06/04/2016 – Kettle Moraine 100 Miler – La Grange, WI
From the Kettle Moraine 100 website:
The original 100-mile course had been reconfigured several times, but has remained essentially unchanged since 2002 or so. The backbone of the course has always been and will be the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Forest. The description of the course by Peter Gagarin, reported in Ultrarunning Magazine in 1996, still rings true:
“The Ice Age Trail rolls and turns and twists through southeastern Wisconsin, in places a bit rocky and rooty and nasty, in places the most beautiful pine-needle-covered trail you could ever hope for; in places a steady progression of short, sharp ups and downs, in places very gently rolling. There are no deep canyons, no mountain passes, no thin air, no claim to be the toughest 100-miler. But 100 miles is still 100 miles. You still have to deal with Mother Nature, with the night, with blisters and chafing and sore muscles, with trying to keep eating and drinking and running. These factors are always there.”
I’m finally getting around to writing this race report, 6 months later, so there’s probably a bit that I’m not remembering, a bit I’m romanticizing and a bit that I’m probably just plain making up at this point. That’s how I roll.
I gave everyone my instagram and twitter handle and password and they graciously posted throughout the day to chronicle the journey we all took for those sub-24 hours. I am grateful for their documentation and enthralled to be be able to look back on it now, with every photo conjuring up a stream of consciousness of emotions and endless memories that now blend together on how the day unfolded.
Below is the photo play by play of the day for both myself and Jerod as seen through our crew, pacers, and myself through instagram presented in chronological order.
My Lessons Learned are at the very bottom of the page.
We all rented a house together and it served as our home base for both Jerod and his team and me and my team. I thought it was really nice that we could all share a pre-race meal together, assemble all our gear and drop bags, and then afterwards recap the race in all our perspective glory.
With an 8am race start, there was plenty of time to wake up and meander over to the race start without feeling rushed or extremely tired even before the race. Coming from the Pacific Northwest, 8am still feels like 6am to me, so it was still early.
My amazing crew consisted mainly of my dad, with my mom, my wife, and my friend Nate helping him throughout the day.
My dad did what he always does and is a rock, shouldering the heavy load, shuttling everyone to where they need to be, when they need to be there, and providing the me the opportunity to succeed.
Nate, the super-pacer, turned in for two long shifts of pacing me through the night, enduring some of my less than stellar self and then returning to help me finish off the race.
Eventually, my wife went to go pace my super running friend, Jerod (of The Wandering Beard), who also ran the same 100 miler I ran last year.
My mom, who has now paced me through two 100 mile races(!), had the unenviable task of turning my foul mood around in the dead of night, and her cool, calm, and solid presence was just what I needed, (moms have a way of doing that, right?)
From what I can remember, Jerod and I shared the first 15 miles or so through the beginning miles of steep rollers before the Ice Age Trail flattened out into the wide open, exposed humid marsh. I remember walking and running through the marsh over a 10 foot wide path of cut grass which had been trampled down into double track with small wooden bridges and pathways where the ground was too wet.
At some point the marsh ended and I rolled into the last two aid stations of the first out and back, which literally share the same parking lot, but the trail meanders around adding an additional 6-7 miles before hitting roughly mile 32 and having to double back 32 miles to the start.
The weather turned slightly iffy here, with a little Seattle misting to make me feel at home, but also making me a little weary of possible flashbacks to Mohican the year before. At this point I really wanted some potato chips. Looking back on it now, what I really wanted was salt. I wasn’t happy. (Sorry mom, dad, Kate, and Nate.)
At the 32 mile turn-around point, I was greeted with open arms, smiling faces, and a huge bag of chips. I was happy enough to take a photo of it. A mile later on my return I passed Jerod on his way in. We stopped for a quick chat and I remember he was having a rough go at the moment. I told him the aid station was ‘just around the corner’ (they always are.) I gave him a few chips and continued on.
Mile 33-40ish I honestly don’t really remember. I know I ran. I know I wasn’t fast. I know I wasn’t not having fun, but I wasn’t exactly having fun.
Somewhere around there I was passed by a guy who said one simple sentence, “Nice jersey! Go US Men’s National Team!” That was enough for me to pick it up to run with him. I guess I just craved someone to talk to. I don’t remember his name, but like all good company that you’ve met for the first time, sharing the trails and experience; we bonded over our entire life stories, we solved endless world problems, we decided who should start for the USMNT, we traded race war stories and we gave each other tips on things that work and don’t work, both while running and in life in general.
Meeting, talking, and sharing the trail with like minded (crazy?) people fuels me through these long distance runs. I just can’t get enough of it. This section I ran faster than I should have, but I didn’t care. I needed a pick me up and guy-whose-name-I-can’t-remember was just the guy-whose-name-I-can’t-remember trail company I needed for that stretch. This would be a common theme for the remainder of the race.
The race being along the Ice Age National Scenic Trail and being out in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin (sorry, I’m from Seattle), I was surprised and enchanted by the amount of mobile coverage throughout the entire course. This was quite the blessing, letting me instagram and tweet throughout the race (because when you’re running 100 miles, it’s not hard enough just to finish) and a mile or so from approaching the next aid station, I was able to call ahead to my dad and give him a heads up on my progress and what I might next need or want.
