Sunday, April 04, 2010

Rockin K 50 Miler (Kanopolis State Park)

Adam has told me so many exciting stories about his trail runs, but never, before yesterday, was I able to experience one first-hand. What a day!

Adam and I drove up to Kanopolis State Park on Friday afternoon, where we met up with his good friends, the Smelser Family. We set up camp right on the banks of the beautiful Kanopolis Lake and headed up to the picnic shelter for a pre-race spaghetti and meatball dinner. (Really cool - they put the cooked spaghetti noodles in huge coolers!) This was Adam's third year at the Kanopolis State Park run hosted by the Kansas Ultrarunners' Society. The run is called "Rockin K" and it is a trail run where you can choose to do either the marathon version or the fifty-mile version. Of course Adam chose the fifty-mile version! We learned all the directions for the race at dinner and were instructed about cut-off times and the like. (I got so scared and I wasn't running - there were so many directions to remember - but Adam assured me that it sounded a lot harder than it was!)

The Smelsers and Adam and I headed back to our camp site and we all sat talking under a beautiful April night sky (filled with thousands of stars) until it was just too cold to stand it any more! The gentlemen chivalrously gave us ladies the camper to sleep in (they had to sleep in a tent) and we all settled down for a cold night's sleep! I kept dreaming about the race and I was way more nervous about the race by the morning than Adam was!

Adam cooked oatmeal at 5:30am and so our day began, bundled up in the camper eating hot oatmeal and cold bananas. We got packed up for the day and headed back up to the picnic shelter where Adam turned in his drop bags and got ready for the race! After a big hug good-bye, I watched Adam leave the start line with 101 other runners at 7:00 am, his Camelback stocked with water, electrolytes and gels.

As soon as Adam left, I joined a group of volunteers and headed up to the manned aid station that was 13 miles from the start line. We hiked in to the camp while a four-wheeler drove all of the drop bags to the aid station. We set up a well-run operation, organizing drop bags and laying out food (normal things like sandwiches and cookies and weird things like boiled potatoes dipped in salt).

Just as the fog lifted from the beautiful hills of Kanopolis, the first runners began to make their way to Gate 6 (the station that we were manning). Eventually Adam ran into Gate 6. I was so happy to see him! I was so proud of him! Adam didn't sit down, but just refueled quickly so as to not lose momentum! He then took off for the bluff, a 5-mile loop that eventually landed him back at Gate 6. He completed those 5 miles of trails in a little over an hour and then he started to run back to the starting line (this time an 8 mile trail).

Meantime, I jumped in the car with Shannon, a friend that I met at the aid station whose husband was running the Rockin K for the first time. We drove back to the start line where I could greet Adam when he came in for the marathon finish! About 12:30pm, Adam crossed the finish line for the first time. I had his drop bags open and ready; he again restocked, crossed the start line for the second time that day and took off to repeat the same trail loop again for the second time.

At this point, I was getting pretty inspired by the running, so I threw on some running clothes, jumped back in the car with Shannon and we drove back through the rolling hills to Gate 6. This time when I got to Gate 6, I decided that I would run the bluff, the 5-mile loop that began and ended at Gate 6. I was hoping that I could finish the loop before Adam made it to Gate 6 for the third time of the day!

All day long, up until this point, in the back of my mind, I was kind of wondering, "What's the motivation? What keeps these people going?" But as soon as I had run even just 200 yards on the bluff pass, that question was answered.

I have never before had an experience running like I had running that 5-mile bluff pass. Never before have I felt so pulled by a landscape, so lost in nature, in a wilderness where there are no roads, no houses, no people, but just rolling prarie, sharp cliffs and an occassional outstanding view of a slow-moving river. Never before had I lost such a sense of time, of distance, of everything really, even my own thoughts. Life was reduced to the mere adventure of putting foot in front of foot, alone in solitude, hoping that you are following a trail that will eventually lead you back to civilization.

The trail was tough! It was so hilly and the terrain was so sandy; the path leads you through creeks, over cattle fence lines, up and over and along bluffs. The trickiest part is this one steep embankment that is so sandy - it feels like for every one step forward, you take a half-step back! Crazy! But the vistas at the top are worth every part of the climb.

I was actually so pulled into the landscape, that at one point I stopped moving altogether and just stared at the open expanse that is the heartland of America.

Eventually I made it back to Gate 6, this time with a renewed understanding of what Adam was experiencing out there on the trail - except he was doing ten times the distance that I did! Soon Adam made it to Gate 6 for the third time, this time he and I sat together in the tent for less than two minutes, but he was exhausted and looked so tired. But he couldn't stop yet! We made sure that Adam left with a lot of food and sent him for his second loop in the same 5-mile bluff that I had just traversed.

As he left, my heart just burst with pride for his perseverance! I knew how exhausted I was after completing 5 miles on this hard trail, and he was now at Mile 37! Adam's second loop through the bluff understandably took longer than his first; I saw him coming from a distance and this time I ran the last 100 yards of the bluff loop with him and his pacer, Andy.

When Adam pulled into Gate 6 a little before 5pm for his fourth and last pass through, he was looking great! He was rejuvenated by the food and ready for his last 8 miles! So proud, I waved good-bye and Shannon and I made our way in the car back to the finish line!

A little before 7pm, I ran about 400 yards to meet Adam as he came in for his finish! I ran the last 400 yards with him, so proud that he was about to complete 50 miles on a rockin' hard trail!

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