Saturday, April 17, 2010

2010 Zumbro 100 Race Report

Race Photos

A week has passed since I toed the line for the second year at the Zumbro 100 mile endurance run. Right now, the Trail Mix 50K is underway at Highland Park in Bloomington. I'm registered, and should be running, but that was part of the rational plan that I created on a cold dark night in the middle of winter. As anyone in this sport knows, it's not a particularly rational endeavor, and my decision to throw my plan out the window after several months of stress at work, a couple weeks of warm spring weather, and rumors of who was registering for Zumbro is perfectly acceptable.

I started to get the itch about 3 weeks before the race as the weather turned nice. The original plan was to work an aid station with Jen for the duration of the race. However, after hearing about several friends that had signed up for the race in quick succession, and mentioning it to Jen in our living room one morning she said "Do you want to run it honey?". I had previously made a commitment to her that I would keep to one 100 miler per year as it's a lot of work for her as well to support me. Being smart enough to not completely jump into a 100 mile race on a whim, I told her that if she wanted to give me her blessing, I'd think about it for a few days, but that I wasn't going to jump in that spontaneously.  She gave her blessing.

For about a week I thought hard about it. With the pain and suffering of Superior, and even last year's Zumbro still pretty fresh in my head, and realizing that I hadn't done hardly any long runs over the winter, I really did think long and hard about it. On the one hand, I really did want to test the theory that once mentally and physically trained for these sorts of races, each race didn't necessarily require a major ramp up (I had kept up my fitness over the winter, just not the long runs). On the other hand, I wanted to feel like I had a reasonable chance of success. I was seriously leaning towards doing the smart thing and sticking with my rational race plan and my volunteer job until I got an email from Steve Grabowski offering to trade spots with me. Steve trained hard over the winter but ended up with an injury that prevented him from starting the race. This was enough to tip the balance, Steve asked Larry if we could trade spots, Larry agreed, and I was in, for better or worse.

The weather report for Zumbro was pretty much ideal. No chance of rain, highs in the low 60's, lows in the low 40's. The weeks leading up had been mostly dry and warm so the trails were in pristine condition. Last year I remember saying "1 in 10 years the weather and trails will be this nice for an April race in MN", well we just hit the lottery because we nailed it 2 years in a row. This was the scene as we were driving along the Zumbro river on the last stretch of gravel road leading to the start area, great way to start the day.

We arrived at the start area, greeted many friends, picked up my number, signed my life away on the waiver, and suited up for the race.

This year I was determined to improve upon the areas that I struggled last year.  The first lesson I learned last year was to wear gaiters.  Last year I emptied a beach out of my shoe every 5-10 miles on this sandy course.  The gaiters I sported this year were meant to a) keep the sand out, b) strike fear into the hearts of the competition (or at least blind them).  They worked flawlessly for a, but not sure they had much effect on the competition.

The pre-race briefing was short and to the point "keep the flags on the left except for the part where they're on the right", easy enough, I've been to enough of Larry's races that I see these flags in my sleep (a skill that comes in surprisingly handy at 3am on the trail).  

A few minutes later we were all lining up at the start and we were off.  The first section of last year's race was removed and replaced with a much more interesting section.  The Zumbro course is 5 laps of a 20 mile loop.  The first 5 mile section last year was mostly flat along a creek with a short bit of rolling single track through the woods.  In a word, easy.  This year, the first section was replaced with some gnarly single track, followed by a huge climb on a gravel road that summited with a view of the start area that looked like the view from a plane window.  It was a cool section of trail for sure, but on the first loop, I hadn't really considered what it meant to have 25% of the race replaced with this and what it meant to do that hill 4 more times.  I headed out with Matt Patten Brad Birkholz, and Darly Saari the Gnarly Brownie.. er Bandit.  Here's a rare shot of me leading that pack into AS1.  I knew Jen would be there with the camera, so I had to make it look good (there was 96.9 miles to go, but no one's counting at this point).

People came and went but I hung primarily with Matt for the majority of the first two loops.  Matt was encouraging me to be a bit more aggressive than I normally am to step up my game this year.  I thought signing up for an April 100 miler with little training was being pretty aggressive, but I figured, in for a penny in for a pound, and we hammered out a 4 hour loop one. 

It was great passing the first 40 miles with Matt.  I like hanging with just about anyone on the trail, but in a race situation, it's nice to run with someone you have history with, because when you're up it's a lot of fun, and when you're down (like we were from about 25-35) there's no uncomfortable silence, just shared mental support.  Matt and I separated around the end of the second loop when I took an extra long pit stop to change socks and apply more desitin to the feet in a partially successful attempt to avoid the major blisters I had last year at Zumbro and Superior (more on that later).  Sadly, I caught up with Matt around mile 54 where he was having excruciating, race ending stomach issues.  I didn't think I'd catch him again, but I'd held out a little hope that I might and we'd run a bit more together.  I definitely didn't want to catch him under these circumstances.

After crossing the bridge into Jen's AS (1/4) at the end of loop 2, I ran into Adrian Belitu.  We hung out for the next 15 miles or so, what a positive, fun, inspirational guy.  He had decided to run the race in place of an injured friend (Jim O'brien) that worked AS3.  Unfortunately, due to a nagging back issue that cropped up, we parted company at AS3 where he was going to try to work it out and catch some rest in his tent.  In the end I believe that was the end of his day, but he's doing Badwater, UTMB, and Spartathlon this year, so he'll have plenty of adventure to look forward to this season!

