Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mohican Trail 100 Mile Run


How to Use Races as Training Runs for a 100 Miler


From Couch to 100 Miles in Just 15 Years

Part I: Mohican Trail 100 Mile.

Race Web Site.

Video from 2013. Like my pictures, it doesn't really capture the difficulty of the trails.

Logistics: This is held in Mohican State Park in Loudonville, Ohio. It's very hilly trails - nearly 13,000 feet ascending, and 13,000 feet descending. Very technical -with lots of roots and little stumps and rocks. Some hills very steep - hands on thighs. (I realize that when I say words like "hilly" or "technical," that it's relative. For ME, this race was very hilly and very technical! Not that I haven't done others as hilly and technical, but not this hilly, this technical, AND this long!)

For non-runners, to get a sense of how hilly this was, compare to the Boston Marathon, which is considered hilly among major marathons. Boston has 783 feet of elevation gain and 1225 feet of elevation loss. (Being a point to point race, overall it's downhill.) Mohican is 13,000 feet up and down! And while uphill causes you to slow down and uses energy, it's the downhill that destroys the thighs (quads). Having said THAT, there are many ultras that make this look pretty flat.

Course Map.

Preparing my drop bags the night before the race.

Temps were IDEAL: 50's - 70's. Never too hot or too cold. Cloud (and tree) cover made it unnecessary for sunscreen. Humidity was through the roof though. In fact we started running in fog.

Race start: 5:00am, so about an hour in the dark, but needed lamps even longer because of dense foliage.  The course is four loops. Aid stations are roughly 5 miles apart. But the first two loops are slightly longer than the last two loops, because in loops 1 and 2, runners take a "long" route between two of the aid stations, and in loops 3 and 4, runners take a "short" route between aid stations. Thus loops 1 and 2 are about 27 miles, and loops 3 and 4 are about 23 miles. Actually loop 4 was about 0.7 miles shorter than loop 3.

5:00am Saturday. Time to Run.
Using a heart rate monitor, I started the race by keeping my heart rate as near to (or below) 140 as much as possible, but it often climbed over 150 just hiking up steep hills. It was quickly evident that the course was far more technical than I had anticipated! Endless roots and rocks. But I managed a nice pace running when the course was easy, hiking when not. We were often running on twisting and up and down mountain bike trails. Miles of them. I hit the first aid station (4-5 miles) in about an hour, and the second (another 4-5 miles) in another hour. These two sections were relatively runnable. Deb was working at aid station 2 so it was very nice to see her. Then I embarked on the long route (6.2 miles) to aid station 3, which was also muddy in places, involved climbing over trees and picking our way through rocks, and even climbing up the roots of a tree. This part had a lot of interesting scenic views so I took many pictures here on loop 2. This section took about 90 minutes.  At aid station 3 was a place where we had drop bags. Then I took about 90 minutes to get to aid station 4 - a 5.5 mile section that including a lot of difficult steep climbing, and then about 90 minutes back to the start (about 7 fairly runnable miles?) for a total of about 6:45 for loop 1. The last mile or so of this final part did include some pavement. Overall the loop probably had less than two miles of pavement. Thankfully, even though there was a downpour the day before, trails that drained well meant not a whole lot of mud. I never had to submerge my feet in water. However, it was so humid that my socks were completely soaked. I felt a couple of hot spots in my feet so I changed my wet socks with new dry socks to start loop 2. I was at the start (where we also had drop bags) for about ten minutes before heading back out for loop 2. I decided loop 2 would be ideal for taking pictures, and doing that would remind me to not go too hard, and to enjoy the journey.

Pretty mushrooms
Very forest-y.
Loop 2 was a replica of loop 1, except for a small difference at the start. Although it was mid-day, it never felt too hot. And I felt good. I was taking it very easy but felt I had a nice pace going. I saw Deb again at aid station 2 (about 36 miles into the race) and told her I felt as good as I did in loop 1. (Deb worked that aid station for nine hours!)
Deb working the aid station. Loop 2. About mile 36.
Most of the pictures were taken on loop 2, which was all run during the day. A lot were taken on that long route portion, which was picturesque.

