This is a looped 2.14 mile course timed event. It takes place in Fort Snelling State Park along the MN river and is mostly shaded. But since it’s down by the river and in trees, there isn’t much wind and it’s quite humid. Especially this year since it rained/sprinkled on and off most of the day. The race website has quite a lot of information here. I was thinking of doing the 24 hour race but decided on the 12 hour in order to not cause too much damage to myself if I was to get into a more important race for me in September. The main goal with this race was to try out some new gear and to get used to an aid station every 2+ miles which Spartathlon has.
The other big thing with this race was it was my son’s first long race. He’s done a few 5k races and seems to like it. He’s also run some training runs with me. He did the 12 hour event as well and was the youngest one there at 5 years old.
We got there and set up a tent and chairs so that Alex had a place to go when he wasn’t out on the course and for our crew to hang out. Our crew was my wife and daughter.
The first loop here is longer than normal (3.87miles) since we run out to a point on the course and then run back before we run the complete loop. I did this entire first loop with Alex so we took it fairly slow. The trail is fairly wide so it wasn’t an issue with everyone in the 6, 12, 24 hour race starting at the same time. The turn around is a big upright log placed in the middle of the trail that you run around and go back. Everyone of course was interested in Alex and how he’d do. I warned him ahead of time that he’d hear how cute he was a bunch of times and that he’d just have to get used to it (he doesn’t like it when people call him cute). We also went over the amended rules as far as talking to strangers, etc compared to normal times.
We did pretty well and finished it in 41:22. He walked the next loop with mom and I started running my planned pace. Apparently he got tired of how slow they walked and started speed walking away from them. He can really move when he walks fast. I ended up catching up to him (lapping him) just as he finished his loop 2. He then took a break in the tent and waited for our crew to meet him there.
My splits were pretty consistent and I’d eat small amounts each lap with things that would be at Spartathlon, or I planned on bringing with. I ran with Alex on my lap 7 again. This is when drama happened. There is a steepish uneven part of the trail towards the end of the loop and Alex fell and got all scraped up. There were some tears but I was able to convince him it would hurt just as much to walk than to run. Luckily our crew was waiting at the lap counting tent so I handed him off to them and the medic. They didn’t really do anything to him since it wasn’t that bad, I think that was the only thing the medic had to do the entire race. I knew that would make him not want to run for awhile.
I then ran with Courtney Dewalter the next lap since we have a race we’re both running in October and I wanted to get to know her a little. Plus she’s famous. If you didn’t know, she has the American Women’s 24 hour record and the course record for this race and likely many other races. She grew up in MN so that’s kind of cool. She’s probably the best women’s long distance ultrarunner in the US. I tried to impress on my daughter how good she is and that she can kick her dad’s butt in an ultra. I think she was impressed.
I pretty much went into cruise mode for awhile. Nothing was really hurting. It wasn’t very hot and I wasn’t having any stomach issues. I’m not sure if it was because it wasn’t that hot (it only got to about 73 degrees but it was essentially 100% humidity in the valley) or if it was the omeprazole I was taking since there’s research from the Spartathlon race that it helps with GI issues. Either way, not much to report for most of the race.
Well I guess I forgot one interesting thing. There was what I believe was a snapping turtle laying her eggs right off the edge of the paved part of the path. She had just started at the beginning of the race and someone had put cones around her so that people wouldn’t run her over. It was fun to see her every 22 minutes having moved a little bit to lay more eggs. She finally finished up around 1pm if I remember correctly. I’m amazed she kept going like we weren’t a threat.
About 5 people asked about Alex and I told him his fans were expecting to see him on the course again. Jessie finally kicked him out of the tent in the afternoon and he speed walked 2 more laps. I mean he can really move when he walks fast. That got him to 12.4 miles. I was hoping he’d do 1 more or a couple of the short loops you can do the last hour of the race to get over the half marathon distance. Then he could brag he’s gone further than mom but that didn’t interest him so he just left it at 5 laps for the day. Still not bad and it was what I was expecting him to do. I think they just played outside by the lake for most of the rest of the day.
Walking on his own
Walking on his own
I changed socks and shoes at 42 miles. It had mostly quit sprinkling and I wanted to get into dry socks. The other issue was the trail part of this course isn’t dirt, it’s packed crushed rock. My wife couldn’t understand why everyone was complaining about the course, but hitting those rocks without a rock plate in your shoes hurt after awhile. I was running in Altra Escalante thinking that’s what I would use at Spartathlon. Nope, just not enough shoe. I switched to my Altra Olympus at that point.
I was hoping to get 50 miles in 8:45 but with the couple slower laps with Alex and the shoe change it ended up being 8:53. Still not too bad. I was mostly trying to go slow in the beginning and keep things under control. Finally around mile 55 I started a run/walk strategy since I was getting low on energy and needed a change in stride once and a while. It didn’t slow me down all that much, just 2 minutes a lap. Still under 12 minute miles.
I finished 29 full loops and I would’ve had time for 1 more full loop but decided to play it safe and start the short loops with 25 minutes left. Some people started the short loops as soon as possible and I could see why. It’s paved and fairly flat so even though you have to turn around every eighth mile, it seems faster. I went back and forth 9 times for 2.25 additional miles. Someone had a cone on his head at one end and you had to run around him. It seemed like a joke but I think it was done out of necessity. I suspect people kept kicking over the cone. Either way it was fun. I left about 9 seconds on the clock so not much wasted time at all. The total distance was 65.9 miles which was good for second place male!
I was sorer than I thought I’d be just doing a 12 hour race but then again I ran over 100k in that time so it makes sense. My coach had me running again a couple days later but I think that may have been too early.
Alex got to pick where to eat, so of course he picked a Chinese buffet. I found one on the phone and it wasn’t too bad. The awards ceremony was the next morning at the finish line and included a breakfast. I got my award plate and should get a special shirt for reaching 100k in 12 hours as well. Everyone got a race shirt and finishing medal. Even though it’s way too big for him, Alex wears that shirt all the time. He doesn’t really talk about it, but I think he’s pretty proud of himself and his accomplishment. That’s all I wanted for him by doing this race. To see the fruits of hard work and to be satisfied with a job well done.
I would do this race again if it ever works out. The timing of it interferes with a fair amount of races I’m interested in which is why I haven’t run it until this year. It also has a fairly high entry fee since its purpose is to raise money for scholarships for kids. Most timed races are half the cost but for me this race is so close that it’s really a wash cost wise. You can get pledges to pay for your entry which is a nice option too.
“I’m never doing that unsupported again!” I said as I crossed the finish line just a few days ago. Do I still think that? Probably, but I’m still tired. Let’s go back a bit first. Here is last year’s race report for more details on the race itself, etc. Ken the race director came up with the new category of this race called unsupported last year. You have to do the race once before you’re allowed to try it unsupported and with good reason. While it doesn’t seem like it would add that much more difficulty to an already difficult race, it does. Since I finished last year, I wanted to try unsupported this year.
There aren’t really any unsupported rules written down in one place so I’ll summarize them as they currently are. Basically all the rules are the same as the supported race except you can’t get ANY support from the race, the race volunteers, businesses at the checkpoints, in addition to outsiders that no one in the race can get aid from. That means you don’t get to warm up at the 3 checkpoints, you don’t get any water or food at them either. You are allowed to use garbage cans to throw away trash. You can use a porta-potty if it’s outside. You can use a fire if you find one along the way or make your own with wood you collect yourself. You can receive aid from other racers as long as it doesn’t involve food or water. That last one I’m not sure I totally agree with. Any aid seems like it shouldn’t be allowed but that is also so against everything that ultrarunners believe in so I’m fine with it.
So what does all this mean for how I prepared for this year’s race? Well to start with I got a white gas stove since I’d have to melt snow at some point during the race and it would take forever with the Esbit tab stove I had. I heard from the unsupported runners last year that melting snow took forever for them. Also white gas works at extreme cold. On a side note (rant) I’m so sick of people claiming those butane/propane tank stoves work in the winter. You can’t change the laws of physics people. Just because you went winter camping once and your canister stove worked (because the tank was kept warm and it was 0 degrees out) doesn’t mean crap when it’s -35 and your tank got cold because your “foolproof” idea to keep it warm didn’t work. Having a canister stove will pass inspection for the race but if you plan on going unsupported get a white gas stove.
I grew out a 5 week beard which I’ve never done. Last year was only like 10 days and not enough. I also got a better bivy. I got a new -20 sleeping bag because the one I had was old and likely not as warm as it should be. Based on my testing, I was right, the old one didn’t keep me as warm as the new one. I wish I could afford a -40 bag, I’ll keep looking for a cheaper one. I got down booties to wear in the sleeping bag. I also got lightweight racing snowshoes that I saw someone with last year.
I changed my water carrying plan since my old method of a gallon jug in a cooler wouldn’t cut it this year. I purchased a bunch of different thermoses and tested them outside. I decided on a half gallon thermos from Walmart that worked better than most expensive ones. I already had a 54 oz thermos that tested great as well. I then took a 2L pop bottle and insulated it with bubble wrap. I planned on using that last one to get me to Gateway (the first checkpoint) and then toss it in the garbage. The other ones kept water warm for over a day in my tests. The reason for carrying so much water from the beginning was to limit the amount of snow I would have to melt. I expected I would make it close to Surly (3rd checkpoint) before I’d have to melt snow and I could use the fire there. Maybe I’d even make it further if I could cut the hot water with snow along the way.
All together this added 10 pounds of gear to my sled I didn’t have last year. 10 pounds! Ugh. My sled, gear, and required calories weighed 37# race morning. Plus 12# water and 5# food. That adds up to 54# I was dragging behind me at the start and it would slowly get less as I went on. I’ll add that my wife made the statement “It’s your own stupid fault for going unsupported.” I was hoping for more of a response like “wow, you’re so strong, you can do it!”
The other thing I expected going unsupported would do was improve my finish time. Yes improve. Since you can’t stop at a checkpoint, you can’t stay there nice and warm longer than you should either. I was hoping for 43 hours instead of 46 hours. That was of course assuming conditions were similar to last year.
I guess I’ll add one more thing about this race in general whether unsupported or not. The words Hope, Should, Usually, Worked Before are not helpful. Thinking with those words will end your race. Use words like Worst Case, Over-pack, and most importantly Contingency!
So if you’re not bored by now, I’ll get on with the race itself.
I stayed at the Voyager Motel this year right next to the start line. A friend left his car at the finish line and I drove him back to the start line. That way he’d drive me back after the race to get my car and the gear he left there. I ended up going to Canada this year since it’s so close and I wanted Poutine. There was a restaurant that served it there that google said was open. After paying the $7 to go across the bridge to Canada I found out it closed in December. So back I went to the USA.
The race starts at 7am Monday morning for the bikers, here’s how it started.
We started at 7:06 with “release the hounds!” I still love that.
It was -11 at the start and only forecast to get to about zero in the afternoon. I wore my wind shorts, tights, and wind pants. I had on my wool Injinji socks, Altra Olympus shoes and cast stockings on my feet. I wore 2 compression shirts, my hooded jacket and wind jacket. A fleece hat as well as fleece thinsulate gloves. The sled pulled OK but it was obviously heavier than last year. Also since it was colder the snow wasn’t as quick either. I still ran to the turn onto the Arrowhead trail and a little further but didn’t run all the way to Hwy 53 like last year.
I talked to Pam Reed for a bit in the beginning but then didn’t really talk to anyone for more than a minute or so the rest of the race. I just didn’t match up with anyone’s speed and since I was closer to the front of the pack this year it was just thinner in general anyway. John Storkamp passed me a little later in the race than last year, still walking way faster than I can.
It never really seemed to warm up at all. It was cloudy as well. The main issue I was having was that I wore too much in the beginning and didn’t take things off soon enough so I got my second shirt layer and jacket somewhat damp. I took off my hat and put on a buff. I took off both jackets to start to dry out my shirts. It was working and I was keeping warm for the most part. I was mostly walking already by this point but that was fine, I was still keeping overall pace well since I was walking faster than last year. I had trained a fair amount trying to get my walking speed up.
I got to Hwy 53 around the same time as last year. There is phone service here so I texted my wife this good looking photo to let her know what she was missing.At this point I was starting to get a little colder and the shirt was mostly dried out now. I put on my hooded jacket which was partly frozen from the sweat earlier. It thawed out quickly but didn’t make me much warmer. The whole reason I did all of this was to make sure it would be dry by the night. It was supposed to get to at least -15 at night. The problem was they kept changing the forecast to be colder and colder. The clouds started to leave about 3pm so I was expecting at least -20 below in spots. Therefore I knew I’d need all my jackets dry for this first night. I did have an extra dry shirt but I might need that too later on.
My hands started to get cold as a result of all of this unfortunately. At one point after the turn south after shelter #2 I got real cold. In fact my hands were colder than at any other point of the race. It took forever to get my bag opened to get another jacket and warmer, dry gloves on. I was so mad at myself for letting my hands get that cold. I seriously just about had to call it quits. It took me 2 minutes just to snap my running vest back on. So many people seemed to pass me through all this. This is all at about zero degrees remember and I had to go through much colder later. It seemed so stupid at the time to risk my whole race just to dry out some shirts and jackets. Of course later I would thank myself over and over again for doing just that.
A trail groomer went by I think around this time. He only went on one side of the trail but the path he took went back and forth so I kept having to move around to stay out of the soft snow he made. I was bummed to see one so soon as they make the trail much harder to traverse . This year was different though. Because it was so cold, the path he made starting firming up in just an hour. By 2 hours it was nice and hard and smooth. It ended up being better running on the path he made than anywhere else.
I still hadn’t bothered to try to play my iPod. The battery would die quickly in this kind of cold and honestly for the next 20 hours or so I had much on my mind. You’d think you’d get bored hiking through the woods for 2 days with nothing to listen to or people to talk to. I can tell you there was no chance for that this race. All I could think about was how to stay warm and survive the night to come. What could I do now so that I didn’t have to do it later when it was colder? Should I eat now or later? When will I sleep? And back to how will I keep warm? The only thing I didn’t have to worry about was water. My pop bottle was more than enough to get to Gateway and it stayed warmer than I though it would. The thermoses still had water over 160 degrees so I knew I wouldn’t have to melt snow until it warmed up the second day. The first place unsupported runner wouldn’t be so lucky and got frostbite on all his fingers melting snow when it was -30.
Now I make it seem like you could die out there and of course you could, but really we do have emergency gear to get into and keep warm while waiting for a rescue if it came to that. Most of us have been in this kind of cold before as well. There are also snowmobiles going by every once and a while to check on you. I would never count on them to be there when you need them though and planned accordingly.
I got to Gateway at 4 pm; the same as last year. I had to open the door to the store to yell in, “#83 unsupported”. Last year they were outside to get our numbers, but it was also in the 20’s last year. On the way out the moon started to rise as the sun was setting.
I threw away the 2L pop bottle and my cast stockings as they were getting full of snow. I had been almost over-hydrated to this point since I didn’t plan on wasting any of the water I had in that 2L bottle before it froze so I drank more than I needed to. Now I would go into my normal water use mode. Since it was cold I only filled my water bottle part way most of the time and just had to stop to fill it more often. In fact I stopped much more often this year than last due to all the water, food, and clothing stops.
The temperatures started dropping fast once the sun went down. I texted my wife and shut my phone off. I told her I’d try to message at MelGeorges but that never happened since it was so cold by the time I got there. I didn’t have a thermometer but it is somewhat easy to tell the temp based on past experiences. I was nice and warm at this point though. I had got another jacket on when I got my headlamp out and put a fleece hat on again instead of the buff.