I remember blowing through an aid station quicker than my dad thought I’d be there and he missed me by mere minutes. I didn’t want to stop and turn around so I kept on moving, slightly annoyed because I had wanted to change my socks and shoes. My dad called and said, “really I’m right here, are you sure you don’t want to come back.” I grumbled, no, I’ll see you at the next aid station.
My new found friend, who I ran with moved along on the way to finish his first 50 miler and I slowed down, knowing keeping up with him would come back to haunt me. I walked and practiced smiling to try to keep my spirits and energy up. There’s photographic proof that I’m not sure is compelling evidence, but I kept on moving, so I guess it worked?
Eventually, a lot of walking left my dad wondering where I was and I eventually connected with him over the phone telling him I’d be there and I’d like to change my socks and shoes. He faithfully showed up and I ended up not being very nice to him as I recall (sorry again dad and thank you again for crewing all day!) With a fresh set of kicks and non-smelly socks, I moved quickly again feeling refreshed.
Along the way back to the start finish area, I ran with a woman for a while, whose-name-I-also-don’t-remember, and she graced me with stories of running Western States 100 and Leadville, and many other races I’ve never done or even thought of doing. She pulled me along for several miles eventually bringing me back to the start/finish line where I’d pick up super-pacer Nate.
Nate was a friend, who grew to be a good friend, who has grown to be a great friend. For this race, he drove more or less non-stop from Seattle to Wisconsin, showing up on race day, helping everyone the entire day, then strapping on a pair of shoes and running with me for 14 miles, before taking a little hour break and then strapping those same said pair of shoes and running the last 19 miles with me. It was the farthest he’s ever run and amazingly (but not because I know he is an accomplished athlete – last year he biked from Seattle, down to San Francisco, across the entire United Stated to Washington DC, then all the way up to New Jersey!) he ran his first unofficial 34 mile ultra. Afterwards he’d get a few hours of shut eye on the couch, and then immediately hop back in his car and hightailing it 20 hours back to Seattle. If that’s not a great friend, I don’t know what is. I’m immensely proud and honored to call him not just a friend, but my friend.
Nate ran with me from mile 62 to 77 and unfortunately had to endure probably the lowest point of my race. I was not interested in talking. I was not interested in hearing him talk. I was not interested in hearing my friends in Seattle talk who Nate had tried to FaceTime in the middle of the woods (eventually he was able to get a connection through the phone and Molly and Francis and they told me corny jokes that I appreciate much more now. Thanks you two!) I needed a break. (Sorry for being so horrible for those few hours Nate!) He towed me into the Highway 12 Outbound aid station and handed me off to my mom.
Before we left the aid station though I said I needed to just sit for a moment and close my eyes. I was tired, sore, not wanting to move, and not in the mood for doing anything except getting ever so slight of a rest. Everyone waited for me to go through an agonizingly slow blink (aka, shut my eyes and keep them closed for 30 seconds trying to trick my brain into thinking I’m getting “shut eye”), collect myself and pull my head up off my hands and myself up the picnic bench. My mom was immediately full of energy instinctively, through her previous experience of pacing me plus just being my mom, knowing what I needed and wanted to run, but I had to tell her I hurt everywhere and just needed to walk. She said, “you can’t be tired! I just started pacing you!” I forced a smile and said graciously and sincerely, “thanks mom!”
For the next 4 miles I walked briskly, needing the slowed pace, but honestly with it being so dark I didn’t have much choice but to go at a slowed pace, and mom would fall slightly behind then run up behind me and me, not knowing if it were her or another runner, would step to the side to let the blinding light barreling towards me pass, only to have mom stop mere inches behind me and saying, “what are you doing, it’s just me. Keep going!” Her energy, her upbeat demeanor, and solid presence, kept me going and rejuvenated me until the end of the second out and back aid station, Rice Lake Turn Around Aid Station where I would pick Nate back up and make my back the 19 miles to the finish line.
Energy restored and with my mind reset, Nate lead me back out and towards the finish. We stopped in the middle of he trail, turned off our headlamps and just stared at the full splendor of the sky, stars alight and the Milky Way showing off. It’s cliche, but words don’t do explanations justice. You have to be there, smelling, seeing, feeling the crisp middle of the night air, tasting the brilliance of the light of the stars, seeing the surrounding pitch blackness, your senses enveloped. We took some photos we thought were artful, but turned out just to be crap photos, if only because you can’t see anything because it really is pitch black out there at 2am. I still have them. They’re still crap.
Eventually I looked at my watch and did some simple monkey math and realized all I had to do was average a xx minute/mile pace for the last 15 miles (I don’t actually know what it was now, but I remember it being doable) and I’d have a sub-24 hour finish. Realizing what was realizable, I turned to Nate, talked my monkey math our loud and said, “is that right?” He monkey mathed slightly faster than me and said, “Ooooh oooohh, ahhh, ahhhh.” I scratched my armpits, and danced on two feet. He pick flees from my scalp and we both turned and took off with a new fervor toward what was inevitable.
