FKT: Taylor Ross - Run Across Iowa (IA) - 2020-10-23

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W/E variation
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4d 15h 32m 41s


    Between October 19th-23rd I was successful in running across the beautiful state of Iowa (East-West, Illinois City/Muscatine border to Council Bluffs/Omaha Border) in the fastest time it’s been done, regardless of route. I spent 13 months leading up working, training, researching/contacting who had run border to border and studying their chosen routes/experience. I was able to find a number who had. Most took at least 7 days but one was just under 5 days and became the clear time to beat, fortunately I did. Through my research, I learned that Iowan ultra legend Bonnie Busch as well as my friend and ultra badass Danielle Wangsness had both used historic Highway 92 as their route. This route which I adopted for my trip has likely been run the most across the state, features consistently gorgeous Iowan countryside as well as cool small towns, passes nearby one of the ‘Bridges of Madison County’ and is relatively safe. I believe it is the perfect route to set for our state FKT,  that I know will be repeated in efforts to lower the time in the future (there is already one Iowan ultra runner who may make an attempt with my support in the coming years).

I have included GPX files, a trip report and photos that I have attempted to keep brief and concise. I did share my intent prior, only through social media (on Facebook under Taylor Ross in Des Moines, Iowa) Along with that, I shared in real time daily posts about the run, on Facebook as well as Instagram story (where it is saved in highlights). There were plenty of runners from our community who followed along or joined for some miles. I have individual GPX files for each day and two for day 2, this is because I needed to switch to my backup watch for the second part of the day when we were having issues with power in the crew van/temporary home. Like my Coros Apex which was my main watch, my Garmin 735 was also registered and immediately uploaded to strava, where I was also sharing briefly, daily. I have chosen to include mainly photos I took, I have a friend who documented the trip with photo and video on his camera but I want to keep it easy and clear here.

I really appreciate and the community here. I’m so grateful to have completed the hardest journey of my life and to be able to set an FKT for Iowa that will prompt other badass humans to go out and chase their dreams while exploring our state! 

   The weekend prior to my run was spent volunteering at Mines of Spain 100 in Dubuque, Ia. The goal here was to gain some ultra karma, soak up some good energy and get used to the crew van/temporary home. Joshua Sun, my pal and the race director, put on an incredible and safe event, it was great to see people doing big things! Sunday, the day before I started I did some exploring with my girlfriend Sammi on the Iowa/Illinois border, on the way to pick up final supplies at Walmart and meet my main crew, good friends Chris and Jimmy at our campsite near the start. That night we made sure everyone had the route and gameplan, repacked and got to sleep just a bit later than expected.

    Monday (Day 1, 3:48a start, 68.43 miles) I woke up around 2:45am, Chris, the team captain was energized and ready to roll. I felt the cool air come into the van and was immediately moving as well. Though we didn’t spend much time acknowledging it, the moderate temps we were expecting for the week had shifted to projections of cold, wet and windy. We started on Becky Bridge at 3:48am at the Illinois sign. I took some photos in the dark with my crew and began running across the bridge into Muscatine, IA. The route followed the river south, before running through town towards Hwy 92, and began crossing the state heading west. I never knew the temperature that day, it turns out we started in the high 20s and it didn’t reach higher than the mid 30s. Despite the cold, it felt great to get moving. After a few hours of keeping an easy pace, the sun began to come up. I reached the first marathon a little quicker than expected, and decided to take a break to change and eat at Monkey Run Park. Sammi and her dog Gus Gus had only planned to see me off that morning, but stayed through this point, and left to head home when I began moving again. I was feeling completely fresh until then, but gradually started hurting and slowing down due to pain in my right ankle around mile 40. On top of that, I was struggling to properly manage my layers and began sweating too much. I kept moving and working to figure out a rhythm for crewing with Chris. I spent about 7 miles on a beautiful crushed limestone path with a tree tunnel, where it began to hail and snow. At mile 50 I was struggling to accept that I was feeling worse than I’d expected, making the entirety of the run seem increasingly overwhelming. I jogged and hiked the rest of the day as I was able. While on the nature trail, Chris and Jimmy managed to get both of the vehicles stuck on a muddy level B road, but fortunately made it out before I realized what was happening (I can only imagine the issues that came up that I didn’t hear about!). That afternoon I realized that when you pass by a field of cows, they all stop and stare, a little creepy and a little comforting. The countryside was beautiful and we saw beautiful farms, including a barn covered in old signage. Despite the issues I encountered mentally, physically, and with the weather, I slogged out the final miles to hit 68.43 for the day. We dropped a flag where we finished and took note. From there we focused on recovery for day two. I slept the worst on that first night, I couldn’t believe how much my body hurt and woke up several times in a freezing cold sweat. I was able to get in about 4 hours of rest. 

