Dan Schmidt Wins the 2010 Heartland 100 race in Kansas!
Although not a big fan of race reports - I neither enjoy reading nor composing them - I am compelled to piece together the story of the greatest run of my life. I'm told that I only get one week of glory, so I am taking full advantage of the limelight.
Last weekend Jan, Tom, Carl, Carl’s friend Dave, Boone, Ashes and I all jumped in the Eurovan to head for a 100 mile race in Kansas. From the start, it was a trip to remember. Months ago I cajoled Tom into coming along to pace me in the race. Carl was supposed to run, but was unable to due to injury. We joked that we had no idea why Dave was along – we couldn't imagine anyone just wanting to go along for the ride. Jan joked that Tom had won an all expense paid trip to Hillsboro Kansas. Incredible as it was, it just clicked. We all laughed, told stories, and grew on one another. I kept thinking that it was incredible that under the conditions we did not go bonkers.
Our ultimate destination was Cassoday, a little prairie town (more like a crossroads) in the Flint Hills of Kansas (about 40 miles Northeast of Wichita). Our “base camp” was Jan’s parent’s home in Hillsboro. Hillsboro is a very small town with a strong Mennonite history and community. Friday morning Jan took us on a walking tour. I felt like we were kids hanging around the school yard. We went to the track and tested out our legs. I then had an hour and a half interview with the local paper (can’t believe there was enough to talk about for that long). For lunch we went to a little place out in the country run by a more conservative community of Mennonites and catering to either really old people or local farmers. So we turned some heads when we walked in the door. Their menu included a salad bar ($3.95 or $4.95 for all you can eat), grilled cheese ($2.95), hamburger ($3.95), etc. and a list of at least fifteen pies for two dollars a slice. Tom was really digging it. If you know him, you’d know why.
After lunch we took a tour of the county reservoir, and then went to the Hillsboro museum. The museum tour was really interesting, with one of the original houses, sheds, and school houses built by the German immigrants who came over from Southern Russia. When shown all the farm implements, Carl was right at home. We, along with the old guy giving us the tour, were totally blown away by how much Carl knew about rudimentary farming practices of that era. He could have just taken over the tour at that point. To sum it up, this part of the country is simple and pure. There is something interesting in things that are stripped of extravagance. Since all of us were from the Midwest, we felt right at home and shared a bit of nostalgia.
Friday night Tom, Carl, Dave and I went to the pre-race meal in Cassoday, about a 50 minute drive. Cassoday is even smaller than Hillsboro. They say there or more cattle than people in the county. While ultra-marathon races distinguish themselves by their friendliness and hospitality, this race took it to a different level. From the start, you feel like those putting on the race are working harder than those actually running it. The food was home cooked local Mennonite fare... no spaghetti, red sauce, iceberg salad and bread at this meal! All the volunteers were there to serve and having a great time doing so. It was back to Hillsboro and into bed for a night’s “sleep” before the run.
I've wanted to win a 100 mile race for several years now. I made several attempts in Leadville, but it just didn't seem to happen. Two years ago I decided to do something different and found the Heartland 100 mile race conveniently located near Jan’s parent’s home town. So I signed up in 2009 and gave it a try. It was a good effort, less than 30 minutes off the winning time, but I came in third. So I decided to come back to Kansas this year to give it one more try. While doing pretty well in other races this season, I had a few setbacks, including a ligament problem in the early season and dropping out of Leadville in August. More significant was the mental aspect of “52 and getting older, do I still have it in me?”
The race started in Cassoday at 6:00am with 98 people running the 100 mile distance. The course is an out and back route on farm roads splitting vast expanses of open range. It’s unbelievably serene. The stars were out at the start in the morning and when the sun broke it made you want to cry. When I saw Tom at one of the first aide stations all I could think of to say was “isn't this beautiful?” I mean, we come from one of the most beautiful mountain areas of the world and are just taken away by the expanse of the prairie – simple and pure.
