Free State Trail Runs Sweep Report

Can you write a post about being the sweeper at a trail run?  I don't know if I can answer that question officially, but it's my blog and I think it's justified so here it is!  This one has a slightly different feel for me than the Garmin Marathon.  I'll explain as this post continues.  The Garmin Marathon was the same morning as the Free State Trail Half Marathon, Marathon, 40 mile, and 100k.  I had registered for the Garmin Marathon back in December before I really got into trail running.  My friend Ron registered for the 100k at Free State and mentioned that he was looking for a pacer for the last 20 mile loop so I quickly volunteered.  I figured running a marathon in the morning then catching 20 on the trails with Ron would be pretty great.

Rosie & me on arrival at Free State
 After the marathon I had a 6 inch BLT from Planet Sub and took a good shower.  I loaded my marathon data from my Garmin to Connect and Facebook and spent time walking around trying to keep from tightening up.  I was managing to keep pretty loose, then Rosie drove me out to Lawrence.  It's about a 45 minute drive, so by the time we got there I could barely get out of the car!!  That was PLENTY of time to tighten up!  Luckily it was only about 4:00, the cut off to finish the first 40 and start the last 20 was 5:15 and Ron expected to be close to that so I had time to walk around and loosen up.  I spend some time catching up with some of my Trail Nerd friends that had finished their races or were still getting prepared to pace people themselves. I caught up with Darin who had run that morning and had planned to pace my Ultra mentor, the Jedi Master Sherrie, during her 100k.  I also got to chat with Donnie who had come out to pace Brian Warren in the 100k.  He told me Brian had hurt his back so he was going for the 40 mile rather than the 100k so Donnie wouldn't be pacing after all.  Donnie is planning to take another shot at a 100 miler at the Hawk in September where I am going for my first 50 miler.  We chatted a little about each of our training and how well he has been doing this year.

I was feeling surprisingly good and loose as 5:00pm neared.  I grabbed my hydration belt, ate a Snicker's Marathon bar and got myself ready for whenever Ron came through; if he was going to make cutoff it would need to be soon.  I knew it was going to be close for Ron, so as the moments ticked by I was getting more and more nervous.  5:00 came and went; just 15 minutes until cutoff.  There weren't many runners coming through at this point, so every time we'd see someone coming around the trees toward the finished I hoped it was Ron, but no dice.  Unfortunately, he hadn't made cut off.  The cut off in this event is fairly early so he'd said well before race day that it was going to be tough to make, but none the less I was disappointed I wouldn't get to spend some time out on my favorite trail pacing the guy that inspired me to shoot for Ultras in the first place.

Fellow Trail Nerd Ryan Knapp had volunteered to go out as course sweep, but since the last guy to make cut off was moving pretty quickly it was obvious that he would be alone the entire time.  We all decided that the best course of action would be for Donnie to wait there for Ron & Bobbie to come through and I would go with Ryan so that he wouldn't be out on the trail in the dark for hours alone.  As course sweeps it would be our job to pick up all the signs, pull down flags and pick up trash from the course.  The start of the course is a downhill gravel service road and where we would be turning onto the trail there were several signs up so we took our time walking down the hill hoping maybe we'd catch Ron as he came out of the trail.  He knew I'd run the marathon that morning so we talked about how I felt and I told him I felt good and I would be happy to run some, or at least when we could.  It's tough to get in a rhythm sweeping since you have to stop pretty often to pick up a sign or pull down a flag.

The main goal for me personally during my time out on the trail would be to see how felt out there after a marathon and several hours off to cool down and tighten up and also to get a gauge on things I still need to work on during my training between now and the Hawk 50 Mile in September.  At the point when we first turned onto the trail and started running, I felt great.  I'd compare it more to how I typically feel a day or two after a marathon rather than just a few hours after.  At this point, one lesson for training was already clear.  The reason I drive to Clinton to run most Saturday's is two fold.  The main reason is that I simply love that trail; It's beautiful out there and you get some pretty scenic views.  The second reason is more technical.  According to my current plan, my first 50 mile, 100k and 100 mile will all be on this trail so I want to run it enough to know it as well as possible.  It was clear right off the bat how I'm failing at part 2.  When we come out here for 20 milers we always end up running two 10 mile loops from the Corps of Engineers to Land's End and back.  So the part of the trail we jumped on to start this course I had never seen before.  I need to start coming out for some 20 & 30 mile runs out here to get better acquainted with the trails.

As we continued, we ran some, hiked some and stopped when we needed to pull down flags or signs.  I was still feeling great.  In fact, I was feeling better the further we went rather than worse.  I've chatted with Ryan here and there over the last couple months, but we now would have many hours out on the trail with no one but each other for company.  We both chatted each other's ears off!  We discussed many topic about our pasts, our plans for the future, and just how much we enjoyed the trail itself.  It was great getting to know him better.  We even stopped for a few nice photos when we got a couple nice views over the lake.

As we continued we eventually turned onto the treacherous Shoreline Trail.  This section is one that I hate and love (and need to run more often).  It's ALL rock, but it's literally right on the shore of the lake.  Big slabs of rock make up the ground you walk on and smaller rocks cover the big rocks.  Rocks, rocks, rocks, and a few more rocks for good measure. That's where we got our best view.  The sun was hanging just above the horizon over the lake.  Both Ryan & I were a bit awe struck at the sight so we stopped and each of us snapped a few pictures with our phone.  We also got our lights out knowing that it would be getting dark soon. 

