FANS 12 Hour Race – 2019 Chaperone Report

I titled this report as chaperone report since I didn’t participate in it, my son did. I ran/walked with him the entire time since he’s only 6 and the course location was changed to a much busier area than previous years due to flooding on the normal course. Plus I got to spend all day with an awesome dude that way.

The race this year was June 1st at Mount Normandale Lake in Bloomington, MN. The course was on an entirely paved pedestrian path around the lake. While it was nice to be entirely paved, there were lots of hills on this course compared to the Ft. Snelling course. While none were over 25 feet or so, it added up to about 80 feet a loop or more. The loop itself was also shorter at 1.82 miles. In the end I much prefer the last years course. Nicer course and much nicer/safer tent area set up.

Since I wasn’t running, we didn’t need a crew. Time wasn’t going to be an issue and I’d be with him to help him at any time if he needed it. Last year he got 12.4 miles with little real effort since he mostly spent time in the tent with his sister. This year his goal was to become an ultrarunner!

We got to the race early to get his packet with race bib, medal, and tent setup instructions. They didn’t have his shirt size so this year he got an even bigger shirt than last year. We set up in a place where it should be shady in the afternoon. It rained overnight but now was fine and the forecast was for nice weather. We still brought the tent even without rain just to have a place to change if we needed it. We put all our stuff inside and got his bib on.

Before the race.

The start line was about a quarter mile away from our tent. The lap counting area was even further away. He had to get weighed in first so we did that (he gained a pound during the race) and then went over to the starting line. We didn’t hear any pre-race instructions since there wasn’t any megaphone. Everyone was busy talking to Alex, asking how old he was, etc.

Finally at 8AM we were off and running. So here’s basically how the course went this year from the lap counting tent (not the starting line). Overall we were going around a lake counterclockwise. The first part after the lap counting area went over a small bridge. This area had carp in it. Then we got to the turtle area, with turtles covering every log in sight basically. This was also the area where the short loops would begin in the last hour of the race. Next we went South through the porta potties and tent area. The tent area began the gentle hills area. We then went East through trees. It meandered a lot with hills the entire way pretty much. At the Southeast corner was a steep downhill with a waterfall (it’s a dammed up man made lake) and the only aid station besides the counting tent. Then turned North through exposed grassy area. Then turned West in partially exposed and tree lined area. This area also had a busier road and taller buildings along it. Then down a steep downhill and uphill run to the official lap counting line.

Alex ran up that hill every single loop! It didn’t matter if we walked the entirety of the loop before that hill, he just had to sprint up it. Must’ve been the cheering that always happened there.

Also, along the course were signs telling where certain distances would be achieved during a certain loop. For example, the marathon distance was not far before the second aid station on loop 15. That was of course Alex’s goal, to get beyond that sign. Of course for it to really count, he’d have to go another mile to finish the loop. Last year they didn’t have a 50 mile sign, or maybe didn’t have any signs. It was a nice addition to the race to have these and a good photo opportunity.

The plan was to run the first loop, walk the second and run the third. We ran the first and ran/walked the second and third. By the end of the first loop, we had warmed up. It was cool and breezy which was great if you were running. Alex complained about the hills since he’s not used to them. Of course it only gets worse every time you do the same hill on a loop course.

I’m not sure where to put this in the blog so I’ll just put it here. The tent area is a fun place. There is a contest every year for the best tent area display so while not many people go all out for it, some do. There was a meat raffle one where you spun a wheel. That’s absolutely irresistible to my children. Almost to the point where if you had a puppy, a kitten, and a contest wheel next to each other, they might actually go for the wheel first. Alex did this probably 5 times throughout the day and somehow “won” all but 1 time. Obviously he just won because he was a kid but he didn’t know that. He got candy, or a toy animal, and the last time was doughnuts. Also, there was a guy dressed up as something different every time we went through the tent area the first 4 times through. At first he was bacon (Alex thinks he was a hot dog, so I’m not sure who’s right), the next time he was a can of Mountain Dew. Alex was getting mad since the costumes kept making him hungry for those things. Next I think was Homer Simpson. Finally he was in one of those inflatable T-Rex costumes.

It was fairly crowded the first loop as we thinned out some. I tried to keep Alex from meandering all over the trail in front of people trying to pass, it wasn’t easy. Before we knew it we were seeing signs saying “free beer at the aid station”, followed with another sign saying “just kidding about the beer.” The the usual “you paid for this”, etc. Later in the race, someone put put up a sign with the elevation gain of the race depending on how long you’ve been running. To start with it was just 15 feet, then 150, then 1500, then for the 24 hour runners 15,000. If you’ve ever run a loop course for a day, you’d completely agree! I’ve cursed individual rocks if they’re large enough or distinctive enough to notice every loop.

On the second loop, we walked occasionally and spent some time looking at the turtles. Alex counted them every loop and indeed they must’ve moved some since the number was different every loop.

Sometimes, this log was completely covered with turtles all in a conga line.
Some more turtles. This is on the Northwest corner of the lake looking Southeast.

On the South side of the second loop, we started looking at all the different trees and plants. I spent pretty much the entire day telling him what everything was. You’d think he’d know all the trees by the 5th loop, but no. Maybe on the last loop he got a couple trees correct. For the most part, 90% of the plants were invasive species, some even on the noxious weed list. It’s really annoying that the government makes rules about requiring us to eradicate noxious weeds and yet does nothing themselves. This is a flowing waterway so they’re just spreading seeds to everyone down the creek. I could go on forever about that, but I won’t.

We were making pretty good time since we were running a fair amount of the time, with multiple stops to look at plants and wildlife. I think on the third loop or so we saw 6 big carp thrashing around a log by the bridge. We watched them for a while. A muskrat swam by as well then. The sun was starting to break through a little now as well.

People were starting to come out to the park to run/walk their dogs, etc. There was a separate bike path so we didn’t have to deal with them which was nice. Alex was finally starting to figure out how to not get in front of people passing.

He’d take some food here and there from the aid stations, candy mostly of course. Since I wasn’t in the race I had to just eat what I brought with which got fairly boring. I forgot I’d be walking for most of the day so I could eat regular food instead of candy and chips. But all we brought was candy and chips so that’s what I got.

We walked most of the 4th loop and I think all of the 5th loop (except that finish line hill of course). We were both a little tired so we made our first stop in the tent after the 5th loop. This was 2.5 hours into the race and over 9 miles. We had run about 6 of those miles but we never ran much at all the remainder of the race.

Putting his feet up and taking a break.

We spent about 30 minutes eating sugar and drinking some caffeine pop. That was enough time to get back out there. We ended up from then on stopping after every 3 loops which would take us around 2 hours to do. We’d stop for 25-30 minutes. By 11AM, they were serving subway sandwiches. I don’t remember them being offered last year. Alex loves them but only ate 1 the entire race. Guess where we just HAD to go eat after the race? Subway of course. I told him, we could go anywhere, and he picked Subway anyway. Whatever.

Yummy Subway

Pretty much most of the afternoon was spent walking around a lake looking at everything. I had the course memorized by the third loop, but Alex was much more just in the moment kind of mindset. He never seemed to know where on the course we were. It probably worked out better that way since he was always kind of surprised when we got to the lap counting tent.

He was pretty excited when we got over a half-marathon distance since that’s further than mom’s gone.

Everyone was of course interested in Alex like last year. Alex was more shy this year. I kept telling him that people that said “good job” were talking to him and not me. I wasn’t in the race and honestly, me walking for 12 hours isn’t impressive. He finally started talking more and occasionally telling people “good job” back. He proudly told everyone he was six and a half years old.

A couple people asked me 6 hours into the race how I got him focused enough to go that long. I never really thought about it before but just said “I’ve been an ultrarunner since he was born so I guess he just grew up thinking that’s normal.” Now that I’ve had more time to think about it, that still rings true. The reason people think something can’t be done is usually just because someone hasn’t yet. Once lots of people do something, it no longer seems impossible, even if it’s still really difficult. I’ve never told him he couldn’t go over a marathon distance, so why would he think he couldn’t.

The other reason I think he was still going was that I made sure last year was fun for him with zero pressure besides having to run the first long loop with me. After that, he did the other loops when he wanted to. He spent the rest of the time playing with other kids or his sister. I spent the weeks before the race last year, telling him about the great runners he’d meet like Courtney Dauwalter. Then when he got to meet her and talk to her, it was that much more fun and memorable. He asked to do the race again this year on his own.

Plus I think 6 year old boys just love to spend time with their dad. I’m sure my wife is jealous I got to hold hands with him all the time.

By mid-afternoon, I noticed he was always falling behind me in one part of the North area despite it being a long gradual downhill section. Turns out he was trying to count all the retaining wall blocks in that area, followed by how many stories each tall building had.

There also was a big party with bounce houses near the lap counting tent after a different 5k event was finished. I’m sure that was torture for him to go past loop after loop, watching kids play on them.

His goal was getting closer and closer. By loop 11 he started counting how many loops were left. He was confident he could do it since we had plenty of time. I of course knew how fast things can go downhill in a race so I was cautious. We stopped after loop 8 and 11. We were going to try to get 4 loops done since we’d be over a marathon after loop 15. Loop 13 was getting slow. I gave him my iPod to listen to, which helped him pass the time and keep his mind off of his soreness. Loop 14 was even slower. He was obviously starting to feel it in his feet and walking slow. He didn’t really complain until we were almost done with the loop. We definitely were going to have to take a break before loop 15. This was of course just 1 loop after he said he was going to do at least 16 loops. How quickly things change.

We had plenty of time so we started loop 15 and stopped in our tent for about 25 minutes. I was kind of trying to time it so that we’d finish loop 15 with 1 hour left in the race so we’d get credit for the distance going back to our tent.

We left the tent to become an ultrarunner. I made sure that one of his favorite songs (Genius) was playing on the iPod when we left. There is a gradual hill right after our tent and it was amusing watching him go up that. It takes a little while to get going again after stopping for a while with sore feet or legs. Usually it’s just a couple hundred feet or so (at Volstate, it took me close to a mile sometimes!) To see him go through that was mixed feelings. On the one hand I was proud to see him fight through it to meet his goal. On the other, I was worried how sore he’s be tomorrow (spoiler alert: he ran some the next day, so obviously it wasn’t too much).

It was less than a mile from the tent to the marathon sign. We actually ran some of this distance once he got over the initial pain of getting going. The excitement was obviously helping. I ran ahead to take a video of him crossing the sign and becoming an ultrarunner (personally I don’t agree with that definition of an ultramarathon but that’s the current accepted definition: anything longer than a marathon). He ran across and kept on running. I had to call him back so I could take a picture of him by the sign.

New Ultrarunner!

He was super excited and told everyone he talked to after that point that he was an ultramarathoner. Excitement was keeping him going all the way to the counting tent. The problem was that with all this running, we got there 15 minutes sooner than I thought we would so my plan to get there with an hour left didn’t work. I told him we could just sit here and wait for 15 minutes before we go to our tent and quit, or we could do another loop. He didn’t hesitate and wanted to go another loop.

About a mile before the loop was over he wanted to make sure I wouldn’t try to beat him up the hill at the lap counting tent this last time. I wasn’t even in the race and never ran up it with him before so I’m not sure why he was worried about that. Possibly I think he wanted to walk up it since he was tired and didn’t want me to pass him. Either way I told him that I wouldn’t. I told him everyone is probably expecting you to run up without me like every other time. I told him the same thing I’ve told him before; “The only race I’ll try my hardest not to let you beat me in is a 100 mile race. You’re going to have to earn that one.” He smiled at that. He’ll likely smile the same way someday when he kicks my butt.

