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.

Zumbro 100

After reading and enjoying everyone's running blogs, I feel like I should give it a shot. It may only serve as a place to keep race reports, but we'll see how it goes. I'll start this off with my report for my most recent and most significant running accomplishment to date, the completion of the Zumbro 100 Mile Endurance Run. It was my longest run to date, and probably fittingly, my longest race report to date.

If you want the "picture is worth a thousand words" short version, here are the race photos I collected.

The Setup

My goal of running a 100 mile trail race was hatched within the hours following my first trail ultra, the 2007 Superior 50 mile. The personal sense of achievement and satisfaction I received from completing that race led me to believe that running the 102 mile version of that race might be one of the few things that could top it. With that goal in mind, I signed up for four other ultras the next year to continue my learning, and prepare for the big day. By the time last fall came around, due to several minor nagging injuries, I didn’t feel like I had gotten the training in that I needed to attempt the 100, so I signed up for the 50 again. At the end of the 2008 Superior 50, I felt like I had something left in the tank and was determined that I was going to do it in 2009.

With that as a backdrop, I immediately set my sights on running an “easier” 100 before Superior this year. I considered Kettle, and FANS, and then one day heard rumor that Larry was planning a new 100 in the spring. Perfect I thought, a Larry race early in the year that I could take my first shot at, and if it didn’t work out, I still had Kettle or FANS or other races to fall back on. I shot Larry an email in February, and he replied that he was in the final approval stages and that it would be on April 10-11. Well I was a bit stunned to find it would be so early, I was hoping for May, but I figured, what the heck, I kept a good base going through the winter, I’ll ramp up my training over the next month, and if nothing breaks, I’ll give it a shot. Long story short, I was able to nearly double my training in March, and nothing broke (a first for a big ramp up for me). So with roughly a week and a half to go, I sent in my registration and started sweating the details and fretting over every minor ache and pain.

I lined up a pacer (Molly Cochran), and Jen agreed to crew (as usual) and volunteer at the main aid station over night so that she’d have more to do than wait for me to come through every so many hours.

I spent nearly the entire day before the race packing, repacking, checking lists, etc. I've been burned by forgetting something important in the past, so I was determined to get it right this time. I ended up with a carload of stuff by the end!

I scored a ride down to the event with Londell early Friday morning as Jen and Molly and my friend Jesse wouldn’t be coming down until the evening and I didn’t want my car there as well. I got up at 4am on race morning to catch my ride, the beginning of one of the longest days of my life.

Londell and I arrived roughly 45 min before race start to a small gathering of some familiar faces, and some new faces around a campfire. Larry, the race director, did his usual pre-race spiel, explaining the general shape and directions for the 20 mile figure 8 loop we’d be doing 5 times, and we lined up at the start. There were 18 starters, the smallest race I’ve ever lined up with. There was some light hearted jockeying for position at the start because with the small field, most of us were closer to the front than we were comfortable with.

And They're Off! Loop 1 0 - 20 miles

Larry said go, and we were off. The first section was a 5.7 mile loop. Of that, 1.7 miles was an out and back, with a loop at the end. The 3.4 miles of out ad back was pancake flat along the river and easily runnable. The loop in the woods had some rolling hills, but was also quite runnable and reminiscent of the trails I train on at Lebanon. All in all at this point I was thinking this is great, just what I wanted, an “easy” 100, very similar to my usual stomping grounds. I ran this first loop primarily with a group of 3 Canadians, and for awhile I felt like I was running a race in a foreign country as the conversation around me was all pretty foreign to me, it was a cool experience.

After getting back to the start area, I stripped off my jacket and thermal shirt as it was heating up fast, and traded in for a short sleeve shirt. I was a little concerned as I headed out that I had gotten a little too aggressive with the clothing reduction, but as the day went on there was much sun and little wind and I was very happy with my choice.

As I left for the big portion of loop 1, I ran into Steve Grabowski whom I had chatted with before the race and met briefly at other races. He introduced me to Mitch Rossman who was with him, and these guys became my running posse for the rest of the day. We ran a mile or two into the first loop when we came to an unmarked intersection. We quickly realized we were off course, the first time in my racing career, and I started to get worried. Not to fear though as Mitch was experienced at navigating and whipped out a map and just about the moment we figured out where we went wrong, a cart came down the path and pointed us back in the direction of the turn. I don’t know how we and so many others missed it. It was marked with many flags, oh well, only a ¼ mile detour. As the day went on, I learned that Mitch was involved in just about every outdoor sport imaginable at one time or another, and has a basement to rival an REI, I felt like I was in good hands for navigating this new course.