At this point in the race I was feeling pretty good about my prospects.  I was a good hour or more ahead of where I was last year when the sun went down, and so far, no blisters.  At mile 57, near the end of loop 3, Molly was waiting for me at AS4 with Jen.  Molly was critical to the success of my first 100 mile race, pacing me the last 40 miles of Zumbro last year.  She emailed me out of the blue 2 days before the race offering to run a loop this year, of course I jumped at the opportunity.  Molly is always a positive, energetic person to have along, especially helpful in the middle of the night.  Mid way through our loop, Bill Pomerenke joined us, he was out for some night training, preparing for his first 100 at Kettle.  I was very happy to have all the company in the middle of the night when my energy was sucking wind.

Molly dropped off after 17 miles, having to be functional for family plans on Saturday, and Bill and I headed back to AS4 where the sun had risen, and my friend Jesse Jacob was waiting for me.  Bill almost sustained a season ending injury after the second time he spoke dreamily about the comforter he was going to crawl under in his car when we got through this cold, windy, dark loop.  I had spent all night struggling to take in food, nothing sounded great.  Janine and her daughter Grace offered me some scrambled eggs which I tried cautiously, then inhaled, BINGO, apparently that's what I needed, what a lift.  Carl Gammon was there overnight as well and helped me with all of my various needs on several trips through the aid station.  Jesse and I did the round trip to the start / finish (where we saw John Storkamp finishing for the win, that was tough to watch knowing I had another 20 miles to go).  When we returned to AS1, Jen had awoken, and made me another plate of eggs, which again I inhaled.  I was glad to hear she was able to get a decent night's sleep on our new REI camping mat.  I'm not the only one that has to work out the kinks in running these events, Jen has learned a lot as crew and aid station worker.  Finding a good way to sleep comfortably was on top of that list of things to work out, and I was thrilled to hear that her night went well.  Jen made a bunch of different food for the runners at the aid station including home made soup, sandwiches, tortillas, eggs.  Her aid station was the talk of the trail!

Setting out from AS1 for the last time, I spent some time refreshing the desitin on my feet and putting on fresh socks.  I didn't think I had any blisters yet, but with 17 miles to go, I wasn't going to chance it, that's a long ways to go with knives in your feet.  The balls of my feet were getting very tender.  I wasn't sure if that meant blisters were on the way or not, but I wanted to take my best shot at avoiding them.  Not only are they insanely painful on these technical trails, but they greatly lengthen the time it takes to recover and run again.

My blister plan for this race was a 3 part plan.  1) Gaiters, 2) Desitin (lubricate), 3) Larger shoes.  The gaiters worked perfectly, there was never anything to speak of in my shoes.  I don't know why I hadn't tried these sooner, Jen gave them to me 2 Christmases ago, and they were so simple to install.  I won't run another race without them, just the convenience of not digging around for the occasional rock or stick will be worth it.  The desitin worked well on the toes and other ancillary areas, and seemed to help some in my main trouble spot (the ball of my foot).  The larger shoes also helped, I went a full size larger than last year (Inov-8 Roclites).  They felt roomy throughout the whole race with the larger size and their generous toe box.  However, in the end, I still got a major blister on the ball of my right foot, but I did manage to push it off about 10 miles further to mile 85 or so.  The ball of my left foot didn't get a blister, but seemed just as tender in the final miles of the race.  My pace from 83 - 97 was completely dictated by my threshold for accepting foot pain, not my ability to run, as that returned with the sunrise.

Jesse and I made our way through that 14 mile round trip back to Jen's aid station.  Each of the downhills seemed like they had twice as many rocks as the previous trips, and there wasn't anywhere to put my foot down without serious pain.  My pace was slowing as if I had the blisters, whether I did or not.  It hurt like hell to put my foot on anything other than flat trail, and there isn't much of that in this section.  Small rocks, big rocks, horse hoof prints, you name it, it all hurt like hell.  I was frustrated as I hadn't seen anyone in hours and people had begun to pass me.  First Susan Donnelly and Rob Apple just after AS2, this wasn't a huge blow as I was pretty surprised that they'd be behind me in the first place, but then others that I didn't know.  I'm not terribly competitive (except against myself), but it still was a painful reminder of how much I'd slowed, and that I still had issues to resolve.

I finally reached AS1/4, mile 97, after what seemed like an eternity on the last loop.  Having just been passed at the end of the previous loop, and being mentally fried and DONE with the race, I decided to ignore the pain and hammer the last 3 miles.  I ran the whole way in, everything except the steepest part of a few hills.  I flew by the guy that had last passed me, I flew down the hills.  And by flew, of course I mean 11-12 min miles but at that point it sure seemed like flying.