He ran up the hill to finish loop 16 and we continued to the short loop area. Since they wanted as few people as possible in this area, I just went with him to the South terminus of the short loop. I told him he could keep doing short loops as long as he felt like and I went to the tent to start packing up. He ended up going back and forth 2 more times for a total distance of 29.77 miles. I think had he known that one more time back and forth would be over 30 miles he probably would’ve done it. He still had 15 minutes on the clock. I asked him if he wanted to go back, but he said no. Overall in the race we stopped for 2 hours total and left 15 minutes on the clock so there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

His secondary goal this year was to not be in last place like last year. I think he ended up beating 4 men and 4 women so he accomplished that as well. Really though in timed events, placing isn’t as important. Some people just go to see how fast they can do 50 miles and then quit, etc.

We finished packing up and went to Subway. We then left for home. He stayed up until we got home (probably due to caffeine) which was kind of nice since he could take a shower that way before bed.

He slept in the next day, not surprisingly. I heard him asking for help in a giggling voice when he woke up. In dramatic fashion, I found him on the floor, face down, moaning. I carried him to the bathroom upstairs but after that, he was walking around like he hadn’t just gone a super long distance for a 6 year old. The little jerk even ran about 100 feet that afternoon when we were walking the dogs. I say jerk because I’m of course jealous of people like him. The next day he was running around playing like normal.

This race keeps track of your total lifetime miles for the event. They even put that number on your bib. Alex only had 12.4 miles on his. A couple people are close to 3000 miles over the 30 year history of the race. Even after this years race, I still have more lifetime miles than Alex and I told him that. He thought about that for a bit and then said “When I run it next year again, can you not run it so I get more miles than you?” We’ll see.

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Zion 100k – 2019 Race Report

The Zion 100K ultramarathon was held April 12th, just outside of Zion National Park in Southern Utah. The start and finish is in Virgin, UT. The 100k course was changed this year and I’m assuming it will stay in this current form next year as it worked well I think. I ran this race over a month ago (partially due to 3 hours of work on this report being erased somehow) so my memory might be a bit fuzzy but I think I can give some good details. Lots of pictures with this report at least.

Since I didn’t get into Superior 100 this year I needed to quick find a race that would qualify for Western States as I still haven’t won the lottery for that race. The 100k version of this race (also available are 100 mile, 50k and half marathon options) qualifies for Western States and wasn’t full yet. Also I’ve never been to Southern Utah and wanted to check out some of the national parks with my wife to see if we’d want to come back when the kids are older. I hadn’t run a 100k distance race yet either, so that was of some interest to me as well.

We left Minnesota a couple days early so we’d be able to explore the area. This ended up being perfect timing as the blizzard hit a few hours after the plane took off. We landed in St. George and went straight to Paria Valley in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. I’ve wanted to go there for years after seeing a photo of the place. I kept this part a surprise for my wife since I didn’t want her to know what it looked like before we got there. It was cloudy but soon after we got there the clouds parted enough for me to get some great photos. People keep using my photos without giving credit so I’m not going to put any of those on here since they’re good enough to be worth something. It was worth the drive I think. Along the way there were some towns we drove through. It was interesting to us to see lots of homes with no siding whatsoever. Basically people just painted the OSB sheeting and called it good. I guess in the desert that’s okay?

We stayed in Hurricane, UT at an AirBnB. Turns out everyone staying at the place was in the race or a crew for a runner. It certainly made us not feel so bad getting up super early on race day. We ate some awesome Mexican food and went to bed.

The next day we went to Zion National Park. I wanted to go up Angels Landing and even if I didn’t want to, there was basically no other choice. Essentially every other trail in the main valley was closed due to flooding or landslides. It’s about 2000 feet of elevation gain total and close to 5 miles round trip but I wasn’t too worried since the race was only supposed to have 5500 feet of gain which is pretty flat. The trail is a steady climb for pretty much the whole way to Scout Lookout which is where the trail gets “scarier”. I wasn’t too surprised when my wife decided not to continue since the going down part would be scarier than going up. It’s not anywhere close to as scary as half-dome in Yosemite but if you’re not used to hiking along cliffs, you’ll be concerned.

About half-way from Scout Landing to the top.

There are chains along portions of the trail to hang on to but I just used my hands to hold rocks instead. It was much faster that way and the chains moved around a lot. If it wasn’t for crowds, you could run most of the flat parts really. Same with going down, if no one was around you could get down pretty quick. I hung out at the top for a little while to enjoy the views and take some pictures.

1500 feet straight down. My mom loves these! That’s the Virgin river and the park road way down there.

On the way down I saw at least one Condor. We couldn’t quite read the number on his wing to look it up later but it was pretty cool it flew so close over our heads and beside us that we could even see that at all. It was 2 digits but I think they’re all just 2 digits and then color coded. This one seemed orange or yellow. The sun kept blinding us. There’s still less that 300 of them in the wild! My wife I think saw it from the landing as well. Of course since I spent so much time watching the bird she was concerned about me by the time I got back to her. Oops. The rest of the day was pretty much spent relaxing, getting my bib, and getting everything finalized for the race the next day.

The race started Friday at 6AM. The 100 mile and 100k started at the same time so there were hundreds of runners. Since it was still dark, I needed my headlamp. We ran on the shoulder of the highway for a bit and then dirt roads headed toward the first and only big climb of the race. About 3 miles into the race is where it starts to get steep and just gets steeper. I wasn’t really in the front group but was towards the front. Somehow a group of people after the front runners took a wrong turn and we all followed up the wrong trail. After going up a couple hundred feet we saw people running back down saying it was the wrong way. So back down I went and now it was of course super crowded since we were just running into the people behind us. Surprisingly, people hiked up the correct direction at a decent pace so I didn’t have to stop and start all the time like I did at Bighorn waiting for people to move. Finally after about 1200 feet you get to the top.

View from the top at Goosebump Aid Station. You can see the trail going down if you look close bottom center of picture.
The dirt road in the center of the photo going kiddie-corner is the road we ran on to get to the mesa from Virgin. Looking North just left of the picture above.

Here is the first aid station called Goosebump. We’d go through this station 2 more times later on and there is no crew access here so it’s the only place I left a drop bag. I got here in just over an hour so not too bad.

From here to the next aid station which was Grafton Mesa was pretty much flat. It was all on dirt road with a downhill at the end. I talked to a few people along this section and realized I wouldn’t need my poles for the rest of the race. There was a chance of rain forecast initially but it looked like that probably wasn’t going to happen. I was fairly hot already since I was still used to winter weather at home. It wasn’t all that hot, probably only got up to 70 degrees and sunny but I was feeling it pretty much the rest of the day. I also was feeling like the hike yesterday was definitely going to slow down my time. My legs just felt kind of dead all day.

Road from Goosebump to Grafton.

I found my wife at Grafton fairly easy around 8:10AM. I got some ice water from her, changed into a t-shirt from a long sleeve shirt, got food, left my poles and told her I’d see her later. We went through this aid station twice more so she just stayed there and read. The race continued on down the road until Wire Mesa where we went onto a mountain bike trail. There was an aid station at the start of the trail and we’d loop back to it before going back up to the Grafton Mesa.

Wire Mesa is the closest mesa to Zion National Park. Basically it’s just Southwest of the entrance to the canyon so you can see some of the peaks in the park. The mesas themselves are gorgeous though as well. The trail led all over the mesa and the edges of it. The views from every edge were great. I heard several people overwhelmed with the views. They were full on swearing in disbelief for minutes at a time. I was starting to wonder if they’d ever been outside in their entire life.

View from Wire Mesa looking NE at the Virgin River Valley entrance to Zion National Park.

The trail itself was overall flat but you were going up a rock here and down a rock there almost every 2 steps. It got annoying and it was starting to dawn on me why the previous finishing times of this race were longer than I expected them to be based on the distance and elevation gain advertised. It took about 90 minutes to complete the loop.

During this mesa section I realized I’d need to use the bathroom at some point. I saw there were 2 compost toilet tents at the aid station the first time I went through. I also saw there were about 7 people in front of me on the trail when we were nearing the station. I didn’t want to risk having to wait for all of them to use it first so I sprinted downhill past them all and went straight into the toilet.

Okay, this is going to get gross. I’ve stopped talking about pooping in my reports due to comments but this I can’t skip over.

So to start with, here’s how the race advertises these compost toilets in the race booklet;

We also use Great Outdoors Composting Portable
Toilets which conserve water, eliminates the use of
harmful chemicals, and create a nutrient rich soil
amenity. It is the best pooping experience you will
ever have. To learn more about Great Outdoors
Toilets or to have them at your event visit www.
greatoutdoorstoilets.com or ask the race officials
for more information.

The best pooping experience you will ever have you say? No! You’ll be talking about it for sure, but not because it’s great. I don’t have a picture of these since I never wanted to get close to them again, so I’ll do my best to paint a picture with words. You could go to their website, but they smartly don’t show you pictures of the inside of the tent version they had at the race.

The compost toilet consists of a wide plastic bucket with a 3/4 inch thick piece of plywood placed on top of it with a hole cut out. They did add a toilet seat to this board so there’s that I guess. This board was about 2 feet wide and the depth of a toilet seat. This was all surrounded by a shower tent like structure. Look it up if you don’t know what I mean. This tent however was much smaller than a shower tent which is tiny to begin with. Basically if you were over 6 feet tall, your knees would be touching the tent wall when you sat down and your head hitting the ceiling. The zipper was also under a lot of tension so it was basically impossible to close all the way from the inside due to the tight space. I suppose you could’ve walked in, put your face down in the seat area bending over and put your hands through your legs to close it? I wasn’t going to try that.

But I’m getting ahead of myself a little. There is sawdust already pre-moisturized that you’re supposed to scoop from a barrel outside this tent and spread on top of your deposit to the plastic bucket. One scoop for pee and two for poop I think the signs said.

Anyway, when I got to the aid station a guy just came out of the tent and I went right in…. Remember when I said it was sunny and kind of hot? Imagine a greenhouse filled with poop, wet sawdust, urine and zero air flow. That should paint the air temperature and smell for you. Then the sights, oh the sights. Toilet paper, sawdust, and what I can only assume was poop all over the seat and plywood. If you put a dog in similar conditions, you’d go to jail. It wasn’t quite as bad as the scene from Rambo where he’s being hung in the waste water from the outhouses, but my mind immediately went there.

There was no way I could do all I needed doing while holding a single breath, especially after sprinting downhill to get there. My breath number was definitely in the double digits. I went as quick as I could and did a horrible job of applying more butt lube since there wasn’t any room in there and I didn’t dare let my pack touch any horizontal surface. That would certainly haunt me later. I was seriously considering just opening up the “door” and doing everything in full view of all the runners coming down the trail and the people eating at the aid station. Why should they be punished though, they were probably smart and just pooped on the course somewhere.

The first breath of fresh, cool air after you exit is about the best thing you can imagine. That is until you realize you have to go back in not only once, but twice, to sprinkle sawdust on top of your carefully crafted cupcake. Why can’t you just make a bigger scoop?! Even though I kept my hands clean, there was no way I could say they were clean after touching the tent itself, anything in it, or the scoop. I had a worker push the plunger on the water spigot so I didn’t contaminate it and didn’t get any food. I still had some of my own left anyway.

How is it even legal to compost human waste? That means it’s sitting out in the open for weeks. Truly one of the worst pooping experiences I’ve ever had.

