The Frozen Tundra of Wyandotte County

I have not been updating this blog as regularly as I’d like.  One of those reasons is I have been training for the 2012 Wyco Psycho Run Toto Run Trail Race (10 Mile).  Running is not as main stream as football or baseball, and trail running is an even smaller sub culture among the running community.  Running does not translate well into a spectator sport.  From a recreational stand point it’s pretty easy.  All you need is some shoes, and be a little nuts.

Wyandotte County Park Lake

I’ve been running off and on a little over two years.  I’m not fast, in fact, the first 5K I ever entered I finished dead last and it wasn’t even close.  The next closest runner came in 10 minutes ahead of me.  In that regard running is a lot like golf.  Unless you’re one of the best you are competing against yourself.  Trail running appeals to me because you have to be even crazier to do it.  I’m a large dude, I used to weigh a 340 lbs.  I’m about 5058 pounds (I must have left some of that on the trail) lighter now and in much better shape.   If you subtract 50 58 from 340 you can figure that I’m still not a small individual (in my best Cartman voice: “I’m not fat, I’m big boned!”  Doc says I’m fine.  In fact I would say I’m in the best shape of my adult life).  That I can run for any length of time or distance is still novel to me, even though I’ve been doing it for a while.

I’ve ran in several 5Ks, and three 10Ks.  I registered for a Half Marathon once, trained for said half marathon. A few days before the race I came down with a virus so nasty I spent 72 hours in bed and missed the race.  I’m still pissed about that.  This means 10 miles is the longest race I have ever attempted.  It just so happens to be on a trail with lots of elevation gain, and it’s winter time.  You can read the trail profile here.  When you register for a race you know that weather can be a factor.  Mike Molina, a co-worker decided to run this race with me.  If nasty weather presented itself this winter we ran in it so we could be prepared for anything come race day.  I found it fitting that after what had been a mild winter, the coldest air of the season arrived for the 3 hours we planned on spending outside.  The car indicated temperature when we got out to head for the start/finish line: 7 degrees.

You know if you enter a race with the term “psycho” in the title that you might see some crazy stuff.  I didn’t see anything too crazy at the start of this race.  Just a bunch of runners bundled up and displaying nervous energy that’s typical before the start of any running race.  At this point I had phased out the weather conditions.  I could expect some sweat to turn into ice as the race went on, but if I kept running I wouldn’t feel the cold until I stopped. Unless wind was a factor, in which case anything wet would feel like being poked with a thousand needles.

Mike and I dancing out the pre race jitters, either that or it's cold

I should mention that this was not my first race on this course.  Last August I ran this race.  I was anxious to see what this course looked like in the daylight.  I made a mistake in that race.  I charged up the hills too fast at the beginning of that race and had absolutely nothing left at the end.  This time I had a different strategy.  Take the uphill easy, let my weight (there is a lot of that) take me downhill, and run on anything in between.  I’m not sure what Mike’s strategy was, he’s a lot faster than me.  I didn’t plan on seeing him after the first hill until the finish.

Bad Ben (he’s the race director) announces that there are 5 minutes till start time.  It’s 7 degrees, we wouldn’t be offended if the race started early.  The horn finally goes off and the event that’s been circled on my calendar for three months is finally underway.

Run Toto Run Start (I'm wearing yellow gloves)

The first part of the race is similar to what I remember from Psych Night.  Waiting in line to climb the first hill and taking about a mile for the starting field to spread out.  The trail was frozen and very bumpy from use when wet.  Because it was frozen it was as fast as such a trail could be.  I ran the first 2.8 miles according to plan.  Slow chop/walk on the up-hill, run on everything else.  It was going well.  2.8 miles is the first aide station.  This is where the forgotten temperature became apparent.  Unlike the middle of August; the fluids in the Dixie cups were partly frozen.  This aide station marked the beginning and end of The Wynadotte County Triangle.  This part of the course had switch backs so tight that you could grab a tree and swing yourself around a corner.  It was a lot of fun. It’s also when some sweat got in my left eye and it froze shut for a few seconds.  Never had that happen before.

Myself and another runner about to enter the Triangle

Coming out of the triangle the course was level for what I guess to be a mile before descending to the bottom of the dam. The descent was long, windy, and fast.  However, on at the bottom you had to climb to the top of the dam.  I should mention this was the north side of the course and the wind was out of the north.  The wind got between my fleece and under-armor and the needles began poking me.  Guess I should run faster, but I was beginning to tire.