I finally reached the finish line in 30:07, about 30 minutes slower than last year.  I'm not quite sure where that time went, especially considering I felt like I was an hour or so ahead of last year's pace when the sun went down, and my blister issues were considerably worse last year.  I guess the added difficulty of the new course took its toll in the end as most people were slower this year.  Bill told me I won my age group again, which was REALLY unexpected, given the larger field this year which included a number of runners who would smoke me on a good day, but in a race like Zumbro anything can happen, and sometimes all it takes is hanging in there, my kind of race :)

The finish was really special this year because most of the finishers came in during that hour, so unlike most 100's, I got to see many more friends finish.  Daryl Saari and John Taylor finished ahead of me, it's a privilege to run with guys with this kind of experience and they've both imparted a lot of wisdom to me.  Susan Donnelly and Rob Apple finished just ahead of me.  I knew who they were, having seen Susan at several Larry races before, but not having ever met.  She borrowed a water bottle of mine from Jen after leaving hers at the start on the last loop.  She offered to replace it, Daryl suggested I have her autograph it, that sounded like a better plan!  Ryan Carter finished strong again shortly after me, and big congrats to Scott Mark for finishing his first 100 shortly thereafter, I'm glad I could be there to see it!  Lynn Saari and Sara Lovett finished strong with big smiles as well right after me, they make quite a team.

So, was it a fool's errand to run a 100 miler in April with little recent training.  I sure was thinking so on numerous occasions after about mile 40.  "Why the hell did I sign up for this, Jen and the crew are having lots of fun at the aid station, I could be there now!!"  During one particularly low spot towards the end, I even considered dropping at mile 97, where Jen and our car was, just to punish myself for such an idiotic venture.  But alas, these were all the normal things that go through your head when the going gets tough, and is why the finish is so rewarding.  A big part of the reason I signed up for this race was the soul cleansing aspect of it.  I've had a particularly stressful winter with layoffs and constant negativity looming over our heads at work.  I needed this to reset, and it did the trick.  Hobbling into work on Monday, it really felt like I'd turned the corner.

So what did I learn this race?
1) Gaiters, gaiters, gaiters
2) Big shoes, big shoes, big shoes
3) Desitin helps, but I'm going to try some of the other products I've picked up recently as well / in addition.  As an engineer that routinely troubleshoots issues, I don't like to change / introduce too many changes at any one time, next race I'll try one or two more things.
4) My new Camelbak Octane XC70 backpack is awesome, way more comfortable, ergonomic, and practical than my old M.U.L.E.  I look forward to using this all season.
5) Friends are still critical to my success, even with my growing amount of experience.  Jen continues to be my #1 supporter, and I couldn't do this without her.  I thought I could do fine without pacers this time, and maybe I could have, but I sure felt blessed to have Molly, Bill, and Jesse out there with me towards the end of the race, I'm not sure I could have mentally kept it together that long without their company, thanks guys!

Monday, September 14, 2009

How I Recaptured That Feeling.. aka the Superior Sawtooth 100 Race Report

Race Photos

Two years ago this past weekend I lined up with a group of people in the dark outside Caribou Highlands Lodge for the Superior 50 Mile race. I was as green as they come, having done two training runs over marathon length and not having even yet run on Afton type hills, let alone Superior type hills. Looking back, my race report from that day makes multiple mentions of "what the hell did I get myself into" moments.

My lasting memories from that day, and my first trail race, went something like this...

"A large group of my new friends cheering as I ran around the pool and my wife standing right at the finish waiting for me. Hands down the most heart felt finish I've ever experienced. Larry came over and handed me the finisher medal and shook my hand and just like that the amazing adventure was over."

"I've told many people when asked about the race that I felt it was 5 times harder yet 5 times more beautiful than I ever imagined. I really had no idea what I was in for, but it exceeded my wildest expectations."

"What can I say, this community is awesome and I am definitely hooked."

So this time, I had the added joy of Jen running in the last section with me and sharing the accomplishment that she was such a huge part of rather than just watching me finish, and most of the "new" friends are now old friends (but some important new ones.. more on that later).

The point being, that first race gave me an amazing feeling that is at the heart of why I do these races. It was about a feeling I get by getting into something way over my head and then actually pulling it off and realizing that my own potential was higher than I had ever thought. That's a rare feeling, and I believe it is what drives many people to do bigger and harder races and it's the reason that races like Hardrock, Badwater, Arrowhead, and others exist. For those that don't understand our sport, that is essentially the main reason I'm occasionally willing to suffer for far too many hours in a seemingly masochistic endeavor. There are many other reasons, but that's the big one. It is the feeling I got completing my first Grandma's Marathon in 1997 in 5:57, 3 minutes before the cutoff, after four months of running in my entire life. It's the feeling I got after that Superior 50 mile race two years ago this past weekend. It's the feeling I got after my first 100 mile finish at Zumbro this spring, and it's definitely the feeling I got again this weekend.

I have had a great season, completing seven races thus far that I set out to do. Those races were for two reasons.. Number one, they are a blast, 50k / 50 mile races are now very "comfortable" for me, and I love hanging out with all my friends and wife in the woods for a day. Number two, they were all in preparation for this race. As my good friend and mentor Carl Gammon and I have discussed on multiple occasions, it's more fun to do races for training then long solo training runs.

OK, enough of the nostalgia,let's get to the race at hand, the Superior Sawtooth 100 Mile Run. In a nutshell, this race boiled down to two elements for me. Number one, it was a crash course of trial and error on how to control blisters. Number two it was about dealing with heat and humidity on a LOT longer race than I'm accustomed to.