The ice beard was back big time now. I was always breathing through my nose to conserve moisture and heat. At times I would have snotcicles almost 2 inches long. Gross and awesome at the same time. I’d run to get my hands nice and hot and then break/melt them off with my fingers so I could open my mouth fully and open my nostrils again. Then I’d warm my fingers back up in a minute or two. At one point in the cold night my tongue froze to a snotcicle! It melted off in a couple seconds but seriously it was stuck on it. This was probably around -20 at the time. I made sure to not let them get that big after that point.
I also put on my goggles as I was tired of my eyes freezing shut. They make such a big difference in keeping my face warm. I think I was the only person who wore goggles on foot and I’m not really sure why. As long as you don’t mouth breath all the time they won’t fog up if you wait until you’re cold to put them on. It’s weird how much heat you lose from your eyes and upper face.
I was expecting to get to MelGeorges around 3am if I didn’t stop before I got there. This section is still mostly flat with areas of small hills. I wasn’t as tired and run down as I was last year. The full moon was awesome. I never saw the northern lights and never heard any wolves either.
It was around -20 below by 9pm but at least there wasn’t any wind. That’s both a blessing and a curse really. Not having wind makes it not seem as bad as long as you can keep your gloves on and never touch anything. But still air like that also allows the coldest air to settle in spots making it much much colder than the official temps. I’ve tested things to -20 but it just doesn’t get much colder than that in southern MN so beyond that it was unknown other than what others have said.
I wasn’t tired at shelter #4 which was easier to see this year with the full moon. I was kind of tired at #5 but there were already people sleeping there and I was starting to think I should try to stay awake until it warmed up the next day so I could sleep better.
It was at least -25 by now and still getting colder. There is about a 2 mile section along lakes/swamps before the turnoff for MelGeorges that was absolutely brutal! It was at least -35 in that area (it was officially -27 in Tower)! I’ve never been in cold like that in my life. The closest we got growing up was I think -34 the year that Tower got to -60. I was at this time in the race playing leap frog with I think Ladislaus. I didn’t take the time to talk really. We would stop to put something warmer on and the other would pass. I now had 3 jackets on and put on a second and third hat. I had on my warmest gloves. All there was left to put on was another pair of pants that would require taking off my shoes and outer layer of pants to put on. That wasn’t going to happen in this cold. I also had another shirt to put on but again that would require taking things off first. I had more hats but really how many can you put on at once? I was keeping everything warm including feet, hands, nose but just barely. The next step for me would be to start stuffing everything else I had left in my bag into my jackets and pants to add insulation. I also knew I could’ve put a couple pairs of thin gloves on under the thick ones as well.
There were still 4 more hours that it could get colder before it got warmer. I really started to wonder if my race as unsupported would end at MelGeorges. I was confident I could make it there without freezing to death as it would warm up once I got out of the swamps, or at least it wouldn’t be colder up there. But I was worried what would happen if it got to -40 or -45 soon after I left MelGeorges. This is where being supported in this race makes it so much easier. I’d have a nice warm place to sleep while I waited out the cold weather or at the very least a safe space to remove my outer layers so I could add more inner layers. I decided I’d look for a place to bivy after the turnoff to MelGeorges. The plan was after I woke up, I’d have an hour or more to warm up before I got to the checkpoint. If I wasn’t warm yet, then I’d go supported and go inside. This would prevent me having to turn back if it got too cold after the checkpoint.
It did get warmer as we left the swamps and made the turn. In fact I was going to have to start taking things off. I don’t know if it really got that much warmer or if the climbing up just got the blood flowing better. Maybe there was a slight wind I didn’t appreciate until it went away with the turn, I don’t know. Regardless, I felt pretty good about bivying up now. It was about 1:30am. I packed some snow down in an area and even took my gloves off to finish putting it up with no issues (again if it was windy that wouldn’t have worked). I needed them off to put the poles on the bivy. Looking back I won’t use the poles again. Not worth the weight, effort, and risk with taking gloves off. I had everything (sleeping pad, sleeping bag, booties, bag for shoes) already in my bivy so all I had to do was roll it out and get in. While I was warm putting it up and getting in, the second I lay down I started shivering. The snow was cradling in against the bivy and essentially touching the sides of the sleeping bag. While snow may be an insulator when you’re not touching it, it conducts a ton of heat away from you when you touch it. I will never make the mistake of bivying in snow again.
I tried to sleep for about 20 minutes and maybe did for 5 between shivering spells. I said forget it and got up and immediately felt warmer. Warm enough to change my socks even. I put some zinc oxide powder on knowing that with the warmer temps and snow that would start within 12 hours I’d get trench foot if I didn’t do it now. I also usually put Vaseline on but that was much more challenging in the super cold. It was almost as hard as a rock and I don’t know if I ever did get it to melt enough to cover everything. I put a new pair of wool Injinji socks on again as it’d still be cold for some time. Then I packed everything back up. I spent about an hour of down time doing all this for maybe 5 minutes of sleep I think.
I got back to moving and it took no time at all to warm up. Just standing up made me warmer it seemed. It was about 4.5 miles to get to MelGeorges but it seemed to take even longer. There were some hills which I almost welcomed just to make more heat. I got there at 4:12am which was about on schedule due to the bivying time. I again had to yell in the door, “#83 unsupported”. I think everyone was a little groggy and it could be I wasn’t saying things right either but I had to say it like 3 times to get a response. Someone then did come outside just to confirm who I was.
The next section is the longest and most difficult section. The only good thing is I’d get to do a large part of it in daylight. I still had a few hours till sunrise though. The wind would be picking up as well soon from the South which was the direction I’d be heading. I got to do those big fun hills in the dark this year! I forgot to mention one sled change I did this year was to add runners to the bottom of my sled. They made a huge difference in control on the downhills. I think I might have gotten them just slightly off center as I always wanted to pull slightly left. Either way it was worth the extra weight to not go crashing into the banks or go backwards down the hill.
So throughout all this bitter cold the sled seemed to pull about the same as it had earlier in the day. It never acted like the Paris sled at Tuscobia 2 years ago where it pulled like it was in gravel when it got around -20. The UHMW-PE just works a lot better in the cold than the linear-PE of the Paris sled. Another reason to use it besides all the longevity and durability issues. Once it finally got up to above 10 degrees the second day, it really started to move well and I could get a long run at the bottom of hills for once. Then of course the new snow ruined all that but that’s getting ahead of myself.
The sun came up in glorious fashion (too cold to get my phone out to take a picture) as there were still no clouds and the wind came with it. Just 5mph at first, then 10, 15, and close to 20 by Tuesday evening. I kept the goggles on and put a fleece band over my nose when I needed it. I could run some on the flat sections and was making decent time. Food was starting to no longer taste good or interest me. I so wanted real food but all I had was junk and that’s all that won’t turn to a brick in this kind of cold. My mouth was getting damaged from eating all the frozen food and scratching the sides of it.
I tried to take of my outside puffy jacket that I just got this year and realized the zipper had froze from my breath. I took out a chemical hand warmer (the only one I used) and got it going inside my mitten. I then took it out and placed it on the zipper to melt a 2 inch section and zip it down. Then back in the mitten to warm up again, melt 2 more inches, rinse and repeat. Finally I had it down enough to get it the rest of the way.
This is also when I started listening to my iPod. I just kept it in my glove to keep it warm. It helped some with motivation.
I was constantly seeing things that weren’t there during the second day. Rocks that I was convinced was a shelter from a distance. I saw my dog once. I saw people walking through the trees. The snow and moving trees played tricks on me constantly. I didn’t see things at night which seemed weird since I usually see things like that at night. I know other people saw these things too so it couldn’t have just been the exhaustion.
One thing I know was real was the wolf poop. I saw some twice the second day but they were already frozen so not that fresh. I almost wanted to take some to examine later. My kids would love it more than be grossed out by it. Plus there was the extra excitement factor someone might have at gear check at the finish line. Would they think it was mine? Regardless I wasn’t going to dig through my gear to find an empty bag and haul around even a couple ounces more weight than I needed to.
I figured I would need more water and decided to melt snow before the 3rd checkpoint. I decided to go to shelter #8 which is around 98 miles into the race and a few hours away from where I was at the time. The snow then started around noon. It came hard and fast. With the wind it was hard to see at the tops of hills sometimes. I finally made the shelter and it was facing the wind. It still was nice though and the wind didn’t go through it. It had a bench in it as well. I got the stove going with a match since a lighter didn’t work in the cold. It took forever to collect the snow to make 2L of water. The 2 inches of new snow was fresh and pure but almost all air. I didn’t dare take any snow below it since this was a shelter and we all know what guys do around shelters.
Once I got my water melted and it was heating up, I changed my socks again. It was slightly easier to put the Vaseline on this time. I put thinner socks on this time as it was warmer now. I think it took around 45 minutes for all of this. The water was boiling pretty fast and I didn’t have to wait around for it since I had a list of things to do on this stop.
Right after this shelter is the dangerous hills I went down in the dark last year. I handled them much better this year. I started seeing bikers at this point. They must have slept at MelGeorges for a while and were out again. Snow really makes it hard for them so they weren’t much faster than me. The hills are steep and annoying for the next 8 miles or so. Never ending really. Plus with the new snow I couldn’t even go down all but the steepest hills with no run at the end. I had already thrown away all the extra food I wouldn’t eat at shelter #7 to help drop weight but it was still heavy.
A couple women on bikes went with me for most of this section. I must’ve looked pretty tired by this point. I think they felt bad for me. I had to decline all their offers of help of food since I was unsupported and really nothing sounded good other than hot pizza which was of course not going to happen.
Finally as it was just starting to get dark we got to the turn towards Surly. It’s all downhill or flat from there. The wind was really strong now when exposed. It actually felt good. It dried my feet out some and cooled me off. I finally got to Surly at 6:30pm slightly ahead of schedule actually since I had already got my water done. I walked past and called out, “#83 unsupported”. I soon heard a response from a woman, “we support you!” I laughed pretty hard at that one. For some reason they don’t have me leaving until 7:40 but I never even stopped.
I should have though. I was so tired. It would’ve been much better to just sleep on my sled for 30-60 minutes right away to rejuvenate. Instead I kept going. Up and down Wakemup hill which was fun going down but harder going up. In fact I ended up getting a huge cramp in my whole right hip/butt area after that climb. It lasted for 2 hours and I could barely walk. It hurt so bad! Stretching did nothing. Shoving my hand against it between my harness and butt seemed to help. Finally I could walk somewhat pain free but I couldn’t push it for speed or run because it would cramp right back up.
I had done this section in 7 hours last year but that clearly wouldn’t happen unless I could run to make up the lost time. About 5 hours into this section I started losing time. I was falling asleep standing up. I was confident I was still going in the right direction based on foot prints but no clue how fast or how far I’d gone. My watch had died and the spare battery pack was basically froze. My iPod had also died so I had nothing to help keep me awake. I started just repeating the mantra, “walk fast, walk fast”, so I’d remember what I was doing.
Again I seemed to lose time and suddenly the 2 women on bikes who had gone the last section with me were there. They had slept at Surly and were moving again. They said the closest person to me was a ways back which was nice to hear as I was moving so slow. I decided I had to try to sleep so I laid on my pack and set my phone alarm for 15 minutes. I woke up shivering in 10 minutes. I could actually run now! I did for probably a mile and then had to walk again but I was definitely more awake now.
I crossed a road so I finally knew where I was. I had 8.5 miles to go. More than I wanted but at least I knew now. I still had no clue how fast I was moving. I tried hard and I felt like I was going 16 minute miles. Turns out they were more like 20. The wind had died down and I was getting hot. I drank the last of my water but didn’t take anything off. I just would take my hat and gloves off for periods of time.
Finally the turn to the casino! I tried hard to run but I couldn’t. The constant uphill for the last 20 miles wore me out and now it was even steeper to the finish. I saw the snow fences and looked behind, still no one. I enjoyed the last quarter mile to the finish. I finished at 3:09am for a time of 44:03. I had hoped for 42:30 but it was still better than last year! I took pictures at the finish and then saw the next runner coming up the hill. I had barely got there before him.
I had a gear check since I had finished pretty high up. I didn’t know exactly where I finished. I think they told me 6th at the finish line. I was so stinking tired though so who knows. It was a quick check which I appreciated since I just wanted to sit down. I don’t mind the gear check, I just wish I could sit down somewhere. They brought me up to the hospitality room and I found out I was 2nd place unsupported! I was surprised. I knew a couple of the guys who did it last year were doing it again and they were ahead of me the whole time. I passed one somewhere around Surly or after. The guy right behind me was unsupported as well.
I got food and luckily they let me in my room early so I could shower, etc right away. This was the first time in my life I had ever stayed awake for 48 hours. I’ve done 38-40 hours many times but many of those weren’t while pulling a frickin’ sled in the woods. I guess it was good training for a possible future race.
I slept 3 hours and found out my friend had dropped the day before. So I was able to get my car that morning yet and my suitcase, etc. The rest of the day was spent swapping stories with everyone who finished or didn’t, eating, and limping slowly around. I was in love with elevators that day.
I left for home Thursday and was so happy to see my family again.
I’m glad I did this unsupported and finished it in decent health. It was easily the hardest non-stop challenge I’ve ever done. It’s hard to call it a multi-day since I never slept. Certainly Volstate is longer but this is so much more isolating. There is no where to hide from the weather when unsupported. Having a warm place to go to change clothes, get food, sleep, etc is such a luxury really.
Arrowhead is hard. Doing it unsupported is harder on so many levels. I suppose there is always the option of doing the double arrowhead if I really want to make things hard on myself.
38 runners finished out of 64 that started (59%) which is pretty good considering the conditions. Official results are here.
A 15 mile run that felt effortless. A 25 MPH wind that pushed me one way, and made me work on the way back with dirt hitting against my face. I laughed at some great podcasts and learned from others.
I planned the hikes I would take my children on in the mountains next summer.
I thought of my favorite hikes I want to take them on when they are old enough.
I hoped for a day when they ask me to go on their favorite hikes they discover as adults.
No wildlife made this run great, there were none to be seen. No interesting scenes of nature. No cars. No people. No crops.
Perhaps the nothingness was part of what made it great. Getting lost in the constant effortless pace. I didn’t need to look at my watch to know I would average under a 10 minute mile pace.
With just 1 mile left to go I almost felt sad. I felt like going another 5 miles but knew I didn’t have the time.
I felt like a sled dog that wants to keep pulling the sled with the rest of his pack over the next hill. Like a 12 year old that just wants another hour to play with his friends before going home. Like a teenager wanting time to stop, so that his date can go on forever. I felt myself pushing even harder into the wind and lengthening out my stride. It felt awesome!
Some days I don’t want to run but I do. Some days the run feels horrible. But today I was reminded of why I run. I run because someday I won’t be able to run any longer. I’ll remember days like today for years. A simple 15 mile run that made my life better.
“Always remember our goal is Greece. Don’t mess up and I’ll try my best to get us there.” That was the final remark in the crew notes to my wife for this race.
So let’s get the main details out of the way. This is a 100 mile race in extreme southern Illinois (Land of Lincoln!) on an old railroad bed. It isn’t paved so it is still technically a trail but because it’s so flat and smooth, it is also a certified course for distance. The course is an out and back from a central location; You end up doing a Southern and Northern out and back twice for the 100 mile. It’s in November so the temperatures are near ideal and little chance for rain in November. Basically it was designed for fast times and breaking records. Despite being flat, it is quite pretty. There’s a 543 foot long tunnel you go through 4 times, and lots of trestles. Also, with 566 total starters there are plenty of chances to talk to other people. I’ll detail the race results later.