After this I continued on back up the road to Grafton aid station. I found my wife in the same place and briefly described my experience. She said she heard some of the toilets at that aid station had poop up to the toilet seat already. She smartly never went into one. I got ice water and soaked my head with water.

The next part of the race was to run a 5.5 mile loop on the Grafton Mesa. There was a short section in the beginning that both directions ran on so I saw there were a few people already finishing the loop. It was a little nicer trail that the last one but the views weren’t quite as nice. Basically you ran a gentle slope towards the end of the mesa and then back up to the aid station. It was getting much more thinned out now. While I could see someone all the time up to this point, now it was only about half the time.

View from Grafton Mesa. Pretty sure looking West.

I was now starting to slow down as I was hitting the marathon distance in this section and the heat was getting to me since it was almost noon. I lost some time in this section but I just had to remind myself this is pretty normal at this point in a race. I got to the Grafton aid station for the last time and reloaded a fair amount since I wouldn’t see my wife for over 5 hours. She went back to the Airbnb and I think even took a nap.

I tried to make up some time on the road back to Goosebump with some fast walking uphills. It seemed to take much longer this second time running on this section. The views were nice though and soon enough I got to the aid station at 12:52PM having made back the time I lost on Grafton. There was now less than 29 miles left.

The next section was an 11 mile loop on Gooseberry Mesa. We started out on the North edge of the mesa going West. The trail was right on the edge of the cliff for the first mile or so and was gorgeous. The best views of the race!

Looking North from Gooseberry Mesa. You can see the road from the race beginning again. The Mesa on the top left is Hurricane Mesa. The cool thing about that one is that the Supersonic Research Site is on the top of it. It has rocket sleds for testing ejection seats, etc. Privately owned now but still used.
Looking Northeast. You can see the trail down in the bottom right of the photo.

After about 20 minutes I got to the “slick-rock” area. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all. At home, slick-rock is flattish smooth rock. What they called slick-rock here was petrified sand dunes. They weren’t slippery at all due to being sandstone and they certainly weren’t flat. Best to just show a picture.

Slick-rock?

I’ve never gone mountain biking so I’m not sure if they like to curve all over the place when they ride or they’re just drunk because these trails never went straight. Up to this point the biking trails we were on were classified as Easy or More Difficult similar to ski slope ratings. We were now getting into Difficult and at several points I noticed a rating of Extreme. I’m assuming that’s like a double black diamond in skiing. Regardless, in the photo above I’ll try to explain how the trail went. You go up and over the left part of the dune in the middle of the photo. Then up the left part of the dune behind it. Turn around and go back down to the back side of the middle dune but only go part way up it and then down and then up the right side of the dune behind it. Then turn around to go down and then up and over the right side of the middle dune that you can’t see. Then back up the backside of the dune on the right. All of that instead of just turning right at the middle dune! Now it’s been a month so I might be off slightly in my description of that small area but it was pretty shocking so I think I remember it pretty well.

So how did I know where to go? Well the race course is marked with those little pink ribbons you can see on the tree on the right, but since there aren’t that many trees around and you can’t stick a flag in rock, they are somewhat far apart in this section. The bike trail is marked with white dots of paint. This is what the race book stated about them:

The trail will be marked with pink ribbons.
Note that sections of this trail may also have
markings of white dots painted on the slickrock.
These white dots are markings for mountain
bikers. Even though some of our course coincides
with the mountain biking trails DO NOT FOLLOW
THE WHITE DOTS. Our course will veer on and
off the mountain biking trails- just make sure
to follow the pink ribbons.

The big joke was that if you didn’t follow the white dots, you’d have no clue where to go as you couldn’t see the next flag from the one you were at without following the white dots. There were maybe 2 places on this entire mesa where the trail turned off the bike trail and there were lots of flags in those areas to make sure you made the turn. Otherwise if you didn’t follow the dots, you’d get lost. Plus they’re on the ground and much easier to follow than the flags 4 feet up in the air.

Occasionally I could see the next flag across an area of these hills but even then I followed the trail instead of going straight to it. I don’t know if it was cheating to cut straight across or not but I saw people doing it. Really I don’t think you saved hardly any time doing that unless you knew the course really well. Sometimes the hills had steep dropoffs and some were sloped. The white dots never went off a cliff and stayed on the sloped area.

Clearly this section was going to take a lot longer than I was planning. The elevation profile advertised for this area was a gradual elevation gain towards the turnaround and then gradual decent. Of course going up and down 5-8 foot hills constantly adds a lot of unmeasured elevation gain and technical difficulty. Here’s another picture of the sucky-suck that was the slickrock.

Near the turnaround spot.

After an hour of these hills, I made it to the turn around spot at the end of the mesa. The views here made it worth the effort if you’re ever in the area. You could see pretty much everything from here.

Looking West.
Panorama from Northwest to Northeast. Hurricane mesa in the top middle. Town of La Verkin in the top left. Zion National Park in far top right.

I kind of caught up to a few people in this area. We laughed while telling each other not to follow the white dots since we clearly had no other choice. We were now skirting the South rim of the mesa. The views weren’t quite as nice but still beautiful.

Looking South from the turnaround area.

There was an aid station called Gosseberry on this section but I didn’t know how long it would take to get there. We were again in sand dune land. At least I had some company to laugh with about the insanity of going up and down hills. These hills seemed bigger and steeper. We quite often saw scratches in the rocks from bike frames being scraped along them due to the steepness of drop offs. It ended up taking about an hour to get there. It was mid-afternoon and sunny. Not great for me, but since it was such slow going anyway I wasn’t too overheated. The best thing about the aid station was that I realized the only way they could’ve gotten all that stuff there was if there was a double track a truck could go down to deliver it. Sure enough the trail got much better!

At least we went around this rock formation.

After a bit, I could see the windmill that was visible from the road going to Goosebump from Grafton. I knew we had to be getting close to the Goosebump aid station. I arrived there at 3:40PM, almost 3 hours for a loop I thought would only take about 2.5.

I spent a little extra time here to tighten my shoes for the steep decent off the mesa. I reloaded and got some food loaded up since it was over 8 miles to the next aid station where I could finally see my wife again. I placed my drop bag in the “return” pile and started off down the hill.

The trail was right at the edge of being too steep to run down and since it had lots of round rocks that liked to roll, I just hiked down it to play it safe. My feet were almost always slipping down the hill but I maintained my balance and made it down fairly quickly.

I hadn’t really thought about what to expect in this section once I got down the big hill. I was thinking it would be fairly flat since it was off the mesa. Well not really. The trail was a double track that went along the North foothills of the Gooseberry Mesa I was just on a short time ago. This meant constantly going up and over hills to get to the next drainage off the mesa. Sometimes we’d follow the muddy creek beds up a ways, crossing the water multiple times before finally leaving that drainage just to go down another one. This played out for quite a while. It wasn’t really all that bad but just wasn’t that fun with tired legs.

Well, it was pretty bad in one way at least. Remember when I was in that hot box from hell earlier in the race and didn’t apply lube appropriately? Now things were getting chaffed fairly good. Since it was so dry, all my sweat just dried in place. It never soaked to the outside of my clothes like usual. This meant all the salt was still on my skin. I always have Vaniply with and I just had to apply that every hour or so to keep it at bay.

The Gooseberry Mesa turnaround area is the high area in the top center of the picture.

I saw a few pacers running the other direction. I’m assuming they were going to meet their runners somewhere up on Gooseberry since crew weren’t allowed there. They made the trail look easy. I was running out of water when finally the trail left the foothill area and got on a more flat area. I knew the aid station couldn’t be too far away. I got there at 5:34PM still about 20 minutes off pace. This aid station is where the 100 milers split to a different course from the 100k runners. I think there were a fair amount of 100 mile runners that called it quits here. I told my wife I was expecting to get to the finish line later than expected as I didn’t think I would make up any time.

Soon after I left the aid station I saw a race worker sprinting down the trail yelling at the guy behind me that he was going the wrong way. He must’ve been a 100 miler but he told the worker that he knew it was the 100k course and that he switched races. I didn’t know that was a possibility but it’s not that unusual to be allowed.

There was about 10 miles left in the race and it was generally flat to downhill. The course was on bike trails once again. The trail itself was nice and easy. There were a few small hills here and there while going over small drainage areas. The next aid station was only 2 miles away called Virgin Dam. I didn’t see a dam anywhere. It was a fairly well stocked station and had helpful volunteers but I didn’t need anything this late in the race and had plenty of water.

I’d pass a few people here and there and get passed by an equal number of people as well. I saw quite a few people with pacers which seemed a little odd since it’s such a short race and we’d be done before dark. In fact, that’s one of the perks my wife and I were looking forward to in this race. We’ve never been done with enough time to go back to the room, take a shower, and go out to eat in the same day I started a race. We were planning on going to a BBQ place in Hurricane that closed at 9PM. Yes, you read that correctly; They close at 9PM on a Saturday, come on Utah!

Since I was behind pace, I was expecting to finish around 7:50 so we’d be cutting it close unless we left right away from the finish line. While this race is called 100k, it was advertised longer at 63.5 miles which isn’t unusual for a trail race.

All the signs at the aid stations, including the Virgin Dam station agreed with my watch for distance. The trail got close to the Virgin River but never really got to it until the end of the trail and a water only aid station called Sheep Bridge. It was supposed to still be 4.1 miles to the finish line from there so I filled up with some water and again wet my head to keep cool. The course was now on a somewhat busy dirt road that went toward the highway into town. It crossed the river and I was mostly walking up the road. Since I still had almost another hour left, I was saving some energy for the last push.

Turns out I should’ve been running the whole time. Once I got on the highway, I could see the town just ahead. Even now, I kept telling myself the turnoff for the finish line must be at the other of town or something since this is nowhere near 4 miles. Nope, I was letting people pass me for nothing as just a mile or so down the highway was the turnoff for the finish line. I was happy but also kind of pissed I hadn’t tried harder the last couple miles. There was no way to cut this part of the course so I know I was on the right path, plus there were lots of runners around me. I finished at 7:15PM, ahead of my original goal time and a good half hour sooner than I was expecting at Virgin Desert.

My placing in the race kind of depends I guess. On the official site I’m listed as 51st, even though I was the 50th person to cross the finish line. They have the official results listed by chip time which I’ve never seen in an ultramarathon before. DUV has me listed as 50th since I was the 50th to cross. Whatever, out of 331 starters it was about where I expected to finish.

I got my medal and was just turning to head to the parking lot area since I was so early. I saw my wife just walking into the park. She was just as surprised as I was to see me so early. I laid down for a bit and then used my food ticket to get some nachos since we had so much extra time now.

We did indeed have plenty of time to eat nachos while talking to a couple other finishers, take a shower, and go to the restaurant. We were in bed by 10PM! Weird.

The next day I got up somewhat early since I can never sleep that well after a race. I went to get my drop bag that we of course forgot to get the night before. Then I picked up my wife and we went to the other valley in the Northwest part of Zion National Park and did a shorter hike to some overlook that wasn’t worth the effort. The valley itself would be cool but not in the morning. The sun was in our eyes trying to see the mountains. Afternoon would be much better. Our plane left that afternoon and soon we were home.

Elevation profile and distance based on my gpx file in GPSvisualizer.

Runners only section: Not much else to say here other than the 5500 feet of elevation gain is way off. It was based on a watch measurement, and my watch actually agreed pretty close with that. Mine came in at 5700 I think but I did also do that extra hill in the beginning. My watch only records a elevation change if it’s over 5 meters and I’m assuming the race watch did as well. If you change the threshold to 1 meter to include all those little hills (mostly on Gooseberry Mesa) in the race, you end up with 7992 feet. I’m guessing it’s somewhat less than that but much more accurate to how the course “runs”. It’s fairly technical with plenty of rocks to trip you or slip under your feet.