When we arrived at Gooseberry falls, many of my trail friends were already hanging out. We all stood around chatting, taking photos, laughing, it was a good way to reduce the tension before the race (tension that had just about eaten me alive in the week leading up to the race) It was already warm and muggy, a very bad sign for 7:30 in the morning on the north shore. We all eventually ambled over to the start area. It was almost comical, no one wanted to line up in the front and everyone was being fairly pokey, to the point that when Larry finally said go, no one was really even at "the line".
We took off and headed into the woods. The trail started out very easy, but quickly became the rocky, rooty beast that I was accustomed to from years past. When we finally arrived at the first aid station I had completely drained my 80 or so ounces in my Camelbak, another bad sign since there were several more equally long (9-10 mile) sections to be run and the temps were still climbing. Maria and Doug Barton were handling quite a crowd at the first aid station and Doug refilled my empty pack and I headed out.

The next section was equally long, but even more technical. There were several areas where the trail just turned into piles of rubble for a bit, and one section that could only be described as a long pile of boulders to climb or pick your way through. I had my first signs of hot spots on my feet during this section, an alarming prospect 20 miles into a 100 mile race. When I arrived at the second aid station, Jen and Helen sprung into action quickly helping me refill my fluids, food, and check out my hot spots. I had one small one on the front of the ball of my foot, which was very alarming since this was the same area that made the last 30 miles of my first 100 mile race pure hell, and this was coming on 50 miles sooner! I poked it as best I could, changed socks, and left it be as it wasn't in a place that was easily covered.

The next section to Silver bay was half as long but a bear. There was a notable rock climb to the top of a peak overlooking the city that was sweltering hot in direct sun. The air was just stagnant, not a breeze to be had, even on top of the exposed mountain, and the haze was thick. As it often does in extreme humidity, my stomach went to hell and the hot spots continued to grow. When I arrived at Silver Bay, my good friend Jim Wilson was there and I didn't even see him right in front of my face I was so out of it! I sat down, changed socks, put some foot lube that Jim had on my main hot spot, and headed out for another nearly 10 mile section to Tettegouche.

I was looking forward to this section before the race, having seen stunning photos of Bean and Bear lake and wanting to experience it for myself. I took my trail camera along hoping to get some good photos. Unfortunately my stomach and mood were at an all time low by the time I got there, and although gorgeous, I barely enjoyed the view, and didn't even have it in me to pull my camera out of my pack.

When I finally arrived at Tettegouche, I had a few serious blisters going, terrible stomach, terrible attitude, and was seriously considering calling it a day. I told myself "if it were just a 50, I'd push through, but there's no way I can keep on these already blistered feet for nearly 70 more miles". On top of those issues, I was starting to cramp due to lack of food most likely. Kurt Decker caught wind of my attitude and said "it's only a patch job, you'll be fine", and John Storkamp was standing around and gave me some classic John advice that went something like "just shove food in till you are uncomfortable, puke if you have to, you'll come around". As absurd as it sounded at the time, I didn't start feeling better until later that evening when I managed to get a lot more food in. I spent a good 20 minutes patching up my feet with tegaderm and bandaids and came around enough to pull myself out of my seat and on to the next aid station.

The sun started setting and the temp got better. I ran into Eric Skytte early in the section on the top of a climb sitting on a rock feeling worse than I did earlier. I offered what advice I could think of on how to get out of his funk, tried to get him to come along, but he needed to sit a bit longer. He ended up having a tough go of that section, but ultimately getting to Finland for 50 mile credit. The sun went down by the end of the section, I was feeling much better, and I ended up nearly sprinting down the 1/4 mile of road to the Co Rd 6 aid station.

Tom and Nancy were there with some awesome grilled cheese, and with the temps cooling it was time to catch up on calories. I ate one at the station and took one on the road, a HUGE help. I went through another 15-20 minutes of foot patching. As in previous sections, everything previously applied just sweated off in the humidity and heat. This time we added duct tape on top of the tegaderm and bandaids, finally this combination mostly held for a change, probably due to the cooler temps and less sweating.

Things turned around even more as I embarked on the next section. It had been dark for an hour or two, the temps were much better, and I was on the last section to the half way point at Finland. I knew my spirits would be better once on the back half of the course as well as it would be familiar ground. Reaching Finland, I was greeted by my friend Jesse who had made the trip up just to accompany me through a few sections. I told him I was doing pretty well and wanted to save him for the infamous Crosby Manitou section.

It was a great decision, because shortly after leaving Finland I ran into Daryl Saari and spent the next two sections hanging out with him. Daryl was having a similarly tough day and was great company to commiserate with. We had some laughs at our own suffering, and quickly passed the time power hiking the next 11 miles. Daryl was the lone "gnarly bandit" left standing at the end of the race, finishing a series of four 100 mile races this summer to earn the title. Daryl was great company, and shared his wealth of experience. I jokingly told him before the race that I was going to tie a rope to him to drag me to the finish. I think I did mentally tie a rope at that point. Once we parted company at Crosby, I attempted to catch up for the rest of the race. With his track record this season and previous years at Superior, I knew he'd finish one way or another. It's funny what mind games one comes up with to pull through the rough patches.