There were a LOT of these roots.
But sometimes it was pretty runnable.
Down into here on the long route.
Waterfall. On the long route.
Just past the waterfall.
Also on the long route. We had to pick out way through this mess.
Fun to climb, straight up, at the end of the long route.
My only concern during loop 2 were the hot spots on my feet. I stopped at aid station 3 and put some 2Toms Blister Shield powder on my feet and continued on. I did loop 2 in about 7:35, 50 minutes slower than loop 1. Deb was here waiting for me with bug spray and encouragement, and after another 10 minutes I was heading out on loop 3. I had been out 15 hours so it was 8pm when starting loop 3, and soon to be dark. I was feeling fairly worn but not wiped out by any means, and I was over halfway done (about 54 miles). To finish in the 32 hour cutoff time, I had to do 46 miles in the next 17 hours. (I took off my heart rate monitor at this point. There was less chance I was accidentally going to go too hard from here to the end.) One nice psychological boost was knowing that the 6.2 mile long route from aid station 2 to 3 would be replaced by the 2.6 mile short route for the next two loops, a savings of 3.5 miles per loop.

Some folks say that you "can't bank miles" in an ultra, that it'll just burn you in the end. But in this case I think going out at a fairly decent pace was smart, because once the dark came full on, somewhere between aid station 1 and 2, running was nearly impossible for me. Too many roots and stumps and rocks to contend with, plus I was starting to tire. Thus I just walked. I think I changed socks again here at aid station 3 and powdered my toes again, and was starting to be rather annoyed by the blisters forming on my smallest toes. For some reason, walking was worse on the blisters than running, but of course I couldn't run anyway. The times from aid stations 3 to 4 and 4 to 5 seemed extremely long. All dark, all walking. Hilly. Alone. Of course at aid station 4, the last before returning to the start, I pepped up a bit. Periodically someone would pass me, or more rarely I might pass someone. I did pass one lady who was in a total death march, barely moving forward on robot legs, probably a few miles from the start. I asked if she was okay and she gave only a grunt. I feel rather bad now that I at least didn't ask if she wanted some of my water. I knew others were coming behind me and rather thoughtlessly left her to them if she needed anyone. I should have given her more consideration. Loop 3 took me about 8:10, only 35 minutes slower than loop 2, but of course it was about 3.5 miles shorter, due to the short route we took from aid station 2 to 3. But still that didn't seem horrible since I had walked so much. Nevertheless I was starting to feel a bit of a panic. My goal - pulled mostly out of thin air - was to finish lap 3 in 21 hours, with the idea that a 9 hour final lap would get me in at 30 hours. It was now over 23 hours, meaning a 9 hour final lap would be needed just to finish under the 32 hour cutoff! And on top of that, the blisters really hurt. So I decided to visit the on-site podiatrist. Yes, a podiatrist was there, with her students, during the whole race. It was now 3am and they were still there! They took 20 minutes to doctor up a couple of bad toes, on both feet. But that added to my "lost" time. It was now at nearly 23:30 that I set out on loop 4. I needed to finish loop 4 in 8:30, even though the previous lap took me 8:10. I was getting nervous. And my quads were starting to feel pretty beaten up. I didn't think I had much running left in me.

