Zumbro 100 Race Report – 2022 (Gnarly Bandit part 1)

This is the 2nd time I’ve done the 100 mile version of this race and the 3rd time I’ve been there. The last time I did the 100 miler here was 7 years ago! The course has been changed a little since then so it’s actually 102 miles now with 13,500 elevation of gain. Overall the course changes were good as far as my memory goes. I did pretty bad last time and had to walk the entire 6th loop that year finishing in 28 hours. The current course is a 17 mile loop that you do 6 times for the 102 mile race. While it’s called a loop, it is pretty much a back and forth all over the Zumbro Bottoms Management Area running what seems like every possible trail there is. There are areas where the race director has a choice of taking the easy way or the hard way…of course the hardest way is always the chosen path. It is a very pretty area at least.

My plan for this year was to follow my original plan from 7 years ago of 25 hours and figured with my 7 years of experience I’d probably be able to do it. Plus I’ve finished Superior in 27:30 and that’s a way harder race on paper. I never felt all that great leading up to the race though. I was running OK since Arrowhead but I didn’t feel all that ready for Zumbro. I didn’t run many hills in training due to the weather and that certainly would affect my race. In general it’s hard to run a 100 mile trail race in early April in MN due to poor training conditions here.

The reason I was doing this race again was mostly because it is part of the Gnarly Bandit Series. It’s a series I’ve wanted to do forever but it never fit into my schedule with other big races I’ve wanted to do. This year I yet again didn’t get into Western States and I didn’t want to apply for Spartathlon this year since I knew I wouldn’t get off work for it 2 years in a row. So after looking at my work schedule, I realized I only had to change 1 thing around and it would work! It entails 4 – 100 mile races and a 100k race at the end. They are all fairly tough trail races and 2 of the 100 milers are only 13 days apart now (used to be 3 weeks) so it’s tough to complete. The good news is that it is fairly easy to get into all the races for it if you plan for it right away. Some of the other series out there are basically impossible to complete anymore just because you can’t get into the races. There are usually 5 or so people that attempt it every year. This is the first time in 4 years that all the races are happening at the full distances since Zumbro has been cancelled in the past for weather and of course the whole Covid shutdown. That was another reason I waited until now to do the series, I wanted to do the entire thing. It’s the same reason I chose the harder version of Hrimthurs. Very few have done both Hrimthurs and Gnarly Bandit. I hope to be one of them.

The fun drive there.

There was no bib pickup the night before like usual so I just left real early from home on race day Friday April 8th. I got there about 35 minutes early which is what I was hoping for. It had snowed during the night but luckily the plows had been out already at 5 in the morning to salt the roads. It snowed last time I was there as well. In fact it pretty much snows every year at Zumbro. One of the reasons I’m so slow at Zumbro is I never have a crew and I end up having to change clothes almost every loop, sometimes a couple times a loop. Add an hour of time to what you think you should get if it’s a year of wild temperature swings (which is most years).

The view of the start/finish from the first ridge. Photo Credit – Cary Johnson

There were I think 52 signed up for the 100 mile race but only 46 showed up to start. That’s lower than past years, I assume due to many people not training during the Covid years and dropping to a shorter distance. I totally get the desire to do that, especially if you’ve done this race before. While a loop course seems like it’d be nice since you don’t need drop bags, etc, it actually sucks because every hard part you know you have to do again and again and again. I had forgot how sucky the sucky parts were in the 7 years since being there.

I got my bib and found out there are only 3 of us going for the Gnarly Bandit this year. It will be fun getting to know Timothy Adamski and Andy Lohn. I have already met Andy but not Timothy. Timothy is way faster so I may not get to talk to him anyway 🙂 There is the tradition to get a photo for Upper Midwest Trail Runners for Gnarly Bandit runners at the start of every race. If you’re not a member but live in the Upper Midwest, I strongly suggest you join. It’s a great way to find out about the more local races, there are contest running series you can do, and there are great discounts as well. I more than pay for my membership just from them.