When we finally reached Crosby, I spent another 20 minutes or so patching up the damage of the last 11 miles. I parted company with Daryl, who didn't need an extensive pit stop like me, and picked up Jesse for company. Jesse has done little running and no trail running in his career but is a strong biker. I pulled him into one of the toughest sections of the race and he was a total champ, power hiking the entire 9.4, and stayed on for the next 5.6 mile section! We saw the sun come up in the typical eternity it took to get through the Crosby section. It was great having his company at a critical time in the race, and I'm extremely grateful for the 8 hour round trip he made to help me out. We shared some laughs, talked about what he might post on Facebook the next day as he was freshly exposed to many of the less flattering aspects of trail running all day and all night. I educated him on the trail running credo "what's heard on the trail, stays on the trail", and so far he's spared me the exposure :)

My feet were completely trashed again by the time we hit Cramer Rd. Jen happened to meet a person with some extra tegaderm and tincture of benzoine (the missing ingredient to make the stuff stick!) I spent another 20 minutes or so carefully cleaning, applying benzoine, tegaderm, and duct tape to my very raw feet. It worked very well for awhile. It worked well enough that I resumed running to Temperance. I figure I pulled 25-30 minutes off my time. Mid way through the section Duke Rembleski flew by me with some upbeat encouragement, I figured he'd go on to win the 50 with the positive attitude he had that far into the race! As for myself, I was feeling on top of the world, power climbing out of the Cross river gorge. I was in the final 1/4 of the race, into the sections I know very well by now from previous races. I had about 20 minutes of off and on emotional moments as I knew at this point, for the first time in the race, that I was going to finish. I was moving well for the first time in many hours and on very familiar territory.
I found Jen sleeping in the car at Temperance river. I later found out that she had just arrived minutes before after driving all over to get Jesse back to his car. I opted for my 6th or so large coffee drink of the day, grabbed a sandwich and headed out. At this point, my feet didn't feel any better or worse so I left well enough alone having already spent way too much time patching them. I headed out in good spirits, ready to make Carlton Peak my bitch. It started raining briefly, a nice respite from the heat, but it only lasted 10 minutes or so. By the time I got up on the climb to Carlton Peak, it was sunny and HOT, there was no breeze whatsoever. The energy I had to attack Carlton was gone half way up when I figured I should have been at the top. I forgot how much more climbing there is coming from the south! Every time I thought I was at the top, it would turn and go up a bit more, maddening. Coming down the back side was almost worse on the sore feet. I ran into a confused rock climber that was asking directions to the rock climbing at Carlton, I think he was more confused after he left me. He seemed determined to get the answers he needed out of me, as I was trying to explain where I'd seen climbers once 2 years ago.

Finally, rolling into Sawbill, I decided to do one last maintenance on the feet. The improvement I had gotten from the patch job at Temperance had worn off and they hurt like hell. I'd hoped I could just leave them be, but there was still 13 or so miles to go, too far to just let them go to hell and deal with the pain. Helen and Eric were there looking fresh as daisies, considering Eric ran 50 miles the day before, and Helen ran and won a marathon, and they were both operating on 3 hours sleep. I guess fresh is all relative! As I took my time on my feet, Steve Q filled me up and hung out, and Eric casually offered to join me on the next section. He seemed surprised that I took him up on it, but I was VERY happy to have the company, enjoying the peace and solitude of running solo on the trail had run out some time the day before :)

The next section went by pretty quickly. Having someone new along to chat with gave us a ton to talk about. We had both used similar approaches of doing a bunch of races to prepare, but a lot of different races, so we swapped stories and had a good time.

We rolled into Oberg in good spirits, and there was Jen in running gear ready to head out with me on the last section. This was a surprise to say the least as she had come down with a nasty stomach bug the night before, the magnitude of which she had, mercifully, kept me largely unaware of. Had I known how rotten she was feeling, I probably would have felt very compelled to pull the plug earlier in the race, instead she soldiered on and did a stellar job of keeping me going. The back story on this was that a week before the race I had casually (at least so I thought) thrown out the notion that it would be really cool that if she was feeling up to it she could join me on the last section and finish the race with me. After all this had been a huge journey of many races of which she had been a steadfast teammate at every one. However, in the back of my mind I knew crewing this race solo would be very hard on her, and I wasn't expecting her to feel up to it. Turns out, Jen took it as a much stronger suggestion than I intended, and thought I'd be disappointed if she didn't so she suited up despite her condition, a gesture I will never forget, this is how great my wife is! (thanks Kel for the photo)
I left my feet alone, they hurt like hell, but with (as the sign said) 95.5 miles down and 7.1 to go, it was time to just go for it and get it the hell over with. Helen and Eric graciously offered to take our car to the finish and we headed out into the last section. This section was tough as always, in some ways tougher than I remember. It seemed more over grown that usual, and for the first time in any Superior race, there were bugs! I think it was the unusual temp, wet ground, and slow pace that let them catch up with me a few times. We took the section very slowly. My feet hurt with every step and Jen was struggling with her stomach, especially when exerting up the hills. I had grabbed the lights just in case, but really wanted to make it in before dark, I REALLY didn't want to see it get dark again. After what seemed like an eternity, we popped out of the woods, and did some light running down ski hill rd. I had to keep reeling Jen in as she was losing me on the road.

We rounded the lodge and, after nearly 36 long hours on the trail, came in to the finish with the biggest cheering crowd I've seen in my three years of doing these races. I don't recall any particularly strong emotions, just complete exhaustion, however the photos confirm there was a range of emotions in the minutes following the finish.. and confirm the exhaustion (thanks to Guy and Helen for snagging these)

The Finish 35:45:52

Seconds later... Extreme exhaustion

Yet a few seconds later... Elation!

And lastly, a surprisingly normal looking picture...

