Saturday, September 16, 2017

Hawk 100: Feeling Human

Image result for the hawk 100 trail run

If event planning was my occupation, I'd seriously have to consider a career change. My goal this was year was to run 3 100 mile races, ideally in geographically unique states, meaning not 2 Midwestern States in the same year. However, poor planning on my part means I ended up in both Illinois and Kansas in the same year. Perhaps now my biased "West coast is best coast vibe," I didn't honestly think that these two states would have much beauty to offer. Illinois surprised me earlier this year and now Kansas would do the same.

The Hawk 100 is a 4 loop, 25 mile course at Clinton State Park in eastern Kansas. The reason I selected this race is twofold. First, I failed to enter the lottery for the Superior 100 in Minnesota so I couldn't run that, and second I received sponsorship from Orange Mud for a free entry. As such, it was a no-brainer. This, in combination with the offer of my mom and sister to come out and support me ultimately led me to enter yet another race in the Midwest. Thankfully fellow OM ambassador Sherry Klover was the Race Director and had much beauty in store (which I didn't think was possible for Kansas). 

So fast forward to the race briefing Friday night. I had the chance to meet several other OM ambassadors including the man himself, Josh Sprague. After learning the course was only 4-5,000 total feet of climbing over the 100 miles, I actually think I laughed out loud. Coming into this race I was feeling nowhere near the fitness level I wanted to be. Sure I had put in a couple of 40+ mile runs around Mt. Hood, the Cascade Mountains, and the PCT, but they weren't fast miles, nor were they flat like this course was going to be. Unbeknownst to most, I had a goal that I could actually dip under 16 hours for this course (later to be learned this was far from happening). Knowing this and also knowing that Jeremy, last years champion, was back (who had run low 16's) I thought I had the perfect combination to reach the sub 16 mark. Really the only thing in question was how would my slow, mountain miles translate to almost flat and "runnable" trail?

At the start of the race, it was no surprise that the standard starting line nerves were running rampant among all of the runners. The 50 and 100 mile runners all started together which isn't exactly my desired state, as I didn't want to necessarily run with the faster people, but I secretly had some time goals that I wanted to hit. So, when we started, I naturally found myself among this group. Jeremy blasted to the front and left the rest of us together. This is when I joined Jeff Gregg (another OM ambassador running the 50 mile) and a guy from Arkansas named Daniel, also running the 50 miler. 

We started off and of course everything felt good. We hit the first part of the trail and I was a bit shocked how rocky it was. It reminded me of the Arkansas rock, where I went to school. Jeff, Daniel, and I were all running together and enjoying the trail together. We passed the first aid station and were all feeling pretty good. The reason I chose to run with them is they had time goals to be under 8 hours, but not a significant amount under 8 hours. That was something that I was also aiming for for the first 50 miles and thought that we could all support each other in reaching our goals. 

I got to the halfway point of the first loop and everything was feeling fantastic. This lap was completed in 3:30! Basically a marathon in 3.5 hours...I had a hunch I wouldn't be able to continue this, but I did feel good. I learned that Jeremy is one of those runners that pushes himself so hard that he could potentially tank later. He's also not afraid to drop if things aren't going great. This was insight that I gathered from Jeff who has run with him in Nebraska and said that that is typically how he performs. With that said, Jeremy you'll find later is someone who's got much grit and doesn't lose very often. Unlike me, he is used to these flatter, faster courses being from Nebraska. My strategy then would be to hang behind him and let him destroy himself for the first half and then I'd make my move in the second 50 miles, which is typically how I race anyways. However this didn't really happen.

As Daniel and I went out to complete the West Road 2.5 mile loop, we were really cranking the miles out. Daniel reported that we had just run the last 2 miles in about a 7:30 pace...not exactly the smartest thing for me to do considering that the longer miles might make me pay for this. I think he realized how fast we were going and we both agreed that slowing down might not be a bad idea. We got back to the aid station. I collected my things from my mom and sister and immediately left. Back to the start we went. This section was very surpisingly rocky. Although there wasn't a ton of climbing, the rocks made it very difficult to navigate. I love technical terrain so this section wasn't horrible (at least for now) and we both moved very well, right back to the beginning of the start. 

At this point I learned that Jeremy was only a couple of minutes ahead of me. He too was moving really well. I also managed to catch back up to Daniel at this point. I had a few more Honey Stinger waffles and we were running and talking together. Daniel is for sure a competitive athlete as he kept mentioning winning the 50 miler, and to be honest, I knew he probably would as there didn't seem like anyone else who'd challenge him at the distance. I started to feel really good and when we got to the technical section along the lake, I passed Daniel and ran this solo. It was here also that I passed Jeremy and was heading to the 50k mark of the race. Not exactly my race strategy to be in the lead at the 50k, but why stop a good feeling? I continued to stuff my face with more waffles and water. The humidity was really starting to kick in and I could feel that it was getting stronger. I eventually made it back to the aid station and my mom and sister were happy to see me and provide some much coveted blueberries. 