Very shortly after this wonderful sight we arrived at Land's End (where the Shoreline, Blue and White trails all meet) and the aid station situated there was being run by the Mud Babes.  Heather, my swim coach, was there as part of the station crew.  She immediately asked to fill our packs, give us food etc.  Of course, all I wanted to talk about with her was the nice swim I'd had the day before!  I was still feeling pretty good mentally and physically, but I was getting tired mentally from only 5 hours of sleep the night before and now having been awake for so long.  I texted Kristy to let her know where we were since she was planning to check on us at the Corps of Engineers station (about an hour away).  She asked if I needed anything and I asked her to bring me a smoothie from McDonald's.  I'm no fan of McD's, but those smoothies just make me happy.  During the stretch from Land's End to CoE it got dark and we both turned on our headlamps.  I also got out the knuckle lights Sherrie'd let me borrow.  They are pretty bright and seemed to work out well.  My headlamp is generally plenty to light the way, but on the particularly rocky stretches the knuckle lights helped add the little extra light at my feet and ability to direct the light that I needed to avoid sharp or unstable rocks.  During a couple long stretches of this section the Blue trail (which we were on) and the White trail (which is the return trail to the finish) are fairly close to one another so from time to time we'd hear runners talking to each other and see their headlights.  At one point Ammanda gave us a shout as she ran by on her way back!  That made me happy because when I'd seen her at the start/finish before this loop she'd looked like she was struggling and she sounded much better.  I hoped she was really doing quite a bit better and going strong.

We finally got to the CoE aid station being manned by the Kansas Ultrarunner's Society and where Kristy, Jill and Mark were all waiting to meet us.  It was nice to see them.  Kristy gave me my smoothie and I chatted with Mark & Jill as Ryan ate some snacks and Kristy got him a sweatshirt from the car.  It was getting cool out, but while in the trees with was still warm so I opted against a jacket and just kept my arm sleeves tied to my hydration belt in case I needed them (which I never did).  After we chatted for a bit Ryan and I head back out.  There is a short loop that goes through the trails and brings you back out near the aid station again, then it's the White trail all the way back.  We were about 10 miles in with just short of 11 to go.  I was still feeling good, but we were having to go slower because it was getting harder to keep an eye out for flags in the dark.  We were still doing a lot of chatting, but my lack of sleep was starting to hit me a little.  Things went largely uneventfully on the way back to Land's End.  We ran a little, walked, pucked up flags and trash, etc and chatted.  We got to Land's End which is a 4-way intersection and with the aid station long gone we were not sure exactly which way to go.  Ryan called Ben (the race director and head Trail Nerd) to see which way we were supposed to go.  He said just follow the White trail all the way back, but we turned onto the White trail that went back the other way.  It didn't take us long to realize we'd made a mistake so we turned around and got going on the correct trail.

The chatting on the rest of the way was almost completely gone.  I didn't feel too sore or tight, but I was dead tired after about 18 hours being awake and only 5 hours of sleep.  Ryan was walking pretty quickly at this point and with his long legs he was covering a lot of ground.  I was still trying to jog as much as I could, but unfortunately at this point my energy level was so low that the fastest run I could muster was about the same speed as Ryan's walk!!  Kinda sad!! LOL!!  As we passed by the campgrounds we could smell campfires and hear lots of chatter (none that sounded real sober) and Ryan and I joked that we could really scare some people if we popped out of the woods at them!!  When we had about a mile or so to go Kristy called to check on us and said that everyone but her, Jill, Mark, Ben and Coco had left.  Ryan and I were both pretty happy to final get to the end and hand off the last of the signs to Ben and Coco.  We didn't waste a lot of time getting in our cars and heading out.

When Kristy & I finally got home it was about 1:15 am (I had woken up at 5:00 am the day before and not a moment of sleep since).  She heated up some leftover Italian food from our Marathon Maniac dinner at Zio's Friday night for me while I took a nice, warm shower.  Man, that shower felt great!  I'd been awake for a little over 20 hours and on my feet running or walking for over 12 and a half of those hours, so it was nice to clean up a little.  When I got done I ate the leftovers and went to sleep.  Finally.  It was quite a day.  The Garmin Marathon was among the most fun I've ever run, but this seems to be true with all of the races I run with the Maniacs and I'd gotten to spend some time with my Trail Nerd friends at Free State.  I was very disappointed that I never got to see Ron and Bobbie, but I had gotten word that they had finished the 40 miler in a time they were fairly happy with and had made it back to Jill's place to rest up.  I had walked/ran a total of 47.13 miles.  It felt great to know that I could do that, it is definitely a confidence boost for my training for my September 50 miler.  It showed me that I have plenty of training to do, but I can do 50 miles in one day.  I never felt bad physically or mentally throughout either event, the only struggle I really had was how tired I was.  It was a big day for many people including myself.  Now it was time to sleep and recover.

Surprisingly, I woke up the next morning feeling pretty good.  I would get tight every time I sat or laid down for too long but within minutes of getting up I was moving almost like normal again.  Although this is the most miles I've ever covered in a day, it is also the best I've ever felt after a long distance event.  On to the next challenge, 2 weeks until the Lincoln Marathon...


  1. This was an amazing training day in preparation for the Hawk 50. It's all about time on your feet and you ran sleep deprived which is another component of Ultra running.

    I'm looking forward to running the 25 mile loop with you this summer, should be some good times!!!

  2. Dude. An honor to be out there that night for you. So proud of you!!! :)


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