This race required a 10+ hour drive from MN to get there. That’s a long way for a race but the entire purpose was to get under 21 hours to qualify for a future race. I further wanted to get under 20 hours so that was my goal. It wasn’t just because under 20 hours seems cooler than under 21, but the race I was qualifying for has reduced their time cutoff in the past and I wanted to be under what I thought they might change it to. While this race would be easy to do without a crew since it’s an out and back past the same drop bags multiple times, I brought my awesome wife to crew once again. I had all of about 15 minutes of down time changing clothes, peeing, getting food and drink because of her. The majority of aid stations I wouldn’t even stop as she’d just hand me water and gels on the move. Not having her would’ve added 30 minutes to my time.
The drive was long and filled with “Land of Lincoln” signs all through Illinois which induced many inside jokes and voices. We got to the race bib pickup and supper before they closed. It is a good spaghetti supper with awesome desserts! They also had sweet tea so you now you were in way Southern Illinois. We stayed in a town to the North since Vienna doesn’t have much for hotel rooms. It seemed like we had to drive uphill for a long ways which made me wonder what the climb to tunnel hill would be like on the course.
I got up at 4am for a 7am start. The temperature was 28 degrees and zero wind so I had to start with a thermal long sleeve shirt, gloves and buff knowing I’d have to change after a couple hours when it warmed up. Shorts were still in order though. I saw runners wearing full jackets and long pants the entire race, I suspect they lived somewhere warmer.
There is a small warm building there at the start line you could go in and a good amount of porta-potties. Even though the course is certified for distance they had us do this loop around the parking lot at the start. I don’t know if this was required for the distance or just extra we ran. With there also being a 50 mile race, it seemed odd since we never ran this loop a second time for the 100 mile distance.
I started somewhat up front, trying to leave room for fast 50 milers. The race is chip timed but not from the starting line so your start time is gun time. I wasn’t going to start 5 minutes in the hole lining up in the back, plus I thought a sub 20 hour time should be somewhat in the front. Again, I really needed under 21 hours which is why I was so concerned with a few minutes here and a few seconds there, it really could make the difference.
I planned a slow degradation in my speed for the race with some adjustments for the incline and decline of tunnel hill. Basically I started at a 9:10 pace and would finish with a 13:20 going downhill to the finish line. I had been using Sword drink all year in preparation for this race since it would be served here and also I wanted to try something with fructose in it. I’ve liked it so far this year. BUT… I really don’t like the Orange flavor. So sure enough, that’s all they had at the race. Ugh! I could only stomach it for the first 30 miles or so and then I was going to drink my limited supply of berry flavor I brought. In the end though I only drank water the remainder of the race.
I’ll quickly state that while I’m confident the race course is indeed 100 miles (plus whatever fudge factor they always add for certified courses) I don’t agree with the distances between different aid stations. Not a huge deal if you have a GPS watch but if you’re going with just a watch, you’ll be wondering why some sections are going faster/slower than you thought. Also it’s hard to know what part of the aid station they are measuring from. Often the timing mat isn’t at all near the aid station tent and Karnak and Tunnel Hill are very long areas.
My wife made it to the first aid station Heron Pond and I just did a Sword swap. Next up was Karnak and here I changed into a T-shirt as it was above 40 now and still zero wind on the trail at least. I had been talking to people here and there up to this point. I had listened to a loud conversation about relationships by a group of women behind me for about 20 minutes. Finally I ran with a woman named Abby going for sub 20 as well. We stuck together for an hour or so but she ended up dropping to the 50 mile distance I found out later.
From Karnak to the Southern turn-around is almost 2.6 miles according to my watch and Google Earth and not the 2.4 miles listed. To compensate for this Karnak to Heron Pond and Heron Pond to Vienna are both shorter than listed but mostly the Karnak to Heron Pond is shorter. I’m going from tent to tent for measurements.
Abby and I got to the turnaround which has a timing mat but isn’t updated to the live results website as far as I can tell. I assume it is there to make sure you didn’t cheat. Soon after the turn I saw a friend of mine that I knew was also going for a qualifying time. I had previously told her I’d slap her butt if she wasn’t keeping up so I started motioning as to get her back side as she passed me. Of course I wasn’t really going to slap her, but in the process I scared the crap out of the woman running in front of her. I yelled “sorry” over my back and hope she heard me.
So 14 miles down and a bunch more to go. The trail is tree lined the entire way and very pretty, especially on the North section. I went into cruise mode. Eating gels and some ham and cheese sandwiches they had at aid stations, and Sword. Still doing under 10 minute miles and banking some time. I was up 10 minutes by the time I finished the first Southern loop and got to Vienna.
Somewhere around 20 miles I think.
The photos are from somewhere around mile 20 I think.
I got my music out now as people were just kind of following their own game plan. There is an aid station called Shelby Road just under 3 miles from Vienna going North. I just got some more gels and Sword from my wife. This is were I typically slow down in an ultra. My stomach gets acidy, it usually is hot (not this race though), and I’m just out of glycogen after 30 miles. I only drank water the rest of the race and didn’t eat much until I got back to Vienna at 50 miles.
I planned on 11 minute miles for this Northern loop but I was slower than that and I could feel it. I had even done some math 20 miles into the race on what it would take to do sub-19. Now I was hoping I could somehow hang onto sub-20. I of course knew there are ups and downs and yet I’m always seemingly surprised when the first down shows up. I had to start a running/walking pattern at Shelby Road that I maintained the remainder of the race. Run 5 / walk 1. The same I had done at my first 100 miler at Heartland 100. My muscles were just tired of the same flat surface and the walking made a huge difference on things getting loose and normal feeling again.
The trail on paper starts to climb right away from Vienna to Tunnel Hill but to me it seemed like it didn’t really start until after Shelby Rd. You go up almost 300 feet from Vienna to Tunnel Hill in 9 miles. That certainly isn’t much but like I said it seemed to be more concentrated towards Tunnel Hill. You can definitely see you’re going up during the daytime watching the trail cut into the bedrock in spots and seeing the people in front of you are uphill. It’s harder to notice going downhill. There is a long trestle before the tunnel that had gallon water jugs for an aid station. I think it is about 400 feet long and 90 feet high. You’re surrounded by hills though so there isn’t much of a view other than looking down.
The tunnel itself is 543 feet long and after about 100 feet it’s completely dark. You can see light at the end of the tunnel but that just makes it worse since the contrast is so high. I just had to trust there weren’t any holes for me to fall into or twist an ankle on. Even moving at a pretty good speed, it still takes a full minute to get through it.
I got to tunnel hill aid station which is a small town and a long parking lot along the trail. I had lost 4 minutes of time already. The Northern turn around is 2.1 miles away (not 2) and all downhill. It’s pretty and curves a lot so you really never know when you’re going to get there. Again you go over a timing mat and around a cone. Then the uphill back to tunnel hill. I saw Abby again about a half mile after the turn around so she was about 10 minutes back now and I knew behind her pace she wanted. I still didn’t try to count how many people were in front of me at this turnaround since there were still 50 mile runners and way too many people to count accurately. I didn’t see my friend Kimberly so I knew something must’ve happened to her. She did end up going over 50 miles so I should’ve past her somewhere but it was likely at an aid station. I saw some other VolState friends as well.
Back at tunnel hill it was all downhill to Vienna and I was looking forward to it. I was still only 5 minutes in front of my pace. I didn’t eat anything and only drank water. Antacids helped some. I saw people puking a lot. I heard many runners telling their crew they had puked or saw other people puking. I won’t go as far as to say it was like the Lardass scene from Stand By Me, but a case could be made that at least 10% of runners puked during the race. In fact, that’s what my friend ended up getting pulled from the race for. It wasn’t hot so that couldn’t be the reason. I suspect there are a LOT of runners trying for their first 100 mile distance at this race and inexperience was the cause for a lot of them. It’s also probably part of why so many drop to the 50 mile distance.
I got to Vienna just 2 minutes under my goal pace now. 9 hours into the race and 4pm on the clock. I was getting concerned but I was also happy that I stopped the bleeding now. I was feeling better. I had a breakfast shake, got my headlamp on and brushed aside the long sleeve t-shirt for now as it was still warm. My wife seemed kind of grumpy with my loosing time. I still technically had an hour buffer. She was still doing a great job keeping things running smoothly though.
I now had a 12 minute pace planned. I gained time again. It was dark now and I kept going back and forth with this group of 4 guys. Our run/walk patterns were different so I think we leap frogged a dozen times. I had to charge my watch from Heron Pond to Karnak so I didn’t really know how fast I was going but ended up staying pretty much where I wanted. My back started to hurt now and I could tell there was likely a blister on at least my left big toe but it only hurt if I purposely rubbed my toes in my shoes so I didn’t stop. This time from Vienna I started counting people in front of me. The leaders passed me still during the light. The first place woman was gaining on the male leader from the last 2 times I saw them. Then there was a long time before I started seeing more people in the dark. I just counted everyone, not knowing if they were just a pacer or not. I counted close to 50 by the time I got to the turn-around. I wasn’t concerned about place, just time but I felt happy with the number. In fact I was higher than 50th since there were a fair amount of pacers.
At Heron Pond the 4th time through, I stopped for the first time of the race and sat down. My lower back was all tight and I was hurting. I took an NSAID and had my wife massage me some. She got the knots out in like 4 minutes, awesome. I put on a light long sleeve shirt. With all this I also lost all my banked time. 29 miles left and no room for error.
I took some caffeine and got to Vienna. My wife had a double cheeseburger waiting for me. I knew the climb up tunnel hill would be slower so I planned on a 13:30 pace but even that was proving to be difficult. The winners had already finished so I didn’t bother to keep track of how many were in front of me. I started to get used to the idea of not getting under 20 hours as I just couldn’t get going. I finally got to the tunnel and it was much less creepy now that I had a light in the tunnel. I couldn’t believe there was no graffiti in it. I got to Tunnel Hill aid station 7 minutes behind my schedule. I drank some beet juice here and looked forward to the short downhill to the turn-around.
I cruised downhill but sucked going back up. I was 10 minutes behind schedule and basically had 2 hours to get back to the finish in under 20 hours. 9.7 miles in 2 hours. I had planned on a 13:20 pace back to the finish but would now essentially need under 12 to make up for stops and the lost time. I soon decided after leaving Tunnel Hill for the last time that I’d go for it. I took some more caffeine, ate a gel, and took off.
With the walking breaks I had to run under a 11 minute mile pace. With the slight downhill, it wasn’t all that difficult to keep the pace. I had to start mouth breathing again to get enough air and just concentrated on the 5 run / 1 walk timing and keeping the pace under 11 while running. It was clear after an hour that I was making up time very well. I would get to Shelby Rd back on pace meaning I had made up the 10 minutes already and just had under 3 more miles to go. I got to Shelby and told my wife I was going for it.
It was nice those last few miles. I knew I would make it but still kept up the pace. There were a few hundred mile people still coming from the other direction with encouraging words. I haven’t mentioned this before but there are mile markers along the tunnel hill trail and the finish line is just .15 miles after the nearest mile marker so I was constantly doing math on the way back in. I finished at 2:54am, 19:54:05 after I started! I think I made a whoo but there was basically no one there at the finish line to hear it. The crowd to watch Camille Herron break the women’s world record 100 miles on trail with a time of 12:42 were long gone. The aid station that had food before looked empty. Really the only people there were pacers waiting for their runners to do the Northern loop with them.
I finished in 28th place overall, 22nd male, and 10th in my age division.
I got a nice looking sub 24 hour buckle and running jacket. I thought there was supposed to be finish line food but I didn’t see it and maybe it didn’t start until later. Either way I wasn’t that hungry. For the first time I realized how horrible I smelled. There were supposed to be showers at the high school where we checked in the night before the race so we heading straight over there.
There were supposed to be signs where to go but we couldn’t find any. The doors to the school were open so we just searched around and found a gym and then looked downstairs for locker rooms. We could hear water running so we went in that direction. This is the point where I was glad I wasn’t alone. It’s 3am, we’re creeping around dimly lit halls in a school; Basically the beginning of every horror movie. I walk into a locker room that is fairly well lit but the lights are blinking in that annoying fluorescent strobe effect. No one answers my calls to “Hello”. I get back to the shower area and can see almost half of them are dripping water at a steady pace with only 1 incandescent bulb working in there. Luckily no one else was in there as I had no idea if this was a girls or boys locker room. There were still a couple small rooms going off this locker room that I didn’t investigate for a murderer but really I wasn’t going to be able to fight one off anyway. I had a hard enough time walking by this point.
I took off my shoes and socks and discovered a huge blister on my left big toe with the toe nail already lifted up. I also realized that while I had brought a towel and soap, I had forgot clothes to change into. So I went to the door naked trying to find my wife, and yelled at her outside. Luckily she heard me and got my clothes and a safety pin to pop the huge blister. We should’ve got a picture but whatever. The left side of the nail had moved a couple millimeters towards the end of my toe as well. I had always wondered why the left side of this nail wasn’t growing as fast as the right side of the nail from when I had lost it last year. I think the tip of the nail was getting caught under the skin towards the end of my toe and now that the blister had lifted the nail up, it just went up and over it like it should’ve been. That’s also the possible reason for the blister to begin with. That or these shoes were doing something I wasn’t aware of in training. Regardless, I’m starting over with this nail yet again. I had zero blisters at Superior 100 just 2 months ago and now I’ll likely loose 3 nails from this easy flat race.
The shower was nice and quick. It took some effort to get my compression tights on but I got them on with my wife’s help. She wasn’t super tired so we started the drive home right away. I tried to sleep in the passenger seat but it’s so hard to get comfortable with my feet and legs being so painful and not being able to put them up decently. I wasn’t that tired mentally either. I couldn’t keep my eyes open but I talked to my wife to keep her up and company until we stopped at a rest stop around 5am. She got the air mattress out for me and we both slept for about 80 minutes.
I then drove for a few hours until we were both kind of hungry a few hours later. There was a Jack in the Box and we always love those so she got gas while I went in to order. Afroman’s “Because I Got High” was playing loudly from the kitchen. I started laughing since most of the workers were in the single digits old when it came out. Also a totally inappropriate song to be playing since this was the unedited version. Anyway, I asked if they had burgers and the response was a glorious “we have a full menu all day”! I got the big double bacon burger combo and another sandwich for my wife. Only $5 for the same thing Hardee’s charges $8 for. Man I wish we had Jack in the Box in MN.
The rest of the trip was fairly benign. A good night’s sleep was had by all and we both had the day off work the next day as well.
The stats for this years race: 314 started the 100 mile race. 15 DNF’d, 119 dropped down to the 50 mile distance, which leaves only 180 to finish the 100 mile distance. That’s only a 57% completion rate. You’d think by the statistics that this is a super difficult race, it’s not. I really wouldn’t recommend this for someone’s first 100 mile race unless you are the type of person who would never quit or you really don’t care if you actually finish the 100miles. You need to know yourself that well, not just hope. Otherwise you’re very likely to quit by dropping down to the 50 mile distance since you still get a buckle and go right past the quitting point halfway through the race. 37% did just that this year with absolute perfect weather and conditions. They were no where near the time cutoff either.
I’d suggest a point to point race or long distance out and back where the only way back to the start line is to finish for your first. The only way you’ll see if you can do it is to force yourself by not giving yourself an out. You will hurt no matter how “easy” of a course a 100 mile race is on. I don’t recommend going for Superior as your first either as that one is quite difficult but there are lots of races in between the two.
