by Lynn Ballard
September 27, 2003
Driving up through Oklahoma and into southern Kansas didn’t seem to terribly intimidating, as the rolling hills never got to high nor the terrain too rough. Sherman, Durant, Atoka, McAllister, Henryetta, Tulsa, and so on…
We arrive at the Channel Outlet campground and are well received by the KUS (Kansas Ultrarunners Society) volunteers and race director Eric Steele. We quickly get signed up and set out to select our campsite, a nice shady one near the channel coming under the dam on Elk City Reservoir. We throw our tent(s) up and I decide that since the only thing other than sunshine on the forecast was “windy” for Saturday, I would put a few stakes down just in case. Back to the S/F area for the ‘eat until you can’t walk’ pasta dinner promised by Eric and his KUS cohorts. We say grace and go through the line to find tons of spaghetti and meatballs and am almost done with my second plate when I ask “was that thunder?” Before anyone can answer, my plate is puddling with rainwater blowing horizontally in the side of the pavilion from the North. We all shift to the south side of the pavilion only to have a change of weather and a wind shift that now blows horizontal from the South, accompanied by quarter-sized hailstones!
Rubbing my head (hailstones, remember?) I think to myself “glad I put the stakes down. The storm retreats almost as quickly as it arrives, but not before soaking everyone and everything. We beat a hasty retreat back to our tents and review the trail map to discuss points of access for my fan club (wife and mother) to meet up with me during the day, then call it a night.
Rise and shine (dimly) at 6 AM. To fill the Camelback, pack the snacks and slather up with BodyGlide before heading over to the 7AM pre-race briefing. As I walk up to the briefing area I realize I forgot to put my contacts in…which I beat a hasty retreat back to the tent to address, hoping that’s the only thing I forgot. After reminding the runners that the trail is very challenging and “we’re really not kidding about our motto for the race…If you look up, you’re going down”, the RD told us where the actual starting line was…about ½ mile up the road…we plodded to the start.
With the makings of a gorgeous sunrise behind us, we were sent on our assault on the Elk River Hiking trail for the day at 7:30AM. I promptly reminded myself that this was a training run, not a race for me. Pulling back to the back third of the pack, I secretly thought that I would rather enjoy passing folks at the end, as I was in top shape for this race. Down the road, across a grassy meadow and up, up, up we wound to the top of the rock shelf overlooking the lake. The previous night’s rain provided mud in the few spots the rocks didn’t dominate, promptly filling in the gaps between the lugs on my Montrail Hurricanes. This made the rock’s even more interesting, as I quickly had a couple of near misses and a good slide-down to remind me this might be a long day.
Up and over the ledge and through some very deceptive high grassy meadows with rocks looming just out of sight, hiding in the grass (which was about waist high), I was just about to line out and lengthen my stride and “bang”, glad I have those toe bumpers, “thwap”, wow, that could have been a really bad ankle sprain, and on…. What’s that noise? I hear an unknown runner yell “buffalo”, what, are there buffalo here? And quickly another responds “buffalo” then another and another from above me, behind me in front of me, seemingly everywhere! “Some runners are just weird”, I think to myself (my wife thinks all runners are weird).
I am running 3rd in a train of runners for a while, so I ask “who do we have in this train? I’m Lynn.” “Bill” comes from in front of me, “and that’s John up front”. “Steve”, from right behind me, “Marlyss” further back and then a faint “Kay” from even further back. Suddenly John stops to tie a shoe and Bill pulls over with him and I’m in front. Running comfortably, I pick it up a bit, as I am a little impatient with the extended slowdowns we’ve been experiencing. Now, I’m really concentrating on the trail and carefully choosing each footplant.
In no time, we are upon the first aid station, where 4 or 5 runners are gathered. I blow right past, generating a few comments and some raised eyebrows. I drop the train at the aid station and am now running alone. I continue in my solitude, thinking that the long training runs have conditioned me to go without support for 9-10 miles at a time, so I plot to not stop until the 9-10 mile aid station. Next thing I know, I’m blowing through the second aid station. A quarter mile down the trail, there is a water crossing and I get careless selecting my footing…s**t! Water in my shoes! That’s OK, it’s not too bad and I’ll be able to change at the turn, cause wife and mother will meet me there.
Up and down the rock shelf, I continue, then realize someone is behind me. Darn, am I slowing down? No, Steve and one of the other runners left open-mouthed at the first aid station have decided to haul ass, and attribute their change of pace to my blowing through the aid stations. I move over let them by and find myself happy to get back to running alone. I hit the 9.6 mile aid station, take a hit of Conquest from the table (hey, this stuff is good), grab a handful of orange slices, a half banana and continue on with less than 30 seconds delay. This is the first access point where my wife and my mother talked about meeting me. It is still early and they are enjoying the camp, I think to myself…no worries. I’m feeling really good and now am looking forward to the turnaround. Up, down, stumble, taking in the morning in the Kansas wilderness, awesome!