Fortunately I had two things going for me. Soon it would lighten up again, and also the final loop was even a bit shorter. 0.7 miles shorter, since the finish was before we would return to the start. On the other hand, running was starting to feel nearly impossible. Light or no light, a bit of panic set in and I did try to run some, but it was still hard until the sun came up at around aid station 2. From then on all I could do is whatever I could do. If could run a few steps, I did. If I could powerhike, I did. I tried not to fall into a slow casual walk. I was repeatedly calculating my finish time based upon previous times between aid stations. I was certain that the hills were now 2-3 times taller than they were on loop 1. I was pushing hands into knees to go up. I was going down steep hills very gingerly due to nearly destroyed quads. Whereas on all other loops I lingered at least momentarily at aid stations, I now pushed through them quickly. I hit the final aid station at about 29 hours, I think, leaving me 3 hours to finish, but it had taken me 2.5 hours on loop 3 (if my memory is right here). I knew I had 0.7 miles less than last time, but I was also barely able to move. My quads were history. Running was history. Powerhiking was nearly history. The mountain bike trails were so winding and gnarly and the forest dense enough that getting a sense of distance traveled was hard. I started seeing more mountain bikers - a good sign. And, finally, I popped out of the woods into a campground. I was close! Then I could hear the finish! It was across the street from me! I knew I still had to do another maybe 1.5 miles to get to the finish, but I was under 31 hours and knew I'd make it. At that point my legs just basically quit. I texted Deb and told her to start walking towards me (she was officially my pacer) and she met me with about a mile to go. I probably took nearly 30 minutes to do the last mile, and folks were running by me, but I didn't care. The last 1.5 miles had some short but very steep downhills, and I could barely get down them going sideways. But I just kept walking to the finish, and walked over the line. I made it with over 53 minutes to spare, in 31:06:24. My final lap had only taken me about 7:48, faster than I would have guessed. I imagine the night walking was slower than I had thought it was.

I finished 97th of 108 finishers, and of 192 starters. So 84 dropped out. I was 13th of 14 in men age 50-59 (who finished). But still for my first 100 miler, I was very happy!

Finishing 100 miles!!
Notes: For hydration I used a simple Amphipod water bottle held in a behind-the-back holder. Due to the not-too-hot weather, I never ran out of water. This REALLY was fortunate. I did have handheld bottles in my drop bag if needed, but it was nice to never feel horribly thirsty. I carried a little race pack also to hold my phone and a couple of gels and tablets.

For lights, I had my Petzl headlamp. However I realize now that maybe putting in the cheapest batteries isn't very wise. They lasted maybe 6 hours total, and since some of that was used in the morning, my light was dead by about 1-2am. Yes I had extra batteries, but also I had my Knuckle Lights, and those were sufficient to get me the rest of the way through.

In general, I took in a gel every 1-2 hours (starting at hour 2), although usually I get sick of gels after awhile, so I brought some Shot Blocks from home and started using them about 15 (?) hours into the race. I find blocks easier to swallow than gels after many hours. Also I consumed RIDICULOUS amounts of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at aid stations. I mean, at nearly every single aid station I had at least one square of one, if not 2 or 3. Probably the equivalent of about 8 sandwiches during the race. I drink water and Heed and sometimes Coke and Ginger Ale. I might eat some fruit and potato chips and grilled cheese and chocolate covered raisins. Just whatever seemed right, grazing as I went along. I had no stomach issues, thankfully. I took half a caffeine tablet at the end of lap 1 and every half lap until I started lap 3, then about every 2 hours. I took one Alleve at 7 hours, and another at 19 hours - for my feet.

Although stopping at the podiatrist cost me 20 minutes, I think it was worth it. They popped a blister and taped up three problematic toes. Had I not done this, I may have been far too hobbled to continue properly. Thankful they were there! I think I'm going to investigate toe socks...

By the way, I wore Hoka Mafates the whole race. Although I would like them a bit wider (which might reduce the blisters), I do believe they help with the foot pain, which can be a HUGE problem for me. My feet still hurt, but not as bad as if I wore other shoes, I believe. Plus I don't feel rocks stabbing into me with them on.

One thing: I was under the assumption that as long as you "kept moving" you'd be fine, that finishing the race would happen. Not so. I did not just "keep moving." I pushed for 31 hours, and I pushed hard. When not running, I was powerhiking, and pushing up the hills. My pace may have been a very slow pace at the end, but it wasn't for lack of effort. It just makes it more amazing to me that folks can do this in under 20 hours. I can't imagine they walk much at all - maybe only the steepest hills, and when they are running it must be at quite a gallop. This was confirmed by the fact that the race leaders passed me - doing their 4th loop, when I was about 2/3 done with loop 3. And yes they were flying along pretty well. Incredible.