The race itself is well run. I didn’t really make use of the aid stations since I had my wife to help. While there was plenty of food at the beginning of the race, it was basically all gone by dark. Even water was in short supply my wife said at times. I’m not sure if people ate way more than they expected or if crews were eating aid station food or what. Maybe a bunch more food showed up at 5am when I was already done, I guess just be prepared like you always should that there might not be food at an aid station. I would probably only run this again if I needed another fast time in November since it’s a pretty long drive for me. I don’t think you could find a better race as far as setting a personal best at the 100 mile distance.
I’ll just start by saying I’m pretty excited about my performance because it’s going to come through in my writing that way anyway. Not that I won by any means or even placed for my age, but I did really, really well for me and a great improvement from last year. I got 20th out of 237 starters, that’s huge for me in a summer race! My time was 27:26:24, almost 4 hours off last years time! It’s pretty safe to say I won’t have a performance like that again so I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.
So why did things go so well? The main thing was the temperature. The high was in the 60’s instead of high 70’s last year. The low got down to freezing in some locations which was awesome. Probably at least 90 minutes of the improvement was just because I didn’t get overheated for more than 30 minutes the entire race instead of the entire day last year. Some improvement was because I didn’t run Vol State this year. The rest…I’m not entirely sure. I certainly didn’t train better or harder. I planned things a little better with my crew maybe and changed some nutrition stuff. I think mostly though I just kept feeling pretty good and as long as I felt good, I pushed it.
Absolutely beautiful! No clouds pretty much the entire race. Northern lights the night before. The Superior Hiking Trail just gets better every time I run or hike on it. I’m so glad it’s still a pretty good secret. Here’s an example of the beauty you’ll see along the race route. This is just after the Split Rock aid station so very early in the race.
Anyway just go to the race website for tons of awesome and scary photos if you want.
The race itself in on the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. We go from Gooseberry Falls to Lutsen Ski Resort almost completely along the superior hiking trail which is pretty technical single track. 21,000 elevation gain packaged in both large and many small doses. The course had an additional change this year since the bridge over Split Rock Creek was out so we had to ford the river 7 miles into the race. So guaranteed wet feet pretty early on.
I brought the whole family this year. My awesome wife/crew, my children, and my parents/children watchers. My parents have never gone to one of these events yet so I decided it was about time they came and saw what it was about. I don’t think it hurt that it was on the north shore either. We brought 2 vehicles so my wife could concentrate on crewing during the race and my parents could do whatever they wanted with the kids.
The night before the race is the pre-race meeting with spaghetti dinner. We all went and ate before the meeting. I talked to a couple people before the meeting started and got registered after I ate. My parents stayed to listen to the meeting as well since they didn’t know much about the race. It was shorter this year which I appreciated. I didn’t stick around to talk to people since I had the family with.
We stayed at a hotel near the start line again and got there about 20 minutes before it started. I saw a few people I knew would be there but didn’t have much time to talk. I was busy explaining things to my parents and wrangling children. I lined up at the starting line and made sure to be up further this year as I didn’t feel like being slowed down again once we got to the single track. I placed 37th last year so I lined up in about 30th place knowing I’d do better.
And we were off at 8am.
The first 4 miles are on a bike path similar to the last 3 years and in my opinion will always stay that way from now on. It’s the only way to spread the field out.
Next we turn onto the single track and start climbing up along the shore of the river. We crossed the river about 0.2 miles from the old bridge spot so the course was shorter than normal (and even shorter because of the bike path, basically 1 mile shorter total but still 102.3 miles long) Here’s a video of the crossing.
It wasn’t bad but the first 2 steps were impossible to not get wet. I wore my new Altra Timp for the first 20 miles of the race. I didn’t have any time to break them in but they drained water like a dream. I purchased them specifically because of this crossing and the next one coming up after Split Rock aid station. My Lone Peak and Olympus both hold a half inch of water so they are useless for water crossing on trails. I got into the Split Rock aid station at 9:28 am, 20 minutes faster than I expected for my 30 hour goal time. That’s almost 9 minute miles but I still felt great and it was sure nice not to have to go around anyone on the trail.
The mud the first 20 miles of this race wasn’t totally ridiculous but it was more than usual. It’s not near as slippery as it was at Bighorn since there must be a lot less clay in it in northern MN. Here’s a good photo of what the muddy portions are like.
Next up was Beaver Bay 10.4 miles away. I tried to pay more attention to the trail this year so I could remember it better. About half way to Beaver Bay is where the rocks begin. Oh sure there are plenty of rocks before but you will understand what I mean when you run the race. These rocks don’t stop basically until Tettegouche, and then they just go down to the normal amount of rocks. Oh and there was lots of mud as well. The entire trail was fairly wet the entire year according to the hiking trail website. Finally about 7 miles from Split Rock you get to the beaver dam crossing. I had read about it on the hiking trail website but I didn’t know how big it was going to be. It was pretty deep and smelly and you couldn’t see where you were stepping. Oh and the orange scum on top of the water was an extra special touch I thought. Here’s a video of most of the crossing.
I’ll just add it here that I wish there was a compilation video of all the major spills people took during this race. I saw/heard 2 of them just behind me during the Split Rock to Beaver Bay section. One guy totally fell in the mud after slipping and one guy made a huge sound when he slipped on a boardwalk and I think landed on his back. Both were fine. I only fell once but it was from a rock in the Beaver Bay to Silver Bay section. I just tripped and caught myself with my hands but I also hit my knees on the rocks while going down. Somehow I was OK.
Finally I got to Beaver Bay and the first place you can meet your crew. I got in at 11:38am which was only about 6 minutes ahead of my expected time. Dam beavers slowing my down, get it? My whole family was there. My crew was efficient. My children were not. They kept wanting me to come see these rocks, as if I hadn’t seen a million in the last 5 miles already. I took off my shoes and socks and applied my wet foot mixture. I would’ve kept the Timps on but they were giving me a hot spot in the heel since they were so new. I put on the Olympus knowing they should do OK since there was only mud from now on and they could handle that most likely, plus they were broken in. I told my wife I would try to slow down. Next stop was Silver Bay just 5 miles away.
I didn’t slow down at all. In fact I sped up. I felt great in my new dry shoes and the mud was gone. Still rocks, lots of rocks but a couple flat open runnable sections too. I got to Silver Bay at 12:40, 20 minutes ahead now.
The next section was a long one again at 10 miles so I loaded up on gels and ice water and Sword. It’s one of the tougher sections but I think easily the section with the best views.
The first video is bean/bear lake overlook and the second one is my favorite view point which is before Tettegouche and as far as I can tell unnamed.
As you get towards Tettegouche, you can see the lakes of the park with the cabins in between them. You can rent them even in the winter but we still haven’t done that. Finally you start going downhill, down the Drainpipe and to the Tettegouche aid station that your crew has to climb up a third of a mile trail to get to.
I was looking forward to an ice cold breakfast shake here and was going to grab my emergency flashlight in case things went real bad before County Road 6. I got in at 3pm which was 50 minutes ahead of schedule now. That’s what cool weather does, makes me go fast. I looked around and didn’t see my wife anywhere. I yelled out “bananapants!”, and got no response.
Well, on I go to County Road 6 for another 8.6 miles with no electrolytes or my yummy shake I had been looking forward to. I started to slow down since my nutrition plan was now shot and I needed to conserve a little bit. Plus it was actually kind of hot for me now. There are a fair amount of ups and downs this section and not much for views. People started passing me but at least I had someone to talk to. Up to this point I had actually saw very few people since Split Rock.
I wondered if my wife got a flat tire and I’d never see her the rest of the race. I could probably make it to Finland before dark and beg someone for a headlamp so I wouldn’t have to quit. Finally I got to County Road 6 at 5:23pm an hour ahead now. The first words out of my wife’s mouth were, “You were an hour early so it’s your fault!” Whatever, we had a lot of stuff to do. Got my headlamp, emergency flashlight, watch charger, finally my shake, etc.
There was a very real chance I’d get to Finland before dark. It was nice seeing everything in the next section. It looked different in the dark last year. This is really the easiest section of the course. There are a couple miles of real rocky trail and hills but the last 5 miles are either completely flat or slightly uphill. Oh and essentially NO rocks either on the last part. Much of it is on boardwalks (superior expressways) too. Not much else to report on this section other than I finally started to get a little energy back. The nutrition problems from Tettegouche had lost me some time but I knew the energy was coming soon.
I got to Finland at 7:30pm an hour ahead of schedule and more than 2 hours ahead of last year. The race splits has me coming in almost 20 minutes later but maybe that’s of me leaving. Anyway, my socks were kind of damp so I changed socks here. I also packed a long sleeve shirt, gloves, buff and put my headlamp on. I wouldn’t see my wife until Crosby which normally would take 3 hours but she knew better at this point not to follow the schedule anymore.
Sonju Lake aid station was next and 7.5 miles away. It seemed to take forever this year even though it wasn’t too bad. I had my gloves on to help keep my hands warm. It was getting colder now that the sun was gone and the moon was rising. It fooled me a couple times thinking the aid station was coming up. I started worrying about missing the spur trail turn since my watch showed I should’ve been there already. Finally I saw the lights strung up. It was a 60’s love themed aid station. The best part though was the cheeseburgers. I swear that’s my new favorite aid station food, move over bacon! I got there at 9:47pm. I didn’t stay long as I didn’t want to get cold.
4.2 miles to Crosby and I’d see my wife there. Finally a short section but a very technical one. Lots of roots and rocks in the dark. I got to Crosby at 11:02pm 80 minutes ahead. At this point my wife knew she wouldn’t be getting any sleep since I kept getting to the next aid station too soon for her to rest. I don’t even know what I did here really other than load up for the next long 9.4 mile section.
Crosby to Sugarloaf is never fun. This is the type of trail section that if you asked a friend to hike it with you, you would probably no longer have that friend. If I ever wanted a divorce, I’d take my wife on this section. It just seems pointless. Lots of steep climbs and descents filled with rocks and mud. I doubt it’s even pretty in the day. At least it was cool and it didn’t rain this year. I think I passed a few people and got passed by a few people. By this point I was listening to music. I had heard some coyotes early on in the night but by this time nature had pretty much let me down aurally. I also put my long sleeve shirt on during one of the non-climbing sections.
I got to Sugarloaf at 2:08am. I think I had some beet juice here and some chips. Night time was kind of a haze this year since I didn’t have lightning and rain to keep me focused like last year.
Sugarloaf to Cramer Road isn’t a long section at 5.6 miles but it has some fairly steep hills and overall is uphill to Cramer Road. My watch died along this section due to the cold. This section I also ended up putting on my buff for the first time. It was only for about 5 minutes and then I warmed up going up a hill again and took it off. I got into Cramer at 3:55am an hour and 45 minutes ahead of schedule. Last year it was already light out when I got there. Now I was starting to think I might see the sunrise at Carlton Peak but that was a pipe dream. I didn’t do anything special at Cramer as far as I can remember but probably had another breakfast shake.
Cramer to Temperance is 7.1 miles and the last long section in my mind. I took the normal amount of water since with the cold weather I was plenty hydrated. I always think this section should be fast. It’s overall downhill but the issue is the technicality of this section I think. Also, I always get fooled thinking the Cross River is the Temperance River. It messes with me mentally. It was almost as slow as my Manitou section. You can’t really fly down the hill on the Temperance River either. There are lots of rock and root sections that aren’t too hard on fresh legs like the marathon people have but hard on tired legs. Towards the end it seems like you start going away from the aid station you can hear as well since there are kind of long switchbacks. Plus this year my headlamp died. I had it on too bright a setting with the colder temps. So I had to get my flashlight which gives off plenty of light but then you can’t swing your arms very much. This drastically slowed down my power hiking capabilities. This section is pretty in the daylight though.
I got to the Temperance River aid station at 6:15am. It was just starting to get light so at least I could unload a bunch of stuff here. Gone were the headlamp, flashlight, battery charger, etc. I changed back into my t-shirt but kept my gloves. I changed socks for the last time here. They weren’t wet but moist enough to change one last time. I didn’t put anymore wet foot mix on though. They have pancakes here so I had a couple of those with bacon to help fuel me to the finish. I could see a lot of 100 mile people taking a long time here, it’s just a nice place with good food.
By the time I left I only had 10 minutes until sunrise so no way to make Carlton Peak for sunrise. The next section is one of the prettiest but also the section I least look forward too. You start off going further down river until you cross it and then start back up the other side. Thus begins the 800 foot climb up to Carlton Peak. It’s the longest climb on the entire superior hiking trail if I remember right. It’s at least the longest of the race. It starts out with pretty views of the river and it’s even runnable. Then it’s just up, up, up. Oh, you think that’s the top? I mean you can’t see any trees higher than you right? Nope just go around a little bit and then you see you can still go up more. Anyway, the last bit is boulder climbing and actually kind of fun while still sucky on tired legs. Your split for the entire section usually won’t be too horrible actually since the beginning isn’t too hard and once you get down the initial steep part off Carlton Peak, it’s smooth sailing on boardwalks for a bunch of it. This year there was a fair amount of mud on the non-boardwalk sections as well. I met a few people on this section. I think it was a pacer/runner combo. They caught up to me on the climb up and I passed them on the way down, the usual for me.
I arrived at Sawbill at 7:56am! The marathon hadn’t even started yet. I was being passed like crazy at this aid station last year. I was so pumped to not have to deal with any people flying past me until at least after Moose Mt if at all. This was pretty much an in and out stop for me. Less than a half marathon to go and almost 2 hours ahead of my goal pace for 30 hours. I decided I needed to try to get a little buffer to stay 2 hours ahead.
This is one of my favorite parts of the course. There are a couple steepish climbs but the rest is open maple forest and you can see so far compared to much of the course. It’s always muddy in spots on this section, even in drought years but they are still mostly runnable. The main thing really with this section and the next is that it isn’t technical at all for the most part. You can just run and not have to have your brain in what I call terminator mode all the time. You know in the movie when you’d see the POV of the terminator and all you saw was a bunch of code and things being highlighted in his path? That’s what it feels like in the technical sections, especially at night. All you can do is keep your head down and concentrate on every object on the ground in your headlamp’s field of view flying past you and making sure your feet land either on or between those objects depending on what they are. It’s kind of exhausting and I think the reason many people walk at night. They’re too tired mentally to handle it. I passed a few runners walking this section. I’m pretty sure they were hurting in some way or another. I heard one telling his pacer he just couldn’t figure out what happened to his quads.
I got into Oberg at 9:33am. Over 2 hours ahead so I had my buffer and could just relax and enjoy the finish. No second afternoon for this guy this year. The only real reason I tried to push this section was just to not get passed by anyone like last year. The climb up Moose Mt. sucked as always for me. There is a great overlook just off the trail at the top but I didn’t stop to look. I somehow caught up to a couple people at the top of the mountain so now I couldn’t let them catch back up. I flew down the mountain as best I could which wasn’t that graceful. The food from Temperance was starting to run out but I could smell the barn. I only power hiked the majority of Mystery Mt. this year as I didn’t have the energy to run it.
I started to get excited at doing so well this year. I had virtually no clue what place I was in but I know it was around 29th at Temperance. I hoped my family would be ready at the finish line as I knew I was going even faster than last year and would be under 2 hours for the section which I’ve never done before. I took off my headphones in preparation for the decent to the finish line. Finally after running what always seems like the entire surface of Mystery Mt, the trail starts to descend. It’s just the kind of steepness I love. Not so steep it’s impossible to run but steep enough to make it on the edge of being scary at full speed. I flew past 2 more runners who luckily heard me coming as one of them was just around a corner I flew around and couldn’t stop if I tried. I ran that mile in under 9 minutes which is an awesome feeling after 100 miles. Then the river crossing which is pretty but you can’t stop that close to the finish line. There’s a small little hill and then a more gentle decline to the road and then the finish line.
