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It all began on a pleasant clear Friday the 13th in the a.m. (no – I’m not superstitious; it’s just what day it was!). I went out to check the fluids in my brand spankin’ new shiny sliver Honda Civic (actually new to me, 1999, 41,700 miles at the unbelievable price of $5,700 !!!). I break the hood release lever right off in my hand – luckily the hood released, but here I am, with the lever broke clean off – cracked off – not good. Worry about it later.
So, then I go out and feed the goats and dogs before I load the car and leave for Heartland 50 miler in Cassoday, KS, only a 5 and a half hour drive away – if you are doing the speed limit – imagine – two states away and closer than San Antonio (at least for me)! Anyway, I greet two of the dogs that are out in the kennel – behind an angle iron barred door, hinged at one side, hooked closed, with some play in the door. Well, those dogs were so darn happy to see me, in unison, they leapt up with paws up on the door, (now, remember, I said there was play in the door), that door came thundering to my head, an explosion deafening in my brain, the reverberation so intense, I knew it knocked my front teeth out! I reeled back, staggering and wobbling in a bent over position, holding my head, feeling for the blood with my gloved hand – it was wet! Oh, that was just the glove. Took off the glove and felt a half walnut sized lump forming on my forehead just at the hairline – that’s good – it will be covered by hair if I work it just right. After the pain left, I went out to tell Al I thought I cracked my skull open and I was getting ready to go. He asked if the metal door needed repair and maybe I shouldn’t go, seeing my luck was not up to par, so far! I hmmfed at the door and told him I’d just take some aspirin or ibuprofen for the pain.
So, off I went – 5 and a half hour drive to El Dorado, checked into the hotel – drove to race check-in and dinner in Cassoday – town of 99, at the Senior Citizen Center. The shirt was a good quality red 3-button Henley, with the race logo. Race briefing was exactly that, dinner was supplied by the local café – not your normal race fare! Salisbury steak for the hard-core meat eaters, chicken, in addition, scalloped potatoes, beans, corn and pie for dessert. It worked for me! The pastor of the local church said the blessing and invited all the runners to church on Sunday, smelly or not.
I leapt to the front of the line and hogged down my food, so I could get back to the hotel, get things in order and rest. I thought I had my drop bags organized, but not so and it took me an hour and a half to sort everything out, get things ready, when I thought I’d be taking it easy, reading my book. I finally got bedded down, got some excellent sleep in spite of the thin walls revealing a dog barking and people talking.
In the a.m., runners were leaving the hotel about the same time as I was and as I paid the toll in Cassoday, the toll man was getting a kick out of all the runners heading that way. It was cold, cold, cold!!! Registered 38 degrees!!! But, I planned and had warm clothes in my drop bags, two shirts on, gloves, hat and buff to cover my ears. I had grits, a banana and rice pudding for breakfast, along with coffee and was keeping hydrated with water.
I used my Golite pack that has two mesh pockets in the back that can hold two bottles, easier to mess with than a bladder and I needed electrolyte in one of the bottles. I had all kinds of goodies in my pack and my drop bags, one of which was at the Battlecreek 8.2 and 41.8 mile aid station, the other at the Lapland 16.8 and 32 something.
At the port-a-potty I met Brian Tidmore – wasn’t hard to spot him and he reminded me that Thomas Okazaki was there and I hadn’t seen him at the dinner. I found Thomas right away, as we were about to start and we ended up running together. He had gotten in at midnight and slept in his car. My original plans were to run my 8’s and walk the 2’s, make it to the turn around in 6 hours. That would give me plenty of time for my run back, which unfortunately usually is way too slow. My goal was 13 and a half hours – this was my training run for Mother Road 100. Talking and running with Thomas was super! He is a kind, witty, honest soul and if anyone needs a running partner he is highly recommended! He carries such positive thoughts – I don’t think a negative thought could reside in him! What a wonderful person! It was pure pleasure and the miles just melted away, though slower than I had planned.