I know a fair amount of people quit the 100 mile race in the night so I’m guessing those extra Mesas they run are fairly difficult.

If they continue with this course, expect that last section from the bridge to be shorter than advertised, otherwise everything was pretty spot on.

Follow the white dots or get lost.

Hurricane is quite close to Virgin, we stayed on the very Eastern edge of Hurricane and it only took 10 minutes to get to the start line.

It’s about as easy as a race can get for a crew. Very little driving and lots of time for naps.

Pretty much full sun exposure the entire race so if it’s sunny, use some protection of some kind.

I would definitely recommend this race just because of the beauty of the place. If you’ve had your fill of Southern Utah for some reason, then maybe not. I could see myself someday going back for the full 100 miler, not for a while though.

Race results here.

Lost in the Woods – 2019 Race Report

The 3rd rendition of the Lost in the Woods race took place April 27th in and around 7 mile creek park near St. Peter, MN.  Last years event was cancelled due to poor trail conditions.  I was worried this years’ might be cancelled as well since we had an April blizzard this year as well and the river was again flooded.  The forecast called for rain and snow, but whether it was cancelled or not I was going because I needed to get in some miles and hills for training if nothing else.  I received a confirmation email that the race was indeed still on a full 6 hours before the race was to begin. ūüôā

This is the second time I ran the race although the course is changed every year.  This year was a 2 loop course with an extra aid station thrown in.  Basically you run up and down a bunch of hills off trail, tearing out pages of books similar to the Barkley Marathons, but much tamer.

Looks like a 3 year old just scribbled on a piece of paper and called it a map!

I got to the start line only about 30 minutes early this year which was basically enough time to get ready although I didn’t really read the whole directions sheet very closely since I was too busy talking and trying to figure out what I wanted to wear and bring with in my pack. It was already raining and about 38 degrees. It was going to get colder, windier and start to snow by 10AM as far as the forecast was concerned. I brought my poles with since I knew it would get muddy and these hills are steep!

Pre-Race Photo

We started off at 7AM on our clockwise loop if it could be called that. Pretty much a goofy figure 8ish type loop with an out and back in one part. Just look at the picture above and try to figure it out I guess. Since it just started to rain not long ago things weren’t very muddy in the beginning. I didn’t use my poles at all the first loop although there were areas they may have helped. In less than a mile I was sweating since I had too much clothing on. I stopped at a pavilion and changed out my thermal shirt for a regular long sleeve shirt.

Now I was way behind everyone which isn’t a big deal but it makes it easier to follow people so that they are the ones who have to figure out where to go. Eventually I caught up to a few of them at book 1 and was with them all the way to the first aid station. The downside of following people is of course following them the wrong way. We went right past book 6 and had to go back up and over a hill to get it. Ugh, there are enough hills already.

Aid station 1 was in the same place as last year. The short loop from there, which is basically just going down and up a hill for no reason other than to add a hill, was much more enjoyable this year. I’m not sure why but I think it was because there is landscaping which makes it more like steps up and down which made it much easier than the mud we were going on/sliding down everywhere else.

Now I was getting in front of the pack since I could actually bomb down that area and I didn’t stop long at the aid station either. It seemed like I had gone a long ways already but there was still around 9 miles left just on loop 1. I enjoyed the flattish trail running until it was time to go off trail once again for basically the remainder of the loop.

There were 15 books to find and 1 punch location where you punched the pages you had so far. These are the book titles I have from my pages: These Thousand Hills, Vertical Run, Impossible, Terminal Event, Personal Injuries, The Blooding, Breaking Point, Dead Run, Definitely Dead, Dead as a Doornail, Cause of Death, Death Qualified, Come to Grief. A couple didn’t have the titles on every page so I don’t know what the remaining ones are.

There was a point before the second aid station that was a new area for me. I’ve been to the park many times and always wondered what was at the bottom of the overlook area. It always looked way too steep to go down plus I figured it was private property. Well the map said to go down it so away I went. It is very steep! At the bottom was a creek. In fact with the rain, the bottom of every hill was basically a creek. The water was ice cold! The other water crossings weren’t near as cold as this one. On top of this the course, which was laid out with flags, crossed the creek multiple times. I think by the fourth time I was fully expecting there to be a sign that said “now lay down in the water for 10 seconds so you can freeze the rest of your body too”. Finally we went up the other side and a slightly less steep incline as going down. There was a beautiful path with lights strung up above it. I’m sure it’s beautiful in the winter.

The aid station was in a tent in a yard. I was the first one there! I haven’t really ever been in the front during a race. I ate some more candy bars and potato chips were just blowing my mind so I ate a bunch of those too. I had lost a water bottle somewhere after the first aid station but since it was so cold, just having 1 was enough for now. I left and then we went along some roads and through a plowed field. It was colder now and snowing mixed with the rain. The wind picked up as well. I finally stopped sweating. If you’ve never ran through a muddy field in the mid-west, just imagine tying bricks to the bottom of your shoes and that’s the kind of weight you experience with the mud stuck to them. I was definitely feeling tired now. Still 5 more books to go. After the next 3 books we went down to the main park area again.

Since the main creek in the park had flooded earlier, there was about 6 inches of new dirt laid down all over the grass and bridge in the East area. We had to cross this area which was interesting. If you ran fast you wouldn’t sink all the way into the new mud. I wish I had a picture of that area. It was kind of comical really. Tough Mudder would be jealous they don’t have an area of that size with mud.

There was an out and back which was new as well. With the constant rain, it was really getting muddy now and I knew I’d need the poles for the second loop. With the out and back I could see there was just 1 person close to me. This area as well as a few others had tons of wildflowers growing which made it enjoyable. I finally got back to the start/finish with the first loop in I think 4:12. I turned in my pages and got my new number to know which pages to tear out on the second loop.

The second loop was in reverse order which is good and bad. It makes it slightly harder since you could miss a book easier. It also allows you the opportunity to see where everyone else is. While I wasn’t planning on trying hard during this race because I just did the Zion 100k 2 weeks ago, I kind of had to try to win since I’ve never been in the lead before. I passed almost everyone by the first book so they weren’t far behind as far as distance goes. It would all depend on how much time they stayed at the aid station and whether they continued on the 2nd loop at all.

I don’t really have any pictures of the course since it was raining the whole time and I was pretty full of mud so I didn’t want to take my phone out. Unlike the race 2 years ago, the park was pretty much devoid of people not in the race so no one else took photos of us either. The plus side of no people is that no one messed with the books this year.

After I passed the last person I would only see someone at the aid stations. The mud made it go slow. My poles helped but when they sink in 5 inches they almost made it worse. I was hoping to get done in 9 hours total but that was getting doubtful since I had to walk down everything. Since everything was backwards, the 2nd aid station was now 1st. I wasn’t looking forward to the steepest climb of the course which was the part going up the overlook hill after the multitude of creek crossings. The water was still cold! I slowly made my way up and was glad I was the first to do it as it would only get worse with more people going over the same place.

I tried to keep the pace up but it wasn’t going to happen with the mud. I had to get my map out a few times since I kept convincing myself I missed a turn somewhere even though I never did. I think the course flags might’ve been placed while going clockwise with not as much thought about going the other way. Often a flag would be hiding behind a tree when going the counter-clockwise direction. I was going slow enough though that I wasn’t too worried about going past one without knowing it.

I found my water bottle just before getting to the last aid station. It fell out while I was ducking under a downed tree I suspect. When I finally got to the last aid station the race director was there and asked how it was going. I think I grunted and he responded “going well then!” He assured me it was all “downhill” from there. While there weren’t many hills left, the hills on the south side of the park seem to have more clay in them so they are much worse when it’s wet.

I wasn’t sure where anyone else was but knew there were 7 of us still on the course. I remembered it would be about 2 miles to the finish from the last book in this counter-clockwise direction. This was a fairly easy 2 miles. I was starting to get excited that I would finish first. With some irony, I got a text from my wife wondering if I was ever coming home. She was expecting me to be done a couple hours ago. I joked that apparently winning wasn’t fast enough. To be fair I was hoping to be done in 8 hours without knowing anything about the course.

I walked up the last big hill to the finish line and rang the bell to signify my finish. I turned in my pages and sat down. It had just stopped raining minutes earlier, so I can’t say it rained the entire race. I thanked them for a great course and ate the famous finish line chili.

The finish bell. The finishers names are engraved below it every year.
This was to make my friend Ed jealous since he didn’t show up this year.

Results

1.       Nathan Marti                     9:03

2.       Bryan Whitesel                 9:55

3.       Tyler Struss                         10:18

4.       Katie Looft                          10:19

5.       AJ Groebner                      10:19

6.       Paul Grimm                        10:19

7.       Jim Weart                            10:20

DNF

Josh Winkler

Lisa Bos

Gregg Lind

The course itself was around 14 miles a loop. I ended up doing 28.3 miles with the extra due to missing book 6 initially. The total gain only came out to about 7000 feet. It certainly seemed like more than that. I suspect it was due to the steepness of the hills this year. The last time I did it, there was more elevation but it also wasn’t muddy. That really wears on all the accessory muscles. I only biffed it twice but that was helped by the poles I’m sure. The good thing with the rain was I got to test out my rain coat in a race and it performed fine. The course always changes so we’ll see what next year brings. Maybe 3 loops of the same course. That’d be tough to finish in the time allotted.

A few hills would you say?

Arrowhead 135 Race Report – 2019

This was my third time starting and finishing the Arrowhead 135 (2017, 2018).¬† I had some lofty goals that needed to be changed based on the weather but I stuck it out and finished.¬† Really, I’ve never seen the trail in such a perfect condition.¬† It was smooth and hard packed the entire way except for a few snow drifts in the swamps at the end.¬† The wind was at our backs most of the time so that’s good.¬† My sled and gear only weighed 40 pounds this year at the start so that was much better than last year.

And yet, only 13/64 (20.3% finisher rate) foot division competitors finished this year.¬† The reason of course was the weather.¬† It was one of the coldest years and maybe the most consistently cold year.¬† Air temps have been colder at the race before and it was more than -40 both the day before and after the race (we lucked out?).¬† I think the main thing was that it just never warmed up.¬† It was relentlessly cold and it got worse as the race went on.¬† Colder and windier!¬† Even half the bikers quit and you couldn’t have had better trail conditions for them, plus it didn’t get really cold until some of them were done already.¬† No skiers and no kick sled guys finished.¬† It was a tough year all around.¬† I was more surprised how many people actually showed up to begin with.¬† It was pretty clear a week before, that it would be especially cold this year.

My goal for this year was to go for speed.¬† This did get changed once it got cold, but I still went ahead with that plan in the beginning to get as far as I could while the temperatures were still reasonable to limit the time I’d have to be out there in the severe cold.¬† I built a new sled for this year but ended up using my old one after a training run on Sunday morning (-44F) showed the new one wasn’t better in the cold on a hard trail and since it weighed more, I used the old one.¬† Neither sled gave much “run” due to the low temps.¬† Things don’t slide on snow and ice well at all once it gets so cold.¬† Also the surface snow consistency makes a big difference.¬† It pretty much felt like pulling through dry flour but not quite as bad as sand.¬† All I heard the entire first day was how hard the sleds were pulling so I wasn’t the only one.¬† Hills that during my first year at Arrowhead (20F) I could slide down with ease, I couldn’t even move an inch this year.