I'll post more on lessons learned down the road, this is enough for this post. I'm still trying to digest what happened throughout the race. However I was thrilled to be among the 36 of 70 starters to finish on a tough day, completing a several year old goal. Although things certainly didn't go perfectly, I was very happy that I was able to adapt and make it to the end, with lots of help from Jen and friends.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Superior 50K Race Report

Jen and I took the kids up to Lutsen for the Superior 50K weekend. As I remarked to many people on the trail, Saturday was Jen's birthday, and she was gracious enough to offer to spend it on the North Shore and support me in the race. We had our new camera along and took about 500 pictures throughout the weekend and had a great family trip, despite the often disagreeable weather.

Friday night after we settled in to our room at the Caribou Highlands, I left Jen and the kids to enjoy the fire and I went down to the packet pickup and race briefing to get my essentials and visit with old and new friends. After the briefing, I headed back to our room. I went out on the balcony to take a few shots of the mountains just as the rain and wind really picked up. It would rain and the wind would howl pretty much all night.

In the morning, I put on my clothes, including some extra layers I hadn't anticipated ever needing at a May race, even on the North Shore. I still wasn't sure I'd need them, but am glad I brought them along. The start of the race on Ski Hill Rd was brutal. Very strong wind in the face as we ran up the road. I ran much faster than I normally would have just to get out of the wind and into the woods. Once in the woods, the wind only sounded menacing, constantly roaring through the treetops, but was seldom an issue. I was able to take my wind breaker off, but kept it around my waist for the rest of the race for fear that if anything happened to stop or slow me I'd quickly freeze.

The trail was at once familiar yet foreign to me. Looking down, it was all very familiar, but the woods around were hardly recognizable. Having never run the spring races before, I missed the foliage. I was shocked to find virtually no leaves on the trees when even 40 miles south there was pretty good coverage. At the briefing Donnie informed us that there would be about a dozen good sections of mud for us to play in, after the rain Friday night, it was more like 100, give or take a dozen. For the first half of the race I danced around the edges trying to stay dry. But on the way back, I realized I was wasting a lot of time. I was already drenched, and the mud had gotten significantly wider, so I just started plowing through it.

I ran the first section of the race quicker than I had planned. I'm not sure why, I had planned on taking it easy as my recent training runs have been far less than stellar and very unpredictable. I blame this on an overly aggressive return to normal running after Zumbro last month (lesson learned). I had low expectations other than to finish, and not put myself much further in the hole. I did plan on blasting through aid stations as quickly as possible. Partly for practice, and partly because I figured I'd need to make up time for a slow run.

After blasting through the first aid station in less than 30 seconds, I was still feeling pretty good so I kept up the faster than usual pace. I caught up to Steve Quick and enjoyed running with him and exchanging stories for 30 minutes or so. Still feeling good, Keith Krone passed us and I decided to see if I could hang with him for awhile and said good bye to Steve. Keith paused for something and I passed him and enjoyed some alone time in the woods.

For the next 30-45 minutes I had a serious need to go to the bathroom, but there was a woman not far behind me (didn't catch her name) that I felt like I kept pulling ahead of only to find her catch up shortly thereafter. I kept pushing harder hoping to get far enough ahead to have a solo bathroom break (with the lack of foliage, there wasn't any privacy to be had). Eventually I did, but the funny part about it was I met her after the race when she informed me that she was using me to push her pace by trying to keep up.. So there you have it, simple need for a bathroom break probably cut minutes off of both of our races :)

Later in this section the leader flew by me, I had hoped to be going fast enough to not see them until the last section, but since this guy shattered the course record, and was a good 15 minutes ahead of Andy in second place at this point, I didn't feel so bad.
I ran into Jen and the kids at the next aid station, and the kids were so cold they were waiting in the car. No matter, I was on a mission at this point, and I flew through the aid station again in less than a minute. I shot up to Carlton peak, shook the guy's hand at the top and headed back before he could finish asking if I needed anything. I checked my watch and it said 2:51. At this point I went from highly motivated to man on a mission. I had a real shot at breaking 6 hours, something that wasn't even on the radar for this race. I was just hoping to keep it under 7.

I got back to the Sawbill aid station in what seemed like no time to Jen and the kids waiting. Zoe was so excited she gave me a flying hug that almost took me out on the way to refill my drink. I hugged Xander and shot back out in roughly a minute. I grabbed a couple of gels figuring I'd need more energy since I was burning at a much higher heart rate than usual. I'm glad I did that as I ended up sucking down 2 gels in each of the last two sections when my legs started to feel heavy, and I never bonked and kept up the highest heart rate I've attempted in an ultra through the end.

In the second to last section while crusing down a hill I caught a root with my toe and took a good spill. Scraped up my leg and knocked the wind out of me, but thankfully everything was still functioning after a minute or so of shakeout. I continued on keeping close tabs on my energy, electrolytes, and hydration. I knew that even with my cushion, I couldn't make any mistakes if I wanted to break 6 hours. I hit the last aid station ready with bottle open, grabbing gels and heed, and I was off again. I checked my pace on the Garmin and it hadn't slipped much, was thrilled, I still had most of my cushion left, and I knew that I would need it in the last section with the monster climb coming up.

