By: Frank Evans
It didn’t start out to be such a big thing, and it certainly didn’t start out as five ultramarathons in fifty days. It began as something that sounded just as crazy at the time, but simple - my first 50 mile race. It sounded crazy for several reasons... I had not done a full marathon since 2006. I had not done anything longer than that since a 50k in 1999. And more importantly, I was coming off back surgery and was working my way up to runs of eight miles or so. But, to paraphrase our running idol, Forrest Gump… “Crazy is as crazy does.”
That 50-miler was the Prairie Spirit race in Ottawa, Kansas. I was staring at a coupon from the race director, and I could get a decent discount if I signed up in the next 30 hours. It was late November, and the race wasn’t until the end of March. Four months. Four months to go from stringing together a lot of one and two mile runs on the treadmill at SNAP Fitness to running much farther than I have ever run before. I thought there was a chance I could do it, but I needed a second opinion. I e-mailed Meghan, and is her custom, she gave me intelligent advice - don’t sign up yet. Forget about the coupon, and see how you feel in March. That was the smart way to go. I don’t remember how many hours I waited until I signed up. One? Maybe two? And I don’t know how many hours it took for Meghan to go to the Prairie Spirit website and scan the list of entrants for my name. Probably not many. Meghan didn’t say anything to me about it. She didn’t have to… I knew she knew. We’re good that way.
Ultras are different than other races in a lot of ways. If you ever get a chance to run, volunteer, or just watch one, I highly recommend it. It’s just unlike any race you’ve seen before. But in another way, ultras are like every other distance - once you accept that you are an ultra runner, you just start signing up. It’s just like when you first go from a 5k to a 10k. You start looking for the next 10k you can schedule. Then half-marathons… full marathons… And then ultras. Crazy is as crazy does.
I already felt confident I’d be able to run Prairie Spirit when the registration period opened for the Double Chubb 50k. I’d have several weeks between them, and there wasn’t a great chance I’d get into Double Chubb anyway. The race is very popular, and there are a limited number of entries. But now my mind was already accepting the idea of running multiple ultras, close together. The Skunk Run popped up. Held in southern Missouri on rugged trails, it was an 8-hour timed run. I’d have two weeks between that and Prairie Spirit, and realistically, a run that long should be on my schedule before 50-miler anyway. (See how rationalization works?)
I was running 5-6 hours on my long runs each weekend when I decided to join Mackenzie, Andrea and Casey at a six-hour timed race in Cuba. They would run as a relay. I would run solo. I would have run about that far anyway, I rationalized. It was a week before the Skunk Run… which was two weeks before Prairie Spirit. Then I got a surprise from the Double Chubb folks. Everyone who entered the lottery was in. Yikes. I was now set for 4 ultras in 44 days.
Had I known about the Frisco event, I might not have signed up for Prairie Spirit. Another “rail-to-trail” run (think KATY Trail), the Frisco was in Willard, MO, just outside of Springfield. It would have satisfied my yearning to run a 50-miler, with less travel and expense. I started talking to Mackenzie about Frisco. It offered shorter distances also, including a 50k. This would be a very good way for her to get her first ultra. I started thinking about it myself. It would be a week after Double Chubb. Maybe I could do a 50k a week after Double Chubb. Maybe I could sign up for the 50k, and if I couldn’t do that I could always drop to one of the shorter distances and just be there to help Mackenzie. Just a few hours after finishing Prairie Spirit, riding in the back seat of Meghan’s Volvo while she and John talked about John’s upcoming World 24-Hour Championships, I misused my phone and signed up for the 50k at Frisco. It was now Five in Fifty… five ultramarathons in fifty days.
Of course I knew a lot of people were worried about me. From my mother to my DRC friends, many people had concerns - and they were valid. This was not the smartest thing I’d ever done - especially given the lack of recovery time I was giving my body. But I knew people who had done as much, or more. We run with people all the time who can run an ultra every weekend, and they run them fast. I do not. Even locally - John can, Meghan can, and so could others. The bottom line was this - the back surgery made me even more aware of how short our window of opportunity can be. And I was going to shove as much as I could through that window before it closed.
Now, while you like to know people are concerned about you, you also find ways to avoid hearing about it. That’s probably why I didn’t tell anyone when I decided two days before Frisco to message the race director and change my entry from 50k to 50 miles. It had been 3 days since Double Chubb, and I was walking without much of a limp. My mind saw that as a sign. Rationalizing again. Mackenzie busted me when she went to pick up my race packet and they didn’t have one for me in the 50k group. Note to self: Always tell someone you’ve switched distances if you want them to pick up your packet.
You’re reading this, so you know Frisco didn’t kill me. Mackenzie got her first ultra and looked great. Meghan crushed the women’s field to finish first. And after all those ultras, I actually ran it 19 minutes faster than I ran Prairie Spirit and won my age group… all while stopping along the route to take selfies and post them to Facebook.
Coming up? Well, there’s the DRC Dirty 30 in June. There’s a St. Louis Ultrarunners Group (SLUG) six-hour run in July. And sometimes I would swear I can hear the Hennepin 100 whispering my name.
Crazy is as crazy does.
Frank Evans can be found running in and around Lake Sherwood, as well as other areas, with no outstanding warrants on file.