I blow through the next aid station and reflect that these stations seem as close together as the one-a-mile setups they have in road races. Still, it feels good to reach an aid station when you have some gas left! I pick it up a bit more and realize I am closing on another runner. We’re on a jeep road with a slight uphill grade. What’s that? He’s walking, the afterburners kick in (yeah right, like I’m only doing 12 min miles!) and shortly after he crests the hill and begins running, I pass him. Wow that felt great. I quickly put him out of sight and find another one that I begin to reel in. Shortly after I pass, I’m really feeling confident and I hear “no, left, left”. It’s the guy I just passed telling me I just missed the turn off the jeep trail. A little embarrassed, I thank him profusely, correct my path and continue on. Less than three miles to the turnaround.
Now I hit a portion of the trail that seems more like rock climbing, as I’m forced to scratch and claw my way up and down a few rock faces, across some pretty wet stuff, as the rain from last night is draining toward the river. I’m now about 2 miles out and the leaders are approaching. Yes, two young featherlights that seem to be enjoying themselves. I’m thinking they must have been raised by mountain goats, as they glide over some of the really rough stuff. Now I’m counting the other runners returning from the turnaround and realize there are only about 16-17 ahead of me.
I reach the turn and realize that my wife and my mother have skipped this access point, as well. Oh well, the shoes and socks are doing just fine and I don’t really want to take the time to change them anyway, but the ice cold Mountain Dew and Ensure sure would be good right now. Oh well…back to the start. “Buffalo”, “buffalo”…”buffalo” I hear. These guys are weird… I pass the pack on the way back out from the turn, maybe 1-1/2 or 2 miles out. Wow, I have put some good distance on the gang and now am running about mid-pack. Here is a really flat section near the river bank without too many rocks, I kick it up a bit and am moving really well. “Bang, snap, crackle, pop”, I’m on my back, as a result of my first really hard fall of the day. My right thumb is throbbing, a result of jamming it into the trunk of a small tree I tried to grab on the way down. My left knee is pounding from the banging and hyperextension it took on the way down. Crap! I take stock and realize that nothing is really hurt but my pride and maybe my thumb…no blood, so I remind myself of Jay Norman’s words…”I don’t need it to run” and I took off.
Blow back through the next aid station and get back to the 9.6 (on the way out) station. Wife and mother are sitting in lounge chairs and I announce they are fired (remember the wet socks and the no show at the turnaround?). Everyone gets a good laugh and I slam down a couple of Ensures and some Mountain Dew (man, I love that stuff), take a banana, kiss the wife and take off, knowing that I’ll be done in 2-21/2 hours. I decide to pick it back up to a pretty good clip. I’m still not seeing anyone until I get to the next aid station. The volunteer looks at my number and then his list and says “good job, Lynn”. “Are you Lynn as in jlynnbob?” I hear from a guy that is sunbathing in a chair nearby. “Yes, I say”. “I’m mazerunner”, he replies, a bud from the Runner’s World UltraRunner board. He jumped up and fell in with me for the next 2-3 miles, leading the way. It was good to catch up with him, as we had traded several posts on the board, but had never met. We hit a long uphill and he stepped aside stating “you’re a stronger climber, so go ahead” and I pulled us up the rest of the grade. He fell back and shortly I was alone again with about 5 miles to go.
I got back into some pretty rough terrain and took another hard fall. Hard enough to slow me down quite a bit. I continue on and snag my left foot on a root and it stops me dead in my tracks…no fall just suspended like one of Batman’s foes hit me with a freeze ray! That pulled everything from my lower back down to my pinky toe! Immediately I cramped up in the muscle group that runs down the inside of my thighs, knees and calves. That was painful! I work it out and continue on, again a bit slower and more cautiously. After all, I don’t want to hurt something that would jeopardize Palo Duro!
A few more ups and downs and I make sure I am comfortable that there is enough distance between me and the next guy and kick it into finish gear. Down off the trail and onto the dam road (no, really, it goes up and over the dam), I am back at the starting line (but not the finish line). It feels good to be able to stretch out and run without worrying about the rocks for a change! On to the finish where I received the most raucous cheering and whistling and clapping I have ever received in any race I’ve run (and most of it coming from Eric, the RD). My finish was 7:37:22, the longest it has taken me ever to cover that distance, but I feel like a winner (and know I ran a good race).
I grab a bowl of chili, visit with Ken (Mazerunner) and Mrs. Mazerunner before hitting the showers. What a great race! Very well run by a friendly group of folks from KUS.