I finished at 11:26am and never did get passed by any marathon or 50 milers. That’s 27:26:24. Most of my family was there. My daughter felt it was more important to play on the playground and my mom was going to get her camera so she missed it too.
I got my medal, buckle, and star to add to my sweatshirt sleeve I got last year. I ate a couple bowls of chili and my crew helped me wash my shoes and take my gear. I slept for a little bit but I hurt too much and so I went swimming with the kids and tried to find out when my friends would be coming in. We ate supper and then I was just too tired to stay and watch people finish. I wanted to just kind of sleep and watch from my balcony but I couldn’t since there was all this smoke coming from the cook tent they had set up. One friend missed the last time cut off but everyone else finished which was great. Southern MN had a decent showing this year.
I only stubbed my toe about 5 times the entire race but they were doozies. No toenails were lost from this race either so that’s always good. No blisters at all but I changed socks more often than most races and that likely helped.
The finishing rate was 71.3% this year so above average which I’m sure was due to the nice temperature and no rain. Plus I think there were a fair amount of people avenging themselves for quitting in previous attempts that weren’t going to quit no matter what this time. I hope all my future races can go this well but of course that won’t happen.
We drove North to Naniboujou Lodge for their Sunday brunch the next morning since my parents have never been there and to challenge my daughter to a rematch waffle eating contest. She said she didn’t feel like having an eating contest. I think she just wanted to retain the title. For the record though, I would’ve won. I did just run 100 miles; you tend to be hungry for the next week.
I’ve noticed in every 100 mile or longer race that I’ve done that there is a definite period of mental negativity during the race. What I mean is that there is a point where your brain tells you that you should stop because of X. Then Y. Then every other excuse it can come up with. To me this is the hardest part of a longer ultramarathon. It used to show up towards mile 80 or so of the race when I was physically in pain. Lately though it’s been showing itself sooner. Both seem like logical times. You are tired and hurt by 80 miles. You still have a long ass way to go at 30 miles of a 100 mile race. I basically just call these times, my pity party.
I don’t really know how I get over these negative times other that to just keep going. I know some people have a mantra they recite but I’ve never done that. I guess the best thing for me is to KNOW that things will get better. I’ve been through this before and got through it and I WILL this time too. At my first 100 mile race I just listened to the advice I got from others which was basically the same thing. Don’t dwell on any pain you have because something else will take it’s place in 5 miles. Just accept that it hurts and then move on and ignore it. Sure enough they were right.
Your body can handle the effort! Seriously, even if you think it can’t, it surely can. Your mind is what will stop you. This has been proven by research. A person will say they are completely drained to the point of collapse and if enticed properly, they can go longer still. Even without research you should know this as common sense. Go run some long distance to the point you can barely shuffle along. Then add a pit bull chasing you. You will be sprinting, I guarantee you. You’re body can handle it. Ready your mind.
Something will surely go wrong during an ultramarathon. You’re out there for a day or more so there’s plenty of time for things to fall apart. The point is to plan for as many contingencies as you can so that you’re mind is already in what I call McGyver mode. Even if you don’t have what you need, there is likely another racer who will help out. That’s one thing our sport has going for it more than most. Volunteers are awesome at aid stations as well and willing to help.
Everyone can find the will to finish the race if they want to. And you should want to. Really, why the hell else are you signing up for a 100 mile race. If you just want to see the course, save yourself the $250 entry fee and go hike or run it yourself. Quitting unless truly injured I think cheats yourself. By the way, I’ve seen very few DNF’s from true injuries. Most people who have DNF’d will admit this, at least to themselves, if being honest.
One of the best things about ultramarathons is seeing how much more capable you are than you thought. I still to this day am amazed that I can run 100 miles in a day. It just blows my mind the human body can do that. Nothing about my body is special. Nothing. If you’ve been to an ultramarathon, you’ve seen that any body type can finish one. Not all are fast, but all can finish. Of course you need training but it isn’t as much as you think. If you can finish a marathon, you can finish an ultramarathon.
I guess the whole point of this is to say it’s worth the effort. It really is. Yes you get a belt buckle to remind you of the race. But, it’s reminding you of how awesome you felt. Not necessarily just when you crossed the finish line, but the memory of when you KNEW you were going to conquer the distance and the course. That might be mile 99 or 39 of the race, but there will be a moment of clarity that you just absolutely know nothing will stop you from finishing. And that moment is amazing. If you quit, I don’t see how you could get that feeling of accomplishment.
I love the feeling the whole week after a long ultra. Not the physical feeling, cause that kind of hurts. It’s the emotional wonderment of the feat you accomplished. “How the hell did I do that?” “Yes, I trained and planned, but still how did I do it?” “100 freaking miles!” “And the winner did it in like 18 hours, humans are amazing!” Those are the usual things I say to myself.
My new favorite song relates to this all somewhat.
I’m not sure how to start this one so I’ll start with the basics. The Bighorn 100 is a 100 mile trail race that takes place in the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming the 3rd weekend in June which this year meant the race started Friday June 16th. It started at 10am this year which was an hour earlier than most years but still 2 hours later than I’d like it to. This was my first mountain ultramarathon and a qualifier for both Western States and Hardrock which was part of the attraction for me. Honestly I probably wouldn’t have even considered it if not for some friends that have attempted it in the past. Most of the information I got from them and previous race reports helped a lot, some of it was just plain wrong and so my original game plan had to be changed. The main game changer in this race though wasn’t the course, it was the weather…
Before this race the whole family went to Yellowstone. I figured it’d help out with the elevation adjustment and it’s only 3 hours from Yellowstone so you might as well go there too. The race peaks out at 9000 ft. I live at 1000 feet. I’ve never had an issue when I go hiking in the mountains, even to 14,000 feet but it never hurts to give yourself time to adjust. Other than breathing faster than normal, I never had any issues during the race.
On a side note, Yellowstone was awesome. I did a few training runs in the park (one on which I had to wait on 6 elk that wouldn’t get off the trail). We saw 6 geysers going off in one day. I saw bison, elk, mule deer, pronghorn, bighorn, a wolf, a brown bear, a black bear, 2 osprey nests, marmots, and all the smaller things you see in the woods. Do you want to know how many animals I saw the entire race? 5 small mice at night on the trail. That’s it! Lots of flowers though as you can see in the photo at the beginning. Tons of lupines which I love.
So based on the above elevation profile, race reports, etc I set a race goal of just over 27 hours. It was pretty aggressive for me but it seemed very doable. It would’ve been doable save 2 things: those apparent straight lines aren’t, and it rained, for a long time.
The pre-race meeting was at 8am in Dayton, WY which is where the finish line is. After the meeting they had buses to shuttle us to the start line. It was a pretty long wait for the race to start and it was clear there were a lot of people. Turns out 373 runners to be exact plus their crew. I brought a chair to relax in since I knew it would be awhile. Normally this race is really hot so I decided to use my 2L bladder and made an insulated pocket out of mylar bubble wrap to keep the ice in it cold. Also I had a bad reaction to having ice straight against my skin at vol state and this prevented that. Even though the temperatures weren’t very high, I still was sweating a lot during this race so I was happy with my decision to bring the bladder. I was able to skip most aid stations as well this way and save time. I also had taped my feet since the race was starting dry. I planned on changing over to my wet feet setup later.
Finally we got into line just before 10am. It was crowded! We started on a dirt road but there were so many people that you really couldn’t even pass anyone on it very easy. Plus everyone was going fast already. I started towards the back middle and should’ve started way further up or just sprinted the first mile. After the 1.3 miles of road, we started the conga line up the mountain.
3200 feet in about 6 miles with most of the elevation gain in the last 4 miles. The trail doesn’t open up again until almost 7 miles into the race so any passing done in the beginning is hard fought. I’d have to save energy and then run full speed uphill around the 8 or so people in front of me to get anywhere. Then I’d catch up to the next group of people after power hiking for 5 minutes. There was no way to get a rhythm at all since your speed was determined entirely by the person in front of you. I was assuming the trails in this race would be similar to trails I’ve hiked in the mountains where the grade is pretty consistent with switchbacks in the steepest areas. Not so with race. The trails pretty much go straight up and down similar to back home in MN. Not a big deal but it keeps you from being able to get a good rhythm going like I was counting on when I set my goal paces. Especially when in a conga line. At times there was completely still air. I imagine this section really sucks with a cloudless sky above you and warmer temps.
The nice thing was all the flowers and since we were going so slow up the mountain, talking to people was easy. Here are the pictures I took on the way up.
At last you get to some dirt roads and more open pasture areas where you can go your own speed. Then you go down a steep hill to upper sheep aid station. From here to dry fork aid station (mile 13.5) is almost entirely on good roads, meaning a hard packed road with some rocks and not just clay. You go uphill and then back downhill into the station. This is the first big aid station where your crew can meet you.
On the way there was a spot I had to duck under a tree. I thought the path was clear but then something threw my head back and I almost stopped cold. There was a branch that hit my head and slid down my face. It hurt and was burning since all the sweat was going into whatever wound I had. I took a picture of myself to see what it looked like and I couldn’t see anything. By the time I finished the race though, it became clear.
The family was there with the cowbell cheering me on when I got in at 1:16pm. I got more ice water and Sword in my bladder. There wasn’t much else to get here but I took some time to make sure I had everything I needed since I wouldn’t see them until the turn around at jaw’s trailhead (mile 48). The kids still seemed in good spirits. This was the first 100 mile race they were helping crew so it was going to be a good test of my wife’s nerves. I bought some toys they didn’t know about to have her hand out throughout the race to help out with boredom.
From dry fork to cow camp aid station is about 6 miles all on dirt roads. It was also downhill overall but still lots of ups and downs in between. I did this section fairly fast since I love downhills and had plenty of energy from going so slow in the beginning. I passed a few people on this section.
Cow camp to bear camp was back on trail with lots of ups and downs but overall the elevation doesn’t change from aid station to aid station. It’s 7 miles long. This is where I determined it would be difficult to keep my 27 hour pace up. I was keeping it up so far but it was clear these up and downs would slow my expected pace on the way back to the finish line. 28 hours still isn’t bad and I was still having fun. Now, with the elevation I was pretty much open mouth breathing all the time since I’m from the prairie. Soon after cow camp I breathed in a fly. It went full on into my trachea and I could feel it’s wings buzz a little. Luckily I had my lungs half filled with air before he went in so I had something to immediately cough him out. He buzzed around my mouth before I could finally spit him out. Then I proceeded to cough for 30 seconds straight. Good times!
There are 2 water pipes with drinkable water coming out of them along this section. The first is almost exactly a mile from cow camp. The other is about 3 miles further. I washed my face in one of them and it felt amazing. It was cooler at the higher elevation but still hot for me so I was still sweating a lot.
Bear camp is a limited aid station since they have to hike in the supplies. Basically water and some food choices. The next section to footbridge is a large downhill. Don’t worry, there’s still a couple hundred foot uphill you get to do as well. This section is known as the wall. It’s not really a wall, just very steep at about 750feet a mile drop. Steeper in sections and flatter in others. Awesome views of the valley you were going to drop down into though. I put in my headphones here for the rest of the race and started down. I wish I could say I flew down, but you can’t go fast when it’s that steep.
This section was pretty rocky which would help some in my determination of if I’d be able to get up it in the rain later on. I’ll add that while running from cow camp to bear camp there are basically views of the cliffs down to the river. You’re never close to them so you can’t see the river, but it hints at how steep of a drop the wall will be once you get there. It got warmer as I went downhill and my ears were constantly popping.
Footbridge (mile 30) is a major aid station with drop bags. Your crew can meet you there but you have to drive through a couple streams and it’s a long drive so I decided it wasn’t worth my family trying to get there. Plus they make you park a mile away and there’s no way she was going to carry stuff a mile to me and a mile back. I got in at 4:34pm which was still on pace for me. I got my cold weather gear out to put in my pack. Also my headlamp as it’d get dark before I got to jaws trailhead. I put on a long sleeve tech shirt since it suddenly got cold with the large clouds and wind moving in. I left my hat in the drop bag as well. It looked like there was a campground near this aid station so the road in must not be as bad as I thought.
The next 17 miles is all uphill with a mile of pretty much flat after that into jaws trailhead. But, as before, the uphill is not constant. There are lots of ups and downs, especially in the first section to cathedral rock. This section was right along the river and kind of loud because of it. It was all pretty much rocky with a sharp drop off into the river on your left side and a steep hill on your right. As usual I was hitting my first wall of the race which I usually hit around mile 29 but since that was downhill, it came now. I could see up the valley that it was raining there already. By the time I got to cathedral rock aid station it was raining. I got my cheap Walmart poncho out and put it on. I’d have it on for the next 12 hours.
The next section to spring marsh is 6.5 miles long. This is where you start to pull away from the river some and are more in pasture land again. It was already muddy and I hit my low point in the race. I still had 66.5 miles to go! The most logical place to quit in this race is at jaws trailhead since your crew can easily get you there. I started worrying about getting up the wall in the mud on the way back. I didn’t want to quit at footbridge and then have to wait forever to get a ride back to the finish line. Plus the kids would now have to wait almost all of the next day for me to finish as I’d be way behind schedule. Food tasted gross, gels would almost make me barf. Etc, etc. All negative all the time for the next 6.5 miles.
Finally spring marsh aid station. This is where I instantly felt better and knew I’d finish the race. I wasn’t sure how I’d make it without poles but my mind was made up I was going to finish. It was 3.5 miles to the next aid station. The mud just made it impossible to move fast. I had to shorten my stride way down and use all my accessory muscles to stay upright. There is a constant slight slope which normally you wouldn’t even notice but when the trail is thick clay mud, it slides you around. People started making new paths through the grassier areas which helped some. It ended up easier when the trail had standing water in it since the mud didn’t grip your shoes as much while running through that. My shoes shed the mud on the sole but it was deep enough that it started building up on the sides and tops of my shoes. I’d run straight through any creeks to wash them off. I took a picture during one of the slower rain periods before dark to remember the trail conditions. They got worse in the dark after this was taken.
At elk camp aid station, I got my headlamp on since It’d be dark before I got to jaws trailhead 4.5 miles away. This is the section I suspect the moose like. Even when it’s not raining, you will get soaked on this part. It’s pretty swampy and there were spots the muddy water would go half way up my shin. I never lost a shoe though. I was kind of glad it was dark. I didn’t really want to know how bad it looked. The rain seemed to be letting up some finally. This is where I routinely saw the leaders coming back at me. I had seen some since spring marsh. I lost count of how many were in front but it seemed like only 40. It obviously was more than that since I was supposedly in 115th place at jaws. The last mile or so was on fairly flat pasture and road into jaws aid station. The wind had picked up so it was the first time I actually felt good temperature wise. Of course everyone else looked freezing cold and were huddled around the heater in the tent when I arrived at 10:48pm.
Jessie was waiting outside the tent since crew were only allowed in with their runner. It was crowded but they found a chair for me. This was going to be a fairly long stop since I had a lot to do because of the rain. First was to get out of my wet clothes. My long sleeves and gloves were soaked since the poncho only goes to my elbows. I also left my phone since I didn’t want to land on it since the chance of me taking a spill was pretty good. I had to take my shoes and socks off to start applying my wet foot powder and Vaseline mixture. No blisters yet but my shoes were already pretty trashed. I started this race with just over 600 miles on my Altra Olympus 2.0 shoes.
