Go ahead! Grab a pickle, I have them right here!
At 7:00 AM CST in the summer month of July, a random Saturday, I joined a group of 20+ people and embarked on a memorable journey through woods, rocks, mud, and everything else you could imagine.
I decided to take on “WyCo”.
A little background…Kansas City, surprising to many, has several elaborate trail routes throughout the metro area. They are found on all four sides of the city, and range from lakeside trails, urban rock trails, and a combination in between. Elevations vary, and there is a unique organization that ensures that they are kept in stellar condition by closing them when it rains. “WyCo” is short of Wyandotte County Park. Located in the far northwest corner of the Kansas City area “WyCo” is where runners go to train for all the other courses in the region. In other words; if you can survive “WyCo”, in theory you should be able to survive anything.
It all started with a simple question on Facebook; one of the local runners was curious about the new ‘summer loop’ at WyCo and wanted to run it. This spurred on a conversation that lasted for most of the week prior to the run. In total 23 people from around the region showed up to explore this new route. The ‘summer route’ is a 10.5 mile loop that will be used during the “Psycho Psummer” race hosted by the local group, the Trail Nerds.
I tried to explain on Facebook that I was slow, otherwise I would join them. However, my plea for pity fell on deaf ears. All people were wise and wanting for me to explore “WyCo” with them. I had no choice because something in my soul, the pit of it, was saying that this experience might be fun.
The group began with a very light jog through the grass to beginning of the trail system. At “WyCo” there are two types of trails; one set is closed when it rains, the other set is not. This loop we were taking was a combination of both. For the first mile to two miles I trekked through mud and water that soaked my feet (I was later laughed at for referring to this as muddy, as I was informed this is the driest “WyCo” has been in years). After churning through that mess I was blessed with six miles of groomed trails, major thanks to the local Boy Scout troops for maintaining it, and was kicked out on the dam of Wyandotte Lake. At this point, since I don’t wear a GPS watch, I had assumed that we had completed three to four miles. We were just under two hours, I was in the back of the overall group, so I assumed that it had felt like three miles.
By the time I met with large groups again it had turned out that we had already covered six to seven miles. Only three miles remained on the course. This was mind-blowing for myself; I had never gone running and underestimated how far I had run. This was largely in part to myself being well hydrated, my joints didn’t ache, and I had people that were pacing with me through most of the trip. Those elements really take away from the daunting experience of that many miles through singletrack trails.
While I was glowing in knowing that I was doing relatively well, I had begun to pick up on people making note of an event ahead…
The three sisters are coming. They’re in the last mile of the route.
I have learned that any geographical area that gets its own nickname is something to be cautious about.
They were not kidding.
The final mile of the loop, which will be the final mile of the upcoming race, is met with three very disturbing hills. The first is extremely length, the deep ruts ‘swallow you’ at one point, and in many instances runners have stopped half way up the hill, sat down, and cried. The second wasn’t as bad, but that is because the perspective of the first is still fresh in your head. The final hill is just awful because you already covered the first two. Mind you, this is the end of the course. Meaning, you have already logged eight to nine miles, you are fatigued, and this is standing in your way before you can finish. Make no mistake, it is very hard. There are running groups that come out just to run the ‘three sisters’ for hill training.
The nice part is understanding that after you have completed that last hill, there isn’t even half a mile left before you are finished.
What I Learned:
I am so, so grateful I went off on this journey. One main reason was being able to tell myself that I can maintain myself that long on a run. Prior to that event last weekend I had only ran seven miles on a road without stopping. Being able to log these miles was a huge self-esteem boost for next weekend. The second reason I’m
grateful for this experience is because it gave me a course outline of the upcoming race. I am registered to run this exact course, so knowing what to expect at each juncture throughout the course is relieving. When signing up for a race, be sure that you have taken the time to do appropriate research. Unlike a road race, Google Maps may not show you every tip and trick for the upcoming course.
Finally, as I’m continuing to learn over and over and over. The trail running community is extremely close-knit. I once read that trail racing is not you against the other person; it is you against the mountain, the path, your demons, yourself, the mileage, etc…This has to be one of the few sports out there were the people around you are not just only the competition, but also your friends.
