#275 - Heartland 100 Race Report

Heartland 100 done! The real test wasn't two hundred milers in two weeks, it was three in three, just as is my wont I don't tend to advertise what I'm up to in advance. This is the first 100 that I've completed for the second time and made a far better effort this year, 25:04, over 3.5 hours better than last time around, admittedly in rather better weather conditions. Clear blue skies throughout, bit warm at times, bit windy all the time, which amazingly almost always seemed to be in my face!

The plan was pretty simple just knock out the 20 miles or so at whatever felt comfortable and then go from there. Rather oddly was with lead pack for the first 4 miles or so, nothing to do with my pace, I just had the brightest head torch! Several of the pack didn't bother with one at the start so I think its fair to say they stuck with me rather than me with them!

Things start to go wrong about mile 30, the reason people don't do lots of hundred became apparent (again!) basically the legs stopped working bit by bit and my target of 50 miles in under ten hours drifted away. A bit of a sit down and a stiff talking to myself at the turnaround did the trick, stuffed myself food and drink (I was pretty badly dehydrated) and and much better 50-65 when the lights went out and the demons come out to play (actually in the Flint Hills that's the cattle and the spiders) and till about 75 I was going really well and seriously looking at about 22:xx hours, then rather suddenly I started feel pretty nauseous, which got worse and worse to the point I couldn't really eat or drink. A couple of long sit downs to try and reset myself and a few attempts at forcing stuff down myself (thankfully I had bottles of Ensure in a drop bag) and I toddled off.

I was never not going to finish though and I meandered about trying to keep awake and keep driving forward and I managed to beat the sunrise home. Sadly missing all the finish line food! But a quick doze and now of course am starving! But am really very very pleased with how I did, I was realistically hoping for sub 26:00 and if anything slightly disappointed that I didn't get under 24:00. Whilst not the toughest course on the planet its far from easy, its very stony and hard on the legs and feet (think loose cobblestones for about 70 miles, loose gravel for about 29.5 and half a mile of tarmac) but only 6000' feet of up, which after Bear felt pretty flat.

I now own a dozen buckles... and now to rest!


Heartland 100 was the first “proper” US 100 I'd completed in 2012 and whilst it was an incredible experience it wasn't for all the right reasons, mainly the dreadful weather (five thunderstorms, hours of monsoon rains and apparently a tornado was spotted!) and my feet shredded to the point they took three or four months to recover and I still don't really know how I took over 16.5 hours to do the last 44 miles, so was keen to go back and have a better go at it!

This whole trip I had been back and forth about actually doing Heartland 100 again, once I had decided to commit to Bear 100 then it was likely to be a Bear/Heartland double, but I really wanted to do Yellowstone and in the end there was nothing else easily available, I'd booked the flights, so I was doing it! So whilst it took maybe four or five month of deliberations as to if I could actually do three hundreds in three straight weekends and wouldn't know until I tried of course, it was also the opportunity to do a lot of hard miles on damaged legs that hopefully would do me good in the future. Since completing Bear 100 I have my eyes on virtually all the gnarly ultras there are… and I need to be better!

So anyway back to Heartland, 10 days out or so I was thinking, oh no, here we go again, severe thunderstorms forecast again! But fortunately as the days drifted by so the forecast improved until the point it was looking at 0% chance of rain, blue skies and just a bit windy. Out on the plains that's always going to be about as good as you get, 25mph winds very much the norm.

Knowing the routine at a 100 means that you start to be a lot more prepared in advance and you know what you're likely to need. I had comically over prepared drop bags for 2012, of which 95% was left untouched! This year, just two, one of which had just Ensure and a few nibbles in and the other just my night gear and more Ensure/nibbles and that was it. I had toyed with the idea of actually not bothering with drop bags at all and just carrying what I needed as the aid stations are first class or not bothering with a pack at all… in the end I went with the tried and tested. Basically “carry everything that if you didn't have would ruin your day” – so S!Caps, ipods, a very light spare jacket, very light gloves (I remember how cold it gets in the night out here) and my headtorch, along with my “100 mile emergency pack” of batteries/plasters etc.

