The last time I was this prepared for a race was Western States 2006. I had put in the training, might have done a bit more racing than needed but had a great taper and got in some good heat training to boot. My weight was in the right range and I was having my most successful year yet. I had a lot of respect for the humidity factor but was not at all concerned about the elevation gain. At 12,000ft of total elevation gain, it would be the less hilliest of all the 100 milers I've signed up for, by a good margin. I don't consider myself a mountain runner but I run a lot of hills and enjoy a good technical trail. Nevertheless I went it with a lot trepidation and anxiety, I didn't sleep well the last 3 days before the race. So danged worried about having another bad 100-mile race. Having under performed on all 5 previous 100-mile races, I couldn't put out the negative thought of having another one to add to my collection
I LOVE THE SMELL OF INSECT REPELLENT IN THE MORNING
Well not really but the scent of Citronella dominated race central Saturday morning. I had driven down from Madison at 4AM and met up with Bob, Meghan and Tom at their hotel in Whitewater. Meghan was entered in the 100k, Bob and Tom was entered in the 100-mile race. Tom was in the event for the sole purpose of pacing Bob for his first 100-miler. Bob and Tom were roommates at a Death Valley running camp and Bob met Meghan at the Grand Teton races last year. I already knew Bob but met Meghan and Tom at race packet pickup on Friday, the awkward "hello new friend moments" didn't last very long, not for me anyway. By 5:30AM all of us were at race start smelling like everyone else and dropping off our drop bags. Mark Tanaka already had his camera trained on me before I saw him. Adam Blum was walking around, a surprise since I didn't know he was signed up for the race. Even a couple of other Northern California runners introduced themselves. One of them commented that he'd seen me in some of his races and noticed that I was always close to the front. That was ego boosting and I took it graciously but clearly he had me confused with Mark.
MILES 1-15: A SIGN OF THINGS TO COME
A quarter of a mile into the run a strap on my new, only a week old Fuel Belt brand water bottle holder snaps. Do not buy this product. Not all things manufactured in China is bad but this one is downright terrible. I say out loud that I hope this isn't a portent of things to come and get a laugh out of the runners around me. Eventually I come up with a fix and it works almost as well. At mile 15 the other strap would break and yet again I find a way to work around the problem. This would characterize the entire run; breaking and fixing, breaking and fixing all the way to the end.
Almost immediately I fell into my groove. Boy was it warm but my sauna trained system was handling very well. I was moving at a pretty good clip at the heart beat range that I needed to be. I leave Bob and Tom and catch up to Meghan around mile 10 or so. We hang out for a little bit before I get the itch to move on. I'm still taking pictures and short videos at this point, feeling good, pacing myself correctly and slowly moving up towards the front despite the heat.
MILES 16-36: Funky Town
I started to get sleepy. The first thing that came to mind was that my lack of sleep for the last 3 days has finally caught up to me. I was a bit surprised - sleepy this early in a 100-mile race? As I continued a throbbing in the back of my head became more pronounced so I took a couple of Ibuprofens. The next thing that happened was some stomach discomfort. I felt bloated too. I was drinking about 2 bottles of liquid every hour because of the heat and I incorrectly diagnosed the problem as taking in too much liquid so I cut down. It was around this point that we hit the prairie, marsh areas. It was exposed, flat and went on for about 10 miles. I felt tired, bored, hot, and sleepy, I couldn't keep my heart rate down despite moving slower. I get to the 50k mark (mile 31) at 5:39. I had covered the first 15 miles comfortably in 2:30 but it had taken me over 3 hours to reach the next 16. I was slowing down way too early. From here we headed back to the finish the same way we came. We run the entire 100k course with the 100k racers before setting off on a separate 38 mile down and back course to complete 100 miles. Mark was leading at this point. A lot of the leaders were not looking too good either. Some food, a quick sponge bath and some liquids quickly revived me but 10 minutes out I was back into funky town. I see Meghan again, she looked good but I found out later that she was having her own problems. I got a great hug and we were off. Bob had this bright idea that we would all greet each other with hugs every time we saw each other on the trail. I didn't hug the boys, just Meghan, hahaha. I'm sorry I'm not the boy hugging on the trail type of runner.
