I’ve been thinking about a lot about my race and working on getting this blog report written and posted. I feel as though that I can’t find the right words to express all my thoughts and feelings, BUT I do hope that this somewhat captures a bit of my experience at the Kansas Rails-to-Trails Fall Ultra Extravaganza in Ottawa, Kansas.
Each race, whether considered good or bad, is unique in its own way. Even from year-to-year the same race can be entirely different. I respect the training that goes into each one and always want to walk away with a smile. This race has a special place in my heart. It brought together all the things this trip down to Kansas has meant to me. First and foremost I’m here to be with Phil. We had come off a great summer of training and exploring trails mostly in Dundas Valley and Caledon, often driving longer distances than we were running. After Phil left for his extended work assignment, I continued training on those trails, but it wasn’t the same driving alone and knowing that I wouldn’t see him around the next corner. This really played with my emotions, my thoughts and attitude and sometimes I even found myself ignoring the beauty of the trails that would usually pull me in. Despite these emotions, running was still a constant and kept me in a routine. So to be able to see him at the start, at each of the aid stations and then to see him waiting for me at the finish was so special. I could always hear his cowbell and cheering voice in the distance before I could even see him or the aid station.
This race also marked the end of a season of hard work and I was thrilled to be able to race and put into play everything that I had been learning through the guidance of my amazing coach, Derrick Spafford. It’s been a journey and one which I’ve learned and grown from so much both as a person and as a runner.
My “little” brother, James, also helped me to become a better and stronger climber, which in turn built strength for running. James has a knack for interpreting the climbing routes and problems for me and also calls me out when I’m being a lazy climber 🙂 He’s been helping us with keeping an eye on things back home and we appreciate him greatly.
HUGE thank-you to Phil, Derrick and James for being patient with me, having confidence in me when I didn’t and always seeing the good in things. Yes, I had my moments of mini melt-downs and yet you guys stuck it through with me. I also appreciated all the support and encouraging words from many friends back home, you all inspire me to do my best.
Okay, let’s get on with the race… just a warning this is LONG post. Read it if you wish or just enjoy the photos 🙂
This race was on the radar for a while as a possible goal race, but as with all my races this year I only signed up a couple of weeks before race weekend. I had done all the training, but needed that extra little push to sign up and really glad that I did.
The race was in Ottawa, KS about a 2.5 hours drive from Wichita where Phil is currently living. We decided to make it a weekend getaway and started our mini-road trip up to Ottawa on Friday. Part of our drive was along the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway – a beautiful drive with panoramic views of the Flint Hills and Tall Grass Prairies which are a rich golden colour this time of year. It was one super windy day though (but better Friday than on race day).
A highlight was the little town of Cottonwood Falls that we just happened to come across during a brief stop to take photos. Phil commented that it looked like it was frozen in time, with its old buildings and artifacts, the uneven cobblestone road and an old court house taking prominence at the top of the street. We learnt from some local residents that the Chase County Courthouse is the oldest working courthouse west of the Mississippi. We grabbed a small bite at the Grand Central Hotel & Grill, another historic site and then hit the road. We passed through a few more little historical towns. As we got closer to Ottawa, the landscape started to change. We noticed a lot more trees, rolling fields and farms; it felt like we were driving through the countryside back home.
Chase County Courthouse – Cottonwood Falls, a quaint town captured in time
We checked in at the Super 8 in Ottawa and then headed to Celebration Hall, the start line for the races, for race kit pickup and pasta dinner. Then it was early to bed.
Checking out the start/finish line right outside Celebration Hall on a gorgeous evening
The big decision on race morning was what to wear. We had been warned that the weather in Kansas constantly changes so to check it and then check it again and again. As the day approached I had noticed that the nice warm weather might be changing and by Friday the first frost warning of the season had been issued. Race morning was -4C with a little bit of wind. Long sleeves, a toque and light gloves were perfect. The 100 milers started at 6 am and 50 milers at 7 am, both in the dark. It was daylight when my race started at 8 am and the weather was sunny with not a cloud in the sky. There were about 30 people in each of the events. I do like these smaller races. It was quite relaxed at the start line with some chatter while we waited for the count down.
50 K-ers listening to RD Carolyn Robinson – small group, eh?
The first section was an out and back from the starting area on a paved path, then we headed south on the Prairie Spirit Rail Trail. The trail is a converted rail line that stretched from Ottawa south to Iola; the 100 milers were running the entire length of the trail and back. The trail parallels I59, except for a short section of road that connects the trail and goes around the ramp to the Interstate (we were cautioned to NOT go up the ramp). There were also several sections where the trail crossed some rural gravel roads; I had to wait for cars to pass a couple of times and then run through the clouds of dust that were stirred up from the roads. The front runners were a group of 7 people who went out in a pack. I lost sight of them at around 8 km. My goal at this point was to not let their pace dictate mine, which I was aiming to keep at over 6 min/km until at least the first manned aid station.
Front runners on the out & back section. The gentleman in kilt in the previous photo was the overall winner, but not in this photo. He must have been running behind this group early in the race. The 2nd place male is in black (his first ultra) and the 1st place female (and new KS state 50K record holder) is to the far right in yellow.
