Tuesday, November 5, 2013

F.L.A.T.S. Half Marathon Race Report (the best little race that you need to do someday)

I've been intending to write this blog post for a while, but every time I keep sitting down to write it, I ended up doing something else.  It's a little over a month past the race and it's time I get this race report up.  

Earlier this year after Fruita, Andrea, Mike and I, two of my closest friends were sitting around debating on which races we wanted to run this year. We all had our own individual races that we were working towards (myself the Dopey Challenge and my triathlon) but we wanted yet another race that we could all go do together, and we all preferred a trail race.  We threw out a few different options.  Moab (which I couldn't do because I was in Florida) and Durango were both options that we were looking at.  Then Michael reminded us that his friend Ivy puts on a small trail race in Kirksville, MO every year in the fall.  While it was a bit of a drive, the race itself sounded about perfect.  It was in early October, so the chance of poor weather was low.  Not only that, it was a half marathon and while it was a trail race, it wasn't super technical.  Also it was cheap ($35 early registration, $45 after 9/8/2013).  

Leading up to the race, I hadn't really trained for it.  My running mileage was actually quite low since I had been concentrating on my triathlon all summer. My goal for the race was to just get through it and have a good time.  Andrea had been fighting some hip issues and I had a sciatica that had been acting up.  For this reason, we talked about maybe running the race together, at least part of it.

On Thursday, we loaded up in the car early that morning and started the drive out.  I normally hate road trips, but for some reason this trip went by fairly quickly, maybe because of the great company I had.  I had thought originally we'd be staying in a hotel like we did for Fruita, but Mike talked to his friend and race directory, Ivy and he offered to put us up in his house for the weekend.  This was incredibly generous of him as not only did he and his wife have to entertain three guests that weekend, they also had to put on a race.  

We ended up getting into Kirksville late that night.  The next day we didn't have much planned, Ivy had to finish up the prep for the race and take care of the packet pickup site for the athletes.  Being that he was the race director, he took care of grabbing our packets and swag while we hung out like bums at the local coffee shop all day long (drinking way too much coffee mind you).

So...I wanted to point this out.  This is how all races should be.  For our $35 dollar race fee we got a nice bag, beanie, soft cotton shirt (my favorite race shirt atm), and water bottle.  This price also included our bibs and 6(?) food/water stops on course.  And still at the end of the race of only 120 or so runners he raised over $3500 for improving the trail system around the town.  

Awesome Swag - Hat, Bottle, Bag and Shirt.  Also lucky number 88 on the bib for me

The night before race Andrea and I sat down on the floor of his kitchen and helped him get all the aid station boxes prepped and ready to go.  This meant measuring our Gatorade in plastic bags so that it could be quickly dumped into water jugs the next morning.  Not only was there Gatorade, water and GUs, he also had other great snacks like pretzels and M&Ms at some of the water stops.  Trail races always have the best aid stations.

Packing up the aid station drop boxes the night before

The morning of the race we were up bright at early at 6:00 am ready to go.  The race itself was a point to point race so we had to drive to the finish line, park and then board a bus to get to the start.  Scanning the weather on the way to the start I was a bit worried about a passing storm.  Luckily it sprinkled a bit on the bus but by the time we got off it had cleared up.  

Mike, Andrea and myself before the race

The one thing to understand about this race is that it's small.  Only 120 racers or so and many of them knew each other.  It's a very intimate feeling.  Very different than a New York Marathon or a Disney Race.

The other thing is while there were some slower racers, for the most part it felt like a pretty fast field.  I consider myself a middle of the pack runner most of the time.  Both Andrea and I were worried we'd be one of the last runners over the finish line.  In the end that wasn't to be the case, but still it felt that way as we were standing on the start line.

The race start, about 120 people 

A few minutes before the race, the race directory Ivy stands on a rock to give a short little speech about the race.  It's cool out, but Michael suggested that I toss the long sleeve and race in the singlet.  I was doubting him a bit, but in the end it turned out to be the absolute right call.  

Race Directory Ivy giving a pre-race pep talk

The race course itself is pretty well thought out.  The first mile and a half was on asphalt and wide open.  It really allowed the racers to separate into their appropriate paces.  Once you hit the singletrack a bit later, passing was fairly difficult. As someone who normally does a 4:30s run/30s walk ratio, that was fairly difficult during this race because of the singletrack.  You had to wait for walking breaks for areas where people could pass and then once you started to run again, often times you'd be stuck behind groups of runners until it opened up once again.  Andrea and I had decided to run together and that made it even a bit more difficult to pass since there were two of us.  I think the walk/run was still the right call because of the injuries we were dealing with, but I think we lost some overall time because of it.

 First mile and a half on nice wide asphalt

Once you get on the singletrack the best way to describe the course was that it was FUN.  The leaves were starting to turn so we had some of the most beautiful scenery to run through.  The course wove up and down through forest near a large lake.  There was some minor elevation gain/loss but it was mostly rolling hills that were run to run.  The ground was dirt, moist from rain the previous day.  I thought it felt pretty grippy most of the way except for a few places were it was a bit slippery from wet leaves on the ground.

 Andrea cruising down the singletrack around mile 6

Both Andrea and I decided that we'd run pretty conservatively the first half using a walk/run.  At 6.5 miles we'd check in and see how we felt.  We had let a group of runners pass us around mile 4 and by the time we hit mile 6.5 both of us felt good and I wanted to catch back up to that group of runners.  Alas, that was not to be even though we kept seeing them ahead of us once we got back down by the lake, always one bend ahead of us. :)

Myself cruising down a hill

It's an interesting case study on people and their attitude/mental game near the end of a race.  At around mile 11 I was feeling great and told Andrea that I was going to push the pace a bit and take off.  She was having a bit of hip issues and told me to go for it.  Andrea is a rare bird that near the end of a race, she kicks it into a gear that I haven't been able to find yet.  I thought I was cruising along pretty well and then around mile 12 at a walk break, Andrea caught back up to me.  At this point we saw Michael coming back on the trail towards us.  He had already finished and came back to run in the last mile with us.

 Somewhere in the latter half of the race

About the last 400-800 meters you leave the singletrack and hit a dirt road.  It wasn't far until the end but I just wasn't feeling like I had much left in me.  Michael was cheering me on, trying to get me to dig in and find just a bit more strength but for some reason it just wasn't happening.  Andrea on the other hand dug in and just took off.  From what she said she just wanted to be done, as her hip was hurting.  Honestly I think she just is pretty awesome and likes to push it hard at the end of a race.

Finishing Line at the local winery

The finish line happened to be at a beautiful local winery.  Not only was there hot coffee, soda, bananas, chips.  They also had a stack of pizza waiting for the runners once they crossed the finish line.  Just goes to show all races should serve pizza to their finishers.

Andrea and Mike post race 

I finished in 2:15:14 and Andrea finished seven seconds before me 2:15:07.  Michael was speedy that day and finished in 1:49:08.  Age group winners got some awesome beer glasses as well as a bottle of wine donated from the local winery.

Mike and I post race with a finisher shirt 

In conclusion, this was one of the best races I've ever done.  Would I suggest it to someone else?  Hell yes.  The course was fun to run.  In my opinion if you have never done a trail race and are anywhere near Kirksville, look at doing this race next fall.

Thank you once again to Ivy and Kitty Koger as well as all of the volunteers for putting on such a great race.

 For more information about the F.L.A.T.S half marathon, check out their facebook site - https://www.facebook.com/pages/FLATS-Trail-Half-Marathon/251720808185656.