I quickly went out and ran the 2.5 mile loop. After restocking it was back to the start and the halfway point. I could feel a little pain in my heel at this point, but was hoping it was nothing. I again continued to shove my face with more waffles and water. I was beginning to notice that this rocky section of the trail was getting a little harder. However, everything was still functioning fairly normal and the heel was beginning to feel better. Then, out of the blue, intense cramping in my calves began. This was right when I was coming in the 50 mile point in 7:38, which I would learn later would be the 2nd fastest time for a 50 miler on this course. This was my 3rd fastest 50 miler as well. Was this good or bad?  My calves were flexing fairly intensely and I was feeling slightly bloated, but I thought it was manageable. After making small chat with mom and Mikala, Daniel brought it home to win the actual 50 mile race in about 7:42. I was stoked that he reached his goal and pulled out a win. However, my celebration was about to end soon because I knew Jeremy was hot on my heels and I didn't want him to see me, so I made it as short of a visit as I could. Back out for the 3rd loop I went.

I headed to Sander's Mound and passed Jeremy on his way to the mound. I was walking up the slight hill at this point and he was bombing down the opposite way. I knew dang well that he could see a little pain in my eyes and he struck fear in me as he didn't even look like he too ran 50 miles. I was hoping that I would have gained a little more of a margin on him but that was far from the case. As I progressed, things only started to get worst. My calves were flexing uncontrollably. I was walking at this point. On flat ground. I knew Jeremy was going to come blasting up at any moment. The heat of the sun and the humidity was also starting to kick in. As with all flight or flight systems, my body began to implement security controls to get me to stop. With every step, both calves were convulsing relentlessly and refusing to relax. It was here that Jeremy passed me, at about the mile 54 mark. 

I came into that aid station and grabbed some salt tablets and more pickle juice and pop. The bloating was really starting to kick in. I started to walk from this aid station as my calves refused to relax. This section was the worst of the entire course to my recollection. I basically walked the next 6 miles. Aside from the convulsing calves, the bloating transformed into a GI monster. I swallowed the banana I picked up and this is when my body went in full retaliation. Since my body didn't win the first battle with the calves it resorted to a grosser and more disgusting game that it's played in the past. Puking. And boy, oh boy, was there puking. Since event planning isn't the direction I should probably go for an occupation, I should consider being a professional puker because I very quickly learned I'd excel at this.

(Skip next paragraph if food contents aren't your thing)

The ingredient list of what came up is something I envision a witch throwing in a boiling pot of stew as she's about to curse someone. The banana, pickle juice, waffles, salt tablets, and potato wedge I ate for the past 3 hours came out in a yellowish, half digested state of hard substances and liquid. Of course this puking section was done in front of 3 women I had passed. I didn't puke once, not even twice, it was more like 4 or 5 times in this one spot. I'd walk a little and more and more contents would spew out. The look on the women's faces is how I envision someone looking at someone else who had just dropped a baby. Abhorred disgust. The best part? Some of the contents ended up on the trail, the same one they were walking on. Similar to someone who had just dropped a baby, they were immediately quick to assist. Something that never ceases me in the ultra community. One offered a peppermint. Apparently these are good for stomach problems. However, it was probably to protect my breath. I agreed to it and thanked them. At this point, I was bonking hardcore, the heat of the day was settling in, and each step was done on fully convulsed calves. Things were very, very slow.. this is when I started to puke 2-3 more times. However, there was nothing to puke up. I was literally just dry heaving and puking nothing up. I took a swig of water and started to puke uncontrollably again. Not. Good. I had 0 energy, no water, no air conditioning system, and a non-functioning body. I started to feel incredibly light-headed and things were going black. "Just get to the aid station, Nick, just get to the aid station." This was all I could think. I've puked before but this was different. This was much, much different.

As I got to the next aid station, I could see my mom and sister. I asked for a chair and sat down. This is something I'd never done before in a 100 mile race. Ever. However, I knew that this is what I needed. I could barely stand at this point as I thought I was going to pass out. I asked for soup, but it wasn't being prepared yet. All sugar I couldn't keep down. In fact, I couldn't even keep water down. The aid station workers came over and asked what was wrong. I told them and they said that this happens to everyone. In full disclosure, I was slightly offended. I had run these before, and much much harder ones at that, and I can say this wasn't normal for me. I haven't felt like I was going to get a heat stroke before, nor have I been this dizzy. I've had low moments, but this was a "is something worst going to happen?" Dropping suddenly became an option. I was humbled insanely well as I had never even considered dropping in a 100 mile race, outside of my first 100, and it being in Kansas of all places! They put an ice towel around me and mom and Mikala were asking me questions. I probably sat there for 15 minutes, just pondering what to do. My mom and sister flew out and here I was practically dying in front of them at mile 60. Dropping after they came out to support me seemed like a bad idea, but I also didn't want them planning a funeral either. I seriously didn't know what do...