I got more water although I didn’t need much anymore. I was peeing all the time now since it cooled off; at least I was well hydrated. I just used soft body water flasks instead of my bladder from here on. I changed into another dry long sleeve shirt. The only dry gloves Jessie had were my warmer fleece gloves so I took those too. I put on a buff too. The aid station people were great here. It took some time for them to get a few things but I was amazed how cheerful they still seemed as it was clear this was a hectic time for them as well. I think I tried to eat half a quesadilla but I still wasn’t that interested in food. I’d just have to go off fat power for awhile. I was chilled by the time I left since it had been 25 minutes. Way longer than I wanted but as fast as it could’ve gone without 2 more crew members doing my feet for me. I told Jessie not to bother to get to dry fork until at least 2 hours later than my original time as I knew it would take awhile to get down the long hill in the mud and then back up the wall.
Jessie had to have the car jump started since the battery died. They slept in the back of the car at the aid station for the night. The kids were already sleeping when I got there but that was for the best.
The rain had stopped for now and the fog rolled in as I left the aid station. It was hard to see anything due to the headlamp reflection coming back at you. I warmed up after a mile or so and stopped shivering. I still had my poncho on to help stay dry. I decided to use it instead of my rain jacket because I knew that would be too warm and the poncho covered my shorts as well which my jacket didn’t.
So now I saw the course in reverse. Back through the swamp to elk camp. Back down the now very slippery mud to spring marsh. Even the new trails people had made going up were slop now going down. I met about 40 more people still coming up to jaws and then no more people. Either people hit a time limit cutoff at that point or they just quit while they were at footbridge. Either way I started wondering when the time cutoffs were. I hadn’t even bothered looking at them since I wasn’t planning on being anywhere near them. Well, nothing else to do but keep going I guess.
After spring marsh was more mud. It started raining again. Now the trail sloped to the right so I got to use all new accessory muscles on the other side to not fall with every step. Every once and a while I’d spin out and go down a hill backwards. I never totally fell but I’d have to catch myself a few times. About 2.5 miles out of spring marsh there was a fairly side sloped section that I slid off trail about 4 feet. Once I stopped I realized my foot felt weird. Well that’s because it was now half way out of my shoe! The right side of my right shoe had tore open about 4 inches long along the sole. Now every step I took my foot would slide out of my shoe. This is while going down muddy slopes mind you. I mentally thought of everything in my pack and how it could help me. I wish I had an extra shoelace like I had at vol state. Finally after about a quarter mile I kind of figured out how to mostly keep my foot in while running.
After 2 miles I saw a fence line. I was going to use the barbed wire if I had to but luckily there was just regular wire rolled up hanging on a post as if left there just for me. I bent the wire back and forth a bunch of times to break a piece off, almost burning my fingers off even through the gloves. It was some seriously strong wire. It was hard to bend in the perfect shape since it was so thick but I got it good enough to keep my foot in and not completely dig into the top part of my foot. Then I started worrying about slicing my other leg open with the sharp edges of the wire. It’s not uncommon to hit your leg with your feet, especially in uneven muddy conditions so it wasn’t a totally unfounded fear. I could kind of turn the one edge back which I hoped would prevent that and just paid extra attention to my foot placement.
Finally I got to cathedral rock again. I still had 3.5 miles to go in my sweet McGyver shoes. On steep downhills the wire would move back a lug or 2 and dig into my feet so I’d have to slide it back in to place. Other than that it held up pretty well. This is the section with the steep drop off into the river. Basically if you slip you’ll either die from hitting rocks or drown in the swollen, fast moving river filled with boulders. But don’t worry mom, the trail was rockier here and not very muddy at all. Of course I wondered how often the cliff just gives way and falls in the river, especially when wet and after 400 people have been jumping on it. Well it didn’t give way and I made it to footbridge at 5am (66 miles). I was now 2.5 hours behind schedule but I wasn’t surprised. Despite it sucking, I had still managed to pass about 20 people on the way down from jaws. Many people just walked the whole way down.
I was glad I had a pair of shoes waiting for me in my footbridge drop bag. This is the first race I’ve ever left a pair of shoes in a drop bag thinking I might want dry shoes if it stopped raining before I got there. My race might have been over if I hadn’t done that as I don’t think I would’ve gone another 34 miles in them. I put more wet foot paste on and new dry socks and dry Altra Lone Peak 3.0. My feet felt like heaven for a moment. I put on a dry t-shirt and dry gloves. I still had to have my headlamp since it wasn’t quite light out enough yet without it although it would be in 20 minutes. I found out the race time limit was 34 hours so I had plenty of time even if it totally sucked. At least 4 runners quit just before I got there since there was a car of them leaving. I still wasn’t sure if I’d make it up the wall but I left with an egg mcmuffin in hand.
It quit raining, but it would sprinkle here and there from now until about 9am. I left my poncho off most of the time since it wasn’t worth putting it on and off a bunch of times. The hike up the wall wasn’t that slippery at all. Previous footprints had made sort of terraces in the trail and there were lots of rocks to step on to help get traction. It still sucked going up over 2000 feet in a couple miles but I made it to bear camp. I even passed a few people going up. The volunteers here said the guy who was leading by 30 minutes quit at dry fork but they didn’t know why.
Bear camp to cow camp in the reverse direction seemed much easier than I thought it’d be. It was muddy yes, but the side paths were still in pretty good shape. Every once and a while I’d pass another person so I felt pretty good about that. The longest I went without seeing anyone was during this section. A whopping 10 minutes where I didn’t see another runner. Again this race is crazy crowded even after half the people quit. I’m used to at least an hour being the longest time I don’t see someone. Towards the end of this section the 52 mile leaders started passing me. I was slowly eating food and gaining energy. I actually ran this section faster than I had planned on initially even with the mud.
Cow camp finally came and now it was the road section for the next 6 miles. At least there was bacon at this aid station so that was good. This section absolutely sucked. Thick mud with no rocks to gain traction on. The side trails were just as bad. The road was rutted so even running through the thickest mud in the tire track section didn’t help because the side walls were so sloped you’d constantly slide and get off balance. Walking and running both were nearly impossible in sections. I didn’t think the roads would be so bad. In fact they were the worst section of the whole race. The sun came out so now I was getting sunburned. The road was SLOWLY drying out which made it worse at this point since it just made the clay even more sticky and shoe sucking. 52 mile people were passing in big groups now. How could they run in this crap? And how was I still slowly passing 100 mile runners here and there? The last hill up to dry fork took forever since you can see the aid station miles before you get there. I just decided to look at my feet and not look up to make it not seem as bad.
I got into dry fork at 11:02am (82.5 miles). 2:40 behind schedule which I thought would’ve been 3 hours so I felt good about that. They had sunscreen for me there at least. I had left my hat at footbridge so I still would get sunburned on my face. Putting sunscreen on my face is pointless as it just gets in my eyes and I wipe it all off after 20 minutes. They also had double cheeseburgers! Yum. I knew 2 hours from now I’d have a bunch of energy and it tasted sooo good. The aid station worker kept asking me questions while I was talking to Jessie. I figured later she was probably checking my mental status or something. I didn’t bother changing my socks. My shoes wouldn’t get any wetter since the grass had finally dried off but I didn’t want to take the time and I didn’t have any hot spots yet. I told Jessie it’d be 5 hours until I finished so she should just go to the cabin and I’d call when I finished. She handed me my phone back. I dropped as much weight as I could with her and left. 17.5 miles left to go.
I found out later it was a pretty interesting drive for the cars to get to dry fork in the mud that morning. Jessie said she saw some tire tracks go off the road at a turn on what looked like a steep drop off. She made it down OK but the car looked like it had 3 inches of concrete on it at the finish line.
The roads from dry fork to upper sheep were in good shape. The sun was getting hot and I was back to sweating again. Constant runners from other races were passing me. The hill seemed to last forever. I saw the stupid tree that hit me yesterday and stayed away. Finally the run down into upper sheep. I filled up with water there and continued on.
It’s there that I could see the one last big hill to climb before all the downhill to the finish line. How did it grow so much? I don’t remember going down that big of a hill yesterday while running into upper sheep aid station. It’s steep and about 500 feet high. Finally I got to the top and started slowly running down. It felt pretty good. My shins had been hurting for hours due to all the walking in the mud. I hadn’t planned on walking so much so they were sore. But now things felt pretty good going down. I started going faster. My cheeseburger 2 hours ago was now hitting my system.
Down, down, as fast as I could with the steep terrain. I’d have to walk in sections since it was too steep with too many round rocks to slide on. I was going even faster than I had planned on initially. I soon realized that a sub 30 hour finish was still possible. I was expecting 31 hours. I just kept pushing it down the hill. Now I started seeing a bunch of 100 mile runners just walking down. I started passing them right and left. It felt awesome for so late in a race. I finally got to lower sheep aid station. I tried to get a rock out of my shoe but another one seemed to find it’s way in. Looking back I think it was all the mud from my gaitors falling off as they dried. There was 7.5 miles left to go!
It wasn’t great having a couple rocks in my shoe but I wasn’t going to stop when I was passing so many people. The next section down to the road was so much more fun than yesterday’s conga line march up it. It was hot but I just had to hold on a few more hours. A 29 hour finish briefly came into thought but the math just wouldn’t work for that. I probably passed 10 people from upper sheep creek to the road. I generally never pass people at the end of a race. Just another sign I started way too far behind in the beginning.
I made it down to the road. Just 5.2 miles more to the finish line. The river was right next to the road and loud. It was so tempting to just jump in it and float on down to the finish line. The road was dry now and even though we were following the river downstream it sure didn’t seem to go downhill. I ran as much as I could but would have to take walking breaks here and there. I got a popsicle from a kid handing them out which helped some with the heat. Oh that road seems to last forever. It has a bunch of small curves that never let you see how much further it is to go.
Finally I got to town where you have to run around the park to get into it and then run back around the park again to get to the finish line. There were bleachers along the path through the park with people cheering. I think the whole town was either there at the finish line or volunteering somewhere on the course. Pretty awesome! I even saw Jessie and the kids about 100 yards from the finish line. Turns out they never went to the cabin. Finally, I finished strong at 3:34pm for a total race time of 29:34. 2 hours 20 minutes slower than I wanted but I did that section from dry fork 16 minutes faster than I had even planned on. I suspect without the mud 28 hours would’ve been pretty doable.
They had food at the end which was great but the line took over 10 minutes to get the food. I had to have Jessie stand in line for me since my feet hurt so bad and I was getting nauseous standing. You get your buckle and swag at a different area of the park so I got that. I then looked at the results and found out I was 62nd overall. I thought for sure I would’ve been in the 40’s since I had passed over 40 people since jaws, but I was obviously way further behind at jaws than I thought. I’d later find out only 175 of the 373 starters would finish. That’s pretty bad and shows how difficult the course was even though it wasn’t as hot as it can get.
I’m sure in dry conditions I would have a much faster time but likely my placing wouldn’t be any better. Other people usually do better in heat than I do and less people would drop out. I’m happy with it since it’s better than my usual 20% placing. I was told that recovery from this race is pretty quick compared to midwest 100’s. I would totally agree. I suspect with all the walking you just don’t trash your legs as much. My quads didn’t hurt in the slightest during or after this race even with very little hill training. My butt and feet were sore but I could run 3 days later and I usually take a week off.
I should’ve taken a picture of my legs when I was done. There was a thick coating of mud everywhere. During the last 20 mile of the race it would occasionally feel like I was getting bitten by something only to find out a chunk of dry mud had broken loose and was only being held by a leg hair. I’d brush that chunk off and keep going. Even after all the stuff I brushed off there was still almost a half inch of mud covering my calves and even my shins were covered. My Olympus shoes are now in a landfill somewhere in WY. I wonder what future archeologists will think about the wire shoes they find someday? The newer design of Altra trail shoes all have reinforced sides to prevent this sort of failure. The problem is that they hold almost half an inch of water in them now. If water gets in, they basically never dry. The lone peaks were still wet at the finish line 6 hours after the last puddle and when I washed them, they held a half inch of water with the insole removed. Never drained even after a couple minutes. Ridiculous. Figure it out guys! Now I’ll have to drill holes in the sides to make drain holes.
By finishing this race, I completed 786 race miles in the 6 ultramarathons I ran as a 40 year old. I didn’t really intend for that to happen but it just worked out that way. Vol State last July started it off and Bighorn was just before I turned 41 (Facebook doesn’t have my real birthday by the way). I don’t know if I’ll ever do that many race miles in a year again or not. I don’t regret it at all but 786 is kind of a big number and probably hard to repeat unless I just do a bunch of short 50k’s as training runs.
Thanks again to my super awesome wife and crew! The kids didn’t drive her completely crazy!
This is a small local baby Barkley type race that took place April 29th at 7 mile creek park near St. Peter, MN. It’s around 30 miles long with an advertised elevation of 8000 ft of gain. There are 11 books we had to collect pages from on each of 3 laps. We were given a different page number to get each lap. The first lap was counter-clockwise, 2nd was clockwise, and 3rd alternating.
The race started at 7am but registration started at 5am so you’d have time to look over the map and written directions of the course. The course was about 2/3rds on trail, a short bit on a road, with the rest on deer trail or no trail. I’ve been to the park before so I knew about what to expect as I love to go off trail in this park. There are many unofficial trails that we routinely run on. This is about the only place in southern MN to get over 200 ft steep hills. Along the Mississippi river is steep too but that’s hours from where I live.
At 7am 20 of us started off with only 14 finishing. I wasn’t at the first running of this race 2 years ago but I was told it was easier and the race director was “disappointed” that everyone finished. This year he wasn’t disappointed. It was 38 degrees so I started with a long sleeve shirt knowing I’d be hot by the end of the lap.
I stayed back a little from the front group to let them figure out where to go off trail to find the books. Everything was well marked but that doesn’t mean you can’t run right past where you’re supposed to turn. Plus, since we were so close in the beginning you ended up waiting for the person in front of you to tear out the page in the book anyway. Why run fast just to wait at the next book. The first book I ended up tearing the page horribly, so I ended up with 3 pieces to get it out and make sure I had the page number on it, all the while people waiting behind me. I guess the lesson is to learn how to tear really brittle yellow paper out of books in the woods with gloves on.
The books aren’t really hidden which is good and bad. Good since it’s easy to find them, and bad because the park was pretty popular that day with mushroom hunters and other people doing some sort of naturalist type things (I never asked what they were doing) off trail where we were.
The first 2 books felt great climbing up the hills. Basically go up find a book and come back down, just to do it again. The only out and back uphill was book 3 which I think everyone dreaded by the 3rd lap. I’m not sure if it was just the steepness or the fact that it was an out and back, but no one liked it. It seemed like it took forever to go up and only 20 seconds to get down. That’s probably not reality though. The books all had great titles to them which I have mostly forgotten. But I remember book 3’s title: Dead End
So continued the seemingly endless task of climbing up a hill just to go back down again. Like you constantly keep forgetting something downstairs at home and have to keep going back down to get it, except the stairs are 200 ft hills. There are a couple longish flatter sections to break it up a little bit but for the most part you’re either ascending or descending in this race.
There is a aid station out of the park between book 5 and 6 that you have to climb up to get to. They had awesome candy bars, pop, water, etc there. The race director said there is a short loop to do at the aid station. Well yes it’s short, but also straight down and then straight back up just to go back down to get on the course again. The section back to the course did have my favorite tree on the entire course though.
Then on to book 6 where some barbed wire sticking out of the ground almost got me. Speaking of thorny things, I got somewhat scratched and cut up from this race. There are plenty of thorny bushes, berry patches, and shrubs to get you on this course. I wish I would’ve taken a picture of my legs. I had cuts everywhere but really only remember 2 of them happening.
