Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Night in Kansas: Coleen's Sweaty Ass

"It's not so much the heat, as it is the gosh darn humidity"
-Bananas at Large, "Da Turdy Point Buck"

My last long run for Leadville training, essentially, found me running in circles in the middle of the night in the Kansas prairie.

Leaving Colorado for a flatter, lower elevation trail run in preparation for an ultra at 10k feet may seem counterintuitive, but based on circumstances, it was a fantastic and fun choice. J and her friend Jenny had signed up for the WIN for KC triathlon in Kansas City, so we had a quick weekend trip planned to see Jenny, her husband Tom, and their two adorable and energetic young boys. Meanwhile, 3 weeks out from Leadville, I was looking for some trail running for the weekend.

Enter Coleen's Sweaty Ass.

Most trail runners are familiar with the concept, but a Fat Ass run is an organized, disorganized, timed or not timed running (when you feel like it) non-race race of arbitrary distance or time, or neither. In short, it's a gathering of folks that want to go for a run together on a predetermined course, and any aid stations are informal, pot-luck affairs. In many people's opinion (including mine), although we like races as well, these sort of runs are truly the height of trail running ethos and culture, where everyone is welcome. In fact, this same weekend, many of the FCTR group were busy at the "24 Hours of Towers" run, a spectacle which I was sorry to have missed!

Instead, courtesy of the fun and welcoming Coleen Voeks and the Lawrence Trail Hawks, a Friday night run was going on just a few miles from where we were staying in Olathe, KS. This meant I could meet some new people, and get a trail run in without missing anything else. And, I would get some quality night-running training in as well!

The run is configured as a 3-mile trail loop. A shorter loop course isn't always the most fun during the day, but has many advantages for a night time run such as this, where one could get used to the rhythm of the trail and not get lost (especially with excellent marking), and aid/water were easily available.

I had vague notions of running anywhere between 30-40 miles, hoping to run between 8pm and 3am, but as it turned out, I didn't start until 9:30PM. Before that, we went to watch Tom's softball game, and they were shorthanded on players, so I played in the first game, intending to head out afterward. But they were still short on the 2nd game, as no extras showed up, so I played that one as well. I didn't really contribute anything offensively, but had a fun time and didn't break any bones (2 of 3 broken bones I've ever had were from playing softball).

So I arrived an hour and a half after the running started, missing the turn initially over the top of a hill on a dark, country road. But off to my left, I saw the magical sight of distant headlamps out in the woods, and knew that I was near. I arrived to find the parking lot full, and the festivities already in full swing. I signed in to a big board with a lap count on it, seeing that dozens of people had already started and some of them had finished, intent with a lap or two. I met Coleen, and then headed out for the first loop.

This was my first test with my Black Diamond Spot headlamp, and other than some initial usability and adjustment issues, I was happy with the comfort and brightness of the light. In fact, after the first mile or so, another runner (Al) and I started chatting and kept pace. His headlamp batteries, so we shared the light from my headlamp, and he told me a bit about the course and the group. Oh, and I asked about poisonous local fauna: he told me about several recent encounters with copperhead snakes, but suggested they "probably" wouldn't be out at night, but they're so hard to see that I might not notice anyway.

As for the course itself, despite evidence that Kansas is indeed flatter than a pancake, this course was very enjoyable and had 4 legitimate hills in it. By "legitimate", I mean you had to be careful of footing and speed on the downhills, and the uphills included a short, calf-kicking steep section near the end, and several slightly longer grunts that require a different gear to get up.
Later, I learned of stats of 2k feet gain for a 30M loop -- not incredibly hilly, but a nice mix. The entire loop was very runnable, and included some sections out in the open prairie, before dipping into the forest and along murky ponds with a chorus of bullfrogs and cicadas. And for being a 3 mile loop, people actually get strung out pretty easily, so I would often go a mile or 2 before seeing another person (usually 2 or 3) running together. We all had brief greetings, and I had a few chats around the aid station, but mostly ran an even pace by myself, enjoying the evening.

