By: Gary Dudney
The Hawk Hundred, staged at Clinton State Park in the northeastern corner of Kansas, is likely to confound your notion of what a 100-mile race is like in a state that is supposed to be all flat prairie grassland.
Picture instead heavily forested rolling hills, numerous bluff-forming streams cutting through the landscape, limestone outcrops jutting up from the forest floor, a placid lake and an endless supply of half-buried rocks offering up a nightmare of trip hazards. Technically, the race site, which is just four miles from historic Lawrence, Kansas, home of the University of Kansas, sits in the Dissected Till Plains, a geographical area formed by the lower reaches of the great glaciers of the ice age. That’s different from the rest of Kansas, which didn’t get glaciated.
In fact, the Hawk Hundred is full of interesting surprises. It’s not just a 100, for one; a 50-mile race and a marathon are run at the same time, with the marathon starting an hour later, which fills the 25-mile loop course with chatty, hopped up runners who keep the stoic 100 milers entertained. There are dogs, too, with their own race numbers, competing side-by-side with the runners and showing them a thing or two about how to endure with a good attitude.
The hickory, oak and redbud tree forest that covers about two-thirds of the course was full of jazzed up wildlife surely wondering what the heck people were doing running around in their habitat with flashlights blazing in the middle of the night. Just after cooling my heels behind a skunk that wouldn’t veer off the trail, an opossum appeared out of nowhere at my feet and scared the bejesus out of me. White-tailed deer crashed through the brush. Mourning doves called plaintively through the evening. Red-tailed hawks soared overhead, occasionally interrupted by honking geese.
A couple of open sections of the course took runners up to higher ground out of the woods, with open vistas over the surrounding countryside, and included a long stretch, I kid you not, down the fairways of a disc golf course. You might have been taking Frisbees in the face had anyone been there playing. Beautiful views of the lake pop up over and over again. You see people fishing, big marinas and sailboats and cabin cruisers plying the water.
And something I found extremely cool was the way the course sort of folds back on itself so outgoing and incoming runners are often separated by just a few yards of forest. So even in the later stages of the race, when only a handful of 100 milers are left on the course and well spread out, you see lights in the woods and hear people going by. Runners were calling out encouragement to strangers in the dark. I met one woman I’d talked to before as we were going opposite ways at the bottom of a stream crossing where the paths were side by side. I hadn’t gotten her name so I said, “Hi, Wichita.” She answered, “Hi, California.”
Co-RDs Justin Douglas and Sherrie Klover have a wonderful event in the Hawk Hundred and they are clearly ready for it to grow. The whole race has a warm, welcoming atmosphere. Volunteers out on the course, who were all working for just a t-shirt and a burger, we were told, seemed eager to get to know each runner. The food was terrific, including great soup, and the three stops by the Start/Finish gave you a chance to binge on hotdogs and hamburgers mid-race. That was especially great for me since I’ve never seen a hot dog I didn’t want to scarf down with some catsup during a 100 miler.
The non-profit organization that puts on the race, the Lawrence Trail Hawks, obviously take pride in their work, and as RD Douglas said, “We like to put on events that we would like to participate in.”
For me, the big surprise of the Hawk Hundred came in the last quarter of the race. Even though I was running the exact same well-marked 25-mile loop as the last three, the trail had gotten a lot more technical and difficult to negotiate.
“How in the world did they do that?” I wondered.