Another thing: I don't really need to be with anyone when racing. I went 31 hours, completely alone other than at aid stations and when passing or being passed. That's not to say I don't like seeing people. I do. I pep up and get chatty at aid stations, but I also have no big desire to run with anyone. I like going my own pace and am okay with my own thoughts. Although, I did discover an annoying habit. Between aid stations, especially those with drop bags, I found myself reciting over and over what I needed to do at that aid station. For example, I might decide I was to put get some more Shot Blocks, get some Body Glide, take a caffeine, put in some eye drops, grab my clear glasses, get rid of the Knuckle Lights, and change socks. Thus, in alphabetical order I would say, "blocks body caffeiene eye glass knuckle socks." Over and over. Hundreds of times, maybe for two hours straight. I could not stop saying it (in my mind, not outloud). I would do that, and also calculate the probable time to the next aid station. I really could not stop myself from doing all this, although I wanted to. However, I never forgot to do anything at aid stations. I wonder if anyone else does this, or how they remember all the things they want to do at the next aid station? (Maybe next time I will write down everything in the drop bag so I can look at it when I get to the aid station, reducing the need to memorize so much.)

By luck, this race went pretty much perfectly. By that I mean I think I paced it all well. As I said above, I banked some miles during the day, allowing me to powerhike all night. Had I went much easier earlier in the race, finishing under 32 hours - the time required to finish to get a buckle, might not have happened. Amazingly, I never tripped, and I trip pretty easily.

I was also very lucky to have Deb watching over me all day! She brought me bug spray when I needed it and told me she was proud of me, even sending an encouraging text during the night. And she helped me get through the last mile when my legs just wanted to lie down and quit. For three days after the race, she took complete care of me. I was incapacitated. It's now five days since I finished. My quads are still not back to full strength.

Race splits: The race was slightly altered from years past, and the lap distances below were provided. Thus my were as calculated below. (I know the distances are not quite right.)

Loop 1, 27.2 miles, 6:49 15:02 min/mi

About 10 min between loops

Loop 2, 27.2 miles, 7:37, 16:48 min/mi (54.4 miles, 14.26, 15:55 min/mi)

About 10 min between loops

Loop 3, 23.6 miles, 8:21, 21:14 min/mi (78.0 miles, 22:47, 17:32 min/mi)

Maybe 30 min to fix feet

Loop 4, 23.1 miles, 8:19:24, 21:37 min/mi (101.4 miles, 31:06:24, 18:28 min/mi)

Total of 101.1 miles. Final time = 31:06:24

A few more pictures.

Deb worked nine hours at aid station 2! Got to see her there twice.
At the dam. We ran down this. Yet again on the long route.
This was a nice runnable section. On the long route.
Typical aid station. This one at the end of the long route.
This looks very nice, and it was, although it's more full of roots than it looks.
Also looks nice. Also hidden roots in there, everywhere.
The last aid station before the finish. Always nice to see!
More forest.
Legs destroyed, but I got a buckle!

Part II: Using Races as Training Runs.

The second title refers to the fact that to complete this race, I decided to schedule a bunch of races to use as training runs. Many races were fairly close - a few hours drive maybe, and pretty cheap. I have a confession: I like being noticed. In other words, if I can do 50K alone in training, or at a race, I'll choose the race (if it's fairly cheap and near). Why not? It also helps practice race-day tactics. I will run long on my own if I need to, but it's harder, I confess. I'm wimpy that way. Most of these races were B/C races - I did them with few days of taper. Zumbro was an A- race so a couple extra days of taper for that one. Only Mohican was an A+ race, with a two week taper.