There was a punch after this book to punch the pages you had so far. This was to determine which direction you had traveled the course. Next was a longer flat section before turning uphill to book 7. Then between 7 and 8 gets sucky again. Scott the RD was sitting along the course making sure we all made the turn straight down a steep rutted out path. I enjoyed it the first lap, not so much the 3rd. Basically you go down this hill just to come back up it in a different spot and end up about 20 feet from where you started down the hill. All of this to get book 8.
Book 9 was fairly straightforward.
Book 10 I almost ran past or was that 11. It’s already becoming a blur after only a week. After 11 you go back to the start at the RD house. This is the only other aid station. I changed into cooler clothes as it was warming up some. First lap time was 2:25.
The next section was clockwise. I had got to talking with Ed who I hadn’t met before but we both did Arrowhead this year. I always love meeting new people during the race. We were talking pretty much non-stop the second lap and before we knew it, we were at the aid station. Oops. We missed book 6. Back we went to get it and then finally noticed the 3 foot long pink ribbon showing the turn off for it. Guess we got talking too much. He had to do the aid station loop twice since he missed it the first time and so I didn’t see him until the end of the race.
I missed the turn to book 1 as well but I think a lot of people did. Finally I got back to the start. 5:14 total time so far so that lap was about 2:45 without the stop time. I was happy with this as I had to leave by 4pm to pick up the kids so I was on track to get done by then. I definitely wasn’t in condition for this much elevation so I was starting to feel it.
Since the leader picked clockwise (thanks TJ, NOT) and I was in 5th place, I had to go clockwise. Off I went. I had been eating the entire race and drinking what seemed like a lot but my stomach just didn’t feel quite right and I wasn’t really peeing any so I suspect I was somehow dehydrated. It slowed me down.
Right away I saw one of the leaders coming back up the hill to the start due to injury. Now I was 4th I guess, but still had to go clockwise. I didn’t miss the turn to book 6 this time since I was by myself. Ed had started the mid-way aid station loop just before I got there so I never ended up seeing him. I never saw the other counter-clockwise leader either and found out later he dropped at the aid station.
Finally it dawned on me to take some antacids as this wasn’t my first time down full stomach lane. In fact it happens almost every race, just not in the first 20 miles. They kicked in around book 4 (counting down book numbers now since clockwise lap). The last 3 books I felt great (still hated book 3 but felt better at least). Too bad I didn’t think of taking them sooner. I saw some people looking kind of sad while looking for mushrooms. I told them some people were already in that spot 3 hours ago with bags full of them. They seemed somewhat relieved.
I even made the turn for book 1 this time but when I got to where the book should’ve been, it wasn’t there. 3 people coming from the other direction on the start of their lap 3 also couldn’t find it. Remember all those people in the park? Turns out someone must’ve taken it as no one ever found it. I took a picture with them to prove we all looked together and hoped for the best.
I got to the finish line and rang the bell at 8:12 for 4th place. Ed had beaten me in which I wasn’t surprised by. So that lap took about 2:50 with the down time and looking for book 1 taken out. Scott allowed my finish without book 1 since it was gone and someone had texted him.
I had some time to eat the great finish line food they had for us before leaving to get the kids. They even offered the shower which was awesome. Thanks!
This race would be much harder/scarier/more fun if it was raining the whole time. There are some steep slopes on it. The conditions on race day were pretty good. The mud was firm enough to get a grip on and not slip. I usually use gps visualizer to make an elevation profile of races. I find it to be much more accurate than google earth. It came up with the race having more elevation than advertised. Almost 10,000. Who knows? I can assure you it wasn’t under 8000 total.
This is a great race! I hope Scott continues to put it on. I wish I could’ve stayed to watch everyone else come in. I’m sure there were great stories. We all got an email of the official results and there were some pretty good comments on why people dropped out. My favorite was someone wanted a burrito. I’m sure there’s more to that story. I wished I would’ve taken a picture of the bell we rang when we finished. Guess you’ll just have to run the race to see it.
I realized during my run tonight that Vol State is about 4 months away. I thought I’d jot down a few words of advice to people who may be running it this year. These are in no particular order. Also I only had a 3 mile run to think about this so this is by no means an exhaustive list.
Read race reports! Like A LOT of them, including mine:). You may not know the places they are talking about but you will learn tricks about how to get through the race. Last year I just jotted down notes as I read all of them. I thought about how I’d handle those situations. Certain bad sections of the race will show up continually in race reports, heed their warnings.
Your feet will hurt
Get the GPX file of the course if you can. I’d still carry a map in case your phone dies but I found it much more convenient to use my phone since it was more accessible. Buy the book and check for the updates on what stores, etc are still open.
Train on roads. I don’t care if you have a hilly trail race in May. Start running roads now. Your body needs time to get used to the camber of the road. Your mind needs to get used to cars whizzing by, dogs running after you.
Get your night time visualization plan figured out. Either light yourself up like crazy or go totally dark. I don’t care which but figure out what works for you. You’ll find both plans are used during this race when you read the reports.
Take an afternoon off work on the hottest days if you can and do a long run. I ran probably 80% at night but you will get caught in the heat of the day at least once during the race even with great planning.
Get a base tan going. Sunscreen will come right off with sweat.
Get a sun hat or something like that. I just safety pinned a handkerchief to my visor to cover my ears and neck.
Think about how you’ll sleep outside and try it out.
Your feet will HURT!
Bring extra socks so you can always dry one pair hanging on your pack while wearing the other pair. I brought 2 different sizes as well since your feet will swell.
Train with the gear you plan on using during the race!!!!!!!!!
Watch MacGyver. Or find a way to be more like MacGyver. You will need those skills if you are running screwed.
Put your feet up every time you stop. Also take off your shoes so things dry out.
There will be a point the second or early third day that will test your determination. You will be slow and in pain. I can’t tell you how to deal with it, everyone is different. I learned I had to put my feet up for X amount of time every X hours to deal with it.
Join the google group to keep in contact with people before and during the race.
Join the facebook page. Lots of locals post on there places that they leave out water, etc.
Your feet will HURT!
I took voice recorded notes during the race with my phone so I’d remember things later. You may think you’ll never forget that one cool thing you saw on day 2 but you might.
Help each other out. Seems kind of obvious but I’m telling you, by the end of the race you will feel a closeness to all the other racers, even the ones you didn’t meet. What I’m saying is they’re already your friends, you just don’t know it yet.
Don’t talk about politics. Even if you agree on stuff, you’ll get each other all worked up and distracted. You can’t be distracted during this race.
Again. You can’t be distracted during this race! There are cars filled with dipshits texting. Don’t run side by side when there’s no shoulder, unless it’s the middle of the night with no traffic.
Your feet will HURT!!!
The detailed past results and lists of race reports are posted at tinyurl.com/volstate2016 For each other year just change the 2016 to whatever year you want. For example tinyurl.com/2014 for 2014 results and race reports. There are tabs on the bottom of the spreadsheet with the reports, etc.
With proper preparation and determination you will finish this race. I truly believe that. You have plenty of time to finish if you choose to use it. You don’t need to be a super athlete or even an ultrarunner to finish this race. Non ultrarunners have finished although they usually had a large amount of “preparation” in that they ran it with someone with lots of ultrarunning knowledge. I consider training on roads and in heat to be included in the proper preparation. Mostly though I consider preparation to mean knowing your gear, having a plan (even though you will change it during the race), use your brain, know your body, listen to your body on some things but also when to tell it to shut the hell up (your feet will HURT, expect it and deal with it).
So 5 years ago I started running for the first time in 15 years. I ran poorly in track in high school and only a little in college while on the crew team; so even when I ran it wasn’t with much purpose. 5 years ago I had a purpose to do a Tough Mudder with my brother and brother-in-law and I started running again. I was out of shape, had a dad gut, and had my second child due that year. Within 9 months, my purpose was trail ultrarunning. Soon after, a major goal was to finish Arrowhead 135. I think I first heard about it on the ultra-listserv 4 years ago and knew immediately that I had to run this race. I went the slow route and made sure to get a couple winter races in and enough 100’s to not be afraid of the distance. My application was accepted last fall and I left for International Falls Saturday morning.
I did my check-in Saturday afternoon to get it out of the way. It’s at the Backus Community Center which I assume was the old school building. Door #3 is the closest to where you need to go for check in by the way. I was told there that I’d need to have packaged food to prove the caloric content of the food for my emergency food requirement so I had to go to the store to buy a pound of butter since my home made brownies wouldn’t count. I even laminated the ingredients with all the calorie information and stuff but it still didn’t matter. Otherwise I passed on everything else. For those unfamiliar with this race, here is the required gear as taken from the website.
MANDATORY GEAR from race start to race finish.
Minus-20F degrees sleeping bag or colder rating. Colder than -20F almost all previous races. If you skimp here you are foolish. And we will not allow you to skimp. So do not skimp. Fool. 2011 it was -42F on trail. Be able to prove your bag is a -20 bag. Don’t cut off the tags to shave weight.
Insulated sleeping pad – minimum 20″ by 48″
Bivy sack or tent (space blankets/tarps do not count). We don’t like seeing new bivy sacks that have never been tried.
Firestarter (matches or lighter).
8 fl. oz. fuel at ALL times (either gas, alcohol or 2 canisters of propane/butane 100 g. each or 12 Big Esbit tablets). 1 lb propane tanks, white gas, and Heet are available in Int’l Falls – propane/butane and Esbits are available from RD with advance notice. Please plan accordingly.
Pot (min. volume is 1 pint)
2-qt (64 fl. oz.) or just under 2 litres, insulated water container. (Yes, Camelbacks count). Not freezing your drinks in a cold year is a real challenge.
Headlamp or flashlight. Suggest minimum ~100 lumen good for 12 hours/bike or 20 hours on ski/foot. Bring a spare, the cold eats batteries.
Flashing red LED lights (and spare batteries), both on front and back of sled or bike or racer – Don’t show up with single LED key chain lights…bring real safety lights or you will not pass gear check and they may not be available at local stores. Keep ON 24/7. HIGHLY IMPORTANT….THIS MAY WELL PREVENT YOU FROM BEING A HOOD ORNAMENT ON LARGE FAST-MOVING SNOWMACHINES.
Everyone must have at least 10 square inches of reflective material on front and 10 square inches on the back of the person for this race. If you don’t want to put holes in your $200 jacket bring a reflective vest.
Whistle on string around neck to call for help, because your mouth is too numb to yell.
1-day of readily edible food at ALL times (3000 calories)
You will be given 2 bibs. We must be able to see your bib number on the front of your body (outer layer) at all times!!! Post the 2nd bib where it is easily visible.
YOU CAN STILL BE STUPID WITH ALL THE GEAR, KNOW HOW TO USE IT.
The race itself is 135 miles from International Falls, MN to Tower, MN along the Blue Ox Grade and Arrowhead snowmobile trails. You can go on foot, bike, or ski. I of course went in the foot division. It’s basically flat for 30ish miles, then hilly for about another 40 miles, then really hilly for 40 miles, and then pretty much flat the rest of the way except for the biggest hill of them all at mile 113.5. The trail is wide and all the snowmobilers I saw were driving appropriately and safely. More details on the trail to follow but that’s the overview.
I went to the hotel after I ate and organized my gear and started making decisions on what to leave behind. The forecast was for snow but no one really knew how much it would be. It definitely wasn’t going to be a cold year. The temperature wasn’t even forecast to get below zero the entire race. That’s really warm for this race. I almost felt like it was cheating having it so warm. There are just so many things that you can get away with when it’s this warm. You can take your gloves off to open things is the biggest “cheat”. Seriously, if it’s -20 and you take your gloves off for even 20 seconds, it takes a long time for them to warm back up if at all. I didn’t even run with gloves on most of the first day. So you worry and plan for all these scenarios where you have to do things with big gloves on and now none of that mattered since it was so warm. Anyway on to the story.
I slept quite well for having a constant pipe banging sound in my room. Apparently it was the boiler and the sound was heard in every room so switching wouldn’t matter. I could see Canada out my window since it was just across the river. I brought my passport but didn’t need to go over to purchase any last minute items so I never went.
My plan for Sunday was to go and check out the trail and my fully loaded sled. Here is what the sled looks like. This was taken the first day out on the course.
Just a side note on my sled. I used a Paris sled at Tuscobia last year which had holes in it by the time I finished. So this year I made my own sled out of Ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene. It has a coefficient of friction near Teflon and is very durable and can handle extreme cold. It’s the only material to use for winter ultras really. Yes it’s easier to just put a rope on a ready made sled from the store but it won’t last, and if you make one yourself it’s cheaper. This sled cost me $40 of materials and I’ll never need to make a new one if I don’t want too. I think the Paris sled with poles was closer to $70. My main worry about it was I was only able to test it 3 times since we didn’t get much snow down in southern MN this year. I learned a few things during the race that would make a better sled. One is to put runners (just a couple thicker strips of UHMW-PE on the bottom) on to make it track better. It will add weight but I think it’s worth it. It would also pull easier if it was narrower. I’m not going to do that though since my gear fits just right with this width. But if I had to start with nothing, I’d go narrower and longer. That’s enough help on the sled, to me that’s part of the learning process and it’s more satisfying to do that on your own. There are a few people that make them but with shipping it’ll cost you around $250. Really depending on the snow conditions it would make sense to have a couple different sled styles to chose from. Mine would do well in deep powder, and the narrow ones with no sides to them would likely do poorly since they’d be swamped and cut in too much. But those were the best for the race this year.
So I stopped along the trail at road crossings a couple different places on Sunday morning. I ran a couple miles with my loaded up sled to make sure it held up. The trail was very hard due to the melting they had had the last week. Also nice and fast. The new snow coming would slow that down though once it got deeper.
I got back to International Falls and dropped my drop bags off at the Community Center. There was a mandatory meeting there at 4pm and then a meal after that. The meeting filled in a few questions I had as a rookie. The race is about 2/3 veteran and 1/3 novice.
After the meal I headed back to check on the weather and do my final packing. I took out a few things and decided to leave my snowshoes as well as it wasn’t going to get over 6 inches of snow and they weigh 3.5 pounds. I saw some people with much smaller and lighter snowshoes so I may need to look into those.
The race started on Monday Jan 30th at 7am for the bikers, 7:02 for skiers and 7:04 for us on foot. I got up around 5am. It was about 10 degrees when I woke up but kept getting warmer by the time the race started. There was a 10mph wind from the south that we’d be going into for the first 9 miles of the race. I wore tights, thermal shirt, wind jacket, gloves, and buff for a hat. 181 were accepted for this race but only 156 ended up starting. 59 runners started.
The bikers started off with fireworks going off. Then the skiers 2 minutes later, and then we started 2 minutes after that. I didn’t hear anyone say anything for the start but just saw people leaving so I followed. They say “release the hounds” to start us off but I must have been too far away to hear it.
I started running and eventually ran with Breanna from Arizona and talked for about an hour. Then John Storkamp caught up and I talked to him for awhile as well. He was just power walking and I had to run to keep up. He’s done this race a dozen times so he knows it very well. Of course every year is still different because of the weather and snow conditions.
The course follows the Blue Ox Grade snowmobile trail from Kerry Arena in the middle of International Falls until it meets up with the start of the Arrowhead snowmobile trail 9.5 miles later. There is a shelter there but no one stops that early I’m sure. There are 10 shelters along the course but I missed one or two of them during the night. We then headed East. This entire first section is flat. It started snowing soon after the start. It looked very pretty but my shoes were getting wet already. Once I turned I took off my buff and gloves since without the wind in my face I was getting warm. I talked to a few other people here and there until things started spreading out more.
