danny pretends like he's running because Camera
The last few miles seemed to take forever. My watch was already well over 26 miles because of my bonus mileage, but it turns out the course was a bit on the long side anyways. I hiked and hiked and finally saw where the trail met the road which would lead us back to the finish line. Once on pavement, I was able to kinda sorta jog on the smooth surface, but the aforementioned toasted legs didn't make it that impressive of a jog. I was absolutely done for.

I finished my first trail marathon in 6:10:11. It is by far my slowest marathon, including all three Ironman run splits.

I am not proud, but I am not ashamed. I immediately felt regret for having let myself get into such poor shape, but then settled on the fact that I simply hadn't trained adequately and severely underestimated the difficulty of this race.

But you can bet your sweet ass I want some damned redemption! I will be back...hopefully next year...fully trained, fully prepared, and I will dominate this race.

You have my word... and my word is sometimes worth a shit.

Moving forward, season is beginning to take shape. I've been training more regularly as I mentioned earlier. I recovered well from Rockin' K, took Rock the Parkway easy, and I have a date with the Free State trail half marathon this weekend. I was originally slated to pace Brandy H. for the 2nd loop of her first 100K, but since she's sadly injured, I decided since I traded weekends to be there, I might as well run and volunteer. After I finish the half marathon, I'll take over as the main aid station captain for the rest of the day!

Three weeks after Free State, I'll be racing the Perry Lake trail half marathon, in which I am once again hoping for a podium finish. That will really all depend on who registers. If Ben Holmes, Rikki Hacker, and David Wakefield all do the half, that's out the window completely. If I ever want to compete with those guys, I'll have to be completely on another level as an athlete.

Maybe this fall?

Aside from that, in early June I'm planning on racing the Legends 100 triathlon, which replaced Ironman Kansas 70.3 when it was discontinued. I'm also planning on doing the KC Corporate Challenge Duathlon (run, bike, run) and the Perry Night Half Marathon. Then I've got this little Ironman thing up in Canada in late July, but that's a topic for a later post.

For now though, I'm hoping to keep up the current training momentum I've got going.

Be well, everyone.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Fall 2014: That One Time I Got Fast

I hinted at this at the end of my long overdue race report for Ironman Boulder, but my goal for this fall was to do short trail races and do them fast. I wanted to try to win something. Not because I care about winning, but because I was pretty sure the attempt to do so would result in the kind of training I've never really done. Speedwork. Hill repeats. Box jumps. And that kind of training would hopefully make me faster, which I'm pretty sure is a good thing.

After Boulder, I came home and dedicated a few solid weeks to recovery to avoid injury. I also needed to spend a little time away from running to really get excited about it again. Triathlon training kinda wears on your enthusiasm after a while, so I needed a reason to miss hard training if I was going to have a chance to actually get it done.

Plus, it was still August, which we all know is the worst month in the history of ever. Don't even try to argue with me. I'll totally ignore you and go on knowing I'm right as if you hadn't tried to argue at all.

Just don't.

After a few weeks of easy short runs, I started back at it. It was the end of August so everything still sucked and felt awful. Then September happened and almost immediately running became 7000 times more fun. I started pushing the pace on my regular 3.5 mile loop around my neighborhood. I tried to get out to Shawnee Mission Park at least once a week to hammer out hill repeats on the trails. I hemmed and hawed about shelling out money for a plyo box versus putting my nonexistent carpentry skills to work trying to build one, and then realized I could just do "box" jumps on my basement stairs. SOLUTION!

I noticed improvement. And to be honest, after my horrendous ankle and back injury following OT100 last year, I had been unable to do any run training until April or so. But the strange thing is that when I finally started running again this year, I had speed that I hadn't really worked for. I always thought that ultra training was a detriment to speed, but maybe I'm misunderstanding what happens. Maybe I just needed a good recovery. Who knows?

Anyways, the work I was putting in was yielding results. I was getting faster. Struggling to hold sub-9:00 led to struggling to hold sub-8:00, which led to struggling to hold sub-7:00. And all of a sudden, 8:00 min/mile was my "easy" pace. I got back on the calorie counting wagon and quickly did away with the 10 lbs I had put back on since returning from Boulder.

