By Zach Adams
Last year at the Inaugural FlatRock 101K, the mud and water turned an already challenging course into a muddy Slip n’ Slide of doom. The smells of mud and blood hung in the misty fog while sounds of falling bodies and runners shouting obscenities filled the air. This year, however, was much different. This year, after only a few scattered storms that barely knocked down the dust, the clouds fled and runners were treated to clear skies, gusty winds, and unseasonably warm temperatures. When you have done most of your training in sub-zero weather it was downright hot.
The first 25.25 kilometers were pretty uneventful. My lovely and talented girlfriend and running partner Candi Paulin and I ran and chatted as we always do. The temperature was really starting to rise quickly, but this was expected, so I had made a concerted effort to stay ahead on hydration and nutrition from the very start and had taken in a ton of water and electrolyte in the first 15 miles. The first quarter of a race is almost always the easiest for me, and today was no different.
The second 25k leg marked the beginning of the transition from nice spring weather for a trail run to entering the portal to hell covered in gasoline. The temps jumped dramatically and the gnarly wind gusts were blowing up tons of dust, ash, pollen, and small mammals. Candi and I made it inbound to Dana’s Aid Station, at about the 21-mile point, and I was really starting to feel crappy. My legs felt like lead and I was seriously starting to think that running the 40 miles at Free State Ultra the previous weekend might have been a marginally terrible idea. My experience at FlatRock helped me at this point, because instead of feeling sorry for myself and whining, I kept eating and drinking and reminding myself that I ALWAYS struggle at this point. I don’t know what it is, but EVERY SINGLE TIME I run on “the Rock” I struggle after leaving Dana’s inbound. I just kept telling myself I would feel better and kept putting left in front of right. I made it to the end of the 50.5K in about 7 hours and 30 minutes – pretty much right on target. Half way done.
At the start/finish turnaround, I crammed as much real food and cold liquid into my stomach as it would hold and my awesome pacer Kodi and I set out for the third and hottest 25k-leg of the race. It took a while to get moving, but eventually my legs began to feel more like an ultrarunner’s tool than frog legs roasted over an open fire. While I wasn’t feeling like a million bucks, I was feeling at least worth about $12.78 and a warm Jolly Rancher – so I kept on. My time with Kodi went pretty fast, and we were at Dana’s in no time. Kodi and I heard that lots of runners were having dehydration and breathing issues and that quite a few had dropped, including my good friend Justin Chockley, who had some sort of respiratory episode where he could barely breath AT ALL. We also found out that Candi had not been feeling great and was only about 10 minutes in front of us. After getting well out in front of me, Candi had started feeling sick to her stomach at about the 50k point, but being the warrior she is, she kept hammering out the miles. Eventually, Kodi and I strolled leisurely into Sean’s Sanctum for the second time, capping off the third 25.25k-leg of the race. 75% done.
The sun was starting to get lower and it seemed as if I just might survive the heat of the day. So far, my iron-gut was holding out, and had only very briefly felt sick after cramming it full of food. Here I thanked Kodi for pacing and got to head out for the final leg and trip to the finish line. I figured I would catch Candi in this section, as she was still feeling VERY bad and moving much slower. I eventually caught up with Candi and her pacer after successfully negotiating (and cooling off in) the waterfall and Candi still was feeling bad. We all stayed together, made a lot of noise, dropped a bunch of F-Bombs, and got back to Dana’s with a good mix of power-hiking and jogging. Getting back to Dana’s before dark was one of my little goals for the day, and we did. It was still light out! Physically and mentally I was in a great place, I really felt like it was in the bag at this point. Every step closer was a step closer to the finish. We left Dana’s for the final time. We jogged/hiked for the last remaining light but eventually got to the point where we had to turn the lights on. Candi was still feeling terrible and could barely take in any food or water and was still more concerned with slowing me down than she was about her own race. I told her I didn’t care, and that it didn’t matter because I couldn’t catch Josh Watson (the runner that I knew was next in front of us) so there was no point in running off from her.
We got back to Max and David’s aid station. They had some EPIC smoked ham stew and pulled pork that was absolutely delicious. Then, they offered whiskey, as they are known to do – according to them I was the first to accept. Twice. We set out to put the last four miles of the second annual FlatRock 101K in the books. It was a steady hike with a few jogging breaks mixed in, and ultimately, our relentless forward progress was eventually rewarded by a steep descent off the side of the ridge. We hit the flat road and coasted toward the finish line. Candi and I slapped the now legendary “FlatRock Hand” together as we crossed the finish line, relieved to be done. A final expletive laden exclamation of thanks passed Candi’s mouth as we finished the most brutal trail ultra in the midwest (hands down), truly not a race for the faint of heart. Our official finish was 17:16:44 for sixth and seventh place. She was the second female and I was the fifth male finisher. Three and a half hours faster for me than last year… I’ll take it!