Although I enjoyed the course, I had surprising problems with the heat. Not surprising in terms of preparation, as I was refilling twice as much ice water, twice as often, as I would have done in a daytime Colorado run in full sun, and I've been doing a decent amount of running during the heat of the day lately. But the nighttime humidity ended up being more of a psychological surprise. By the 3rd lap, I consciously started thinking about the heat, and just after midnight, something switched inside of me where I started getting angry at it. The heat and humidity, that is. I had been running for a couple hours, into the middle of the night, but improbably, it actually got hotter. (I say "improbably" only because my brain expects that, when it's dark out, it gets predictably cooler outside). I did drink plenty of water (on the order of twice as much as a usual daytime run around here), and consumed sufficient salt, but I had this feeling of oppressive wetness -- I would sweat, and dump water over my head, but it was just stick to me and go nowhere! I saw tiny droplets in my headlamp, especially when I breathed out -- with a dew point in the mid 70s (it rose after the sun set!), you could literally see the humidity in the air. And the clouds: there wasn't a star in the sky, despite long views to the horizon. The clouds were trapping us in a greenhouse, and minutes and hours ticked by without any relief. Now I grew up in Wisconsin, and have certainly been in and run in tropical places, but something about running longer at night, in these conditions, set off a strange disconnect between my expectations and reality. Running, and training, has such a rhythm and predictability to it, of knowing your surroundings as well as your body, but here things were not obeying the simple physical rules I expected! I don't whine about the weather at home, as I look forward to the first snow runs, slush runs, and cold rainy runts, as well as the typical hot but dry days. I ran the Twin Cities marathon in 2007, which was actually hotter in the first few hours than the infamous Chicago marathon, and still enjoyed it. But when it comes to humidity, I have to take a moment to tip my salty visor to the folks that have been dealing with it for months this summer.

So I accepted the humidity, and kept ticking off the laps, squelching thoughts of thinking about how many more miles/hours I intended to run -- good practice for the longer runs -- and hit a low/tired point in the 20s but keeping a generally steady pace. I ran a lap with Rick, who finished out at 50k and had run Leadville a couple times, told me about his experiences there. I had been planning on 30-40M, and eventually settled with 6 hours total time. This put me on pace for 36M with stops. I spread out a mt. dew and a Red Bull over a few laps, and I started feeling better again, so my last 2 laps ended up being faster and enjoyable. I finished the last lap feeling like I could keep going, so I know I got what I wanted out of the training.

Overall, a great group and a great trail run out in Kansas! This will be a great memory for Leadville and the rest of my life, and I look forward to more meetings with Lawrence-area runners in the future!

That wraps up the final 2 long weekends: a 38M-20M block and a 20M-36M block. Nothing at elevation, but all runs were either mid-day 90+ on the trail or nighttime running, which has to count for something.


  1. Way to make lemonade out there ...

  2. Nice job in the heat and humidity. I know exactly how you feel regarding getting mad at the weather because it's not behaving "normally". One of my few low points at Lean Horse last year was just before Pringle on the way back. It was dark, a storm had just passed through and, in my mind, it should have been fairly cool. But instead I hit a warm, sticky pocket of stagnant air and was pissed off at the world for a few miles. Good job sticking it out in much worse conditions!

  3. Thanks Chris, somehow that makes me feel more normal! Playing softball or jogging in the sun during the day (although it was actually less humid) was fine, but being hot and wet in the middle of the night felt like being on another planet!

    While training, I was amusing by dwelling on it, but in a race I would do everything in my power *not* to think about it. Not easy to do, though!

  4. Where was that loop? (I went to school in Lawrence.)

  5. Rock Chalk! It was at the Prairie Center just West of Olathe (on 135th). I know Clinton Lake has better trails, but this worked out nicely for a night loop, and fortunate for me, since I was staying in Olathe.

    Great people out there, and we always drive through (if not stop) in Lawrence.

  6. You know, for us, it was down to FoCo or Lawrence, but -- even with wonderful family there -- that humidity -- Ugh !

    Great job on the duathlon, of course. Glad the notoriously violent game of softball did NOT result in any further fractures.

    Oddly, I'm finding tennis to be more injurious to me than running or skiing ever were ;-)

    How'd J do in the Tri, and ... did you camp out, in Olathe ?

  7. Neil, what's tennis doing to you...and why???
    Brought my tent but slept inside just fine at JSko's. (Well, Sat morning I just closed my eyes in the car for 15 minutes, not wanting to disturb their pre-tri-sleep, and then went in at 4:45a when they planned to get up). They have 4 dogs, carpet, and AC/closed windows (obviously), which usually brings me to my knees, but I was fine. I can't predict in which situations and even which days I get walloped by allergies...but I think you can relate!