Right before the 36 mile aid station I get this intense craving for regular water, not energy drink but water. I also get the urge to pee and when I did I noticed that it was a very dark yellow. The situation became clear to me at that point. I was dehydrated have been dehydrating and the culprit was the HEED energy drink. I wasn't suffering stomach discomfort because of too much water it was because of too much HEED. I have had HEED before at Bighorn 100 with no problems but at this race I was having a bad reaction to it. At the aid station volunteers filled my bottles with ice and water, I downed one bottle right away and had it refilled. Within 5 minutes my heart rate dropped 10 beats and I slowly started to come out of my funk.
MILES 36 - 47: Not Quite Out of Funky Town Yet
I kept drinking and I felt better and better and thus was able to move faster. I started to catch up to some of the runners, one of these guys was Scott Meyers who entertained me with his stories from Arrowhead and his previous runnings of this race. I think he's up to 9 finishes now. We kept going back and forth, back and forth. We were back in the prairie marsh areas and it wasn't as bad as it had been earlier. My music player was on this time and the music was a good distraction. I only kept one earphone plugged in and heard on the other ear the rumblings of an approaching thunderstorm. Before I got to Emma Carlin, the mile 47 aid station, I started slowing down again. When I took HEED out of the equation I didn't account for the lost calories. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Soon as I got in to the aid station I headed straight to the food table. I downed an energy gel, a salt tablet and took 5 small Cheese and Turkey sandwich squares. I even sat down for a bit while I accessed my drop bag. I had some of my own gels stashed there and left some gear that I no longer needed. After filling up on more ice water I high tailed it out of there. Running on a full stomach is uncomfortable but much more tolerable than bonking!:) I would follow this nutrition plan for the rest of the run, gels and small sandwiches. When sandwiches were not available I ate small boiled potatoes and it worked like a charm.
MILES 47-63: God if You're Gonna Kill Me Do it Quick
My body was back on the upswing for good. It was in these miles that the first thunderstorm struck. We had been hearing the rumble and the winds have picked up but now the rain was here in full force. Sheets of water came down on the course, it felt great but now the trails were running with water, water everywhere. Lighting arced across the sky and my thoughts went to the runners who were caught in the prairie march areas. Out there you are the tallest thing on the ground. I ran next to the trees as much as possible. On one exposed stretch a lightning bolt struck somewhere to my right and back. It sounded loud and close. I looked backed wide eyed and started running even faster. Laughing and scared I prayed to God, "If you're gonna kill me do it quick cause I'm not stopping". When I got back to the Bluff Aid Station at mile 55 I thought for sure they were gonna hold us there, they didn't and I was relieved. There were no terribly exposed sections from here back to the 100k finish at Nordic.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, Bob and Tom were indeed caught in the prairie marsh areas when that lightning bolt struck, the trail was under inches of water by this time. Tom got Bob to lay down flat in one of the wooded deck paths that they used to traverse the marsh sections. They were laughing when they related the story to me back at the hotel on Sunday afternoon but I'm sure it was not funny at the time. Can you imagine? Laying down on a wet flooded trail, exposed in the middle of a thunderstorm with lightning striking from the sky. They were there for about 10 minutes.
By the time I got back to Nordic Aid Station the rain had stopped. My feet had two blisters and I was deciding whether to take care of them or just run through.
MILES 63-77: The Hunt Begins
I hit the 100k mark at about 12.5 hours. I'm in 12th at this point but take an extended break at Nordic. I end up at the station for a full 20 mins, most of that time spent fixing my feet. One of the volunteers assists me, he kept checking on my condition an sourced out band aids for me. He would have taken my socks off and lanced my blisters if I had let him. My feet don't do well when they are wet and in anticipation of this problem I had stashed an extra pair of shoes and socks at this station as well as a blister repair kit. When I took my socks off the duck tape that I used to protect my feet separated. In the past I've just thrown it away but this time I saved it and gently rolled the new socks over it, right after I lanced and slathered antibiotic on the blisters. It was still a liner that added protection to my feet separated or not. Included in that drop bag was my Camelback type pack. Inside was gear and food that I needed for the night; caffeinated energy gels, a shell in case it got cold, headlamp, flashlight, pepto bismol tablets, salt tablets, ibuprofen, some toilet paper in a ziplock bag and my blister kit which consisted simply of a needle and antibiotic ointment. With the cooler temps and being over hydrated this time, I only carried a single water bottle. After eating and downing a bottled Starbucks Frappucino I headed out. I run into Joe Kulak who opted to call it a day at the 100k mark. We exchange greetings.