Tuesday (Day 2, 3:56a start, 54.78 miles) I once again woke up around 2:45am, feeling the reality of how tough the day prior had been. I got dressed quickly, Chris once again was full of energy and ready to roll. I put down some calories, layered up, and limped out of the van. We started at 3:56am, a few minutes later than the day prior. I really felt the darkness, and once again it was chilly; not quite as bad, but close. I was alone when I began the day, and I knew that pushing through the darkness to sun up would be a daily fight for energy. I began to pick the pace up as the light began to illuminate the foggy day, but still felt pretty slow. The blanket of thick fog seemed to make the movement seem slower, but looking back, the first 20 miles for the day were shockingly steady. Once again, the dampness in the air caused a struggle to keep my body temp regulated. Combining these physical challenges, with the realization that I still had so far left to go, I hit an all time mental low. I started to feel overwhelmed, shedding a few tears, I proceeded to call my dad and running coach. The talk with my dad comforted me with unconditional love and support. While the talk with my coach instilled more focus. We talked about metnally conquering smaller chunks of milage at a time to make the monstrous task feel more tangible.  Previously feeling like I was ready to throw in the towel, these two conversations gave me the perspective I needed to make it through the first 100 miles. The wind and cold was brutal, but we eventually developed a flow and acceptance for the conditions. I tried to run a few of the final miles. I had pretty much gone through all of my clothes, and felt completely depleted. It was at this time, the team and I made a tough call to end the day early for added recovery, and prepare for Wednesday. We had pushed through a small town where Jimmy was doing some laundry, and called it there on the edge of Knoxville, where Hwy 92 continued. I slept 3-4 hours that night and packed in as many calories as I could stomach.

Wednesday (Day 3, 3:45a start, 63.01 miles). Woke up shortly after 2am, feeling better and ready to get back at it with a big day planned. It was 34 degrees the warmest morning thus far. We were greeted by Sammi, and a ready-to-run Taylor K. Having my good friend Taylor K there with me, brought the energy I needed to get through to sunlight, which brought fresh optimism. Chris and Sammi stayed close by with the van. We were finally at our halfway point of the state, reaching 140 miles. Taylor K and I were moving at a consistent pace, when my friend Matt joined us and we continued to cruise on through 40 miles. It was at this point I finally experienced my first taste of warmth from the sun. Right as the pain from the previous days was starting to wear at me, my dad showed up. He walked with me while the guys took a quick break. My knee started to become a focal point of pain, as we came into Winterset. Jimmy had been working tirelessly on a mural just off the town square, with it being so close to the route, we passed through for a short break and photos. Knowing that I needed to have a big milage day, we made our way steadily out of winterset back onto Hwy 92. Most of the day, I was able to maintain a good mental space, given the great support and decent weather. My biggest mental dip came between miles 40-55. I was hiking with Taylor and Sammi, intentionally using smooth, deep breaths and working to stay focused to end the day on a positive note. Matt had already left, I said my farewells to Taylor, and thanked him for coming. I then crawled into the back of the van to nap. Chris and Sammi ordered us some Casey pizza, and went to Hyvee for a quick refuel of supplies. I slept 4-5 hours that night.