This is the point in the race that I saw some crazy stuff.  By now some of the 50K competitors began to pass me.  They were going over this course 3 times, I was just going once.  Their race started an hour before mine.  One of the 50K guys had enough ice from frozen sweat in his hair and beard he could have been confused with Frosty The Snowman.  I reached up to feel my beard.  Sure enough, I broke ice out of my beard into my glove.  It’s about this time I reached the aide station at the top of the dam.  Halfway.

From reading previous year’s race reports and looking at the map I knew the next part of the race would be the toughest.  I switched hats, the one I started with was frozen to the point it could have been a helmet.  I’d never had a Gu packet before but one of the volunteers suggested I have it.  I took it and headed back out on the pavement.  There was a catch to this pavement, it was straight uphill.  The course hit the trail again and went down-hill.  I was close to losing control here but managed to stay on my feet until the bottom of the hill.  Maybe I should have kept my helmet on.  Then it was straight back up.  I spent a fair amount of time in the Ozarks as a kid.  These next few hills were every bit as steep and rugged as those.  Next jerkwad I hear mention Kansas being flat I’m going to drag them through these hills by the ear.  The next two miles are probably the toughest physical thing I have done.  My HRM had my HR over 190 just walking up the next two hills.  At one point I thought I was going to pass out. I know race volunteers were probably looking for ways to stay warm, but lugging my big torso out of the woods probably wasn’t what they had in mind. So I willed my self to not pass out, and continue running.

Straight up!

Coming into the last aide station I remembered an important characteristic about myself.  I have asthma.  Since I’ve been running my asthma has been mostly dormant.  I carry my inhaler just in case even though I had not used it in several months.  At this point two hours of breathing ultra-cold air began to take it’s toll.  My lungs were on fire.  Like those blasted needles.  I took a puff of my inhaler…except the stuff in the inhaler had frozen.  It was like blasting sand paper into my throat and lungs!  Some water took care of the initial burn.  Slowly my lungs opened up.  Then remembered I had brought my balaclava with me.  Helmet #2 off, balaclava on.  This allowed my lungs to breath slightly warmer air, which was all the warmth I needed.  Maybe I should have started with the balaclava?

The last 2.8 miles were kind of a blur.  There were hills but nothing like I had just passed.  Even though the temperature never got above freezing, parts of the trail in the sunlight began to thaw and became a little muddy.  This is where I took my only spill.  Good thing I landed in more soft mud.  No major damage, I got up and continued. I could hear the start/finish line before I saw it.  I would like to say I had a burst of energy when I realized how close I was to the finish but there was nothing left.  I trotted in at 2 hours, 45 minutes, and 15 seconds.  Not fast.  But when discussing with my co-worker what I thought my time would be that’s the exact time I picked.  I guess you could say I’m a good judge of my own capabilities.  In true big man fashion that was good for 265th out of 296 runners.

Almost there

Done

I am now the proud owner of a shirt and medal that has a picture of a tornado and says “psycho”.  So there is that.  What made this race memorable was the cold, but even had I done the summer version of this race that wasn’t going make those hills less steep.  I had been thinking I wanted to try a 50K at some point.  However, my experience during this race tells me I might want to rethink that.  The biggest problem is there aren’t that many hills here in central Kansas.  What hills there are, are not on par with what is in the eastern part of the state.  Stadium stairs perhaps?  I refuse to think my non-traditional runners frame will keep me from doing events like this.  I do know I’m going to continue trail running.  Part of any race experience is the training that leads up to the event.  I had a blast training for this race.  I’ll think about these things for a few weeks.  I do know one thing.  If I can run 10 miles on that course, I can run 13.1 miles on a flat course.  I’m going to take a week to think about it, but I think it’s time for another shot at a Half Marathon.

Some photos are from Dick Ross Photography. Those have the race title in white printed on them Check out his website at SeeKCRun.com. The others were taken by Angie Molina.

As mentioned above this is the second race I’ve ran organized and facilitated by The Trail Nerds. By far the best organized and hospitible races I’ve ran: Road or Trail. If Trail running might interest you read their website.

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4 Responses to The Frozen Tundra of Wyandotte County

  1. Jeff McCabe says:

    “……and be a little nuts.” “little”? I don’t think that word means what you think it does.

  2. Angela Molina says:

    Great blog! I enjoyed coming along to the race, even though it was FRIGID out. I think both of you are amazing for tackling this beast of a course!! – Angela

  3. Tyree Studio says:

    I got cold and sore just reading this.

  4. Pingback: Compressing The Spring | sportsdrenched

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