I was firing on all cylinders and I felt good.

My first test of the season was the Clinton Lake North Shore 10K. This would be my first attempt at actually "racing". It was the first time I had paid attention to who the fast people were or what place I was in. There was also a half marathon starting at the same time and luckily the two fast guys I knew about were both in that race. So maybe I had a shot if nobody ridiculous was doing the 10K. As it turns out, somebody ridiculous was doing the 10K. This became immediately apparent to me when the starting gun went off and this dude with a 10K bib on took off and quickly disappeared. As it turns out he was 18 and looked like a track and field dude. You know the type...short shorts with the slit up the side and the running singlet with the logo of a running store. Or a shoe brand. Not sure which.

Anyways, so I would be no better than 2nd place. There were a handful of folks in front of me and I didn't know who was in what race, so I just tried to run fast and hoped for the best. I ended up finishing 3rd, which I'm totally ok with.

3 weeks later was the Fall Fell 7 Miler, which may be one of my favorite races if for no other reason than the awesome water crossing! And the cool pictures we get of us doing the water crossing! It's short enough to kill yourself and go fast, but not so short that you spend more time driving there than you do running. And the trails are fantastic and technical. Fantechstical? Technitastic?

Splish Splash!
At least one insanely fast guy was there so I was once again shooting for top 3. The race started and I went with the lead group, which was weird for me. A small pack of 4 or 5 of us and I WAS IN THE MIX. At least for now. I knew it would break up before too long, but it was still a bit of a thrill to be at least temporarily competing with these guys. I stayed in close contact with 3rd and 4th place for the first few miles, but they slowly pulled away and I was soon by myself. A few people passed me before the first water crossing and I found myself in 6th place but holding strong. In the middle rocky sections I saw that the first place female was nipping at my heels, so I pressed the pace to achieve my new goal of not getting "chicked". It worked and I was able to hold her off. In the final mile, another guy started gaining on me and was closing the gap fast. The final stretch of pavement to the finish line was an all-out sprint and I had just enough of a surge to edge him out and retain 6th place. Such a fun race!!!

The following weekend, I ran the Rock Bridge Revenge 25K, a trail run just outside of Mordor...ahem...I mean Columbia, MO. It was super cold and after seeing off my friends who were doing the 50K, I started warming up and sizing up the competition.

The goal was still to try and win or at least podium. There were some fast looking dudes and dudettes, and since I didn't know anybody, it was a crapshoot judging who was fast just by looking at them. But sometimes you can just tell. Tall and wiry dude with a long flowing locks and a great beard. Yep, he's definitely gonna win. And I wasn't wrong.

The race started on a half mile long out-and-back on pavement to stretch us out before we hit the trails. I once again jetted out with the lead group of 5, which quickly slimmed down to 3....Hair/Beard guy, a guy in an Elite Cycling tri top, and myself. In the first mile of trail, the front two guys quickly gapped me and I soon was by myself. I was holding a great sub-9 pace and feeling strong. Running warmed me up just enough that I wasn't bothered by the cold and actually ended up taking off my gloves and tucking them into my shorts.

At one point, I passed the race director who was out scouting on the course. He informed me that apparently some saboteurs had removed course markings overnight and he was out seeing where the damage was. That was enough to make me paranoid on some of the turns, and on some parts of the course, it was indeed quite a long distance between flags. Nothing to destroy a confident and steady pace like wondering if you're lost and need to turn around. There were definitely a couple turns that were no longer marked and I kinda had to use The Force to lead me in what felt like the right direction.
Rock Bridge Revenge 25K

Every now and then, I'd hit a long enough straightaway or the course would double back and give a good view of the previous sections of trail. I saw not a single soul anywhere near gaining on me. In the parts where I was mostly certain I was on course, I ran fantastically! The only people I saw other than the RD were 50K runners I was passing who were still on their first loop. In the last few miles of my race, I passed Eric and Carol who had driven up from KC for the 50K. I told them to stop pussyfooting, which was a great new word we had started putting into usage the night before.