I’ll now go back to more specifics and a timeline format.¬† I drove up Saturday as usual and picked up my friend Ed at Fortune Bay where he left his car.¬† He’d bring me back to my car at the end like last year.¬† We went straight to gear check-in and got through quickly since we both have done this a few times and had everything laid out in a minute for exam.¬† A graduate student was doing a nutrition study so I grabbed a questionnaire for that as well as my bib and goody bag.¬† We then checked into our hotel, ate, etc.¬† I also did some final packing of my gear bag, drop bag, filled out the nutrition survey, and checked the weather forecast a lot!

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This years goodie bag. There’s a bunch of safety stuff too about how to not kill yourself, etc.

The next day I got the car started at -44F, barely, and went on a trial run with my 2 sleds as I stated earlier.¬† I ran near the Gateway checkpoint so I got gas there and checked out the store layout since I couldn’t go in there last year.¬† The lady explained where things would be tomorrow on race day which was helpful.¬† I then went back and turned in my drop bags for Mel George’s and the finish line.

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Everywhere was a fog cloud at -44 Sunday morning.

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Gateway store.

At 4pm was the mandatory meeting and supper.  I met a couple more people I knew there.  After supper I went back to the hotel room for serious packing, putting on my KT face tape, laid out my clothes after final weather forecast check, and Facetime with family.

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There were I think 3 film crews this year. I don’t know why.

The morning of the race I got up just before 5AM.¬† Probably wouldn’t need to be up that soon but that’s when I woke up.¬† I used the coffee maker in the room to heat up my 2L water.¬† I weighed my sled, gear, water, food, etc and it was 39#.

It was supposed to be -20F at the start but it ended up being only -12F.  I took off another jacket and got out colder gloves as well.  I had already planned on being cold on purpose since I overheated last year.  I wore cast stockings on my shoes but that was too much and took them off after 10 miles.  Otherwise I had on medium weight Injinji socks, Altra Olympus shoes, 2 pair of pants, 2 shirts, my breathable hooded jacket, fleece hat, and warmer fleece gloves.  I was only outside about 2 minutes before the bikers started.  Before that I just stayed in my car and took a couple pictures.

The race started on Monday Jan 28th, 2019 at 7:00 AM with the usual fireworks! https://www.facebook.com/140879779273203/videos/322266671727966/

We left on foot at 7:04AM.  https://www.facebook.com/140879779273203/videos/2176261242591187/

I had my clothes pretty much dialed in other than I didn’t need the cast socks.¬† I also quickly changed my fleece hat for a buff.¬† The groomer had been out about half an hour before the race started so everything was packed down nice and smooth.¬† I was kind of close to a few people for an hour and then it was more spread out where I’d only see them as we leapfrogged while stopped for water, food, or whatever.

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Sunrise the first day.

It was much easier to run this year due to the sled being so much lighter.¬† It still pulled harder than in training due to the cold and snow conditions but it didn’t grind me down to walking right after the turn onto the Arrowhead trail like last year.¬† This year I ran on and off all the way to Gateway.¬† Of course there are people that walk just as fast as my run/walk so it’s not like I was cruising along quickly either.

The trail was so hard and packed that it even has a camber on it similar to a road.¬† I had to occasionally room on the other side of the trail to keep my accessory muscles happy.¬† That’s the first time I’ve experienced that in a winter race!

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45 minutes into the race.

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I made it to Hwy 53 in 4 hours this year.

One thing that was kind of weird this year was that it always seemed to be snowing.¬† While it really only snowed for part of the first afternoon, there were always crystals the size of snowflakes falling down.¬† It’s normal when it’s this cold to have frost particles in the air but this time they were just so much larger than I was used to.¬† I’d have to brush layers of the stuff off my duffle bag every time I stopped.¬† The warmest it got during the first day was just below zero.¬† I was hoping to use my deep freezer thermometer but it kept giving me high readings.¬† I checked it before I left and when I came back with a calibrated digital thermometer and it read accurate.¬† My best guess was that since it was a spring coil type thermometer, that the constant twisting of it back and forth made enough heat to make it read wrong.¬† The things was shaking everywhere while I was moving.¬† When I’d stop for 10 minutes or more, it would show accurate to what volunteers had at check points but once I started off again it would read 5 degrees hotter.

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Somewhere near Gateway. Credit: Burgess Eberhardt

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Somewhere near Gateway. Credit: Burgess Eberhardt

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Somewhere near Gateway. Credit: Burgess Eberhardt

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Somewhere near Gateway. Credit: Burgess Eberhardt

I was eating fairly well the beginning of the race this year.  Some things from last year tasted bad this year.  Some new things were awesome this year.  I knew it would be hard to eat later on in the cold so I tried to maintain some food intake as long as I could.  Again the faster I could go now, the less miles to cover in the cold later.

Finally I got to Gateway at 3:45PM, ahead of last year since I could run so much more.¬† Originally I had planned on only 20 minutes here but I took more time since it was already clear that the weather forecasts were getting worse not better for the next 2 days.¬† Basically it meant changing socks and drying out my shoes some due to wearing the cast socks when I didn’t need to in the beginning in the race.¬† I wanted a cheeseburger but they only had a hamburger that ended up being red in the middle.¬† I heard there were chicken tenders at one point which would’ve been good too.¬† Really there are tons of great options there but I’m partial to cheeseburgers.¬† I reloaded on hot water and left at 4:15PM.

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I always like wondering about this place on the way to Gateway.

It started getting dark soon after Gateway.¬† There was a biker still near me that I was leapfrogging with.¬† It was kind of fun since his headlamp must’ve been at least 400 lumens and lit the trail up pretty good.¬† This makes for awesome shadows.¬† I pretended to be a giant monster roaming through the trees.¬† My shadow was at least 50 feet long.¬† I do this sometimes with the kids at home on the side of the house.

Speaking of lumens, I thought I’d tell what I use.¬† I have a black diamond sprinter headlamp.¬† It maxes out at 125 lumens I think.¬† That’s enough to see down the hill when you’re sliding. Otherwise I turn it down to probably 40-50 lumens the rest of the race.¬† It’s got a nice feature that you just touch the side and it goes to max power and then when you touch it again, it returns to where you had it.¬† Very convenient for the hills.¬† Last year with the full moon I didn’t even need that much light.

I put on my headphones now but had to keep the iPod in my glove so the battery wouldn’t die.¬† I don’t understand how some rechargeable lithium batteries like my headlamp can last in -30F for 2 nights and yet an iPod dies in 15 minutes in -10F.¬† It got to about -15F by 11PM and continued to slowly drop from there until 9AM the next day when it was about -26F.¬† I put my second jacket on at some point after Gateway and a skull cap and fleece hat over that when I got the headlamp out.

The cold valley from last year wasn’t as bad since it was windy this year and the cold air didn’t settle in there very well. ¬† It was -31F with the windchill slightly coming from behind versus the -35F last year.¬† I still should’ve put my googles and face cover on though.¬† My hands, feet, and body felt warm and toasty but my nose was getting cold without me knowing it.¬† I should’ve felt it with my fingers to confirm the temp instead of just thinking it felt warm.¬† Anyway once I put on my face cover, my nose felt hot so I knew I was later than I should’ve been.¬† Veteran making a rookie mistake!¬† I have always done a mental check at least every hour to see how things are going.¬† Most of the time it’s much more often, especially in a cold year like this.¬† I’ll obviously be adding a physical touching of the nose to confirm temp from now on.

This is the point in the race that the mental challenge really begins.¬† It’s cold, you’re tired, I hadn’t seen anyone for at least 6 hours.¬† I had only seen snowmobiles once from the race up to this point.¬† The race course itself doesn’t even get hard until after the half way point and since I’ve been on it twice before, I knew well what suckyness was coming.¬† I was able to check my phone again and saw the forecast for Wednesday morning was even worse, now showing -38F at sunrise.¬† Plus a windchill of “doesn’t matter at this point anymore, keep everything covered dumbass!”¬† The high for Tuesday was supposed to be -18F (it never got that hot by the way) which wasn’t great either.¬† I really had to wonder if I wanted to go all the way to Surly checkpoint at 111 miles just to have to quit because I didn’t think I could make the last 23 miles through the swamps in the cold.¬† I thought about this for hours and never really came to any decision.

I really didn’t know if people were quitting the race or not.¬† I never saw any snowmobiles filled with dropped competitors pass by me like I did last year.¬† I had no clue how many people were in front of me either.¬† The snow was so hard, it was difficult to make footprints or for the sleds to make tracks to count how many in front of you.¬† I found out later, people were dropping quickly behind me and a couple in front.

Going across Elephant Lake for the mile going into the wind to Mel George’s sucked as always.¬† The windchill was -39F at this point if you believe the official of 9mph wind.¬† It certainly felt faster than that on the lake but at least it wasn’t that bad in the trees.¬† I showed a biker where to go once I got to land.¬† There weren’t as many markings at this turn as in previous years.¬† In fact most years there was a volunteer there to point the way.¬† With the temp this year, it was understandable for no one to be there.¬† I checked in to the second checkpoint at Mel George’s at 3:15AM which was later than I had hoped.¬† I just always seem to think this section will take less time than it does.¬† I’m also convinced it’s 73 miles and not 72 miles to the checkpoint which accounts for some of that.

I had never used the check-in cabin before so I certainly wasted some time here that I could fix in later years.¬† I ate about 1000 calories of food and tried to organize my clothes and such that I knew I’d change into after sleeping.¬† I charged my watch and headlamp up to make sure they’d make it through the cold to come.¬† I eventually made my way up to the loft to sleep.¬† All the beds were taken.¬† Somehow there were 8 competitors in the cabin but I only counted like 4 bikes.¬† Anyway it was hot enough to not need a blanket or anything.¬† I put in my earbuds and listened to white noise.¬† I was tired enough to drown out the talking and snoring with the white noise and slept for a total of about 50 minutes.¬† It wasn’t great sleep since I was constantly woken up but it’s all I was going to get and certainly better than trying to bivy up in the cold and wasting time with that.

I got up, checked the weather which was about the same and decided to keep going without really thinking about it very much.¬† I had more layers than last year with me.¬† It took me way too long to get out the door.¬† I had my stuff spread out over too many areas.¬† It was so hot in the cabin that I couldn’t really change into my clothes until I was in the breezeway.¬† I went back and forth a bunch of times getting stuff ready and packed and loaded.¬† I did finally leave at 5:45AM.¬† 2.5 hours and not even an hour of sleep.¬† What a waste.¬† Plus my shoes were still by the door and I never got them in a place where they could dry out.¬† I had on 3 pair of pants now, including my windpants.¬† I had 3 shirts on and 2 or 3 jackets (I know by nightfall I had 3 on but I’m not sure when I put that one on).¬† Face mask, goggles, skull hat and fleece hat.¬† I now had on wool Injinji socks and also upgraded to mittens from gloves.

It was slowly still getting colder and windier.¬† The big hills after Mel George’s kept me warm and were steep enough to slide down.¬† I had poles with me this year for the first time.¬† They were a big help on the hills.¬† Not that I made it up them much faster, but I could keep my feet straight instead of pushing off the sides of my feet which prevented me from getting the hip pain I’ve gotten every other year.¬† By sunrise it was -26F and a 13mph wind.¬† That’s -50F windchill although I was protected from most of that wind by the trees and often going with the wind.

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Elbow Lake shelter.