Briefing was nice and unexciting (last year was classic as when the RD stood up to speak he was greeted by a colossal clap of thunder!) and was back in the hotel by 6pm. The start/finish is in the “Prairie Chicken Capital City of the World” – population 99 I think it is! So was staying in Wichita again, about 50 miles away. It's the middle of nowhere… feet taping proved a bit of an issue as firstly in act of stunning stupidity I'd run out of the usual Kineseo tape and discovered the nearest place to buy some was Houston and the KT tape which is supposed to be similar just doesn't seem as sticky but found some “Pro KT” stuff so was trying that and wasn't hugely happy with my work on my feet! Spent maybe an hour trying to sort them and whilst the big toes/insteps were just about OK the little toes were just not right, to the point I gave up with the left one, frankly I just couldn't bend over enough to do it correctly so thought from experience, no tape is better than doing it wrong tape!


Race morning was clear as a bell and I was glad I'd gone for a long sleeve shirt at the start and thought about an extra layer as it was breezier than I thought it might be, but in the end stuck with what I had on. Said a few hellos and shared a little bit of chatter, I like the start of the long ultras, they have a nice atmosphere, mixed fear, trepidation and excitement. I don't stand around too much though, sit down as much as possible, will be spending plenty of time on my feet in the hours ahead…

Knowing how slow the start of the US ultras can be I started just behind the front and at 0600 promptly we were off in to the night. Within 50 yards we were on the only bit of tarmac on the route, quarter mile or so and was just trotting along and found myself in a leading pack of four or five and settled into a nice gentle kind of 9:00 pace, another couple of runners came along and pushed marginally quicker and we all went off in to the dark. Something I quickly noticed was that although it was pitch black, only I had a decent headtorch on in the lead runners! One other guy had one on which was drowned by mine and other runners hadn't bothered, there was probably going to be 45/60 minutes of darkness before the sun started to come up and guess they just didn't feel it was worth it. Especially as the first 6 miles or so is probably the best graded gravel/stone road.

So I settled in just behind the little leading pack and lit the way, consciously or subconsciously I noticed that they were all running at my pace which was quite funny as a couple of times I slowed a little to fiddle with something or sped up a bit and noticed the group stuck with my light! But after 3 or 4 miles a couple edged off and I drifted back and settled into it. Most importantly the leading group (who I think were all locals) had established that I was the “guy from the UK” so not a ringer going to claim the Kansan trophy!

A beautiful clear dawn came up over the plains and it really was incredibly scenic in its own way, if you like endless rolling grass plans, the very occasional tree, but the day was looking good, barely a cloud. The breeze was pretty stiff, and coming from the North East or so it should theoretically be hindering on the outwards 50 and then helping on the home 50, which would be handy as likely be warm so be cooling at the hottest part of the day. Of course this was rubbish, it was in my face for 100 miles I swear! Lol

The first aid station at Battle Creek came along at about 8 miles and I was very pleased with how things were going, legs felt decent, been rolling along at a comfortable 8:45-9:00 pace, all was well. Having prior knowledge of the course helps, that was probably the easiest bit done, the next 20 miles or so are all rather up and down, nothing serious, but “walk up/run down” big enough hills. Like the South Downs for those in the UK perhaps.

My plan had basically just been to knock out the first 20 miles or so and then see how I felt, I'd written out all my 2012 times and splits and knew that as long as I kept ahead of them and had even a quarter decent night I'd be happy! AS2 at 17 came and went and I was just happy rolling along, 20 miles in 3:20 or so felt good. No real worries aside from my right calf was sore/stiff and hills upwards were a struggle to make quick progress up but all was good.

Mile 25 was probably the first real worry. My drop bag wasn't there! Ah… Five minute search, oh well, luckily there was nothing critical, but the other drop bag WAS and now I was worried I'd either done something stupid or they'd got mixed up or “something” and that gave me something to dwell on. Could I get around with just what I had? Yes, so even if they were both missing, I'd be cold, but I'd be good.

Marathon distance came along in about 4:30 (about 25 minutes ahead of 2012), which was my first time check! I was slowing though from here, 50k took about 5:25 and my legs were feeling it especially on anything up.

At 37 I was VERY pleased to see my other drop bag, that had my night gear, so wasn't going to freeze! By 40 (in 7:35) I was struggling with dead legs, on the plus side my damaged legs state is starting later and later, the down side is that 100k on legs that don't want to work is a troublesome thought! The day was getting warm, the breeze was getting stronger but was nice even if hindering rather. Eating going well, but I did keep running out of water between aid stations, this was despite me chugging back probably a can of coke at each station, water and taking a full bottle off with me each time.