The course is run on dirt, gravel, and rock, jeep and single track roads (with a stretch or two of regular gravel road) across the last remaining prairie grass in the U.S. and across open range. Part is also in the Flint Hills. The countryside was inspiring, it was prairies from the real out west wagon drives. You could just see the wagon trains amongst the flowing grasses, see them circled at night, with the buffalo surrounding them. It was true unspoiled rolling land, it was America! The scenery was beautiful and just amazing! And Kansas is not flat! One hill, Thomas nicknamed mini Wasatch. The hills were Umstead-like, though sometimes steeper and sometimes longer. I maybe saw 3 houses in 25 miles, and no people. The only vehicles on the road that I saw were two trucks and the rest were race people getting or dropping off water, people or drop bags. The weather was cold, then cool, clear, clear skies, later the sun warming me.
Thomas and I ran and talked, walked up the hills, so my 8’s and 2’s somewhat dissolved. Everything reminded Thomas of something, the rocks – Rocky Road Ice Cream! Ha! He was trying to think of songs with the word ‘road’ in them – me, not being as trivial inspired or as witty as Mark Henderson, couldn’t really help out and I think we only ended up with two or three songs.
We reached the turnaround in 6 hrs. and 30 minutes. Oooooops. This just means I will get in, in 14 hours. Oh, well, nothing I can do about it now! I just hoped that now Thomas could get to his turn around in 13 hrs. We exchange hugs and good lucks and are off in opposite directions. The sweet little lady from Colorado that I met at the check in the night before was about half an hour ahead of me and shortly I saw her! There were 5 people behind me and I was feeling super! I had not had one issue, save for the sciatica, which I was stretching every ten minutes. I caught up to Rima and she was doing so badly, she didn’t want to talk about it. A volunteer had stopped and was going to keep a check on her. I’m feeling great! I see another runner ahead and we meet up at an aid station – he lingers and I go on. Oh, the aid stations – they were set up with all the regular fare, Conquest was the drink, some had actual tents, which was a great idea, considering the weather could do anything out here. It was said that the volunteers who manned the stations stayed there throughout the entire race! And they did this every year! They were very accommodating and my favorite was the homemade oatmeal cookies at the Battle Creek station.
Okay, now there were seven people behind me and I saw one more up ahead. I catch up to him and he’s not doing well. Stomach problems. He did look odd – his stomach was all unnaturally distended and he wasn’t a large man. He was either going to implode or explode and I had to get out of there!!! We walked up a hill together, but it was paining him badly and he bid me adieu.
About mile 40 I started feeling tired and took about 8 minutes to change my watch to 7’s and 3’s. Oh, I forgot to mention, I was back doing my intervals. The hills were steeper, the rocks were bigger and they moved Battle Creek! I did not remember the rocks being this brutal! The downhills were wonderful, but the ups were strenuous. Where was Battle Creek? Finally, I got there and yes, they admitted, they did move it – also they added hills and rocks and in some places swept the road of rocks, just to keep things interesting! I was thinking – this is great – I could actually break 13 hrs.!!! On and on and on and a volunteer pulled up and asked me if I knew where I was! I said – I sure hope so! He said - look ahead! There was the water tower! There was the finish! I thought – two minutes away! Five ? Ten? It was actually 20 minutes away and I made it! Negative split! For me that is tremendous! 12:52 ! ! ! I was very pleased. I had some hot potato cheese soup, put on more clothes as it was getting very cold, and headed back to the hotel – I was very gritting and in desperate need of a shower.
Got in bed and the legs acted up – twinged and ticked and cramped and I just couldn’t get to sleep; the paper-thin walls not helping, with some guy talking on his ham radio – I could hear everything, someone else watching a movie – how loud do they need it? Woke up at one, at two, at 4, at 6, then finally at 8. and my legs felt fine! Packed up my stuff and headed back in the rain! I thought of those still on the trail. It rained the whole way home! I stopped a few times to stretch and walk about, but my legs really felt fine. It was a great run! I would do the hundred there sometime! Oh, and the lump on my head still hurts, but it subsided! It’s more like a squashed egg now!