I finally heard finish line commotion, pressed the gas, and broke into the clearing. I crossed the finish line expecting to be told "3rd place" and then they said "2nd place". So that was interesting. Hair/Beard Guy and Elite Cycling Guy had definitely been way ahead of me, and I never passed anybody. As it turns out, Elite Cycling Guy had missed a turn and finished shortly behind me. Oh well...I guess that's the way it goes sometimes. We all ran the same poorly marked course. I guess my Force was better than his Force. I was thrilled with my consistent pace! The course itself was a fantastic mix of every kind of trail I had ever run. Some rocky technical like Shawnee Mission Park, some sandy smooth and fast like the river trails, some rugged and rough like WyCo bridle trails, and some beautiful ridge traverses along limestone bluffs like Ozark Trail. There were also 7 or 8 really awesome knee to thigh deep water crossings that were delightfully chilly. I would definitely do this race again!

The following week, I began fostering a dog. He has turned my life upside down and added an additional challenge to simple things such as "leaving the house". I have managed to find ways to manage his separation anxiety, but it's still a work in progress. He is also turning into a pretty solid trail runner.

The week after that I had the pleasure of spectating at the KC Marathon which several of my friends were running in. I camped out on one of the big early hills and provided encouragement and high fives. Then once everyone had passed that point, I jetted over to mile 21...a point in the race where many would be hitting their walls, and continued dishing out enthusiasm and high fives. My hand hurt for several days afterwards, but it was such a fulfilling experience. I even saw a runner wearing MU gear *ugh* and I put aside my own *gag* personal school loyalties *barf* and said to him "M-I-Z!", to which he *hrmph* enthusiastically replied "Z-O-U!".

I felt so dirty, yet that day it wasn't about MU or KU. It was about getting that dude to the finish line.

The next morning, I had the pleasure of running the Perry Rocks Half Marathon with my brother and his girlfriend who were in town from San Francisco. My brother was just beginning to ramp up his training for our 50K in December and Megan was two weeks off of her first marathon(a 3:27!) and looking for a fun easy day. I know that both of them in their top form would destroy me, but I was pretty sure I'd have the upper hand today. And once again, I'd be attempting to hit a podium spot. It'd be hard because both Ricky Hacker and Dave Wakefield were racing that day. Not a huge chance I'd be able to hang with them unless I became significantly faster than I was. So...a battle for 3rd perhaps?

Desperately clinging to the heels of a fast guy.

The race started and I hit it hard to enter the trails with the fast guys. Dave was in 1st, Ricky in 2nd, and little old ME in 3rd. I was right on Ricky's heels for about half a mile, reveling in what it must feel like to be that fast, but knowing it would be short lived. He gapped me on the first big hill and I never saw him again.
Another guy who was running with an enormous Great Dane(seen in the above picture) also passed me in the first few miles, and an older gentleman shortly after. Amy Schmitz was again running with her dog Winston and was gaining on me for a period, but I ended up staying in front of her. A couple fast 50K runners passed me around the halfway mark, but other than that I held onto my 5th place ranking. Towards the end, I'm pretty sure I was gaining on the Great Dane guy, but he stayed a minute or two ahead of me. I finished strong up the final hill, made the left turn, and crossed the finish line with a new trail half marathon PR and a course PR by 6 minutes with a time of 1:51. Chris finished with a 1:57 and Megan narrowly missed a podium finish among females with a 2:08, despite rolling her ankle hard early in the race.

Happy Finishers
While in Rolla for our family's early Thanksgiving, I did a small 10K with my bro and his GF and we convinced my mother, father, and nephew to enter the 5K! I was so proud of them all! I would've finished 2nd place except for missing a turn on my 2nd loop of a sparsely marked course, allowing Chris and Megan to finish juuuust ahead of me. The cool thing is that we all received an award of some kind! Chris and I were 2nd and 3rd male in the 10K, Megan was 1st female, and my mother, father and nephew all received age group awards in the 5K! So cool!

The next weekend, I drove down to Podunk, MO to spend the day volunteering at the Ozark Trail 100 which I ran last year. It was really cold, but still so awesome to be in that atmosphere and give back to the trail community in that way. I reveled in peeling off runners' socks with numb fingers and drying and resocking them, much as my crew had done for me the previous year. Being around those people got me really excited about running another 100 miler at some point. For a few weeks, I contemplated trying to squeeze one in sometime in late Spring, but I have mostly decided that it would be a bad idea and I'd need to be well into Ironman training at that point in preparation for Ironman Canada in July. Maybe next Fall?