As we headed down this trail, the footing quickly turned to sand and loose dirt and began the first of many climbs to come. This section was one of my least favorite. It wound around for quite awhile, did quite a bit of climbing and descending, was largely sandy dirt, and was chewed to bits by bobcat treads. It wasn’t pleasant, and my shoes were quickly filling with sand. I immediately regretted leaving the gaiters at home.

Once we got out of the sand / tractor trail, we cruised down a nice long leaf covered descent. This would be the character of much of the trail to come, leaves, leaves, and more leaves. I swore I’d hear leaf crunching in my head for weeks after listening to it for so long during this race. To amplify the leaf problem, many of the trails were eroded 3 to 12 inches (or several feet in some cases) and these were great at catching several inches of leaves and sticks for us to run in. In general this wasn’t a big deal, but once in awhile the leaves hid rather large loose rocks which were fairly dangerous. We got pretty good at spotting rocks and slowing down, when someone spotted a rock hiding in the leaves they’d call it out and we’d all slow down and be careful, it was like seeing a shark fin in the ocean.

After descending the hill, we went right back up the next bluff, climbing a large, rock covered hill. Many of the hills from here on out were steep and covered in loose rocks which was particularly treacherous on descents. These rocks weren’t smooth and firmly buried, they were loose and had sharp edges. Slipping on one and falling on its friends would not be pleasant.

After some time of going up and down and around the bluffs, we came to another big rocky climb. At the top of that climb started what I like to call the Adam Harmer section because it reminded me of his self made RTA trails. The flags just led us off into the woods with no apparent trail. I noticed some of the 100k’ers described it as a deer trail, but I assure you that was only because of a day’s worth of runners on it, by the end of day 2 it looked almost like a trail, but the first time through it was nothing! Most of it wasn’t too bad if you were careful to avoid the thorny vines, but the descent at the end proved a bit challenging as it was at a very uncomfortable angle (especially painful on loop 5).

After following the trail that we popped out onto for another mile or so, we popped out onto a gravel road that quickly led us to the first aid station (a long 5.5 miles from the start). We refueled and headed back out.

The next section was 6.1 miles long, and the first 2/3 of it were pretty tame with some runnable trail along the bottom of the bluffs. Eventually it turned up into the bluff though and did some zig zagging back and forth over some largely runnable trail, eventually coming to another steep rocky climb. The trail then ran along the top of the bluffs for awhile, eventually coming to one of my least favorite descents, another long rocky descent which hurt like hell by the final loops.

After running through the woods a bit more we popped up onto a road or wider trail, about ½ mile down that road we hit the final aid station. I learned they were the Sonju crew from Superior. They looked like they’ve been doing aid station duty for years, the place was decked out with holiday lights, and they had several crock pots going with food I was looking forward to on later loops. This was going to become my favorite aid station. As the day / night went on I ate some fantastic hash brown potatoes with cheese, and even French toast in the morning.

Departing that aid station led immediately to what Mitch dubbed the “signature climb” of the race. It went straight up with a few short breaks to the top of the bluffs again. There were a few parts where use of hands was almost necessary. This was the final 2.7 mile section. It was short but difficult. After several long climbs we ran down some long sections of 2 foot deep eroded trail. Every so often there would be a big log or root sticking out of the side. I remember thinking that if gone unnoticed, one could easily break their leg. I worried a bit about the 100k’ers that would be hitting it in the dark for the first time.

Finally this section wrapped up with the ant hill. This was my least favorite descent of the race as it was steep and particularly rocky. After that descent there was a bit more running through the woods, then a short jaunt down the road to the start/finish aid station. Although this section was the toughest, it also had the best scenic views.

Loop 2 20-40 miles

We quickly headed out for loop 2, doing the first 5.7 mile section in a hurry. When we returned to the start / finish I made my biggest mistake of the day. Anxious to take off with my posse, and taking more time then them, I slammed a 16 oz Starbuck’s mocha frappucino drink. It had worked well in training for caffeine, sugar, and a bit of protein, but slamming it is NOT a good idea. I immediately noticed that my stomach was sloshing more than my bottles. Loop 2 was a lot like loop 1, I spent the whole loop with Mitch and Steve, but I spent the entire loop with horrible, stabbing gas pains from all the air I had gulped down. I even started to dehydrate a bit because it hurt too much to put anything, including more fluids into my stomach.