Although I had told Nate I like when my pacer is leading in front, if for no other reason because the shadow casted from the headlamp of whoever is behind annoys the crap out of me, I was a man on a mission and I lead the way, actively trying to drop my super-pacer. I blew through water drops and aid stations leaving Nate to spend the next half a mile out of each aid station trying to catch back up. It’s not because he was slow (he wasn’t), it was because I knew what I was aiming for and I knew I was going to get there.
Looking back now, in the last 19 miles, we passed 20 people, which I’m not sure is something to be proud of or not, but I am. We weren’t flying, but we were flying. For perspective, my fastest mile was mile 95 which is a paltry 8:50/mile, but for me, at mile 95, 8:50 is flying.
With a mile left to go and finally knowing that the goal was achievable, even with a 30 minute nap, we slowed to a walk and basked in a shared zip lock bag of bacon jerky which can only truly be appreciated after not brushing your mouth for 23+ hours and eating 5,000 calories.
In the end I finished my second 100 miler, the Kettle Moraine 100, in 23:19, 25th overall out of 133 finishers (165 starters), and none of it would be possible without my amazing dad who was my crew chief for me (again!), my amazing mom who paced me (again!), my amazing super-pacer Nate (great friend for life), and my amazing wife, Kate, who entertained and kept me afloat for the prior 6 months of up and down training. The race would not have been possible without any of them and I am indebted to them.
Jerod always amazes me with these races because he manages to always finish the last few legs of the race by himself without the luxury of pacers when your feet hurt the most, your mind is tired, and all you want to do is lay down and sleep.
Lessons Learned (as written the day afterwards):
- Watermelon – easy tasteful way to get liquids.
- Crew – lay out a little bit of everything at AS so I can just pick and go. Including shoes.
- Whole foods first, then gummies, then gels. Most time to process to least time to process.
- Save caffeine until when you really need it, but not too late.
- Broth, chicken noodle soup and flat soda for the last 25 miles.
- Rule of thumb – 2.5 times 50 mile time is just a rule of thumb for a finish time.
- Discuss with pacer what you want and what needs to be done before getting to the AS.
- Hand bottles, bladder and pack to pacer. Get food and go. Pacer can catch up to you.
- Pacer in front is good if they can pull you.
- Pacer behind is harder if they’re right behind you because of shadow.
- Walking a section (4.5 miles) worked for me – probably between mile 75-80.) Gave me time to reset my body and my mind. (Still went sub-24.)
- Arm warmers on leaving AS. Down to elbows, then down to wrists, then stash.
- Bring an extra headlamp, but make sure it’s bright enough.
- Lube at first sign of hot spot.
- Arm sleeves or buff for ice at wrists.
- Shoe change between mile 50-60.
- Tylenol between mile 60-70.
- Pre-pack sandwiches. Ham and pickle in a tortilla worked for me. Trim as much tortilla off as possible. Half a pickle, not thirds or quarters. One slice of deli ham. Two was too much ham by the end.
- Pre-pack half sandwich bag of thin regular potato chips.
- Pre-pack sandwich bag of cheez-it
- You can only eat sweet stuff for so long before I need to change up to salty.
- Jerky is great for sodium, but dry. Be sure to have enough liquid to wash it down.
- Bring ice.
- Bring more dry hand towels or really small camping pack towel. At some point during the day everything is wet with no way to dry anything off. Annoying after a while.
- Tailwind or some kind of liquid calories worked well when nothing tastes good.
- Soft flasks are easy to carry and store in pack.
- Be sure to thank volunteers and crew when you leave even if you’re mean to them when you come in. They’ve given their entire day (and night) (and the day before) to help you. You owe them your sincere gratitude.
- Tell your pacer what is working for you at that moment in time when they pick you up.
- If you change your shoes, change your socks.
- If you change your socks but keep your shoes, change your insoles.
- Bring bottles of Gatorade. Have crew pre-open them so it’s easy to unscrew.
- You never know how you’re going to feel or what pace you’re going to run when you’re motivated to run sub-24 or to beat cut-off times or for any time goal. My fastest mile was 8:50 around mile 94.
- Sit down with your crew the night before and go over everything including strategy, expected pace times (best/worst case) and items in your bag, but let them re-pack anything they will be bringing so they know what it is and where it’s located.
- Bring battery pack in double zip lock bag with phone cord and watch cord.
- Ice cold washcloth during the day when it’s hot.
- Watch screen 1 – manual lap distance as big number. Overall distance and average lap pace as small number.
- Watch screen 2 – Overall time as big number. Time of day and battery life as small number.
- Watch screen 3 – only if a mountain course – ascent as upper number. Current elevation as middle number. Descent and ascent pace as lower number.
- Make A, B, and C goals. Re-evaluate as necessary throughout the race.
- Pace chart with no less than miles between AS, cutoff times, and maybe estimated (worst/best) pace.
- Try to figure out before the race flat hiking pace, ascent pace (estimated for incline percentage) and descent pace (estimated for decline percentage).