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Kettle Moraine 100 mile – June 2011

It has taken me a bit of time to get myself to where I can write about my experiences at the Kettle Moraine 100 mile run. Not because I was “all super excited and stuff” or “bummed and stuff”, but just because I was not sure what I had done and what it meant. I actually do not think that I have those two things figured out at this point, but I guess this recap is at least an attempt to work through them. Warning – it takes a long time to run 100 miles and this recap reflects that reality…

Before the run:

drop bags - an ultrarunner's best friend

I had a lot on my mind going into the run. During the two weeks leading up to the run, I was decreasing my mileage, spending much less time on the trails, and that gave me extra time to think. This can often lead to problems for me – once I get to thinking, I sometimes don’t know when to stop. Fortunately, I was busy with work stuff and building tree houses and getting drop bags together for the run, so I had plenty to keep me occupied. Still, I found lots of time to reflect on what I was going to attempt. I knew I was well trained – I had been running more miles than I ever had in my life and I had been learning all I could from people who had completed 100 mile races. Still, there was just a great big unknown to this endeavor. I knew from experience that I could run 50 miles, but double that? I did everything I could to dispel the negative thoughts (e.g. “Running 50 miles really hurts – you won’t be able to handle the pain that comes with 100 miles.”), but I also wasn’t going to trick myself into thinking that it would be no problem (e.g. “You just set your 50 mile pr by TWO HOURS, of course you’ll crush the 100…”). At some point, I kind of shut down emotionally – I wasn’t going to let fear or exuberance derail my plans for the race, so I just approached the race as something that I was going to do. I would pack my drop bags, get as much sleep as I could, avoid doing stupid things, and I would then go and run. This meant I wouldn’t be awash in anxiety (a common challenge for me), but it also meant I did not feel particularly excited about the upcoming race. I guess I could chalk it up to “focus”, or as my good friend Elvis used to say, “T.C.B. – Taking Care of Business”. That was my mindset as I picked up Jay for the drive to Wisconsin on Friday afternoon.

It was a long drive, but Jay was great to hang out with, and we got to see wind farms and cornfields and even the edges of the great city of Chicago. I was surprised how little we talked about the race, but when we did, Jay was very reassuring and pragmatic about what was going to happen. It boiled down to “take care of yourself and work through the tough spots”. Jay has had great success actually racing the 100 mile distance, so I knew he was onto something. I still just didn’t know what to think. At times, it seemed as though I was just on a drive with no particular destination in mind. At other times, I would just get lost in my head trying to get my mind around what it would take, both mentally and physically, to cover 100 miles in one day. Fortunately, the trip went smoothly, and we arrived in Elkhorn, WI shortly after 9 pm. I was soon tucked in bed, and I fell asleep surprisingly quickly – I thought I’d be tossing and turning all night. That came later…

The race began at 6a, so could “sleep in” until 4:30a or so and still have plenty of time to find the start and check in before the race. I popped awake at 3:45a – my eyes popped open and knew I wasn’t going back to sleep. I just lay there and stared at the ceiling, and the first twinge of real anticipation (a fairly pleasant mix of nervousness and excitement) hit me. It grew. By the time I was up and lubing any spots that might potentially rub during the run (a required step before any ultra) and getting dressed, I was really excited. Bubbly even. Jay was ready quickly, and we grabbed our gear and headed out. We ran into another runner in the parking lot and ended up following him for the fifteen minute drive to the race start area. Daylight was approaching as we got to the Nordic Center – a typically state park kind of location featuring a couple of buildings, tents, and lots of runners milling about.  We immediately ran into Jeff Christian, an ultra runner from Michigan who frequents some of the Ohio races, but I knew I wouldn’t be seeing any other familiar faces, as there was only one other runner from Ohio registered in the race. I found the registration table, got my race number (#33), a chip timer, and a t-shirt, but I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t much different than signing up for the local 5k – no fanfare or special 100 mile “schwag bag”, just a smile and a “good luck” from the guy helping out. Probably better that way. By this point, I realized I was getting really nervous/excited, and the moments up to the start were a blur of organizing drop bags, filling water bottles, last minute restroom stops, and some very brief comments from the race director. During that blur, I managed to locate Todd Bumgardner, the other Ohio runner. We had communicated prior to the race and planned to run together during the first section of the course – neither of us had attempted a 100 miler, so we figured it would be helpful to pace each other to start. Then it was time.

