In case the thick forests, rolling hills and rocky shoreline of the Clinton Lake State Park’s North Shore trail system didn’t provide sufficient difficulty, Mother Nature decided to put her own spin on Saturday’s Hawk 50-Mile and Marathon Trail Runs.
A week of rain turned the trails along Clinton Lake into a glorified mud pit and temperatures shot into the upper-80s Saturday, making conditions for the event — hosted by the Lawrence Trail Hawks — far from optimal.
“We were afraid park officials might ask us to call the race off,” said race co-director Gary Henry. “The rain has caused several problems. But we were hoping against hope that we were going to be able to have it.”
Unlike traditional marathons, which are held primarily on pavement and therefore largely immune to inclement weather, trail runs place runners in an off-road environment, meaning that certain setbacks — namely, rain — have the potential to severely alter the course makeup.
Such was the case Saturday, as competitors were subjected to extensive stretches of ankle-deep mud, wet rocks and, in some cases, chest-high water — prompting a number of runners to down-grade from the 50-mile race to the marathon and others to exit their respective race altogether.
Even the event’s top finishers seemed a bit thrown by the difficulty of the course.
Brad Bishop, who won the 50-mile run in 8:53:26, has completed more than a dozen ultramarathons since February of 2009 and entered Saturday’s race feeling good about his chances of clocking in with a personal best time.
Then the race began, and he was forced to re-evaluate his previous analysis.
“The heat was the toughest part,” said Bishop, 24, of Kansas City. “Once it started cooking during the second lap, my goal moved from running ‘X’ pace to ‘Don’t overheat and don’t walk.’”
Added Nolan Nurmikko, the winner of the marathon in 4:56:21, “You can never get a steady pace, never get a steady beat. It was just one obstacle after another.”
Despite the unfavorable conditions, however, Saturday’s race brought runners from as far as Florida, Virginia and Washington, and those that did complete the course, certainly, had reason to rejoice.
“These people that finished today are amazing,” said race co-director Coleen Voeks. “I’ve competed in these things before, and I still marvel. These people are stunning.”
And even though runners stumbled toward the finish line mud-caked and exhausted and looking generally miserable, it was only a matter of time, Voeks assured, before they’d be planning their next weekend running endeavor.
Call it the curse of the ultramarathoner.
“It’s like an addiction,” Voeks said. “When you’re doing it, you’re thinking, ‘What am I doing? I’ll never do this again.’ And when you get done, you’re like, ‘I can’t wait to do it again.’”