Saturday, April 18, 2009

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.


Steve said...

Awesome and extremely detailed recap, Zach! I'm so glad I was there to share in your first 100-mile experience.

Londell said...

Glad you joined the blog world... Look forward to reading what is next, and what has been accomplished...

Helen said...

Great report Zach! And a great race. Congrats again.

SteveQ said...

I'm a little late in getting to your blog, but it's been worth the wait! Sounds like, excepting the blisters, you had a perfect first 100. Now, Sawtooth... that'll make a nice second.

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