Happy Jul 4th and welcome to Mound City, Missouri! You will need to watch out for tractors, lawn mowers, and an occasional lost cow wandering the streets. Each Fourth of July this small farming community gets together for their annual parade, and the Red Rock 5K Fun Run. 2016 marked their 26th running of the event. Meaning, for 26 years this town of 1000 people have been hosting this race.
Do not allow the size of the town fool you on the talent of the running pool, or the kindness (lack there of) of the course.
For a low sum of $25 you can enter into the Red Rock 5K Fun Run. The course is all road, so lace up your best shoes for asphalt pavement. It is vital to note that Mound City is located on the bluffs of the Missouri River in far Northwest Missouri. “Bluff” is a geographical term used to identify large rolling hills along both sides of a river basin. Understanding this key part is vital for your success at Red Rock.
The course is a hybrid of a circuit and a down-and-back. You do end where you start, but the trip back is different from the trip to the halfway point. Taking the route will guide you through the residential section of Mound City. You’ll see Mound City R-2 schools, three parks, and will be able to locate the golf course if someone asks you. Local police do block off the main highway portions of this course to local traffic. Overall the community loves the event, so everyone gets along swimmingly.
Oh, there’s one thing you should be aware of when starting out on this course from the parking lot of the Dollar General.
Check this out; the entire 1.4 miles to the turnaround point is uphill. Overall it is nearly a 200 foot climb in elevation. This includes a one portion that with a 6% grade, another portion with a 4% grade, and two sections with a 3% grade. If you’re not ready for some chronic, constant climbing this little course will doom you from the beginning.
The good news to this is what comes up…must come down, and the courses comes down quick. This includes nearly a half mile (2.5-3.0) at a -4% grade. Prepare your knees accordingly.
Appreciate what people do for you. As humorous as it is to find small town races (and the secrets that they have in them), the reality is that it still takes a lot to put on each race. With a fee of $25, Red Rock depends a lot on corporate sponsors in the area for support. Look forward to a t-shirt and a bottle of water upon finishing. If you are crazy fast (see ‘The Results’) there is a chance for a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place medal from your respective age group and overall.
On top of the course challenges are the runners as well. Growing up in the area I understand the work ethic of farming communities. However, I’m a strong advocate for noting these small towns need cross country teams. I say that due to the marvelous speed that some people put on. A 30:00.00 5K would place in the bottom 1/4 of the group for perspective, and this year someone from North Brooklyn Running Club was there to put on a show also (yes, as in Brooklyn, New York).
A quick word about small town races; they will go one of two ways. It could be a great place for you to win if the field is small and the course is smooth…or…it could be similar to qualifying for the Olympics in mountain goat racing.
***End of Review, Continue for My Results***
Four years ago my girlfriend (now, wife) and I found this little 5K race. It was her first ever 5K, so it seemed safe. I even ran/walked the majority of it with her and had a pretty good time. Things have changed in those four years. While I did not hit a PR today, I did surprisingly come close to it. I’ll admit that the uphill for half the course is just brutal if you are not prepared, and let’s be real, I’m never fully prepared for anything that has to do with running.
Consistency has definitely been afoot this year during the races. This is the fourth race this year that I have finished fourth in my age group. Personally, I will admit that I was disappointed with myself, and the effort put a bit of a damper on the 4th of July holiday.
More importantly though, it signaled my transition. Today’s race was the last one that I’ll be training for on the road. I’ve learned a lot through the process of training on trails, and I look forward to heading into the jungle more frequently for actual competitions (my wife said she would come along too).
In order to expand your ability as a runner, it’s crucial that one is constantly looking for new adventures. Since last weekends race series is now at a close, I found myself starting to feel the temptations of ‘burnout’ along the 5K road races. The burnout sensation is far more fearful to my soul compared to that of injury or death; I don’t want to lose the fire of loving to run. Obviously, to prevent that from happening, I needed to make some adjustments.