I pressed on through the last section, moving quickly, passing a number of 25k'ers, still feeling pretty good. I reached the big moose climb and just power hiked as best I could. It hurt like hell but I was making good progress and before I knew it I was at the top. The wind was wicked at the top of Moose, and that mile or so along the top was brutal. Once I started down the other side I could taste the finish. It's about that time I realized I forgot to turn the autopause feature off on my Garmin. The autopause feature is great for training, when you stop at a light or bathroom it pauses the timer until you start running again. I usually forget to turn it off for races which sucks because you start losing time with the race clock at every aid station or slow climb. I panicked, did a quick assessment of how long I thought I had paused, and realized it shouldn't be too bad since I flew through aid stations. I checked the real time, and it was only 4 min later than the timer. This was a bit of a relief, but who knows how close my time was to the RD's time at the start of the race. Either way, I wasn't going to miss 6 hours by a minute or something silly like that. I pushed as hard as I could for the last few miles. I ran most of the switchbacks up Mystery, something I've never done. I ran like hell from the top of Mystery, looking for the campsite that signals you are very near the end of the trail section. This campsite was much further than I remembered, either that or my fixation made it seem really far. I hit the river bridge and the road and hauled ass. I hit a 6:30 min/mi pace down the road to the lodge, a pace I can barely hit in a training run without 30 miles on my legs. I finally hit the lodge, rounded the pool and saw the timer, 5:55:29... Made it with time to spare, I was thrilled. Jen and the kids had just arrived, I nearly beat them, it was a great feeling.

So what did I learn from this race? Number one, as much fun as it is to take a break and visit at aid stations, you can make up serious time if you don't. Number two, having low expectations can make for a surprising performance. And lastly, I have learned I still have a very bad sense for the condition I'm in and apparently my brain is still wreaking havoc on my training. I had several crappy weeks of good then bad then good then terrible training runs. I don't know how or why I was able to run one of my best races after coming off of that, the mystery continues.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Get In Gear 10k / Zumbro Recovery (or lack thereof)

Get in Gear 10k

Yesterday I ran the Get in Gear 10k with Jen.  It was her first 10k after having started running roughly six months ago.  She did fabulously, I think she's a natural.  She started out at 11:30 min miles, and ended at roughly 11:30 min miles, running even splits throughout.  At the end, she felt like she was going to lose her breakfast crossing the finish line, so you know she picked the perfect pace.  She didn't get caught up in the throngs of people that went out too fast, and was rewarded by coming in much faster than she had anticipated.  
It was a lot of fun, I played roving photographer, running ahead at corners or other interesting locations to grab photos.  It was quite an experience being in a large road race for the first time in nearly 2 years,  the people just kept coming, and were everywhere for the whole race.  It was interesting as I'd nearly forgotten what it's like, I'm not used to having to negotiate people on all sides, other than to pass or be passed on the trail.  
It was very rewarding to help her through her first race.  Those of you that have been at races with me know that she is a fixture at every race supporting me.  I look forward to pacing others in their first 100 mile attempts in the future.

Zumbro Recovery

When I first decided to run Zumbro, I realized and accepted that if I finished, I'd probably be putting myself out of commission for much of the nice spring training weather.  I made the conscious decision that it would be worth it for a 100 mile finish.  Now that I have to live with that choice, and the race is behind me, I'm finding it a bit frustrating.  In my head when I made the decision, I assumed I'd have some new level of aches and pains from the 100 that would take a few weeks or a month to heal.  Instead, I found that my muscles healed quickly (within the first week),  but I'm now stuck in that frustrating state where my body feels fine but the engine just won't go.  I can only describe it as a feeling of overtraining, because last time I felt like this, it was due to overtraining.  I assume I basically burned out my endocrine system with the training and the race (even though I did a very good taper and showed no signs of this leading up to the race).  After a couple of days rest, I can go out and run a 6-7 mile weekday run at my normal pace and heart rate, but the next day I go out and the wheels fall off.  My pace is off by a minute or two, and my heart rate is much higher (~20 beats) for any given pace.  This happened to me this week.  Wed - 6.2 miles @8:40 pace @ 148BPM, Thu - 5.4 miles @9:43 pace @147BPM.  The numbers only tell half of the story, I felt like crap during the Thursday run.  I took Friday off, and ran Get in Gear with Jen on Saturday.  At the 11:30 pace we were going, I should have been idling my heart, but instead it was in the low 130's, which for me should have been a 9:30-10:00 pace.  On top of that, I run around with tired legs all day.  Oh well, I'm sure this is all normal for 2 weeks post first 100, but it's frustrating for someone who enjoys running most days.  I'm not concerned about missing out on critical training or anything like that, it's just that my daily runs are a quality of life issue for me.  Anyhow, I guess this is one of the less obvious sacrifices of running a 100 miler.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Late breaking hard lesson from the 100 miler

I've written much about my blister experience at Zumbro.  Within about 5 days after the race, they had healed over enough to begin running with minimal discomfort.  I thought great, that was not too bad.  Now I've had plenty of small to large blisters over my running career.   Usually they come and go with little issue.  Often times they burst and still come and go with little issue, so I've been lulled into this false sense of security that things don't often go wrong with blisters.  Wrong answer...  2 days after returning to running, the blister on my left foot felt like it had returned.  I inspected the area and it seemed pretty well healed over, no signs of a traditional blister, but it was sore to walk on nonetheless.  The next day both the right and the left are feeling somewhat sore to walk on, and my left leg has a mysterious pain in the hamstring area (mysterious because I hadn't run in 2 days and it was a significant discomfort).  