This was a pretty lonely section.¬† No snowmobiles at all during the day except one at dusk.¬† I heard one bird and saw a small dead mouse.¬† Otherwise no wildlife at all.¬† The sun stayed out longer than it was supposed to which was nice.¬† It was rare that I wasn’t in a shadow though so it didn’t warm me up much.¬† I never bothered with the iPod (too cold) although it would’ve been nice to listen to some podcasts or something.¬† I pretty much just went into cruise mode and tried to eat and maintain speed.¬† The sled pulled so hard that I couldn’t run the sections I ran last year even though my sled was lighter and I had some sleep.¬† I had to breath in through my mouth and out my nose all the rest of the race to make sure I didn’t make my nose cold again.¬† It was annoying but I eventually got used to it.

I didn’t see things in the trees like last year.¬† I only thought there was something there twice and I knew right away I was wrong.¬† I made a game of guessing what it was in reality before I got there.¬† It guessed wrong both times.¬† It was always a tree that was horizontal with snow on it.¬† One time I thought I saw an orange streak go past.¬† In fact I did, it was a photographer walking behind a sign that I saw after a small bend in the trail.¬† I don’t know where that picture is.

Around mile 96 when I was taking a break, John Storkamp and Ray Sanchez caught up to me.¬† I thought Ray had left before I went to sleep at Mel George since he was packing up stuff as I went up to the loft but he hadn’t.¬† We were kind of together for 10 miles or so when I could no longer see John.¬† I absolutely hate the section after 99 miles.¬† Just non-stop STEEP climbs for 5 miles.¬† Ray and I pretty much went in together to Surly.¬† If not for my nose, I could’ve gone faster after those hills but there really wasn’t much point anymore.¬† I had given up on time long ago due to the cold.

David Jess 1
Going down the hill into the flats before Surly. Photo Credit: David Jess

David Jess 2 before surly
Going down the hill into the flats before Surly. Photo Credit: David Jess

There is a nice downhill to the flats before Surly checkpoint after you turn South East.¬† I couldn’t even tell there was an incline this year.¬† I knew were I was but I kept thinking it couldn’t be right since it didn’t seem at all like I was going down.¬† It’s even steep enough to slide down if it’s 20F.¬† I was pretty bummed when I realized we were down to the bottom land and indeed the downhill was rendered ineffective due to the cold.¬† The wind was behind me now for the rest of the race.¬† In the picture above you can see the cloud around my face.¬† It was hard to see since the headlamp would light it up no matter where you pointed it or how bright it was.¬† You couldn’t hold your breath long enough for it to dissipate either.¬† There was just a constant steam cloud in front of you.¬† It also started to fog up my goggles and they were useless by Surly.

We got in to Surly at 7:10PM which was much later than I wanted but again, time wasn’t of concern anymore, safety was.¬† I ended up staying an hour which didn’t seem that long.¬† I ate some food since I hadn’t had anything for a long time.¬† I dried my shoes over the stove in the teepee and changed socks one more time just in case.¬† The trail at Surly was like a wind tunnel.¬† Taking your glove off for a couple seconds made them cold.¬† I brought in most of my clothes to the teepee to figure out what to put on and what to put in my most accessible areas of my pack (what I call the on deck area) for easy access.¬† I knew there was essentially zero places out of the wind a few miles past Wakemup Hill so things had to be done now if possible.¬† I also put on the cast socks again in case it got down to -40F.¬† It wasn’t supposed to anymore but it’s just easier to put on now.¬† In the end I wouldn’t have needed them on.¬† I also put on the cold avenger mask I bought this year.¬† I had never used it before and wasn’t real keen on not being able to eat and drink with it on but with the cold and wind, it was a better protector than the other face mask I was using.¬† I put on a fourth jacket as well.¬† I hoped I wouldn’t get too hot since this is the jacket that likes to freeze shut and can’t be taken off easy.¬† I put thin running gloves on under my mittens so that I never had to have skin exposed to do more finer detail oriented things like drink or eat or pee.

They shot off some fireworks when people left which was kind of cool.¬† Of course I forgot something so mine went off before I actually left for good.¬† I felt great after the rest and ran pretty much the whole way to Wakemup Hill to get the blood flowing and since I felt good.¬† I couldn’t wear the goggles anymore since they just fogged up like crazy with the cold avenger.¬† My eyes were cold which made me somewhat cold but there wasn’t much to do about it until I figured something out later on.¬† The other thing the cold avenger does is put all the moisture directly at your neck.¬† All my zippers were frozen in ice in minutes.¬† Good thing I wasn’t planning on taking them off until the end of the race.

I was tired but not as bad as last year.  I was taking caffeine pills to help stay awake.  Really I mostly was just bored.  I knew it would be about 8 hours to finish this section and after the fun Wakemup Hill there is still 7 hours left of boredom going slowly uphill.  I tried to sing songs that I made up but even after a 10 minute long made up rhyming song, you still had hours left. There were no people at any of the road crossings.  The other years there was a car at almost every road crossing.  Really the entire race there were very few road crossings with people.

I’d get too hot if I ran, but slightly cold just walking.¬† I figured out it was because the back of my pants all breath and the strong wind behind me were going through them.¬† Also I didn’t have a wind proof hood or goggles anymore so my head was slightly cold.¬† I decided to take the time to put on my snowpants.¬† These are super warm and I had them basically in case I had to just stand still or bivy.¬† But they’re windproof as well.¬† I put them on and my legs were immediately hot.¬† My head was still cool so I took an empty zip lock bag and tore one edge to make it into a 3 sided hat.¬† I put it under my hood and headlamp and it worked great.¬† Within minutes I was overheated and had to slow way down.¬† Like 30 minute mile slow which was just dumb.¬† I decided to just take off the snowpants and deal with the wind.¬† It took a while to cool down but eventually I could walk fast again and had more normal breathing.

Sometimes I’d even have to take the zip lock bag off as well to keep cooler.¬† I’m thinking a thin wind pant and a poncho instead of the 4th jacket would’ve been better.¬† Plus not having to need the cold avenger mask.¬† With about 4 hours left to go I ended up taking the cold avenger mask somewhat off, just keeping it close enough to my face to help warm the air.¬† The other downfall was all the snot I was consuming.¬† The mask somehow made it all run or blow into my mouth.¬† The last hour of the race it was a struggle not to barf from the taste of the snot and having a belly full of it.

I ate some food thinking it would help, I felt this bump on my tongue start forming right after I ate it.¬† I think I froze part of my tongue with the -26F food.¬† Won’t be doing that again.

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See the white spot on my tongue?

Anyway it was still getting colder.  The wind seemed to die down for a bit but then really took off again more from the West instead of the NW.  The official wind speed at Tower was not close to what the trail condition was for wind in my opinion.  I was keeping warm enough and could always put back on the snow pants and wrap myself in the sleeping pad on top if I needed to.  Really I had to thermoregulate somewhat like last year by taking on and off my mittens (still had the thin gloves on) and hats.

I so wanted to be done.  I would look back every once and a while looking for Ray since I knew he would be right behind me.  Turns out he made a wrong turn somewhere and went 4 miles off course so he was no where near me.  I was miles from anyone in either direction.  I slowly started counting down the miles.  It was hard to see the trail through the swamps with the snow drifts blowing over it and the giant fog cloud in front of me.  I just looked down and followed the couple tire tracks I could see.  For hours!  I ran occasionally just to change things up.  I got out my poles again just to have something for my arms to do.

I thought I saw a UFO.¬† There was this light moving all around crazy in the sky.¬† Turns out I just was moving my head around in the wind and from being tired the fog messed with my perception of what was stationary and what wasn’t.

Finally I got to the last road crossing.¬† There was still more to go but at least my mind would be occupied with the multiple turns and twists to the finish line.¬† Up to now it was just miles of straight lines with an occasional 10 foot jog in the trail.¬† The hill to the finish line was easier with my poles.¬† I was surprised that I didn’t have to go into the tent at the finish line to find someone.¬† They somehow saw me coming or else they are really hardy to stand in a -54F wind chill waiting for hours at a time.¬† I finished at 3:54AM for a time of 44:50 and 5th place.¬† That was very similar to last year which wasn’t too bad.¬† It was -33F air temp.¬† We went in right away.¬† I would’ve liked a photo at the finish line but I couldn’t get my phone up from my chest very easy with the cold avenger having frozen everything.¬† They gave me the Minnesota nice gear check which was the first time I got that one.

Finish line - paul Wilken
Bag works pretty good doesn’t it? Photo Credit: Paul Wilken

I went up to the deserted hospitality lounge.  Well, it was deserted other than the volunteers.  Volunteers are awesome at this race!  So few people were around since so many quit the day before and already went home.  I got some food and talked about the sucky last section.  I got to pick from a large selection of finisher trophies since not many bikers finished this year.  This is where I learned about Ray getting lost and my friend Ed dropping.  The next person to come in was almost 4 hours after me so I think they probably got a nap in after I left the room.  I was able to check in to my hotel room which is so nice.  I love the Fortune Bay Resort.  I paid them back by eating every buffet they had until I left Thursday.

I showered, slept for an hour, got up and ate and slept again.  The usual.  I posted pictures of everything I was wearing when I finished the race.  Here they are.

Here are the screen shots of the official NWS sites during the race along the trail.  Trail conditions certainly vary from this some.  I wish it would record the actual wind chills as well but you just have to calculate that yourself.  Overall a very cold year!  Maybe next year will be a huge snow year.

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Since people have been asking, and you made it all the way to the end so you probably actually care; here is the elevation profile and mileage chart I made based on the full gps track I made during the race.

Arrowhead mileage chart

Barkley Fall Classic – 2018 Race Report

This race was certainly the hardest “50k” I’ve done but probably not why you think it’s hard.¬† Sure, the distance was more than 50k since this race is sort of similar to the actual Barkley Marathons.¬† It was 34.1 miles long.¬† The elevation is also nothing to scoff at either with 11,220ft of gain with some portions being extremely steep.¬† No, the real killer for me was the heat.¬† It totally controlled my race and almost ended it.

I had been training for Spartathlon all year with the hopes of getting off the wait-list but I ended up being 11 spots too far down the list to get in.¬† So in August I finally accepted my fate of not getting in.¬† I had been training for heat and mostly roads so I had to quickly switch to getting lots of elevation.¬† Of course 4 weeks isn’t enough hill training but I wasn’t worried too much, I’d be sore but I’d survive.¬† I was doing great with heat training working every hot weekend doing landscaping and running on the hot weekdays similar to my training for Volstate.¬† Then we got a cold spell in MN for 2 weeks the beginning of September and it all went away.¬† The forecast for the race was hot and humid and they were correct!

I’ll step back a little just to mention that this is the first race I’ve ever flown to.¬† It just made sense it being such a long drive and such a short race with no need for many supplies or anything.¬† I flew into Louisville for super cheap and drove the 4 hours from there.¬† The packet pick up was in Coalfield, TN and I’d get there at 5pm.¬† I ended up driving through Rocky Top, TN to get there.¬† The old song about it came flashing back to me even though I hadn’t heard it for over 30 years.¬† If you don’t know it here it is.

That’s the version I always heard although there are others.¬† Unfortunately since I didn’t use any music during the race, it’s also about the only song I had in my head the entire day during the race!¬† If Rocky Top ever was a nice town, it certainly is past it’s prime now.¬† Every store front I saw was closed and most homes were trailers or pre-fab homes similar to parts of northern MN.

