Sunday, June 23, 2013

Run 4 Troops Trail Marathon 2013

 I decided to run this marathon about 6 days before the event. Honestly it was my 3rd choice and my contingency plan. I knew I was going to run a race on 22 Jun but I didn't know it would be this one. My first choice was the Dizzy Goat 12 hour race but I procrastinated and didn't get registered before the cutoff. My second choice was the SugarBottom 10K trail race, which I had run last year. However after I registered this race got cancelled due to some flooding and participation issues. So I was left with my third choice. I emailed the RD and she graciously let myself and a friend enter even though it was past the cutoff date. It turned out for the best though because we had another friend already running the race and now we would have a small group.

I ran this race last year and I enjoyed the event. I actually set my marathon PR in last years event. I really didn't know how I was going to run this race but circumstances eventually dictated the outcome anyway. Everyone else in our group drove up the night before and my friend Peter nicely picked up my race packet for me. I choose to spend my anniversary with my wife and drive up the next morning. This meant a 0230 wake up call and a 90 minute drive fueled by bad coffee and a honeybun. It was an early start because the shuttle bus from the finish to the start left at 0515 for the 0700 start. As it turns out I could have slept in. I arrived at the shuttle bus on time and got my race packet from Peter. He was accompanied by his friend Brad who I had met before. The three of us boarded the shuttle bus and took about a 40 minute ride to the start. On arrival I picked up my timing chip and wet met our other friend Ross. Then there was the usual pre race milling around. About 0630 when the pre race briefing was supposed to occur the RD instructed us to move into shelter as there was some severe thunderstorms headed our way. A local company graciously let us into their building where we waited for the next two hours while the storm blew through.

 So race start time was pushed back until 0900 which made my decision to just run this race as it came and see what happened. I thought I could go sub 4 hours with not much problem based on my last marathon. Eventually we had the pre race briefing and we toed the start line . It was still windy and overcast at the start. As in the previous year we needed to run about .5 miles out and back on a paved road before we hit the actual trail. Again we were lead by an old Jeep.

 Once the race started I just tried to keep it comfortable. Ross and Peter were ahead of me and Brad was behind and that is the way we would remain for the race. I really had no preset pace in mind but felt pretty comfortable at about an 8:30 pace. I was able to maintain this pace despite the 20 mph headwind we ran into the first 7 miles or so. I even managed an 8:00 minute mile in there. This is the 4th time I have run this Heritage trail system. It is flat,wide, and mostly crushed limestone. Parts of the course are wide open and some are sheltered and shady. Due to the non technical nature of the trail this race really had more of a road race feel than a trail race. This was also due to the fact that there where roughly 75 relay teams conducting a marathon relay. There were only 110 actually marathoners running the race.

I was moving along at a decent pace until about mile 12. I finished the first 11 miles in about 1 hour 33 minutes, I was even letting the sneaky thought of getting a new PR enter my head. However it was not to be. I wouldn't say I bonked or the wheels came off. I felt fine the whole race however my pace slowly and incrementally slowed the last 14 miles. I attribute this to a few things, I had some residual fatigue from the 100 mile race I had completed 3 weeks prior, due to the late race start we ended up running during the hottest part of the day and after a few hours the sun came out and the humidity rocketed. I had banked some miles however and was able to maintain enough of a pace to be within reach of my 4 hour goal. I was pleased to note in the last 5 miles or so I passed a lot of runners that had sped past me at the beginning. I think I gained 11 places during the last 5 miles.

I did have an incident at mile 16 with an electric fence that would only happen to me. I stopped to use the woodline and as I was doing my business the sunglasses feel off my visor where I had them placed. As luck would have it I was facing down hill so they actually rolled down hill and under what looked to me like an electrified fence. This were expensive Tifosi sunglasses that I had won. I could never afford another pair so I ended up low crawling under the fence to retrieve the glasses. That added a few seconds to my time I would say.

 So eventually I made it to the finish none the worse for wear. I sure was glad to drink some water and sit down however. I finished in 4:00:27 not quite sub 4 hours but I will take it. You can see how my pace changed here :

I just have a few comments on the race itself. First this race in run for a great cause by a local Dubuque Iowa family and small business owners. They donate money raised to local military families. You can see they obviously feel very passionate about this. So please don't take this as anything but constructive criticism because I have nothing but respect for their efforts.

The race has progressed to the point where the aid stations need to be more organized. I saw many people throwing small water bottles on the side of the trail. This irritates the crap out of me. Simply placing a trash can a few 100 meters down the trail after the aid station would probably stop most of this. Once again the road runner mentality and just ignorance of custom made this happen. Educate people to be good trail runners.

I understand this was the first year for chip timing and I think it went ok, however having it on your wrist was a huge distraction. Normally these sorts of chips are worn on the ankle and the runners cross a timing mat. Having to touch your wrist to a box as you passed the checkpoint and at the finish was annoying. Next year I suggest timing mats. I understand if they are more expensive but maybe JMS will cut you a deal ( he said with tongue firmly in cheek). Anyway that was a good race and I had a good time. I will probably run it again next year.