Another smiling volunteer chases after me to make sure I have everything and yells out my number to the record keeper. I yell too caught up in the moment, "No.39 heading back out!". It felt good to say that. The first 100 yards after lancing blisters is always painful but it subsides quickly. I catch up to Scott Meyers again, he didn't stay long at Nordic and was worried that I had dropped. We chat for awhile before I take off again, sadly for the last time. He was good company. With fresh shoes and socks, blisters taken care off, hydrated, full and caffeinated, I felt brand new and ran like it. I see Meghan again for the last time. I get another hug but this time she lets on that she's had a hard day. Nevertheless she would end up placing third female for the 100k distance.
Invigorated further I charge on. My nutrition and hydration problems were now behind me. I was back in control and I had the energy to go hunting. Who can I catch and how many can I catch up to before the finish? I'm running very well; relaxed, fast and strong.
MILES 78-81: Doldrums
Strength and focus finally started to flag on the 4 mile push to the last turnaround at Rice Lake. Ground was wet, muddy and slippery. This was also the most technical part of the entire course. Lots of embedded rocks that was hard to see in the dark, vegetation growing on the sides of the trail hid some of it as well. I nailed a few but never went down, the going was slow and tedious and I lost some steam. I was content on some parts to just walk the trail. On the way up I meet up with Mark Tanaka already coming back down from the turnaround point. It was a merry get together. Two Northern Californians laughing at how bad the day had become but happy to be still in the race. It was the third and last time I would see him on the course, no more turnarounds after this point. He looked much better than he did earlier in the day and so did I. Four more people would come down from Rice Lake before I reach the aid station putting me at 7th place or so I thought.
MILES 82-95: A Kick in the Butt
I was only at Rice Lake briefly. 5-8 minutes out of the station I saw a group of runners headed the station. I knew them to be 100-milers because I had seen them throughout the day, in fact some of them were ahead of me earlier in the race. They looked especially strong, relaxed and laughing. One of them is a pretty fast dude who was back there because he had gotten lost earlier in the day. That was bad news, a group of relaxed fast runners less than 20 minutes behind with 19 more miles to go. The realization was a kick in the butt and fueled my next surge. I run the section about 12 minutes faster than the last time. I blaze through the next aid station stopping only long enough to top off my water bottle and grab more energy gels. I ran and ran and ran and it felt effortless. The fear just lit my burner and I rode the energy like a wave. It felt really good. I catch up to the guy in 6th place. I apologize (I still don't know why, it's a race after all) and tell him that I didn't mean to catch up to him and that I was just running from a bunch of runners headed back from Rice Lake. He looked puzzled, understandably, but verified that he too saw the group of runners I was talking about. Unfortunately he himself was done. He said his running was done for the night and was on a slow walk. I hope he recovered, it was a long walk back to the finish from where he was. I start to have problems myself, with my right calf where the Achilles Tendon and the calf meet. I pull out my bandana from my pack and tie a compression bandage on the area. Worked like a charm, just like it did at Cascade Crest 100. This is in addition to the neoprene sleeve on my right thigh to stabilize my right IT Band. I was starting to fall apart:) Duck tape? Does anyone have duck tape?
MILES 96-100: Running Scared
I hit Mary Gorski's Tamarack Aid Station for the last time. This crew has been energetic all day and night. I also got a lot of flattery with my food and water. Shortly after I leave the station my left knee starts hurting like a mother, enough that I can't run. I can't run because I can't bend the knee much without pain. It wasn't the joint itself but the muscles immediately above it, on the inside. I tried running through it but no dice. Was I going to crap out now so close to the finish? After all of that I am going to get caught now? Quickly I switch the bandana to my left knee and place the neoprene sleeve on top of it to keep it in place. That done I walked then shuffled and ran until I couldn't bear the pain then went back to walking, soon as I felt better I tried it again. The last 5 miles is a rolling section which made the up and downs particularly tough but I kept moving. I kept looking back for lights even though I knew there was nothing I could really do at this point if I saw one charging towards me. Habit perhaps. I was down to 14-15 minute miles and it took everything I had just to get that much. There were mile markers on this section of the course and it was a slow excruciating countdown...4, 3, 2, 1. On the last mile I shuffled even harder and finally gave a sigh of relief on the last 30 yds or so. No one caught me at my most vulnerable moment of the race. It was only another 25 minutes before the next two runners came in, they crossed together. Had I walked the entire section I probably would have been caught.