Gnarly Bandit Runners. Photo Credit – Jamison Swift

There are quite a few people that run this race often, some even every year. I think I would lose my mind doing the 100 mile distance every year. Any other time of year and I’d probably love it, including winter. April, not so much. The buff I have on in that photo is I think from 2014. I must’ve seen at least 5 people with it on at the start and more than that probably own one. Mine is in pretty tough shape and all stretched out. I was hoping to get a new one this year at the race but we’ll be getting hats instead. My favorite race shirt is the one from this race in 2015. I have a LOT of race shirts so that means something that it’s my favorite. Wait, skip that, my Spartathlon jersey is my favorite race shirt but I still wear my Zumbro t-shirt more. It needs replacing as well.

Start line. Photo Credit – Anna Woletz

The race started promptly at 8AM and we were off. The trail up the first hill seemed in worse shape than I remembered it. Perhaps it was from 7 years of erosion. I had my Z-poles with and attached to my vest. I didn’t use them for this loop though as it wasn’t worth the effort to take them off and on for the hills since they were short and I was moving well. Plus with all the rocks, I was worried I’d get a pole stuck and snap it. The snow and leaves had everything covered so that you really didn’t know what you would be stepping on. You knew there are rocks and sticks everywhere but you can’t see them until everyone steps on every part of the trail to uncover what’s there. On fresh legs it’s not too hard but you need to pay attention. By the 3rd loop it was clear where the best path was.

I think the top of the first ridge. Photo Credit – Cary Johnson

It was right around 32 degrees at the start and it warmed up a little on that first loop already. I was hot by halfway through and wished I had started with just a long sleeve shirt instead of my thermal shirt. It was very pretty to run through the snow covered hills. There seemed to be much more sand with the current course than I remember. There is a 1.7 mile stretch of nothing but fine beach sand. I think it used to be less than a mile. Wear some gaiters! There also isn’t the steep narrow downhill that I had to hang on to trees while going down in the mud one year so that was nice.

Somewhere on the first loop. Photo Credit – Cary Johnson

The major difference really in the new course is the big reduction in aid. There is a water only aid station just before mile 5 and then a full aid station just after 13 miles into the loop. So you need to bring food for over 13 miles and water for over 8 miles which takes a little more planning than in the past. If you forget something at any of them, you’re going to suffer because you won’t have an opportunity to get anything for awhile. There used to be 2 more aid stations in previous years.

I think this is coming down the first ridge. It looks real nice right now but it became shoe sucking mud the next 3 loops. Photo Credit – Jamison Swift

I got to the 5 mile aid station and filled up with water for the 8.5 miles. I grew up drinking well water and generally like it. The water this year was simply put – bad. At first I thought it was just an off tasting well water but it tasted more like water that had been sitting in a water bottle for months in the sun. Perhaps it was a combination of both. It actually affected my water consumption. Electrolytes helped some to cover up the taste but I can’t drink just electrolytes the entire race.

The section between aid 2 and 3 is where the sand stretch is as well as many hills. Other than the sand the trail condition was pretty good. The ground was still froze so there wasn’t mud yet for most of the first loop. Then comes Ant Hill. I don’t know the story of the naming of this hill but it’s the worst part of the course in my opinion. It’s almost all rocks of varying size and steep. I know in the past I’ve run down this hill fast and suffered the consequences so I took it easier this year. Plus you still couldn’t see where it was safe to step yet due to the snow and leaves. Later on you could run down if you wanted but by then my legs would be too tired for that. I don’t have a picture of Ant Hill so you can be surprised when you get there.

So that’s not me but a good picture of the sand section. Other parts you’re down in a deep cut of a dry creek with the same sand. Photo Credit – Kevin Langton

After Ant Hill we went back up another rocky but more manageable road. I don’t remember doing this in the past so I think it was a new area. I would’ve much rather run this the reverse direction. Then we turned off into someones private land for a bit and then down a nice runnable mile long road to the 2nd aid station. I’ll tell you now that once I got to the road on the last loop, I was very happy. It’s all easy from here to the end.

Coming up the rocky jeep road after Ant Hill. The path clearly hadn’t been made yet as going on the side ended up being the best path on subsequent loops. Photo Credit – Jamison Swift

By the time I got to the 2nd aid station my stomach was already going south a little. Some of the gels I was eating were technically a couple months expired so perhaps that was it too but I’ve never had a problem with expired gels and really they should last for years if kept sealed. Mostly I think it was the water taste messing with my head. I don’t really think there was anything bad in the water though. I got some pop here and some chips.

It’s now just a flat road to the start/finish line from there. I measured it at about 3.8 miles. It is exposed to the sun and wind which can be good or bad depending on the temperature. I enjoyed the cold breeze this time since I was wearing too much.

