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.
I am a solo runner.
Endless roads of pavement I could be found jogging through. Year after year I would take off from the small town that I had grown up in and just escape for hours on end. The pace wouldn’t be fast, the result wouldn’t be amazing, but at least I was moving.
I never wanted to run with anyone. Growing up in high school, being one of three or four distance runners, had its problems. Namely, having an eventual All-American cross country runner on the roster, along with an All-State football/basketball star, created an environment where I knew that I would be left in the dust. Figuratively and literally. When we practiced by running a 3200m at our school, the future All-American runner would lap me…twice…before the 3200m were finished.
That is the environment I grew up. I loved the sensation of running, but I grew to hate the idea of always being left to fend for myself. I will always appreciate my high school coach, but like many coaches, he focused on the runners that could win. Not necessarily spending the same time to bring up the runners that frequently would lose.
I learned that if I ran by myself, removed from everyone else, I never had to worry about losing. There were no runners that were shirtless, or in sports bras, just traversing the plains making my chunky, elongated frame feel worthless. There wasn’t a coach that would leave practice before I returned back from a “long slow distance” practice. I had music, shoes, and myself.
I am a solo runner.
Eleven years removed from those moments I can’t necessarily believe that, that was my mindset for so long. This weekend I partook in two different races. One was a 5K on Saturday, the other was a 5K on Sunday. Neither, for myself, were to be competitive. They were, in their entirety, community driven events.
North Kansas City Schools 5K
Passions collided Saturday morning. I was wearing my racing singlet from the team I’m on, while also running in an event designed for the continued support of a school district in the city. The same school district that I teach in. While there wasn’t a huge turnout (nasty weather), the reality was being able to complete this course knowing that:
Misty, cool, with no wind. A flat course that was perfect for my first time back since a nasty hamstring/calf issue over the past two weeks. The course was beautiful, the kids were excited, and even though I placed fourth in my age group, I felt good. My cardio was strong from the different workouts with my team, and I couldn’t even tell when we were at the two mile mark. Overall, while not my fastest time, I know for a fact that it was a race that I’ll always enjoy.
What I Learned: Relax. Not every race you signed up for is going to be a personal record. Don’t forget that some events you sign up for, you are doing it for that community piece of your running addiction. Not all races are meant to be a competition, some are meant to show others how much you care about them.
Run For Little Hearts 5K:
Sunday morning, being a beautiful, sunny, cool entry into the month of May, started with 1200 other runners in the city center of Lee’s Summit, Missouri. I had been invited by some friends to be a part of team “Mighty McKinley” for this 5K. This race, a community driven event, revolves around CHD (Congenital Heart Defect), an anomaly in the structure of the heart found in infants. A good friend of mine, born last year, is a kiddo with CHD.
It is easy to read about races that are designed for community awareness, the ‘feel good’ events, and seeing how race fees are translated into donations for organizations. However, the real emotional stint of community involvement really doesn’t settle in until you see the multitude of strollers that are rolling along the parkway of the route. The amount of people that arrive because they know someone, or they are that someone, truly can show the unique passion that drives communities.
Outside of all these new realities; the race itself was fairly flat, a nice “T-Shaped” out-and-back route with plenty of food and fun at the end.
What I Learned:
There are several moments in ones life where the opportunity to be competitive will exert itself. However, we can only cherish those moments when we find the balance with how much we give back to our communities when they have already given us so much. We are only as a strong as individual runners as we are through the people that support us. Who are we not to return the favor?
Bonus: There comes a point in a runners life where food after a race is a necessity. I never knew until this weekend how good a dozen pancakes could really taste.
The reality of my life is thinking that I once was a solo runner. I tried to be a solo runner for years and disconnect myself from the rest of the world. As time has passed though, I’ve learned that through a team, through a support system, and through a community; I’m only going to become stronger and faster if I allow myself to rely on others from time-to-time.