Races I used to train for this:

First, I did an Ironman on September 21. That's mainly bike training, but it did mean I had a decent endurance base. But I did no trail running all summer, and typically ran only twice per week. (Note: cross training with triathlons was something I learned to do to make my *running* better. I had been running 5-6 times per week, and was constantly injured. Now I run 2-5 times per week, depending on the time of year, and replace runs with biking and swimming. And gym work. Much better for me.)

October 12: Running Village 50K up in Cedar Falls, IA. All trails, fairly flat, but good training. I remember I kept falling.

October 19: Des Plaines Trail Marathon near Chicago. All in gravel and again fairly flat. Just working on getting miles in.

November 10: Wildcat 50K at Wildcat Den in Muscatine, IA. A free (fatass) race - all trails and lots of little ups and downs. Deceptively hilly. I tripped a few times.

From this point on I purposely tried to pick hilly races:

December 7: Tecumseh Trail Marathon, Bloomington, IN. Well I signed up for this, but it was cancelled due to a snow storm. So I didn't get to do it.

January 11: Frozen Gnome 50K in Lake Crystal, IL. Like the Wildcat, lots of little ups and downs. Plus it was very snowy/icy which added to the effort.

February 8: Psycho Wyco 50K at Wyandotte County Lake Park in Kansas City, KS. Rocky, rooty, hilly trails. But again, so much deep snow that that was the major issue.

March 8: Land Between the Lakes 60K at Grand Rivers, KY. Fairly hilly trails. However large amounts of snowmelt caused rivers of water on the trails provided another major challenge.

April 12: Zumbro 50 Mile at Zumbro River Bottoms near Thielman, MN. This was a revenge race. I had my only DNF ever a year earlier. This race is VERY HILLY! More hilly per mile than Mohican, with 9300 feet of climbing and descending in the 50 miles. The race began well, but a HUGE rain storm hit halfway through, adding LOTS of water to the course, adding to the difficulty. So this was four races in a row where the course was very difficult due to snow/rain.

May 3: Tie Dye 32 Mile at John Bryan State Park in Yellow Springs, OH. Hilly trails.

May 4: Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati, OH. A road marathon, but hilly, and the day after the 32 mile, so the legs were very tired!

May 24: Booneville 100K in Booneville, IA. Gravel roads. Medium hilly.

So as you can see, I used 50K's, a 50 miler, a double race weekend of 58 miles, and a 100K to build up to Mohican. It *did* involve a lot of driving and some money, but it was worth it. If I were to do another 100 mile race and could do something like this again I probably would, but I would also have more confidence and might not feel the need to do so many races. But I enjoy them, so why not?

Along with these races, I just tried to fit in a lot of trail running, some spin classes or biking, swimming twice per week, gym sessions 2-4 times per week, and stretching nearly daily. There were also some cyclocross races and shorter running races I threw in. I like to race.

Finally: Miles per week in my training:

Week Ending, Miles (Race)

Jan 12, 41.3
Jan 19, 26.8
Jan 26, 27.1
Feb 2, 25.9
Feb 9, 40.1 (Psycho Wyco 50K)
Feb 16 26.4
Feb 23, 39.1
Mar 2, 31.0
Mar 9, 47.4 (Land Between the Lakes 60K)
Mar 16, 16.0
Mar 23, 45.2
Mar 30 20.6 (UIVA Warrior Challenge, a 4 mile obstacle race)
Apr 6, 30.2 (Red Shamrock trail run, 3.6 miles)
Apr 13, 61.2 Zumbro 50 mile
Apr 20, 16.2
Apr 27, 32.5
May 4, 65.6 (Tye Dye 32 mile on Sat, Flying Pig Marathon on Sun)
May 11, 18.1
May 18, 25.4 (Two races on Sat: Livefit for Lupus 5K, then Sunderbruch 10K trail run)
May 25, 69.4 (Booneville 100K)
Jun 1, 17.7
Jun 8, 32.0 (Kewash Half Marathon - most on gravel)
Jun 15, 23.7
Jun 21, 9.6 on M,T,W, then Mohican on Sat/Sun

I never once planned any miles per week nor calculated this until now. I just ran what I could run. Of course I also threw in a few spin classes, biking, two swims per week, and strength training and stretching.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Boonesville Backwoods Ultra 100K

...or the "Bridges of Madison County" 100K. In Booneville, Iowa (near Des Moines), on May 24, 2014. Of course, these bridges were made famous by the book and movie.