Enter the MudBabes. Yes, this a real group of people out here in the flyover land of the United States. Each Monday evening they get together and take off for a few (several) miles along the trails of our countryside. One of their runners had invited me out to run along with these lovely folks. Aiming for a change of pace for myself, and perhaps a new vested interest in the running world I took the challenge to meet up with them on this warm evening.
It was going to be great to make new friends…
…or die at the feet of their own dedication to the trail gods.
June 20, 2016–Shawnee Mission Trails, Kansas: I had arrived fifteen minutes early to the trailhead where we would be taking off. I had finished my second peppermint and my first bottle of water. The air temperature was 94°F, the humidity added placed it near the 100°F mark. It is Kansas, this is not uncommon for 5:50 PM in June.
The group of MudBabes began to gather near one of the vehicles in the parking lot. While I was awkwardly awaiting seeing someone I actually recognized I began to view the trail routes along a board near the road. On this map I found cross country trails, hiking trails, walking trails, and mountain biking trails. There were so many options to choose from! Running along the asphalt trail lines through the park, gliding through the grass of a cross country course, or even enjoying a little bit of scenery on a hiking trail. How awesome could any of those options be?
We chose the mountain biking course to run on.
The. Mountain. Biking. Course.
Now, at 94°F it came to no surprise that these runners came prepared. They were in lightweight gear, several had head covering of some sort, and 99% of the group had either a hydration backpack or a bottle that is semi-permanently attached to the hand. I was the 1%. Years of knowledge (foolishness) had taught me that I do rather well on runs when it is hot outside and water isn’t easily accessible. I drink before and after, and I’m fine. Granted, that’s not the same as running on nature’s staircase worth of tree roots for miles on end. I assured the group that I was fine, and we began our ascend.
Trail running can easily be misunderstood in the non-running community. To many that means asphalt paved park controlled sidewalks or gravel/chat paths that carve along lakesides. However, what trail running really means is finding a way to introduce Mother Nature to parkour. Meaning, if she made it, you can run on it or over it.
The beginning of that path wasn’t even flat. I was learning to jog while both my feet were on two separate angles. Meaning, my brain had to control two feet at two angles that were determined to go forward in the same direction. My brain hurt from thinking within the first half mile.
Once we started moving, the trail was explained to us. The orange trail was 2.5 miles and the purple trail would wind up ending at 4.5 miles. We’d start on the orange and halfway we’d split to the purple, or stay on the orange. The choice was to each runner.
At this point it needs to be expressed that ‘MudBabes’ and ‘elite’ are two words that go hand-in-hand (I’d also personally add the words ‘Suicide Squad’ to the mix). I enjoy my 5K accomplishments on Saturday mornings. These folks enjoy their 25K, 50K, 50 mile, and 100 mile accomplishments. Ultra-marathon runners, heard of those folks before? The people that run for over 24 hours…straight? That was who I was running with into the gates of the hell on this day.
I confess, I started my course off fast. I was passing people, clearing roots, and just having the time of my life. That was for the first half mile, and one of the runners even made note that it isn’t wise to start fast. By the time the first mile had passed I was stumbling over roots, I was out of breath, and my head was spinning from trying to keep my feet moving correctly while dodging the Aggro-Crag death traps of razors rocks to each side of me. That’s when the same runner gave me solid advice; when we start to wear down we are more susceptive to tripping, falling, and becoming injured. Not finishing a trail race to an injury is not uncommon.
Originally, I thought, “I need to get my mileage in. So, obviously I need to take the 4.5 mile path today.” At the moment of the crossroads between orange and purple my thought had changed slightly to, “Sweet mother. I’ll take orange right now if it means that I can get out of this Hunger Games style running.” Over and over again I had heard, “2.5 miles on a trail really does feel like 4 miles”, which then made me wonder, “How on earth do you mentally survive 100 miles on this stuff?”
Thankfully, only a few runners went with the purple path. Many MudBabes were running races this weekend that involve 50K, 50 Mile, and 100 Mile courses. Understand, that unlike a 5K, you shouldn’t run a set of these races back-to-back in a weekend. The body can only handle so much and stress fractures are a serious and common threat to these runners.