Just to orient the reader – the Kettle Moraine course consisted of two out-and-back sections. The first section went from the Nordic Center (the start/finish) to Scuppernong: 50k out and 50k back for 63 miles. The second section went from the Nordic Center to Rice Lake. It was approximately 38 miles roundtrip. The actual distance we would be covering was 100.6 miles.

Miles 0 to 15.5:

I kind of missed the start of the race. I was off to the side, trying to adjust my shoes or fill a water bottle or something, but I heard a countdown and then the crowd of runners took off. I jogged over to the back end of the crowd and then headed towards the start and I was off myself. I figured losing 10 seconds at this point wasn’t going to be of much consequence by the time the day was over.

It felt good to start running, really good actually (even though every ache and creak seemed amplified during those initial miles). Once I could focus on the hills and dirt and my foot strike, the nervousness that had been taking hold quickly dissipated. It was a beautiful morning, and the first sections of trail took us right into the forest – I love running among the trees. One thing that still made me nervous was the weather. It was 75* and humid at the start. I had been checking the forecast all morning, so I “knew” clouds and rain were going to cool things down later in the morning, but I was really worried that it would stay hot and humid – I am not a warm weather runner. Anyhow, the initial miles melted away quickly. Todd and I settled into a relaxed pace, just under 12 minute miles, and chatted. We were quite far back in the pack – 120 runners had started the 100 miler along with 75 who were beginning a 100 kilometer race – but we both knew to focus on ourselves instead of trying to run someone else’s race. The woods opened onto some cross-country skiing trails that followed along some ridges and prairie areas and back into a pine forest. The terrain was quite hilly, as I had been warned, but the trails were in great shape and Todd and I were chugging along at a comfortable clip. We arrived at the first aid station, five miles into the race, having run just under an hour. It was actually a little faster than planned, but not by much. I made sure to fill up on water, and I began what became known, to me anyhow, as “the day of the pb&j”. Every aid station with food had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, quartered and ready to be consumed, and right from the start, I began fueling myself with those little treats. The aid stations were great – amazing assortments of chips, pretzels, candies, sandwiches, and later in the day potatoes, noodles, even pancakes – but part of my race plan was to be as efficient as possible in passing through because I would pass through nearly 30 aid stations during the course of the day and a couple of extra minutes at each one would translate into an hour off the clock… I knew I was not racing this thing in any real sense, but an hour is an hour, and I did hope to be able to finish in less than 24 hours. Speaking of which, I tried not to think about time during the race – after leaving that aid station, I started thinking about how tired my legs felt after only an hour – what would happen after six hours? twelve hours? Heaven forbid, twenty hours?… I did not want to start the day fighting those kinds of thoughts, so I tried to push them out of my head and focused on the running.

the relaxed, early miles with Todd

We passed through the woods; the trails varied but tended to be somewhat rocky and definitely hilly. After heading out of the Bluff aid station at mile 7.5, we headed up towards Bald Bluff. I was definitely feeling the heat, but overall my legs and stomach felt solid. Todd and I were still running together, and we were slowly passing other runners – we had been predicting this would happen, but I was surprised at how quickly whole groups of people were falling off the pace. No clouds yet, but we were nearing mid-morning and I was sure that some respite was on its way… Before long, we arrived at the first “major” stop in the race, the Emma Carlin aid station. We had covered 15.8 miles in 3:06 (11:46 per mile pace). At this point in the day, I was in 43rd place.

