by Kristi Mayo
Just as packet pickup was set to begin the evening before FlatRock 101K, the sky turned green and opened up a torrent of rain and dime-sized hail. Winds up to 70 mph ripped the blue tarp from the side of the picnic shelter used for race headquarters. In the struggle to rescue the tarp, first-year Race Director Carolyn Robinson took a couple of solid dings on her hands from the hail stones. Meanwhile, Assistant Director Trevor Darmstetter bellowed over the din, “I’ve never seen this much hail before!” and then uttered a triumphant whoop into the storm.
In the wake of a series of severe storms that struck the Independence, Kansas area the week of the race, the rocky, technical, and rather remote course was left muddy, slick, and scattered with downed trees. A quarter-mile section around mile 14 had been particularly devastated by what appeared to be straight-line winds. Normally a flatter, less technical area where runners hope to make up time, this section resembled a recently bulldozed rainforest. Tall, mature trees lay on their sides, their entire root systems flipped up 90 degrees. This was the scene runners found on their first pass by this section on the double out-and-back course. The crowns of large trees obscured the trail.
“I stumbled around there for a while, like everyone else I’m sure, trying to figure out how to get through the first time,” said overall winner David Box. “That is typically one of the more runnable areas and I had a 23-minute mile the first time through, which messed with my head some.” After being alerted to the situation, race crew headed into the storm-damaged area and worked to move branches and re-mark a path through the maze of downed trees.
“The storm damage was insane,” said Candi Adams, the women’s winner. “I was climbing over and ducking under the trees. After being lost for about 10 minutes I found the trail again. Thanks to a few people doing some work on the trail, the next three times through that section were much easier.”
Box, a local runner, led the race from start to finish and got his first win on his home course. He attributed his success to a focused attitude and efforts to stick to a nutrition and hydration plan. “I don’t have any real experience with running in the mud for that distance, so I didn’t know what to expect,” said Box. “Mentally I had just gotten to a point where it didn’t matter what the conditions were—I was going to chew through it. It forced me to let go of my goal time and just plan to stay busy out there no matter what happened. The muddy, wet feet started to take a toll on me, but noticing the strength and drive of all the other runners helped keep me in better spirits. As always, I see a lot of heart out there on the trail.”
Despite the challenges presented by Mother Nature, race day dawned with ideal temperatures ranging from 45° to 70°F, light wind, and zero precipitation. Of the 29 starters, 26 finished—a remarkable finish rate for this course.