Friday, June 21, 2013

26 years

Today is our anniversary. 26 years ago we were married. Alot of water has gone under the bridge. An entire military career went by and a new career has started. Children were raised and still being raised. Hard times and good times. War and peace. Togetherness and loneliness. I miss you and why don't you get out. All these things and more. We have stuck to it and I wouldn't change anything. I love you Sparrow.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Kettle Moraine 100 Mile Endurance Run: Last Horse in the Barn

This past weekend I participated in the Kettle Moraine 100 mile ultramarathon. This was to be the redemption race for my DNF (did not finish) in the Ozark Trail 100 back in November 2012. The enormity of what happened during this race will be hard to relate so I will try to do it in sections. It was such a long time frame it was almost like multiple events.


I had taken a few vacation days from work so the day before the race I got up, ran a few miles with Jay, and then mowed my lawn (my crew later teased me about doing this before running 100 miles). Then I packed 4 drop bags and laid out my equipment for the race on my garage floor.

My friends Brian and Ross, who were going to act as pacers and crew, picked myself and Jay up about 1200 and we made the 3.5 hour drive to Wisconsin. Upon arrival we checked in to our hotel and then drove the 25 minutes farther north to the race start/finish and packet pickup. I picked up my packet and then we headed to a local Italian restaurant that Ross, Jay, and I had eaten at during our trip to the Ice Age 50 mile race. We had a good pre race meal, lets just say I ate so much spaghetti I felt like I was getting a head rush. After dinner we went back to the hotel and discussed race strategy for a few hours, until I forced myself to go to sleep at about 9 pm.

Mile 1-31

The next morning we woke about 0400 and checked out and left the hotel about 0430. I ate about 4 donuts from the dozen we had purchased the night before and drank a Styrofoam cup of coffee from the hotel lobby. We arrived at the start/finish line at the Nordic trailhead about 0500, 1 hour before the start. This was the exact same start finish/line as the Ice Age 50 mile I had run 3 weeks earlier. I went and picked up my timing chip, made my last pitstop at the porto potty, and nervously waited around. About 15 minutes before the start the race director gave a little speech. Then we lined up and without further ado we were off. The first 7.5 miles of the course ran over some cross country skiing trails that were wide, grassy but extremely hilly. Eventually I would run this section 4 times during the course of the race. At this point there were lots of people on the course and it was fairly crowded as the 100K racers had also started with us. It was also during this portion that I reconnected and had a good conversation with fellow team Red White and Blue teammate and ultrarunner Keith. Keith was running his second 100 mile race of the year and would finish strong. Once we hit the 7.5 mile aid station, the course turned into more technical single track. When we left the aid station we made our way up a bluff and through the infamous "confusion corner". Confusion corner is where three trails converged, for the first out and back section I would take the trail to the right, heading north. This section had some significant elevation change but I had run it before in previous races so I was expecting it. I was really working on maintaining a conservative pace and sticking to my nutrition plan. In previous races I had gotten nauseous on too many nutritional gels and was determined to eat as much real food at aid stations as possible and keep the gels to a minimum. This strategy worked as I ate less than 10 gels in 100 miles and never really experienced nausea. Once I got to the Emma Carlin aid station at mile 15.5 the humidity forced me to change my shirt to a tank top. I then headed out for the 19 or so miles I would run over the  "Meadows." This portion of the course was feared because it was out of the forest and over wide open marshy grass land where runners would be exposed to the full rays of the sun. I was told by many that this section although deceptively flat and easy would chew runners up and spit them out. During this section I discovered that I was actually running too much, so to conserve energy I forced myself to run 4 minutes and walk 1 minute. The cloud cover kept the sun at bay and I reached the Scuppernong aid station turnaround at 31 miles, 2 hours before the cut off time. I was holding a consistent pace and feeling pretty good.

 Mile 31-62

 So at Scuppernong I changed my socks and ditched some gear. I talked briefly about strategy with my crew. The plan was for Brian to meet me at mile 55 and pace me until mile 77 then Ross would take me the rest of the way. Sounded like a good plan to me I just needed to make it to the Bluff aid station at mile 55 and I would have company for the rest of the race. A young women started talking to me  almost immediately after we started back towards the start/finish. She was participating in the relay and was running a 31 mile leg. I listened to her mindless chatter for a while until surprise surprise my friend Tim approached from the other direction. He had been following my progress on the race website and had driven the 30 minutes to the trails to try and find me. He did just that, after he introduced me to his daughter we ran a mile or so talking until he wished me luck and headed back to the parking lot. I thought that was pretty cool of him. So I headed out back acrossed the Meadows, this time it sucked much worse than the way out. I learned why the infamous Meadows were infamous. The clouds had left us and the sun was out, it felt like I was running in the Sahara as I slogged back through what felt like miles upon miles of open terrain. During this section I passed and talked for a few miles with a college runner whose coach had basically made the whole team run the 100K. He was from Tennessee and had not trained for the race at all. He told me that he was in the top 10 until about 20 miles when he blew up in a spectacular fashion. He was now struggling to make it back to the 100k mark without quitting. He didn't even have a water bottle and had to borrow one. I left him behind once we again hit the woods and didn't see him again until I was heading out on my last section and he was coming into the 100K finish. Shortly after hitting the woods it started thunder,lightning and pouring rain. The trees kept me dry for awhile but eventually I got soaking wet. This was actually ok as it cooled down the hot humid weather. Suddenly I heard a caterwauling in the bushes, as I was searching for the noise the runner behind me told me to watch out. Right next to my foot was a wet, pissed off baby raccoon. Little dude was not happy, I kept it moving down the trail as I kept an eye open for Mom. Eventually I hit mile 55 and picked up Brian. I also switched from hand bottles to my hydration pack and picked up my head lamp and handheld flashlight. It was starting to get dark and we had 7.5 miles to go to hit the 100K point, where the real race started. It was during this section where things started to blur together for me. The rest of the night would be a surreal mix of hills,running, walking and trails. This section was also insanely hilly as we traversed the same course I had covered after the start. Brian and I talked about ultrarunning, and the things he had learned for his upcoming 50 mile race. We also bitched about the stupid hills. Eventually we saw what we thought were taillights but was actually was the timing clock at the start/finish. It was 2341, 16 hours and 41 minutes for me to finish the first 100K. Now the real race would begin.