Thursday (Day 4, 4:14a start, 48.03 miles) Woke up to intense downpour and heavy fog. This was a brutal way to start the morning after a long day prior. I was feeling partially recovered, and in the zone from getting in another day of 60+, but still feeling the prior accumulation of stress on the body. Without being prompted, Chris was ready to get out there with me right from the start. After we began, I was instructed that I stay on the pavement as much as possible, giving me needed stability and helping to avoid inconsistency from the gravel off the road’s shoulder. The small things were starting to make a difference in maintaining balance in my body. Soon a sheriff approached us, lights beaming. He informed us that he had received calls that someone was being chased on the side of the road and that there were people with strobe lights (having a party?!). We cleared up the confusion that in fact, a crazy runner was just crossing the state. He was super nice and wished us well. I didn't have much speed on this dreary, fog covered day. I did a lot of hiking with Chris until the sun came up, a few miles with Sammi, and several miles with Jimmy through the morning. I tried some running later that afternoon, only to be met with immense pain in my left ankle, which had previously given me trouble, slowing me to a near crawl. After addressing the pain in my ankle, the sensation moved up to my knee, we wrapped just under the kneecap to help alleviate some of the issue. I proceeded to do a few miles by myself, trying out the otherside of the road at this time. During the solo hike, my right achilles began to feel like it had snapped, and I once again could hardly walk. I decided to take a good break during the next crew stop, using a couple Tylenol (the first time taking something for pain) this stop Chris stretched and massaged my lower legs, while I downed some caffeine, and we doctored the only blister that would cause me any issue during the whole trip. As the day went on, it got windier, colder, and rainy. I was negotiating with myself to get through 45 miles for the day, though I had initially intended to do over 60. As I was nearing the last miles of that 45, my friends Drew and Calvin showed up bringing me new energy. We hiked 6 more miles in the brutal wind and rain, trying not to lose our ponchos. We totalled in at 48.03 miles after a time consuming battle of fixing one problem after another, throughout the day. My friends had helped me push past my 45 mile goal, which was a win for the day. We moved back our start time to 6am for the following morning, feeling that a little extra sleep and recovery was needed for the final push. I slept well that night, 5-6 hours, with confidence that we would get it done tomorrow, despite the fact that my ankle was alarmingly swollen when I took off my shoe and sock.

Friday (Day 5-Final day, 6:19a start, 44.18 miles) The final day we started a bit later which paid off. We were able to get a couple hours of extra sleep and woke up to a downpour that was finishing up before I began moving. Chris woke up again this morning ready to begin the day out there with me, a huge motivation. Because of the later start, we only had an hour or so in the dark. This day brought an intense headwind. Chris hiked with me for about 10 miles while I fell deeper into a trance-like state, with soft fixation on each approaching hill. During this time I had a few moments of clarity in the present moment, where I took in the beautiful sights of the morning but it was mainly a grind. We passed by a couple horses at a farm, where Chris practiced his skills, wooing them over to the fence. From there I asked for some time alone and got in a handful of miles solo. I had found a level of efficiency of effort by the final day, moving slow and steady. This left me a little less talkative but ready and determined to finish. Sammi and Jimmy joined in after a while to pace a few miles each. The halfway point brought the only mental low for the day. Chris stayed really consistent with crew points and managed any problems as they came up, so I just had to keep myself moving. I stopped for a massage, caffeine, and to refuel. I left this stop with my good friend Travis, who came out to pace the final 20 miles or so, feeling rejuvenated and excited. Travis was a great pacer and helped to get me moving a little faster. Within a few miles, we could finally see Nebraska. My main time goal was to finish under 112 hours, which had felt impossible in the previous day or so. We realized though, with a bit faster pace, and consistent movement, it was still in reach. I wanted to run, but kept power hiking hard instead to avoid a big blow up, getting my pace down to 13 minute miles. Chris joined in for the last couple miles, letting me know that the rest of our team was waiting on the bridge. Once the finish was in sight, and we could see Jimmy, Katie, and Sammi, we ran, moving increasingly faster, and finishing in what felt like a full sprint. After crossing the border I nearly threw up, the closest I'd come during the entire trip. Everyone met for photos with the Nebraska sign, and we embraced one another in disbelief that we had finally reached the end. 

Luckily, not too far from there was a great mexican restaurant with a live mariachi band. It was incredible to share a meal with friends. I sat there in gratitude for each of them, trying to process the completion of a year long goal; in deep fatigue but blissful. I learned to a deeper degree that beyond physical pain and mental suffering, exists a calm acceptance of the moment, and an energy ready to drive us forward. Each of the hundreds of thousands of steps makes a difference. I gained appreciation for the beauty of my state, including every small town, bit of countryside and the animals. Whether alive and vibrant or dead and sacrificed to the side of the road, I saw each of them. I noticed with more clarity the contrast between natural beauty and trash laid across our highway which made me careful to not leave any of my own. Most importantly I know that this run, which I uniquely completed, took the support of so many around me.