09 April 2014

2014 Rockin' K 50 Mile

 “People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” 
- Dale Carnegie
Distance: 50 miles
Elevation: 3,374 ft
Time: 12:20

Whoever thinks that a race in Kansas must be flat and easy, is in for a surprise. The best way to describe this course is relentless, runnable, rolling hills. While the climbs are not long or steep, the rollers make it challenging to get a rhythm going. There are three short, steep climbs on the Big Bluff Loop, but that’s pretty much it for power hiking.

I was excited to get out to this race and see the course for myself. I had read enough race reports to know that it would be harder than it seemed on paper. I was also a little anxious, as my last 50 miler didn't go so well. I knew that if I got pulled for missing a cutoff, it would be a serious downer for me. DNFing at the end of an exhausting, epic season of ultras is one thing; doing it at the beginning of the season is another. I did everything I knew how to keep that from happening.

The Rockin’ K course is comprised of four interconnected loops that the 50 milers run twice. Within these loops, there are numerous creek crossings of which four are at least waist deep. The course ranged from skinny singletrack, wide, rough tractor style roads, smooth dirt trails to rocky, technical sections. There were parts with sand that sucked the energy right out of your legs as well as almost non-existent trails that appeared to have been cleared with a mower or weed-wacker. We certainly didn’t lack for variety.

Sheila and I headed out to Ellsworth Friday morning and got in just in time to pick up our race packets and enjoy a spaghetti dinner there at the start line. We saw "Hawaiian Shirt" Ray, who was running it for the 6th year in the row. 
Sheila and Ray, without his trademark shirt
We camped in the campground (a first for me, prior to a race) and happened to park ourselves next to a group of Colorado runners, some of which she knew. We enjoyed hanging out around the campfire with them shooting the ultra bull before winding down for the night.

We had planned to get up and drive right over in the morning so we'd get a parking space near the start/finish line. Despite my alarm not going off and oversleeping 30 min, we still got a good spot a little after 6a. I shoveled down some oatmeal Sheila made in the jetboil and finished getting ready in the 30 degree chill. The forecast was for 30's - 60's with partly sunny skies & wind, so with a pair of gloves, arm warmers and a windbreaker I was ready to go.
Beautiful sunrise greeted us
I really enjoyed the first loop and seeing the sun come up within the first few miles. We had a conga line going for probably the first 4-5 miles before we started to break up into smaller groups. I felt great and the creek crossings weren't bad at all. I kept my feet dry for the most part. After about mile 12, if I saw someone in front of me, I was passing them. For the most part, they were marathoners with no cutoff concerns.
Flat only in the first mile or two
There's an unmanned aid station about 7.5 mile in at Gate 2, which had plenty of ice cold water and Roctane the entire day as 50 milers would pass it 4 times total on the course. The only manned aid station (other than at the start /finish/ turnaround) was at Gate 6 (mile 13/18), which we passed through 4x as well. 

Gate 6 starts the Big Bluff Loop, the only section of the course with climbs that are steep enough to hike. I really enjoyed this loop and the variety of terrain we encountered. The only problem I had was zoning out and missing a turn about a mile from the end in which it took me about a 3/4 of a mile of wandering around before I got back on track. So, I hit the aid station again (Mile 18) about 15 min later than my splits. Thankfully, I managed to gain that time back before I ran through the unmanned station again at Gate 2 (mile 20). 

After passing a few more runners in this section, I saw a runner up ahead and put her in my cross hairs. I was whispering "Imma gonna catch you...Imma gonna catch you..." for fun. When I did catch her, I met marathoner Sophia (who did the Gorge Waterfalls 50 mile last weekend) and we ran together and gabbed a bit until the water crossings. That's when she decided she'd had enough and put the hammer down. I didn't see her again until she cheered for me at the turnaround. So much for passing her!
Chasing Sophia
The two deep water crossings occur less than two miles from the turnaround point and they were waist deep. Felt so good after running in the sun and having salt caked all over me. The sandy sections afterwards weren't so fun, but they didn't last too long. I got my picture taken just after the water crossing and saw Ray and Lara (who was camping next to us) as they were starting their second loop. 

I hit the turnaround in 6:15 and knew I had to focus on not slowing down too much on the second loop. Since I ran easy the first lap, I was hopeful that I could keep running a pretty even split the second half.

The second loop seemed to go faster than the first for some reason, maybe because I was focused on hitting my splits. I pretty much ran alone except for passing a guy on my way into the Gate 6 aid station and running with a guy named Matt on the Big Bluff Loop. He'd gap me on the climbs and I'd reel him in on the descents. We got back to Gate 6 (mile 42) a few min past the cutoff, but since we were running strong and had nearly 3 hours to finish 8 miles, Elden let us go on. 
I put my head down and started pushing more on the descents and running more of the climbs. Matt was nowhere to be seen. He started closing the gap in the last 3-4 miles and that's when I pushed the hardest in the race. I finished in 12:20, a new PR for me. I was amazed that I felt good the entire time, with the exception of a blister that formed on the bottom of my left foot. Not bad, considering that I didn't take the time to change my shoes or socks all day due to concerns about cutoffs. 

Oh, I did discover two black toenails (the 4th toes) and one is definitely going to be falling off. I had no idea until after the race when I took my socks off and started to feel the bruising. I guess I need to buy my La Sportiva Wildcats a half-size larger next time. Oh well...
Matt, who pushed me in the last miles
Showing off our horseshoe metals
It was a great day of racing and the RDs, Stuart and Elden as well as the volunteers were awesome. Thanks to everyone who helped to put on such a great race. I suspect I'll be back in future years to tackle this course once again. 

As a side note, one thing I continue to see among the slower runners is that they tend to run the descents the same speed as the flats. Not sure why, as I always catch them since I'm running faster downhill. If the descent is short, I'll add some gas to speed up more, if possible. Long descents, I just let gravity pull me down and increase my turnover accordingly, so I don't use up too much energy. I'd pass fewer runners if more of them did this too, but since I like passing people, maybe I shouldn't let my secret out...

In other news... I've made some changes to my schedule, taking couple of events out in order to save money and spend more time with my family. My boy is mildly autistic and has a harder time with me being gone, even for just a day or two, so I'm going to spend a few more weekends at home this year. 

Also, I decided that since chasing cutoffs is such a rush, I might as well go after a Quad Rock 50 mile finish instead of the 25. Clarkie was thrilled that I wanted to move UP in distance, since he only gets requests to move down at this point. So the next big race is a month from now and I'll go after a PR in the Fort. After this week of recovery, it'll be time to start climbing!

Happy Trails,



  1. Rockin' K sounds like a well put on race, you did well! Especially feeling good all day, that's the most important thing.
    Good for you switching to the 50 at QR, you did it last year so know it's an enjoyable route. I loved it and would go back if we weren't' running Zane Grey in 2 weeks.
    See you end of May! The beer has been brewed for the aid station, will be bottled next week to start aging for the Last Chance Saloon!

    1. Thanks, Steve. Looking forward to seeing you & Deb at the end of May and enjoying some of your home brew. Good luck at Zane Grey!