And then me…
I was now running alone. There was no one in sight ahead of me and I could no longer hear the chit chat of those behind me. The only people I saw were supporters who were following their runners and I came across them a few times at the road crossings. They were a lot of fun!
I was running quite comfortably and really enjoying the scenery and trying to figure out what these big round green brainy-looking things were laying along the side of the trail.
Side note: About a week later, I saw the same things during a hike and put it out to FB and IG. I have learnt that they are fruit (also known as hedge apple or bodark) from the Osage-orange tree.
Princeton – Aid station at 18 km
As I started to approach the first manned aid station, my pace picked up a bit… I made a bee-line to the restroom 🙂 Phil made sure that I was checked in and out with the volunteers and was busy telling me that the first group of runners passed through about 10-12 minutes ahead of me (they had spread out a bit) and that I was the 3rd female and 8th overall at this point. I was ready to keep going. My legs were still feeling pretty fresh so I decided to pick up the pace and see what would happen. I was still running alone. For this next stretch to Richmond, I ran based on effort and just kept an eye on the distance. Pace wise, I was pretty sure that I was slightly ahead of my pace chart that I had tucked away in my pocket.
The lovely Prairie Spirit Rail Trail – Princeton to Richmond
Richmond – Aid station at 28 km and turnaround
I passed couple of 50 milers on this stretch between Princeton and Richmond, and as I approached the aid station I finally saw some other 50K runners. The faster ones were returning and still looking nice and strong. I made it through the turnaround as the 2nd female and 6th overall. I was still running based on effort versus pace.
Approaching Richmond and turnaround
On the return, it was so much fun to see the other runners as we cheered for each other and getting some high fives! One lady was running with her dog, who was overly excited to run at the beginning, but when I saw them, the dog had lost some interest in running and seemed to be more curious about what was possibly lurking on the sides of the trail (oh boy). I felt myself slowing down a bit as I approached the next aid station (back to Princeton) and some of my existing aches were starting to flare up.
Princeton – Aid station at 38 km
I was so happy to make to the aid station and see Phil. I was in pain, but I knew that I just needed to keep moving. This was my only brief walk. I checked in and out, still holding on to 2nd female and 6th place. Oh, I never did find out what they were serving at the aid stations and the unique item at each station will remain a secret. I carried enough fuel (lots of gels and chews, and S!Caps) to keep me going. This last stretch to the finish was the toughest. I made sure to keep up on fueling and took another S!Cap, checked my form, shortened my cadence, all the things I’d been learning and practicing, and just kept looking and moving forward. With what I think was about 8 km to go, I could now see a couple of runners in the distance. I was determined to catch up to them. I went to take one more gel and as I reached into my pocket it fell out and dropped to the ground… crap. I carefully reached down to pick it up and thankfully didn’t cramp.
I could now hear the interstate, which meant it was the final stretch. The finish line was at Celebration Hall which was accessed by taking short turnoff from the trail down a dirt path. I knew the turn-off had to be approaching, but it was hard to see. Fortunately, I could hear a cowbell in the distance and as I approached I could see that it was Phil!! He told me later that he was trying to ring the bell as loud as he could when he spotted me through his mega-zoom camera lens and hoped that it would help me know that I was close to finishing. I crossed the finish and the RD presented me with a Finisher’s belt buckle and sticker. She told me that I was the 2nd female and 4th overall. Wow! I also hadn’t checked my time or pace since the first aid station, so I was pleased when I saw the time on the clock. I was so happy!
Back in the Celebration Hall, I got to see and chat with the other runners. They joked around with me and told me that they were surprised to see me so soon after the turnaround. That was nice of them. Lots of cheers as more runners entered the Hall. There were 4 Kansas state records broken that day across all events with some pretty fast times.
OMG Cinnamon Roll
The post race food was just as good as the pre-race meal. We had a spread of breakfast foods including homemade cinnamon rolls made in-house right at the Hall – OMG they were good!
This was an amazing race experience from my inquiry to the RD back in March right to the end. Thank you to RD Carolyn Robinson and her amazing team of volunteers. It’s going to be one I’ll remember for a while. Like I said at the beginning, this race was special in many ways!
We spent the rest of our weekend getaway visiting Kansas City, MO. It was a contrast to Wichita where most things are flat. The street were hilly, which provided for some great lookout points. For dinner and post-race celebratory meal, we went to the famous Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que. Anthony Bourdain says this is one of the restaurants you need to go to before you die. The line up was out the door and then snaked through the restaurant, but worth the wait even on some very sore legs.
Photo (L to R) – top row – Behind the WWI memorial | overlooking Kansas City | Country Club Plaza; middle row – J C Nichols Memorial Fountain | old tower part of the Cheesecake Factory building | Union Station; bottom row – WWI memorial & museum | photo exhibit at memorial | ceiling inside Union Station
Love it when the day and weekend ends with a gorgeous sunset.
Now to just relax and reminisce and enjoy some downtime. Just keep looking for those sunset moments… no one is the same.