While running the Free States 40-miler in Lawrence, KS, last year, I had several conversations with folks who were talking about this new race and singing the praises of the group organizing it. Last year, a good friend ran his first ultra at the inaugural G.O.A.T.Z 50K at Lake Cunningham, in Omaha, and had a blast! On top of this, I’d yet to cross Nebraska off my 50 States quest, and wasn’t particularly interested in the Lincoln or Omaha marathons. Thus, all signs were directing me to Omaha to run some trails, and I did just that!
When I told this friend that they would be reversing the course this year, his first comment was “Oh, that should be a hilly course!”Needless to say, the G.O.A.T.z (Greater Omaha Area Trail Runnerz) delivered plenty of hills, along with a wonderfully well-organized race, and I couldn’t have been happier with the result. Now, I’ve spent a great deal of time training on the road this year, as well as other relatively flat surfaces. I’ve worked in plenty of extra hill work, speed work, and other challenges, but haven’t gotten out to run on the sparse local trails nearly as much as I would like. After running two marathons the weekend before, a marathon of speed work the week before that, and completing a 50+ mile overnight training run the week before that, my legs were definitely feeling a bit fatigued heading into Sunday’s race. However, I’d given them some extra recovery time during the week, and I had no goals heading into this race other than having fun and finishing.
I hopped in the car and headed to Omaha on Saturday afternoon. I booked a hotel near the race, and planned on a no-frills race weekend. Packet pick-up was located at a great area running store, Red Dirt Running Company, which was also one of the key sponsors for the race and ran the timing pads as well. I don’t usually think much about the race shirts because I’ve collected so many at this point, but I was especially pleased with the unique color and design of the shirts for this race. I fought off the temptation to purchase a pair of Hoka One Ones and headed to my hotel to relax the rest of the evening and get everything squared away for the morning.
I was only about 6 miles from the start, so I didn’t need to get up until 6:30, and I was out the door by 7, arriving in plenty of time for the 8AM gun. Lake Cunningham is a local park and recreational area, and there was plenty of parking in the field adjacent to the starting area, which was nice. I’m always a fan of any race that doesn’t involve walking miles to the start! The course itself was a 10.5 mile loop around the lake, following a well-maintained trail system, mostly single-track, with a few paved sections thrown in. All runners began together at 8AM (5 mi, 10.5 mi, 21 mi, 50K), which added to the energy as we began, but the race was still small enough that I never felt boxed in, even in the first few miles.
Since I didn’t know what to expect on the trails, I figured I’d take the first loop easy and get a sense of the course, and then tackle the next two loops accordingly. After about 3 miles, the pack had spaced out enough that I could commit my full attention to my footing and take note of the various natural obstacles I needed to tackle. The course itself was quite beautiful, with portions through completely wooded areas, and other sections along the lake shore. The joy of trail running for me is the opportunity to get lost in your surroundings and just enjoy connecting with nature in a different way. This course certainly provided that.
I maintained a fairly consistent pace, and finished the first loop in under 1:40, which I was quite pleased with considering the varied terrain. My friend’s assessment of the hills I had to look forward to was indeed accurate, and my legs were definitely well aware of them after the first loop. At this point, it began to sink in that I had neglected my trail training a bit. I told myself I would adjust my expectations accordingly, but in reality, I didn’t let up. I was having too much fun!
After the first loop, I felt like I had a pretty good sense of the course, and I probably let my mind wander a bit more than I would have otherwise. This caught up with me about half way into the loop when I got bit by a tree root just barely creeping up through the ground. In my mind, I landed quite gracefully, as if I had been practicing my falls for my role as an extra in a kung-fu movie. In reality, I probably looked more like a dizzy goat hitting the ground sideways and upside down. Such is the nature of trail running, right? I brushed off the dirt, cleared it from the bite valve of my water bottle, and pushed ahead, ultimately finishing the second loop in around 1:45.
One of the benefits of a three loop course like this access to a drop bag after every loop,and I took full advantage. I dropped my Patagonia shell after the first loop, and discarded my arm warmers, gloves, and waist pack after the second loop. The last loop certainly proved difficult, as my legs finally realized what I had been putting them through for the last month, but being able to run free and rely on wonderfully well-stocked and staffed aid stations at the start/finish and half-way point was a welcome relief. I stopped on several occasions to take in the beauty around me, and even stopped a second time at the mercy of a hungry tree root. I’m pretty sure this second fall was nature’s way of putting me in my place, but a passing runner helped me up, and I’m pretty sure my smile got even bigger as I trekked on. Why can’t I run on trails exclusively? Clearly someone in Colorado needs to offer the beautiful epicurean and I dream jobs.
I passed by the mid-point aid station, staff by a trail running group from Des Moines, and headed into the homestretch with plenty of mental energy, even if my physical energy was waning a bit. By this time, the sun was high in the sky, and providing just the right amount of warmth to make for a comfortable finish. As I climbed the final hill, the adrenaline kicked in (I must have been storing some reserves somewhere, eh?) and I pushed toward the finish. I crossed the line in 5:20:20, which I was quite pleased with, considering the lack of rest and number of miles I had consumed over the past month. More importantly, i was thoroughly impressed with everything about the race itself. I was happy to cross Nebraska off my list, and be able to list the G.O.A.T.z 50K as my race of choice!
3 Loops…2 falls…1 great experience!