Well it turns out running on popped blisters for 8 hours with dirty, sweaty feet then coming home in a tired stupor and taking a half ass shower before crashing for a day and a half might just be too much neglect.  The right thing to do would have been to clean them out better, put some antibiotic on them, and bandage them for a day or two.  Instead, both have ended up with an infection, and the pain in my leg is likely a swollen lymph node responding to the infection.  I went to the doctor and got antibiotics for such things, and it seems to be heading in the right direction now a day later, but I've been off my feet for 2 days already, and probably a couple more to come when my legs and spirit are more than ready to return to running.  Oh well, another hard lesson learned.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Lessons from my first 100 miler

Things I learned from my first 100 mile race, notes to myself for future races, something for others to consider in preparing for their first 100 miler:

1) Powerful lights make a big difference, both in safety and confidence.  I researched my old headlamp quite extensively, the Black Diamond Icon.  It got great reviews, but I found it to be not very bright.  In spotlight mode, it was way too small of a spot, lighting up maybe 18" wide of trail when pointed on the trail ahead of me, and flood mode was just too dim to be useful for anything but roads.  My new headlight, a Petzl Myo XP is awesome, easily 2-3x as bright, lasts many hours (much longer than 1 night), and lights up a good 6' swath of trail brigher than the old 18" spot.  It also has a flood setting that casts a lot of light over a large area, great for the gravel road trail sections.  My other new light is a Fenix P3D handheld.  This thing is insanely bright at a level which lasts 6 hours.  Since the headlamp was so bright, I only used the Fenix for the really technical sections (mainly rocky climbs / descents).  This was perfect as carrying a handheld all the time can get tiresome.  I couldn't be happier with this combo.

2) Carry a backpack or hydration pack with storage on a hundred miler.  I typically switch off between my Camelbak M.U.L.E. and my Nathan dual bottle belt in ultras, but since this race was in cooler weather with relatively frequent aid I opted for the bottle belt only.  I wished I had the Camelbak during the race as there are many times I wished I had carried more of my own food, and although I got lucky in that I grabbed the right amount of clothes for the evening, I almost didn't and it would be helpful to have carried a lightweight jacket in the backpack.

3) Bring / wear more clothes in colder weather than you're accustomed to.  I brought clothes that I typically wear to run in the 20's and 30's, however when I'm training, I bust out the door starting out cold, warm up, and at the end pop back into a warm house.  During the 100, I was moving much slower at night than usual and nearly froze.  Stopping at aid stations to do maintenance was risky as well because you get cold very fast, it's not like popping into a warm house when you stop running.

4) Adding on to number 2, bring more of my own snacks on the trail.  Although the aid stations were well stocked, there were occasions where they didn't have anything out that was too appealing, or times when I was between aid stations and found my stomach growling like crazy.  I brought some Shot Bloks for the first time on a race, and they helped a few times (and went down much better than gel), but I didn't have them for the whole race.

5) Bring a full size larger shoes in case needed later in the race.  OK, I've heard this one a million times and thought I heeded it, I brought some shoes that are pretty large on me, but by mile 80ish when I put them on, even they were a bit tight.  My blister problems went downhill from there, might have been better had I had looser shoes.  Looks like I'll have to invest in a pair of "late 100 mile" only shoes.  In theory they should last forever if that's the only place I wear them.

6) Come more prepared to deal with blisters.  I brought an aid kit I'd put together of various blister remedies, but never having had to deal with them in any serious way in the past most of it was untested.  I assumed duct tape would stick no matter what, found out that it comes right off with a little sweat.  I picked up some tagaderm that Lynn Saari recommended, saying it should stay on no matter what.  I'm still not sure what caused the blister outbreak.  I was well hydrated and up on electrolytes at the time as it was late in the night and cool.  Might have been the shoe change, but I can't remember if I put the shoes on before or after they popped up.  They started as really deep blisters in the ball of my foot so I wonder if it wasn't just internal pounding, they didn't appear to be from any sort of external rubbing.  They didn't start till after mile 70 either, I figured if i made it through the day with the heat, sweat, and my 2 pairs of  hole ridden shoes that had roughly a beach worth of sand in them half the day that I would be fine for the duration.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Trail Mix

I took the family out to watch the end of Trail mix for a bit today. Hyland park has what my kids call the most amazing playground ever, so it was an easy sell. We hit a couple geocaches as well so all in all it was a great day. The weather was lovely as well. I would have loved to run today, but although I feel like I'm recovering remarkably fast from Zumbro last week, I'm definitely not up for 50k this weekend.

We watched the finish from about 4:45 - 5:45 until my kids announced they would mutiny if we couldn't get to the play area. They lasted longer than I expected as it was, but they were having fun throwing stuff in the lake for an hour.

We joined Wayne and Kurt down by the lake cheering poeple on. We saw Karen Gall, Steve Quick, Carl Gammon, Nolan Barrios, and a few others that I recognized but don't know their names. Val Larosa was out running two large dogs, which seemed like a feat worth cheering for on its own, they looked like they could pull her into the lake in a second if they saw something worth chasing after!

Steve was my hero today, out there slugging it out with a great 5 hour even finishing time after having completed Zumbro last weekend, what a trooper. Carl finished with his first sub 6 hr 50k "since he was a youngster" Great job to all!

A few more photos.