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!


Eric Skytte said...

Great race and great report Zach! Congratulations again. Look forward to seeing out running sometime soon.

Carl Gammon said...

Yee ha! Nice job and nice report. I even got an honorable mention and a picture. I had fun being at the aid station. Not as much "fun" as you, of course.

bryan said...

Awesome job! You looked really strong out there. Great report.

SteveQ said...

I just got back from watching Trail Mix. Everyone was asking when I was going to race again; now your report has me remembering WHY I do these things.

Congrats on a great race!

Kel said...

I thought you looked strong coming in to the finish. Congrats on finishing another tough race!

Steve said...

Great report and race, Zach. Only a guy with your patience and discipline could finish a 100 miler this early in the season without putting in the long runs. I'm looking forward to seeing how you'll do at Kettle with some miles in! And congrats on defending your title. Now the pressure is on to 3-peat next year. ;-)

John W. Taylor said...

Great job Zach!!!

Scott said...

I live in fear of blisters. I have never had trouble with them, which means no experience so I'm sure they will take me down one of these races! That was a great experience, glad I got to see you at least at the start and finish. Jen's AS was great, the home cooked food was very welcome at various points during the race.

No Superior on your list this year? That's probably my next event, unless schedule changes over the summer.

Nice job at Zumbro - good looking hardware!

Anonymous said...

Great report, Zach! Thanks for letting me experience some of the trail with you!


Matthew Patten said...

Great report Zach.

I had a good time out there with you. That silence we shared was interesting.

You got 3 in a row on me now.

Question is..... what are you going to put on the table for IA50?

Unknown said...

Great race report! Each time I saw you, you had a huge grin on your face. Obviously ultras agree with you! ;)

oakley said...

This race photos are great...

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