On May 24 (2014) I lined up with 21 other runners to try the inaugural Booneville Backwoods Ultra 100K.
Pre-race with Mike McElmeel and Larry Kelly. Photo courtesy of Mike McElmeel
There was a 50K race (and 50K relay) but I was in the 100K version. Some logistics about the course:

Maybe fairly uniquely, it is one big 100K loop. That's kinda nice. You never see the same thing twice. It was almost on all gravel roads, with a few miles of "Level B" roads thrown in, and a few more miles of pavement/asphalt here and there when going through small towns. Level B roads are really just two dirt ruts for (mainly trucks) to go down. They are a bit more technical, but nothing like a difficult trail race.

Level B road
The gravel roads were your basic country roads.

The race is hilly by road racing standards. There was 2900 feet of elevation gain and that much of loss, much of it in long medium-steep roads. While slowing me down some, they also provided me with natural walking breaks, so they weren't all that unwelcome.

The course was not difficult technically. Easy to run. Lots of gravel. Since I had on my Hoka Bondis, I didn't feel those rocks much. The level B roads were a bit more technical, and steep in points, but as I said, not a lot of that.

The aid stations were far apart, at about every ten miles. Between these were unmanned water/Gatorade drops. I had on my waist Camelbak and always managed to have enough fluids, usually a mixture of water and Gatorade.
At the beginning of the race, with my waist Camelbak. Photo courtesy of Mike McElmeel.
The aid stations were minimal but functional. Usually just water/Gatorade and gels, but a couple had more food like pretzels, bananas, and oranges.

The course was minimally marked as well with small orange flags at the numerous turns. But they made cue sheets for us which was actually very handy. I used them to think about how far until the next turn, which helped break the distance into small segments. No stretch was longer than about six miles, and most were significantly shorter, even down to 0.1 miles.

The weather was wonderful. Generally overcast, with a slight breeze. The first 2-3 hours were downright perfect (we began at 6:00am). Even in the warmest part of the afternoon when it was quite warm, it was bearable, in part thanks to fairly low humidity.

How the race went:

We all got our timing chip at the Booneville Bar/Waveland Cafe, in Booneville. We were then transported just a quarter mile or so (but over a highway) to the start point. After a starting picture and a few words from enthusiastic RD Steve Cannon, we were off. One guy took off like a bat out of heck. The rest of us stretched out, with me near the back. From the beginning I walked the hills and tried to pace myself, and in general things worked out well for me. No huge issues, although as usual I suffered from painful feet and near cramping in the legs (and arms, and anything). I tried to take in the scenery, something one can actually do when you're not concerned with tripping every five seconds, a drawback in technical trail races. There were usually people around me the first 10 miles or so. After that I was pretty much on my own (which I like), although I might see someone at an aid station or some distance from me.

We were allowed drop bags and I strategically had one at aid stations 1, 3, and 5 (10 miles, 30 miles, 53 miles). At 53 miles I grabbed a reflective vest (mandatory if you would be out past 7pm) and a headlamp although I thought I wouldn't need it, which I didn't. There generally were no portapotties at the aid stations. One had one. The rest didn't. But we did pass a few convenience stores. Luckily I didn't need one. I just watered the trees along the way here and there.

I ate very little solid food. I took in about one gel per hour. Other than that I had one Clif Bar, a few pieces of orange, a couple of pretzels, and a couple of fig Newtons. I drank quite a bit of Gatorade.

I enjoyed the Grant Wood scenery.

Everything was green, and the hills were rolling, and we passed creeks and farm animals here and there.