I felt good overall, but I had already been sweating so much that my shoes and socks were soaked. Jay was there and he grabbed my drop bag and helped me figure out what I needed to take care of so I could get back onto the trail as quickly as possible. I changed out my socks, and lubed my feet with Vaseline. And I found the pb&j sandwiches. I also decided I needed my “ice sacks” – Lucy had outfitted me with some old wash clothes refashioned so that they could hold ice if the day was hot. And it was hot. I had one sack for the pocket in the back of my vest and one to wrap around the back of my neck with a handkerchief. Looking back, I think those ice sacks may have been the reason I actually finished the race…

how can I look so happy? don't I know what awaits me?

Miles 15.5 to 31.5:

ahhh... my friend the aid station. where is the ice?

Leaving Emma Carlin, I was a bit worried. We were leaving the woods I had so enjoyed for nearly eight miles of open meadows. This meant little or shade and pockets of high humidity. Looking to the sky, the clouds (and cooler weather they would bring) were nowhere to be seen. Todd and I were still running together, still creeping past other runners. At first, I was comfortable – the fresh socks felt amazing and the brief stop had reinvigorated me. Sure there was no shade, but transitioning into the meadows gave me new focus – it felt a bit like we were just starting the run. However, it did not take long to realize just how hot it was out in the meadows. We slowed a bit. The walk breaks occurred a bit more frequently. We commiserated with the other runners. The meadows allowed us to see long distances – when you are in a forest, you might be able to see 200 meters of the trail ahead, but out there we could see for miles… And it was just more meadows. And no clouds.

It was nearing 11 am as we made our way out of the meadows – the sun had been relentless, and we were hot and tired. Even though we had both gone through various ups and downs during the morning, Todd began to flag a bit more than I was. Whereas I had covered myself up and used the ice sacks to try to keep my core temperature down, Todd had tried to stay cool by forgoing a shirt. Heading back into the woods, I pulled ahead of Todd and some others we had been running with through the last section of meadows. After an aid station at around mile 25, I was alone for the first time all day. I put on my ipod, and headed into the woods.

out of the sun. into the hills.

The next big station was called Scuppernong – it sat at the 50k point in the race (it was also where I would be turning around and heading back towards the start/finish area to complete the first leg of the race), so it was a milestone. The trails wound and wound and wound through the woods as we headed up. I was feeling disoriented – running alone was ok, but I was hot and tired, and I realized just how much support I had gotten from running with Todd during the first 25 miles. I tried to focus on the running, but there were folks already heading back from the turn-around and I had trouble maintaining a consistent pace. I could feel myself overheating – having had dealt with the heat in previous races, I knew I would feel a “hot headache” and then my torso would overheat and then I would be toast… So, whenever I felt a “hot headache”, I’d slow to walk, adjust my ice sacks, drink extra water, and wait for the feeling to pass. A few clouds did pass over the sun, but being in the woods I didn’t notice much. I had resigned myself to battling the heat. Unfortunately, I knew it was a fight I had lost during several previous races.

kapow - 50k in the bag... can I stop now?

I arrived at Scuppernong at 6:27 into the race, and I had moved up to 31st place overall. This was pretty much exactly where I wanted to be at the 50k mark, but I knew I had been slowing, and I was worried how I would handle the meadow section during the afternoon heat. I tried to put those thoughts out of my head – Jay was there once again for me and I had a chance to refocus and replenish my supplies. I had some blisters forming, so I lubed my feet again. I found the pb&j and had a Red Bull on the rocks. Once my ice sacks were refilled, there was nothing else to do but head back onto the trails. Jay sent me off with what became my mantra for the day – “no math”. It seems that higher order cognitive functioning becomes compromised during endurance events (at least for me this is the case) and trying to do computations can quickly led to confusion, an unjustified sense of where one is at in the race, or an overwhelming sense of despair. Jay was smart to ban mathematics as I was thinking about how much longer I had before I would stop…

red bull on ice. so nice.