On those last miles I was seriously contemplating giving up the 100's at least temporarily. I just get so beat down and broken on these races and it was pissing me off. I was still thinking that when Race Director Jason tells me I came in 3rd. It's a good thing I was already sitting down because I was shocked. "Well that's just impossible because I counted 6 people ahead of me" I blurted. "Three of them were Relay runners" he answered with a grin. Mark Tanaka comes over and congratulates me as well, he finished second. He tells me that he had to power walk the last miles because of IT Band pain, that makes me feel better. Maybe I wont stop doing the 100's yet:) Jason takes our picture, we talk for a bit then mentions that he has to go inside and get his jacket. Mark goes in as well. I had been sitting on a wet bench, it had started to rain and I didn't even notice.
Bob and Tom had opted out at the 100k mark. I knew since I didn't see them out there but they verified it for me.
AT THE FINISH: Please Get my Car for Me
I hangout for a bit. Not hungry, not thirsty but I down a glass of Coke and a bowl of Chili. I get my "kettle" finisher award and Race Director Timo comes over and checks up on me. Darla Brader, the first female and her crew, come in while I'm still eating. She looked like she could run another 10-miles, all smiles and beaming. Soon it was time to go and Timo, concerned for my well being, informs me that he's going to walk me to my car just to make sure I'm ok. He asked me how far I was driving and where. I must have looked really spent and fragile. At this point I'm barely walking. The knee that gave me so much trouble has now stiffened considerably and any type of action that caused it to bend produced a lot of pain. So I shuffle slowly and apologize to Timo because my car is parked a long way out. He offers to be my valet and I gladly give him the keys. While I wait I start to shiver uncontrollably, the first time I was cold all day. When I get in the car the heater was already at full blast. How is that for service?
POST RACE: Friends to Make You Feel Better
I get back to the hotel, knock on the door and wake up everyone. I worried about Bob and Tom's mood for not finishing the 100-mile and slightly embarrassed about waking them all up. To my surprise they were in good spirits and wanted to know about my race. I gave them all the details and got "oohs and aahhs" for my story. After that was done, I made a bath and gently cleaned myself up. Had some blisters but they weren't bad, the knee however... Then it was off for some zzz's. I wasn't able to sleep right away, the caffeinated gel in my system was still in effect. Eventually I did manage a few hours. We grabbed lunch together and yakked away about the race and everything else. With Bob and Tom involved it was a friggin riot and laughing made me feel all my sore muscles. Whenever I walked Meghan would follow close or from behind, I can see in the corner of my eye that she's fighting the urge to hold me up or push me forward. It didn't help that I would occasionally sway to one side. The more I walked though the better I felt.
Sunday night I had dinner with Bob and Beth at Waukesha. I got lost and it took me an hour to find their home but while lost I drove by some of the trailheads and it brought me right back to the race. I was treated to a fantastic dinner, oh man just thinking about it makes my mouth water right now. There was also wine and chocolate cake while my the crew were dining on Pizza, 2 larges just between the 3 of them. As we ate another storm came rolling through and the area was on another tornado watch.
The rest of the night was spent back at the hotel. The original plan was to drive back to Madison but I was having too much fun with the crew. My cousin Margie agrees with my decision since the weather in Madison was not something anyone should have to drive through.
Monday morning found us packing and making gross out noises when we unpacked our wet, stinking drop bags and gear. The shoes were the worst. Soon it was time to say goodbye, they to Chicago and myself back to Madison. I have a quick lunch with my cousin and it was off to the airport.
Good times and a memorable race. If I had to do it all over again I wouldn't change a thing.