It was on the way back to our starting point that I truly began to feel the suffering of my experience. I had started out walking on this segment. Thomas, behind me, made a statement that’ll forever resonate in my heart. Of course he said this prior to the Chubacraba I swear I heard in the trees:
Don’t worry, trail running is addictive. Once you spill a little blood to the trail gods, you’re forever hooked.
There is something to be said about the painfully addictive principles of trail running. Your body is required to work overtime to focus and keep pace. You are surrounded by nature in its entirety. Plus, no one can hear you scream at the time of your demise. Truly, trail runners are a very special group of people. Trail running is an event that does encourage the person to see how far the human body really can go in a certain amount of time.
At routes end I finally began to realize the poor, poor choice of not having water with me. Unfortunately the heat was taking its toll, and on several occasions I was told to go get my water from the car. When I arrived at the car I was cramping up with a horrible headache. Meaning, I was suffering from the heat. To further add pain to misery, this park was 40 minutes west of my house. Between that park and my house the temperature had dropped 20°F and it was pouring down rain.
I nearly cried.
As I stepped into the house, my wife, knowing of my foolish tendencies, looked at me and asked, “So, how was your run?” All while trying to not let her smile show. I gave her the rundown, the outline for this entry, and while I was searching for ice and something to eat…like a true new believer…I stopped and said:
I can’t wait until we meet again next week.
I am not the fastest runner in the group. I am easily one of the most stubborn though.
Four months ago, after running a fun four mile course during St. Patrick’s Day, I analyzed my ‘goodie bag’ in hopes of finding coupons for free ice cream. However, I instead found a non-edible advertisement for the “Missouri Race Series”. This even spanned four months, a race each month in a different city throughout the state of Missouri. The distances offered were 5K, 10K, and 10 Mile. At only $80 for the entire four races (and four shirts) I talked my wife into letting me sign up for the event. Still dealing with the afterglow of the previous race, I had no idea what I was getting myself into…
I am lost until I decide to start moving…
Knowing that today was #globalrunningday, I was actually excited to treat today like that of an actual holiday. It is a day that connects a universal truth throughout humanity, culture, and society; the art and joy of running.
Locally, that meant taking time to travel into Kansas City and enjoy an evening of running, pizza, beer, and friends in the running community. The team I run with was there, along with the shoe company whose shoes I wear, and of course plenty of local foods and beverages to enjoy. There was no competition, there was no race, it was just a time where anyone and everyone placed one foot in front of another as a declaration that their unity will always be tied together with each step they take.
I wish we taught that concept at an earlier age…
Stepping back into the world of nostalgia; a time before smart phones, clouds, and photo digital photos; I came across from real photos that my mother had taken of me at one of my high
school track meets. Try to reserve your laughter for later…
The images invoked a spectacular remembrance of my amazing failures in high school. I was the only senior on the track team not to qualify for some event for the state track meet. Meaning, when our school won the men’s state title; I wasn’t a part of that celebration. It wasn’t anything wrong with the coaches, other runners, or the program. It was the fact that I had no idea what I was doing in this sport…no…this community.
Similar to an earlier post about running solo, I had no idea that this community was all about working together in order to find individual success. Ironically the sport that looks to be most individualized, may actually require the most teamwork to find success. I wish I had understood that at an earlier age. I am grateful for days like today where I get to reflect back on what I have learned in such a short time with this global running group.
Knowing what today is in the eyes of not only a runner, but also as a coach, stirs this importance within my heart on ensuring that students of running understand the connection of their steps and the world they live in. Unfortunately, still so many other sports utilize running as a form of punishment for failing to follow instructions of their own sport. This, I fear, causes unnecessary desires to avoid running at all costs for people so young, and as a teacher I can tell you those habits can carryover into their adulthood.
It can be hard convincing people of the joy of running, of moving, of flying. For so many the concept doesn’t connect. I hope more days like today can trigger longer emotional impacts to a world of not just movers and shakers, but someday of runners.