And of course we went through the bridges. Four of them I think. It's unclear to me if those are all of them or not. (Wikipedia lists six. Maybe we did not do Imes or Roseman?)

I pulled out my phone and took a number of pictures. I enjoy doing this. Not only does it remind me to enjoy my time out there and to not take it so seriously, but it also forces more breaks in my running, conserving my energy.

Late in the race. Sun getting low.
My final time was 14:05:21 (finishing about 8:30pm), good for 14th of 18 finishers and 22 starters. I'm happy to say I was still running at the end, which is a good sign. Plus my last 9 miles were at a faster pace than the previous 30. I was transported back to the bar where I had myself some excellent pizza before heading home. I recommend this race - if it is your style. It's not super epic or full of fanfare, and it's rather minimal in some ways, but it's more than a fatass. (If you want to know, we got chip timing and we all got a cotton t-shirt, but no medal, and only top 3 M & F got awards. That's fine with me. And the shirt is cool enough.) Periodically a guy on a motorcycle was driving by us, checking on us, as well as friends/relatives of other runners and aid station people, so I didn't feel alone in the wilderness. But the casual atmosphere was also its appeal. Just get out and run. If you're looking for a peaceful race with nice country scenery, an enthusiastic RD, great volunteers, and a course that's easy to run but with some hills to tackle, give this a try. It's moderately priced for what you get ($70, compare to a road marathon), and a great training run for a 100 miler (or so I hope), or it's a chance to go a little farther than 50 miles for the first time. Some folks may have felt the aid stations were too few and too minimal. Maybe, but I'm sure the RD will take that into consideration next time. No disasters on his first try? That's a success.

Some rough splits:

Mile 23, 4:37, 12:03 pace
Mile 42, 9:04, 14:35 for last 19, 12:57 overall pace
Mile 53, 11:56, 15:38 for last 11, 13:31 overall pace
Finish 62, 14:05:21, 14:20 for last 9, 13:38 overall pace

All done!
 Here is the full set of pictures on Flickr.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Zumbro 50 Mile Endurance Run

Photo credit Matt Wilson, looking down at the start/finish
A year ago, in 2013, I thought I'd try a 50 mile race, the Zumbro 50 Mile Endurance Run. The logistics of the run are as follows:

Location: Zumbro Bottoms Horse Campground, Southeastern Minnesota.

Time: April 13, 2013. Fun fact: The race begins at midnight.

Three 16.7 mile loops. 9300 feet of climbing and 9300 feet of descending total.

For a variety of reasons, I failed to finish.

1) After a couple of years of being chronically injured (mainly calf related), I was finally feeling fairly good. And for some reason, I had this weird idea that I could run a 50 mile race "any weekend." I think this is probably true for a 50K, but as we'll see, not a 50 miler.

2) I signed up just ten days before the race. I am not sure now why I decided to do this. But I did look over the web site and Facebook and saw something about a hilly race just four hours or so from me. So why not? The race description included the following:"All the snow should be gone and the trail should be in good shape, but once in awhile some patchy ice / snow and mud will linger." Sounds good. Of course, my mind skipped over this next part: "Be prepared for all weather and trail-conditions, watch the forecast and plan accordingly" and focused again on: "typically, this is a beautiful time of year to run in Minnesota." And there were lots of pictures of nice dry ground. That's still what you see on the race web site. I also looked on the Facebook site and saw no mention of snow or anything. Yes there was that 9300 feet of up and down, but those numbers don't translate well into my mind. And besides, I was only going to do 50 miles while others were doing 100! So 50 couldn't be that bad. So I signed up.

3) To get right to the point: Just after I signed up, people started mentioning a snowy course. Oh, well that's alright. I can run in snow. However things started to sound more and more nasty as race day approached. But I arrived, and, long story short, the course was A) WAY too full of ice and snow, and water and mud for me to handle, and B) WAY too hilly for me! Really, I cannot describe to you all the ice and muck we went through. I was woefully unprepared and gutted out two laps for 33.4 miles, and stopped with my tail between my destroyed and cramping legs. I could have limped another lap and finished by the 18 hour time limit since I finished the two laps in 9:30-ish,  but I vowed right there that I was going to come back the following year, more prepared.