After 43 is a hard slog up, just long, gradual and straight, its not high, maybe only 200 or 300' but maybe 4 miles long and I wasn't going well. I think I'd become dehydrated and maybe hadn't been eating as much as I thought? The turnaround (which is kind of hidden around the side of a hill) just wouldn't arrive and I gave up rather, took some ibuprofen to see if that would help my legs as they were just flat out painful now, not even anything specific, just worn out.

Was 10:18 to 50.5 (its about a 101 mile course) which I was disappointed with. Was hoping for sub 10 to here and was only about 20 minutes ahead of 2012 (I must have had a good 30-50!) and decided to have a sit down and have 10 minutes to eat and drink something decent. They had hash browns, ice cold coke (I drank two cans straight down) and cookies. This is not healthy eating folks!

Had a nice chat with one of the aid station guys and did feel rather better, left with a huge nutella wrap for the plod back up the hill. Got to the top and felt a lot better. New iPod on, maximum volume, bit of Gary Numan spreading doom and gloom and off I went!

Now looking at my mile splits now, I wasn't going half as quickly as I felt! The quickest mile was just 11:47, but overtook a couple of other runners and the 57 aid station came around very quickly. (This was were the problems started in 2012) but was in and out and keen to get to 65 where my night gear was before dark closed in.

And made it… just! Was almost pitch black, but spent a little bit of time layering up (thin base layer, random shirt and Boston jacket, plus had extra in pack if needed it). Right I thought to myself, 100k was just over 13 hours. ANYTHING decent in the night and you can get a sub 24:00 here Traviss.

Right after here I got chased by cows! OK that's a slight exaggeration, they were curious in me and a lot of cows, in the night, following me, I'd turn to look at them, and they stopped, and when I went along, they followed! The RD said don't run and they'll be no worries, so I didn't run, and a cattle grid came along and we said goodbye! (There are about 20 cattle grids on the course which get harder and harder to negotiate the more tired you get, some of them are extra fun as they are tubes, with big gaps and a several feet drop under them!)

Tangerine Dream blaring away and Texico Hill came and went at 69ish and 75 is cruel in the night as you can see it from 6 miles away at least and I recall in 2012 it taking FOREVER to get there. This time I was far more purposeful although this was the roughest part of the course (roughly 0-25 is pretty good dirt/stone roads, 25-50 you'd want a 4WD in places) and my feet were really beginning to suffer now, not so much from blisters but just bashing, stepping on a million stones (and sharp ones even with a rock plate in hurt for a 100 yards afterwards! I'd decided on Saloman GTX I'd worn at Bear to keep the dust out, it was a Hoka route really but my feet were utterly shredded in Hoka's on this course in 2012) and I suspected I had a blister on the outside of my left foot on the untapped little toe otherwise felt kind of OK, just sore, sore, sore…

It's a trudge up a hill to 75 and was hoping my drop bag had mysteriously arrived whilst I'd been gone. And it had! Yay!

The bad news was I now decided it was time to feel sick. My legs were really hurting again so I decided to do the 50 mile trick, sit down, eat and drink plenty, take ibuprofen and push till I got home. Swapped Garmins over 75 miles – 16.5 hours. 7.5 hours to do a marathon and a sub 24. As I was sitting there stuffing my face with chocolate, cookies, pringles…

And off I went! Interestingly last year I think I saw one person from the 50 mile event, (which starts at 1800 I think) this year saw lots, which was depressing at times as they trotted past me!

Felt like I was going to be sick, but couldn't quite vomit anything up (to be honest I didn't really try and force it either) and then decided that everything from now on tasted horrible! Water, tic tacs, even the rock solid Peanut Butter M&Ms… eat drink something, feel ill, wore off, tried again, felt ill, repeat.

The 83 aid station took an awful long time to arrive and long loo break kind of helped things, although I did get a bit stuck, firstly I couldn't stand up again and secondly I couldn't bend over enough to pull my shorts back up again! It seems very amusing now I must say, but at the time, you're just thinking, what am I doing, I am stuck in a toilet 100 yards from the aid station in the utter middle of nowhere. I can't be the British chap who got stuck in the toilet, so I eventually got myself sorted and tottered back to the aid station (note to guys setting up 83 mile aid stations, have the toilets on the 82 mile side not the far side! Lol) Had a sit down and tried to wedge coke and food down without much joy as 24 hour target drifted away.