Miles 31.5 to 47.5:

The wooded section leaving Scuppernong was just as twisty-turny as it had been on the way “up” – at this point I realized that it was continually up-and-down, but I had been focusing only on the uphill sections previously – but I felt much more focused and strong. It was several miles before I had to walk a bit to cool down, and I felt much more comfortable, I thought I was possibly adapting to the heat… Once I was back out in the meadows, I realized that was definitely not the case. I wanted to know how hot it was, but I am glad I didn’t have access to that information at the time as it would have been too disheartening – I later heard that it had gotten over 90* and the humidity had not dissipated at all. Throughout the meadow section, I was “running with” a few folks. However, it was more like a game of leap-frog – you’d catch up to someone walking, say hello, and then you would leave them behind. They would exchange the favor when they passed you later when you had been reduced to walking. One guy was running as fast as he could through the open sections and then stopping at every bit of shade. I was struggling through the open sections, and the bits of shade helped me get back on pace. We passed one another continually through the section. It was just plain tough. Many times I wondered if I would finish, much less make it back to the 100k mark at the start/finish area.

I have lots of memories from this section of the race – but they are quite disjointed and mostly just flashes. Lost sunglasses at one of the water stations, “Sweet Virginia” by the Rolling Stones sounding especially good as I trudged along one meadow section, a bridge across a shallow stream and wondering whether lying in it would be a good idea, a brief section of dirt road that seemed to last for miles. My strategy was to just keep moving – simple, but all that I could handle.

anyone want some pb&j?

I returned to the Emma Carlin aid station at just about 4p. My pace during the previous 15 miles had slowed to just over 14 minutes per mile as I had walked quite a bit through the meadows – the “hot headaches” were frequent and took longer and longer to pass. However, I had moved up to 25th place overall by the time I returned to Emma Carlin and I knew the woods would offer some respite from the sun and heat. I don’t remember the transition back out of the aid station, but I do know it involved ice and pb&j sandwiches…

Miles 47.5 to 63:

I thought I would be in the clear once I left the meadows and got back into the woods, but… I had forgotten that the trails between Emma Carlin and the Nordic Center were much hillier than the meadows had been. I was also constantly running on the edge of overheating. I was drinking two 24 oz. water bottles every hour and taking lots of electrolytes to make sure I kept my system in sync. I was peeing regularly and I hadn’t had any serious stomach issues. Still, I was worried because I couldn’t stomach my Perpetuum (a protein and carb drink I typically rely on as a fuel source during long runs) and had not been eating as much as I planned. The pb&j sandwiches were still tasting good and sitting well, but I knew it was only going to get more difficult to get things down as I got further into the race. If your legs don’t have fuel, it doesn’t matter how ready they are to run the distance, it won’t happen. I tried to not think about that.

what's that? another pb&j? how surprising

The first water station after Emma Carlin was just over the 50 mile mark. I was feeling ok as I passed through, but even with Jay’s admonishment, I couldn’t help but do a bit of computation: 50 miles = 11+ hours, so 100 miles = … I had a quick flash of uncertainty. I wasn’t sure if I should count it as a simple doubling of the time or adjust it for later fatigue. Then, thought that if I sped up just a bit as it cooled down I could finish in under 20 hours. I tried to work out how much faster I would have to go. I couldn’t. Then, I realized it was likely I wouldn’t make it under the 24 hour goal I had set for myself. I couldn’t speed up once it got dark. And I was already really tired. I had to worry about finishing within the 30 hour cut off… No math. Nothing good could come of any of those thoughts.

The woods were just as beautiful as when I had passed through that morning. The trails were just as inviting to run on. The folks at the aid stations were just as friendly and always had my pb&j ready. I just couldn’t appreciate them. I was completely focused on the “keep moving” mantra. Give me water. Keep moving. Don’t fall down. Keep moving. Chat with other runners for a bit. Keep moving. Keep moving. Keep moving. My pace “quickened” a bit, so I was back to running closer to 13 minutes per mile.

back where I started

I arrived back at the Nordic Center 13 hours and 45 minutes into the race. I had moved up a few more positions, but I’m not sure I passed anyone. I think the day was taking its toll and runners were dropping out. It was 7:45 pm. I had started running at 6 am in the morning. I was somewhat disoriented and not sure what I should and could do. I had heard this was the point where many runners dropped because they had already had completed a metric century (100 kilometers), their cars were parked nearby, and they could avoid running through the night by stopping. It was funny, but it never seemed to be an option for me. I thought about it in a way, but not as a real alternative. “Keep moving” was really the only option I had.

