It is the middle of July in Kansas. Those of us who have experienced this know that this means hot. And humid. Speaking from my own experiences over the past few weeks, it can be so miserable that it can be nearly unbearable to simply walk outside of your house some days, let alone to try and run. With that background, for the 3 of the 4 past summers, I've headed up to Kansas City in the middle of July to run in a 50k (31 mile) race around Wyndotte County Lake. The race is intended to face this heat and humidity head on, and to spit in its face.
Only topping the difficult heat and humidity is the course itself. Kansas is flat, right? Wrong, with a capital WRONG! This course consists of two 16ish mile loops (I say "ish" miles because the race directors think the course might have been a bit longer than a 50k). There is typically some dispute over the amount of rise and fall in each loop (my Polar HRM showed 4000 total feet of climb over the two loops), but I can tell you for sure that there is well more than 1500 feet of climb and fall in each loop. That means hilly. That means some hills that you want to puke just looking at.
[Aren't I setting this up as a fun event? Truth be told, the above hell is exactly why most of us runners enter this race.]
The race heads into single file trails within the first 25 yards or so, and basically stays single file for the entire 16ish mile loop. In order to get in a good position as to not be burdened with passing dozens of runners slowly over several miles to several hours, it is very important to start out fast. While that doesn't sound like a bad plan in theory, starting fast on a course like this means some incredibly high heart rates running way too fast up some really fast trails. So that is exactly what I did.
I headed through he first 5 miles or so in about 50 minutes. I was feeling great about my time, but I knew that pace was a bit to optimistic to maintain, but at least I had earned some clear trails in front and behind me. I quickly settled into a bit slower pace (something I could maintain as the hit began rising very quickly).
I headed through the next aid station, and quickly learned what would be my Achilles heel of the day: blisters. While the course was in great shape (it can be notoriously wet and muddy if there has been much rain), there was still plenty of moisture on the grass, on the trails, in water crossings, and from sweat that my feet quickly became waterlogged. And while I typically don't suffer from blisters, I did have a spot on the arch of my foot that wore away very quickly. The aid station staff did there best to help me out, but what I really needed was to get back to the start/finish area and lube up the blisters and put on some clean socks. My attention remained on this for the rest of the first loop.
I hit the half-way point in around 2:47. I took a bit of time to treat my blisters (they would be fine the next loop), grab a few bites to eat, and refill my bottles. Oranges would be my food of the day. And water. Water would be my friend - I probably went through at least a dozen bottles of water throughout they day.
I headed back out for loop two. Those hills that I sped up and down in the first few miles had grown! I now struggled to even walk up, and my footing on the way down seemed much more dangerous. I made it through those first 3 or so miles of hilly sections fairly slowly, but I was soon to make it back onto some more runnable sections.
I hit the half-way point of loop two and I think the heat was nearing its high for the day (high 80's to low 90's, so relatively not bad). I fueled and moved on. The heat was getting to me, but I tried to make the best of it. While I had significantly slowed since the first loop, I was still having a great time. It was hot. It was humid. I was struggling with that fine line of drinking enough but not too much (I was feeling water logged at some points). But I hung in there and kept moving forward, with the best smile that I could make (which sometimes wasn't so great).
By the last aid station (mile 13.5), I knew I was nearly there, and my mood brightened. I wouldn't say I ran the last 2-3 miles quickly, but I will say that I was proud of my ability to run more than walk (despite these being the muddy parts of the course). I could nearly smell the finish for the last mile. Once I hit the trail head (about 1/4 mile from the finish), I felt like a new man ready to go again.
I finished in 6:17:05, which is a little slower than the last time I ran the race (it was a bit cooler two years ago). 13th place. 112 starters. Only 66 finishers.