Farley's trail debut! What a great looking pup!
I took Farley out for his first trail run at the Veteran's Day 4 Miler. I got lots of compliments on how handsome my dog is, but I was curious how he'd do on the trails, especially with all the other runners and dogs milling about. In short, he did fantastically! We averaged 10:00 min/mile and he finished 1st canine! It is worth noting that Amy Schmitz did NOT bring Winston, so that showdown is still pending. 

In the thick of my ultra training, I decided on a whim to sign up for the Pilgrim Pacer Marathon to kickstart my first back-to-back long run weekend with a supported race. I worked packet pickup and helped Ben mark the course to give some more back to the wonderful Trail Nerds. I really had no particular plan for pacing, nor had I done any targeted training for a paved marathon. I really just wanted to wing it and see how badly I could trounce my 5 year old PR from the last time I did a marathon(3:59 from Las Vegas in 2009). 
Actin' the fool before the race
The two loop out-and-back course starts on a long downhill and finishes, obviously, on a long uphill. The race started and I hauled ass out of the gate, blazing down the hill at a 7:00 min/mile pace, knowing full well it was a terrible idea, but also not really giving an entire fuck. I held a sub-8 pace for the entire first loop, and I very nearly PR'd the first half, coming through at 2nd fastest half marathon ever!
Actin' the fool on course
I was in 9th place starting my 2nd loop, but as I expectedly slowed, I began to get passed. I was still having a blast and moving pretty well, pace in the mid-8's. 
Still foolin'
Approaching the final turnaround, I was beginning to feel the fallout of starting out so fast and within a few miles, I was struggling to hold sub-10 pace. One of my throwaway goals for the race was to have every photo of me be in mid-air. I almost accomplished that goal, but apparently around mile 22 or so I was having none of that. 
No foolin'. Also, it was snowing. NBD
Towards the end, I decided that a sub-3:40 finish would be swell. I had to really dig to gut it out up the final hill and I made it with less than 20 seconds to spare. Finish time was 3:39:42, a 20 minute PR, and good enough for 18th place overall out of 116 runners. 
Actin' the fool across the finish line. Didn't quite
nail the cannonball. 
To finish up my long weekend, I did 13.5 miles on the trails the following day and felt pretty solid after getting the cobwebs shaken out in the first few miles. After a rest day, I did another 10 at WyCo. After that, things were starting to feel a bit funky. The ankle I injured at Ozark Trail was starting to feel a bit pissy and sore. I had another back-burner goal of hitting 1000 miles of running again this year, but after getting a massage and having things still feel a bit funky, I decided to close the book on that goal. The 50K in December, the 100K in January, and my overall health are the real priorities. So instead of attempting to average 40 miles a week for the remainder of the year, I am now officially tapering for the North Face Endurance Challenge 50K which takes place in San Francisco in 12 days. I'm looking forward to racing my brother again and seeing whose training will result in victory. I have no expectations of a PR, but I'm still hopeful for a sub-6 finish. 

Within a day of officially deciding that I was in taper mode, the aches and pains began. A few nights ago at work, an intense pain in my right lower abdomen had me 100% convinced that I had an inguinal hernia. And a day later it was completely gone. So it goes...

With my reduction in mileage, I've decided to get back into the habit of tracking my calories in and out, just for the next few months to make sure I don't accidentally gain 20 lbs over the holidays and arrive at Bandera a disgusting Beluga whale. This will especially be a challenge while I am in San Francisco, but if I play it straight the rest of the time, I can cheat for that week. I also need to supplement with some hip, glute, and ankle strengthening so that I don't injure myself in the final push into the 100K and to hopefully avoid a mid-race catastrophe like at OT100. 

My goal for Bandera 100K is 13 or 14 hours, though if I finish sub-16, I'll be eligible to enter the Western States 100 lottery for 2016. 

Just throwing that out there.

KTB, friends...