Thus, I taped my bib above my door so I would see it every day, as a reminder. And I signed up for the race again on the day registration opened.

So, forward to April 12, 2014. I was better prepared and determined to finish no matter what the conditions or how much I had to walk. And fortunately it went much better. However, it was not without more drama! Here is a quick description of the day:

Many hills were extremely steep. Many roots. Endless rocks up to two feet across - embedded, or loose and slippery. (I didn't really know there would be so many rocks, since the snow and ice was so deep last year and covered them up.) Temps ideal (40's). No wind.

Loop 1: Fairly dry course, just a little mud. Finished in around 4:15. (4:15am)

Loop 2: About 1/3 the way in, rain began (about 5am), first light, then medium, then a heavy rain with lightning, thunder, and even hail. Ran for about 45 minutes in this thunderstorm through newly-formed rivers of mud and then the rain stopped just as I was finishing lap 2, at about 8:45am. Completely soaked, completely frozen, and shaking uncontrollably. Luckily I had a dry shirt to put on and a rain jacket and I got some soup. Finished lap about 8:45, but it took me 20 minutes to get out of there due to the shaking.

Loop 3: It didn't take long for me to warm up once I started running. (Although for a moment I thought my legs had seized up.) Light rain picked up for another 45 min or so and then stopped and temps moderated, but course was a muddy monster. There were rivers of mud and muddy lakes. Many downhills were nearly impossible to navigate. Most of the course involved slipping and sliding with each step. Fun playing in the mud!

So, Lap 1 in about 4:03. Lap 2 in 4:45. Lap 3 in 5:20 (20 min of that just trying to change shirts and stop shaking after Lap 2).

My time of 14:08:40 placed me 44th of 62 finishers. 2nd of 5 in the Male 50+ division. Not sure yet how many started, but 140 signed up. And at least 86 (but maybe more) finished the first Lap 1.

By the way, just to give you an idea of the difficulty of this race: I've done Potowatomi 50 in 11:22, and Ice Age Trail 50 in 9:29!

Below are some pictures. Before looking, note that some were used (with permission) from Zach Pierce Photography.

Some great pics here, although none of these photos capture what some of the uphills, and especially downhills, turned into after the rain, but envision a single track trail, full of rocks and 4-6 inches of slippery sloshing mud, twisting and winding nearly straight down, often with a cliff on one side. Completely treacherous! The only way down was to sit or to grab branches to keep you upright, or to skitter off the trail completely into the woods.

With buddy Garrett pre-race
My cheering section!

Hills aplenty. Photo credit Zach Pierce
Rocks aplenty too! Photo credit Amanda Runnion
Running up high. Photo credit Zach Pierce

Tunnels. Photo credit Amanda Runnion
Photo credit Jennifer Sikes
Photo credit Amanda Runnion
Long stretches of sand. Where does it come from? Photo credit Amanda Runnion
No end of rocks. Photo credit Kevin Langton
Looking down at the start/finish at the campground. Photo credit Janet Gray
Photo credit Todd Rowe
Photo credit Jennifer Sikes
Pictures can't do the steepness of the hills, up and down, justice. But this gives you an idea. Photo credit Amanda Runnion
Photo credit Amanda Runnion
Photo credit Amanda Runnion
After the rain. Photo credit Jennifer Sikes
Lots of this after the rain. It was smartest just to run down the middle of it. Photo credit Amanda Runnion
Lots of this. Shoe sucking mud. For real. Mine nearly came off a few times. Photo credit Jennifer Sikes

Photo credit Amanda Runnion
Photo credit Janet Gray
My motto all day
A muddy success! Neat medals.
View from the start/finish. We ran in those hills.
With race director John Storkamp