Road from aid station 2 to the bridge (2nd loop I think). Photo Credit – Cary Johnson
The last couple miles of the loop. Photo Credit – Kevin Langton

I was hoping for about 3 hours on this loop since I did that last time but it was almost 3.5 hours. My legs already felt spent. I knew Zumbro would yet again wreck my goals. 5 more loops and my legs already wanted to quit. The last 2 years had been spent running flats and gaining speed for Spartathlon. It had helped a lot with Arrowhead too since my over 50 pound sled felt light compared to other years. I have definitely lost my hill abilities though. That’s all I’m doing this year so I better get it back soon. I pretty much just told myself the next 24 hours would suck but it was all training to make the rest of the season better.

I had to use the portapotty and then went to my car that I parked along the course to use as my aid station. I changed shirts, and got more food and water for the next loop. I spent about 10 minutes or so which wasn’t bad. My feet were a little wet from all the melted snow and wet grass but I wanted to wait to change socks. I had a cut on my right shin, likely from all the branches that would come out from under the leaves and try to trip you when you stepped on them. I left my poles as I didn’t plan on using them until maybe at night.

The ground had thawed out and was now muddy in spots. It still wasn’t as bad as it can be at Zumbro but there are a few spots where my gaiters were the only thing that kept my shoes on my feet. You’d sink in about 6 inches and hoped you didn’t fall as the mud hung on to your shoe. Of course for the next 3 miles after those spots, your shoes were at least twice the normal weight from the half inch of mud stuck to them top and bottom. Eventually it would dry and mostly fall off.

Half way through this loop I definitely was having issues with my stomach. None of my usual treatments did any good. The water still tasted gross. I usually hit a wall around mile 25 or so anyway so I thought it might just be that but it wasn’t. It somewhat hurt to run so I ended up slowing down a lot. This continued until about mile 75! I wanted to run faster but I just couldn’t. I had zero energy whether I was eating or not. I even tried an anti-nausea pill which did nothing, probably because it wasn’t really nausea. I hope to not have whatever it was ever again. I was pretty frustrated watching everyone pass me and moving so slowly.

Parts of the course that had been easy, were harder in the mud. Some parts of trail had a side incline and it was almost impossible to stay on it with the mud. It was overall a pretty nice day though.

The soup at aid station 2 was about the only thing I looked forward to on every loop. I always felt a little better after having some. Of course it was also almost 4 miles of flat course after it so that probably had as much to do with feeling better than the food but I’ll take the placebo effect. I really didn’t have anyone to talk to most of the race so I started listening to music and kept the podcasts for the night.

On top of the ridge about halfway through the loop. Nice views. I don’t remember running this ridge other years but I could be wrong. Photo Credit – Cary Johnson

I finished loop 2 in 3:50 of moving time. Way slower than planned but I knew then that at least a 27 hour finish was the new reality. I still kept my socks on as they were dryer and I didn’t want to waste anymore time. I got some different food to try this loop. New food didn’t change anything though.

Loop 3. Photo Credit – Kevin Langton

Loop 3 took 4:20 to finish. I don’t really remember much about this loop. The mud was pretty much just as bad as loop 2. It was warmer and the sun was out occasionally. I saw a squirrel. The sun was setting as I finished the loop and got back to my car at 7:45PM. I was half way done.

Photo Credit – Cary Johnson

I got my headlamp out and changed my socks. I had to pop a couple blisters which is unusual for me. I think I still had my shoes set for winter thickness socks from Arrowhead and I was moving around too much in them. It was getting colder so I think I brought along more things to change into in case I got cold. Originally I wanted to get done with the 4th loop just before midnight so I’d be in front of the 50 mile runners but I knew that wouldn’t happen anymore so I took my time to make sure I got everything done that I needed. I planned on using my poles this loop since I was so slow anyway and I thought they might make me faster.

The sky was clear which made for great views of the stars. It was colder but the wind died down as well so it was pretty close to the same wind chill as the third loop. I was tired. More than usual. I tend to do well in the overnight hours compared to most but this year I pretty much just maintained where I was. The poles helped on the hills but made me go slower the rest of the time, especially when I was walking so I decided I’d get rid of them after this loop. Plus I fell twice while using them and never did without so clearly they didn’t help in that regards either.