Nearing four months ago I signed up for a new race in the state of Missouri named the Missouri Race Series (MRS). This event was a monthly circuit that took runners through Lee’s Summit, Jefferson City, Joplin, and ends in Columbia, Missouri. Each course is unique, but each one is guaranteed to be on the road. The event comes in three flavors: 5K, 10K, and 10 Mile.
Needless to say, I chose the 5K…and in turn the road that was least traveled. Though I was injured in Jefferson City, I still completed the course, only to learn two days later that I had taken first in my age group. This is key in the MRS since each race counts points towards an overall point total. This point total determines the overall champion for each age division of each distance between each gender. Meaning, if I do well in the races throughout the series, I could be in the running for the overall grand prize for my age group.
That’s where the Joplin race came into actual importance. It turns out that through two races (Lee’s Summit and Jefferson City) I had made my way into the top three of my age group for the overall prize. Meaning, if I did well in Joplin I could solidify my points and grab the lead heading into Columbia in June.
I actually had to run with the idea of competition in my head.
Historically, I’m not a competitive runner. Similar to some out there I was very, very competitive in my head growing up. However, the competition arching across my neurons was never transmitting into my muscles and nerves. The physical implication of competition never was in line with my mental desires of victory. At age 28, I am hoping that somewhere through the past years it has started to balance out.
Joplin’s race turned out to be surprising for two key reasons:
Knowing these things in advance I toured the course the night before the actual race. Doing so allowed me to know the course, the proper turns, where the hills are, and so I wouldn’t be distracted by the ‘pretty things’ around the course.
I had no idea how important this small detail would be…
Shivering while trying to warm up the morning of the race, I noted a small group of runners. At most there were 120 runners out to run (only around 20 of them were running the 5K it turned out). The course was a simple down-and-back. Start at the top of the hill, turn left, go down the hill, across the straight, flat area, cross the bridge, and turn around and come back.
I’m a terrible runner, I always start in the back of a race pack because I don’t like leading, and I enjoy the game of trying to pass people. Per usual I started in the very end of the pack prior to start. At the sound of the horn, while I was starting to shuffle into a makeshift jog, I noticed the super-fast people do something I thought to be strange…they turned right.
Before me I saw an entire running field of 5K, 10K, and 10 Mile runners turn the wrong direction* at the beginning of the race and took off on the wrong section of road. I, being a good sheep, followed suit assuming that I had messed up reading the map (a strange sensation for a geography teacher). Sixty seconds into the race, one of the runners near me said, “This isn’t right. We’re going the wrong way.” Hearing this reaffirmed my faith in my cartography abilities, so I turned and started running in the opposite direction of the entire field.
For 1/4 of a mile I led the entire field going the correct direction. Enjoying the silence of the front was memorable; almost as much as those two insane 10 Mile runners that came sprinting…SPRINTING past me after that 1/4 mile (while talking and laughing to each other, I was sucking air).
The rest of the race was beautiful, calm, with perfect weather. If you remove the 90 seconds wasted going the wrong way on the course, I did…ironically…finish with a 27:30 PR. Even more humorously…
I won my age division.
This is humorous for two reasons:
Reality being what it is though; it did move me up in the standings. Because of how the standings function; as long as I complete the June 18th race in Columbia, Missouri, I will win the Male 20-29 5K Missouri Race Series Championship.
Truly, we live in strange times.
What I learned: Always, always, always know your course. Never rely on the front runners to show you the correct path. Personally, I suggest checking out the course the night before the race so that you are familiar with the area that you are going to be covering the next day.
*In the past three races I have ran through an abandoned prison, nearly struck by lightning, and watched an entire pack go the wrong direction on a course. God is currently laughing…
PR’s, weight loss, negative splits, final kicks…all words that revolve around the mind of a runner. It has taken many years for me to understand what all of these words meant, and today, I realized that in some instances you just have to not care about any of them.
I finished dead last in the race I ran in today.