Anyway, I finally got to the packet pick up and the man checking names off the list knew my name from following Volstate.¬† That was surprising and kind of cool.¬† The packet had the map which is printed on cloth so it’s waterproof (and washer safe by the way), a booklet about the things in nature that can hurt/kill you in the county, compass, whistle, shirt, bib, Dum Dum sucker, fake Yellow Jacket, maybe some other stuff I forgot.¬† I didn’t stick around the school very long.¬† There was a crowd around Laz and I just let him be since I’ve gotten a selfie with him in the past.¬† I quick updated a few things on my phone since there was WiFi and then left for my hotel in Harriman.

I got something to eat and then got down to business studying the map.

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It’s covered up since you’re not supposed to put up photos of the map.¬† I’ll give you a hint though, some race reports are very detailed in the description of the course to the point that if you have a map in front of you, it is very obvious what the course was that year.¬† The race course is changed every year if you didn’t know and you don’t get the map until the day before the race at packet pick up.¬† Some I’m sure got there right at noon so they’d have the most time possible to look it over.¬† I had already studied race reports to figure out what most of the trails would be as some just can’t be changed due to this race having aid stations.¬† This year did surprise me with part of the course going on Fork Mt which I don’t think was ever done in previous years.

I spent probably 3 hours going over everything and looking at certain details on Google Earth.¬† I already had a good description of the Cumberland trail since that is on the Cumberland trail website.¬† Having been on the trails now though I can say that their description in one spot was not what I saw on the trail.¬† I can’t stress enough how helpful Google Earth was.¬† I suspect it will somehow be made illegal next year because of it.¬† Now might be a good place to talk about all the rules there are that most races don’t have.

No GPS, either from a watch or a phone.¬† You can carry a phone by the way but I didn’t since I didn’t want it getting wrecked.¬† I still have an old plain watch with a timer on it so I wore that.¬† I can’t believe how many people absolutely lose their sh*t on Facebook over someone using GPS and posting their track online in years past.¬† 1. This isn’t the real Barkley, 2. All these trails are public other than the power line cuts and a short path from coffin springs to cold gap although I never saw a no trespassing sign on those either, 3. GPS was allowed for a large part of the history of the Barkley Marathons.¬† I honestly don’t know why so many people get bent out of shape, but it’s a rule so I follow it.

No gels.  You can put them in a flask though which is what I did.

You need to get your bib punched at several places along the course.¬† The bib already had a few letters on it so I was able to figure out what it would say if you made the Laz cut-off or not.¬† It probably didn’t hurt that I watched Wheel of Fortune with my in-laws the night before.

No poles until after the Laz cut-off.¬† I’ve never used them so it didn’t affect me.¬† I just used sticks the few times it was necessary (and there are times you will want them).

Stay under the power lines on the power line cuts.¬† This one is always broken by people including some of the people in the top 10 unfortunately.¬† It’s tempting to go in the trees as it’s much easier than going through thorns in the sun.

I think that’s all of the them.¬† The other rules are pretty routine, move over for faster runners, no cutting switchbacks, carry a whistle, headlamp after the Laz cut-off, etc.

Don’t worry, I’ll get to the actual race soon.¬† With all the resources available I made a turn/description sheet and laminated it with tape as it was supposed to rain in the afternoon.¬† That took most of the 3 hours I spent looking at the course but because of it I only took my map out once just to confirm something.¬† I figured out some estimates of when I’d get to the aid stations and a finish time of 11 hours.

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Turn Sheet

I got things ready for the race, put Vaseline on my feet since it would be a wet race going through water, set the alarm for 5am and went to bed.¬† I couldn’t sleep very well but got enough.

Race morning went fairly smoothly.¬† I got to the start line parking lot around 6am so I had an hour to put my drop bag in the trailer, talk to some friends, and use the port a potties.¬† They were in very tough shape and I assume Laz just asked for the worst ones possible.¬† Mine didn’t lock and had what I hope was paint all over the walls and door.

35 people didn’t show up which I was surprised by since there is a wait-list to take your place if you can’t make it.¬† 416 of us started off at 7am.¬† It was still kind of dark but light enough to see somewhat.¬† We went on a road for about a mile before hitting the trail and it was light enough by then.¬† I went fairly fast so I wouldn’t be behind a bunch of people going up the hill.¬† A few people passed me as is usual for me going up a hill but I passed some as well.¬† It’s not super easy to pass on the single track trails but not as bad as other races I’ve been too.¬† I planned on it taking a long time to climb the first hill so I was surprised when I got to the top way ahead of schedule.¬† I proceeded to pass a bunch of people going downhill.¬† The trails aren’t very technical really.¬† There are occasionally rocks and boulders at the stream crossings but otherwise very few roots and rocks on the signed trails.¬† Most trails have different colored blazes on the trees so you know which trail you’re on which is nice.¬† Although the trees aren’t very old, they are old enough to be tall and have an open understory which made the scenery quite nice.

I made it to the first aid station in just over 2 hours which was over an hour ahead of what I thought it’d take.¬† The distance for this section came out to the same amount as listed on the map when I measured it on the map later at home.¬† That wouldn’t be the case for every other section after (hint: they were all longer than listed; surprise surprise).¬† I was feeling pretty good and refilled my bladder.¬† This was also the first bib punch.

The next section was 8 miles and the section that some people got lost.¬† Really I didn’t even need my turn sheet since the trail was marked much more than I thought it would be.¬† Even so, I saw someone miss a turn and had to yell at him.¬† The first part of this section was pretty much a continuation of the last section.¬† I tripped once on some unknown obstacle and cut my hand a little and ground my shoulder into the ground.¬† Nothing hurt so on I went.

Coal Ponds - Misty Wong
Near the Coal Ponds. Notice my nice dirty shoulder from falling. Photo Credit: Misty Wong

Eventually you got to a more open area out of the state park where you get your bib punched and then go to Fork Mt.¬† Going down Fork Mt was fast but not as fast as I wanted it to be.¬† It’s basically dirt roads with lots of rocks to pound your feet on.¬† There were plenty of areas of road under water so that slowed things down as well.¬† Finally I got down to a highway and to the church aid station (aid station #2) and another bib punch.¬† I crossed the timing mat in 4:01 in 47th place.¬† This was over an hour faster than what I thought I’d be doing so I was feeling good about that.¬† It was definitely starting to get hot now 86 degrees and dew point of 70 with full sun.¬† I reloaded with water and tried to drink what I though I needed but this is where I started to get behind on fluids.¬† The next 5 mile section (to aid station #4, there was an aid station #3 on the way) was the hardest for me.¬† 3250 feet of elevation gain and overheating.

Next up was the power line cut called Testicle Spectacle.  It has a few false summits and goes down in a couple places which sucks as well.

Testicle Specticle from first false summit Jimmy Girten
From 1st False Summit. See the little tiny people? Photo Credit: Jimmy Girten

Looking down Testicle Specticle Jimmy Girten
Looking back down Testicle Spectacle. Photo Credit: Jimmy Girten

The leaders had made a pretty good path through the thorns and plants.¬† I wore my hat over my ears to help protect them from the thorns brushing by.¬† I also put on my work gloves.¬† Getting sliced on your legs and arm at the same time hurts but at the same time you get used to it.¬† I think the steepness just makes you hate that part even more than the thorns so you ignore them.¬† There is one spot of this hill that was the steepest part of the race.¬† Basically it’s best described as this;¬† Place the tips of your fingers on a wall and stand back as far as you can while still having your fingertips on the wall and your back straight.¬† Maybe move back a couple more inches and that’s what it was like.¬† Nothing like trying to climb dirt like it’s a ladder.¬† Ok, I probably didn’t have my back perfectly straight when I took that measurement but still it was very steep.¬† Luckily there were kind of toe holds carved into it, probably left overs from the mud at the Barkley Marathons this spring.¬† I had a dream about this race the week before where I had to climb a similar slope when it was muddy.¬† I still somehow made it up in my dream.

The only “nature” thing I was worried about for this race was snakes.¬† The friendly guide book in the drop bag said to never put your hand were you couldn’t see it so that you didn’t accidentally get bit.¬† There were certainly times I couldn’t see what I was grabbing going up those hills covered with vegetation.

Of course the only “nature” thing I needed to worry about was the weather.¬† I was getting overheated now and had to take a few 10 second breaks here and there.¬† Usually there was someone ahead of me taking a break as well so it’s not like I could’ve gone even if I wanted to.¬† Finally I reached the top.

Top of Testicle Specticle Jimmy Girten
Top of Testicle Specticle Photo Credit: Jimmy Girten

What goes up must come down so we kept on following the power line cut down Meth Lab Hill.¬† This hill has a path down it so it was much easier.¬† You could actually run down 90% of it.¬† There are a few super steep spots where you had to slide down.¬† Most people would go on their butt but I just put my hands down and slid on them and my feet.¬† It took more effort but I didn’t have rocks in my crotch the rest of the day either.

Looking down Meth Lab Hill jimmy girten
Looking down Meth Lab Hill Photo Credit: Jimmy Girten

At the bottom you have a short run on roads to get to the prison and aid station #3.¬† I was still in 52nd place at this point so not many people passed me going up Testicle Spectacle.¬† I reloaded on water but ended up not getting enough in the end.¬† There was also talk of there being ice at this aid station but I didn’t see any and wasn’t offered any.¬† The people I know that went through at the same time as me never knew about any either so I’m guessing it didn’t show up until later in the day.¬† Ice would’ve completely changed my race!¬† I lost an hour of time due to the heat the rest of the day and ice would’ve changed everything.¬† In fact, I brought my insulated bladder specifically to keep water cold if there was ever ice around.¬† You get what you get I guess.

After the aid station you run into the prison complex and into the prison yard.  One of the cool things about this race is getting to go over the prison wall and through the tunnel under the prison.

Wall - Lance Parry
Photo Credit: Lance Parry

On the other side of the wall was Jared Campbell punching our bibs.¬† He’s finished the Barkley Marathons 3 times if you didn’t know who he is.¬† It was a nice surprise to see him as I’ve never met him yet.¬† To get to the tunnel you have to go through some shin deep water and then there is also water in the tunnel.¬† Going from full sun to darkness really messed with my head.¬† I basically was running blind.¬† I could hear someone in front of me splashing but couldn’t see anything once we got in about 200 feet or so.¬† I just hoped I wouldn’t trip on anything.¬† It’s 840 feet long so it takes awhile to get through it.¬† Finally it’s blindingly bright again and now the fun really begins.

Rat Jaw is the name of the next power line cut we went up.¬† This hill has a much higher concentration of thorns than the others and it’s taller.¬† There was a sign at the beginning saying it was only .89 miles long but I suspect it’s longer.¬† It’s 1.19 miles long according to Google with 1825 feet of elevation gain.¬† I suppose it’d be even longer if you figured in that you’re climbing a slope instead of a flat surface but it really doesn’t matter, it’s steep and sucky.

Here’s what the beginning looks like.

For this beginning part I found a couple sticks and just went up the dirt part until it leveled out a little again.¬† I was hot!¬† The heat index was in the upper 90’s with a temp of 91 and the dew point was still in the 70’s.¬† The sun was also right on us now since it was just after noon.¬† I kind of broke this hill down into 2 sections.¬† The first is mostly straight with slight turns on it, basically just enough so that you can’t ever see the top to where it turns a hard left.¬† The second part is from that hard turn to the top.¬† The first part is .74 miles and 1300 feet of gain.¬† The second is .45 miles and 525 feet of gain.¬† There is great variation on how steep the hill is.¬† A couple very short sections are actually flat or at least flatish, the rest is steep to crazy steep.¬† A lot of it was hands and feet kind of climbing (scrambling).¬† Partially from the slope and the rest due to overheating.