I finished the 4th loop in 5:10 which just sucks plain and simple. It was just after 1AM and the 50 mile race started an hour ago. I still felt like crap and even though I only had 2 more loops left, I knew they would both be over 5 hours long. It was getting colder. I think around 25 degrees. I knew the course would be nice and frozen so that would help but I needed to get pants on. It takes so much time to get pants on since you have to take shoes off, etc. The neighboring people had a tent that they earlier said I could use. No one was there and it was cold so I just went back and changed in my car where it was still somewhat warm from the sun having heated it up in the daylight. I put on pants and a thermal shirt. I got warmer hats and gloves in my vest. I took off shivering since I had been just standing around doing all this. I turned back and got my coat as I knew it could get even colder and I’d be dumb not to have it. That took more time. I spent over 20 minutes doing all this stuff.

Photo Credit – Christian Worby

The trail was indeed in awesome shape. I warmed up and thought I might have too much on but I was moving slow so I was just fine. The shoe sucking mud was now much firmer but if you stepped in the right spots, you were fine. I met a few other runners on this loop which helped my pace some. About halfway through this loop my stomach started to feel better on and off. It was awesome being able to run at a decent speed when I was feeling good.

The long sand stretch had frozen solid as well by the time I got there. It seemed like really dry sand during the day but was solid and firm now. I knew it would be soft again on the 6th loop but it was fun for now. Since I was moving better now, I actually finished loop 5 in the same time it took to finish loop 4. Time wise though it was 6:40AM since I had such a long inter-loop time. The 34 mile race would start soon and I wanted to get out before that started.

Finishing the 5th loop. Photo Credit – Jessica Knighton

I spent about 15 minutes here. I changed into shorts again. I also removed all my upper layers and redid it with the warming weather in mind. So I put on a long sleeve shirt, then my thermal over that, then my coat over that (it was still 24 degrees). The plan was to take stuff off as needed during the loop. It would suck to take the time but I knew it would be 20 degrees warmer and sunny by the time I finished so I had to shed layers. I left about 6 minutes before the 34 mile race started.

The nice frozen trail! Starting loop 6. Photo Credit – Pat Lehnherr

The trail was still nice and frozen so I didn’t mind that I would soon be passed by a bunch of runners. They wouldn’t be ruining the trail for me until hours later when it thawed out. I still felt good so my goal was to push it a little bit on this last loop and make sure to get under 28 hours. While I wasn’t happy about that time, I felt it was still better than the last time I was here and got 28 hours on a shorter course. In the back of my mind I just kept thinking how I’ve done Superior faster than this and that I had finished Spartathlon just 8 months ago. Some days just don’t go the way you want to. I knew I would at least still finish. I was well within the time cutoffs.

Having some fun running on loop 6. Photo Credit – Pat Lehnherr

I had to stop twice to shed layers and my vest was super full with all of it. The ground thawed and everything was muddier than even yesterday. The sand was now soft and energy sucking again. I ran when it was possible and I knew it was possible to get done under 28 hours. I was almost glad to see Ant Hill just because I knew it would be the last time I’d have to go down it. This is when the first of the 17 mile runners started flying by. I got to the last aid station after running down the road for the last time. I didn’t spend much time here and I kept on going.

I still took a couple walking breaks the last 4 miles but ran as much as possible to make sure I’d get done before noon. Finally I got to the open field of the finish line. I was running which was a big improvement over the last time I did this race. I finished the loop in less time than either loop 4 or 5, at 5 hours flat. It was 11:56 AM for a finishing time of 27:56.

Heading into the finish. Photo Credit – Mike Wheeler
Done! Photo Credit – Mike Wheeler

The volunteers at the finish line were awesome. Someone got me a chair, something to drink, and a pizza! I got to hang out watching others finish their race while I ate. The sun was so nice and warm. I wasn’t very tired now that the sun was out. I saw a few friends finish their race and found a few more that had dropped from their races. I thanked everyone and got on my way home. I slept for an hour along the way when I got tired.

The first leg of the Gnarly Bandit series was done. All 3 of us finished. Kettle Moraine is next up. I said I’d never do it again until I did Gnarly Bandit. Well now is the time.

The banner is getting crowded now so I just signed in the same spot.

2 thoughts on “Zumbro 100 Race Report – 2022 (Gnarly Bandit part 1)

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