Two years ago my wife and I discovered a fun, secluded road race near the border of Missouri and Iowa. In a town that was no longer considered a town; all that stood was a rural high school and an abbey. The race, named Abbey Trails 5K, started at the abbey and was a quick 1.5 out and 1.5 back. With large, electricity generating windmills moving in the distance, the roads were closed, and the run was peaceful. The race was won by a man pushing a two seat stroller.
That was two years ago. I had no idea that in 2016 our experience would be anything but normal.
It started by arriving at the race locating at 7:15 AM; meaning that my wife and I had to be out the door of our house no later than 5:45 AM. When we rolled up into the parking lot we made a discovery. The race didn’t start until 9:00 AM. I had misread the instructions; mixing up ‘packet pickup’ and ‘race start’, resulting in a 90 minute delay.
Through this time my wife and I had discussed the plan; she was going to run the first mile and afterwards break up the miles in half by walking and running. Personally, I was going to run, see if my calf held up, and make an attempt to get on the podium for my age group. If my calf wasn’t going to work properly, I was going to spend my time with my wife running her ‘plan’.
There is something that you need to know about this race. Something my wife and I had forgotten in the two years that had passed. Small town races are dangerous traps. Unlike large spectacles that bring out thousands of runners; small town races are similar to the town. Small. Meaning a potentially smaller field. The trap is to assume that since the field is smaller you, by default, have a better chance at medaling. That’s the trap. Because what is scary about small town races is there are few people that have the ‘runner look’, they are just there to try their best.
What that means to you=Prepare to be crushed.
The monk blew the horn to start the race. I can’t remember seeing a start that was so fast in many years. Three runners took off in a dead sprint for the first 400m. The pulse of this race had been set; it was going to be fast.
For the first mile I frolicked around the pack, passing up hill, like I’m not supposed to do. By the 1.5 turnaround I started to realize that placing in this race was going to be extremely doable for my age group. My leg was holding up well, I was hydrated, and I was still moving at a quick pace. However, by mile two I hadn’t seen my wife pass by (remember; down-and-back) me. This caused some concern, and frankly, guilt. My wife hates racing because she hates being alone in a group of people. She has expressed that to me on numerous occasions, but still humors my passion. Nearing the end of the race I saw her; she was last in the entire race outside of a girl that had hurt her ankle.
I had two choices; run for place or turn around in the middle of the course, add a mile to my distance, and stick with my wife for the rest of the race.
I turned around.
As I caught up to her and started to walk with her, something wet hit my head. A raindrop. What is a raindrop? Nothing in the world of running. What is something is the lightning bolt that ripped across the sky shortly after that drop followed by echoing thunder. We were at the first mile marker, on top of the tallest point of the course, in the country, with no one else around us. Maybe I’m a fool, but I didn’t appreciate the hair standing up on my arms. I jumped in the ditch. My wife came with me.
So, to set the stage here. My wife and I were 90 minutes early to a race that was located 73 miles away from our home. While I had the intent to push myself to hopefully a medal position, I wound up tracking my wife on the course. Upon locating her, lightning streaked across the sky and both of us hit the ditch.
It is pouring rain, my wife and I are crouched in a ditch, there are no other runners. We are the last ones on the course. We just sat there for a while, getting absolutely soaked. It was a scene from The Notebook with zero romance, just silence. The small, pesky storm passed by and my wife made our way through the course towards. A mile away from the finish line a Missouri State Trooper pulled up next to us. He let us know that an accident had been called in on the major highway twenty minutes from this race. Because of that all MSHP vehicles were leaving the course. This meant the farm road was open to public traffic, and with no shoulder on this road, we found ourselves in the midst of a game of Frogger.
Nearly one hour later, ten feet from the end of this race, I slowed down. While the competitive nature of my heart was damp because of my choice, the other part of my heart was happy that my wife wouldn’t be last. With five steps left until the finish line I pulled up solely so my wife could cross before me.
I finished dead last in my race today.
I have zero regrets.
Medals are shiny, hardware is nice, and personal records are always enjoyable. However, none of those can surpass the joy that someone shows because you chose them over your own ambition.