Jay was again a godsend. He helped me get into new shoes and socks, assessed the blisters that were taking over both of the balls of my feet, helped me get some food (pb&j and noodles), and readied himself for an evening of sparkling conversation and stumbling through the dark. I took a few moments to change my shirt and put on some compression shorts. Once I was just ready to go, I saw they were about to begin the “Fun Run” – in order to keep more people on the trails, they hosted a 38 mile race that covers the last section of the course. I decided to wait a few minutes. I really did not want to begin this section of the race having loads of people, with fresh legs and smiles, passing me and offering encouragement… Soon they were gone, and I headed back onto the trails, this time with Jay to keep me company. As we left, I asked Jay whether he could return me to the Nordic Center in less than 10 hours. I had fully committed myself to finishing the 100 miles in under 24 hours. Jay gave me his assurance. 37.5 miles. 10 hours. It seemed simple.

Miles 63 to 77.5:

The first few miles back on the trails felt good. It hadn’t really cooled down, but I really had a chance to catch my breath and having on some fresh clothes and shoes felt wonderful. Still, it was obvious that I was running on the same legs, and those legs were tired. Especially my quadriceps. Several race reports from past years had mentioned the hammering your quads took on the constant ups and downs, and it was coming home to me. I didn’t feel like I was going to overheat, which was such a relief, but now I had to stop and walk at points simply because my legs could not function as they needed to in order to run. I also got a stone in one of my shoes, a minor inconvenience really, but it meant I had to stop and sit down on one of the benches that dotted this portion of the course. Once I was sitting down, I realized how seductive the idea of just staying there was. Jay got me moving again, and banned me from sitting down on any of the benches from that point on.

me and my friend, the bench

As the sun was setting, I got a chance to refocus and reconnect with my surroundings. During the afternoon heat, I had felt like I was passing through, but with the “cooler” evening I felt like I was a part of the woods and trails once again. I like that feeling. A particularly vivid memory from this point was a whip-poor-will that kept calling out, over and over. The sound was somewhat lonely, but it added to the feeling of place that had come over me. This is one of the reasons I like to run – it takes me into new situations and places and extends the opportunities I have to feel like I am a part of the bigger world.

Of course, those positive vibes were soon gone… With the sun disappearing, we had to turn on our headlamps, and our world became the very immediate sounds of our breathing and footsteps and the small swath of trail that was lit up by the beams from our lights. Jay and I were running alone, chatting intermittingly, fading off into the night. We were running a 7.5 mile section of trail that I had already run twice earlier in the day (heading out on the first loop and then returning to the Nordic Center), so there were no surprises as far as the trails went. We passed in-and-out of the aid stations fairly quickly – I had gotten to be a pro at grabbing a pb&j and getting my water bottles filled.

Once we turned onto new trails heading out towards the Rice Lake turn-around point, the running got to be a bit more challenging. There were some steep hills and lot of twists and turns to navigate. By the time we arrived at the Duffin aid station, my quads had gone from being fried to meltdown status. I no longer could lift my legs sufficiently to “run”. I realized that with over a marathon remaining, I was effectively reduced to doing the “zombie shuffle”/”powerwalk” (how I thought of it depended on how I was feeling). I really liked the Duffin aid station because they had Beck’s “Sexx Laws” playing – I had not been listening to my ipod since Jay had joined me, so hearing such a great tune really hit the spot. They also had my pb&j sandwiches, and I had taken to drinking some Coke at each stop for the caffeine jolt.

Back on the trails, I realized that my compromised running ability was really not affecting my pace too terribly. Running in the dark always slows you down, and given my state of exhaustion, I don’t think I could have covered ground any quicker even if my quads were cooperating. I’m sure I had some warning, but our arrival at the Highway 12 aid station seemed to happen suddenly. I should actually call this station what I was – a mothership. Huge tent. Lights galore. Tables and tables of food. People everywhere. It was amazing. And a bit overwhelming. Again, Jay helped me navigate the transition, finding my drop bag for me and helping me work through what I needed. My cognitive functioning was far from 100%, so I needed all the help he had to offer. I changed socks, lubed my feet, replenished my water, and found my pb&j. We had arrived at Highway 12 at about 11:30p, covering the last 14.5 miles in 3 hours and 40 minutes.

