Psycho Psummer 2016

by Tom Burton and Magdalena Casper-Shipp

Tom’s Take

I signed up for Psycho Psummer not knowing exactly what I was getting into but finding out soon enough that the elevation change for the race was greater than Clinton by about 600 feet per loop, or so I thought. In the course description, it reads something like “slightly hilly.” Psycho Psummer, near Kansas City, Kansas, around Lake Wyandotte, offers 10-mile, 20-mile and 50K options. I signed up for the 20-mile, while Magdalena had chosen the 50K, naturally, as it was part of the 50K Mashup Trail Race Series that she was running. The race was July 23, 2016.  

I had been doing and, subsequent to signing up, increased my hill repeats at the Arboretum. Maybe you know it. That little hill with the little singletrack path that runs around it with about 30 feet of elevation gain, and if you do it about 100 times, you can get some pretty good hill work. Is it monotonous? Yes. Does it make you dizzy? Yes. Does it qualify as elevation training? I guess so; ask Steve Butler. He’s done about 1.7 million loops. Between this and some Clinton loops and some Forest Glen loops, I figured I had enough elevation training under my belt.  

If you don’t know, “Clinton” is a trail around part of Clinton Lake, 35 miles west of Champaign. There’s a fabulous ultra there in March. Forest Glen is a trail about 11 miles long at the Forest Glen Preserve near Westville, about 40 miles east of Champaign.  

The temperature was another matter. I’d been running in hot weather, but I hadn’t been running 20 miles in 100 degrees with 200 percent humidity. So that would be a new thing. Race day started warm, but not crazy hot, after a luxurious stay in an Airbnb that was about six miles from the race.  

The accommodation can be well-pictured as a cross between the Brady Bunch house and a Jumer’s Castle Lodge. Dark wood everywhere? Check. Four split levels inside for no apparent reason? Check. Outside tower-like corner structure made out of stone? Check. Parrot in a cage? Check. In-ground swimming pool in the back? Check. Did I mention doors inside that appear to go nowhere? Check.  

The race was low-key, as ultras often are, except for the fact that rockstar Kaci Lickteig was there. She had just won the female Western States. There goes Magdalena’s chance at first female, I thought. There was a high percentage of shirtless runners performing in the race, including me! That should tell you something about how hot I thought it was going to be since I ALWAYS wear a shirt. Nic Carter would’ve felt right at home. Temps ended up getting to 100 and something. But it wasn’t as bad as I imagined it was going to be. At one point, I thought I must be having heatstroke because I actually felt cool on the course. I was very well hydrated and was not having heat stroke. The trail being 85 percent shaded helped enormously.  

The course was challenging in places, being more rocky than anything I’d ever run on, with loose pebbles and rocks on the downhills threatening to cause an unfortunate spill. I could just see my knee gashing out on one of the little mini-boulders. This didn’t happen. At one point along the race, I’m pretty sure I heard someone saying that this loop was not the highest elevation gain loop. Nevertheless, as I crossed the dam bridge, I wondered when all the big hills were going to kick in?  

This was one of the best races I’ve ever attended with respect to aid stations. It was like a PR of aid stations for me. There were something like 10 aid stations. It was very impressive. Even the aid stations that had been marked as unattended on the map had attendants that day, I assume owing to the temperature. I had two favorites. At the MudBabes aid station, they provided runners with a wet towel that had been soaking in ice water. Apparently I was so into the race, I didn’t notice the guy in the bikini at the ice-towel aid station. At the other, near the end of the loop, they offered to play whatever music you could manage to suggest. I was on my second loop, finishing pretty well, I thought, and asked them if they had any Chili Peppers. They did! And they played it. It was cool.  

The second half of the loop definitely had the bigger hills. There were some that inspired multiple runners to stop and appreciate the view, not that there was much to see except that damn hill still going up. Nevertheless, the elevation gain ended up being about 1,200 feet per loop, not nearly as bad as I had feared.  

I kept telling myself that all I was going to do was finish the race, running as much as possible and taking it easy so as to not die. But then I realized that Magdalena might be beating me in the 20-mile race. I suddenly started thinking maybe I should run faster. Has she run way more distance races that I have? Yes. Was she better trained? Yes. But for a 20-mile race, I thought surely I could beat her. I did finish before her in two loops, at 4:10:48, but not by much. After the finish, milling around zombie-like, apparently I did look like I might die, as the aid station people kept hovering around me handing me rubber gloves full of ice and asking me if I was OK. After eating a bunch of food, drinking a large gallon of water and taking about four fizzy tab electrolyte thingies, I started to feel better. Then I was in search of a breeze and shade in which to sit.  

Soon after I found a spot to rest, the first overall ultrarunner came across the finish line. Yes, it was Kaci Lickteig, the Western States winner, at 4:23:25! I had figured Magdalena to finish at around 6:15 at the earliest. She finished in 6:29:40 and looked as if she was finishing a 5K! In November, yet! She was all smiles, and should have been smiling, as she had just finished third place female.  

All told, it was a great event. I recommend it to anyone interested in a a moderately challenging trail race. As mentioned, they offer 10-mile, 20-mile and 50K options. The trail is beautiful. It’s well-run and its aid stations well-attended. The only thing it didn’t have was real food at the end, which I thought odd since Kansas City is famous for barbecue. Where was the barbecue? If it weren’t for the six-hour-plus drive, it would be a no-brainer to do again next year, assuming perhaps the temperature was a little lower or nonexistent.  

Magdalena’s Take  

The first twenty miles or so were smooth sailing. I’d been prepared to take it easy and avoid getting too hot, but it was nearly all shaded and I was moving quickly. I ran for a while with a guy who has paced the Illinois Marathon many years in a row. He recognized me and we spent a few good miles debating whether the 2015 or 2016 weather was worse.  

When Tom caught up to me around mile 18, I seriously considered picking up the pace and sticking with Tom/staying ahead to beat him at the 20-mile mark and then decided that was a questionable to poor decision, considering the temperature was rising and I still had to run another loop. But I didn’t get lapped by a professional runner, which was my goal for the day.  

The aid stations were fantastic. The volunteers were impressively good (dare I say better than the Iron Bridge Bar and Grill?!), if only because they remembered what I’d asked for on my previous loops and I’d never met them before. And the coolers of “boob ice” – with the two last stations being less than two miles apart – I had picked up the pace enough that I still had some cubes left! I’d been expecting it to be hotter and hillier, which made for faster loops than I’d predicted. When I came into the final aid station, I’d just done a couple of 16-minute miles – knowing I had about two miles left, I seriously picked up the pace, dropping from a 16:25 pace for mile 28 to a 15:31 for 29, a 14:02 for mile 30, and the last half mile was a 11:57 pace. I really liked the way the results listed not only lap splits but your place at the end of each lap. I worked my way up from 36th at the end of loop one to 17th at the end of the 50k.  

All in all, while the lack of barbecue at the end was surprising (though I was too hot to eat, so it didn’t matter to me), the brewery rep offered to find me a cider out of someone’s cooler when I turned down the beer. I declined and went to rinse off under the pump – one of the top icy cold “showers” I’ve really enjoyed. I’d go back to run another race there despite the sixish- hour ride!

This race report originally appeared in the September/October 2016 issue of In Passing.