The morning was cool, so the miles flew by. I was holding back because I felt I went out too fast last year. At mile 25 I was right on target at three hours and 20 minutes, running comfortably. One guy was ahead of me and two or three others relatively close behind. The next section of the course was a challenge to me last year. It’s called ridge line because it is a higher elevation than the surrounding area. You must be able to see for 25 miles. The sky was clear and the temperature rising rapidly. At that time I knew that heat and dehydration were going to be the major factors, so I slowed even further and guzzled Gatorade. The guy in front advanced his lead and was a good six minutes ahead of me at the 36.5 mile aide station.
I kept chugging along and set my mind on the rhythm of my feet. Then I saw what I was hoping for, the guy in front was really struggling (bless his heart). I surprised everyone by coming in at the 42.5 mile aide station in first place by several minutes. Victor and Susan Selenow blessed us with their presence by stopping at the race on their way back from a Carolinas trip. So Victor picked me up as pacer and we headed out to a remote area turn around. It was a grueling uphill battle in the heat, but we kept chugging along. The temperature climbed to 87 degrees and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Fortunately (for Kansas) we only had 15 mile an hour wind to deal with. The conditions were actually good for me, since I get a lot of heat exposure working construction.
At the turn around, I was in first place in 7 hours and 38 minutes, one minute ahead of last years’ time. I knew then that I was really on my game and allowed myself a period of confidence and gloating. The second and third place runners were 12 and 15 minutes behind. On the way back to meet the crew at the next aide station Victor and I ran well. I again slowed the pace and increased my water intake. I was drinking at least 40 ounces per hour. At mile 57.4 it became a two horse race with me in first.
I ran the next segment alone. My goal was to increase my lead and take the guy behind me out of contention. I thought I did so, but surprised and disappointed to find out he had actually gained on me by mile 74.9. The guy running in second place was Brad Bishop, a 25 year old from Kansas City. Besides being the age of a Tennessee grandson, he was also very tough and persistent.
Tom picked me up as pacer at this point. There was some suffering getting started again, but it was 6:20pm, the sun was setting, the temperature decreasing, and I soon felt revived. Soon I said “the hell with it” and Tom and I ran a 6 minute 50 second mile. We had some up and down moments, but we were confident that our lead was increasing. However, at mile 83.1 we were again surprised and a bit dismayed to find out that we were only two minutes in the lead. The kid behind me could see me and was overheard saying at that point that he was going to get me. Jan freaked and Carl thought I was not going to win. I kept telling Tom that the guy would have to break. I felt that, while he was gaining ground, that he could not sustain the pace. We didn't stop running and only rarely slowed at times when I felt unstable.
Again at the 91.7 mile aide station he was only a couple of minutes behind me. But the end was getting close. Tom was nervous. He was expecting me, as was I, to finish strong. I began to falter to the point of stumbling around at one point. I took a gel, recovered, and at mile 98 finally got in my home stretch stride. We kept looking back and seeing lights, so we thought and felt like it was going to be a photo finish. At that point we stopped seeing trail markings and were frightened that we missed a turn. I didn't remember this part of the course from last year. The plan was that, when we knew the finish line was a “sprintable” distance away, Tom would stop running, wait for the guy behind me, and yell to me how far off he was. We kept running and all of a sudden the trail dropped down to hard pavement less than a quarter of a mile to the finish. Tom stopped, saw the finish line, and yelled to me “100 yards.” He meant, 100 yards to finish. I interpreted 100 yard lead. I put it in high gear, to say the least. My arms were flailing, my head was back, and my chest crossed the tape three feet in front of the rest of my body. The people at the finish though it was someone on a bike. I finished in 17 hours and 12 minutes. The guy behind me came in 20 minutes later. Tom and I decided that we were either hallucinating or seeing UFOs the final 8 miles. Whatever the case, it led to some great running.
Well, that’s the story. I am so thankful for the experience and for all who supported my effort. I'm also thankful for all who participated in the many races and training runs leading up the race. I think of my crews in Leadville, of the pacers who put up with me, of Jan, of our moms, of training runs, of life.