It seems like I start so many of my posts out with the words "I LOVE this race!!" and maybe it's just because I love to run these things... but Rockin' K really is a special race. I consider it a hometown race even if it is 3 hours away. Kansas Ultrarunners Society and Stacey and Phil make everyone feel like family. Stacey has a special knack of knowing names and faces..without ever meeting them before and going out of her way to make sure they are comfortable and taken care of. I really can't recommend this race enough. It's one of those races that shouldn't be hard but somehow is and everytime I run it, I think... this shouldn't be this difficult.. there are no mountains, no altitude, no enormous hills, no terrible footing, no rabid beavers to avoid... but somehow it remains a difficult race.
A group of us drove down early on Friday to make sure we made it in time for the pre-race pasta feed... KUS always puts out an amazing spread including handmade meatballs by Stacey. They make a super yummy veggie sauce and then you can add meatballs for the carnivoursly inclined. There are always great giveaways and last year I won a free entry to the Heartland 100... I fully admit that I was crossing my fingers that I DIDN'T get it this year... I'll be out there but my ass is volunteering. I'm not sure my feet are yet totally recovered! I did however win a free entry to next years Rockin' K!! YAHOO!!
The next morning started out chilly but not freezing with a forecast of "warm" with the wind picking up in the afternoon (as usual). We started out with the usual high spirits and joking manner.. much conversation and laughter were traded over the first few miles as groups formed and broke up and formed again. I found myself running the first 20 miles with Jessica from KC, who I had met when I worked at a gym. We had been Facebook friends but this was the first chance to run together... Jessica was running the marathon and it was her first trail race. We had a great time getting to know each other and talking about running and life. It was a surprise when we hit the first aid station at Gate 6 and all the chaos and attention from all the wonderful volunteers! We fueled up and Jessica grabbed her dog Jaeda from her boyfriend to try and wear her out on the Big Bluff Loop.
The Big Bluff loop consists of a big bluff... DUH... and some amazing views on top of said big bluff. It's usually where the wind starts picking up too, and this year was no exception. We kept a good pace of hiking the uphills...or in Jessica's case, being pulled up the big hills by Jaeda! As we exited the bluff section of the loop and hit the beaver ponds and grassy section, a whole conga line of runners were coming at us.. from the wrong direction.. lead by Adam, (who has run this race 3 times), they had missed the turn and had to backtrack about a mile. That sort of situation never makes anyone involved happy, but it was nice to have a new influx of people to run and talk with though. When Jessica and I got back to the Gate 6 aid station, I told her to take off.. since she was running the marathon she needed to speed up and I would keep on my slow trot. I walked for a bit while I refueled and then popped on my iPod to get me back to the start/finish.
I had been feeling OK the whole race.. it wasn't one of those magical, everything feels great day like last year, but I wasn't sucking seeds either, so going back out on the second loop wasn't feeling like a chore. The start/finish area is a dangerous place for 50 milers.. many people walk into the shelter to innocently grab their drop bags and end up getting consumed by the fire, beer and party people inside. My goal remains to NEVER walk into that shelter until my race is over! I check in at the line, go to the car and turn and head back out. I don't care WHAT kind of yummy foods they have in that darn shelter! Dates and bananas were making me happy so I was sticking with what worked... I did grab a few handfuls of cold watermelon from my cooler before heading back out on loop 2. It was still early season watermelon so it wasn't very tasty and didn't give me that magical watermelon high... sadness.
I ran by myself for a good portion of this loop. I caught a few guys and ran with them for awhile but went on ahead.... probably should have stuck with them for awhile longer since I missed a well flagged turn while fiddling with my iPod. The turn I missed just happened to take me to Gate 6.. which is where I was supposed to be heading... but it took me into Gate 6 from the wrong way. Before the race Phil warns everyone that if you come into Gate 6 from the wrong way on the second loop you will be ridiculed mercilessly. When I realized what the heck I had done.. I turned and ran back in the opposite direction until I found my missed turn and got on the correct path. I would have totally gotten away with it if it wasn't for those meddling kids... errrr... if it wasn't for the guys I HAD been running with pointing out at the aid station that I had been in front of them and wondering just why I was coming in after them. Doh! Busted!
I quickly left on the Big Bluff loop to avoid the laughter and derision that was coming my (well-deserved) way. The course was marked great.. it was my stupid fault I missed the turn! This loop was pretty slow.. I started feeling pretty crappy and I had been having problems with my shoes from the get-go. I had bought a new pair of my favorite shoes (La Sportiva Fireblades) before 3 Days of Syllamo and for whatever reason they just hadn't felt right. Now I am an expert in these shoes since I have had roughly 13 pairs of them since I found them... when I say something ain't right with them.. something ain't right! I was irritated with them at 3 Days and (stupidly) decided to give them another try at Rockin' K... yup... still something wrong. My feet and legs don't usually get sore and achy during 50 milers but these shoes were making me sore and achy less then 20 miles into the races, the arch felt like it was in the wrong place and even the heels felt wrong. I don't usually like to play the blame game but these shoes where not helping my race at all. I ended up walking a whole bunch of the big bluff loop and came into the Gate 6 aid station ready to be done. Thankfully.. a bit of ice in my pack and another banana perked me up and got me going again. It's amazing how much just a bit of ice can help when it's hot and humid.
The 6 miles to the finish were a put-the-head-down-turn-up-the-music and try not to think too much slog. It was hot and windy and all I could think about was the special vegan brownies that Stacey had made for me and a beer. I crossed the finish line in 12:16... a good 30 minutes slower then last year. But the important thing was that I had fun and it was another 50 mile race closer to Western States. I ate 2 huge bowls of yummy, yummy bean soup and waited for the last few finishers to cross the line with a cold beer in hand. Another fantastic race by KUS and the Sheridans at Kanopolis State Park.
Oh yes... it's not every race where the RD not only makes vegan brownies to have at the aid station but also puts aside a special pan just for you! (the whole pan was gone in 2 days.. and I was practicing restraint!)