Almost immediately after the “fun” beginning to Rat Jaw my face was tingling and I could see stars every once and a while.¬† I was breathing heavy constantly.¬† There were some more steep parts we’d go up and just hope there was something to sit on or for the ground to flatten out a little so you could stop to rest.¬† Stopping while on the steepest parts took almost as much energy as just continuing on.¬† I basically had to pull myself up by grabbing thorn canes as they were the only plants that could support the weight of being pulled.¬† I was very glad I had gloves on!

About 2/3rds of the way up the first part there is a old road cut and shade!¬† I laid down for 15 minutes to cool down and drank everything I had.¬† There were medics at that location and I must’ve not looked too bad off since they didn’t pull me off the mountain at least.¬† All hopes of a good race time were gone.¬† I knew I had plenty of time to make the cut-offs so I just stayed and tried to cool down.

Rat Jaw road - Carry Allen
Rat Jaw road. I didn’t see any people this happy when I was laying there. Photo Credit: Carry Allen

Finally I could breath somewhat normal but my face tingling never did go away until after I reached the top.¬† I had been eating pretty well and actually drinking a lot with adequate salt intake.¬† I drank 30 ounces of fluids every hour this race and I was still sweating, but it still wasn’t enough.¬† I’m guessing 40 people passed me going up Rat Jaw.¬† My friend Ed caught up to me and didn’t sugar coat the suckiness that was still ahead after that road cut.

One foot at a time is all I could think about.¬† I couldn’t even get that stupid Rocky Top song back into my head, even though it had been there all day.¬† Anything to take my mind off the heat would’ve been great.¬† Thorns did nothing to distract me from the sun beating down on me.¬† Everyone was encouraging each other but it just seemed to register to me as the muffled sounds of Charlie Brown’s teacher.¬† I was so hot and almost felt claustrophobic not being able to see anything due to the tall vegetation and steepness.¬† My face was tingling.¬† I was worried about passing out.¬† In short I was feeling pretty crappy.¬† There’s a reason you put a puppy halfway on a staircase to make it climb stairs; going down something that steep seems just as bad as continuing up.

So I continued up.

Going down and quitting would hurt just as much now and certainly much more later.  It seemed crazy steep the entire way from the road cut until the hard turn left.  I made the turn.

Then it seemed to get easier.

It is indeed less steep overall and it seemed a more consistent slope.  Really though I think all the water I drank started to get absorbed and I was just feeling better.  The only time I stopped on this section was because I got behind a group of about 10 people that would stop occasionally.  There is also a rock cliff you have to go around into the trees a little to get to this crack through and up it.

Rat Jaw - Misty Wong
This is on the second part of Rat Jaw just before the summit. I’ve got the white hat and blue chest in this photo. Good luck finding me. Photo Credit: Misty Wong

As you can see from the photo, the vegetation was quite high.¬† You pretty much can’t see where you’re going unless you’re really tall.¬† Also this last section was almost entirely thorns.¬† My shirt got torn enough that I threw it away once I got home.¬† I almost tripped a few times too since they’d wrap around your leg somehow.¬† My deepest cuts were from these on the back of my legs.¬† I think I just kept saying “ow” a bunch of times.¬† Not a very positive mantra I guess but it got me through it.¬† And I was just feeling so much better.¬† I know with cooler temps, I could’ve climbed much quicker.¬† I think it took me around 90 minutes to climb it and it should’ve been just an hour.

Top of Rat Jaw - Misty Wong 2
Photo Credit: Misty Wong

Top of Rat Jaw - Misty Wong 1
Photo Credit: Misty Wong

Those photos are taken just as you take the last step onto the road that’s at the top of the hill (what kind of race director doesn’t use the road for the course instead?)¬† There is an old fire tower that you need to climb up and get your bib punched again.¬† The view was quite nice and you could actually feel a slight breeze.¬† You had to follow the road down a short distance to the aid station where I got some water but I should’ve taken more.¬† I thought my overheating issue was fixed since I was feeling better.¬† Nope!

The next section was 4 miles all downhill!  And it was a nice and easy downhill and easily my favorite part of the course.

North Old Mac - Misty Wong
This is the trail down from the tower. Photo Credit: Misty Wong

I passed the majority of the people who passed me going up Rat Jaw which was nice.¬† But as I got down lower and lower I could feel the temperature going up and up.¬† Also it just seemed more humid, probably because it would rain in a couple hours.¬† I got to aid station #5 which is the decision point and where Laz punches your bib.¬† The drop bags are right before you get there so I re-lubed my feet and put on dry socks since they were still wet from the tunnel.¬† I got some more food and drank a breakfast shake I put in there as well.¬† I also got my headlamp which was required to continue.¬† I was hoping all the calories and fluids would help on the last big hill and 9.5 miles.¬† Finally I crossed the timing mat for my punch at 8 hours race time.¬† The cut-off is 9.5 hours at this spot.¬† If you are over that then you just run the road back to the finish line for a “marathon” finish instead of doing the last 9.5 miles and hills.¬† I was now only 20 minutes ahead of where I thought I’d be.¬† The downside is that there was a lot more hills than I thought left and the distance was further than I thought it would be.¬† I was now in 66th place which actually surprises me, I suspect there were people taking longer with their drop bags than I did so they just hadn’t crossed the timing mat yet.

The rest of the race was just me going painfully slow up the trail that really wasn’t all that steep but I just couldn’t cool down.¬† There were a couple areas where it went down and I wasn’t expecting multiple peaks (I didn’t study that section of the course enough I guess) so that was a spirit killer.¬† There was one point that people from up above me warned of a yellow jacket nest just off the trail.¬† Someone was passing me just as we got to it so we smartly went around and didn’t get stung.¬† The people we warned later just tried to run past it – they got stung.¬† The hill tops in this area were quite pretty.¬† I could tell that time was just slipping away from me but there was really nothing I could do, I didn’t want to get to the point of having my face go numb again and I never seemed to get an energy boost from the food I ate.¬† Finally there was a sharp turn where I knew it would be flat to downhill the rest of the way to the finish line.

The last aid station and bib punch was at the point where it would be all downhill.¬† It had started to rain and thunder now as well.¬† I welcomed the rain hoping it would cool me off, it didn’t.¬† The air didn’t get any colder at all.¬† It basically just made the rocks slippery and the trail slightly muddy.¬† Finally I made it to the last flat part of the trail and then the road back to the finish line.¬† I wish I could say I ran the entire road in but I didn’t.¬† I finished in 11:17 for 78th place.¬† Of the 416 that started, 84 didn’t finish, 127 had to settle for the marathon and 205 finished the 50k.

I just laid on the ground for 20 minutes drinking ICE COLD water and trying to cool down.¬† Awesome!¬† My quads hurt some since I didn’t get that much hill training in.¬† It basically was like running a 50 miler instead of a 50k as far as how it felt and how long it took.¬† There was food at the finish line so I got that and ran into some friends from Volstate that I talked to for awhile.

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I don’t know if the guy who punched my bib at the fire tower was Russian or not, but I got a cool backwards R (Ya). Oh and as you can see, I am a winner, not a whiner.

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The only finish line photo I have.

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Anything not covered with something was cut up.

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I had to get back to Louisville for my plane the next morning so I didn’t stick around too long and drove away.¬† The hotel I stayed at was a complete dump but I didn’t care enough to get a different room.¬† I basically just showered, packed, slept for 4 hours, and left.

The scratches on my legs and arms got more visible as time went on.¬† They started itching a few days later as the scabs were ready to come off.¬† I never got any poison ivy, or poison oak either.¬† I don’t feel left out at all though not seeing a snake, getting stung, getting chiggers, or poison ivy.¬† I much prefer avoiding all those things.

All in all I’m glad I ran this race.¬† I may go back again to see what I can do in better weather and the course always changes anyway.¬† There are lots of other great races that time of year as well though, so we’ll see.

FANS 12 Hour Race Report – 2018

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.

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Cute little dude

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.IMG_20180602_201016

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.turtle

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.

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.

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After one of the rains.

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!conehead

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.

Arrowhead 135 Race Report – 2018

“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.

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Check In

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.

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View of Minnesota from the closed restaurant parking lot.

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.

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I wore kt tape this year to help prevent frost bite. It made my face much warmer.

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.P_20180129_110843At 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.

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About mile 26 I think. Photo Credit Burgess Eberhardt

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Photo Credit Burgess Eberhardt

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.

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Starting to clear up

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Warm enough for the ice beard to go away but still cold enough to freeze your hands if you’re not careful

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.Jpeg

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 off 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.

Jpeg
Yes!!!!

Jpeg
Exhausted

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.

P_20180131_073054
I think the coolest trophy I’ve ever gotten.

IMG_0796I 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.

Tunnel Hill 100 Mile – 2017

“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.

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.

tunnel
543 Feet Long Tunnel

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.

tunnel hill 5
I think along the Northern turn-around 40ish miles.

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.

tunnel hill finish

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.

Superior 100 – 2017

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.

The Race

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.

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My pre-race photo.

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The start line if you couldn’t tell.

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.

bike path - john stewart
Me running with the eventual female winner.

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.

Split rock river - cole peyton
Photo Credit : Cole Peyton

split rock river - cole peyton 2
Photo Credit : Cole Peyton

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.

Split rock - amy broadmoore
Some good views of Lake Superior early on in the race. Photo Credit – Amy Broadmoore

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.

Mud - zach Pierce
Photo Credit – Zach Pierce

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.

split rock - zach pierce
This is what it looks like for a good portion of the section.  Notice how bent my left foot is?  You need flexible feet for this course.  Photo Credit РZach Pierce

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.

Beaver bay - fresh tracks media
Nice runnable section from Beaver Bay. Photo Credit : Fresh Tracks Media

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.

 

bean overlook - cole peyton
Yes that’s a straight drop off and an awesome view.

DJI_0054

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.¬†The bottom half of the drainpipe.  There are bigger boulders at the top.  This part you can run down if you're brave, I almost ran into the photographer.

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.

Finish - mg wheeler
Coming around the turn… Photo Credit – MG Wheeler

finish2 - mg wheeler
Down the straight a way… Photo Credit – MG Wheeler

Finish3 - mg wheeler
And across the finish line!  Photo Credit РMG Wheeler

finish6 - mg wheeler
Celebratory Woo!  Photo Credit РMG Wheeler

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.

Bighorn 100 Race Report – 2017

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.

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The elevation profile with my notes of how steep things were to help determine my goal paces for each section.

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.

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Chillin’ out with my kids playing behind me.

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.

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Conga line.

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.

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Lots of false summits on this climb.

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Flatter section

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Nice view at least.

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Looking back.

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Notice the clouds?

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The valley in the distance is where we started from.

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.

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Road to dry fork.

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.

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Looks good somehow.

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Nice big scratch. Look at that 5 O’clock, I mean 100 mile shadow and sunburn.

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.

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Typical section from dry fork to cow camp.  Look at that nice dry clay road.

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.

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Looking down into the valley where footbridge across the river is.¬† It’s past the next ridge and way down.

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Looking back up while part way down the wall.¬† Believe me it’s much steeper than it looks.

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View just to the left of the last photo.

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.

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A blurry view of the river.

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.

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How I missed this “easy mud” later on.¬† This was at 8:55pm

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.

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My shoes after retrieving them from the footbridge drop bag.

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I should’ve got a picture with my foot in them.

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.

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Lots of flowers to look at on the last climb up.

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!

Results are posted here.