Thankfully that eventually passed around the end of the loop (several hours later). We went through the start / finish, said hi to Kevin, Steve’s brother / pacer, and headed back out for the first section of loop 3.

Loop 3 40-60 miles

After returning from that loop, the posse split up. I ate a much needed cheese sandwich, grabbed a long sleeve shirt as it was getting close to dark, and grabbed my lights. Mitch decided to hang back for a more substantial meal and I headed out for the rest of loop 3 with Steve and Kevin. I was happy to stick with them as I’d never run in the dark alone before and quite frankly was a bit nervous (partly because of the dark, and more so because I didn’t want to get lost in the dark). At the last minute as we departed, Steve ran back to the aid station to grab something.

I ran on ahead figuring they’d catch me shortly, or I’d bank a bit of distance on them so I could take it easy on the first hills. I ended up staying just far ahead of them enough that periodically I’d hear their voices and feel comfortable that I had company. As time went on I was feeling really good so I kept pushing, and as dark came, I clicked on my new lights, and wasn’t really nervous. Partly because I had just demystified the experience, and partly because my new lights could compete with the sun, I was very happy with them. I blinded numerous aid station workers until I realized I needed to shut my headlamp off while hanging around the aid stations. Steve mentioned that a local was messing with him in the dark. Had that happened to me, it probably would have scared the crap out of me and set my “running in the dark” fear I had just overcome back into high gear. Luckily the only locals I saw were a couple of ATV riders. They were a bit unnerving though as they descended one of the steep hills as I was climbing it in the dark. Later on I’d run into them again on the road. When they kicked up the dust I was blinded as my powerful headlight would just light up dust right in front of my face, I had to go on handheld only for awhile to see where I was going.

After awhile I no longer heard Steve and Kevin’s voices, and was no longer concerned about the dark, or getting lost, as Larry’s reflective flags were very easy to see, much easier than during the day even. I spent the rest of the loop alone in the dark. One notable thing about this course was the silence when you stopped. Occasionally there were animal sounds, but there was no water along most of the course so no frogs, and this early in the season there were few bugs. When you stopped moving often it was dead silent, very strange. Meanwhile, I felt really good and kept pushing the pace. I ran into Wynn at an aid station who said I was really moving well, and I ran into Steve Quick towards the end of the loop who commented on how fresh I sounded. I took both as good signs and was even more emboldened. On top of that, I was also driven by the fact that I would be seeing my wife Jen, pacer Molly, and friend Jesse who would be at the end of the loop when I arrived.

At the end of the loop I ran into the arms of my wife giving her a big hug. She’s seen me through every race I’ve been in thus far, and I was thrilled to see her, having missed her usual aid station appearances during the first 60 miles. I had the added bonus of seeing all the 100k’ers preparing for their midnight race start as I arrived around 11:30PM. It was really cool to get to see them all for a few minutes and hear their words of encouragement. I tried to give Matt some warnings about the few dangerous downhills as I know he likes to bomb down hills, and I was concerned about the booby traps in the dark. I’m sure it came off half incoherent, but my ultra brain felt it necessary at the time.

Loop 4 60-80 miles

Jen whipped me up a delicious grilled cheese sandwich and Molly and I took off on loop 4. Molly had forgotten her lights, so she was using my old headlamp. Seeing it side by side with my new headlamp reaffirmed my decision to buy the new one, there was no comparison, the new one completely drowned out the old one. Molly was her usual energetic, easy to talk to self. She was a phenomenal pacer and made the rest of the race so much better. I haven’t run with Molly in awhile, but in 14 hours of running, we caught up on anything and everything!

After looping back to the start / finish, Steve and Kevin were there so the 4 of us took off together for awhile. We parted company with them at the first aid station because Steve’s stomach was bothering him. He looked pretty rough, but he had tons of time and was in the capable hands of his brother, an experienced ultra runner, and I didn’t doubt he’d be up and out of there and finishing. Stomach problems are hell at the time, but if you’re ahead of cutoffs and have a little time, are the easiest thing to remedy I’ve found (unlike physical injuries). I had started to develop a blister on the ball of each foot out of the blue after having no problems all day. I took my shoes and socks off and tried to drain them, but both were too deep so I covered them with duct tape and hoped for the best.

As we headed out, the trail got very cold as the night went on, colder than the forecast had predicted, down into the 20’s. Food and drink was freezing at the aid stations and there was frost on the trail. Some of the low areas were very cold. I was very fortunate to have grabbed my fleece for this loop, thinking I wouldn’t need it, but ending up surviving on it. I learned that I need to dress quite a bit warmer for the temp in a long race like this as I’m not moving nearly as fast as I usually am in those temps and not generating nearly as much heat. Finally the sun started coming up in the last section of loop 4, it was really awesome to see the sun come up from first signs of twilight on the horizon to full sunrise.