Some guy was quitting here and someone was trying to “encourage him” and I joined in. But there was another girl there quitting all wrapped up in a blanket who offered to share it with him and I must confess the thought did occur to me that if I could get him out of the aid station maybe she'd offer me a cuddle under the blanket! If you're that chap who quit and you're reading this or that girl then I apologise for the frank and explicit exchange of views! Just a youngish chap and was whining a bit, the polite version was “you've got 11 hours to walk 17 miles… and it's a mile downhill to the right turn, so then 16 miles…” the actual version was more like “don't be a ****, can you **** Stand up? Then let's **** Go, if you **** quit then you **** quit forever, all you **** have to do is **** get out of this **** aid station.

After a minute or two I decided to leave his friend to it and off I went, had a nice chat with a guy from the 50 mile race and then the friend came jogging past, sans the quitting guy, I asked if he was OK and he said he'd given up too and the other guy was dropping (I then nearly fell over this guy maybe a mile later, he was laying in the road “stretching” offered him help/electrolytes/water/food/painkillers but he insisted he was OK, but never saw him again, hope he was OK!)

That actually was the last person I saw out of an aid station! Would have been about mile 85, iPod battery long since died, was a quiet and lonely night out in the wilds. If you're spooked it would be spooky, the odd coyote howl would be answered and they kind of sang to each other, that would spook some cows you'd hear mooing off miles away. The moon was half out, the stars were bright and then the spiders come out to play! David Bowie got it wrong, the Spiders weren't from Mars, they're on the plains of the Flint Hills! I'd noticed it last year, little green specs of light reflected back. Not so many this year, maybe the rain had forced them out of their resting places. But I noticed the little specs of green on the road, or alongside it, the odd bit of cobweb caught on the breeze and whenever I stopped to check on the bears, low and behold, they'd be there almost whenever you stopped to have a careful study of the ground. Maybe two inches, three inches across, black they are. Though I swear the first one I ever stopped to look at (I just assumed it was a fleck of mica in the stones or something similar) was about 6 inches across! Gave me a shock!

Onwards I wandered, it was really pretty cold, but I'd managed to get my zip stuck on my jacket, that kept me entertained for a couple of miles trying to free that and finally the 92 AS crept in to view, about mile 89… that was depressing!

I'd given up on sub 24 by now and plonked myself down and like mana from heaven, they had grapes! One of my favourite things at the back end of 100s, and I must have sat there for 10 or 15 minutes munching them. Nice chat and in the end I was virtually chucked out as was basically just sitting there achieving nothing aside from eating their grape supply!

It's funny how the really nice, flat, stone free 8 mile stretch till home had transformed into this stone ridden, crater filled moonscape since I was last along it! Funny how sore feet and tiredness distorts things, not to mention I could have sworn blind I was looking for an extra right hand turn, so for miles am looking for something that isn't there. Last year when it was light on this stretch you gaze longingly at a water tower, forever that never arrives which is just by the finish. But this year was maybe only 3 or 4 miles to go when I noticed the red lights on it, there was even an attempt at a bit of a run to try to get under 25 hours, but just didn't care enough to suffer so came home just as dawn was coming up in 25:04. Plonked myself down at the finish, job done! Unfortunately was still feeling decidedly dodge so couldn't indulge in any of the finish line food and goodies they had lined up!

All in all was pretty pleased with my efforts, if anything marginally disappointed not to get a sub 24 in what will probably be as good a set of weather conditions that the course is ever going to see. They said at the start that 153 had signed up and I was 34 th home, and whilst its not the toughest course out there, its not an easy one, the surface whilst generally is decent, its just plain tough on the feet. I only really have one nasty blister but the toes just feel so sore from the battering on the stones/rocks and as you get tired/night comes in gets harder and harder to pick the ideal line so gets worse I think as you go along. But a great event, I just like the people out there I think, perhaps not as friendly as the Utah/Wyoming type folks, but tough and hard working I think. The aid stations are just great, I don't think I personally filled my bottle once and they just couldn't do enough for you.

Overall, I achieved what I set out to. Firstly getting around three 100s on three straight weekends, and secondly making a much better stab at it in 2013. Some 3.5 hours faster, much more like it!

Things I Learnt

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