The worker said that he thinks I should do the 2.5 mile loop. At this point, it was smoldering out, I was completely dehydrated, couldn't keep food down still, still dizzy, and was on the edge of dropping, but I decided to go out. I asked Mikala if she could walk with me. Not surprisingly, she jumped right at the opportunity. My sister, being a nurse, has internal instincts of where and when help is needed. This was a clear situation of that. We started walking and I didn't feel good at all. She handed me a couple of pretzels and I could only get them down with water. Each swallow of a pretzel left me gagging. Thankfully nothing came up. She and I talked and I must say it was a nice pick me up. I thought I was going to start crying on her! Never have I felt so weak and not in control. Of all the races, this one brought a level of humanness out of me that I'm not sure I've experienced before. Here was my sister, handing me pretzels and helping me consider my options. Dropping would probably be the smartest thing, but we both agreed that sitting at the aid station for another 20-30 minutes wouldn't be a bad idea either.

We got back and that is what I did. Soup was starting to be made and I made sure I grabbed some. The ice came back over me and the sun was starting to weaken. I needed calories, water, and a mental boost. After sitting again for a while, the 3rd placer came into the aid station. How I haven't been passed at this point was beyond my understanding. Truly the entire world should have passed me. After much deliberation I decided to continue onward. My sister selflessly agreed to go the next 11 miles with me, much of which would be walking. We both headed out and suddenly a wave of power came over me. The three cups of soup I ate was able to stay down (something soup has always successfully done when I have major stomach issues). The pace was picking up drastically and talking with my sister was a huge mental boost. 

We both put our headlamps on and this is when Mikala yelled at me to leave her and she will walk back into the aid station. Since my goal of being under 16 hours was LONG gone, I thought I'd heed her advice and try to finish asap. I left her and made it back to the 75 mile mark, finally feeling strong again. This 25 miles had taken about the same amount of time to finish as the first 50 miles, not something that I'm proud of.

I got to the aid station and I think mom was surprised to see me looking so good. I quickly downed another 2 cups of soup, took one to go, and headed back out. I wanted to try to finish under 21 hours, which would mean I had to complete this lap into about 6 hours, something I knew I could do since I felt so good. At this point, I knew I could manage to secure a 2nd place finish if I continued to feel this good. I took off and ran into a shadow of an animal with an oddly white was indeed a skunk. I was so thankful that it didn't spray all over the place, although it may have made me smell better than I currently did...Things were really feeling not bad. I was managing to run, my calves were cooperating, and I was much cooler than I had been during the heat of the day. I got back to the halfway point of the loop, got what I needed and did the 2.5 mile loop. Mom and Mikala I could tell were relieved that I was feeling better. I downed another 2 cups of soup and took one to go. 

With this, I headed out and made it to the final aid station before finishing the race. They all congratulated me and I informed them that I would not be doing a 5th lap. Shortly thereafter, I came to a copperhead. It was in the middle of the trail and was just looking at me. Fantastic. I run 94 miles, survive a potential heat stroke, and then potentially get killed by a snake. We both had a moment of just looking at each other. Do I kick a rock at it? Do I try to walk in the plants to the side? Do I bring back my hurdling skills (which definitely didn't exist at this point of the race)? I decided to just have a stare down. Finally the snake slithered its way off the trail. Snakes really aren't my thing, but giant, poisonous snakes in the middle of the woods in a completely destroyed state definitely aren't my thing. 

After saying goodbye to the snake I knew that I was going to make my desired time of sub 21 hours. I headed back to the trails and saw the beloved 1/4 mile to go sign. I was relieved. I continued onward and got to the finish.

To say I was relieved to have finished is an understatement. I thought I'd come into this race and blow away my fastest time of 17:04, but I was again reminded that these races don't always unravel how we plan or want them to. I am hugely relieved and blessed to have finished and finish second on a day that went anything but as planned. I later learned that Jeremy too had tanked and was 4 hours slower than the previous year. He put about 24 minutes on me. I think we both destroyed each other early on and we both paid our dues as the day went on. Overall I am pleased with my 20:40 finish. This year I managed to snag 2 firsts and 1 second, so I have no room to complain. Also, I think looking back, I'm not sure I would have been mad at myself for dropping, something that I didn't think I'd say. There truly is a fine line of pushing yourself and being unhealthily stupid about a decision. I was arguably the latter. 

Image result for hawk 100 belt buckle

A huge thanks to Orange Mud for the opportunity to run this, Sherry and Ami for putting on a great event, all of the volunteers who selflessly gave of their time and of course my mom and sister who shock me with their willingness to help. This is for sure a selfish sport, but I have come to learn that the community of those on the trail and those behind the aid stations are there to support and encourage, something I think humans can get better at, myself included! I take these lessons with a grain of salt and try to incorporate them in my every day living. There is something gloriously wonderful about suffering and coming to a conclusion with loving, warm arms of people you care about. Although all of this pain is self-inflicted, there is much to be learned and I will continue learning more about myself and other humans through the dark valleys that this sport naturally produces.

Thank you all and hope this blog finds you well!


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