 Mile 62-100.6

I knew that if I waited at the turnaround I would never leave. Having the last leg start at the finish line made dropping down to the 100K very tempting. I thought about it briefly, but my crew kept me moving and I had a mission. Brian and I headed out into the darkness and the link up with Ross at mile 77. I started out running but after traversing those soul sucking hills for the 3rd time I started walking more than I was running. I also started going a bit delusional and started singing Army running cadence out loud to take my mind off the terrain. By the time we got to mile 70 and the more technical trail I started walking almost exclusively. And so it would be for the next 2-3 hours. Brian and I walked the steep rocky single track in the pitch dark, occasionally making way for some 38 mile fun runners and faster 100 mile runners coming from the other way. Once we hit mile 77 Ross and I headed out acrossed the highway and up the bluff on the last 4 mile section to the turnaround at Rice Lake. I was still walking and it was still dark. At one point I found my self walking straight into a tree. I had fallen asleep on my feet and staggered off the trail. Ross later told me his pacing strategy was to let me walk until daylight and then try to motivate me to pick up the pace. About an hour after he started pacing me the sun started coming up. We hit the swampy bridge at Rice Lake and I teased Ross a little by jumping up and down on it before we hit the aid station and the last turnaround. Only 19 more miles to go. Now it was fully light as we headed back. Ross informed me in his casual way that if we didn't start walking faster or running more we wouldn't make the cutoff at mile 85.I started getting pissed, as I had been there before on my last 100 mile attempt and it wasn't going to happen again. So I started running, navigating the single track like I hadn't for several hours. I felt like I ran several miles without much walking but I am not entirely sure of the distance.When we hit the last official cutoff at mile 85. I just dropped my hydration pack and lights,filled my handheld bottles with water and left. I didn't even wait for Ross figuring he could easily catch me. I just kept running. He later told me I surprised him as it took him a solid 3 minutes to catch me as we ran up the trail. Once he caught me It looked like I would make it so I started running/walking again. By the time I hit the mile 93 aid station I was mostly walking again. Once we hit the last 7 miles and the hills for the 4th time my previous spurt of energy had dissipated. Ross and I walked, as I complained about the hills and Ross agreed that they were uncalled for. We hit the last aid station with 5 miles to go and 1 hour 35 minutes before the 30 hour cutoff for race completion. One of the aid station volunteers took my number and said we need to get moving if we  wanted to make the cutoff. He looked at me and said it was doable but I had to move. I was concerned about not making the race after being so close. So Ross pulled out his cell phone and got Brian to talk to the race director, who assured us that he would not pull me so close to the finish. So now I was running for pride, anything but a sub 30 hour finish was somehow tainted even though official. Brian met us 2.5 mile out and ran with us. Ross once again informed me we were really cutting the margin thin, once again I got irritated with myself and I started running hard. After 95 plus miles of movement I started busting out sub 10 minute miles as I headed into the finish. About a mile out Brian ran ahead to get some pictures. I kept moving forward eventually seeing the finish line. Ross dropped behind me as I crossed the finish line and slapped the banner with my hand. Once I crossed the timing mat a volunteer removed my chip and handed me my copper kettle for finishing the race. I had finished the race in 29 hours 50 minutes and 58 seconds. The last finisher, the last horse in the barn. Over 120 racers had failed to finish, but I did. A reporter talked to me briefly about some work she was doing with veterans and handed me a magazine article she had written.I was exhausted and elated not quite sure what to do. The guys and I had her take our picture and I changed into some regular clothes in the bathroom for the trip back. I don't remember much about the trip home other than devouring some Taco Bell and sleeping in the front seat.

 So much happened during this race I am not sure I captured it all. I learned a few things:

I finally got my nutrition plan down for future races

 I have awesome friends and ultrarunners are the most supportive people I have ever met

I can go faster, it is evident to me that my biggest enemy on these races is my own mind

I have already started thinking about my next hundred mile race..but first to help Brian complete his first 50 mile.

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