Unfortunately, as loop 4 went on my blisters hurt more and more, and at the very end of loop 4 the bigger one burst and hurt like hell. Worst pain I’ve ever felt running, it felt like someone shoved a hot poker in my foot. Luckily I was very close to the start aid station, so I hobbled on in. Loop 4 was definitely the low point as it got late, cold, and my legs really slowed.

At the start / finish aid station, I took my shoes and socks off again and was able to fully drain both blisters as they had both grown substantially. I put some duct tape on them again, put my last pair of socks on, and switched into my last pair of slightly larger shoes. Larry came over and mentioned to me that he’s run 50 miles on blisters and that if I just keep going, they’ll go numb. It was not the most encouraging prospect, but after 80 miles, there was no way blisters were going to stop me from finishing.

Loop 5, the Victory Lap 80 - 100 miles

Molly and I headed out on the first part of loop 5. It hurt like hell at first, but eventually the pain dulled. They were far from numb, but it was tolerable. With the sun back up, life had returned to my legs, and we ended up doing what felt like a lot more running on loop 5. The blisters hurt the same running or walking, so there was no need to walk for their sake. After returning to the start from the first part of the loop, I took my shoes off again to do one last blister treatment before heading out for the last 15 miles of the race. When I pulled my socks off, the duct tape I had just put on fell right off due to the sweat, so I opted to liberally cover the ball of my foot and toes with body glide and hope for the best.

Molly and I headed out for the final 15 miles with one last grilled cheese from Jen. I knew if I made it out of the start that last time, I wouldn’t be coming back until I’d finished. Never once did I consider quitting, even though there are many opportunities as you end up back at the car 8 times during the race. The last loop was fairly uneventful. It warmed up quickly. We went from freezing on loop 4 to quite hot by the end of loop 5. I let things go a bit as it warmed up and the end was nearing, I ended up fairly dehydrated in the last couple hours (I discovered after the race was over). I discovered it’s hard to keep track of hydration and electrolytes late in the race as temperatures swing quickly and your brain is fried, and your really fixated on finishing. In the grand scheme, the finish seemed imminent on the last loop, however it was still over 6 hours of running, plenty of time to get in trouble!

Kim Holak passed us just before the last section, going on to win the 100k. Molly and I got to chat with Andy Holak for a bit at the last aid station, have seen him in passing but never formally introduced, looking forward to his race this fall.

My blisters got worse and worse on this last loop, and a new one seemed to pop up every few miles. In the last 2.7 mile section another one burst on my little toe, which precipitated another 10 min of excruciating hobbling until it sort of “went numb”. This seemed particularly punitive with only 1 mile left in the race. The final descent of the ant hill was also cruel and unusual punishment in the last mile with my blisters and tired legs. I kicked a rock or two which hurt like hell, and every step down that hill was excruciating with my blistered toes getting smashed into the front of my shoes over and over.


When we finally popped out onto the road for the last time, I found myself determined to run for the finish regardless of the fact that my feet hurt like hell and the road went uphill. I crossed the finish line to the cheers and clapping of friends. I had worn my Garmin for the first several loops, even trying to keep it alive with a USB AA battery charger, but it had long since died. I had very little concept of time most of the race other than overhearing someone say the time before leaving on my last loop. I did some ultrabrain math out on the trail and figured I would be finishing over 30 hours, but to my surprise, Larry told me I’d finished in 29:28. I’m fairly certain I did the last loop faster than loop 4, perhaps quite a bit faster (at least perceptually).

Larry congratulated me and presented me with my first 100 mile buckle, and to my shock, an age group award. Given the fact that this race was so small, and several in my age group had dropped out, I managed to receive the award. It was a really cool surprise to top off a great first 100 experience.

I was hoping for an “easier” 100 before Superior this fall. I went out to Zumbro with the mistaken impression that this would be something like Afton, or a bit easier. To my surprise, not only was it quite a bit harder than Afton, it was a lot closer to Superior than Afton. Superior may have a fair bit more climbing, but for once, I’m looking forward to the footing at Superior, with all of its immovable rocks and roots.

On a final note, I just want to say thanks to all the volunteers that made the race possible. They certainly outnumbered the runners, which is an awesome show of support for such a small inaugural group. This may have been the first running of this race, but it came off like a race that has been around for years.