The next landmark is crossing Hwy 53 at 18.75 miles. There are train tracks there and I could hear trains but luckily they were past by the time I got there. By this time there was probably a couple inches of snow that had fallen. It of course didn’t look that deep since it always settles. After Hwy 53 the sled started pulling harder so I started walking around mile 24 where shelter #2 is. The small hills start around 26 miles. I think this is around where I met a guy that was running this for the first time. He had done it with a bike I’m pretty sure but he hadn’t really run an ultra before. Meaning each step was a new personal best distance for him on foot. I don’t think he finished the race this year though.
There is another shelter around mile 30. Then the hills start to get a little bigger. Enough that you could ride down them but there was only 1 that I rode down just before the first check point which is Gateway Store. You have to do a short out and back to get to it. The store is 36.7 miles into the race. There is food, etc to buy there. They had I think 5 kinds of soup to buy as well. I changed my socks and noticed my feet were already getting wrinkly from being wet all the time. The usual stuff I do wasn’t keeping them dry. I suspect the warm temps and the constant snowing was the difference. I spent 25 minutes here, it just takes a while to get things done even with a efficient plan.
I left at 4:26 pm and it would be getting dark soon. There were 8 people in front of me when I left but I didn’t know that at the time. I knew of at least 4 due to tracks in the snow but there were people so far ahead that the new snow had totally covered up their tracks. And so began what felt like the longest night ever. The hills keep going and get bigger as time goes on. There are several roads you go across that people tend to drop at and I could see why. It just seems like it will never end. Plus, it does really just keep getting worse for the next 70 miles or so. There are brief easy sections and then more hills. I met a few people and talked to them for awhile. I was never this tired so early in an ultra before. I was only 14 hours into this thing and could’ve slept instantly just laying down. My next goal was the second checkpoint at MelGeorge at mile 72 of the race. I was hoping it would take 11 hours to get there from Gateway but ended up taking 12.
I know many who said they heard wolves along this part. I didn’t. The snow had finally stopped and around 9 or 10 I saw the clouds part for a short time and tons of stars. No northern lights this year. There also was a very slight crescent moon that gave a nice eerie touch once the clouds started coming back in and covered it up.
Since I hadn’t seen anyone in a long time, I put on some music to try to lift my spirits some. It didn’t help that much really. Even though I tend to slow down when talking to people, the time flies by so much faster I wished I would find someone. I know of 2 people that I caught up to that said me talking to them made a big difference in their spirits. That’s the solitude part of the race though. You could choose to stay with someone the entire time but it’s kind of against the point of the race. You should have thoughts of loneliness, boredom, etc that come into your head. That’s the test, to push them out and focus on the ultimate task of finishing. There are plenty of physical reasons to quit this race, all of them are reasons to not even start. But the mental reasons are what stop most people, even the ones who have finished before and know better.
Along the way are shelters 4 and 5. There were people sleeping at shelter 5. I had a room reserved at the MelGeorge resort which is legal for the race. I figured since this was my first year, it would be a good idea in case things went bad. I couldn’t get there soon enough. I was so tired and just tired of the hills. The trail changes directions so many times, I had no idea how much further the check point was. My GPS had to be recharged so when I turned it back on I could see my pace but really had no clue how long was left. The last shelter is 13 miles from the resort which is hours for this race.
Finally I got to the lake that you cross over on for 1 mile to get to the resort. We were supposed to check in first before going to our room so that added a quarter mile of back tracking from where the check in cabin was. I checked in at 4am and 9 people had checked in before me. It was worth it to have a room. I sent a Skype video message to my family since there was no phone service but did have WiFi. My feet were all trench foot. I slept for 2.5 hours with my feet uncovered to dry them out. My shoes dried some but not completely. The new forecast called for -4 degrees Wednesday morning. I finally left at 8:15am after getting ready and going back the quarter mile to the check in point. 16 people left before I did since I was there so long. I knew some would have to bivy again before the finish, but how many? So overall I spent 4 hours there which was longer than I’d like but I needed it due to my feet.
As usual, sleep had wondrous healing powers for me. My feet hurt but looked normal. I kind of had energy but the best thing was the sun was up! Day 2 would be MUCH better than Night 1. There were 2 people who started seconds before me. One was a skier Jerritt and the other was Jeff Firkus who I ran with some at Tuscobia last year. He knew this trail pretty well.
I wish I would’ve taken pictures during the second day but it was a big hassle getting it out of the pack where it was staying nice and warm in case of emergency.
There are the usual hills for the next 2 miles. At exactly 2 miles from the check-in cabin is the turn that can be difficult for some. It’s where you get back on to the main combined arrowhead trail. It was well marked.
2.7 miles from MelGeorge check-in cabin is where my day got amazing! That was the start of a huge downhill that I seriously thought about climbing back up to go down again it was so fun! It’s 150 feet high and I got going up to 13mph according to my watch but it felt like 30. Remember the first time you ever just bombed down a ski hill and felt the wind pushing hard against you and absolutely loving it? Yep, just like that. Felt like I was 13. Some of these downhills would have bumps in them from the snowmobiles so I’d get air on them. Awesome! Remember I had no way to keep this sled going straight other than my hands and feet. That just added to the excitement! There were kind of snowbanks all along the edge of the trail since it’s packed down but I didn’t want to test if they would keep me from flying in the trees. I told Jeff I wish I had a GoPro for that hill. He did have one but didn’t think of it at the time. For the next 32 miles minus about 5 miles of flat towards the beginning of that section, it was nothing but sleddable hills. I was having so much fun. Jeff would bomb down head first to steer with his feet behind him. He left me behind on the flat part section.
I changed socks again since I could feel them soaked again. They didn’t look as bad as yesterday and I was hoping to keep them that way.
That’s when Jerritt and I kept crossing paths. He’d have to take off and put on his skis constantly because of the hills. It didn’t look fun. I was still having fun. Just before 26 miles from the cabin is the start of 2 hills that looked like every other hill we had gone down. The difference was they go way steeper as you went down and had a fairly sharp turn part way down you couldn’t see from the top. I ended up testing those banks on the side of the trail and bounced back and forth spinning and going backwards down the hill. I thought for sure I’d hit a tree but never did. Then right after is another one where I had to really dig my shoes in to not hit a bridge post. I was yelling at Jerritt to get out of the way since I couldn’t stop and he was at the bottom. He told me he ended up in the trees on that first one but was OK.
It then got dark and it started to snow for the second day in a row. Then the hills were kind of scary because you couldn’t see anything with the falling snow reflecting in the headlamp. You never knew where the bottom of the hill was, how steep, nothing. So I ran down a lot more of them. I became bored of hills and was starting to count down the miles to Surly Tee Pee checkpoint at mile 111. The wind really picked up and you could feel the temperature dropping fast for the first time in the race. The forecast was -4 which isn’t bad at all. The wind was mostly at our backs the rest of the race so even the wind wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. Finally I hit the turn to the Southeast towards the checkpoint. I started seeing smart ass signs reminding us we’d signed up for this, etc. The usual ultra humor. At least I knew I had to be getting closer.
I got to Surly Tee Pee checkpoint at 9:30pm Tuesday. 14 people checked in before me. I didn’t need to do much and had a plan in my head. I changed socks again (on my 5th pair now). Since it was now colder they would likely stay drier but I had to get the wet ones off. I put on another layer of pants. I got out my second jacket. Got a fleece hat instead of a buff. I put on warmer gloves and got out the next warmer pair and put it in my backpack as I knew the trail got more exposed later on and would need them. I put some more hot water in my cooler and was out the Tee Pee door. It only took my 22 minutes but it didn’t even feel that long. I had no wasted time in my mind. It just takes a long time to get new socks on it seems. They were steaming when I took my shoes off. I left some people behind at the checkpoint that were taking a break as only 10 left before me. I had started to take caffeine at this point but there was no chance I’d have to bivy. I ate the rest of the food I planned on eating so that I’d get an energy boost around 2 or 3 am.
There is one more big steep hill called Wakemup hill after the checkpoint that starts about 1.6 miles out. You go up about 100 feet but get to go down 150 feet. I didn’t know if you could sled down it safely so I dug my shoes in until about the half way point down. Turns out you could just fly down pretty easy as it’s a gentle turn and it slowly flattens out. You go a long way with this hill. From there on out it’s a very gradual uphill to the finish line about 21 miles away. There are some turns here and there but most of the time you can see over a mile in front and behind you at all times.
This next part I wasn’t sure I’d put in here but my wife said I should so I will. About 4 miles in I could see someone ahead of me and I caught up to him soon after sitting on a tree on the side of the trail blankly staring. All his lights were on as I passed him (important for later). One on the back of his sled and one I think on his chest. So he only had 2 but that was all that was required. I said “Hi” and he said nothing in return which was odd for this race or anytime really.
I looked back a minute later and I could see he was getting ready to start up again since lights were moving everywhere. About 10 minutes later he passes me with only his headlamp on super low. All his blinking lights required by the race were turned off. I also couldn’t see his bib number anywhere to know who he was. Obviously he was trying to not be seen by me after he passed me as there is no other plausible explanation. I’ve seen this many times before in summer races. The difference is that it is required during this race to have them on at all times, even in the day because we’re on a snowmobile trail. I was pissed so I sped up and followed him for probably 5 minutes until 2 snowmobiles that were associated with the race came by. I tried to stop them to tell them about his lights but they must have assumed I was saying I was OK and just kept going. They didn’t stop him which I was surprised by.
You see during check-in they were very anal about the blinky lights as really they probably should be. People had already contacted the DNR about being surprised by us being on the trail in years past. If anyone ever gets hit during the race I think we can safely assume the race is dead. At Tuscobia, it’s part of their permit from the DNR that you need at least 3 lights on at all times and at certain heights, etc. I had 3 lights on my head, and 3 more down my back and sled. I also had one in front. I asked several people during the race if they could see my lights and they said they were real good. Really everyone I saw had good lights, assuming they were ON!
I followed him closely as I could only see him by his reflector and had to be fairly close for that. I had planned on doing 20-22 minute miles until the end but was now doing 18 minute miles. It took about 20 minutes and then I caught up to him while he was stopped. As I was coming up to him, I asked him if all his blinkies’ batteries had died. I then got in front of him and could see a faint red light coming from under his duffle bag at the front of the sled. He had hid them in there. Remember I saw them on the back of his sled in the beginning where they should be. I said, “Oh, there they are, just as I thought” and left him. He didn’t say anything but sure enough they were on again later on when I looked back. He tried to keep up and it did take me about an hour before I couldn’t see him anymore but for all I know he had turned all his lights off and was still just behind me. I refilled my water bottle for the last time after I turned a corner as fast as possible. Basically I spilled water everywhere but got enough in my bottle. I never stopped again.
I was on a mission to not let a cheater beat me. 17 minute miles were common now. I kept thinking about the character Crusher on Blaze and the Monster Machines cartoon I watch with my kids. He always cheats to try to win the races but he never does. In fact, if he wouldn’t cheat he’d likely win some of the races because he’s so far ahead. Sound similar? My kids loved this story when I got home by the way.
I ended up seeing another light up ahead and caught up to him in about 30 minutes. It was Jeff and I had caught back up to him. I briefly told him about the guy behind me. I told Jeff I didn’t care if he (Jeff) kept up and beat me, just as long as I beat the cheater behind us. Jeff did keep up for a while but stopped somewhere and I never saw him again. The trail seemed to go along swamps a lot in this area so I ran anytime I was on icy looking stuff since the sled pulled so nice.
It was colder now and I put on my warmer gloves from my backpack while still moving. I knew we had to turn off the arrowhead trail somewhere and I thought it was soon after crossing CoRd 77. I crossed a road but it never seemed to me that we turned off anywhere. I could see tracks and footprints in the snow and the course was well marked so I knew I was still on the right course but really had no idea how much further it was. My watch had died from the cold. I didn’t want to stop to take my phone out which had a gpx file of the course on it. I’d get there when I got there I told myself. I could tell my speed was slowing now. I was getting tired and it seemed like all I was doing was making turns in the woods. East then South then East then South. Other race reports made it sound like you could see the casino long before you got there but I never did.
Finally I heard some noise. I got to the snow fence area which I thought meant I still had a couple miles left to go. Nope, it means you have like 0.1 miles. I asked a guy how much further to the finish line and he pointed to the top of the hill he was standing by and I could see the banner. To say I was happy is an understatement. Not even so much that I finished the race (I knew that would happen back at Surly), but that I didn’t have to go 2 more miles and I had beaten my new Nemesis. It was 4:56am Wednesday Feb 1st. I had finished in 45 hours and 52 minutes. I proclaimed I’d party till the sun came up which was only a couple hours away.
I told them Jeff should be coming shortly. They take you inside and I had to pick a number from 1 to 10. I don’t remember what number I picked but whatever it was meant I had to do a full gear check so we did that and I passed. I got brought up to the hospitality room in the Fortune Bay Casino and I got my trophy, some food, pop, and my clean clothes bag. The volunteers really are amazing at this race. Jeff came in I think 10 minutes later. My feet looked better than they did at Surly. The cold and wind had dried out my shoes and socks. I got my picture taken with the trophy.
I took a shower and changed. I tried to sleep some but mostly just talked to other racers. Some were just coming in, others had already slept and were getting up to see the new finishers.
I couldn’t wait to get home to my family so I slept some once I got back to my car in International Falls and then drove home.
The cheater was Italian I found out as he came in. That’s maybe why he didn’t say anything to me. But as my wife said, it’s no excuse for cheating and putting himself and the entire race in jeopardy. You need to know the rules no matter what, especially safety rules. There’s no way he accidentally took his lights off and hid them. Her argument made sense to me and that’s why I even put the story in here.
There are some who don’t agree with the sledding aspect of this race. From what I’ve been told it’s always been allowed and I love it. Even if you took every step down a hill you could easily lower your sled in front of you with a retractable dog leash and not have it pushing you down the hill negating the main argument most have against it. I think people should take advantage of it. I don’t think it makes you go much faster as most hills you could run down faster and it takes time to get on and off your sled. There’s only about 10 hills that you really cruise on. The main advantage is the fun factor and the fact you’re off your feet for 10 seconds. I was seriously thinking I would never do this race again until I got to the sledding portion of the trail. That first night for me just kinda sucked. Now I plan on doing it again if I gain entry again.
The headlamp suggestion for 100 lumens or more is a good one. You don’t need more than 50 on the flat parts but if you want to see the bottom of the hills and not overrun your light then you want well over 100. 200 would be good if you have the battery life to keep your headlamp on that high of a setting. I’d crank mine up on the downhills but it didn’t help much this year since it was snowing and all I saw were snowflakes flying at me.
Again the volunteers are great for this race as are the race directors although I never spoke to them directly. Well organized and I saw lots of race associated sleds in case anyone was in danger.
Speaking of snowmobiles, I saw very few non race related snowmobiles the entire race. Only a couple the first day. Probably 15 the second day. For some reason the second night I saw 40 between 10 and 11pm. After that I saw none again. They were all very well behaved riders and none of them seemed surprised by my presence, but then again there was always someone just a half mile ahead of me for most of the race.
There is a ton of walking in this race. I estimate I ran 30 miles, sledded 1.5 miles and walked the rest. The only thing that hurt after the race were my ankles. Those are back to normal and my calves are a little sore. Don’t let the distance scare you if you are thinking of this race. If you’ve done a 50 mile race you can easily finish this from a physical aspect. The cold and your mind are the things you need to train for. Walking just isn’t that hard, even if pulling a sled.
With all that said, I suspect this was an “easy” year both weather and condition wise. 38 of the 59 runners finished which is 64% and pretty high for this race. I remind myself though that even if it was an easier year than most, it’s still 135 miles.