Miles 77.5 to 86.5:

This was the rottenest-stinkiest-no good-worst part of the run. Leaving Highway 12, we entered into some particularly rooted and rocky trails, probably the most technical terrain I had seen all day. Given my lack of quads, I was continually catching my toes on the previously mentioned rocks and roots. I think I went down at least once, but there were a whole host of near misses. I swore continually at the inanimate objects that populated the trails. To add to the discomfort, I had developed the worst butt chafe ever known to man. My quads were shredded, but they didn’t hurt anywhere near as much as my backside. To add insult to injury, there was a couple running somewhere near us – ahead? behind? in my head? – that were carrying on the loudest and most annoying conversation ever. Needless to say, I was not in very good spirits as we trudged towards the Rice Lake turn-around. Some of the race leaders passed us heading back towards the finish. They looked as awful as I felt. Not much solace, but at least I knew the conditions had taken a lot out of everyone.

I had no sense of how much distance we were covering and I was not sure I was actually moving forward, so I was buoyed by the sight of the turn-around point. However, the bright lights of the aid station were actually across the lake – we had to run along a narrow path that followed the twisty-turny lakeshore to get to a bridge that would bring us to our destination. Of course, I do not trust my memories of what actually occurred, but this was what it seemed like to me. When we got to the Rice Lake aid station, I was happy to find my pb&j and his friend the Coke-a-cola. I was also trilled that they had some Vaseline so I could address the chafing, which Jay referred to as “monkey butt”, and we were off again.

It was the same no-good trails that we had just covered, but I was feeling a bit more upbeat. I had experienced difficulty carrying a second light, and my left hand ached horribly from being contorted by my attempts to hold the light and a water bottle in some useful manner. At some point in this section, I figured out how to handle both the light and the bottle with relative comfort. Plus, we passed a couple of stinking piles of human feces someone had deposited right in the middle of the trail. Granted it was terribly disgusting, but at least (a) I avoided stepping in it and (b) I hadn’t experienced any sort of stomach issues all day. I think that knowing I was officially “on my way home” made my spirits rise considerably.

We returned to the Highway 12 aid station just after 2 am. On the return, we could see the station in all its glory from a ridge across the highway. Impressive.  However, it had taken me almost 2 hours and 40 minutes to cover 8.8 miles. Somehow I had moved up in the standings and was in 15th place overall. I think it was entirely due to others deciding to drop. Despite the return of some positive mojo, I was really worried that finishing under 24 hours was going to be out of reach for me. At this point, I knew I would finish – only 14.5 miles remained. But I had just under 4 hours to cover the distance, and I wouldn’t make it if I kept the same pace from the section out towards Rice Lake and back. I tried to get all that out of my head and focused on finding my pb&j and some Coke amid the flurry of activity.

Miles 86.5 to 100.6:

This was it. I had heard that the final few miles before you finish are better than the finish itself. I’ll simply say that this was not the case for me. I was in incredible pain. My legs were screaming. My feet were providing the harmonies (I had been ignoring the blisters, but they wanted to make sure I fully aware of their presence during these last miles). My head was pounding from fatigue. I knew Jay was there, but we didn’t chat much as I was using all the concentration I had at my disposal to simply will myself along. He would check in and see if I was doing ok, but I usually just muttered some version of “yeah, uh, ok”. I was in a daze, but acutely aware of my watch. Somehow, my feet stayed on the trail, although I did come close to wandering off the side a couple of times, and I kept moving forward.

I was happy to see the Duffin aid station again as it provided concrete evidence that I was still moving towards the finish. An aid station worked checked in with me to see how I was doing – I did my best to smile and reassure her that I was good for the last 10 miles. I had a moment of worry though that she was going to pull me from the race… Fortunately, I think she was just checking in with me, and Jay and I were soon on our way again.

zombie runner

Although I don’t remember much about this section of the race, I do remember feeling more tired than I had ever felt before in my life. The combination of the late hour – we were approaching 4 am, way past my bedtime – and the physical fatigue was almost harder to work through than the shredded quads and blistered feet. I kept moving though. Someone offered us pancakes at the aid station with five miles to go – I almost stopped to explain how ridiculous that was given that I had so little time before we hit the 24 hour mark. I was doing math now. Jay’s admonition no longer held any weight and I was computing like mad, trying to figure out if I could stumble my way to the finish before 6 am. Of course, I think a good 2/3 of the conclusions I came to were faulty. It kept me on task though.

I actually saw some other runners during this section. I couldn’t tell if they were running the 38 mile run or if they were in the same situation I was. I had no ability to keep track of whether I was passing them or they were passing me. It was all a bit surreal. The whip-poor-will was still singing his lonely song as we crept along the Nordic trails. This section had mile markers, so I could (attempt to) determine my per mile pace and whether I would make it to the finish on time. Oh, and there were benches everywhere. Even though it felt like I wasn’t moving at all, it seemed like I came upon a bench every few minutes. Jay still wouldn’t let me enjoy the wonder of the bench. Not for a moment. Now, I thank him for that. Then? Well. The sun began to peek over the horizon. It was all quite pretty and serene. I wished I could appreciate it. I tried to break into some form of a shambling run. It usually lasted about 75 feet and then back to powerwalking. We hit the final mile marker at 5:30a. Wow. Half an hour. One mile. I was there. Except it turned out to be the longest mile ever invented. The trail kept undulating and twisting. My watch kept creeping along. The finish was nowhere to be found.

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Nordic Center to the finish?

We came out of the woods about 200 meters from the start/finish line. There it was. The banner. The flags. The clock read 23:41. I wondered whether I had a finishing sprint in me. I stumbled on. I crossed the finish line. The clock read 23:42. I waited for a wave of emotion – ecstasy, glee, bliss, rapture, delight. Nothing. I was certainly pleased to be at the finish, but that had more to do with the fact that I could stop. Nothing marked the accomplishment. Jay took a couple of pictures, and I looked for a place to lay down. And more of the noodles.

and so it was...

officially under 24 hours. boo-yaa.

Post-Script

So, that was it. We hung around the Nordic Center for a little while, but there was very little action at the finish. Those who had finished ahead were mostly long gone. Those behind us seemed to be quite far back. I had finished in 14h place overall. Over 120 people had begun the race the previous morning, but only 46 finished before the 30 hour cut-off. I was the last soul to cross the line in less than 24 hours. I received my finisher’s kettle (most 100 milers have a belt buckle, but this one went for the kitsch) and a congratulations from one of the race directors. Jay and I collected the drop bags that were at the Nordic center and then drove to the Highway 12 aid station to get my last bag. It was oddly quiet there compared to the hustle and bustle I remembered from the night before. From there, we headed back to the hotel. A cold beer. An ice bath. An attempt at sleep.

"the kettle" in all its glory

Back in Ohio, I have slowly begun the process of realizing the magnitude of what I had accomplished. Even though I have been running fairly consistently for the past twelve years, I never thought I would be able to cover 100 miles in less than 24 hours. I know people who have done it (Jay has done it in less than 15 hours, but that is just plain crazy talk), so I knew it was possible. But not by me, not in my world. Deep down, I did not think I would have what it takes – I would crumble, fail, just have to stop. The realization that I do have it in me was not immediate – crossing the finish line certainly proved I could do it, but it took some time to really make the accomplishment a part of me, a component of how I think about myself. I do not think this has “changed my life” in any made for TV sense, but it does hold a great deal of meaning for me. I did this. Despite my own doubts and the challenges, I made it. And I have a little copper kettle to prove it…

2 comments

  1. You are my hero.


  2. What a journal of your adventure! I felt like I was sharing much of the pain by the end! You obviously kept your sense of humor throughout! Great accomplishment!



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